50. Into The Darkness
Into The Darkness
The garden bench at Bag End, though quite old and in need of a new coat of tung oil, was a singular testament to the clever mind and expansive spirit of Mr. Bilbo Baggins. He had commissioned its construction—providing his own drawings to the doubtful furniture maker after working out the details in a model that fit on his kitchen table—the summer following his mysterious disappearance and even more spectacular return. He thought it only fitting for the garden of one who, by nothing more than good fortune, rubbed shoulders with folk of much larger stature than he. Bilbo loved little more in this world than to sit in his garden and watch the evening arrive, and was especially fond of doing so while literally rubbing shoulders with his friends among the Big People—and with one Big Person in particular, who visited him often enough, though not nearly as often as Bilbo would have liked.
The bench was made of fine oak, unembellished by decoration, other than a simple design Mr. Bilbo himself had carved in the center of the backrest. The small pattern looked like a tiny upturned flower, or a curled leaf; others saw a tiny flame, particularly in the evening, when the light glowed orange upon the gleaming wood. Bilbo had been delighted when he first showed the thing to Gandalf. His old friend had noticed the carving immediately. He had reached out a gnarled finger and traced the pattern in silence, then turned and gave Bilbo what the hobbit had come to call one of the wizard's 'looks'—fortunately one he recognized meant that the wizard was also quite pleased. They never spoke of it, but both seemed to understand that Bilbo had put the carving there in honor of his old friend, and that the honor was acknowledged and appreciated.
But the really remarkable thing about the bench was that it could be used simultaneously by folk of differing heights. When none but Hobbits were about, a set of sturdy steps, one for each side, swung out from beneath the seat, and one simply had to climb up and rest one's furry feet upon the upper step and enjoy the view. If two Big People visited at the same time—which had happened once when the twin sons of Elrond traveled through the Shire and stopped by—both steps could be swung out of the way of their long legs. And if one Hobbit and one Big Person wished to sit together, there was no more comfortable place for them to sit side by side in all of Middle Earth than in Mr. Baggins' west garden.
Sam was doing his best to listen to the wizard as he sat beside him on that marvelous bench. He nearly had to pinch himself to pay attention to old Gandalf's words, and stop gawking at the astonishing smoke rings his companion was sending out over the wisteria bushes—in full and glorious bloom, which might have seemed odd to Sam Gamgee the Gardener, had he been paying heed to the month. Wisteria never bloomed in March in the Shire. But several things about this scene truly didn't make sense—if Sam had been paying heed. But he wasn't. He was watching the smoke rings—very few of which resembled rings at all—with pure delight.
"Well, I never, Mr. Gandalf! How in the heavens did you make that one—the one that looks like a branch laden with lilacs—turn half purple and half green? What sort of leaf are you smoking in that pipe, if I might ask?"
"Haven't you heard a thing I've said?" Gandalf harrumphed.
A plume of plain grey-white pipe smoke flared from his nostrils as he glared down at Sam. The hobbit peeked up at the fearsome wizard and snorted out a rather rude laugh. For once in his life Sam didn't feel intimidated by that piercing gaze or those fibrous eyebrows at all. In fact, he felt uncommonly amused by the entire thing, as though he was more than half in his cups.
"Master Gamgee, will you please pay attention! This is very important…"
"Well then you'll have to stop blowin' them things, Mr. Gandalf, sir… You can hardly blame me for not listening with you distracting me so…"
Gandalf snorted himself. "I suppose you have a point…" He breathed in and out deeply as if to clear the last of the smoke from his lungs. Then he tapped the bowl of his long, carved pipe on the arm of the bench, knocking the last of the still-smoldering leaf out onto the flagstones. He carefully crushed the glowing bits with the tip of his black boot. "Now then—no more distractions. I'm afraid the time has come for both of us to return to where we were when this pleasant conversation began…"
The light of early evening on the Hill in Hobbiton suddenly dimmed as a thick band of clouds swiftly passed over the Sun. The western sky darkened as if the worst storm to ever blow through the Shire was rolling toward them. Sam felt chilled, and the bench wasn't nearly as comfortable as it had been just a moment ago. He felt strangely dizzy, his mouth was dry, and he frowned as he tried to reason out why he should ache in a dozen places, all at once. His head felt hollow, and his hand shook as he reached up to run his fingertips over his brow. Whatever is wrong with me?
