Light seeped in behind his eyelids and Frodo
stirred. Pain radiated from his back, causing him to draw in his breath
sharply and wince. He tried to sit up, but was only able to move part
way before the pain hit again. He bit his lip to keep from crying out.
The shadows above him were lengthening. He had no idea how long he had lain there, senseless, exposed. He put his hand up to his face and dried blood came off his fingers, crumbling to brown dust.
The sounds of battle he had fled from were lessened, but not gone from hearing entirely. He wondered if Merry and Pippin had gotten away; as horrified as he had been when they called to the enemy, he understood why they had, and was grateful. He hoped with all his heart that they had been faster and more agile than their pursuers.
There was a rustling, just to his right. He started, and shrank back until he was flat against the stone outcropping that had broken his fall. Holding his breath, he hoped his elven cloak was enough to shield him from unfriendly eyes.
The rustling grew louder, and Frodo remembered that he still had Sting. Stealthily, he maneuvered to draw the blade from the scabbard, and lay it against his leg, unseen, but ready to strike. He glanced down – the blade was not blue, but not all enemies were orcs. The thought of Boromir flashed through his mind; the steward had looked half-mad, his eyes burning with a dangerous light as he had advanced on him. His hand tightened on the handle.
“Mr. Frodo? Frodo, where are you?” The voice was hushed.
Frodo shoulders sagged, and he almost wept with relief. Dear, sweet Sam was safe.
“Samwise – here…you’re nearly on top of me.” Frodo lifted his cloak with his free hand and exposed a mop of dark, matted curls. Sam, recognizing his master, dropped to the ground and crawled behind the bush with Frodo. The relief on the other hobbit’s face quickly turned to concern as he saw Frodo grimace in pain as he moved over to let Sam in. Sam took note of the scratches and bruises rapidly appearing on his master’s face. Digging in his pack, he searched for a cloth for sponging, but was stopped by an unexpectedly gentle hand. “Don’t worry, Sam. They’re not bad. It’s my back as hurts, and there’s nothing you can do about that.” Sam rocked back on his heels and looked upwards. The stones they were sheltered against were steep and craggy. “More’n likely you bumped down them, but lucky this mess was at the bottom, or you’d be broken clean in half.” Sam’s matter of fact tone made Frodo smile. Trust an honest Gamgee to not sugarcoat anything, no matter how bleak.
Frodo turned serious. “What’s happening, Sam? Did you see any of the fighting, or any of the others? Are they safe?” Sam shook his head. “I didn’t see anything, Mr. Frodo. I heard fightin’ but I kept as far away from it as I could. I was lookin’ for you. Soon’s I saw Boromir’s shield lyin’ there, and him gone, I got nervous. I was afraid he might try to get you to, you know, give him the ring. “ The last was said in a whisper. Frodo nodded. “You were right, Sam. He did try, but I put it on. I didn’t mean to, but I couldn’t fight him, and he’d gotten…odd.” “Obsessed.” Sam nodded. “He’s been that way since he touched it at Carahad…had…ras…well, the mountain, you know.”
Frodo closed his eyes. But for the seriousness of the topic, he could almost imagine that he and Sam were back in the Shire, camping under a spreading oak. For a moment he let the longing for home wash over him, and stifled a sound that might have been a sob. He felt Sam’s hand cover his and squeeze, and knew the younger hobbit felt the same way.
But they were not back in Hobbiton; in fact, Frodo was not sure that Hobbiton even existed anymore except as a lovely memory.
Sam was still craning his eyes, looking upward as a sudden burst of dying sun lit the trees. Suddenly he cursed under his breath. Frodo opened his eyes. “What?” “Look up there.” Frodo looked, and then he too, cursed. Suspended up above them, perched prominently on an outcropping was Frodo’s pack, which had come loose during his fall. “Sam, give me a boost, I’ll try and get it.” As he stood, the pain exploded along his spine and he flailed, falling against Sam. “Well, that’s no good. You can’t hardly stand, let alone climb. You sit down and let me do it. Here, sit here on this, and pillow your back.” Reluctantly, Frodo obeyed and watched as Sam tried unsuccessfully to hoist his sturdy little body up. “Where’s Pip and Merry when you need them,” he grumbled. The Tooks and Brandybucks were notoriously nimble climbers. Several futile tries later, he sat back down, grumbling. “Boost me up, Sam; I’m lighter than you. I don’t care if it hurts, we can’t leave that there.” Sam started to protest, then saw the look on his master’s face and closed his mouth. He stood and pulled Frodo up, bending down to cup the other’s foot. With an effort, Frodo lifted his feet into Sam’s callused palm and was raised as high as Sam could reach. Sam was shocked at how light Frodo had become. Never mind, he thought. When we get someplace safe, I’ll cook him a real meal…none of this lembas stuff. He concentrated on keeping his hands stable so Frodo could stretch as high as possible. An eternity seemed to pass. “Frodo?” “Almost, Sam – I can just barely touch it, but it’s stuck. Can you get any higher?”
Grunting, Sam pushed upwards, just as Frodo’s hand grasped the strap. He pulled as hard as he could, and the pack came loose with a lurch. Frodo lost his balance and fell backwards, toppling Sam along with him. They broke loose of the brush and came to a sudden dead stop. Groaning in pain, Frodo turned his head and opened his eyes and saw something huge and black level with his sight. Hot air engulfed him, and a stench rose in the air. Beside him, Sam was face down, not even daring to look up.
Gathering all his courage, Frodo rolled over and stared upwards. An enormous, leering, dark face smiled down at him, its fangs dripping, and coated with blood. Its facial features were barely distinguishable…except for the blazing white handprint across its forehead.
The Hand of Saruman.
Frodo closed his eyes at last, unable to bear looking at the creature for another second.
He heard a low chuckle, guttural and slurred. Then he shouted something that Frodo could barely understand, but for the last words.
“I found them!”