Quest by Cathleen

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“More Than One Companion”

Chapter Nine

Frodo stared upward, idly watching a pale spider create an intricate web with which to capture its dinner. I can understand how his prey must feel:  trapped - and used, he sighed, and in a great deal of trouble. He turned on his side and curled up into a ball, willing the dawn to show itself soon. Not that we can even tell for certain when it is dawn. Not here. He attempted to fall asleep once more, however, sleep eluded him. With a sigh he flipped over onto his back again and placed his arms beneath his head, resuming his morose contemplation of the spider. Perhaps I’ve become too accustomed to being drugged in order to sleep. That is most likely why I cannot. Frodo shifted restlessly beneath his blanket, his disquiet causing Sam to stir nearby. Frodo held his breath not wishing to disturb his friend’s rest. Dear Sam! Always looking out for me.

Frodo considered the events of the previous day. Night? He wasn’t sure any longer nor did it seem to matter. He was angry with Aragorn for drugging him and for preventing him from searching for his cousins.  He was also angry with Gandalf, for not taking his side and helping him when he wanted to continue searching while the others explored the lower caverns. He was even angry with Sam, for getting himself into trouble on his behalf. But most of all he was angry with himself for failing to protect his younger cousins, and for allowing them to accompany him on this treacherous journey in the first place. He did not know how to set things right. He feared it was not even possible.

Sam stirred and awoke. Staring into the darkness he groaned as he shifted on the hard ground, trying to find a comfortable position. Never did sleep well on the ground, he thought with a grimace. Sam lay fretting, wondering if Mr. Frodo would be having another angry discussion with Strider. It seemed to Sam that Strider had become even sterner since they had been trapped here. Sam started, hearing whispering. The watch must be changing and he wondered who was next to stand guard. Listening more closely he heard Gandalf and Boromir speaking softly.

Unable to fall asleep again Sam spent the remainder of the night alternately worrying over Mr. Frodo and Mr. Merry and Mr. Pippin. Tomorrow would be another difficult day for certain.

 

***

 

“We will form another search team and go back over the area we abandoned yesterday when we found Frodo. Spreading out in an ever larger curve we will circle the rock formations near that area in pairs.” Aragorn prepared his pack while he spoke.  “If we do not have any success then I propose we separate and explore the much further recesses of the caverns individually in order to cover more ground.”

“I do not care in what manner we search Aragorn, let us simply begin, shall we?” Boromir shook his head, clearly disgusted with any more delay. He shouldered his pack and stalked off.

Aragorn bit back the rebuke that came to mind as he fought for self-control. For some reason, it seemed more difficult to come by with each passing hour. He finally released a quiet sigh before hoisting his own pack and trudging after Boromir. 

Legolas followed them, his inner turmoil as great as that of Boromir, although he appeared dispassionate. His fear that they might not find the missing hobbits nudged him and he pushed the thought away. Legolas thought back to the last conversation he’d had with Pippin. Emotions had been running high. He shook his head as he recalled that their disagreement had nearly caused him to sling the hobbit over his shoulder and carry him to Aragorn.  Oh, if only I had followed my own instincts at that time! They would not be missing, perhaps in danger or injured, and I would not be shouldering such a burden. The young hobbit had played him like harp, convincing him to keep quiet for just a bit longer, threatening him with the knowledge of what would happen if Aragorn found out what they had already been keeping from him.  Why did I not realise how fell his mood had become? Why did I listen when he was so clearly cozening me? Legolas recalled what Gandalf had told him about the palantíri. Was it true then? Was Pippin actually carrying pieces of one, pieces that sought to be reunified? What does that mean and who could be attempting to control the Seeing Stone? What is the purpose? Ah, I have so many more questions than answers. Would that we all survive this to understand the reasons.

The dwarf tossed him a look of understanding before trotting on ahead.   Legolas was uncertain if Gimli was also losing hope or if he was merely as anxious as Boromir was to move on. He pushed aside his own troublesome thoughts and picked up his pace.

Gandalf brought up the rear of their procession after pausing once more to extract a promise from Frodo and Sam that they would stay put.

