Author's Note: Here's the third chapter! I hope it brightens up your day, especially if you're still stuck at home. :)
It was difficult to effectively keep six feet apart from everyone in the Fellowship at all times, but for the most part, the company managed it as they began their long trek towards Mordor. Frodo felt increasingly isolated, and although he was aware that the Ring was causing him to assume the worst of his companions, he couldn't shake the feeling that they all had the virus and wanted to transmit it to him.
When he was not consumed with thoughts of the Ring, Frodo began to notice some interesting and even disturbing changes in his companions as they traveled further south. Since they never encountered anyone on the roads, Merry and Pippin eventually gave up on wearing pants at all, opting for loose shorts or even just bath robes. Gandalf only grumbled about this for a few days before realizing that he could not give the two hobbits any sufficient reason to dress formally. In fact, the wizard himself had lately taken to keeping his tall hat on even when he slept, likely to cover up some of the unkemptness of his hair.
The Fellowship tried all kinds of things to keep themselves occupied as they felt increasingly bored with travel and the lack of community. Gimli continued playing whatever video games he had been enjoying during the Zoom council, but Legolas proudly whipped out his tablet and binged several different shows. Aragorn and Boromir were clearly interested in these shows and would have moved right up to the six foot distance from the elf, but Legolas continued to neglect his mask, often wearing it only over his mouth and leaving his nose completely uncovered. There were even occasions when he took it off entirely, drawing death glares from the rest of the Fellowship.
Boromir eventually tired of trying to watch the same quest reruns over Legolas' shoulder, and he took it upon himself to begin teaching the younger hobbits how to fight at a safe social distance. Merry and Pippin were more than happy to partake in a new hobby to pass the time, and they engaged in the practice during nearly every stop for a rest. Frodo was glad that his companions were able to apply themselves productively, but Sam just shook his head as though the skill were pretty much pointless.
"Move your feet!" Aragorn instructed while watching one session play out before the Fellowship. He had poked a hole in one of their disposable masks so that he could smoke his pipe, and thus everyone distanced themselves even further from him just to be safe.
Frodo continued to watch Boromir's lesson descend into a six-feet-apart scuffle (however that was possible) while Sam became fixated on something dark moving towards them in the sky. His focus on it drew Frodo's attention as well, and soon even Gandalf and Gimli had given up arguing about their road to look at the object. Of course Legolas had positioned himself dramatically on top of a rock to stare at it as though he could have a better vantage point from a few feet off the ground.
"What is that?" Sam inquired.
"Nothing; it's just a wisp of cloud!" Gimli insisted, reaching into his pocket to take out his Nintendo Switch. He started playing it without giving the cloud another thought.
"It's moving fast," Boromir noted. "And against the wind."
As the object grew closer, the Fellowship could make out that it was not in fact a cloud but a swarm or flock of creatures. Legolas alone had eyes sharp enough to identify what the mass was made of.
"Crebain from Dunland!" the elf declared with an extra hint of dramatic flair.
Sam let out a happy sigh and put a hand to his heart. "Master, isn't that something? Nature is healing! Perhaps we are the virus in this world, Mr. Frodo."
Frodo smiled and felt a warm, fuzzy feeling appear in his spirit. His happiness was interrupted by shouts coming from Aragorn as the ranger grabbed up his baggage and moved towards the thicker brush. "Hide!" he shouted. "This is not Dunland; they must be an invasive species."
"At least they're not hornets," Pippin mumbled, but the Fellowship wasted no time in following Aragorn's orders.
Frodo was horrified to find that he could not secure a decent hiding spot and also maintain his six feet of social distance. The only cleft of rock left for him to squeeze beneath was just over five feet from the nook where Samwise was hiding. Frodo felt his conscience wrestle inside him, and he stood still in his hesitation, prompting the other members of the Fellowship to call out to him. Still, it was only with gritted teeth and a rapidly beating heart that he finally forced himself to dart forward into the spot, grabbing his cloak and wrapping it thoroughly around his face for good measure. He could neither hear nor see what was going on around him.
After a few moments, he felt something rough jabbing his shoulder. At first he recoiled, fearing that one of his companions had dared to reach out and touch him. But when the object hit him again, he realized that it must be the end of a staff or stick. His trembling hands slowly unwound his cloak from his head, and as soon as his face was free to feel the breeze, his eyes fluttered open. And then they abruptly shut as Gandalf doused him full in the face with cleaning spray, causing Frodo to cough and gag while his skin and eyes burned.
"There," the wizard commented, nodding to himself (or so Frodo supposed; his vision was now greatly impaired). "The crebain must be spies of Saruman. The passage south is being watched." The wizard now turned to face the brutal-looking peaks of the Misty Mountains and gestured towards them. "We must take the path of Caradhras."
The other members looked forlornly at their new path, but Frodo felt both fear and even anger bubble up in his chest. He wondered if perhaps it was possible that even Gandalf was corrupted into wanting to take the Ring for himself; surely that alone would explain why he would want to take the Fellowship to a place so utterly devoid of the heat which could kill the virus. Before the company could begin their path again, Frodo stood to his feet, his eyes still bloodshot, and made a stand.
"No, Gandalf," he insisted firmly. "I will not risk the Ring going into such a frigid environment. We will go through the mines."
Gandalf's face darkened, but it seemed to be more out of anxiety and foreboding than of wrath. "Moria. I fear to go into those mines. The dwarves delved too deep and too greedily—"
"Hey!" Gimli protested, finally looking up from this Nintendo Switch. The Fellowship realized that he hadn't even put it down to seek shelter when the crebain had flown over. "That's a fraudulent piece of elvish propaganda!"
"Hey!" Legolas shouted, setting aside his tablet for the first time in a while. "It was the dwarves who—"
"Do you know what they awoke in the darkness?" Gandalf snapped, silencing the feud. His face was ashen. "Shadow and Flame."
A big smile spread over Frodo's face. "Flame? That's perfect; the virus hates heat. To Moria it is!"
Hope you enjoyed the further adventures of the Fellowship! Looking forward to hearing what y'all thought of this most recent installment.