One By One: 1. One By One

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1. One By One

The leaf mold was soft beneath his feet as he walked, his hands buried deep in his trouser pockets, his eyes half-closed. Small sounds carried but a short distance then were swallowed by the heavy wood, by the ever-present, distant roar of the falls behind him. The muted voices of his companions had long since faded. Perhaps the wood was beautiful, but he didn’t notice. Perhaps he was going too far, but he cared not. He wanted time... time to think, quiet...

The wood was quieter, certainly, than the clamor in his brain.

“I cannot do this alone!”

“You are a Ringbearer, Frodo. To bear a Ring of Power is to be alone...”

The Ring burned like flame along his breastbone.

Like the heat of Boromir’s eyes upon him as they’d traversed the river.

His knees trembled and he swallowed hard. Willing himself on, he kept walking despite the wavering of his gait. The weakness angered him. If only he could once again fill himself with the emptiness he’d felt after Gandalf’s death. He’d walked, then. He’d been even more exhausted from running through Moria’s halls, but he’d kept going, something within himself screwed into tight knots, impelling him forward. He probably would have walked until he reached Mordor, had Aragorn not called him back.

Perhaps he should have ignored Aragorn. Perhaps he should just keep going now, before it was too late...

“One by one, it will take them all. It has already begun...”

“No.” It grated over unwilling vocal cords, castrated from a exclamation to a whimper. But he’d seen it in Her mirror: all of them turning away. His imagination took over with brutal clarity and he could see them again, one by one, beloved faces twisting into alien masks. The One Ring would whisper their name and they would turn to him with eyes not their own, and...

His knees gave way and he tripped and stumbled face first into the bracken. Frodo spat dirt from his tongue and wiped his mouth, crouching there for moments, feeling as if he was going to be sick. He had been running and not known it, like a coney blindly escaping the hounds.

How much longer would it be before the thought which dominated his own mind was not the loss and suborning of his friends, but the loss of the Ring?

He shoved himself upward heavily from the ground and almost cried out again as a great eye materialized before him. An eye...

“I see you...”

But the Ring, this time, did not rise to the memory. Frodo caught his breath, felt it thump in his chest then resume as he realized this eye held no fire, no possessiveness. It was not the Dark Lord’s scathing seeking, or even Boromir’s covetous gaze. He rose slowly to his feet, dirt dropping from his palms. A great stone head lay half buried in the hillside, sightless eyes directed over and past him into the leaf-littered bottoms, its nose a horizontal shelf about the height of his hipbones. It was a suddenly-inviting perch--plenty of room for a hunted, fatigued hobbit to rest, even if just for a short time. He louvered himself up, toes and fingers finding easy purchase against the pumiced surface, then sat, curling himself along the statue’s eyesocket, its contours solid against his back. He imagined for wild seconds the statue becoming whole, rising, plucking him from the bridge of its nose, taking him in giant hands and looking down upon him as he crouched like some tiny rodent, ragged breathing lifting his ribcage, eyes wide, spasmed in awe and terror. Hunted...

Frodo arched back along the stone almost defiantly and shut his eyes, rolling his head back. The small bit of bravado seemed to ease him, bringing odd comfort from the stone. At least it was solid, and real, not some phantasm in his mind. Even the chill grate of it against his skull, spine and buttocks spoke of normalcy; if he sat here long enough perhaps he could envision himself back in the Shire...

“But it cannot stay in the Shire!”

“No. It can’t.”

The Ring’s chain bit into the nape of his neck and Frodo lurched forward. Drawing his knees up to his chest, he laid his forehead on them, clutching so tightly that the bones stood up in his hands, knuckles straining against skin. Whatever courage the Lady of Lothlorien had breathed into his soul had left and he was no longer the Ringbearer. No, he was merely the odd but harmless Baggins lad who had pilfered mushrooms from old Maggot, had pestered Bilbo with thousands of questions about dragons, had been caught with Daffodil Bolger in the haymows and thought he was going to spend the rest of his life hanging from Daff’s father’s haywain by the tail of his shirt. A somewhat hysterical chuckle burst from him at the memory, then died.

Back in the Shire? He would be lucky if he ever saw it again.

The Ring pulsed against his flesh, timed with his own heartbeat like some oddly-displaced fetal quickening.

* * *

He had watched Frodo slip away and betrayed nothing. Perhaps he should have, but the hobbit had glanced to him and the chill warning in the normally soft gaze had stayed him from even speaking.

