The words echo round your head. A trite little phrase, something you’d say if you found black fly on your roses, or the bread had failed to rise of a morning. Something that might occur if you both got caught out in a storm and you came running in laughing and dripping water on the rug at Bag End, and then Mr Bilbo would come out of his study frowning and rubbing his hands like he used to do when you were a child. Something you’d think to yourself if he didn’t like the way you’d shaped your letters on the slate and you’d rather cut your own throat than disappoint him. Something like the pain you’d feel from a cut finger, when he’d tenderly take it and bandage it and tell you to be brave, so many years ago.
It’s not like that now, of course. Now you’re the strong one. Now you have been telling him to be brave, and helping him through the bad times, picking him up when he falls, fetching him water in the desert, carrying him over the rocks, and rescuing him from the monsters. All for this. All for this.
Samwise the Brave. But you don’t feel very brave as you whisper to yourself, “No!” and you stare into his eyes, so deep you could drown in them, so cruel, you could be stabbed to the quick by them, and his beloved lips curve in a grimace that you refuse to think of as a smile, so different it is from your shining memories of other days and other smiles.
“No...” You say again, unwilling to face the truth, foolish and slow to the last, Samwise the Stupid, who had not seen that this would be the end, although you should have, Sam, you say to yourself, how could you miss it? He hasn’t been strong enough for anything lately, barely able to walk, and the burden heavier all the time. You can see the blood on his neck even now, where it pulled at him, where it poisoned him. How can you expect this of him, here at the end of all things? He was strong enough to get here, but that was all. Who could ask for more?
Then you watch him put it on, that little thing, so evil, you could take it and watch it melt with eagerness and joy if only the rain would still fall on Bag End and lads could still run home in it and laugh as they shake water from their hair. But you watch helpless and full of horror as he vanishes from sight, into the shadow realm where he abides in his heart already, where the giving in is the easy road, and this claiming of it the final surrender, and you know that he is happy at last.
You watch his beloved steps come closer, and closer still, and the horror is all about you, because you cannot let him do this, but you cannot stop him, and in the end it doesn’t matter really, because suddenly fireworks explode behind your eyes, all reds and blues and greens, like Gandalf’s best, and you are falling into darkness – like he has, you think desperately – until your mind shimmers like a broken mirror and you are lost.
How long has it been? How long have you lain here, cinders and dust in your mouth, crying for the rain you know will never fall again? Don’t just lie there, Samwise, you fool, you think desperately, and raise your head, to see Gollum fighting with an unseen foe, swaying back and forth, hanging in the air, the firey breath of Orodruin sending livid shadows on the wall. You should never have turned your back on Gollum, you know that now, even to follow him when he ran in final desperation, but you couldn’t leave him, couldn’t let him face this alone, although a fat lot of good you’ve been so far. Samwise the Helpless.
Then you watch as Gollum finds something, invisible but resisting, and almost snarls a little in his eagerness, then raises that something to his mouth and bites down. You open your mouth in silent sympathy as with an agonised cry he reappears, and slumps to his knees, eyes shut in pain and loss, clutching at his hand, black blood pumping forth and dripping to the stone like tears, like rain.
“Yesss!” Gollum is capering with joy, here at the edge of doom, dancing with his precious like it’s a lass and he the luckiest groomsman in the world, “Yesss!”
But he won’t let it go. You see that in his eyes. They are pitiless and clear and filled with malice, just like Gollum’s. He ignores his poor wounded hand, he ignores you, he bends his gaze on the only thing that matters now, and he walks forward slowly, deliberately, and you are afraid of him then, and afraid for him, as frightened as you have ever been.
They are fighting now. Wrestling on the edge of the pit like two lads might have done on market day, for pennies, for the joy of it. If you didn’t look in their eyes, if you didn’t look at the fire, if you don’t think about it, the Shire is close, just a breath away really, and it gives you strength. You drag yourself to your feet, and sway wildly, as little lights shine in the corners of your eyes, sparkling like witchlight from the Dead Marshes, and the memory that it wasn’t you who pulled him out, that time, another time when he had fallen, gives you more than strength, it gives you determination.
There is a wild cry, a despairing cry, and then nothing. You don’t want to look, you want just a few more seconds of possibility, of innocence, when things might still be all right again, when you might both go home to the Shire, to the smell of leaves in the rain, and the shine on a lass’s hair, and his absent humming as he sharpens a new quill, but you know what you will see, and it hurts, it hurts, letting it all go. You look up then, and think, well, Samwise my lad, it’s time.
