Spiders Can't Hurt You

by Varda
‘A giant spider!’ cried Sam, starting to his feet and seizing his weapon.

‘Come on, then! Let’s finish it…’

Sam rushed forward, but his foot caught on a corner of the hearth rug and he sprawled on the parlour floor in front of the fire, and woke up.

He got to his knees; standing in front of him, regarding him solemnly, was Elanor.
‘All I said was, there is a big spider!’ murmured the little hobbit-lass uncertainly.

Sam got up hastily, and swept up his daughter in his arms.
‘Elanor, my dear! Your poor father was dreaming….’ Just then Rosie came in, drawn by Sam’s cry. He looked at her shamefacedly.
‘I must have fallen asleep by the fire, and had a bad dream…’
Rosie looked at him doubtfully and shook her head.
‘Well you didn’t dream the spider, there he is!’

Rosie pointed, and sure enough, there in the corner, beside the dresser, weaving a fine grey web between the log basket and the fire tongs, was a great black and yellow spider.

Sam got down on his knees to examine the spider; he was astonished to see it, because for some reason they could never explain, spiders were never found in Bag End. Rosie used to joke that they had taken a peek in the Red Book and read about Shelob and as a result had fled, fearing to be spiked as their great matriarch had been by Sting. But this one had dared to break the hobbit-hole’s defences, and now Elanor regarded it with great round eyes and whispered;
‘Will it hurt me, Father?’
‘No, my little lass, spiders can’t hurt you, but just in case I’ll put it where it can spin its webs without startling you any more….’

And Sam bent down and gently cupped his hand over the spider, which sat still as if it knew no harm would come to it. Then Sam carried it over to the parlour window, undid the catch and shook his hand over the flower-bed. It was a fine spring night and the tiny creature curled itself into a ball and fell lightly through the mild air till it struck the dark green leaf of one of Sam’s prize roses. There it clung, and began to spin its webs once more….

Sam dusted off his hands and looking down saw Elanor rubbing her eyes sleepily.
‘Here, my lass!’ he said. ‘Off to bed with you now…..’

He picked up the little hobbit girl watched by Rosie who said;
‘And you better be off to bed too, Sam. There is a wain full of saplings to go to Buckland tomorrow and you must go too, so you’d best get your sleep….’

Sam nodded and sighed. Since Mr.Frodo had gone away he had barely had a minute to himself, organising the replanting and rebuilding. Perhaps, he thought, it was best that way; less time to think on sad matters…..
‘Sam? Did you hear what I said?’ asked Rosie. Sam nodded and replied;
‘Yes, my love! I’ll just put Elanor to bed then have a pipe of Old Toby before I turn in. I’ll be away at least a night or two, and who knows if those Bucklanders will have a decent store after all the shortages…..’

Rosie smiled and nodded and gave Sam a light kiss on his cheek, then turned the handle and slipped off to bed. Sam took Elanor down the hall to her room and tucked her in, already asleep, then tiptoed back into the parlour and took down his pipe and a round glazed earthenware jar of pipeweed.
‘Old Toby!’ murmured Sam. ‘the best in the Shire…..’

He sat down in his favourite armchair and drew happily on his pipe. The firelight cast moving shadows on the familiar surroundings of the parlour…once Frodo’s parlour, and even further back in time, Bilbo’s.
‘Mr. Bilbo’ thought Sam. ‘I wonder where he is now…..but no, not tonight. I won’t think of such things tonight….’

Sam got up and relit his pipe, which had unexpectedly gone out. Then he settled back and gazed into the fire. He took his pipe out of his mouth, and stared harder. Strange how pictures formed in the red hot coals if you looked long enough…..

The smell hit Sam the moment he entered the tunnel. It was a dreadful smell, a smell he would never, ever forget, even in his later life in the Shire. It was like the lair of a great beast, or the stench of a midden, mixed with the odour of rotting flesh. His eyes watered and his spirit quailed. Had he not been driven on by rage, and a frenzy of anxiety for Frodo, he would never have been induced to enter such a noisome and blackly dark hole….

But in he went, and blindly, rushing on down a long rocky gallery, lit dimly by some glow from holes above in the cave ceiling, and by a strange phosphorescence, as of decomposing matter. Under his bare hobbit feet he could feel at times dry crackling bones and at other times rotten soft matter. But he tore on, his heart filled with a foreboding that all was not well with Frodo, and driven on by a red rage of hatred for him, or it, or whatever you could call Gollum…

The tunnel became another tunnel, and soon Sam was running through a maze of endless galleries of stone, each one darker and more foul than the last. It was hot and airless and Sam sweated and toiled. At last he saw light ahead and ran towards it and had almost emerged into what daylight Mordor afforded when something soft but strong as steel barred his way. He ran into it, his face pushed up against its shiny, unyielding texture. He sprang back with a cry, and putting out his hand felt a thick woven wall of something like silk, or fine wool, but as strong and resilient as the bowstrings of the Galadhrim of Lothlórien….Sam pushed and pulled, but it only gave and bounced back. Beyond it Sam could see a long slope of barren rock, then open ground, and the base of a great wall of rock. And walking wearily along the wide expanse of bare stone, his master, Frodo….

