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Chapter 22 : The Right Course of Action
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As a young child, Frodo had never been fearful of the dark. Even after he had lost his parents in that boating accident, he had been perfectly content to extinguish the candle next to his bed once he was left alone in the room. But now he feared the night, for it hid whatever might be lurking in the shadows, despite the constant watch kept by Sam, Harry, and himself. And he could not retreat into the realm of sleep for safety; Sauron waited to haunt him there.
Now he was blindfolded, and whether their captors were friend or foe did not matter. For with all light cut off, all he could see in that darkness was the terrifying elf-lord shape of Sauron, laughing his chilling laugh. Try as he might, Frodo could not draw upon memories of the Shire for long. Even now, as he tried to recall the last birthday party Bilbo and he had hosted, the memory slipped from his mind like water from cupped hands. It was terrifying to think that these fair visions would be less able to sustain him as they drew nearer to Mordor, but it seemed that he had no choice.
Of course, whether they were headed towards or away from Mordor at the moment remained unknown to him. They had taken so many turns and gone over so many hills that Frodo had lost all sense of direction.
Harry sincerely hoped that neither Ron nor Hermione ever had to experience being captured. The blindfold cut into his face and the ropes chafed at his wrists. The uneven terrain caused him to stumble often and sometimes even fall. This in turn exacerbated the discomfort caused by a pebble that had somehow gotten lodged in his boot.
He had not the slightest idea where they were going; their captors had ensured that much. By the reddish light that seeped through the corners of the blindfold, he could vaguely tell that nearly the rest of the day had passed. He had given up trying to move the tightly tied strip of cloth by moving his facial muscles quite some time ago, having realized that even if he did manage to glimpse their location, he would have no idea where they were. In any case, his glasses had been taken away so that his eyes could be properly covered.
At least he knew that the glasses were safe. The men had discovered the camp before they had found Harry and his companions, perhaps because the remnants of Sam’s cooking fire had begun to smoke. The captives had been led to back to the place where their belongings lay before the long march to Merlin knew where. They only paused to see the men upend the delicious-smelling pot of stew and gather all of Sam’s small belongings together. These, together with their weapons and Harry’s pack and staff, were being carried along by several of the Gondorian men.
It had taken a while for Harry to determine why the leader of the group looked so familiar, but all of a sudden it clicked. Gondorian, the man had mistakenly called Harry, whose features were admittedly similar in color to several of the soldiers’. Gondorian – as in Gondor, the land from which Boromir had come.
And the leader of this band looked remarkably like Boromir. It did not take a huge stretch of the imagination to believe that this was the younger brother about whom Boromir had spoken on that long-ago day in Rivendell.
It was quite likely, therefore, that these Men were enemies of Sauron. They might be willing to help Harry, Frodo, and Sam, if they could be persuaded. The most difficult part of the process came in explaining what exactly they were doing so close to Mordor. Harry quite clearly recalled Frodo’s account of how Boromir had tried to overpower him and take the Ring. Unless this supposed brother was made of some stronger stuff, extricating themselves from this situation could be very tricky indeed, especially without making things worse. He would have to somehow win this man’s trust in order to convince him of their need to continue with the Quest – without needing to show the Ring itself. If it was at all possible, Harry wanted to avoid any mention of the Ring, for the temptation to seize it was strong. Even he had felt it tugging at his consciousness as the days wore on, whispering to him that it would be only too easy to take either his sword or his wand and use the Ring to his advantage.
Harry tried hard to ignore these treacherous voices, but it was difficult to do so. These evil whispers often managed to strike a chord deep within his soul in a way that any sort of temptation the Dark Arts could offer had never done. On days like today, when he found himself frustrated, the evil whispers were particularly strong. If only he had learned Occlumency properly, then he might more easily ignore them! As it was, his only way of fighting the Ring’s growing power over him was to constantly maintain a positive outlook. He could understand now how Ron must have felt before Parth Galen.
He had no ideas, though, about how to convince the Gondorians that he and the Hobbits were no threat. And Harry knew one thing – if the leader of these Men was even half as perceptive as Dumbledore, he would eventually be able to see through any lie Harry might tell. Blind luck had gotten him through many scrapes before – that and having remarkably helpful friends and acquaintances – but here, so close to Mordor, he felt that the chances of something fortunate manifesting itself were very slim indeed.
Even the memories that were once Frodo’s were no help. Little by little they were becoming less vivid.
Eventually he heard the sound of falling water coming closer. Soon afterward he perceived that they were passing around or under the water. The cool air was filled with the low buzz of activity, and when the blindfolds were finally removed and his glasses returned Harry saw that they were in some sort of cave. The entrance was hidden by a waterfall, and several Men were in quiet conversation, poring over maps.
The leader of the men who had captured them approached as they stood. “My men tell me that you are Orc spies.”
Harry was about to reply when Sam sputtered, “Spies! Now wait just a minute!”
“We are not spies,” Harry said quickly, cutting Sam off. “We are on a mission of great importance to the future of Middle Earth. Trust me,” he said, looking the man directly in the eye. “You would do well to let us go.”
