NOTE: This story is the sequel to "Unlikely Comfort" (Moria to Lórien) and "Leaving Lórien"; my slightly AU imagining of the Fellowship's journey down the Anduin. Chapters 1 and 2 set the stage......

Reviews (as always) eagerly pounced upon! Several reviews for "Unlikely Comfort" played a major role in shaping the story.

DISCLAIMER: Of course. The characters don't belong to me, I just get to think about them day and night.
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WHISPERS OF THE DRAGON
Chapter 1 --- Transition

"Sam, you're going to wear that cloak out before you've had it a day."

Sam sighed with pure wonder. "It's just the most amazing cloth, Mr. Frodo. I can't figure what they made it out of." He fingered an edge of the Elven cloak once again, then touched the green and silver leaf brooch lightly, reverently. "Me, Sam Gamgee, dressed in such a thing as this. And carrying a gift from the Lady herself. Who'd a thought it?" His eyes grew misty once again, gazing past Aragorn back up the river, back toward Lórien.

Frodo nodded, shifting his weight a bit as his back was beginning to pain him. He was sitting with Sam in the bow of the little boat, finding the wooden seats most uncomfortable. For most of the afternoon Aragorn had sat alone in the middle seat, paddling when there was need. The middle seat would not have allowed two Men to sit together, but one Man and a hobbit had room to sit side by side if they chose. Each boat contained the packs and traveling gear of the Company, coils of the soft Elven rope, boat covers, waterskins, and a supply of lembas and other foods packed by the Elves, some of it stowed under the small seat in the stern, some laying between the middle and rear seats. The Elves had outfitted each boat with two leaf-bladed paddles, one shortened for a hobbit's use. Or a dwarf's.

Legolas and Boromir kept their boats just behind Aragorn, the current carrying them all swiftly southwards.

Aragorn smiled when Sam let go of the cloak and reached his right hand out, once again, to grasp the side of the little craft. The Ranger had never seen anyone less at ease on the water, and the calm hours that had passed since leaving Lórien had done nothing to calm Sam's suspicions about this mode of travel. Sam and Gimli were the only members of the Company who could not swim at all, and neither planned to start anytime soon.

Frodo moved carefully to sit down next to Aragorn. Now that the sun was starting to set he felt he could look south once again, as he suspected it had been the sun sparkling all day on the water that had been making his head ache. He pulled his cloak tightly about him in the chill air and yawned.

"Frodo, did you get any sleep last night at all?"

"Very little," Frodo sighed. "We talked so long and so late, afterwards I just couldn't stop thinking about.........things." He pulled his legs up, trying to find a comfortable position.

"Tomorrow, pad a seat with one of the bedrolls until you get accustomed to it. Remember when we left Rivendell and hardly any of you could walk more than a few hours at a time up in those mountains?" Frodo nodded. "You'll get used to this, too." Aragorn looked up. "Even Sam may get used to it!"

"Strider, there's just nothing natural about boats and that's all there is to it," Sam said vehemently. "Even Elf boats."

Aragorn looked down as Frodo tried to stifle another yawn. He motioned behind them. "Lay down as best you can on the packs. Maybe you can fall asleep."

Frodo was about to protest when he realized he wasn't going to be able to keep his eyes open much longer. The sleepless night, the long hike that morning, and the quiet, motionless hours on the boat were lulling him to sleep against his will. Maybe a bit of sleep would ease his headache and clear away the odd disorientation he had been feeling for most of the afternoon. He climbed back to where the packs and gear were kept, burrowed between them, curled up with his cloak wrapped about him and was asleep in minutes.

After sunset Aragorn saw a good spot ahead on the western shore to camp, and he motioned to the other boats to follow him. They paddled hard and came to a level, gravelled beach surrounded by trees. Legolas and Boromir leaped out of their boats and pulled them up on shore. Gimli, Pippin, and Merry started unloading gear.

Frodo was only dimly aware that they had stopped, of someone lifting him, being carried. "Aragorn," he murmured, too groggy to fully awaken.

"You can sleep, Frodo, it's all right." Aragorn laid him gently down on the bedroll Sam had shaken out under a tree and covered him warmly. "Head....hurts...." Frodo whispered, before sinking back into the strangely deep sleep. The Ranger frowned and felt his forehead for fever, but found none. It seemed best to just let him sleep.

A short distance away, the Company sat in the growing darkness on some blankets and fallen logs, munching bread and the dried fruit and meats the Elves had packed for them. Aragorn joined them and decided the time was ripe to set a few rules for the journey, especially for the hobbits.

"We've done well today, but we have a long journey yet ahead. A fortnight, perhaps less." Aragorn unpinned the emerald and silver brooch from his tunic, looked at it for a moment, then pushed it into a pocket in his pack. "We must put away anything that might reflect the sun and attract attention." He nodded approvingly as, without a word, Merry and Pippin immediately took off the silver belts given to them by Galadriel and put them away. Boromir had removed his golden belt earlier in the day, not entirely at ease with wearing it. "Everyone must learn to use the paddles, to steer and turn at need. Anyone who doesn't know how should ask, and practice." Sam sighed, but nodded.

"Remember," Aragorn said, trying not to look at Pippin. "The lembas is a valuable gift, given to sustain those of us who accompany Frodo to Mount Doom. We must use it sparingly until then."

"We are no longer within protected borders. We must be vigilant, and not only at night. Sound carries far over the water. No singing, or shouting, and only quiet talking in the boats. We've tarried in Lórien longer than you may think, and the Enemy has not been idle. No fires at night unless there is great need. We must stay alert. Anyone in need of rest," and here he nodded toward Frodo's sleeping form, "Should say so. A tired sentry is a bad sentry." He looked around, gratified to see the hobbits gazing at him so seriously. They had come a long way.

Legolas and Gimli volunteered to take the first watch, and the rest rolled up in their cloaks and blankets, Sam and Merry on either side of Frodo, Pippin on the other side of Merry.

"Merry," Pippin whispered, "I'm cold."

"Come on then," Merry said, making room between him and Frodo. Pippin nestled between them and burrowed down into his blankets. Before falling asleep, Merry reached a hand across Pippin and let it rest lightly on Frodo's shoulder; he noticed that Sam had done the same. Neither had forgotten the encounter with Gollum outside Lórien. They were taking no chances.

** TBC **