‘Where is your companion? That gangrel creature, he had an ill-favoured look….’
Sam kept silent. In his stout hobbit way he feared very little, not even Strider and his long sharp sword that night in Bree…but this tall grey-eyed Man was different, surrounded by his stern warlike Rangers and treating him and his beloved master as if they were spies, or worse….
Sam’s ribs ached where he had been thrown to the ground when the warriors surprised him and Frodo. He still felt the tip of the bright sharp sword pointed at his throat, and worse than his own hurts, the sight of Frodo seized and bound like a thief….
‘Speak!’ demanded the captain, seating himself in front of them. All around men were busy carrying burdens into the caves and pushing past the hobbits. Some of them were wounded and others had been left behind dead when the Southrons had broken out of the ambush witnessed by the hobbits. Sam was in no doubt that should these men decide that they were spies of Mordor their lives would be in great danger…
‘There was no other’ Frodo’s voice was unwavering but Sam’s eyes grew wide and he saw a flicker of doubt in the Man’s face. Even seated he was taller than the hobbits and had a fair thoughtful face darkened now by danger and suspicion. He was weatherbeaten and had fine lines around his eyes from looking into the sun, but even a simple hobbit could see he was a leader of men, a prince. And there was something else about him, something familiar to Sam; the keen grey eyes and proud bearing. He reminded Sam of Boromir….
‘There was no other….’ Sam’s heart sank. He knew the Man could see they were lying. Lying to protect Gollum! What did Frodo mean by it? Now was their chance to rid themselves of the little sneak. He was dangerous; he would bide his time and some night, when they were out in the wilds, he would strike….
Sam’s hand went instinctively to his throat; he remembered the feel of Gollum’s long clammy fingers round his neck that night he had attacked them in the Emin Muil and tried to take the Ring. Sam was strong rather than fast but when Gollum wrapped his sinewy bony hands round his throat he could not prise them away. Breath came harder and harder till suddenly above him where he lay fighting for air Frodo loomed and placed his sword against the bony throat of his attacker.
‘This is Sting.’ He said ‘You’ve seen it before, Gollum! Release him, or I’ll cut your throat….’ Sam had felt the murderous grip relax and he tore himself away and gasped in the cool night air. Now he believed what Gandalf had told Frodo; that Gollum had killed before, and had killed often…
‘He gave us the slip with some fox-trick.’ Persisted the Captain. ‘He had an ill-favoured look…’
Frodo did not take the hint, instead replying with a shake of his head;
‘We set out from Rivendell with seven companions….’
So Frodo did not intend to betray Gollum! Sam felt dismayed, his hopes of being rid of that treacherous creature dashed. Mr.Frodo was too trusting! And not only that…Sam thought back to the fair woodland of Ithilien that day Frodo had reprimanded him…
‘Why do you do that?’
‘What?’ Sam had asked in astonishment.
‘Call him names, run him down all the time’
‘Because’ answered Sam, taken aback. ‘That’s what he is, Mr Frodo. There’s naught left in him but lies and deceit. He wants the Ring. It’s all he cares for…’
‘You have no idea what it did to him’ said Frodo, with a look in his eyes that Sam had never seen before. ‘What it’s still doing to him..’
Then Frodo turned away from Sam and said in a strange voice.
‘I want to help him, Sam…’
Sam could not restrain himself;
‘Why?’ he burst out.
‘Because I have to believe he can come back…’
So that was it. That was why Frodo had trusted Gollum against Sam’s advice. He feared he could become like him! Sam rebelled against the thought. He could never doubt that Frodo knew best. Wise he was, like the Elves, or like Gandalf. But this time he was plain wrong. Sam refused to believe that his dear Mr.Frodo could ever become like that sneaking, murderous villain….
‘You can’t help him, Mr. Frodo..’ he had said, gently. And that had unleashed an anger in his master that he had never seen before. Sam’s heart ached still to remember the reprimand.
