The Gardener's Tale 3

by Varda

'Sam! Sam! Where are you?'

Sam could hear the panic in Frodo's voice but could think only of Bill, shut out on the other side of a mountain of rock and masonry as the door of Moria was flung down in ruin.

'SAM!' In the tomblike space of the mine the crashing of the falling stone was deafening. It rolled on and on like an earthquake, the air filled with fine choking dust and showers of tiny pebbles falling on their heads.

In the darkness Sam was weeping. He had looked after that pony till he thought of it as a child, always looking out for good pasture when they stopped and talking to it on the march. And Bill had responded like a child, always trotting up to Sam at the start of the day, nuzzling him as if in greeting, looking for the piece of bread he always brought as a tidbit... He was not the same beast Sam had rescued in Bree, half starved and beaten. And now Bill was gone, dragged down by that monster in the deep, no doubt, or by wolves or birds or whatever...

'Sam' Frodo's voice was exhausted, and Sam felt a rush of remorse. What was he thinking of! Poor Mr. Frodo! But where was he? Sam put out his arms in the blackness and at that moment Gandalf struck his staff on the ground and from the crystal in its cleft top came a ghostly radiance, and a slight sound like a breath indrawn in fear.

The light fell on a dirt-streaked, soaked company, pale and dishevelled, looking wildly about them. It showed a mass of tumbled stone behind them where the door had been. Gandalf walked over to it and tapped it with his staff.

'We now have no other choice' he said turning back to them.

'We must face the long dark of Moria.'

Sam turned to Frodo, who had been right beside him all the time, white-faced and shaking. Sam remembered his fall when the Watcher in the Water had seized him and his screams as it dragged him away and stepping up to him took him by the arm.

'Mr. Frodo! You are soaked through! are you hurt?' Frodo shook his head.

'No, Sam, I'm not hurt, just a bit...' his voice trailed off as he noticed Sam's tears.

'What is the matter, Sam?'

Sam hastily drew his sleeve across his eyes.

'Nothing, Mr. Frodo, only I was thinking about Bill' He stopped. Frodo put his hand on Sam's shoulder and tried to smile

'I am sure he got away, Sam.' he said 'old Bill is too smart for any black beast like that to catch!' Aragorn was shouldering his pack and bow and overheard what they were saying.

'Don't underestimate your Bill, Sam. He knows the way home'

Sam nodded, ashamed of himself, worrying about such a thing when Frodo needed him. He busied himself to get his and Frodo's packs shouldered. Around them the others were also getting ready for the march. Gimli was standing slightly apart, leaning on his axe and gazing grimly at the skeletons and armour scattered about. As they set off, Gandalf leading, he took his place beside the wizard. Gimli had never been in Moria before, but he stamped along with a fearlessness and familiarity born of one long accustomed to such subterranean passages and halls. Behind Sam and Frodo, keeping close as if frightened of the dark, were Merry and Pippin.

Looking back Sam saw Pippin's face white with fear. He felt sorry for the young hobbit, but he was not much better himself; their path ran quickly through echoing halls and over chasms of immense depth, all hidden in warm airless gloom, and Sam, who spent his working days in gardens, felt oppressed and almost suffocated. He concentrated on assisting Frodo, giving him his arm to lean on and helping him jump the many fissures across their path, but his spirit quailed in the dark, and he knew the others were also nervous and afraid.

As they threaded their way through this endless night, Sam was aware of great pits opening up on either side of the path. The dwarves who worked Moria had used these for the spoil of their mines, but the orcs that drove the dwarves out had thrown much else besides down them, and Gandalf's light reflected back off shining objects, armour and weapons, and sometimes a greenish luninescence arose of its own accord. With little water they were tormented by thirst, but sometimes they heard running water, and once stopped to listen to the endless thump thump of a vast watermill turning in the gulf. Sam thought of the Mill at Bywater, and nothing seemed as far from this ghostly mill as that bright water wheel. The dwarves who had tended it were dead or driven away, but still it turned away in the void, thump thump thump....

Often there were signs of a last battle, rusty weapons and armour broken and strewn across the path, and skeletons of orcs and dwarves. In places they ascended sheer flights of steps, broken and littered with swords and bones. In the dim light Sam put his finger into the empty eye socket of a dead orc as he climbed up.

He gave a loud yell and started backwards and would have fallen down the steps had Boromir not caught him. He was ashamed of himself but could not stop shaking with fright for a long time after.

Beside him Frodo hardly spoke. Sam was concerned, but said nothing. He was aware that Frodo was becoming more drawn into himself. At first when they had left Rivendell he had seemed to thrive in the open air and exercise, after the manner of hobbits, who like nothing better than hiking in the wilds. The preoccupied, worried mood he had after the Council seemed to lift. The nightmares seemed to have ceased. He regained some of his colour and laughed at Merry and Pippin practising swordplay under Boromir's critical eye.

