Don't miss "By the starlit mere of Cuivienen," a marvelous, under-reviewed vignette by Daugher of Gorlois.

Now then. STORY COMPLETE!! THANK YOU for taking this journey with me. I actually had the idea for this last chapter before I even wrote Chapter 1, so I hope I was able to bring the story logically to this point. (Erin- 21: Remember what I said, what happens after an AU story is over can be left to our imaginations. So think good thoughts about Boromir!)

I have a notepad full of ideas for two more somewhat shorter tales --- one on Caradhras (Pippin shock/angst and Frodo acting as the comforter for a change); and one in Rivendell (the hobbits return to Rivendell after the war on their way back to the Shire, one day before Frodo's and Bilbo's birthday). I promised Talking Hawk I would upload Chapter 1 of my new story on her birthday (September 11), so I'd better decide which one to start writing! Any preference?

DISCLAIMER: Of course. The characters don't belong to me, I just get to think about them day and night.

_________________________

WHISPERS OF THE DRAGON

Chapter 15 --- Not Alone

Frodo wasn't in his bedroll, and Sam sat up quickly, his heart in his throat. Had he left? Was he gone? Sam sighed with relief to see his friend standing alone at the River's edge, gazing into the early-morning mist. Everyone else was still asleep. Sam got up and walked to Frodo's side.

"Good morning, Mr. Frodo," he said quietly. He frowned at the sight of Frodo holding Sting in his right hand. "Is everything all right?"

"Morning, Sam. Everything's all right.. well, *now*, that is."

"What do you mean?"

Sting was glowing a bit a few hours ago. Orcs about, presumably."

Sam gasped and looked across the River, then behind them into the trees. "Which side?"

"I don't know. Aragorn thought it might be a few of them roaming on the eastern shore." Frodo fell silent again.

This was the morning Frodo had to choose, east or west. Sam wished he could take the burden off his friend, but no one could. He had to know.

"Frodo," he said softly. Frodo turned to face him. "Which side?"

Frodo closed his eyes and shook his head. "I don't know," he whispered.

*****************

The Ring-bearer is setting out on the quest of Mount Doom. On him alone is any charge laid.. Let him not vow to walk in the dark, who has not seen the nightfall.... Elrond's voice, so clear. What did Gandalf say about.....?

"Frodo?"

With a start, Frodo realized everyone was looking at him expectantly. Seated in a circle after their morning meal, the time had finally come.

Frodo looked at every face. His Fellowship. Had anyone ever had such friends, such protectors? He shook his head.

"I cannot choose yet. Let me be alone for an hour." He sighed. "I cannot remember the last time I was truly alone."

Sam and Merry exchanged worried glances, but Sam remembered what Merry had said the day before. As long as Frodo didn't get his hands on one of the boats, he couldn't take off east alone. And to head toward Minas Tirith made no sense at all, as far as Sam could see.

"Very well," Aragorn said. "Don't go far." He said nothing else, although he longed to beg, to plead. Please don't go far. Stay safe.

Sam noted that Frodo chose the path that climbed up the slope, and he saw that Boromir was also following Frodo's departure with his eyes. Everyone else looked down, or away, respectful of Frodo's need to be alone. Even Pippin suddenly found a corner of his cloak suddenly fascinating to examine.

After some time, Pippin sighed, still looking down. "Boromir, is Mordor truly as awful as you say?"

"I trust the tales I have heard, little one."

"Oh."

No one said anything else for a long time, each person heavy with his own thoughts.

*******************

Sam was getting uneasy. "Strider," he said, "With respect, sir, Mr. Frodo's been gone a bit longer than an hour, I would say."

"I agree, Sam. We must call for him." Everyone sprang to their feet, eager to be the one to find Frodo. "Wait-----!"

With no further thought, Sam immediately dashed up the slope in the direction Frodo had gone. Boromir ran after him, then overtook the hobbit and raced on, his thoughts confused and spinning. After a long climb he reached a level spot quite high up on the hill, and spotted Frodo across a clearing walking aimlessly among broken statuary. Frodo looked up, startled, as the Man came into view. Boromir stopped, looking at him. Looking past him. The hill commanded a clear view toward the southwest, the wooded, broken landscape between this place and home. Home, Boromir thought. The Ring, I have to----

Just then Sam came to the top of the hill, panting for breath. The thoughts of the previous night descended upon Boromir's mind like a black cloud. Surely Frodo will trade the Ring for something.... for someone... With no clear thought of what he was doing, or why, Boromir grabbed the hobbit as he raced past, pulling him tightly against him. Before either Sam or Frodo knew what was happening, Boromir had pulled Sam's sword from its sheath and was holding it against Sam's throat.

