After dragging our boat ashore, we carefully hide it, at least as best we are able, behind a boulder. I cannot restrain myself from lingering for a moment, allowing my hand to stroke the smooth wood; one last touch. And I realize, irrevocably, all that is good and beautiful is being left behind.
I feel Sam watching me and turn to find him unable to hide his concern. All I may offer is a brief uncertain smile. Then we shoulder our packs and begin our hike into the forest, away from the lake, winding our way to Mordor, and leaving the Company behind.
Will Boromir recover from his madness? What path will Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli choose? And Merry and Pippin, dear cousins, will you ever be able to forgive me for leaving you behind? You were not permitted to follow, after all. Where will your paths lead you, and to what end, now? I should have left you in Rivendell, nay, in the Shire, where you would have been safe...
My thoughts drift back, back to the Shire. The emerald grass, copious flowers, abundant crops, familiar woods, harmless inhabitants... not needing to look over my shoulder and tune my ear to every sound. How I miss it, and again, I carefully stow the memories away, in a safe corner of my heart.
The incessant whispering of the Ring swells once more. If I would but claim It for my own, I could save my beloved Shire. More deceit pours through my mind. Some part of me, reminds me they are all lies, and I struggle to bend my thoughts elsewhere, anywhere...
One foot in front of the other. What comes after this? Before this moment, I could distract myself with the next part of the journey, listening to Gandalf and Aragorn discuss the way ahead...
...then Aragorn and Boromir and Legolas and Gimli. Though they admitted being as unfamiliar with this place as myself, they know so much more of this wide, untamed world than I ever imagined, before leaving the Shire.
How I would have liked to learn of the lands of Middle-earth through leisurely exploration, unfettered by worries beyond whether or not to stay an extra day in an especially beautiful spot. The sort of travel I took for granted in the Shire. Quickly, I tuck away my reminiscing once more. Too easily does the Ring prey on those cherished memories, better to banish them from my mind than allow It to twist them to Its own purpose.
The trees grow increasingly sparse. I crest a rise and stop, then I feel Sam stop behind me, at my shoulder. And we gaze out over the barren land before us. It is all I can do not to gasp aloud. A deep gloom settles over me, as hope flickers precariously in my heart.
“Mordor. I hope the others find a safer road.”
“Strider’ll look after ‘em.”
“I don’t suppose we’ll ever see them again.”
“We may yet, Mr. Frodo. We may.”
Despite the chill of despair flooding through me, warmth seeps in. And I feel a smile gradually rise to my lips. I turn to gaze at my friend, certain the relief I feel is echoed in my eyes.
“Sam, I’m glad you’re with me.”