The Company scrambled to get their things together in preparaton for the hike over the mountain. Boromir felt vaguely worried. He had just assured the hobbits of Gandalf's trustworthiness, that he would not lead them astray; but now Boromir wondered. How could Gandalf consider the perilous road over the pass in the snow to be any less dangerous than risking the road past Isengard? Of course Saruman was a danger to the Company, but it would be hard for the little ones in the snow and the cold. Bad weather was a fiercesome enemy, and more unpredictable than any wizard.
He shook his head as he helped Sam strap their supplies onto Bill's back. The whole point of the Company was to keep the Ringbearer safe, was it not? Keep him safe until he could complete his task. Boromir sighed inwardly. His task! He still had grave doubts about the whole idea of taking the Ring to Mordor. Folly, he had called it at the Council, and he still thought the same. Not that the Ring should not be put out of Sauron's reach, no; but it was absurd to think that they could actually get anywhere near the fiery mountain, let alone throw in the Ring. Sauron would catch them before ever they set foot on his borders, and then where would they be? Dead, if they were lucky, and the Ring would be on Sauron's hand once more.
I'd rather be dead than see my people destroyed because of a foolish attempt to destroy the Ring, thought Boromir. What a waste! Surely they'll see that when they come to Minas Tirith. They'll see Mordor for themselves, then they'll know. Aragorn is wise, he'll see the sense in what I say. And Gandalf...
A sudden thought stayed his hand on the packs for a moment.
But Gandalf knows all this! he thought. He has seen the fire on the horizon and the smoke that rises from Mount Doom. Why does he oppose me in this?
Boromir scowled briefly, then shook his head to clear it of gloomy thoughts. He finished tightening a strap and looked up to see Sam watching him with a worried expression.
"Are you all right, Mr. Boromir, sir?" he asked.
"Yes, Sam," replied Boromir with a smile. "Do not worry about me. I was thinking of the journey ahead. I fear we will be in for some rough weather."
He looked up at the mountain again. The weather was fine now, but it could change at any moment up there. They were ill prepared for a lengthy journey in deep snow.
"Gandalf!" Boromir turned to the wizard who was nearby, standing with Aragorn and Frodo. "A word of advice, if I may?"
They all looked at him expectantly.
"I was born under the shadow of the White Mountains," Boromir went on, "and I know something of journeys in the high places. We shall meet bitter cold, if no worse, before we reach the other side. I know you wish our passage to remain hidden from enemy eyes, but it will not help us to keep so secret that we are frozen to death. Before we leave here, where there are still a few trees and bushes, each of us should carry a fagot of wood, as large as he can bear, so that we might have fuel for a fire to warm us if the need arises."
The others voiced their agreement, though the hobbits looked dismayed at the thought of lugging wood up the steep mountainside.
"Bill could take a bit more, couldn't ya, lad?" said Sam, patting the pony's neck.
"Very well," agreed Gandalf. "But we must not use the wood unless it is a choice between fire and death. There are many unfriendly eyes in the wild, and I wish to remain unseen as long as possible."
They made good speed at first, but the way became more difficult as they climbed. Despite the fair weather, the wind blew down from the north over the mountain, and it was bitterly cold. The Company pressed on as quickly as they could, but it would still be more than two marches before they reached the top of the pass. They made one of their camps at the tree line, where Boromir added more wood to the supply on Bill's back. The pony bore the added burden stoically.
After the tree line, the way became steeper and they were hampered by drifted snow on the slopes. The day remained bright and clear, but the snow lay deep on the mountainside; the wind pressed against them and sudden gusts threatened to bowl them over. Cheeks were red and noses raw, and the bright sun did little to warm them. The hobbits struggled valiantly through the snow, but they tired quickly and the Company stopped frequently to give them rest.
They had stopped for a rest before attempting a particularly steep and snowy slope. As they began the ascent again, Boromir noticed that Frodo seemed particularly winded. He wondered if he was being affected by the thin air on the mountain. The other hobbits were ahead with the pony; he dropped back for a moment to be certain that Frodo was all right. Aragorn, too, had noticed Frodo's weariness and went back to walk behind him. Seeing this, Boromir was satisfied and turned away.
They had gone on a bit further, when glancing back, Boromir saw Frodo lose his footing and fall backwards, rolling downhill.
"Frodo!" shouted Aragorn in alarm.
Boromir turned back towards Frodo, but he was too far away to help him. Aragorn stepped into Frodo's path and halted his downward roll. He helped Frodo to his feet and brushed him off. Boromir strode back down the hill towards them. Frodo did not seem to be hurt, he noted with relief. As he kicked through the drifts, a flash of sunlight glinting on something in the snow caught his eye.
Why, it is the Ring! he realized. The clasp must have come undone in Frodo's fall.
Boromir stepped forward. As he bent to pick up the Ring, he heard a soft throb, or a thud, as of a heavy door closing. The Ring swung gently on its chain as he held it up.
I have it, Frodo, do not worry, he started to say, but the words died in his throat. A strange feeling came over him as he stood gazing at the sun glinting off the Ring's fair roundness. His eye was filled with the glittering brightness. He felt faintly surprised that the Ring was so light. He had expected it to be heavy, heavy with evil. He knew what it was, what its history was, but he had not realized how beautiful it was. He had only seen it briefly at the Council, then never again. He held it up for a closer look.