‘Mr. Frodo!’ called Sam desperately. ‘Mr. Frodo! Wait for me, I’m here, I’m coming…it’s your Sam….’

And with all his strength Sam dug his fingers into the soft but indestructible strands and pulled and pulled but in vain. He felt tears of frustration well up in his eyes and thought; why did I ever let him leave me behind! Why, Sam, why….

And to Sam’s mind came the words of the Elves of Gildor, encountered by him and Frodo as they left the Shire, before their journey had turned to darkness;
‘Never leave your master!’ they had cried, in their clear silver voices. Sam had replied emphatically;
‘No, no, I never will….’

But the Elves of Gildor had laughed, as if they knew how hard it was in the world of men to keep an oath, to keep any faith at all. They just laughed at Sam, and repeated as they faded away into the night;
‘Never leave your master….’

‘And I never should have, and I never ever will again…Frodo!’

And that was when Sam saw it; a great shadow he thought it at first, looming up over the edge of the clearing, moving slowly but steadily, marking Frodo’s steps as if hunting him. Sam stared, and passed a hand over his eyes; he was surely imagining this. He tugged fruitlessly at the web barring his way, but only succeeded in shaking the carcasses of creatures suspended in the wall of strands. Helpless, Sam watched as the shadow crept closer to Frodo….

Above the path stood a Tower, and from it like from some evil beacon there stabbed from time to time a great red beam. Now it swept the clearing before Sam and in its glare he saw at last what stalked his master; a spider.

Or rather, a monster in the shape of a spider. It had long, jointed arched legs knotted and clawed and a great unwieldy body green and pitted with corruption below and black and sleek and bristling with spines above. Its great head had many eyes, many-faceted orbs shining with a malevolence and ancient wisdom not given to mere beasts. This was some vile being that was older than men, older than the Elves. Older even than Sauron, who kept her penned and hungry in the high pass to guard his realm. It was Shelob, spawn of Ungoliant, and it had never been defeated or wounded, in all the ages of the earth….

Sam gave a scream, and perhaps Frodo heard that because he turned at the last, but even as Sam threw himself on the web he saw through tear-dimmed eyes a great shape swing out over his master, and with one deft thrust, impale him on her curved black sting, and Frodo fell backwards into her claws and was at once bound and encased in the monstrous spider’s white cocoon….

By now Sam was almost out of his wits, and lashing about his hand suddenly found something that felt familiar. He looked and there was Sting, suspended in the web where Frodo had abandoned it to escape from the strands. Sam closed his hand on the hilt and at once he lashed out and the web parted like thread and he hewed and slashed and the rest of the evil veil gave way and floated on the breeze like ghostly hair. Sam leaped through, and running forward blindly he half fell down the slope. As he did so his eye fell on something gleaming on the rocky ground; the phial of Galadriel! Sam snatched it up, and holding it in one hand, and gripping Sting in the other, he advanced on Shelob and shouted;

‘Let him go, you filth….’

Shelob was hungry. For more ages than she could remember she had starved, thrown only a thin and sour orc now and then at the discretion of Lord Sauron. She was angry, hungry and venomous. And now thanks to the treachery of The Sneak in as many minutes she had come into more sweet meat than she had tasted in an age. She was not going to relinquish any of it….

But this small warrior….there was something about him, something that prodded Shelob’s vast memory, as thick and tangled as her own webs. It was the Elves; their swords shone like this one, their lamps gleamed almost like this bright glass….Shelob remembered the warriors of the Elves, and determined not to be robbed of her prey by such a one as them….

With a great bound Shelob pounced on Sam, her vast bulk moving with sickening speed. But Sam was angry, afire with rage against Gollum and a burning desire to save his master and he did not feel fear but hewed at the great head and struck one of the many eyes. It went dark and a dribble of yellow venom ran down and fell onto the bare ground. In another stroke, Sam sheered off one of her feet and she gave a sound like a great hiss and for a moment fell back. Sam advanced but then the spider reared up on her hind legs and flung her bulk down on the little warrior and threw him to the ground.