“Oh, don’t you be worrying none, Mr. Gandalf.  I’ll be seeing to it that Mr. Frodo gets more rest. You can mark my word.”

Frodo grimaced and rolled his eyes in long suffering silence. 

Gandalf eyed his small charges a moment longer. “Hmph. See that you do,” he grunted.  “I’ll have no sympathy for either one of you if you go running off and get yourselves into still more trouble!” His expression softened.  “Do behave yourselves, my lads. We have enough trouble at the moment, as I am sure you will agree. Know that we are doing our best to locate Merry and Pippin.”

“Aye, we will sir,” Sam nodded.

“Yes, Gandalf.”  Frodo’s voice was soft.

The two hobbits regarded one another without speaking for several moments after Gandalf left them. Finally, Sam sighed. “You don’t have to be giving me that look, Mr. Frodo. T’would not be doing either one of us any good to ignore Mr. Gandalf, and well you know it.”

Frodo sighed and settled back on his blanket. His thoughts returned to the events of earlier that morning. Speaking with Aragorn had not been easy.  Frodo still felt he was right and no amount of debate would change his mind. He placed his hands beneath his head and considered their disagreement. So many angry words had passed his lips. He regretted the heat of their argument, yet he remained incensed over Aragorn’s betrayal of his trust.  He had shouted his anger at Aragorn, confronting him for drugging him, refusing to allow him to give the reasons behind his actions. Frodo’s thoughts wandered back over the conversation. They had both spoken without thought; hurtful, useless words that resolved nothing. . .

 

***

 

“Frodo, if you will but grant me the chance to explain--”

“I cannot believe you could be so deceitful! No explanation could excuse such behaviour!”

“That is an interesting choice of words you have used, as behaviour is exactly what I am talking about.” Frodo crossed his arms over his chest and draw himself defiantly up to full height.

“What are you hinting at? You are accusing me of an unwillingness to listen, when you are doing exactly the same!”

“Listen? You have failed to listen as much as you have refused to heed me more than once during the past week. I have ordered nothing save for your own safety. Yet you disobey me with careless abandon whenever it suits you to do so. It is you who are seeking to justify your actions when you know they were wrong. You must not risk yourself so. You must not!” Aragorn reached for Frodo and sank a hand onto his shoulder, forcing Frodo to halt. Frodo did not turn; instead he hissed his reply through gritted teeth.

“Aragorn, we must find them!  I cannot bear to lose them! Can’t you understand that?”

Aragorn drew a deep breath, his hand remaining in place. “We have not lost them Frodo,” he said. “Merry and Pippin are near. I can feel it.  I promise you we will find them.”

Turning slowly, Frodo studied the Ranger’s face.

“What is it?” Aragorn eyed him in return.

Frodo shook his head.  “Nothing. It is nothing.”

“I think it is something.”

Frodo let out a deep breath and his shoulders slumped in dejection.

“No. Perhaps we should stop shouting at each other. It does not resolve anything.”

 

***

Sam could feel his master’s misery. He was sure that Mr. Frodo had to be thinking of his argument with Strider earlier. Sam reluctantly allowed himself to be drawn back into the memory of what had occurred.

Sam and the others listened in uncomfortable silence. What had started out as a difference of opinion had escalated into a shouting match. Sam watched the shared looks of disbelief, the way his companions shifted uneasily as they waited for the disagreement to end, and how Mr. Gandalf focused so intently on the arguing pair. He had never seen the Ranger or Mr. Frodo so angry and Sam could read the same thoughts in the others’ expressions as he sat huddled on a rock ledge just inside the opening into their alcove. Sam looked up in surprise and confusion when Boromir slipped an arm around his shoulders.“They will work it out, Sam. Fear not, all will indeed be well again,” he whispered.
“I just don’t understand it. They’ve had words before, but not like this.”
“I believe there are feelings of guilt on both sides. Those can be very difficult to overcome.”
Sam nodded, resigned.  “Aye. You’re probably right.”
Their attention was drawn immediately back to the pair by Frodo’s angry curse. Sam sat up straight, alarmed at the note of fury in his friend’s words. Mr. Frodo was stalking away and Strider followed.

