July 2010: This story has gone untouched for seven years. At this point, I am not sure if it will be continued. As I look at the author's notes in each chapter, I feel enormous pride: the patient, generous help and guidance I have received on this story from so many excellent authors is staggering. I cannot help feeling truly privileged.

The time that has elapsed is not an issue; completing the story is a motivator on its own and speaks for continuing the task I once started. I would also be pleased to complete a story that has had so much help from so many authors, for which, again, my deepest and sincerest thanks.

Reasons that speak against continuing the story are twofold: as I look at the story, it feels too movie-thriven. While it was going to wander off to more literary paths, novelizing a story already told wasn't my intention. Another reason is that while this story waited for updates, I started another one, "Broken," for which I inadvertently planned almost the same ending. The stories are different in tone and execution, not to mention champion in different ratings and genres, but their outcome will be the same.

For now, I leave the story status as in-progress. I also take the opportunity to express my cordial thanks to everyone who has reviewed and followed the story over the years!

Chapter 4: Falling

The canoes were directed into the cove and the Fellowship went ashore. Aragorn and Legolas went scouting ahead while Boromir and Gimli unpacked the boats with the help of the hobbits. Every so often, Boromir would glance thoughtfully at Frodo, who felt uneasy about the attention. He was about to question Boromir when Aragorn returned and said that the area seemed secure.

Legolas returned to the camp a good while later. Aragorn went up to him with a frown on his face.

"Is something wrong? I did not find signs of the enemy."

"Neither did I. I am not so worried about them...," Legolas halted and closed his eyes. Judging from the crease on his forehead, he seemed to be listening intently. Aragorn strained his hearing, but heard nothing, save the commotion of the others and the fluttering of the tree leaves. Finally, Legolas brushed a hand across his forehead and opened his eyes with a sigh.

"No, the enemy has not reached us yet, but I think we should move on. There is something foul in the air. The trees are silent; nature does not speak to me."

Aragorn seemed vexed at this. "If only unnerving feelings and no physical threat are present, we will stay here. The day's journey has been long enough." With a nod, Aragorn left Legolas and joined Boromir in setting up a camp. Had he looked back, he would have seen Legolas return to the forest with slightly trembling steps. Had he followed the elf, he would have seen Legolas go sit down under a leafy tree and bow his head to his knees.

Back at the camp, tensions had begun to rise. Gimli, who despite all his wisdom had not yet learned to read Men well enough, had irritated Aragorn by asking about their route ahead.

"Where do you plan to go from here, Master Aragorn? We all know that Gandalf didn't share his travel plans further than this." A quick glance at the hobbits told Aragorn that they had not known.

"Rest assured, Gimli. Gandalf himself had only vague ideas of the road we were going to take. We shall find our way."

"Is that so? How do you suppose we'll even find our way through Emyn Muil? It is an impossible labyrinth of razor-sharp rocks. Even if we made it through, we would be faced with the Dead Marshes, marshlands perilous to those who don't know where the few safe footholds lie. Have you ever trodden paths of the marshlands, Strider?"

Everybody was now watching the argument intently. Boromir seemed only mildly interested, but the hobbits looked uncertain and even a bit frightened. In an unspoken understanding, Merry and Pippin moved closer to each other, while Sam busied himself with the cooking gear. Frodo sat alone, avoiding everybody. His fists were clenched. Aragorn glanced at them all. Foolish dwarf, he cursed to himself. The last thing they needed was for that fool to frighten the Ring-bearer, upon whom the quest lay. Their Company had enough difficulties already. Gimli had hit a sore spot; Aragorn had no idea where they were going to go. Gandalf had not shared his plans.

"You should focus on more present problems, Master Dwarf. This camp needs to be set up before nightfall."

If Gimli was ignorant about the emotional turmoil of Men, so was Aragorn about the proper conduct with the Dwarves. He had trouble realizing the danger in the situation, since his judgment was clouded with past memories and anger at the thought of fallen Gandalf. Gimli narrowed his eyes and straightened his posture. The Dwarves did not take insults lightly, even if they came from men like Aragorn.

"I have questioned you about the route ahead, Aragorn. As a member of this Fellowship, I am entitled to know the travel plan. Or do you not have one? Are you leading us blindly?"

That was an open challenge. Gimli was too obstinate to stand down, once he had gotten into the argument. Aragorn was not about to stand down and let the dwarf question his leader's abilities, even if he was second-guessing himself. Aragorn rose to his full height and measured Gimli with his eyes. Gimli did not avert the challenge.

"What would a dwarf know about traveling here? When did Gimli son of Glóin become the one to lead this Fellowship?"

The youngest hobbits drew back just noticeably. Sam stared at Aragorn in bewilderment. Frodo tensed. Even Boromir seemed to feel awkward. "Aragorn, I do not think that—" he started carefully.

"Stay out of this, Boromir."

"There is no reason—"

"I said, stay out!"

"Enough!" Frodo cried in horror and leapt to his feet. "What is wrong with you? Do we not have enough enemies without making any amongst ourselves?" Frodo turned his back and fled from the camp.

All fell quiet. Aragorn and Gimli were still standing, facing each other. Finally, Aragorn blinked several times. The dark shroud that had covered his thinking shattered, and he realized everybody was staring at him. He took an uncertain step and tried to ignore the ache in his temples.