"Put your sword on the ground, Frodo," Boromir rasped in a strange, tight voice. "Do it NOW." His left arm was wrapped tightly around Sam's chest and arms, and he could feel Sam's wildly beating heart. He held the small sword steady at the hobbit's throat.

In shock at the sight before him, Frodo reached down with shaking hands and pulled Sting from its sheath. Slowly he bent down, placed it on the grass, and stood up again.

Boromir nodded his head at the broken stump of a pillar several yards away. "Take out the Ring. Put it on that stone and back away." He felt Sam catch his breath in shock.

"Mr. Frodo, no!" Sam cried. "Run sir!" Frodo stood still, unable to move. How could this be happening?

Finally he stirred. "Boromir," he whispered, "What are you doing?" He took a step forward. "You know this is wrong. Let Sam go." He took another step. "Don't listen to the Ring, Boromir, you know this is wrong. You *know* this is wrong! Boromir, don't listen!"

"Don't make me hurt him, Frodo," Boromir said grimly. Frodo halted, his thoughts spinning.

"Frodo," Sam whispered, "Please run!"

This wasn't Boromir. It couldn't be. In all his nightmares about the Ring and its fate, Frodo had never imagined anything like this. He was neither warrior nor wizard, but a sheltered, weary hobbit trying to do what the Wise believed he alone could do. How could he make such a choice as this? He only knew that if Boromir harmed Sam, his Sam, two good people would be lost. Not Sam, no, please no. If he handed over the One Ring to a Man crazed with greed and desperation, all of Middle-earth could be lost. He couldn't give Boromir the Ring. He couldn't lose Sam. He couldn't choose.

Against his will his hand inched up toward the Ring, Boromir watching him, breathing heavily. The Ring wanted to go with Boromir, Frodo could feel it. It would destroy the Man and the Dark Lord would enslave him. The Shadow spreading, devouring.. Sobbing, his eyes never leaving Sam's, Frodo forced his hand away from the Ring, into a deep pocket, fingers curling around the Phial of Galadriel. "A light to you in dark places," She had said. This is darkness, Frodo thought desperately. Help me.

Suddenly Boromir looked past him and gasped. Sam, too, went rigid, his eyes wide. Frodo turned around and saw Sting glowing faintly blue. Even as they looked, the sword grew a bit brighter. Frodo looked around them wildly, and with a cry Boromir released Sam, thrust the small sword into Sam's hand, and pulled out his own.

Boromir stared aghast at Frodo, then at Sam. "What have I done?" he whispered. He felt to be waking from a nightmare. "Sam, I would never... I could never have..." Whirling about and looking back down the hill they had climbed, he could just make out Merry and Pippin barely visible through the trees, still searching for Frodo, unaware of any danger. He turned for one last, desperate look at Frodo and Sam. Sting grew brighter. "Run," he urged hoarsely. With that, he raced down the hill, all thought of the Ring forgotten in his need to warn his little ones.

Frodo raced to where Sam had fallen shakily to the ground. Frodo sank to his knees and flung his arms about his friend for a long moment, both clinging tightly to the other.

"Sam, oh Sam," Frodo whispered, tears still streaming down his face.

"I'm all right," Sam said shakily.

The Ring, Frodo thought wildly, it was the Ring. Who would it seize next? There was no other choice. He threw himself to his feet, breathing heavily, as all indecision left him. "I have to go!" he said.

Sam looked at him and stood up. "Not alone, sir," he said steadily. "Not without your Sam."

Frodo shook his head, backing away. "You don't understand. I have to go alone. It's certain death, you can't come. You can't!"

To his horror, Sam saw Frodo reaching for the Ring. With a cry, he flung himself forward, toppling Frodo to the ground. Sam grasped both his friend's hands and held them tightly between his own, Frodo staring up at him in shock.

"Mr. Frodo, I'm coming with you. You'll not go alone and that's that. Now let's get away from this place before we're found here." Slowly he released Frodo's hands and rose to his feet, then held his hand out. In a daze, Frodo grasped his friend's hand and stood up.

"Sam," Frodo whispered. Slowly he took a deep breath and nodded, suddenly relieved beyond measure. "All right, it's plain we were meant to go together." The shadow of a smile touched his lips. "Come, then."

Stopping only to retrieve Sting, with one last look about them they raced down the hill choosing a different direction than Boromir had gone, flitting as silently as only hobbits could through the trees toward the River. Toward Mordor.

** END **