He’s walking towards you now, but he’s not looking at you, his dear head is bent over his precious, it’s cupped tight to his chest, and there is no sign of Gollum. You hardly dare even to breathe, in case he looks up, in case he remembers you, but the thought that if you do this right he will be free again, and perhaps there will be a lass, or a pint or two, or another lad he can laugh with and persuade to tramp out in all weathers like so long ago, that thought is sweet, even as it stabs you with sharp loss.
You can’t regret anything, Sam, you know that, it’s why you’re here, you made a promise long ago, and if it wasn’t precisely for this, well… that don’t matter now. Samwise the Steadfast. Something to be remembered for, maybe. Saving his sweet soul. You can try, any road, you can give him his chance. Even if he never talks to you again.
Then you lunge forward before warning can convey itself, or heart grow faint, or his eyes can stare into yours and make you falter. You lunge and snatch at the cupped hands, haste making you cruel, his own blood making his fingers slippery, and you touch the precious, that evil thing, and it is like a shock of water, not cold and clear, no, but warm and still like a pond in summer, thick with midges and heavy with duckweed. It whispers to you then, sucking you down, you hear it clear as day, and the offer is still there, and the taste of strawberries fills your mouth, cloying and too sweet, like rot at the bottom of a punnet. But you swallow sudden saliva and snatch it away, before his suddenly convulsing fingers can firm his grip and you hunch your shoulders and duck your head as sharp blows rain down, and your hands are pried at fiercely, desperately.
But you are stronger than he is. You always have been, and now, after he has barely eaten or slept for days or weeks, and with the burden of this evil pulling at him, it is no wonder that you can hold him off with scarce the effort of a hobbit child. You wrench away, almost running, hearing the voice in your mind, whispering, whispering. It had best be done quickly, if done at all. He follows you, of course, but you try not to look at him, you know you can’t do what must be done if you see the pain in his eyes. You try to think of that lad from years ago, so kind to the youngest son of his gardener, dark head bent at his desk, laughing in the rain as you slip in puddles trying to hurry, the crumbs caught on a shirt collar brushed away with love. You stump forward and hold it out above your head, where he could scarce reach it, even if he was not starveling thin and weak as a kitten. You stump to the edge, the very edge, where noxious fumes from the boiling river at your feet swirl up and threaten to choke you. The air is so hot it feels solid, and it hurts to breathe, but you know it will be but a moment more, and then you can leave, and things will never be the same again.
It is then that you are weak, and you let the weakness take hold, and you give in, and you look at him. His hands are claws stretched out to gouge your face, there is spittle on his chin and blood where he has chewed his lips raw, and in his eyes there is stark madness, burning dark, burning hot. It hurts, it does, more than you thought possible, to be strong, Samwise the Strong, in that moment, and you waver, pity welling like a spring, and he sees it, he sees you falter. He strikes then, reaching for the precious gold, one last burst of fading strength, fuelled by madness and hate, his arms standing out with thin corded muscle, he leaps forward with almost a snarl, and you move to drop it, and you move to ward him away, but he doesn’t care for his own safety and lunges past you. You are off-balance but you manage to catch his hair, then wrench his head back and throw him from the edge. He cries out, a short sharp indrawn hiss, and you feel so guilty that you’ve hurt him, your master, who you swore to protect, who you’ve carried in your arms and bathed when he was hurt, and see what you are forced to at the last?
Then your foot slips. The seconds stretch into hours, and the air is suddenly sharp and clear, every leaping orange shadow is etched unmoving on the dark rock walls, as you so slowly begin to fall. You windmill your arms trying desperately to regain your balance, but it is far too late. The world tilts and your scalp prickles with fear, and you can taste acid at the back of your throat, but there is a horrible weight of inevitability about your slow toppling. The whisper of the ring in your mind becomes a scream, a wail, and you pull your hands in tight to cup it to you, for if there is no escape for you, there shall be no escape for it either, but the quest at least shall be fulfilled. Your mind is filled with images, things you will never see now, Rosie on your wedding day, the Gaffer in his garden, two lads sheltering under the beech in the lane, watching lightening split the sky. But most of all, the terror fills you up, fills you like a cup, until you are running over with it, and you call out at the last, you can’t help yourself, knowing it will do no good, knowing he is gone in all ways that matter, that he won’t forgive you for this, but you still call.
And he appears at the edge, a hand reaching out desperately, his dark hair matted, blood smeared among his jaw, but it’s beautiful, a wonder, because his eyes… They are clear at last, although large and full of anguish. It is Mr Frodo again, as he hasn’t been for so long now, and you stare into them, holding his gaze as something real, something to remember, something to hold off the horror, and it isn’t enough, not in the face of all the regrets, but he’ll remember for you, and live for you, and he’ll have a lass, and that pint, and maybe some children for his knee, and the rain will still fall, and it’s something, something…
Samwise the Fallen. And at least with fire, it will be quick.
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.