Steward and the King, The
13. Crossroads to a Trap
"They are too many," Frodo whispered as the endless army tramped but a little ways below them on the valley floor. He clung to Faramir as if he were a child frightened by loud weather. "They mean to murder your city -- how can we stop them?" Despite his thirst, Faramir felt tears trying to form. The rolling thunder that had ever haunted his dreams had been foresight of this marching horde. The beloved stone walls, the guard that walked atop them, they could not prevail against this attack.
Their small party was no longer in Ithilien. They were three days south from Henneth Annun, and a slow day's fearful creeping eastward into Morgul Vale, the Enemy's land. Only foul life grew here, twisted limb and thorns that tore at their clothing. They did not think how they could prevent being seen.
It became ever harder for Sam and Faramir and Gimli to keep Gollum under guard, to find suitable enclosed places to rest. The creature hissed and groveled and stayed as close to Frodo as the others would let him. Only Frodo would treat him kindly.
Faramir and Gimli were surprised when their guide did not attempt to bolt as the endless army marched by. "I don't trust that lizard," Gimli muttered. "He's up to something."
Faramir agreed. "We must keep close watch."
They went eastward, parallel to the roads marked on the map, but higher up the side of the valley wall. Frodo stumbled oddly when they crept past the ghostly city. There were times Faramir had to carry him, as he had on the pass of Caradhras.
Then they dropped down slightly, to a broken road that showed no sign of current use, but neither was there cover to hide them. The hard stone of the mountain had been hewn to make the path, which soon turned to stairs. When Faramir saw the steepness of the stair and the broken steps he said, "I will go last." The long climb up nearly spent him, for any sound of misstep made him tense, ready to catch those above should they slip and fall. Gimli went first and, as he climbed, would give warning of loose or tilted steps.
When they reached the top of the stair, they rested and took food, though Gollum did not like it. Gimli gave Faramir his share of water, and Faramir was too exhausted to notice. Gollum hurried them on. The winding stair was easier but, when they were done, Gollum insisted to take another rest. Warily, Faramir found an narrow, closed niche and he and Sam and Frodo sat together against the wall, while Gimli took watch at the opening, ten feet up, and Gollum's place was the furthest in.
Sam waited for Frodo to fall asleep, then he looked up to Faramir, whose eyes were open, and he seemed lost in memory. He inched closer and said quietly, "Sir, I'm worried about water." Only two of their six skins had water, both half empty, and Sam's was smaller than the one Faramir carried.
"We'll have to search. We are above the poisoned city now."
"It will be enough."
"But sir -- "
"We'll get the job done." He breathed deeply, relieved to finally lose his burden of secrecy. "That's all we can do. I'm sorry, I'm not Gandalf. I don't know if even he knew how he would leave."
Sam shook, he did not want to believe it. "But why would Elrond -- " He could not finish the question: Why would Elrond send Frodo to die?
"This is not something anyone could ask another to do. That is why Frodo had to put himself forward."
No!, Sam cried silently. Frodo couldn't die. I don't want to die. Trying to control his panic, he saw that Faramir's thoughts were more than sad; he had already accepted what Sam was trying to deny. "You're thinking on Eowyn."
Faramir nodded. "I am wondering why."
"I would like to see the sun again." All that he had been able to see since the crossroads had been painted in ghostly grey. "What time of day is it, I wonder, back home? I promised her I would return, and now she will wait unanswered, and will she have naught of me but pain and regret? I tried not to speak, but we were drawn to each other. It was strong, as the dream was, from the start. She was a beautiful woman, trapped by her honor into dark circumstance. I vowed to help her solve it. Aragorn has proof now; mayhap he was able to awaken King Theoden. I think I looked at her because she was my last chance."
"I don't understand."
"The dream sent me to die a soldier's death: I, who do not love the sword, but rather love what it protects. I could have turned aside, and let another take my place, and she tempted me to that. Wife, children, home -- How could I know they were not for me? I know not if she would have given me what I ache for. I knew her for too short a time."