Sting flew out of his hand and he stretched to reach it, but the spider pinned him to the ground with her abdomen. The stench of her vile bulk so close almost suffocated Sam but he rolled over and slipped between two of her great legs. Feeling him escape Shelob lowered her beak, dribbling black slime, and gouged a long cut in his leg.

Sam screamed; not just from the pain of the cut, but from the awful stinging of the venom that seeped into the wound. His head felt dizzy, and he put all his strength into pushing away from the creature’s underbelly and gaining open air again. Shelob herself was aligning her bulk to try to stab Sam with her sting, as she had Frodo. But Sam squirmed away in time; she tried again and again he managed to avoid her. But long this could not last, and he fought clear of Shelob’s legs and finding himself free he threw himself onto Sting, as it lay on the ground beyond her reach. She ran after him; he heard her coming and seized the handle and rolled over onto his back. He saw the sting poised and then Shelob, too eager for the kill, made a rare mistake.

Anxious to not only sting Sam but to crush him, Shelob lowered her great mottled bag of an underbelly onto him, to suffocate and quench the hobbit. But Sam had Sting in his hand and as the wall of stinking flesh descended onto him he held it upright and Shelob’s own weight and strength drove it deep into her belly.

A stream of poisonous liquid flowed out and almost choked the hobbit, and his ears were assailed by a scream, neither natural nor supernatural, but something that Sam would hear in his nightmares for all time. Then, with all her great strength, Shelob sprang away, landing near one of the entrances to her lair, scrabbling for a moment with her claws at the agonising wound in her flesh. Sam looking about saw the Starglass lying on the ground and springing up he ran to it and snatched it up and held it in Shelob’s face, burning her eyes….

‘Back!’ he cried, ‘Back, you filth….’ Not elated, not happy, but filled with a great indignation at this foul blight on the land. Sam cried out, hardly knowing what he said;

‘A Elbereth Gilthoniel!’

Shelob had heard that cry many ages before, from the Elves, but she had grown great on the blood of not only orcs but men and Elves too, and thought nothing of it. But not now; now the Elvish words stung her brain just as the light clawed her vision. With another unearthly cry she backed off and with a sudden leap dived into the mouth of one of her tunnels and disappeared.

Sam ran after her, and in his battle lust would have followed her but a voice in his head seemed to say;
‘Sam, Sam! Your master!’

And as if struck he stopped and turned and ran down the slope to where Frodo lay cocooned in the silken strands of Shelob’s web. Taking Sting in his hand he sawed through the strands, freeing his master, all the while saying frantically;
‘Frodo, Frodo, oh Mr.Frodo, wake up! It’s gone, I’m here now, it’s your Sam!’

But even when he had freed his master, tearing the webs away to let him breathe, there was no sign of life from Frodo; he gazed at the starless sky with unseeing eyes. His skin was greenish white and cold, icy cold. His body was stiff, unmoving and leaden when Sam took it in his arms. Frodo was dead.

‘Never leave your master….’ Even as he wept, Sam heard the words again. Never had he thought that he would be alone. Never had he thought that one of them might die, and the other live, and that it would be him.
‘Don’t leave me here alone!’ he cried, but his words echoed in a vast emptiness. He looked into Frodo’s face, the pallor deepening as death spread through the frail hobbit’s veins.

‘Don’t go where I can’t follow, Mr. Frodo’ he whispered, but the still face showed no sign of hearing.

‘Don’t escape….’

And then as Sam hugged his lifeless master to his breast his eye fell on Sting lying on the ground.
‘Never leave your master…..’

Sam reached out and grasped the handle.
‘And I won’t neither…. ‘ he said to himself

Sam came awake with a start, and scrambled to his feet.

He had been lying on the hearthrug, gripping the poker with one hand, the other holding, not the phial of Galadriel but the jar of Old Toby, which was now scattered all over the floor.

The fire was almost dead, and a grey light was in the window; dawn was not far off. Sam trembled violently, and passed a hand over his eyes; he had dozed off and had lain on the floor for hours, although the dream had taken no more than five minutes….shakily he walked over and slumped down into the armchair.

Sam often dreamed; sometimes of Lothlórien, under the golden Mallorns. Often of the fair terraces and fountains of Rivendell. But also of darker things, more and more as he got older….and then there was Frodo. He dreamed often of Frodo; as he had been in the Shire, as he had been on the Quest. As he had been before he left, lost and wounded. While all the Shire seemed to have forgotten him, Sam only thought more about him.
‘Never leave your master….’ He had made a promise to the Elves on that night under the stars.

‘It doesn’t look as if I ever will, Mr. Frodo….’ said Sam to himself….