***

 

 “I’ve failed them, Sam.”

Sam was startled from his thoughts when Frodo spoke. He raised his head in surprise.  “What? Now, I’m not going to be hearing any of that kind of talk. No one has failed anyone. We’ll find them.  Just you wait and see.”

“Sam,” Frodo turned his sad eyes to his friend’s face and gazed at him intently.  “I am so afraid. It has been nearly two days. Anything might have befallen them. Perhaps we will never even know. . .” He dropped his head into his hands and wept.

Sam was beside him then, comforting his master as he wept. Finally the storm passed and at long last they both slept, but it was a restless unhappy slumber wrought by pure exhaustion. Side by side next to the still flickering light of the low fire they shifted in their sleep.

They trudged along slowly ahead of him, barely within his sight. He tried to reach them, to call out their names, but he was unable to speak. He continued the struggle. His feet felt heavy, weighted down. He moved as if he was wading through a muddy bog. Something attempted to draw him downward. He could not follow and very soon they would be out of his sight.  He must stop them! He knew they were headed into a treacherous place.  Tearing the Ring from the chain about his neck he attempted to use its power to retrieve them from harm’s way. The Black Speech poured forth from the circle of gold, its Elvish script glowing as the Ring lay in the heat of his hand. Cruel laughter sprang from it and he wished with all his being to throw it, to pull back his hand and fling it as far away as possible. But he could not let it go. He stared in mute horror as he witnessed their fall into the glowing well of fire that beckoned them. He was too late.

Frodo shot to a sitting position and then to his feet, looking about wildly, part of his awareness still in the dream state. One hand flew to his mouth and he released a cry of anguish. A second later Sam leapt up, his frantic eyes seeking out the source of his friend’s terror.

“Sam!”

“What! What is it Mr. Frodo? What do you see?” Sam turned in a circle trying to look in every direction at one time.

“I saw them!”

“What? Saw who?” 

Frodo paced, unable to calm himself as he peered into the shadows that surrounded them.  He stopped at last and stared at Sam before collapsing in a heap at his feet. “I saw them.” He touched his brow and moaned.

“What are you talking about?”

“I had a dream! Pippin and Merry were with me. They were in danger, trying to tell me something, but I couldn’t understand!  I couldn’t follow them! Oh Sam, something is horribly wrong, I can feel it!”  Frodo forced his breathing to slow with great effort.  “Sam, we have to do something. I cannot sit idly by for one moment longer and just wait.” He gasped, recalling a portion of his dream. “The Ring.”

“What about the Ring?”

“I tried to use it. I tried to use its power to stop--”

“Stop what, Mr. Frodo?”

“Sam,” Frodo whispered, “there was another presence. Something else was there, something incredibly strong and evil. It was leading them into danger. I couldn’t stop them! They went into the pool of fire!”

“Fire? What fire?”

“In my dream there was a great pool of flames. It was coming out of one of those odd pools of water that we’ve encountered here. They didn’t realise the danger. Or, they could not stop themselves. Sam, we have to do something now!”

“The others should be back soon. It’s been hours. We can’t just leave!”

“Well, why not? I am growing extremely weary of being told what I may and may not do. And now I sit by whilst my kin are in danger and do nothing?”

“It’s a wonder you’d be even thinking about just going off without telling anyone.” 

“Sam, I don’t care! I cannot bear it any longer. I must do something--”

“Frodo.”

The pair looked around and saw their companions returning and Sam breathed a sigh of relief. Aragorn had spoken his name. Frodo stood and faced the man. “You still have not found them.” His voice trailed away, his raw despair painful to witness.

“No.” Aragorn laid a gentle hand upon his shoulder and pulled an item from his pocket, “however, we did find this.” He held it out and Frodo took it in his hands almost reverently. 

“Pippin’s scarf.” He gazed up into the Ranger’s eyes as his own clouded over with tears.

“We now have at least some vague idea of what direction he headed.”

“And what of Merry?”

“He is more than likely trailing Pippin. While we found no other sign of them that is the most reasonable assumption,” Boromir said as he lowered his pack and settled on an outcropping of rock near the campfire.

