2. Frodo's Crosswise Verse
Weary eyes the color of storm clouds gazed anxiously up into the shadowy recess above the window. The slender form perched on the stone ledge shivered in the chill of pre-dawn, despite the blanket of indigo wool dragged out onto the windowsill hours before. But no move was made to escape back into the bedchamber beyond, to slide beneath that shadowy recess into the relative warmth within.
“The Gaffer cannot abide a liar. That I can remember. And I know it must have been some incident in your tweenage years, that earned us both that lesson.” the voice trembled as eyes shifted quickly to peer at the familiar form barely visible under creamy sheets in the dark chamber.
Fingers, already twitching restlessly, reached out in the air as if to touch those gold curls. For a moment, the half-lidded gaze was trapped and distracted by the stark white bandage on the outstretched hand, then the eyes snapped upward, remembering the menace above. The hand was snatched back and the fingers clenched, rubbing absently at the unceasing ache beneath the bandage.
Another ache made itself known in the chill air, and the fingers moved up to rub at a barely discernable lump throbbing like a heart beat just above the shoulder blade. The figure shifted on the stone ledge and leaned out warily to gaze down at the fingers of mist rising upward from the distant road below as dawn approached, then quickly back up to ensure that the threat in the dark corner above did not suddenly move closer.
”I heard you that night in the pass,” the voice went on in a gruff, hollow monotone. “I know that I tell you I can’t remember anything after She... after Shelob. I know I tell you that it is all a fog. I tell all of you that it is just a blank emptiness, best forgotten.”
“And, for a while, it was. For just a brief while, it was a blessed darkness Sam. That grey fog that I slid into after...after...” the hand slid down to clutch at a memory that burned and hummed.
The eyes shifted to gaze back into the chamber, seeking out and finding the gleam of shining steel dimly reflecting the grey light of approaching dawn, leaning against the bedside near the tousled gold head.
“You think to protect me still, as if we yet trod the desolate path to Mordor. I have seen how you keep Sting close to hand, as if there were something real and menacing to battle without, instead of this battle you can’t see, within.”
The eyes shifted back to the dangling peril above the window, and fingers moved to rub again at the aching sting.
“I heard you asking Legolas to translate the runes inscribed on the blade yesterday. He seemed surprised that you did not know what they meant, having heard the story of your defeat of Shelob,” the voice went on absently. “ ‘Maegnas is my name, I am the spider's bane’. Had you known before, would you have wondered what waited for us in that foul dark?“
“I could hear Sting slicing the air and hear you calling on Elbereth as you battled with her. Samwise the Brave. Still and always battling back the dark. And I heard that metallic hiss as Sting sliced away the cords encasing me, but I couldn’t feel them loosen. I was still trapped in that...in that cold shroud,” came the flat whisper. “So very cold.” The frail frame shivered almost imperceptibly against the stone. “I heard you yelling for me to come back, for me to wake up, for me not to go.”
“For a moment I thought I was dead. For a moment it was a blessed relief. It was over. The burden was gone. I could rest.”
A mirthless sound like a laugh shivered the air.
“Then I felt It. Still twined around my soul. Still burning through every particle of what there was left of me -- burning. And I could hear It singing, just for me. That terrible, breathtaking song, everything I ever wanted, all my dreams fulfilled. Burning through me like some overwhelming unrequited desire. Pulsing through every part of me like a slow beating heart.”
The hand fluttering there pressed on the chest, as if for reassurance that the throbbing there was just an ordinary organ laboring under the cold, clammy skin.
“I then I realized I wasn’t dead. Beneath...beneath that, I could feel my own heart beating. I could feel it struggling, thrumming ever so slowly against the chill. I know I was breathing because I...I was screaming. I could hear my own voice in my head. Screaming and screaming.”
The eyes pulled reluctantly away from the web that held them captive in the dark recess above and glanced into the room as if for reassurance. The familiar form still lay quiet under silky sheets. A small breath of relief hissed into scorched lungs. “I nearly went mad at that point. I nearly followed my own screams into a million splinters of blackness. But your voice -- your voice Sam -- brought me back.”
The bruised eyelids drifted shut briefly, fingers plucked at indigo wool in the chill, and the slight wool-clad shoulders shifted against the cold stone. Then the eyes snapped open and glanced up into the dark corner above. “You wonder why I wake you out of sleep, out of blessed sleep and dreams you so desperately need. You wonder why I ask nonsensical questions in the cold hours of the night.”
“To hear your voice. I will listen to you recite that horrible poetry they are singing in the streets about us, just to hear your voice.”