"Boromir..." He looked at the man. "Boromir, will you...?" Aragorn gestured toward the forest where Frodo had disappeared.

"I will go after Frodo," Boromir said and left.

Aragorn stared after Boromir until the man was out of seeing distance. He slowly turned toward the others, who were looking at him in wonder. He averted their gaze and started walking away.

"I must be alone," he whispered, and then he was gone.

Boromir had no trouble finding Frodo's tracks and following them. A few broken branches and faint footprints made the tracking easy. He wished he would have had time to take all of his weaponry with him; walking in the forest nearly unarmed made him uneasy. That could not be helped now. He had to find the halfling before any harm could come to either of them. When he again struck his head on a low bough, he cursed Aragorn and their foolish mission. Just as he was about to lose his patience, he spotted Frodo sitting on a flat stone.

"Frodo?" he said as he approached the halfling carefully.

"Are you alone?" asked Frodo.

"I am."

"I do not wish to return, not yet."

"I understand your wish for solitude, but we must go back. It is not safe for you to wander by yourself. Only the slightest lapse could be the ruin of this quest."

Frodo sighed dejectedly and stood up. Together, the two started walking back to the camp. Frodo walked with his head bowed, but after a while he started thinking that something was wrong. Boromir kept staring at him. Frodo halted and turned to face the man. Boromir halted as well, and gazed intently at him, or rather at something below Frodo's face. With a start, Frodo realized that the Ring had slipped from under his coat and undercoat and was now shining in full view on its chain. He quickly covered the Ring, and Boromir shook out of his reverie.

"The Ring... Frodo, do you even realize what power it holds?"

"Why do you ask, Boromir? The Ring is evil. Any power in it is evil."

"It does not have to be evil."

Startled by the intensity of his stare, Frodo stepped back. "Do not cherish such thoughts. Remember what Gandalf said: the Ring cannot be used for good. All in the Council agreed with him. Aragorn—"

"Gandalf!" cried Boromir. "Aragorn," he sneered. "One is dead; the other cannot even keep in peace with his own. Why do you accept such leadership? There are more paths to be chosen than the perilous one we have followed."

"Do not speak such things, Boromir. Come, we must return to the campsite." Frodo hastened his walk, but Boromir stopped him by grabbing his arm. Frodo glared at the hand holding him, and Boromir released him quickly. The man kneeled down so that their faces were at the same level. A pair of eager eyes met a frightened pair.

"Listen to me, Frodo. There is an alternative to this folly. You cannot succeed in unmaking the Ring without destroying yourself and your friends. We, you and I, can and will wield the Ring's power and use it against the enemy. Come with me to Minas Tirith, and that will be the end of your troubles."

"No, Boromir. I cannot. The Ring cannot be used for good. You know that."

"Know?" sneered Boromir. His tone was scornful and venomous. "What do I know? I know what an old wizard and the Elves have told me. It is easy for the Elves to act in their self-righteous manner. They can always flee to their secret lands beyond and leave us mortals to solve our own problems. It is not their concern. It is not the blood of their kind that has stained the White City of Gondor."

"There is Aragorn—"

"Speak not that name," said Boromir angrily. "What has he done for this Fellowship? He led us to both Moria and Lórien, against my wishes. He claims the rights of heir of Gondor, but not once has he spilled his blood for our country; not once has he risked his life for the White City. Is that the kind of man you trust?"

"The foul Ring-spell is clouding your judgment. You are not seeing things clearly. You—"

Frodo's plea was cut in mid-sentence. Boromir grabbed his arm angrily and spoke with passion.

"I see it clearly for the first time. Why did I not see this earlier? This is all some foul trick of the Elves that they planned to the ruin of us all. They are in league with the enemy. Think, Frodo: we left from Rivendell and passed through Lothlórien. We saw tens of fit elven warriors. An Elf-lord by the name of Glorfindel was present at the Council. While there, I learned that he and the likes of his possess magic powers and see the world of the enemy as clear as I see in bright daylight. Why did he not come with us? Why have none of the Elves joined our cause?"

"We have Legolas," said Frodo, struggling from the tight grip. The grip did not falter.

"A messenger from a distant realm? That is all the Elves have done to help us!" spat Boromir.

"Release me! Your grip hurts."

"Let me have the Ring, and I will let you walk into your own ruin. If you refuse to follow me and aid my people, you deserve what is coming to you."

Boromir reached toward the chain from which the Ring was hung. Frodo acted without thinking: he dodged and bit Boromir on the hand has hard as he could. Boromir let go of him, yelping in pain. Frodo took off running and the man pursued. Frodo ran back toward the camp, diving under low branches, which slowed down his pursuer. Boromir cursed under his breath and did his best to keep up with Frodo. In his anger, he failed to dodge a thick branch that blocked his way. He hit his head hard and lost consciousness.


Review, please. It won't take much of your time, but it would make my day. Reviews on the story have lately been few...

Huge thanks to al (alliwantisanelfforchristmas) for the beta'ing. I owe her a lot for spending countless hours in front of computer just so that I could have my story. Thank you, nin mellon.

Published September 12, 2003. Revised 2010.