"Rosie -- " Sam began. It was difficult. "I've known Rosie a long time."
"O, Sam." Faramir saw this was a pain much greater than his. With a last stab of guilt, he let his wishes go. "Why have you been silent?"
"It wasn't our time yet," he said. "I looked, and I think I saw her looking back, if you get my meaning, sir, but this with Mr. Frodo, I had to finish first. And he wouldn't've heard of me coming if he'd known. And now she'll never know. No one will know."
Faramir held him close in the bitter darkness, searching for any scrap of comfort he might offer. "Yes she will," he said at last.
"How can she?"
"You've been gone many months now. If you were looking at her I don't think she is the type to say 'fi!' on you. Wouldn't she worry and ask Gaffer?"
"Gaffer doesn't know!"
"Hush, you'll wake Frodo." With a struggle, Sam composed himself. "When we are done, Elrond will know," Faramir continued. "And he will go to your Gaffer and say 'I'm sorry, Sam won't be coming home' and he'll answer 'Rosie should be here' and they will know all Elrond can tell them. He may, at first, know only," Faramir's voice dropped further, "the ... weapon ... has been destroyed and they may hope for a time. But when we do not return -- " Faramir closed his eyes. He could not see so far as that. "They will know." He found also his own heart comforted, for he knew that what Elrond would do for Gaffer, he would also see was done for the others who waited in Gondor. Father, brother, and, yes, Eowyn would know. Likewise, Gimli's family.
Sam wiped his face with the back of his hand. "I wish I'd left a letter in your book."
Faramir looked away. "I had considered that. I feared that in the writing we would lose our resolve. Nor did we have pen or ink."
"Frodo'd've been put in a state, that is sure. Ah, it can't be helped, can it? We shall do our duty, they'll be safe and it's all we can ask for, now."
Faramir did not answer and they, at last, fell asleep.
A struggle and curses awakened them. Gimli was holding Gollum down just outside the opening. He hauled him up, dragged him in and pinned him against the mountain side. "Where were you going?"
"Gimli?" Faramir asked.
He held Gollum fast and answered without turning his head. "I caught him trying to sneak away. Hold him."
Faramir held one arm and Frodo the other. One hand on Gollum's chest, Gimli quickly pulled out his knife and held the point before Gollum's eyes. "I said, where were you going?"
Gollum turned his head aside. Gimli roughly turned it back. Gollum spat, saying, "Filthy dwarvsses. Ssshe will -- " He cut the threat short, but Gimli understood the words.
"Oh, 'She,' is it?" he demanded. " 'She' who?"
"Smeagol, please," Frodo pleaded, but Gollum wouldn't look at him. "Don't play tricks. This is serious."
"Useless" would have been a better way to put it, Gimli grumbled inwardly. No way to make him tell, no way to be sure of anything he said, no way to control him if he let go, this noise could already be doing what he was setting out to do. Frodo kept trying and the creature wouldn't take what was offered. He was angry, not begging. Guilty.
"Who is 'she', lizard?" Gimli asked, pressing harder on his chest. "What will she do to us?"
"Ssss ... kill you -- "
"You won't see it," he answered as the blade went in.
Faramir held fast, but Frodo let go and jumped back, so that Gimli had to lunge against the wall to keep Gollum's clawing hands pinned. Vainly, the creature tried to twist free, and then was still.
Sam stared stunned. Frodo vomited what little was in his stomach and then started babbling. Faramir got to him before he started screaming, and he held his hand over his mouth and nose until lack of breath forced him to quiet. "No sound," Faramir said. "You'll alert the guard."
Gimli left Gollum where he lay and turned to Faramir. "Huh."
"And that is that," Faramir answered. "How bad, do you think?"
"We're in a trap," the dwarf said, trying to clean himself. "We can hope it hasn't been sprung yet. There's no point trying to hide that; any patrol that looks in is going to see. We'd best move as fast as we can. I don't see anything else but to go for the tunnel."
Faramir agreed. He gave Frodo and Sam their packs and pushed them out and forward. Frodo would say no word.
== end chapter ==
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