"Spider venom," the wizard muttered. "That's what's wrong with you. You'll remember how it all started, soon enough… And as for what happened after that—between the venomous poisoning you've endured and now—you shall have to ask Frodo. He may tell you, though if I know a Baggins—especially one that is more than half a Took—you won't pry many details from him." He grunted and leaned onto the armrest. "And it doesn't really matter. Don't pester him too much. It isn't important. What's important is that you return to him, as soon as you can, and begin to help him again." The wizard peered down at the hobbit. "He needs you. No one but you can truly help him. You do understand that, don't you, Sam?"
Sam looked up into Gandalf's face, more than half hidden by shadows thrown by the fading light. The hobbit could not help but note that more than shadows darkened the wizard's face. Livid marks had appeared over the old man's cheekbones and nose, and his eyes were smudged with great dark circles… Sam gasped at something he saw—or thought he saw—but at that moment Gandalf turned forward and abruptly stood. He took a few steps toward the garden path and halted. Sam could just see the side of the wizard's face over his shoulder.
"Stay with him, just as you promised to me, so many months ago, in this very garden. Stay with him, no matter what: help him do what must be done, what no one but you and he together can do. Goodbye, Sam."
And with that the wizard strode quickly down the path. Sam jumped up and cried out.
"But wait, Mr. Gandalf, sir, wait just a moment! Where are you going?"
"Back to where I was," Gandalf called over his shoulder, without a break in his stride. "Don't worry about me, Sam—and don't let Frodo worry about me, either. There is no way through all this but for each of us to finish what we've started. Goodbye…"
The wizard paused. Sam squinted and shaded his eyes against a sudden flare of red-orange light, as one ray of the setting Sun slipped between two thick clouds. He could only see Gandalf's silhouette against the reddish glare, and he noted that the wizard was holding his right hand curled awkwardly. The hobbit heard his voice as though it was coming from a great distance.
"I should say, rather, until we meet again… Until then, my friend…"
Sam watched as the shade that had been Gandalf blended into the gloom and he lost sight of him.
"Goodbye, then… Until…" His voice dropped to a whisper. "Until after it's all over, and we meet again… somewhere else… Goodbye, Gandalf…"
Sam turned away from the darkening sky and stepped back toward the bench. Only the bench was gone, and so was the trellis with its climbing yellow tea-rose that usually stood behind it. Bag End was gone, and the entire garden, and as Sam slowly rotated in a circle he saw that the Hill was gone, and the Road, and the turf and shrubs and trees and hobbit-holes of the Shire had been replaced by rocks and cracked dry dirt, and thick thorny vines that had overgrown everything and hung above his head. He blinked at the intertwining branches and through to the dim sky, for that seemed to be the only thing that hadn't changed into something else. The sky was as dark as though the worst imaginable storm was heading right toward them—but the air was still and caustic, heavy with the stench of smoke and the taste of something burnt.
He turned his head, realizing as he did so that he was lying on his side, wrapped in his cloak, not standing up as he had been just a few seconds earlier. His eyes smarted in the smoky air, and then he realized that a few other things hadn't changed: he still felt dizzy and hollow, and he still ached in at least a dozen places. In fact, he'd underestimated how much he hurt. Most of his body hurt. Might be easier to count what don't hurt…
He shifted and rolled partway onto his back. As he rolled he found he was lying on a long, narrow object, hard and lumpy at the same time. He moved his shoulders down and off the thing and continued onto his other side. Then he stopped.
Frodo was lying next to him, curled on his side and facing him. His hands were in front of his chest, wrapped loosely around something—something that was glowing with a very faint light, just enough to illuminate Frodo's face. Sam's heart stirred with pity and wonder, for his Master appeared thin and drawn, his skin was scratched and coated with dirt, and beneath the dirt he was wan and paler than he had been since Rivendell—but with a look of sublime peace on his face. All of his Master's worries and anxieties, all his guilt and sorrow and fear had been, for the moment, lifted from him. It was a sight to behold; and Sam's fears and anxieties quieted as he gazed at his Master's face.
