DISCLAIMER: The characters, places, and story of The Lord of the Rings are the property of J.R.R. Tolkien and consequently of the Tolkien Estate, with select rights by Tolkien Enterprises. This piece appears purely as fanfiction and is not intended to claim ownership of Tolkien's work in any way. Please e-mail me if you have concerns.


The wind is too quiet tonight.

Ordinarily the wind carries in it a thousand voices. . .whispers of rustling leaves, night-bird calls, the soft motions of animals in the darkness, forewords of the weather to come.

This wind, though, is different: it is quite devoid of those sounds, and bodes ill. I would rather hear their cries and estimate their proximity thus, save that they so chill the marrow. And Frodo is uneasy enough tonight as it is; his pain worsens, and he sleeps only fitfully, restless and chilled. In sitting watch, I stay close beside him, and do what little I can. . .at best, that consists of keeping the fire going and trying to keep him warm, using the athelas when we can, and watching him closely. He is quiet, but that is no reassurance. Most often he wanders in half- dreams, and I shudder to imagine what presence he must feel, what remains hidden behind the weary half-closed eyes. I do not think that I want to know, and it pains for me for him, so new to all of this. It seems ages rather than days since he remarked so casually upon becoming a wraith from what must seem to them very low rations indeed. One look at those eyes and I know he would not again make the nearly-fatal mistake he did in the Pony at Bree . . . but I regret bitterly at what cost that knowledge has been bought.

Close by, Frodo tosses and turns, and I hear a soft moan in the dim light as he winces, trying to find a more comfortable position. There is nothing I can do, but I turn nonetheless and tuck the blankets back around his shoulders, pulling his hood more closely about his sweat-drenched hair. He shivers, looking up at me, blinking as if he sees me only with difficulty, and not clearly even now.

"Strider. . .h-how much f-farther?"

"Some days yet. At least four. We would hurry faster if we could."

He shudders. "No. . .no, w-we c-cannot go any f-faster, of c-course. . . ."

I nod towards our packs. "A drink of water? I cannot say how good a smoke would be for you at present; the effort is likely to cause you more pain than the resulting pleasure."

"No. . .no, th-thank you. . .I'm not so th-thirsty, only c-cold. . . ." He sighs. "Gandalf. . .I wish. . . ."

"I know." Tucking the blankets more closely about his small frame, I sift through the pack with my other hand for a dry strip of cloth and dab his face with it, wiping the chill perspiration from his brow. "Try again to sleep a little. It will be morning too soon, and you must try to rest. Think of Elrond's house, of its warm hearths and soft beds. Soon enough we shall have you there."

Weakly he nods, mustering something that might almost have been a faint smile, and closes his eyes. Some minutes pass unchanged, but at last his breathing begins to even slightly, marking his passage into slumber. He shifts a little, murmuring something unintelligible, somehow reminding me a bit of Bilbo.

There is a glint. . .the Ring sparkles in the firelight, his movement causing the chain at his neck to slip a little, exposing it.

Surely he is too frail to continue carrying it in such an injured state.

If he were to put it on again - no question of that; he could not possibly survive another attack, not in this condition. Not without revealing all and passing into their realm, that of Shadow. If he puts it on again, all is lost. It is not safe that he continue to carry it, not in his present state. Surely it would be folly to continue risking so much. If. . .

If what?

I shake my head, promptly taking out my pouch to refill the dying embers of my pipe. Surely, I remind myself, it must have seemed equally practical, equally wise to the Nine when they accepted the Rings, one by one. Rekindling the pipe, I take a long, deep breath, exhaling smoke slowly into the darkness, calculating and recalculating how quickly we can reach Rivendell, by what paths we might best travel for speed as well as safety.

My greatest fear is that we will be too late.

~The End~