But then came the crow spies, and the failed ascent of Caradhras, and the burden of choice of route thrust on Frodo. Sam could almost see his shoulders sag and knew he was worried about his decision. And then the creature in the lagoon, reaching out for Frodo and Frodo alone.

What hurt Sam most was that Frodo hardly spoke to him.

'Mr. Frodo doesn't have to tell you anything, ninnyhammer!' he said to himself, to no avail; Sam wondered what Frodo was thinking, and yearned to encourage and comfort him. He looked back to the days Frodo was convalescing in Rivendell as almost happy, with Frodo getting well again and glad of Sam's company, telling him everything. A fear that Sam had, that he just could not quell, that Frodo might leave him behind, kept creeping into Sam's mind...

Sam, thinking on all this, nearly ran into Boromir in front of him. The company had stopped. Gandalf up ahead was peering at three doorways which had suddenly loomed up in front of them. He raised his staff and studied each in turn, after a while muttering....

'I have no memory of this place....'

The Company halted. They all agreed to take a rest while Gandalf tried to think out what route to follow. Packs were gratefully slung onto the ground and the Company threw themsleves down too, glad of the rest. Merry and Pippin sat close to each other as if for comfort. Sam and Frodo sat down side by side. Gandalf calmly took out a pipe and lit it. Boromir and Aragorn did the same, sitting side by side looking out into the gloom.

Sam eased off his pack and rubbed his shoulders where the straps dug in. He didn't want to smoke but was very thirsty. He wondered if he could take just a little sip....

'I'm hunted, Sam!' said Frodo suddenly as he sat beside him. Sam was dismayed.

'No, Mr. Frodo...'

'Yes I am. Creatures in the water, birds of the air, and even here..' Frodo looked about him fearfully 'what things lurk in the dark, waiting for me to pass?' Sam did not reply.

'The Watcher in the Water, it was me it sought, no-one else. The Ring wakes every evil and draws it after me. I wish it had never come to me. I don't think I will ever be able to do what I promised everyone I would do...' Sam could see Frodo's distress, hear it in his voice.

'Now, Mr.Frodo, don't say that. Look at who you have with you! Mr. Strider, and Boromir and Legolas. I don't doubt but that they are more than a match for any orc or bird or beast, and there's Mr. Gandalf!' he nodded over his shoulder at the wizard puffing away on his pipe.

'We'll never be lost with Mr.Gandalf leading us! He makes you feel safe just being here!' to Sam's surprise Frodo laughed.

'Sam, I think he's lost now'. Sam shook his head vigorously

'No he isn't! He is just making up his mind. You go and ask him!'

Frodo looked thoughtful.

'No, but I will go and talk to him for a while, if you don't mind, Sam'

Sam was delighted to see Frodo go over to Gandalf, hoping the wizard would raise Frodo's spirits. Sam remained where he was, resting his aching legs. Sam could jump a ditch as well as any hobbit, but jumping the fissures in the path here was dangerous and exhausting work. Sam eased his feet out before him and set his back against a smooth rock with a sigh. He looked over at Aragorn and Boromir. From time to time Boromir looked at Frodo. he was always looking at Frodo, Sam thought, then shrugged off the thought. Frodo and Gandalf were deep in conversation. Frodo looked serious and Sam could see even in this dim light, his face seemed to have lines he had not noticed before. He looked worn out already. Sam put that thought aside too and dug his hands deep into his pockets. There was something there. Sam drew it out; it was a sprig of heather. Sam turned it in his weatherbeaten hands and studied it with pleasure. He must have picked it as they went up the mountain towards the snowline. All along their march Sam had pinched the tips of plants, examining them, and if they were not familiar to him, asking Legolas for their names. It became a game; Legolas schooling Sam in the mellifluous Elvish names and laughing at the hobbit's attempt to repeat them. He put them in his pocket but they withered quickly. But the heather stayed fresh, its purple glowing in the flickering light of their torches.

The Gaffer once said if Sam could not make something grow, nobody could. Sam glanced across at Frodo; looking after someone else, though, that was another matter...

'It's that way!' Gandalf suddenly cried. Everyone started and looked around.

'He's remembered!' said Merry, and Pippin looked up as if out of a dream.

They followed Gandalf through the stone portal and down a wide flight of shallow steps. The walls fell away and they knew from the echoes that they were in a vast hall.

'Let us risk a little light!' said Gandalf, raising his staff. The cold white light flared and sparkled and into their sight leaped row upon row of tall pillars, branching out at their crowns like great stone trees. Above them a cavernous vaulted roof moved and shuddered in the shadows cast by the light. All around, in every direction, marched columns, carven with the angular designs of the dwarf artisans of Khazad-Dum.

'Behold the great realm and city of the Dwarrowdelf!' said Gandalf.

The hobbits stared open-mouthed; never had they heard tell of, nor dreamed of, such vastness and splendour. Sam was the first to find his voice.