But he was desperately thirsty, and that made him think of rain, and then he noticed that the rain had stopped, and the ground was dusty dry again. Fortunately his Master had had the sense to leave all their water bottles within reach. He saw that two of his cooking pots were set off to one side, their lids partly covering their contents. One held a full two quarts of water and the other, the largest stockpot, big enough to make stew for nine, appeared half full. He trembled as he reached for the water bottle he recognized as his own, carried with him all the way from Hobbiton, and with no remorse or caution or worry that he must conserve it for Mr. Frodo, he drank it down to the last drop.
He was hungry, too, but his pack wasn't in reach, and he didn't dare move too much or too quickly, for fear of waking Frodo, and also because he didn't feel strong enough yet. I'm as weak as a newborn mewling kitten… The minimal effort required to roll from one side to the other and reach for a water-skin had made him tremble.
He wasn't used to such a strange thing, and he didn't like it at all. Sam had always been the strongest and had the longest endurance of any of the hobbits. Mr. Merry was fit and had good broad shoulders, but he was a gentle-hobbit and the Heir of a Great House, and wasn't used to rough work and long hours of toil, lifting heavy loads, digging, cutting wood, all the endless repetitive tasks that built the hard bodies of common laborers like the Gamgees. Young Mr. Pippin was built more like Mr. Frodo—lithe and slim. Frodo was the tallest, but by far the most slender of them. He lay on his side watching Frodo sleep, and wondered what it would mean if his weakness was permanent: how would he go on, what good would he be to his Master, how would he help him accomplish his dreadful task, as Mr. Gandalf had said he must?
Sam knew of only one way he could start down the path or regaining his strength. You've got to eat. A fire's sure to go out without fuel… He had no idea how long he'd been wandering in fevered sickness. He'd never gone more than one entire day in his life without a meal, and had no experience of recovering from any sort of illness. Ballast for an empty belly—that's what you need, Sam-lad. Like the old Gaffer would say: life, hope, and a need for vittles…
He raised his head enough to see that Frodo had placed both their rucksacks near their feet. He somehow got to his hands and knees, discovering as he twisted about that his clothes hung loosely on him, and his shaking arms would barely hold up his weight. He sagged down to his elbows and crawled just far enough to reach out and grasp one strap of his sack. He dragged it toward him, careful not to let it nudge the still slumbering Frodo. He sank back down and unbuckled his pack. Rope, a few shirts, his smaller cooking implements wrapped in a canvas cloth, box of salt, pipe, empty pouch of pipeweed, flint, his precious wooden box from the Lady of the Golden Wood, and at the bottom, his fingertips brushed a smooth leaf-wrapping. He withdrew a packet of lembas. He considered whether it would be better to save the Elves waybread for a later, more desperate time in their journey. Things are plenty desperate right now… He broke it in four pieces and savoring it, he slowly ate an entire cake.
When Frodo woke, it was to the sight of his dearest friend, snoring softly in real sleep, the first real sleep he'd had in days, with a few crumbs of lembas clinging to his chin and with a discarded mellryn leaf lying beside him.
* * *
Now that Sam was awake and his fever had finally ceased, Frodo felt the need to continue onward weigh upon him with renewed urgency. However, he could see that Sam was not yet strong enough to attempt traversing the inner ring of the Morgai. But traverse it they must, and so while his companion rested and made up for all the meals he'd skipped, he dared an excursion, alone, to scout out a path over the mountains that might be both easier and safer.
Sam fretted with terrible anxiety during the long lonely hours while Frodo was off exploring. His Master insisted that he wear the Red Ring during his absence, and Narya's hopefulness helped balance the fear that clawed at him. Without it, he did not think he could have borne it; with it on his finger, however, he was subject to the uncanny and alarming accentuation of his senses. He saw—or rather heard—proof of what Mr. Frodo had surmised about the spiders, for instance. He could hear a mass of them, hissing and growling, muttering to themselves, away on the other side of the bridge. They had gathered there, but were apparently unwilling—or maybe unable—to cross the Road from Morgul Vale, whether over its pavement or beneath it.