‘What do you know about it?’
So now, surrounded by fell warriors and a captain with the power of life and death over them, Frodo lied to protect Gollum, and Sam could only hold his peace…
The darkness was profound, almost tangible. Silence reigned in the heart of the mountain, where the very air was entombed by the great weight of the land of Mordor. Gollum peered about with his great luminous eyes that caught every shard of light and threw it back, so even in total darkness he had some vision. But he saw nothing.
‘It’s all gone wrong, Preciouss!’ he hissed to himself, making the silence seem even greater.
‘It’s all gone wrong! She was supposed to do it, yess preciouss, and she didn’t! She didn’t like nassty Elvish lightses, and she drew back. Curse her!’
The last words rose to a shriek which echoed down a network of tunnels that spread out like the cogs of a great wheel from the dark corner where Gollum crouched. Startled, he put a thin gnarled hand over his mouth. She might hear him, oh yes. And he did not want to annoy her. Not yet, not yet. All was not lost yet.
It had been going so well; the hobbits had entered the tunnel, he had guided them right up to her lair….then in the darkness the Master of the Precious had taken from his tunic a light. Not just a torch or lamp, which could have been easily put out but a great Elvish light, a starglass of blinding white brilliance. It scored the eyes of Shelob and she backed away and fled, to the horror of Gollum waiting for her to discard the empty clothes and useless weapons…and the Ring. Held in this crystal phial was the light of the Elves, of the Evenstar. All dark and evil things fled before it. When Frodo held it up their path became clear, and they reached the entrance to Shelob’s lair, and freedom….
Now Gollum crouched and whispered, desperation in his voice;
‘They are only gone a little way! Now, now, you can still catch them! Otherwise the Dark Lord himself will feast on them and Shelob won’t get even the scraps and empty boneses….there they are, fresh meat!’
‘Come on, Sam’ cried Frodo, rejoicing to be out of the dank, fetid tunnel. He ran forward eagerly. Sam, cautious as ever, held back. And so it was that Samwise Gamgee, gardener of the Shire, friend of friends, saw emerge from the blackness of a tunnel mouth under a great cliff of Mordor a thing that in his quiet home he had never seen not even in dreams. A great heaving mass of stinking flesh, which was Shelob The Great. Descendant of Ungoliant, a dark power greater than any orc and scarcely less than the Balrog itself, she gave off a dull green putrescant glow in the dull light of Mordor and squeezing her mottled bloated bulk out of the cavern entrance she ran and leaped with frightening speed on long black legs after Frodo. Sam saw her and cried out in horror.
‘Mr. Frodo be-‘
And his cry was cut off. A long clammy hand wrapped itself round his face and the other clamped itself on his throat. A familiar voice hissed in his ear;
‘Got you! Nassty little hobbitses! Now we’ll wring your filthy little neck….’
Gollum, when he straightened up, was slightly taller than Sam. The hobbit was sturdily built but Gollum had him firmly by the throat, and he had throttled his prey many times with his long vice-like fingers. Sam felt the world swim round him as the creature tightened his grip. But Gollum had reckoned without Sam’s desperation; seeing Frodo in danger gave him strength far beyond that of a simple hobbit. Planting his feet he flung himself backwards and landed on Gollum, his not inconsiderable weight hitting the thin bony creature in the stomach. The breath was driven out of Gollum but he shot out a hand and gripped Sam’s wrist as he drew his sword.
Once again Gollum’s great strength prevailed; Sam’s hand with the sword was forced down and down, until with a cry he let go and it clattered to the ground. But before Gollum could take it up Sam, rage in his eyes, snatched up the staff that Faramir had given him on leaving Ithilien and brought it down on Gollum’s arm with a whistling crack. The creature gave a yell and sprang away but Sam followed him, bringing the staff down on his head this time but Gollum was too quick and sprang away and it broke across his back. Gollum fled.