'Well there's an eye-opener and no mistake!' In Rivendell he had thought he had found wonders past his powers to recount, should he ever get home to tell of them. But this was much greater, more marvellous yet also more dreadful, empty and ruined and haunted. Sam could not help thinking of the armies of dwarves working away for so many generations to complete this great work. All dead now, long dead and gone.

Beside him Gimli was as one struck by lightning. He walked forward but not seeing where he was going, just keeping his eyes fixed on the great pillars and the traceries of the stone roof. Gandalf led the way down into the hall, and as Gimli followed, his eye fell on a litter of armour, then fallen bodies, long reduced to skeletons shrouded in gossamer cobwebs, glistening in Gandalf's bleaching light.

Gimli gave a cry of anguish, and started forward towards a brightly lit chamber, the broken and rotten doors of which stood ajar. Gandalf called after him in vain, and the Company hurried to catch him up.

They entered a high broad chamber lit by a shaft of light from the mountainside far above. The light fell on the flat stone surface of a great tomb in the middle of the chamber; on it were runes. Gimli took one look at them and fell to his knees. Gandalf and Aragorn and Legolas came up behind him. Gandalf read out the runes.

'Here lies Balin, son of Fundin. Lord of Moria' Gandalf looked around at the others.

'So he is dead then. It is as I feared,'

The hobbits followed the others into the chamber. Sam tripped over something and looking down saw it was a skull still encased in a helmet, severed from the body in battle. Sam grew pale and wished with all his heart they would come away from this place. Beside him Frodo felt the same. Gimli was weeping, bowed at the tomb, keening and reciting a dwarvish prayer. Legolas looked uneasy and Boromir and Aragorn kept looking over their shoulders at the door.

But Gandalf had discovereed a book, and was reading from it. In spite of himself Sam edged nearer. Books fascinated him, ever since Bilbo had learned him his letters. This was a far cry from Bilbo's small leather bound volumes spread out on the table of the bright sunny parlour in Bag End. It was a great iron-bound tome, dusty and cloven by an axe or sword and stained with dried blood. But as Gandalf blew the dust off it and began to read, Sam craned to follow the words. The language was unfamiliar but some of the characters were known to Sam. He forgot where he was and became engrossed. Gandalf read out the story of the dwarves' last stand, and the company, already nervous, grew agitated. Sam heard Legolas whisper to Aragorn begging him to get them on their way.

'..drums in the deep..we cannot get out. They are coming'

Gandalf read it with some relish, but suddenly a great crash, magnified many times in the stone vault of the burial chamber, interrupted him. Sam leaped with fright and looked around. Across the chamber, still holding Gandalf's hat and staff, Pippin stood in horrified amazement as the orc skeleton he had just touched keeled over and fell down the well it had been perched on, bouncing deafeningly against the stone shaft, the sound hollow and echoing, going on and on.

The company could do nothing but wait for the sound to cease, rooted to the spot with horror. Sam felt a surge of pity for Pippin, feeling every bounce and rattle of the falling skeleton and armour, white as death himself, looking from one face to another as if asking for forgiveness.

At last the final crashing echo died away. The flare of the torches was the only sound to be heard. They all shook and felt the cold sweat dry on their faces. Sam saw Merry look away, then Gandalf advance on Pippin. The wizard loomed up over the terrified young hobbit and snatched his hat and staff out of Pippin's hands.

'Throw yourself in next time and rid us of your stupidity, fool of a Took!' Sam's heart was wrung for Pippin, but he knew he must take his punishment. But Sam felt guilty; he should have kept an eye on the young hobbit..

As he was thinking how he could ease Pippin's self-reproach, and as they were all drawing deep breaths of relief, there came suddenly a sound that was not running water nor the thump of a mill; it was a hollow boom in the chasms below them. Followed by another boom, and another. Drums! Drums in the deep! At once they became louder, reverberating through the chamber and beyond and now accompanied by a high wild shrieking, as of many voices. But voices of what? Sam felt his blood run cold. What creature could possibly make such a sound? As he wondered Boromir ran to the door, looked out then sprang back; orcs!

Sam backed away till he stood beside Frodo at the rear of the company. This was his place, whatever might happen. In front of him Pippin was trembling with fear, but at Gandalf's command drew his sword. At the entrance to the chamber the doors were being assailed with ferocious energy, spears and orcish pikes tearing into the wood and sending splinters flying into the room. Frodo drew Sting, and Sam looked in amazement at the blade, edged with a blue glow.

'Draw your sword, Sam' said Frodo in a shaky voice and Sam drew out his blade. It was heavy and clumsy in his hand. He wished now he had taken part in those sword lessons Boromir had given the others.

The last remnants of the wood flew apart and Legolas and Aragorn drew their bows as the doors were thrown down and a black horde of orcs poured into the chamber....