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The Gardener's Tale

8

'Do not be afraid, Sam!' said Aragorn as he steered the Elven boat out into the middle of the current.

Sam was clutching both sides of the slim silvery-grey craft so tightly that his knuckles were white. A cold breath came up from the dark water and Sam was terrified that at any moment the boat, like a wild horse, would throw him, Frodo and Aragorn into the deep. But ashamed of seeming so frightened he let go of the sides. A queasy feeling overcame him.

Looking to each side he saw the other two boats and realised that the rest of the Company were also unhappy at leaving Lórien. Gimli sat hunched and from time to time looked back down the river even though Lórien had faded from sight around a turning. Legolas dipped the paddle with regular strokes but his bright head was bent in sorrow as well. A little behind them Boromir drove his craft forward with a grim and preoccupied face. Only Merry seemed to be at all happy, looking about with interest and peering into the water. Trust a Brandybuck, always playing about with boats....

Suddenly their craft gave a sharp shudder; Boromir's boat had nudged it. Aragorn looked back and Boromir raised his hand as if to ask pardon. They were all distracted, it was an easy mistake to make, but as the other boat fell back Sam saw Boromir looking at Frodo with a strange expression on his face. Sam turned away uneasily.

Before him in the boat Frodo sat without saying anything. Sam knew he was thinking of the Lady and what had passed during their speech with her, and about what he had seen in the Mirror. Sam's heart was sore for Frodo, bent under these cares, and wished he would speak to him and unburden himself. But since they left Lórien Frodo had not spoken to Sam at all. Sam felt hurt, but told himself brusquely Mr.Frodo was not obliged to tell him anything. But his unease grew. He knew his master too well; he was thinking about something he did not want his Sam to know about...

The long sad day wore on. Sam thought they would never turn to land, and eventually Frodo slumped over asleep in the front of the boat. Sam turned to Aragorn but he put a hand on Sam's shoulder. 'It's all right, Sam, we're pulling in now....'

Even beaching on the stony shore did not wake Frodo and as the others got out stiffly and made camp Aragorn lifted him gently and carried him up the beach and laid him under a tree. Sam hurried after, pulling out warm blankets from his pack and tucking them around Frodo. Even in sleep his master's face was worried and drawn. Sam turned to the campfire with a heavy heart. As he did he nearly walked into Boromir, who had followed him up the beach. In the light of the newly lit fire his face looked strange and unfriendly. He turned away without saying anything.

They drifted on downriver, not willing to hurry, as a decision had soon to be made; to go on South or to turn West to Gondor. Even worried about Frodo Sam was aware of the arguments in favour of one or the other. Boromir was vehement that they should take the road to Gondor. Aragorn was not sure, but now missed Gandalf's council and had no idea what the wizard would have advised for this moment. Everyone was waiting for Frodo to speak, but as some wished to go one way and some another and a decision might split the fellowship only Boromir was in haste to decide. Frodo's worried silence seemed to make Boromir only more impatient for an answer; on one occasion the debate veered close to an argument between him and Aragorn. Sam looking at the two tall men thought not for the first time how much like a king's son Boromir was, with his long richly embroidered cloak and silver circlet about his neck, while Aragorn, in his worn and stained Ranger's clothes looked more like a hill chieftain. But Aragorn had a quiet authority which caused Boromir to give way each time the matter was debated.

As they continued South and the sanctuary of Lórien faded further into the past the Company began to grow uneasy. They knew that orcs patrolled the Eastern shore but even on the Western side they sometimes saw dark shapes in the sky and felt an ominous stillness in the trees. Legolas especially grew anxious. They pressed on, and decided to try continuing during night. Not risking Sam with a paddle they put him on lookout in the bow of the first boat and straining into the dark Sam suddenly saw white foam ahead.

'Rocks!' he shouted, and almost at once they were nearly upon them. For a moment all was confusion as they tried to back the boats up. As they struggled with their paddles there came the whine of arrows out of the dark, and inhuman voices shrieking in the trees. Orcs!

The arrows fell into the water but one struck Frodo in the back, knocking him forward into the bow. He cried out but his mithril coat prevented injury and the arrow fell back harmlessly. Sam however was shocked and concerned. He helped Frodo up and tried to see if he was hurt. Frodo shook his head irritably. 'It's all right, Sam! I'm not hurt!'

Sam sat back as if he had been struck. He felt Frodo was pushing him away, as if his master was cutting through all ties with his friends in preparation for some deed or decision. Sam wondered what he was planning; he knew Frodo too well not to suspect something, and was deeply unhappy to be left out. He grimly decided his master needed close watching.

Sam hardly noticed the commotion as they got the boats away from the rocks and into a little inlet. The arrows continued to fall for some time, one narrowly missing Merry and striking the gunwhale beside his hand with a dull sound. Another got stuck in Aragorn's hood. When they beached Legolas ran up the wooded hill and looking out over the starlit river drew the great bow given to him by the Galadhrim and fired out into the dark. Sam saw his eyes glow in the faint light with anger and hatred of the orcs, but his fair face had regained its kind expression by the time he rejoined the Company. 'I know not what I hit, if anything....' he said to Gimli.