Down, down the dark tunnels now empty of the great mistress of the dark, Shelob, Gollum fled. He blubbered and wept; his plan, his beautiful plan! How long had he nursed it! Right from the fair but blighted land of Ithilien where he had led the hobbits to Faramir. In his heart all along he had thought; what about Her? She could do it, she could kill them. And he would get to throttle the fat one, the one that was always watching, the one that called him Sneak! He had promised to the master of the Precious that he would serve him. If She slew the Master, he had not broken his promise! And he never promised not to kill the fat stupid one! How he hugged himself and dreamed of doing it! And now it was all in ruins, on account of that fat stupid hobbit! He had been about to wring its filthy little neck, but instead it had hurt his lovely flesh, cut open his wrist and broke a staff across his back. Gollum!
The wail echoed through the tunnels and caves and died away to gibbering and crying….
Later, much later, Sam sat on the bare ground below the cliffs of Gorgoroth as the stars came out, holding Frodo’s cold hand in his own. In a frenzy of grief he had sought for signs of life, but there was no longer any breath or life in his master’s still body. Long had he chafed Frodo’s hands and feet and called his name, placing his hand on his brow and listening to his heart, but now exhausted by despair and grief, he knew that Frodo was dead.
A black tide of grief and rage overcame Sam’s heart; Gollum. Never would he return to the Shire. He would spend the last days of his life pursuing that treacherous creature down all the ways till at last he had him cornered and took revenge for his master’s death. Frodo had trusted him! He had pitied him! Better never to trust, never to pity….but Sam looked then at Frodo’s face, peaceful now for the first time since he had slept in safety under Elrond’s care in Rivendell, beautiful even in death with that translucent beauty that Gandalf had noticed, and all Sam’s anger melted away. What did Gollum matter? Only Frodo mattered. Sam took his master’s cold thin hands and crossed them on his breast, then looked about him with a sigh.
They had struggled so hard to reach this land, and it was all in vain. He could not go on alone, not did he want to. He did not even want to go back to the Shire alone. He had sworn to Frodo, in front of that dusty mirror in Bag End all those months ago; if you don’t come back, neither will I. Sam looked down at the Barrow-wight’s sword still on the ground where he had dropped it. Its bright tip gleamed in the starlight. Follow his master? Sam shook his head and put the sword away; that was only to do nothing. Scanning Frodo still for any sign of life Sam saw now the poison from Shelob’s sting pervade his calm face with a hue of livid green. At last giving himself up to tears, exhausted, not caring who found them there, Sam pulled his Elven cloak over his head and gave himself to the darkness…
When he woke it was morning, and Mordor stretched away in all directions, grey and featureless. Beside him lay Frodo, dead. Sam stood up and at last the thought came to him, clear as if someone had spoken into his ear; you must go on. At first he was filled with horror, but then he remembered that Elrond had decreed to Frodo companions so that the Quest might not fail….and he was the last of the Fellowship. Long did Sam debate with himself. The sun, hidden by the foul mists of Mordor, rose to its height and began to sink again towards the horizon before Sam at last steeled himself to go. He took Sting from his master's side, and the Starglass from inside his torn tunic, speaking all the time to Frodo as if he was alive.
‘You can keep the old king’s sword, that we took from the barrow wight, as I’ll be needing Sting. And the Lady’s Starglass, for I will always be forever in the dark now….’
And lastly he took The Ring, passing the chain over Frodo’s head then laying him back to rest. The still features did not change, and Sam knew then that truly Frodo was dead. He kissed the cold forehead and put the Ring with its chain on, labouring to stand up under the weight. He felt nothing. So great was his loss that even the Ring gained no purchase on his heart. Wrapping Frodo in his grey Elven cloak he gazed for the last time on his master’s face then turned and went on. And whether he was returning to the Shire or going into the fires of Doom, at that moment it no longer mattered to Sam ….