Other foes were never far off. He saw and heard many troops of Orc soldiers, coming and going from every direction. Oddly, he found himself tugged by pity for the monstrous things, for he noticed as they passed on the bridge, above and north of where he was hidden, that the majority of each Orc patrol was made up of smaller, skinnier creatures who were driven by big ones carrying whips. To Sam it appeared no differently than as if a slave-driver was forcing his wretched captives to run or be beaten. Of course he knew that even the smallest Orc would not hesitate to kill him, and as weak as he was, he would have been helpless to defend himself, even with Gandalf's knife that Frodo had left with him. But still, it was strange indeed to feel such feelings toward creatures he had always thought of as nothing but purely evil.
Sam saw several small, furtive lizards creeping along beneath the withered vines, chasing dark scuttling beetles and other small insect prey. Once he heard a different hissing sound, mixed in with a faint, slithering scraping noise. Fortunately no Orc patrol was passing at that moment to see the black snake, as thick around as Sam's arm and longer than he was tall, be stunned by a sharp blow to its scaly head as the hobbit pitched a stone at it. The snake lay still for five minutes before it woke, shook itself and slithered off.
Finally, after what seemed like half the day, Frodo returned. Sam slipped off the Red Ring, held his anxious tongue—he was tempted to scold his Master for leaving him alone for so long and worrying him—and listened carefully.
"These mountains are much lower than the ones we've already scaled," he said quietly. "And the range is not wide—I'd guess the distance from here, at near to the bottom of the Trench, to the plains is only about a dozen miles as the crow flies, maybe fifteen or eighteen by foot. If we take our time and use caution, I think we can get to the other side safely in a day. I was able to climb high enough to get a glimpse of the interior…" His eyes gleamed in the darkness. "There is an Orc-outpost on the far side of the range, but it is a ways north of the bridge. I could see torchlight through window slits and a lantern on its walls. I did my best to look south, and I didn't see any forts or outposts in that direction—although we cannot assume there isn't one."
"What about at the bottom? Could you see anything there?"
Frodo nodded slowly. "I could see the main Road, of course, leading East, and a network of other smaller roads crisscrossing it, joining from North and South. The Mountain wasn't very active when I looked out, so the light was poor…"
Sam couldn't forget his first sight of the plains of Mordor. "Were there clusters of torches and things, encampments of enemies, and the like?"
"Yes, all too many. The interior of the Enemy's land is full of his servants, I suspect. We shall have to do our best to avoid them." Frodo's eyes bored into Sam's. "And what about you? Have you tried your legs yet?"
Sam hadn't dared, but after proving to himself that he could still toss a stone accurately, and what with crawling about with little trouble, his confidence had been bolstered.
"I think I'm ready to go on, if that's what you're asking, Mr. Frodo."
"Good. I'm glad to hear it, mainly because I'm so very glad that you're finally feeling better…"
Sam frowned as he thought about how weak he still felt and how, more than anything, he did not want to be a burden to his Master. "Do you have an idea of how long we've been here? How long I've…delayed you by making you wait for me?"
Frodo reached out and grasped his arm. "Listen to me, Sam Gamgee. Just as you would have done if things had been reversed, I couldn't go on without you. I'd prefer to believe that what happened wasn't a delay, but what was meant to happen, for reasons we cannot fathom. But to answer your question, as near as I can calculate, today is March the 17th."
The gardener tapped his fingertips together. "A week since Morgul Vale," he whispered. "Must be at least five days, since…"
"There is nothing we can do but succeed in what we've set out to do," Frodo interrupted hoarsely. "That's what Gandalf would say."
In a short time they were ready to make their move. Sam brought out three staves he had cut from the thorn bushes and stripped of their rough bark while Frodo was off exploring.
"They aren't the straightest staffs, but they'll help some for climbing," he said. "I thought I might use two at once for a while, to help steady my feet until I'm a bit stronger…"
"Excellent idea. Now then, I've another idea, and I'm not certain how you'll like it," Frodo said. "I think we ought to lighten our load as much as we can…"
"I've already thought of it, Master," Sam said in a choked voice. "I think them cooking pans of mine don't belong on a journey into Mordor…"
"They've served us well, but I doubt we'll be seeing any more rain, and you certainly won't have a chance to cook from now on." Frodo looked at his friend, who crouched near the pile of pots, staring down at them wistfully. "I'm sorry, Sam…"
Sam got to his feet, and though he swayed slightly, he stood tall and determined. "It's all right, Mr. Frodo. It's time."