Quelling the irritation that seemed to rise up so easily since he had walked Lothlorien’s haunted wood, Boromir lowered his shield to the ground beside his pack and straightened, looking about. The others spoke in low voices: Aragorn and Legolas scouting the shore, Gimli quietly unpacking Sam’s cooking gear, Pippin and Merry engaging in a half-hearted squabble over fire-starting and Sam himself, propped against the rock face of the bay, staring blearily at Rauros’ mist. None of them yet realized that Frodo had simply dropped his pack on the rocky ground and kept walking until he was lost from sight in the trees.

It disturbed Boromir: the unpleasantness, however fleeting, he had seen in the hobbit’s face. Merry, Pippin, even Sam--they seemed to be more predictable in their actions, indeed seemed more reactionary and therefore to his own mind more understandable. But Frodo... Boromir was not sure he at all understood that one.

Why had Frodo even taken on the Ring? Why had he spoken, why indeed agreed to destroy it when others paused? Despite the courage--or ignorance, to be sure--that decision had taken, Boromir had never been sure that the most gentle and fragile-seeming of the four hobbits was a strong-enough vessel for the burden he carried. Daily his opinion seemed to bear him out as the rainwater eyes grew darker with suffering and reticence.

Before, Frodo had always turned to him with an ingenuousness that had in itself made his heart ache. Boromir knew that such stood no chance upon any long road, particularly when it led to Mordor. And now the trust had congealed, leaving behind this darkling, suspicious glance that had been as a blow to his outraged senses. Ever since Moria...

The daemon whip lashes out, takes Gandalf down. Frodo leaps forward, unheeding of the peril to himself, as if by some miracle he can halt the wizard’s downward plunge. Boromir grabs for him but the hobbit unaccountably fights him and the man has his hands full for seconds.

“No!” He locks powerful arms about Frodo’s throat and chest, for mad seconds thinking that the little one will somehow break free, and hisses desperately, “You cannot do this! Think of what you carry!”

Perhaps not the most tactful of things to say, but true. And effective. Frodo stops struggling with an immediacy that is frightening; for seconds there is nothing but the tension of Gandalf hanging between air and rock, clawing himself upward with final futility. Boromir feels his own breath gag in his throat, feels Frodo’s heart hammering against his forearm, feels the slight frame spasm as Wizard locks gazes with Ringbearer.

“Fly, you fools!”

Like the incomparable soldier he is, Boromir obeys. He quells his own horror and, swinging Frodo up in his arms, runs. The hobbit’s screams resound in his ears but he ignores it, just as he ignores and endures the futile pummeling at his chest, the sharp bite of kicks against his thighs. It is dark but he can barely see the forms of his companions ahead of him, knows Aragorn has heeded his warning call and is now close on his heels. He keeps moving. Frodo quits struggling, his cries dwindling to peculiar silence, but Boromir can still hear them ringing in his mind as they burst into the cold, white light of day. He will probably hear them for the rest of his life.

He stumbles, stops. Frodo is limp in his grasp, trembling, his chin poking sharply into Boromir’s shoulder joint, chest heaving against his own. Boromir glances about--all are safe, escaped and alive save one, and his own chest contracts at the thought.

Gandalf. By the gods, Gandalf...

“Boromir...” The soft exhalation turns his attention back to Frodo; he starts to lower him to the ground then halts. A sharp pain lodges against his breastbone, as if a hot dagger has pierced his vitals. His grip tightens upon the hobbit.

It is not Frodo who has whispered his name but the Ring, throbbing between their bodies like a living, breathing entity.

Frodo’s eyes meet his dully, then widen. Something indescribable flickers within them, leaps across to Boromir’s own dark gaze and the man’s grip, of its own accord, tightens further. Small ribs creak.

And suddenly he has a fury in his arms; Frodo twists and squirms and slides downwards; Boromir grabs the hobbit’s wrists, not quite sure why he does so, only aware that he can, somehow, feel the Ring as it slides down his frame and bumps against his hip-bone and that it is exquisitely painful when Frodo wrenches back and away, yanking at Boromir’s grip on his wrists until he is released.

Boromir stares after the hobbit as he flees, his own breathing troubled, then Gimli bursts past him and he has no more time to think of what had just passed between himself and Frodo, as he stays another valient heart from going back to the now-Gap of Khazad-dum...

Frodo. He had been too quiet, too still. Moria had broken him. Lothlorien’s presence had all but swallowed him whole. The Ring was denying its bearer--that must be so, if it called to Boromir himself with such soft ferocity.

Frodo couldn’t possibly make it all the way to Mordor. And if the Ringbearer faltered, what would become of the rest of them? Indeed, what would become of Gondor and Middle Earth?

Boromir looked off into the trees, his fists clenching and releasing, clenching and releasing.

* * *

A sharp, raucous call echoed through the forest. Frodo jumped; his grip tightened further and he hissed as his right wrist twinged, circled within his left palm.