Restless hands rubbed vaguely at arms chilled despite layers of wool. Then the eyes swung upward again blearily, caught and held by the menace and the memory. “I thought it would thaw me. Thaw that frozen web I was still caught in. If you just talked long enough. I know you were talking more to yourself than to me. I know you thought I was gone, cold -- dead in your arms. But I thought if I could just remember that hot day, and the tinker, and that book of verse. If I could just conjure up the sun and the smell of the heat on the dusty road, and you smelling like clean soil and cut grass and some rich scent -- warm and vital. Sam in the sun. My Sam.” The gaze was drawn back into the room, into the lifting shadows where quiet breathing could be heard. “So full of life that your fingers coax vigor out of seeds long abandoned and blooms out of dry withered stalks.”
“But I couldn’t remember. Long before I lay there in the pass, long before Shelob, I had lost those memories. I could remember the fact that those things happened, but it was like hearing a story told about someone else. I knew, my mind knew that we had done those things, but I couldn’t feel them.” The eyes swung inevitably upward and hung, caught, in the corner above. Fingers continued to chafe at chilled flesh and moved to pull the indigo blanket up against the damp breeze caressing the stone.
“Just as I couldn’t feel your hands on me there in the pass Sam. I could only hear your voice. I clung to it in the dark, trying to pull out of my shattered memory the face of that long ago Sam. That face smeared with tears and dust in the moonlight, looking up at me with so much trust and hope -- so much trust.”
The flat whisper slid into silence. Eyes fluttered slowly shut as the dark head dipped inexorably forward in exhaustion. The slightest sound from inside the chamber brought a sharp intake of breath, snapping the head up and sending fingers scrabbling for a hold on the rough stone ledge, the legs shifting on the stone ensuring a stable perch, the back shoring up against the stone wall.
The eyes jerked upward, dancing through the shadows until they found what they were seeking dangling there, web beaded now with morning mist. A held breath hissed out. Then they shifted to gaze into the room beyond. The familiar form had shifted slightly in sleep, brown arm outflung toward the leaning sword, but still breathed quietly in the dark, deep in dreams. There was no further movement, no sign that his words had raised any alarm. The eyes shifted out to the slowly lightening horizon beyond and then the slight form angled out to gaze downward. For a long moment white wraiths of moisture danced slowly in the light breeze, floating just beyond reach, as fragile and insubstantial as long forgotten memories. With a seeming effort, the shoulders leaned into the wall and the eyes lifted up and back once more to peer into the shadowed lair above. One hand lifted slowly to rest over the icy pain in the shoulder.
“I know, I think I never betrayed that trust. I think we did read that book and so many others. I think we built something on that day, that promise, that trust.”
“Just as I know the Ring has torn down what we built.”
There was a long silence. Fingers moved again to rub almost roughly at the aching gap beneath the bandage. The gaze turned inward searching desperately for the thread of thought and memory.
“I heard that trust, that hope in your voice. Even then. Even when you were certain you held,” the voice broke again and there was a shaky breath. “You held a corpse in your arms. Even as I fought with all the terrified strength I could find in me, to lift my eyelids if only for a second. Even as I clung to that hope in your voice, but no longer in my soul. I thought the hope in your voice would thaw me, even when your tears falling on me could not.”
“Then the Ring began to sing to you, Sam. To you.”
The eyes swung in to the quiet form on the bed. “Not that It had not reached for you before. It was a deceitful lover. Stroking and then tormenting. Enticing one moment and violating the next.” The eyes shut and the lips pressed together painfully. “There were nights when I thought it would kill me Sam -- that rapture.” The voice broke once more, then rasped on. “Ecstasy and fire. I could see nothing, feel nothing, hear nothing but It. Everything else was a vague blur, a distant murmur. Even you, Sam.”
“Even you.” The eyes opened once more. “It had me. It had Smeagol. And It had you as well. My Sam. It had you because of me. All of us, in some unholy dance to a tune It played,” a shudder passed through the slender form. “I felt It seducing Smeagol, and lusting after you, even as It ravished me.”
Fingers plucked at a silky indigo skein hanging loose from the blanket, sightlessly stroking, then tightening and pulling, then thoughtlessly unweaving what had been woven. “Ravished.” The word hissed into silence. The eyes darted up and hung in the dark recess above.
“It wanted you Sam. It sang of vengeance, of blood and violence. Of Smeagol, dead by your hand. I recognized that song. And another, in harmony. You, dead by your own hand. The relief. The escape from pain.”