They stacked the pots upside-down with their empty pipeweed pouches and thus useless pipes, covered and padded them with the last of their extra clothing, then stacked layers of vines over everything. Their abandoned possessions blended in with the tumbled brambles. When Sam glanced back, just a few moments later, he couldn't even pick out the spot where he had lain so close to death for over four days.
* * *
Slowly they made progress. Sam marveled at his Master's skill in picking out a manageable route up into the foothills. Frodo led, but kept his pace slow on purpose, Sam knew, to allow him to keep up. Even so, they had to stop and rest many more times than they had on the much steeper and more precarious climb into the Ephel Dúath. They were both thankful for the staves Sam had cut, both to help steady them and to take some of the burden off their knees as they climbed. Sam's throat was so dry it hurt, and he was embarrassed at how much strength he'd lost in so short a time. His legs felt wobbly, and he had to concentrate with every step to keep from slipping.
"I won't hear of you calling yourself any of your Gaffer's hard names," Frodo said crossly when Sam began muttering harshly to himself. "You are doing just fine, Sam. Why, look back, and see how far up we've come already…"
Sam didn't like to admit how much he disliked looking back and down; gazing out from a height had made him queasy even in ordinary times. He braced himself and turned to look. Though his stomach lurched at the sight, he realized that Mr. Frodo was right; they had come farther than he'd thought.
"Let's take a bit longer rest here," Frodo said. "This shelf is wider, and we should find a little shelter from the winds if we sit between those boulders…"
As they nibbled on some dried fruit from Faramir's rations, Frodo said that he thought they should try to cross over the crest of the peaks before they stopped for a true rest and sleep. Sam nodded; he kept thinking of what Gandalf had said at some point along the Fellowship's journey, that the Enemy wouldn't be expecting anyone to be trying to get into his guarded land, that most of the border guards were there to keep his many unwilling servants from escaping.
He thought of the small, miserable looking Orcs, and wondered how many other slaves the Enemy had imprisoned—of races other than Orc. He shivered at the thought of captivity, of chains and enslavement, of dungeons and torment. He had always feared having to fight and be killed or hurt in a battle, and had never given much thought to being taken prisoner. And then he thought of Gandalf. He swallowed the last slice of last year's apple, wrinkled and brown, and took a mouthful of water.
"Let's go on, Mr. Frodo. I'm ready…"
By the time the deeper darkness told them it must be night, they had managed the goal Frodo had set for them. They found a way through between two blunt peaks, winding back and forth and at times scrambling nearly straight up, and emerged gazing over the crest and into Mordor. They crept up and over the top of the narrow ridge and slid down to a dry pocket between two walls of stone.
"I'll take the first watch," Frodo whispered.
Sam was numb with fatigue. He nodded mutely, and shaking, he practically crumpled to the ground. His Master helped him shrug out of his rucksack and tucked his cloak about him. By the time Sam's head was settled on the crumbling stones, he was already asleep.
Frodo took all the watches, snatched a few hours of sleep himself, and waited to rouse Sam until the gloomy sky turned dull grey. He reckoned they had stopped for the night close to midnight, and dawn had probably come and gone, in the rest of the world, at any rate. Here, on the edge of the Plains of Gorgoroth, the hour didn't matter much. What mattered was that it was time to keep moving onward.
They opened the last packet of Captain Faramir's provisions and shared half. When they finished it, later that day, they would be relying fully on the waybread of Lothlorien for nourishment. Frodo carried three of the water bottles: his own, Gandalf's, and the miruvor flask. Sam had his own bottle in his pack. They had drunk half of Gandalf's bottle by the time they reached the crest, and Frodo had sipped from it a few more times overnight; he insisted that Sam do the same.
They peeked out and down. Below them the Morgai peaks tumbled outward. A wide shelf, as upon the inner slopes of the Ephel Dúath, sat near the bottom, and upon it a dusty, narrow track twisted back and forth. No remnant of the workmanship of the men of Gondor, this rough trail had been carved from rock by the Enemy's slave laborers. It followed the contours of the hills and disappeared north and south. Frodo guessed that it connected forts on the inside of the Morgai. They would have no choice but to cross it.