'Whatever it was it was drawn to me, everything evil is drawn to me. I am a danger to all...' said Frodo to himself, unheard by anyone but Sam, who would have replied only Frodo turned away.

The rest of the night was cold and uncomfortable as they could not light a fire. Sam saw Pippin and Merry in a huddle. Pippin leaned over to Sam and said 'Sam, we're worried about Boromir.'

Sam was more worried about Frodo but answered 'Why?'

'He isn't talking to us,' said Merry.

Sam snorted. 'You have probably driven him mad with your chatter.'

Merry looked hurt. 'No, it isn't that, we were...he was...oh I don't know, he was friendly to us, talking and telling us about the country we were passing through. But the last day or so he has stopped talking. Or rather stopped talking to us, he just mutters to himself all the time.'

'He doesn't seem to know we exist any more' said Pippin sadly.

Sam said nothing, thinking of how Boromir drove his boat into theirs and the strange light in his eyes as he looked at Frodo. Sam wanted to say something to reassure the younger hobbits but he was worried himself. Pippin thought of the lesson Boromir had given them in swordcraft on Caradhras and wondered why Boromir had changed. Like Merry he was grieved and worried but it never crossed his loyal hobbit heart to question Boromir's actions. He merely wondered what they had done wrong.

After that they travelled only in daylight. The sides of the riverbank grew steep and sheer and the boats wound around narrow bends. There were no shores on either side and Sam was growing anxious when they rounded a turn and towering up into the cloud streaked morning sky were two vast stone statues of kings, one on each side of the ravine, each holding in one hand an axe and extending the other arm in an imperious gesture of warning; the Kings of Gondor guarding against the onslaught of the North. Even split and crumbling with time their crowned helms soared like cliff tops.

The hobbits looked up in sudden fear; an icy wind blew through the narrow chasm and the water ran deep and black between the high rocky walls. Boromir gazed in astonishment at the statues and Gimli murmured something under his breath, but Aragorn laid a reassuring hand on Frodo's shoulder. 'The Argonath, Frodo! These are Isildur and Anárion, my sires of old. Long have I desired to look upon my kin....'

Something in the sound of Aragorn's voice made Frodo and Sam turn around. Since they had left Lórien Aragorn had once again assumed the guise of a war-weary and care-oppressed Ranger. But now, as in Lórien, he again seemed suddenly younger and more regal. The strong breeze through the Gates blew his long black hair behind him and a light kindled in his grey eyes. His face glowed with joy and pride and for a moment he was lost in the past. Then he noticed the hobbits shivering. 'Do not be afraid! Nothing can befall you here under the shadow of these kings, not when you are with Elessar....'

But Sam cowered down as low as he could get in the bow and muttered; 'What an horrible place! If I ever get out of this boat I'll never ever get into one again, ever....'

The boats stayed in line with difficulty and shot through the Gates of The Argonath and emerged out into a broad shining lake lit by the late afternoon sun, Nen Hithoel. At the far end were three peaks and the air was thick with the mist and roar of the Falls of Rauros beyond them. In the shadow of the middle peak, Tol Brandir, was an inlet overlooked by wooded slopes which led up to the Hill of Seeing, Amon Hen, and the lawns of Parth Galen. Aragorn guided them into a little harbourage hidden by trees. A stone jetty had been built untold ages before, with piers in the shape of the prows of ships. Broken and mossy they nevertheless sheltered a little crescent shaped beach of honey-coloured shingle. The company gladly ran their boats up onto this beach and began to disembark.

Aragorn helped Frodo and Sam out and busied himself to unpack the boat. 'We'll camp here till nightfall....'

Gimli jumped out and began to make a fire. The dwarf was the Company's undisputed master of fire, and Pippin and Merry his appointed assistants, and the two young hobbits ran off into the woods to gather firewood. Legolas watched them go with a look of uncertainty on his face. He stood for some moments with his head raised, hearing and sensing more than the waves on the pebbles and the soft breeze in the pines. Then he turned to Argorn and said with urgency, 'we should move on now.'

Aragorn shook his head. 'No, orcs patrol the Eastern shore' he replied.

But Legolas said in a low voice 'It is not the Eastern shore that worries me. Something draws near, I can feel it....'

All Sam cared about was getting out of the boat. He was cold and sick. He wanted to make sure Frodo was all right but his legs shook under him and he made his way unsteadily up the shore to a nook in the stone jetty and threw himself down against it. The sunlight was warm on his aching and chilled limbs and he thought he could sit there for ever. Looking over he saw to his surprise that Boromir was still in the boat, hunched as if reluctant to get out. Tired as he was Sam narrowed his eyes against the glare off the water and saw a shudder run through the man, and a look almost of pain cross his face. Then he seemed to shake himself and sprang out onto the beach and began to unload the boat. Sam felt as if someone was standing in the trees watching him and looking up into the shadows saw with a start a statue, with hooded face and outstretched hands, tendrils of creeper snaking up its arms and moss on the stone folds of its garments. Sam stared. It was like the Argonath, but even more like the statues on Weathertop. A chill crossed Sam's heart and he looked away, trying not to remember. He felt the sun warm him and began to doze. Voices carried to him, Gimli and Aragorn arguing. Then a clear high hobbit voice, Merry's.

'Where's Frodo..?'