Currents by Thundera Tiger

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Frodo’s oar rested idly across his legs.

He heard the soft plop of Aragorn’s oar landing in the water behind him, and further back, other splashes marked the efforts of Boromir, Merry, Legolas, and Gimli as they pushed their boats down the wide Anduin. The broad river was swift enough that they could have traveled a reasonable distance without the oars, but Aragorn insisted fate should not be tempted. Thus all in the Fellowship capable of doing so paddled for set periods of time.

That is, all paddled with the exception of one. The Ring-bearer did not and therein lay the irony, for Frodo knew better than anyone just how important speed had become. He could feel the anxiety that gripped the Fellowship as their minds became prey to doubts and misgivings. He could see the shadows lengthen over their hearts as the miles ticked away and the river swept them further from home. He could sense the malice that pressed closer with each passing hour, both from within and from without. Haste was not merely important; it was now essential. But still his oar sat idle in his hand. In spite of what he knew and felt, Frodo could not bring himself to shorten the journey.

They traveled by night. After discovering that Gollum haunted their trail, Aragorn had decided they should take to the river during the dark hours. The decision met with some complaints as they had become accustomed to traveling during the day, but Frodo now found himself intensely grateful for the new schedule. He could no longer look back at the lands they left behind, he did not have to see the lands they currently passed, and the future remained hidden by the veiling shroud of night.

Yet even as he desperately clung to blissful ignorance, he could not ignore the currents that drew him forward. He took no action with his oar, but still he moved closer to whatever destiny awaited him. Passive resistance availed him nothing, and Frodo longed to throw back his head and proclaim himself finished with Rings and Dark Lords and other matters not meant for simple hobbits. He did not want this for his own sake, though. In both wisdom and foolishness, he had consented to this task, and he would see it through to the end. But his friends and companions…they were another matter. The Burden was not theirs, yet they shared the path that swept him into shadow. Sam, Merry, Pippin, Aragorn, Boromir, Legolas, Gimli…they were all here because of him. And Gandalf… Frodo’s breath hitched in his throat, and for a moment, his eyes blurred. Gandalf was not here because of him.

No. No, he could not think about that. Not now, at least. Later, when all was said and done, there would be time to think on what could have been. But not now. Not here. Not yet. The currents wouldn’t allow it. Still, Frodo could not stop the question raised by the wizard’s death: Who was next? Who would be the next to fall?

~It is one thing to take my young friends walking over the Shire with me, until we are hungry and weary, and food and bed are sweet. To take them into exile, where hunger and weariness may have no cure, is quite another—even if they are willing to come. The inheritance is mine alone. I don’t think I ought even to take Sam.~

As if cued by Frodo's remembered thoughts, Sam shifted restlessly behind him in the boat, a grim reminder of what he had failed to do. Frodo had set out on a journey to Rivendell with the intention of saving the Shire. He had left behind home and family, comfort and safety, so that others might keep it. He had thought to preserve the innocence of those he loved. Yet somewhere, somehow, his noble intentions had been twisted and skewed to the point where he had decided to bring along three of his dearest friends. Well, in all fairness, Sam had been Gandalf’s idea, but surely the wizard had not intended for the poor gardener to travel quite so far. And Merry and Pippin were still here as well, despite Elrond's warnings. How had that happened? How was it that the very people he’d sought to protect were the same people who now traveled with him into darkness?

~I have something to do before the end, and it lies ahead, not in the Shire. I must see it through, sir, if you understand me.~

~You can trust us to stick to you through thick and thin—to the bitter end. You can trust us to keep any secret of yours—closer than you keep it yourself. But you cannot trust us to let you face trouble alone and go off without a word. We are your friends, Frodo.~

Shaking his head, Frodo closed his eyes and clenched his hands around the oar in his lap. The vows and promises made at the little house in Crickhollow now felt so small. So naïve. Ignorant of true darkness, his friends had pledged to assist and protect Frodo no matter the effort. No matter the danger. No matter the price. They had committed themselves to a journey that would probably end with their deaths.

And like a coward, Frodo had agreed.

He had consented to their company so readily it was sickening. His selfish desires for companionship had uprooted three of the best hobbits he knew and dragged them into danger so terrible it made him nauseous to think of it. He should have been stronger. He should have denied them the pain and the shadow. He should have left them in the Shire!

~I ask leave once again to be your companion, Frodo.~

And then he had obtained more friends. More fodder for the currents that swept him towards Mordor. Almost against his will, Frodo looked back at the Ranger who directed their boat. Aragorn’s eyes seemed intent upon the river, but there was also a withdrawn look about him that suggested his mind was elsewhere.

With a sigh, Frodo turned back around. It bothered him that he was the cause of the Ranger’s troubles yet could do nothing about them. Aragorn had never intended to go to Mordor. He had left Rivendell with the thought of accompanying Boromir to Minas Tirith, staying with the Fellowship for as long as possible before they were forced apart by their separate paths. But in the wake of Gandalf’s death, Aragorn now led the company, and that meant that Frodo’s burden had become the Ranger’s burden as well.

~Let him not vow to walk in the dark, who has not seen the nightfall.~

Had Elrond known? Frodo wondered sometimes. Elrond's caution had seem obvious enough at the time it was given, but had he also been speaking of Aragorn’s promise to go to Gondor? Gandalf’s death could certainly be likened to the coming of night, and now all intended paths had gone awry.