"But once we cross it, we will be on the plains themselves," Frodo whispered as he pointed. "We might not be able to keep much of a sense of the true direction once we're down there and in the rougher terrain. We have to stay off the roads, of course, and keep generally to the right of the main way, and go East, then a bit South toward Orodruin… We should try to fix some landmarks in our heads to aim for… There—do you see that squat black pillar? That will be our first landmark… I'd say it is about five miles or so from the track…"
Sam squinted into the darkness. He could only make out a bare outline of something slightly blacker than the sky rising above the stark landscape about where his Master must be pointing. Five miles… Who knows, in this dim light?
"I guess so, Mr. Frodo," he muttered. "I'll admit I can't see nearly as well as you can, Master…"
Frodo turned and gave him a grim smile. "One of the benefits of recovering from a Morgul wound, I'm told… Well, you might not be able to see as well as I can in this gloom, but you can help me remember… First the Pillar… Then next, we'll aim for what I'll call the Mushroom… I know you can't see it, Sam, but it looks like a far-off, giant toadstool, the kind that will make you sick if you eat one by mistake… Next, I see a sort of squarish block, though once we get closer I suspect we'll find it towers over us—we'll call that the Mathom House…"
The hobbits recited the order of Frodo's landmarks—five in all—until they both could recall them effortlessly.
"Pillar, Mushroom, Mathom House, Pony's Head, Crooked Chair…"
Sam kept hearing Gandalf's voice in his head. It is perhaps fifty miles from the base of the Morgai to Orodruin; not far, if the way were anything but treacherous. Fifty miles. Fifty miles, and every inch of it as treacherous as my worst nightmare—worse than that…
"It's March the 18th, right, Mr. Frodo?"
Frodo frowned as he studied the pocked and cracked landscape that lay between his so-called landmarks. He worried at how torn up that ground appeared, and wondered whether Sam would be able to manage it. I must, and therefore he must—for we go onward together…
"Yes, I suppose it is…"
Sam sighed. "I was just wondering, you know… Where everybody else is, and hoping that they're safe, and whole… It's been so long since we've seen anyone…"
"Anyone but Gandalf," Frodo whispered.
Had they known it, every one of their companions from the Fellowship were wondering and hoping exactly the same thing about them. The Captains of the West had just crossed through the ruins of the Causeway Forts, and Aragorn focused his thoughts on the Ring-bearer. Gimli pondered whether Sam had given up lugging those heavy pots and pans yet, and Legolas mused on how the Star-Glass of Galadriel might have been put to use in the darksome devastation that was Mordor. Pippin set his jaw and marched a bit faster as he strove to keep up with long-legged Meneldil, and kept pace to the words, For Frodo and Sam, for Frodo and Sam… Boromir pictured the youthful but determined Halfling he had first met in Rivendell, and standing near him, Merry fought back tears of shame that he was the only one of the four of them who was unable to make the final leg of the journey.
And Gandalf managed, yet again, to conceal any conscious thought of the two travelers moving slowly toward him, focusing his full attention instead on the peculiar idea that it had rained six days ago. Rain, in Mordor, of all the unlikely places! The wizard drew in a deep breath and did something that no one had done in that place in thousands of years. With pure—and for those who listened to him, infuriating—joy, he laughed.
* * *
Sam was secretly glad for the excuse that he was weak—and truly, he still felt nothing like his normal, sturdy self—and could use it to convince his Master to stop and rest. They had scrambled down the eastern side of the Morgai, resting twice along the way, but finding it not as steep or perilous a descent as from the crest of the Ephel Dúath. They heard and saw nothing in either direction as they approached the narrow track at the base of the final cliff. Encouraged, they ran across, through the ditch on the opposite side and threw themselves into a wide pit with broken stones all along its rim. Breathless in the increasingly acrid air, they each had a mouthful of water; Gandalf's water skin was now empty.
For Frodo, the empty bottle was a signal that they should hurry onward at once. Sam did his best, but soon he fell a dozen feet, then two dozen feet behind as his companion flitted from one broken stone, pit and crack to another. His normal vision was not sufficient in the gloom of Mordor, and he stopped with a start as he realized he'd lost sight of his Master.