“But, then, why are you back? Why are you not following this clue? What made you cease and return to camp?” Frodo’s voice was rising.

“Be calm, young one.” Gandalf drew Frodo next to him. “We wished to let you know, for one thing. We need a brief rest before we begin again.”

“We will concentrate our search on this one small area for the moment. We can leave no rock unturned now that we’re aware we are on the correct path.” Aragorn laid his hand on Frodo’s shoulder. “We may have overlooked some place very small, quite unnoticeable before. We found Pippin’s scarf by taking to the lowest regions of the rock tunnels, at times on hands and knees. I’m wondering if perhaps there is another crevasse nearby that has gone undetected.” Aragorn glanced at Gandalf with just a hint of a smile on his tired face.

The wizard rested both hands on his staff and leaned on it, taking in the two upturned faces.  “And for the next portion of our search the aid of two hobbits may prove invaluable.” 

Frodo glanced at Sam and then back to the others.  “We are to be allowed to help?”

Gandalf nodded, believing Frodo was pleased until he detected the darkening eyes and the mouth that twisted into a scowl. He tilted his head, puzzled at the reaction.

“At last you feel we have something to contribute to the search? Now you feel we may be useful rather than a weight about your neck?”  Frodo practically spat the words at them.

“But, Mr. Frodo! You were just saying that we had to do something, and now we can! You should be happy about that.” Sam attempted to smooth things over.

Aragorn sighed. “Frodo, I did feel it was prudent for you and Sam to remain behind. I will not apologise for that. You suffered a rather nasty bump on the head after all. Do you wish to help, or do you wish to sulk like a child?”

Legolas winced at Aragorn’s words and his heart went out to Frodo in sympathy.

Frodo glared. “What do you think my answer to your question is?” His voice held an edge it seldom had. “Do you believe I would stand idly by when I am at last offered a chance to do what I should have been allowed to do from the very first?”

“I do not know your answer unless you tell me.” Aragorn frowned, a dark cloud of anger descending upon him despite his weariness.

Common sense warred with his desire to hurl another angry accusation at the Ranger. Common sense at last won the struggle and he answered in a subdued tone. “Very well then. Sam and I will join you.”

Aragorn inclined his head in acknowledgement before settling down close to the small fire. An uncomfortable silence ensued as they busied themselves with retrieving small rations of food from their packs, eating in silence.

 

***

 

Sam was the first to spy the small crack. They had travelled into the wide chamber just past the place where Frodo and Sam had both fallen. Something caught the gardener’s sharp eyes and he’d bent to inspect the area more closely. “Wait!  Come back!” Sam gestured excitedly before falling to his knees to examine it more closely.

“What is it Sam?” Aragorn knelt beside him and felt around the space with one hand. A portion of the loose rock crumbled away at his touch revealing a larger space nestled behind the outcropping. He raised an eyebrow and grinned at the hobbit. “We may have something of interest here. Good work Sam!” He gestured for the others to join him in surrounding the hole with their torches while he carefully poked his own light into the little crevasse.  A moment later he came to his feet with a frown.

“It is extremely small and I am unable to enlarge it.  It’s certainly not big enough for one of us to fit inside, however entirely possible for a hobbit from the looks of it. And it is a steep drop. I cannot see the bottom.”

Boromir bent to inspect the hole and then his gaze drifted to the Elf’s face.  Legolas shook his head at the unspoken question. “Nay, it is too small for me also, or for Gimli.” His attention turned to Sam and Frodo.

“I will go!” Frodo spoke before Sam could open his mouth. “You can lower me with the rope and then--”

Sam interrupted him. “I should be the one to go, Mr. Frodo.”

“How so, Sam?”

“Well, I’m small enough.”

Frodo almost chuckled. “Sam, of the four of us you are the largest. I can see where it is possible for either myself, Merry or especially Pippin to fit inside this crevasse, but not you, my dear friend.”

“Hmph.” Sam crossed his arms. “Now, don’t you worry about hurting my feelings none, Mr. Frodo, just come right out and say what you mean. You think I’m too fat to fit down this here hole, don’t you now?”