There was a sighing exhalation of breath. “I know that song,” legs shifted restlessly on the chilled stone, “I still dance to that tune.”
The eyes were half lidded, but fought to stay open, to keep the shadowy enemies in the corners and the wraiths at bay.
“But finally it sang a song you could, you would believe. It sang of promises made, and kept. It sang of loyalty and love, of things it could only mock, not make. But you listened . . .” the voice sunk to a mere whisper, “I could hear you listening to It. And I was screaming in counterpoint not to take my love. Not to take my...beloved.”
“But you took the Ring, and It...It took you.”
The voice was hoarse now. “I thought I had never felt pain like that before. I was suffocated, shrouded in sticky cold, stung by steel and poison, but nothing compared to the feeling that lashed through me as you lifted It off my neck. As if you were tugging loose an errant weed. Tearing at root and vine and creeping, poisonous growth. Ripping pieces of my soul out with It.” Pale fingers scrabbled at indigo wool and shoved it aside, burrowing mindlessly through wool and linen to dig at clammy skin, while the eyes showed no awareness of the movement or the struggle. “And It touching you. Wrapping Its tendrils around you, and mocking me.”
“Screaming was beyond me at that point. I couldn’t remember how. It was gone. You were gone. And everything was agonizing cold, swirling loss, and darkness.”
The eyes looked upward but were no longer focused, no longer seeing the tiny enemy that lurked in the shadows above. “Gone. Both gone. That was all I knew or felt for what seemed an eternity of cold and dark and screaming silence.”
“You worry so about what the orcs did to me Sam. And that is the one thing I don’t remember with any clarity now. I knew what they were doing, but I had faded. I know I was moving and talking, but it was as if I stood outside myself and watched. Like it was a dream, or a nightmare. Even when I heard your voice again, I thought I was dreaming. It was so vague and grey. Everything was drained of color without...without the Ring.” The slender form sat stiffly, rigid backbone abraded by chilled stone. Unaware of fingers rubbing and clenching, seeking and not finding. “Even when I heard It singing to me Sam, I thought it was but more of the madness. Even when I nearly fought you for it, and worse . . . Even when I called you a thief, I was still sure this was all some fevered dream and I would wake and be back, trapped in cold -- wrapped in a shroud and unable to move.” The eyes focused again on the shadows in the corner, the mouth pressed in a tight white line. Then at a tiny movement in the dark corner, the eyes widened, as the tiny denizen gracefully wove her cold, silver strand from one stone to another in the slowly growing light.
The slender form shuddered, cringing away into the furthest corner of the ledge, scrabbling against the wall. A long inhalation of breath, a quick glance down at the distant road below, and the flat voice went on, shaking only slightly.
“Only when I had It back around my neck did I awaken from that grey dream. Only when I heard It singing just for me once more. Only when my blood pumped again in harmony with It, did I realize that you were real, that It was real, that I was caught once more, moved from one trap that merely froze my soul, to another that was reducing it to cinder.”
“It burned through me like so much tinder. It violated me and pleasured me. It tormented me and toyed with me.” The voice grated to a halt for a moment, then staggered on. “I was nothing. I thought I was controlling It, but It controlled me. I thought I carried It, but It carried me. Ringbearer.” A harsh sound escaped the dry lips. “I fought to put one foot in front of the other, thinking I was winning the battle just by bearing it all and moving forward. All the while, It was winning.”
“All of that pain. All of that...that ecstasy, that It used to torment me through the nights, and finally through the days. All of that was nothing compared to what It did to me there.” The eyes swung to the horizon. To a distant shadow smudged against the brightening sky.
There was a long silence. “There are no words for that...for that.” There was pain in the eyes now, something shimmering. “No words for what was ripped from me there.” The head tilted backward and the eyes squeezed shut. Two glimmering streaks coursed down the pale cheeks. “My soul -- embraced and spellbound -- enraptured by that song and everything It promised, everything I felt, everything I saw, everything I heard. Indescribable pleasure and splendor and bliss. I can still hear that song. It was inside me, a part of me, lifting me up and out of what was me and into something indescribable, then blazing suddenly into an unearthly keening wail. Burning me into cinders as it abandoned me. Scorching my soul in its death throes. Leaving me nothing of what it promised and nothing of what I had been.”
The eyes opened once more, flat and dull in the growing light. “I would have thrown myself after It, if I had been able to feel anything. But I was back in that cold grey dream. Numb to everything. I know I was moving and talking, but I don’t know how. There was nothing left of me. Nothing left but cold ashes. Nothing left of Frodo Baggins, if I can even remember him, that person who was me,” the voice stopped, trying to remember. “Who was me, before.”