Cool metal dug into his palm, and Frodo glanced down to find that he was clutching the Ring. Forcefully relaxing his grip, he stared at the golden trinket as new suspicions arose. The Ring was the source of many troubles, but was it perhaps even more perilous than they realized? Was it somehow controlling their path? Because of the Ring, the Fellowship could not pass through the Gap of Rohan after the Redhorn Gate was closed to them. Because of the Ring, they had instead traveled through Moria, and Gandalf had fallen. Because of the Ring, Aragorn could not go to Minas Tirith and now debated about a choice over which he truly had no control. And this debate had sparked contention within the Fellowship, driving a wedge between Aragorn and Boromir…

Frodo shivered and he turned around again, his eyes searching for the boat that held Merry, Pippin, and Boromir. Ever since Lothlórien, Boromir had been strange. Foreign. Distant. He had always been somewhat aloof, but at least before, he had been approachable. He had laughed at jests. Shared stories over meals. Smiled when the night was darkest. But now…

~If you wish only to destroy the Ring, then there is little use in war and weapons; and the men of Minas Tirith cannot help. But if you wish to destroy the armed might of the Dark Lord, then it is folly to go without force into his domain; and folly to throw away.~

During the Fellowship’s last night beneath Lothlórien’s fair trees, Boromir had openly opposed the counsel of Elrond and Gandalf. He had said destroying the Ring would not destroy Sauron. Was he right? Was the Enemy so powerful that losing the Ring would have no affect? In Rivendell, Frodo had trusted Gandalf and Elrond, but now, far from Imladris in a tiny boat that held little power over the currents of the vast Anduin, he was no longer so confident.

The river swept them relentlessly onward, and Frodo looked at the shadows of the passing banks. They flew by so quickly, melting into his past, and Frodo thought of all he had left behind. All he was forcing others to leave behind. His thoughts broadened even further to include not only Aragorn, Boromir, and his fellow hobbits, but also the two who sat in the last boat.

Bilbo’s stories of Mirkwood had fed many a childhood nightmare when Frodo was still young, and from what Frodo had heard, the darkness over the forest had grown even greater since Bilbo’s last visit. Yet Legolas had not returned to his people to aid them in their fight, where he was surely needed. Rather, he now shared at boat with a dwarf, paddling silently down a dark river because he had pledged himself to Frodo’s quest. As for Gimli, Frodo remembered Glóin speaking of Black Riders coming to the Lonely Mountain and Dale as well as the threats made against the dwarves. Frodo knew now that the Enemy did not make idle threats, and he knew that the dwarves’ refusal to betray Bilbo would cost them dearly. War brewed on the borders of Erebor, yet Gimli had not returned home. Like Legolas, he also followed Frodo.

~Do not go alone. Take such friends as are trusty and willing.~

Frodo lowered his head, and his hands came up to cover his face. Gildor’s reluctant advice, given in the relative safety of the Shire, now seemed like foolishness to Frodo. He was bound on this errand. He could not stop that now. The currents swept him whither they would, and against their power, he could no more command his fate than he could command the river. But his friends… They should not be so constrained. The sound of oars dipping in and out of the water testified that they still believed they could direct their course. Yet if they continued on this journey with him, the illusion of control would drift away. Frodo could not allow that. It had already happened to him. He would not let it happen to his friends.

But Frodo knew of only way to save the rest of the Fellowship and that was to leave them behind. He would have to give them up just as he had given up the Shire. And this time, he would have to stand firm in his decision. He could not be swayed by his own fears and misgivings. Not this time. He would have to bid them a firm farewell, turn away, and never look back.

But he was not yet strong enough to do that. He still needed Aragorn’s guidance. Sam’s companionship. Merry’s wit. Pippin’s eagerness. Boromir’s valiance. Legolas’s peace. Gimli’s courage. Moreover, the river was a sure trail in these unknown lands, and Frodo could not handle the boats by himself. He needed the others with him for as far as these waters could take him. No, now was not the time to part with his companions, and Frodo was wise enough to know it. But he promised himself that things would be different soon. He would find his own strength, he would find his own path, and he would spare his friends the inevitable tides that had taken him. He would set them adrift. He would set them free.

So he sat quietly as he was pulled onward. The lands he knew faded behind him. The lands he passed remained shadows in the darkness. Around him, the waters of the river swept him forward into a murky future. Frodo’s oar rested idly across his legs.

But he promised it would not be idle much longer.

Author’s Notes: As most of you have probably noticed, there are several quotes drawn directly from LotR. Each was taken verbatim from a portion of dialogue with the exception of the very first quote, which was taken from thoughts that Frodo entertained. For reference, I’m using Ballantine’s 50th edition paperback version of LotR, and every quote comes from the book The Fellowship of the Ring. Rather than list all the quotes out a second time, though, I’m just going to cite them in the same order that they appeared. So starting from first to last, here are the authors of the quote, the chapters in which the quote can be found, and the corresponding page numbers:

Frodo, "A Shortcut to Mushrooms," p. 117
Sam, "A Shortcut to Mushrooms," p. 118
Merry, "A Conspiracy Unmasked," p. 138
Aragorn, "The Ring Goes South," p. 331
Elrond, "The Ring Goes South," p. 336
Boromir, "Farewell to Lórien," p. 435
Gildor, "Three is Company," p. 114

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