Boromir stifled a chuckle and Legolas fought to keep the smile from spreading across his face at Sam’s declaration. Behind them the dwarf’s exclamation very nearly caused them to lose their battle with politeness.

“Fine time it is to be havin’ a debate over the size of one’s middle.”

“Well, perhaps we could dig it out a bit.” Frodo bent to reexamine the hole as Sam eagerly joined him on hands and knees, his indignity forgotten. 

Aragorn held up a hand. “No Frodo, Sam. We shall continue to look for another opening. We know now there is access to another lower cavern here and so there are likely to be other ways in. Everyone keep close to the ground in your search. Come.” A moment later crashing rocks followed by cries of surprise halted them. Aragorn turned and shouted, “Frodo? Legolas?” All that met their ears was the muted shower of stones tumbling into the faraway darkness of the hole he had thought too small to fit through. It was no longer a gap; the fissure now gaped like the maw of a wolf poised to attack its supper. Aragorn tried, and failed, to suppress a shudder.

***

Another pool lay ahead of him. Merry had encountered many as he journeyed in the deepest passages of the cavern. He paused to study it, resisting the urge to press on. A single spot glittered in the centre of the water. He approached cautiously, curiosity increasing. Underneath the huge shelf of flowstone cascading into the pool a small area shone like a brilliant star in the night sky. He stared at it for a moment longer considering, before thrusting his torch in front of him. He jumped back with a small cry of surprise as the glittering object disappeared. He slowly backed away.

The strange sights and sounds grew in number the further he descended into the darkness. Although he found it frightening, it was at the same time a source of fascination and he could not seem to stop himself from inspecting each odd thing he came upon. Colourful mineral deposits gleamed on the walls of the cavern, and he tasted their bitterness as he passed. A multitude of voices sang and he touched them, plucking each one as if playing the strings of a lyre. A striking musical tone echoed from the pebble he gripped in his hand. Raising it to eye level his mouth fell open in stark wonder He watched the music as it left the stone, forming a swell of discordant notes that marched slowly away from him, like soldiers called out to battle.

Somewhere in this twilight zone of sanity he knew these things were not real, could not be real. And yet, as he reached out to explore them they appeared as natural as his own breathing. He had travelled very deep in his pursuit and lost all track of time and place. The aching in his leg reminded him of the long fall through the black hole and he paused to lean over and rub the feeling back into it. His head shot up as the ripples of obscene laughter assaulted his senses. He smelled fear, and it was as strong and unpleasant as the scent of decay. The fear subsisted with the evil menace at its very ripe core. Shivering, he pressed his hands to either side of his head, yet he could not shut out the laughter. He hurried on his way as quickly as his leg allowed him to move. I’m coming. I swear it. I’m still here, and I will find you, Pippin.

***

She waited as she had for years untold. Silently; alone in the shadows.  Meticulously drawing all the missing pieces together, her purpose to complete the reunification. Power. Calling out over the vast reaches of time, locating them miniscule bit, by bit. Leading them home. Like a beacon for the lost singing out her mantra, ‘This way! Flow this way beloved ones, rejoin our souls and rejoice! We are nearly home!’ Coming upon the little one with the pliant mind had been sheer good fortune. His participation had sped up the journey for the final pieces of the great orb. It was so easy to influence this one’s judgment. The young one’s thoughts were amazingly adaptive, completely open to understanding. Yes, entirely cooperative. The insane laughter bounced soundlessly off the stony walls. The Rimstone pool boiled and foamed, overflowing and sending great rivulets of water down its sides in a mockery of that long ago fire in the volcano under the sea; the one that had rent the Seeing Stone’s existence away, and with it, her own. She had become trapped in this loathsome indeterminate state. Now, at last, it was nearly time to emerge from her prison. The laughter began again.

 

***

 

Pippin descended into a world of madness. He knew not illusion from truth. Wandering, alone in the dark, where hope had vanished; but it mattered no longer. He was blind and deaf and yet he saw and heard with amazing clarity. He did not know where to turn and no longer cared. Follow the call. It was all that existed for him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 




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