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Section XXXVIII-The Road

I've heard it said that it is always best to be at the top of the pile. Maybe so, but in this case, I'd have preferred not to be in the pile at all. But there you have it. After having the breath knocked out of me, I needed a moment to orient myself to where I was, that is besides staring up at the sky through the tree canopy. The other three cannot get up until I move, and at the moment I have a mind to keep them right where they are; except poor Sam is directly under me. It seems unfair to not allow him up when he is no more guilty than I am. If I must...

I'm amused by Merry's explanation for our current location and Sam's obvious disbelief that there's any merit to the idea that our tumble down the hill was a shortcut. I'm with Sam on that one. Pippin's saying something about mushrooms.

What is this I am feeling?

Sam, Merry and Pippin have found a cache of mushrooms. I love mushrooms as much as the next hobbit but find myself inexplicably distracted. Standing on the road, I sense something -- a difference. My companions seem completely unaware. I remember well Gandalf's warnings to stay off the roads, but now I have the unsettling feeling there is much more to that advice than I first believed.

The trio are lost in their excitement of gathering their treasured find. I take one step, and then another, along the leaf-covered road. I look first one way and then the other. How odd. I can see nothing for as far as the road can be seen, until it disappears into the trees. I can hear nothing coming, not a sound. Uneasiness sweeps over me. We should get off the road.

How are my friends so completely oblivious to the change in the feeling of the woods?

Fear and urgency rushes over me. We must get off the road... NOW.

We scramble off the edge of the road and under the protective cover of the roots offered by a nearby tree. My companions are not concerned; I swallow my fear. Then all of us grow still.

A horse stops right above us. The rider dismounts. I can hear his feet hit the ground. Glancing up through the roots, all I see is the edge of a black cloak. The snuffling, so like a hound on the hunt, yet even Farmer Maggot's dogs aren't nearly so frightening.

The desire to disappear begins to grow within me. The Ring can make me disappear. But Gandalf said I shouldn't use it. I can feel the Ring in my hand. When did I take it out of my pocket? My thoughts are consumed with the debate. Gandalf urged me not to use it. But it will make me disappear. My need to slip it on is almost overpowering.

Sam startles me away from my thoughts, and I clutch the Ring tightly in my hand, my breathing uneven. He then grabs and drags me after him until my feet take over on their own.

What did Merry -- or was it Pippin? -- just ask, "What was that?" I am barely aware of their presence. We are somehow safely away, for the moment. Unfolding my fingers, I stare at the simple gold band lying innocently in the palm of my hand. I am filled with fear and dismay. A part of me wishes I could just cast it from me, as far away as possible, but I cannot. Instead, I realize I have already slipped it back into my pocket.

Gandalf warned me to never put it on. It seemed a simple straightforward request. Yet, just now.... I shudder to think on it. If Sam hadn't been watching and caught what was happening and broken the spell with that well-placed cuff.... When Gandalf decided to send Sam with me I was sure it was mostly to keep him quiet, but now... did Gandalf know how much I might need Sam?