The man shook his head. “Times are dark; I cannot trust your word.”
“We are but two Hobbits of the Shire, traveling with a protector,” Frodo said, gesturing with his bound hands. “I am Frodo Baggins, and this is Samwise Gamgee and Harry Potter.”
“But what mission brought you to Ithilien, so close to the borders of Mordor?”
“I cannot say, for that is secret,” Frodo said.
“Our mission began in Rivendell,” Harry said. “We were with nine other companions. Two were my close friends. Another was Gandalf the Wizard.”
Frodo added, “Two were of my kin. There was also an Elf and a Dwarf, and two others of the race of Men – Aragorn son of Arathorn, and Boromir of Gondor.”
Their captor’s eyes gleamed. “You knew Boromir?”
“And you were friends of his?”
“Fast friends, I could not say, but I had no quarrel with him,” Frodo replied.
“Neither did I,” Harry added. “He was a good man, though it’s been a while since we last saw him.”
The man’s grey eyes hardened. “Would you grieve, then, to learn that he is dead?”
“What?” Harry exclaimed. “I had no idea!”
“When? How?” Frodo asked in alarm.
“That I cannot say. We found his horn, washed up on the riverbank six days ago.”
“The Orc attack,” Harry mused aloud. He looked up and met the man’s eyes. “Our company was attacked by Orcs; we departed to ensure that we could complete our mission. I know some of our companions survived – ” With a jolt, he remembered that he had not seen Ron across the water before they left. Had he, like Boromir, been slain at Parth Galen?
“He was brave,” Harry continued, gulping back the fear that had risen within him at this thought. “He fought hard in Moria. I am sure that, if he died, he died valiantly.”
“Your words almost confirm my fears,” the man replied. “I have felt since before we found his horn that something happened to Boromir.”
“You’re his brother, right?” Harry asked.
The man sat up. “What makes you say that?”
“Boromir mentioned having a brother, once or twice. You bear a fair resemblance to him.”
“Yes, I am his brother. My name is Faramir.” His eyes searched Harry’s, as if trying to determine whether he was lying. After a long silence, he called to two of his men.
“Take these two – ” he paused, looking at Sam and Frodo.
“Hobbits,” Sam said.
“Find a place for these two Hobbits. I wish to question their companion further.”
Frodo looked wildly at Harry, as though imploring him to keep the Ring secret. The young wizard gave a slight nod, his mouth set in a grim line as the Hobbits were led away. Soon enough he and Faramir were left alone.
“Sit,” Faramir commanded, motioning to another large rock.
Harry felt that he was in no position to argue, given that he was weaponless and that his wand was hidden in his jerkin, and Faramir’s men would be on him before he could draw it out. Once seated, he waited for Faramir to speak.
“You bear a resemblance to those of the Gondorian race – dark hair, green eyes,” Faramir said. “And yet you seem to know nothing of Gondor, and you travel with strange companions, claiming to be on an important mission.”
Harry said nothing.
“You say you knew Boromir. I do not know whether to trust you or not.”
“You have every reason not to,” Harry replied. “I hope that you can trust me, but it is a lot to ask.”
“Perhaps you might tell me of your mission.”
Harry shook his head. “I can’t do that – it is too perilous.”
“I might hazard a guess.”
“And I would say nothing.” Harry said this confidently, but knew that the way he wore his emotions on his sleeve would hamper his efforts.
Faramir abandoned this line of questioning and asked, “And that gangrel creature?”
A pause. “What do you mean?” Harry asked.
“A fourth companion. He slipped away before we could catch him.”
Harry considered lying, but could not think up a suitable story quickly enough. “He is our guide, after a fashion. Sam and I detest his company, but it is necessary, for he knows these lands much better than we do.”
“And the other Hobbit, Frodo?”
“Frodo is the one he trusts most. They have an…understanding.”
Faramir considered this. “How does one keep such a creature in check?”
Harry thought quickly. He could not very well tell Faramir about the Ring; that was too dangerous. Crossing his arms, he felt his wand hidden in his jerkin, and decided to play one of his few cards.
“I am a wizard,” he replied, standing up as straight as he could. “There are ways.”
The other man looked puzzled. “Surely you cannot know more than a few charlatan’s tricks; wizards are all old in appearance.”
“That’s what Frodo told me. I use a different kind of magic.”
Faramir shuffled his feet backwards, his arms crossing as well. “Your words inspire more fear in my heart than trust,” he said, frowning. “And even if I did trust you and let you go, what can you three hope to achieve against the evil that lies in Mordor?”
“We hope to destroy it,” Harry sighed.
Faramir made a scoffing sound that was not unlike Hermione’s. Harry smiled as he thought this and said, “Hope is our largest weapon against the darkness – hope, and knowing that we have something worth fighting for.”
“And what is that?” Faramir asked, looking piercingly at him.
“Friends. Home. Love,” Harry said, reminding himself of Dumbledore.