“At first, that was all there was. That grey blankness. Even the pain was distant and muted. I moved through it thinking I was dreaming. That I would wake up soon and everything would be as it was before, but I couldn’t remember what that was. I began to look for myself in your eyes, in your memories. All of you. So I could give you back whoever it was you expected me to be. The Frodo you wanted back so desperately. The Frodo I could never be again.” The eyes drifted back up to the darkened corner and it’s lethal inhabitant.
“Then memories returned, like strands of scorched silk filament drifting in the air, ensnaring me once more. Betrayal and failure. The look in your eyes at the Black Gate. The look in your eyes at Osgiliath. The sound of your sobs in the pass. The horrible death wail of the Ring. And they brought the pain with them. Cold steel and poison, sting,” the fingers rubbed at the bandage once again, “and tooth.”
“But I couldn’t betray you yet again. I couldn’t fail at this as well. Somehow I wanted you to be happy. All of you. I wanted to do this one thing right. I remembered failing at everything else. But this, this I could do.”
“And so I lie. I build a web of deceit to ensnare you all.” The voice shivered with bitter humor.
The words hung in the air, flat and cold. “This I know how to do. This I learned from Shelob. This I learned from Smeagol. This I learned from the Ring. And I will not fail at this. I will smile in the right places. I can, if I am not too tired and if I work hard at it, I can even laugh in the right places. And I can hide the pain. And I can lie and tell you all that I remembered little of Mordor and less of the Ring.” A mirthless grimace crossed the features and was gone. “And I can pretend to sleep while I crawl out here and contemplate what happens to pale, bloated creatures who feed off the lifeblood of others to live.”
“I am no better than she. Sitting up in that corner now, waiting to leap on me yet again if I attempt to escape this trap I have made for myself,” the smile was bitter as the tiny weaver above wove on, watching him with a multitude of tiny eyes, all alive with a remembered deadly pale fire.
“I doubt your gaffer could abide me now Sam. I fear those eyes of his. I am fairly certain he could see through walls, your gaffer.” No hint of a smile touched the lips or the eyes, or the words. “Bilbo could, but he chose to ignore much of what he saw through those walls. And now, he struggles to see even the walls. I have nothing to fear from him.” The words hung cold and harsh in the still air. “Merry and Pippin -- my dear brave cousins see what they want desperately to see, what they fought to see, what they deserve to see. And Gandalf...Gandalf sees through me, but he chooses to keep my secrets. This much he owes me I think. This much he owes all of us.”
The eyes drifted to gaze into the dark chamber. The familiar figure was still there, silent under silken sheets. “But you, who carried the heaviest burden of all, are so deep in healing dreams that you take little notice of my nightly wandering. Still so trusting that you will believe anything as long it means I am breathing and whole.”
“You, Sam. Your eyes I fear. Once you have your fill of that deep exhausted sleep. Once you have dreamed your garden back into being and finally awakened and turned your face into the sun like some great golden flower. Once you can see the shadows again, I fear what you will see in me. You have your gaffer’s eyes.”
“And I fear you have already seen too much. They insist on putting you with me in this room, thinking to comfort me, not realizing they torment me. They torment you. There are some things I cannot conjure. Some things burnt out of me that cannot be woven into this web of mine,” the eyes shifted up to the tiny weaver in the corner above, ruthlessly building her web.
“I cannot abide being touched. The weight of my own clothes against my skin is almost unbearable. The healers tell me this will pass. They give me salves and creams and tell me to be patient, give it time. And I live with that as well. But I see the look on your face when I shy away from your touch. And when I insist on applying their useless remedies myself. When I...when I will not touch you. I cannot. Not willingly. I cannot bear to touch anything that is still whole and good and full of light. To leave it sullied by what is in me. Desecrated by what is still in me, what I wrestle into submission every day.”
“They sense it, these creatures of the evil dark. They sense that festering shadow still in me,” red-rimmed eyes gazed blearily at the web above, “They know it comes in the night to taunt and torment me. They know I am snared in a web of my own, and they come to feast on what little is left of me while I am trapped in dreams.” The fingers picked restlessly at indigo strands. “I can keep them away, but only if I stay awake. Only if I do not dream.”
A shaking hand passed before the weary eyes, but when they refocused on the web above, the tiny denizen still toiled on, the web growing larger with each pass. “But I think I am awake, and she is still here, and I am so tired,” the figure swayed wearily, “of lies.”
