Frodo’s heart beat madly, like that of a coney narrowly escaped from the jaws of a fox. The ring had consumed Boromir as surely as if the Man bore its sullen weight around his neck. Any hesitance he’d felt about setting out for Mordor alone - oh Sam, forgive me - had vanished before the demonic gleam in Boromir’s eyes. Galadriel had been right. One by one it would consume them all.
I must go at once, he thought. There is no time to waste.
He scrambled to his feet then froze as a voice called his name. It was Aragorn. But the sight of the tall Ranger brought no relief, only fear. Was here yet another Man come to claim what wasn’t his to own? Frodo willed himself to stillness when every impulse screamed run.
‘It has taken Boromir,’ Frodo said.
‘Where is the ring?’ demanded Aragorn so harshly that Frodo shrank back, stumbling in his haste to put space between them.
‘Stay away!’ he cried.
That seemed to shock Aragorn. He halted and held up his hands palms out in a gesture of surrender or supplication, Frodo wasn’t certain which. ‘Frodo, I swore to protect you.’
‘Can you protect me from yourself?’ Frodo asked bitterly. He opened his hand; the ring gleamed, unnaturally pure and perfect, on his dirty palm. ‘Or would you destroy it.’
Warily, as if Frodo were indeed some wild coney, Aragorn approached him. Frodo held his ground. He had trusted Aragorn from the first, despite Sam’s misgivings, despite the jeers of the residents of Bree, despite Strider’s weather-worn garb and the grimness of his countenance. He had to trust him now, or else the ring would claim yet another victory in the ongoing battle of wills that raged inside Frodo.
Aragorn’s eyes were riveted to the ring, so tantalising in its golden perfection. But Frodo made no move to hide it, even when it whispered, ‘Aragorn... Elessar...’ He would not allow the ring to destroy his faith in Aragorn’s strength to resist that seductive call.
Aragorn sank to his knees. His hands, callused and nicked by scars, strong enough to wrest the ring from Frodo as if he were no more than a helpless babe, reached out...
and gently wrapped Frodo’s fingers around the ring. Tears glimmered in his grey eyes as he pushed Frodo’s hand away in a gesture of repudiation.
‘I would have gone with you to the end, into the very fires of Mordor,’ he said, acknowledging the unspoken truth, that the task was now Frodo’s to accomplish alone and unaided.
‘I know.’ Tears burned in his own eyes, and Frodo put into those two simple words both apology for his momentary loss of faith and sorrow for this parting that was likely to be final. ‘Look after the others, especially Sam. He will not understand.’
But Aragorn hardly seemed to hear. His eyes were fixed on Sting in its scabbard at Frodo’s side. What little could be seen of the blade was now glowing blue.
Aragorn sprang to his feet, drawing his sword in one smooth motion. ‘Go, Frodo,’ he said urgently.
Frodo hesitated. Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens, Gimli had once said. How could he flee and leave Aragorn to face the enemy alone?
‘Run! Run!’ Aragorn yelled, and reluctantly Frodo did. The Ring-bearer, after all, had no choice but to retreat, he thought bitterly.
Frodo ran for the shelter of the trees, bile rising to his throat as he recalled other words spoken in Rivendell: If by my life or death I can protect you, I will.
Aragorn had knelt to him then, too, and Frodo’s heart had been lightened by the knowledge that he would be once more his companion on the road. Now their path together was sundered, and what hope was there that he would see his dear friend, for so Aragorn had proved beyond all doubting in the crucible of the ring’s temptation, ever again?
I’ve sent him to his death, Frodo thought. I’ve sent all of them to their deaths.
His heart wept as he ran, and he wished for a dose of Sam’s unquenchable optimism,
for never had he felt so small and alone.