Only a bird. He took a deep breath. then curiously examined the sore wrist. His eyes widened at the marks encircling it. There was a twin set of bruises on his left wrist. Fading, yet he hadn’t noticed them; for moments he wondered what had caused them.

Boromir. Boromir who had carried him, kicking and screaming, from the broken bridge of Khazad-dum. And once they’d escaped Moria, running from darkness into almost blinding whiteness, the Ring had spoken...

To Boromir, whose powerful grip had prisoned Frodo’s wrists as the hobbit gave forth a quick, grief-wild struggle to gain and achieve his freedom.

“You know of whom I speak.”

Galadriel had somehow seen what had transpired between them after Moria. But Frodo had not wanted to see, to remember. He still did not want to believe it.

“He is my friend,” Frodo whispered. “He has fought beside me, stood watch over me in the night, saved me from death more than once. No stouter heart could a man have than Boromir...”

“Would you like to spar a little?” the man asks kindly. The invitation is very open and friendly, as are the gold-green eyes. You smile back, start to speak, then Pippin eargely steps forward, as does Merry.

“Would we!” Pippin chimes, grabbing up his weapon. Boromir laughs and his eyes cut back to you where you have seated yourself on a broad rock. You grin wider and shrug, surrendering to the inevitable--you’ll wait for a turn. Boromir lifts his eyebrows and you both share in a sudden understanding and delight of the eagerness of the two younger hobbits...

“He is my friend,” he repeated stolidly.

Yes, the inner voice replied, your friend. But remember Moria and his hands upon you. Remember the road to Caradhas and his hands upon the Ring.

How the ice patch beneath the snow fells you and leaves the Ring up the path, golden in the sun. You watch, heart in throat, as Boromir takes up the Ring; you see it entrance him, the gleam in his eyes that clutches a nameless terror about your heart, only to have it all, glance and terror, vanish like smoke as Aragorn snaps Boromir’s name, standing behind you with hand on sword. Then when you snatch the ring back, Boromir tousles your hair as if you’re a child, and the shame of it heats your cheeks...

Frodo felt himself flush again at the memory. He stared at the marks upon his wrists. The Ring hummed as if in pleasure and he shuddered.

I don’t want this. I don’t want this if it means they will all grow to despise me...

You must. And you must be wary of Boromir. No longer can you deny this. For he is in thrall to the ring and you,
Ringbearer, can all but hear his thoughts!

One by one, it will whisper their name and they will turn upon you, they will reach for you, possessed by what you carry...

The Fellowship is breaking, Frodo Baggins, and it is not only the Dark Lord that hunts you, now.

His fingers, almost unwitting, went to his collar and sought the Ring. Frodo stretched out on the stone and curled about his burden as if it were a lover.

* * *

Boromir had left the temporary encampment before he’d been truly aware of what he was doing. The simple chores, the light, forced banter of his companions was not the pleasant noise that it usually was; aggravation rose in him so abruptly that he nearly choked on it. Instead of acting upon that, he’d retreated into the forest.

It was beautiful. The damp earth pressed softly against his booted feet as he strode forward, the trees arced above him, the waterfall’s roar so omnipresent he could feel the sound press upon his chest. A feeling of connection filled him; he’d never felt this able to smell, to touch, to sense the life about him. It was an odd feeling, considering that mere moments ago his mind had been awhirl with discontent.

He could even, somehow, sense Frodo’s presence. He wasn’t far. Boromir frowned; the hobbit’s quandried need for isolation was more and more tangible but curse it, he shouldn’t be out here alone. He started purposefully forward then hesitated.

Would he himself be welcome?

Does it matter? an inner voice growled. He carries too much to be careless like this!

Head down, eyes half-closed, Boromir strode forward, no longer paying attention to the beauty about him. Long moments passed with only the sound of his own booted feet upon the moss and leaves, so immersed in the physical act of walking that he nearly ran headlong into the downed statue. He jerked his attention forward. A cold, empty gaze looked through and past him, but what was cradled between the stone eyes...

Frodo lay senseless in sleep, dark hair in damp tendrils, cheek pillowed against unyielding stone and dirty fingers, breath whistling softly between parted lips and teeth. His right hand lay clenched at his breast, and his bare, grubby legs were curled up, tangled in the grey woven fabric that Lothlorien had clad them all in.

The sight gutted Boromir more intensely than any swordthrust, rendered him mute and incapable of anything but sudden, fierce, tender pity.

Tottering backwards in retreat, mouth working silently, he whirled and quit the clearing. He ran. Ran from the memory of that sleeping form, those eyes upon him, the once-infallible trust, now somehow congealed.

He trusted me once!