“Lies and lies and lies. I am thoroughly crosswise Sam. And you will see it. Eventually I will not be able to hide it from you. I fear you have already seen it, that you already know I have betrayed that trust again. That I have lied. That I have failed at this as well.”
“Will this day be the day that the pain is too great to bear? Will this day be the day that I see it in your eyes? When you wake up and find me here, caught in this cold web between memory and oblivion, will you believe my lies yet again?” The whisper faded. “I think not. I think I too have reached the end of this tangled web of mine. I will see that sudden realization, that betrayal, your pain, added to mine.”
“I don’t think I will be able to bear the pain in your eyes. I could live with my own pain. I make that choice every day. Every single day. Just to keep breathing. To keep trying. To walk this narrow ledge between pain,” the eyes swung down to gaze at the distant road below, “and oblivion. To keep lying.”
“But it is my choice. My choice. My own,” the voice hissed, “Not anyone else’s. Mine.” The words hung in the air, echoing another moment, another betrayal.
The voice was hoarse and shaking. “It must be my choice Sam, or I am not me anymore. It will have won. It will have finally claimed me. This is all there is left of me, these lies.”
The eyes widened again and stared intently as the weaver dropped a strand out of the shadows and hung from it in the morning breeze as if assessing the prey trapped on the ledge below. With a rasping intake of breath, the slender form pressed back into the stone wall, curling into a tight ball beneath indigo wool. The eyes shut at last, snared in dark dreams of a poisonous sting and a cold shroud, afraid to see the choice between a swift death on one side and a slow on the other.
But a promise had to be kept. The hoarse whisper went on and, beneath it, the soft metallic whisper of sound from within the chamber went unheard.
“So when you find yourself crosswise,
And all jammed up...Master Samwise.”
A spasm of pain suddenly distorted the bland expression, and was gone.
“Do not dare let the moon rise,
And certain not the sun rise.”
The features softened with emotions that were not possible, but somehow were remembered, from a long ago moment in the moonlight beside a garden gate.
“There is no pardon for this web of lies
But love cannot live when hope dies.”
The words hung for a moment on the still air.
The dark head lifted, ready to make a choice once more. Eyes opened and were snared immediately when a breath of wind from within the chamber stirred the silvery web outward, eliciting another movement closer to the edge, another quick angling of slender shoulders to glance at the road below, another swift assessment of the tiny enemy dangling casually between choice and another day.
Then a silvery blade held in a familiar sturdy grip sliced soundlessly from inside the room, snatching the tiny denizen and her web from the corner above and tossing her and her gossamer home ignominiously into the moist air to drift to another, more congenial abode.
Stunned eyes widened at the spider’s floating departure, briefly recognizing the shadowy echo of another battle in that tiny victory. Then there was a hissing intake of breath as the startled form on the ledge over balanced and flailed for a moment on the stony edge. A metallic clang echoed from inside the chamber as the shining sword fell unheeded to the floor inside.
In the grey darkness before dawn, an indigo shadow slid from the tenuous perch on the stone sill and fell, pirouetting on the currents of air.
Two sturdy hands whipped out and grasped the flailing arms. They held firm until the moment passed and the landscape ceased to reel and dance below. But the arms shook with the need to pull in, to shelter, to embrace.
Tandem gasping breaths steadied into a semblance of calm. But pulses hammered frantically in both the wrists and the hands clenched around them.
Stormy blue eyes lifted up from that bloodless grip to meet shimmering hazel. The brown fingers loosened slowly under that flat blue stare, releasing ever so reluctantly. Finally resting lightly on the bruised wrists, as if voicing an unspoken plea.
In that moment, there were echoes of other moments -- beside a tinker’s cart, at a Black Gate, in a rocky pass -- where those words had been spoken, those fears voiced. But even as a shimmering trail glimmered down one cheek in the dim light, the figure stepped slowly back into the chamber.
The slender form turned to peer with dry burning eyes down at the road below. There was no sound from inside the window, but the connection was tangible, like a nearly visible silver strand shivering in the moist breeze.
There was no movement for a long while. Then a bandaged hand raised and passed shakily over weary eyes. The form on the ledge shifted slowly, turned in toward the chamber, and paused sitting on the windowsill, then held trembling arms toward the waiting figure inside. The choice was made, for today.
Far beneath the distant window where two forms entwined in a timeless dance of hope and endurance, the soft indigo shape fluttered for a moment in the breeze, then settled to rest, splined like a blue butterfly on the dusty brown road below.
But in the City there was labour of many willing hands to rebuild and renew and to remove all the scars of war and the memory of the darkness.
“The Steward and the King”, Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, J.R.R. Tolkien
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.