He'll come back for me, surely he will… Sam thought as he crouched down and waited. He knew enough about getting lost in the wilderness—and this place was a dismal a wilderness as was possible—to recall that the best thing to do was to hold still and let yourself be found. If someone's looking for you, that is… He waited, and waited, and Frodo did not appear. He began to feel anxious, then his anxiety rose and began to change to panic.
Sam's throat went dry, and from more than just the parched air. At least ten minutes had passed, perhaps more, since he'd lost sight of Frodo's grey-cloaked figure rushing away from him over the rough ground. This won't do, for us to separate right off like this… He reached up and clasped the pouch at his chest that held Narya. Just when Its strength and hopefulness would have been very useful, he dared not place It on his finger. I can't see for nothing in this darkness, and if he can't see me we've really lost each other…
Sam heard—or thought he heard—coarse voices and scraping noises to his left. He shrank down even closer to the ground, pulling the cloak about his shoulders and tossing the hood forward. Stone… I'm just a stone, nothing to notice… The voices and sounds faded into the distance away toward the east. He was trembling over his entire body, and he fought to keep from crying out with the sudden terror that he really had lost his Master, that the voices were Orcs who had found Frodo and taken him prisoner. His head fell forward and he covered his face with both hands…
And then a hand—a warm hand, a small hand—a Hobbit's hand!—touched his shoulder.
"Sam!" Frodo whispered. "What on earth…! What are you doing way back here?"
Sam raised his head, and to his shame his tears spilled out and ran down his dust-streaked cheeks. "I… I'm sorry, Mr. Frodo, I…"
Frodo knelt beside him. "What happened? Did something happen? What's wrong, Sam?"
"I… I couldn't keep up with you, Master, and then you just disappeared, you were too far ahead, I couldn't see you…"
Frodo sighed and wrapped his arms about Sam's shuddering shoulders. Sam was horrified; he was the one who was supposed to be protecting Mr. Frodo, and helping him, not the other way around!
"Forgive me, Master, I…"
"There is nothing to forgive. I'm the one who should be apologizing…"
"N…no, it isn't right, I'm supposed to be the helper, not you…"
Frodo placed one filthy palm on Sam's cheek. He rubbed his thumb and wiped a few of the tears away. "We're in this together, all right? We're to help one another—neither one of us can do this alone…"
Sam choked. "You're the one who's got to do this, Mr. Frodo…"
"Listen to me, Sam," Frodo whispered urgently. "Just now, when I went off and left you alone, I knew it was wrong, I knew I should be more careful, taking it more slowly and cautiously… But I was listening… listening to It… It was urging me forward, telling me that I had to rush onward, or it would be too late…" He closed his eyes and sank back onto his heels. "I'm finally beginning to understand just how evil and clever It is, how It knows my vulnerability… Just like Gandalf said to Boromir—remember? It tries to sway me through my heart, as well…" Frodo reached out again and clasped Sam on the back of his neck. "There might come a time, Sam, when I fail—when I can't do what I came to do. Then you'll have to do it instead of me…"
"But Master, I…"
"The Council gave me companions, to make certain that the Quest was carried out. It won't matter in the end who does it. It just has to be done. Do you understand, at last?"
Sam nodded, shivering, as Frodo's grip tightened on his neck.
"Do you promise to do whatever is necessary to make sure the Quest succeeds, Sam?"
Frodo leaned back and let his hand fall. "Thank you. Thank you, Samwise Gamgee. And I promise the same to you. Now, let's put our heads together and figure out how to not get separated again…"
They finally agreed that Sam needed all the strength he could get, and so he should put Narya on his finger; and Frodo needed to keep close to Sam. So they cut off another length of Sam's rope, and using Gandalf's silver scarf as a sort of a talisman that Sam would be able to see no matter how dark it became, they tied themselves together: the scarf bound to Frodo's left wrist, tethered to a length of rope, and the rope tied to Sam's waist. He kept hold of the rope with his hand, and Frodo felt the security of Sam's weight tugging on him. And with a bit of both of his dearest friends nearby, he led onward into the darkness and the ruined desert plain of Mordor.
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.