Are you so sure? He has always favoured Aragorn. He follows Aragorn like a tame pup!

And why should he not? Aragorn is a worthy companion.

Of course. So worthy that he has abandoned his own people and city to ruin!

“Stop it!” The hoarse cry ripped into the stillness; Boromir tottered to a halt, hands gripping his skull as if he could purge the voices within. But the memories backwashed, overflowed like a breached sluice gate:

The moment of camaraderie when he offers to teach Frodo the sword and instead Pippin and Merry leap forward; he throws Frodo a glance of promise: Later. You need to learn this, you most of all and I will gladly teach. The world is large and ugly and cold, so cold...

So cold, the snow, yet the Ring burns even colder in his hands. And Frodo’s gaze, more frigid still; for the first time Boromir sees suspicion spark there. He returns the Ring, he reaches out and ruffles the dark mop of hair as if to say: It doesn’t matter. See, it’s all right. I’m all right!

But neither of them believe it...

To whom else will you turn on this long road? Can you not see it? Can you not understand? You cannot endure, Ringbearer. You are too frail, too innocent, too small. Sauron will take the ring from you with one hand, and with the other fling you to his minions for their sport--after he has taken his own turn with you!

He could see it; envision it with such clarity that he nearly fell, a Seeing as true as the one that had driven him from Gondor to Rivendell:

Shadows flicker against filthy stone walls, cast by greasy torches which faintly illuminate the slight form lying curled and senseless against rock. But there is no abandoned sweetness here, no rest. No slight whistle of breath, only hoarse, faltering gasps. No warm, grey elvish cloak to hide within; the ivory flesh is marked with livid bruises and the weals of a whip. The Ring is gone. And the hobbit’s eyes are not closed, but stare blankly into the darkness, all expression and life drained from them...

This time he did fall to his knees. It was all he could do to not heave his guts onto the forest floor.

He was there a long time. Reality painstakingly revisited him; slowly the muted sound of fall and forest penetrated his senses. He still felt ill, shaken. But he was regaining control.

Raking the bang from his eyes with an unsteady hand, Boromir felt his stomach twinge and leapt upon the excuse of more mundane matters.

It had been too long since he had eaten, too long in truth since any of them had sat to eat. He would gather more wood for the fire. He would return to the statue and wake Frodo, take him back to camp. They would all enjoy a hot meal and voice their fears and hopes.

Perhaps such would even halt this ague that left him alternately shaken and outraged.

Boromir took a deep breath and put all visions, real or imagined, to the back of his mind, allowing his steps to bit by small bit retrace themselves back to the stone couch where his companion lay.

Hopefully the hobbit would be awake by the time he wound his way back.

* * *

Frodo opened his eyes and knew from the silence that something was very wrong. He lurched upright, still clutching the Ring. He hadn’t meant to drift into slumber but somehow he had; his frame was chill and stiff as a result of the damp stone.

Remember dreaming, cold and naked against the stone, despair all about you...

He clutched his warm cloak about him and shivered. Still disoriented, eyes heavy with sleep, he peered into the gloom.

The forest was still, yes, but not horribly so. The vegetation muted everything, cocooning it in a damp, soft fog, yet it was not totally silent. There was still the occasional flutter of a bird, the creak of damp wood, the scamper of tiny feet across the leaves. No, the muteness was within him. His mind, all morning spinning and heaving with turmoil, was still.

So was, suddenly, the Ring. It lay quiescent within his palm. Waiting.

Waiting for what?

He released his grip on the Ring, swung his legs over the edge of his perch and dangled them for long moments, the slight numbness in his calves and feet giving way to a prickling and burning as the blood started to circulate more freely. He dropped to his feet and put chill hands to his burning eyes.

One by one they will turn to you, and reach for you in the darkness...

I must leave. I must leave before it all grows worse. Before they all start to despise me, like I saw in the mirror. Before it’s too late. But now I’d better get back to camp, before they start to worry.

Frodo took a deep breath and walked around the stone effigy, still a bit fogged. He went up a flight of steps, then down again, starting to bear to his right. Instead his feet chose the left hand path, along a trail that wound back down the hill and around and he blinked.

He was back at the blank, stony eyes of his brief resting place.

“We shouldn’t be wandering out here alone.” He stiffened at the sound of Boromir’s voice. “You least of all.”

Frodo didn’t want to raise his eyes, meet the other’s gaze. But he did.

And what he saw in the green-gold eyes told him it might already be too late...

* * * * * *

This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.

Story Information

Author: Willow Wode

Status: Reviewed

Completion: Complete

Era: 3rd Age - Ring War

Genre: General

Rating: General

Last Updated: 07/17/02

Original Post: 06/26/02

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