Strange, it does not look evil, he thought, mesmerized. Is it really as powerful as they say? Does the fate of the world truly rest in this small golden thing that I hold in my hand?
He heard as from far away Aragorn calling out his name sharply, but he did not heed him. Another voice was speaking.
"Aaaaah!" said the voice, gloatingly.
"It is a strange fate," Boromir said slowly, not realizing he was speaking aloud, "that we should suffer so much fear and doubt over so small a thing."
His voice trailed off.
"Aaaaah!" said the voice, exhultantly.
"Such a little thing," Boromir repeated in a faint voice.
His hand came up to grasp the Ring.
The sharpness of Aragorn's tone cut through his dreamy state, and Boromir started. The whispering voice stopped suddenly. His hand fell to his side. He felt as if he had been walking in his sleep and had been suddenly awakened. He stared at Aragorn, momentarily confused. Why did Aragorn look so frightened?
"Give the Ring to Frodo!"
Boromir glanced down and saw to his surprise that he was still holding the Ring. He swayed slightly, and unconsciously tightened his grip on the chain; then he stepped forward slowly. He approached Frodo, holding out the Ring. He felt very strange, like he had done something wrong and they were angry with him, but he was uncertain what it could be. Frodo had the oddest expression on his face.
I suppose he was afraid he had lost it, thought Boromir. It is fortunate that I saw it there in the snow. What a waste it would have been if it had been lost!
"As you wish," he said aloud, passing the Ring to Frodo, who grabbed it quickly and tucked it away out of sight. Boromir laughed uncertainly. "I care not!"
The frightened look was still there, in Aragorn's eyes, as they looked at one another for a long moment. Why does this all seem so awkward? wondered Boromir. Why are they looking at me in such a manner? He broke his gaze from Aragorn's and looked down at Frodo. Not knowing what else to do to relieve the silence, he smiled, and ruffled Frodo's hair affectionately. Turning, he hefted his shield onto his back and trudged back up the slope where the others were waiting and watching.
He did not see Aragorn's look of intense relief as the Ranger removed his hand from his sword.
They rested again, sitting close together for warmth, and Boromir welcomed the respite. He was weary, more than he should be. His arm ached where he had been bitten by the wolf, and he rubbed it unconsciously. A change in the weather was coming. He wrapped himself tightly in his cloak and put away thoughts of a fire. He knew they would need the wood later more than they did now. Boromir watched the faces of the Company and listened to the talk around the circle. He felt vaguely distressed, sensing that something was missing. What could it be? he thought.
He looked up as Aragorn sat down beside him.
"Are you well, Boromir?" asked Aragorn. "You seem withdrawn."
"I am tired," admitted Boromir, "though I hate to say it." He smiled at the hobbits who were sitting across from him. "I spoke of my knowledge of journeys in the high places, and now I am the first to complain of weariness."
He nodded at Frodo.
"And you, Frodo? You took no hurt in your fall?"
"No, I am fine, Boromir."
"I am glad."
Frodo looked at him carefully.
"Why are you rubbing your arm, are you hurt?" he asked.
"It is not a recent hurt," explained Boromir, "though it seems to be bothering me today. I had an adventure with wolves on my journey to Rivendell, and a bad bite was the result."
"Wolves!" exclaimed Merry and Pippin. Sam's eyes were round.
Boromir held up his hand.
"No wolf stories now, my hobbits!" he said. "Not here!"
"I agree," put in Gandalf. "This is neither the time nor the place to be recalling those kind of adventures, when we walk in a land filled with wolves, or worse."
"My Gaffer has an ache that bothers him somethin' fierce when rain's comin'," said Sam. "Is that it, Mr. Boromir? Is the weather changing maybe?"
"It could be so, Sam," agreed Boromir. "There is the smell of snow in the air...as well as other things!"
He looked sidelong at Gimli, who sat close by, puffing on his pipe. The smell of the pipeweed was strong in the crisp air.
"Here now, young fellow!" said Gimli gruffly, getting the point immediately. "Don't go knocking my weed 'til you've tried it in your own pipe!"
"No, thank you!" said Boromir, shaking his head. "Legolas and I will prefer to remain in the minority and abstain from that strange habit! It is not one I have any taste for developing."
"Why not?" demanded Merry. "Don't you have pipeweed in your country?"
"We have it," replied Boromir, "but we do not smoke it. We prefer it for the fragrance of its flowers, it has no other use there."
"Well, that's interesting!" mused Merry. "You know, pipeweed's something I've long had an interest in. I wonder..."
Merry broke off with a sigh as he saw the look that passed between Boromir and Aragorn. Boromir made a wry face at Merry, and the others burst out laughing.
"Be warned, Boromir!" exclaimed Frodo, as he slapped Merry on the shoulder. "If you don't want to get him started, don't mention the word pipeweed around our Meriadoc!"
"I will remember that!" said Boromir. The distressing feeling that had troubled him earlier had passed; whatever it was that was missing had been restored. Boromir smiled at Frodo, then at Merry, who looked crestfallen.
"Come, Merry, ask me your questions! I only request that you do not ask me to try your pipe!"