The other man looked thoughtfully at Harry before saying, “Your words are fair, and I almost wish to trust you, despite all my instincts and the words of my men. Remain with your companions for the night; I have things to do ere the next dawn.” He signaled to a pair of guards, who flanked Harry’s sides and began to lead him to the tunnel where the Hobbits had gone. Harry glanced back before he turned the corner and saw Faramir gazing into the distance as he lit a pipe.
The Hobbits were sitting side by side in a small room off the tunnel. They both looked up immediately when Harry entered. As the guards left, Frodo whispered, “Did you say – ”
Harry shook his head, leaning back against the opposite wall. “The secret of the mission is safe, for now. I tried to make him think that we’re going to use my magic to try to bring down Sauron. I’m not sure if he believed me - I think he’s going to try and find out again.”
“They can’t leave well enough alone,” Sam said, glaring after the direction the guards had taken. “How can we be any harm? Look at us!”
“They saw Gollum,” Harry said.
Frodo’s gaze sharpened. “What did you tell him?”
“The truth,” Harry sighed. “As much as I could, anyway, without letting the secret slip.” He slid down the wall into a sitting position, suddenly realizing how tired and hungry he was. He hadn’t slept much, and he hadn’t had anything to eat since before the rabbit stew had been discarded.
Frodo’s hand had instinctively moved just below his neck, pressed against the place where the Ring lay under his shirt. “How much longer do you think we can keep the secret?”
“Try not to do that, for one,” Harry said, nodding to Frodo’s hand. It was almost difficult to give this advice because the evil voice was speaking to him again. He did his best to ignore it, filling his head with fond memories of times at Hogwarts. Good memories, good memories, he told himself. Like I’m casting a Patronus. He closed his eyes and tilted his head back, picturing everything from the time he learned he was a wizard to the times Gryffindor had won the Quidditch Cup….
The next thing he knew, he was being shaken awake. Blinking the sleep from his eyes, he blearily noticed that Faramir was standing over him. He glanced to his left; the Hobbits were sound asleep, and the Ring was still hidden from plain view.
“Come with me,” Faramir said. Without another word, he turned and left the small chamber.
Puzzled, Harry stood and followed Faramir and his men. He was led outside to a place that overlooked the waterfall from another angle.
“There,” Faramir pointed.
Harry approached the edge and peered down to see a pool of water. And there, perched on a rock near the center, was the skinny form of Gollum.
“You found him,” he said wryly.
Faramir looked at him, unsmiling. “To enter the water carries the most severe penalty. You said you dislike him, so you may not object.” He raised his hand and nodded to his left, indicating archers ready to fire.
“No!” Harry said. “You can’t.”
The other man looked at him with a quizzical expression.
“We need him. Let me capture him – I can do that without harming him.”
“You need to trust me,” Harry said. Gollum’s nasal voice filled the air around them, singing something about the fish he had caught.
“I cannot – ”
“He will escape if I don’t do this,” Harry said. “We need him unhurt, odd as that may sound. Do you trust me? I need to use my magic.”
Faramir hesitated for a moment before nodding once. “Do as you say. But if I find my trust is misplaced, these arrows will find you.”
As quickly and silently as he could, Harry sped back down the passage and used the sound of the water to guide him to the pool. He ducked behind a rock to conceal himself from Gollum as he carefully drew out his wand.
“What is that?” came Faramir’s voice.
Suppressing a yelp of surprise, Harry hissed, “My wand. Can I do my work yet?”
Faramir nodded. “Go.”
Harry strode into Gollum’s view, concealing the wand as best he could. “Oi, Gollum!”
The creature stopped tearing his fish apart to stare at Harry. “Sméagol sees tall one. What has he done with Master, he wonders?”
“Poor poor Sméagol, he is lefted alone,” Gollum lamented. “Hobbitses leave him, tall one too!”
“Not that we had much choice,” Harry muttered. “Come on, we’ve got to get going.”
Gollum regarded the fish in front of him. “Sméagol wantses to finish his fishhhh,” he hissed.
“Sméagol needs to come here now,” Harry said impatiently. He showed Gollum his wand for good measure.
The emaciated creature stared balefully back, hissing. “We will eats this fish first!”
“All right, now you’ve done it,” Harry said. “Incarcerous! ”
With a surprised yelp that was shortly suppressed by the ropes that shot from Harry’s wand, Gollum dropped his fish and lost his balance. Before he hit his head or tumbled into the water, Harry swished his wand and performed the Levitation Charm to bring Gollum back to the bank. In an instant, Faramir’s men were upon Gollum’s bound form, carrying him away and into the caves. A look of utter hate was etched upon Gollum’s pale features, his luminescent eyes radiating pure venom.
Faramir himself looked back at Harry with a certain wariness. “I thank you for what you have done,” he said cautiously. “You may return to your companions for now.” With a final glance at Harry’s wand, he turned away to follow his men.
Left alone by the water, Harry slipped his wand back into his jerkin before he began the walk back to the room where Frodo and Sam were sleeping. He was often quite sure that his actions were correct, the right thing to do. But now he could not shake the look that Gollum had shot him only moments before.
It was the only way to ensure that he remained relatively unharmed, he told himself. It was the right thing to do.
Or was it?
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