Black and Gold

by NorthStar

Part VI

Sam could see little from his vantage point; trussed like a roast pig to the back of his captor, he held very still, till his muscles trembled from the strain, so as not to rub against his ropes any more than he had to.

Night had fallen, but the stars lit the way like a thousand tiny torches. The Uruks seemed tireless, and their pace had flagged but little in the hours they had run. Sam's orc bearer kept pace with Agrak, the second in command who had slung Frodo over his shoulder. Where the leader was, Sam didn’t know, except that he must be leading the pack. Straining a bit, he lifted his eyes and searched for his friend. There he was, a dark shape slumped against Agrak’s back, his eyes closed.

Sam could hear nothing but the pounding of footsteps, rhythmic, almost soothing. Had his stomach no been so firmly knotted with dread, he may have even slept; but fear kept each nerve tingling and made rest an impossibility.

Ahead of him, he heard a shout that echoed back through the ranks. Abruptly the orcs stopped, and Sam felt himself tossed to the ground. Struggling to sit up, he saw that Frodo was also on the ground, having been deposited there but a bit more gently by Agrak. The orcs stepped away from them after checking to see that their bonds remained firm. Mercifully the air cleared once they moved away, and the stars shone out brightly anew.

Sam crawled over to Frodo, who lay with his face upturned. That dear face was white in the moonlight, etched with lines born of pain, yet seeming to Sam to have a sort of radiance as well. “Mr. Frodo,” he whispered “are you all right?” Frodo turned his face towards his friend’s voice and oddly enough, he smiled. “Still here, Sam” he whispered. “Still alive - at least for a while, yet.” "Until we get to Isengard.” Sam’s voice was grim.

Sam rolled over next to Frodo and looked upwards at the heavens. They stared at the sky in silence for some time, then Frodo said ‘You know, Sam,” and his tone was dreamy “ when we get to Isengard, and Saruman finds the ring…when he stretches his hand out and takes it…it will be a relief, almost. It’s taking me, Sam. I didn’t know how much until Boromir tried to steal it.” He turned his head, and with a great effort, lifted himself onto one arm to stare fully at his friend. “I could have killed him…even a full grown man, against a hobbit; I could have killed him with Sting alone. I was wild; I wasn’t even me, anymore. That’s when I knew. That the ring was too much for me.” He sighed.

“Maybe I could have carried it all the way to Mordor if Gandalf hadn’t fallen; or if the fellowship hadn’t been lost. I don’t know, anymore. He put such faith in me, Sam. He always said that hobbits were remarkable creatures.” Sam could hear the wistful smile in Frodo’s voice. Yes, Gandalf had said that once upon a time. Crouching under the window, Sam had heard him loud and clear. Now he wished that he had gone home from the Green Dragon that night, taken his slightly tipsy self back down Bagshot Row, kissed his Mum and crawled into bed. But Frodo would have still been gone in the morning. And he would still be here, now, maybe. And he would be alone. No, said Sam fiercely to himself. At least he’s not alone, he’s got me, even if this is the end. He won’t be alone.

He didn’t realize that he had spoken aloud until he felt Frodo’s cold fingers grip his. “No, Sam. I’m not alone. I have you, and you’ve not deserted me, even though you could have. And I wouldn’t have blamed you. Think, Sam. You could be in Rivendell, surrounded by beautiful elves. Or home with your Rosie. Or…” The voice trailed off, then, choked with tears”…anywhere but here.”

‘Well, ain’t this touching.” It was Agrak. So engrossed were they that they had not even heard him approach. The foul smell was once again upon them, and Sam wrinkled his nose in disgust. Agrak laughed. “You don’t smell no better’n me, halfling.” The orc squatted and stared at them, squinting his eyes against the bright starlight. Frodo and Sam stared back, wondering where this was going to lead. They soon found out.

“Why’re you so special?” The orc’s voice was filled with curiosity. “Why does the White One want you so bad? What do you got that we have to be so careful of you?” Sam opened his mouth to speak, but Frodo spoke first, the lie coming too easily to his tongue. “Ask your white master why he wants us; I possess nothing of any value to him.”

The light was suddenly blocked by a huge shape, blotting out the moon. The chief orc, the one they had heard the others call Lurtz. He was a frightening figure, heavily armored, bearing the mark of the white hand proudly across his dark face. He inspired both awe and fear; the others backed away when he was near, giving him wide berth at all times. Agrak looked up at him and nodded, then stood up and moved away, giving him a clear view of the two hobbits who cowered under his gaze.

“What are you doing, Agrak?” Lurtz grunted at his underling. “I told you they were not to be touched!” “I wasn’t touching ‘em” whined Agrak. “I was just…talkin’ to them. That’s all.” “You have nothing to say to them. Be gone- now.” Agrak reluctantly moved away, nodding in obeisance to Lurtz, but casting a vicious look over his shoulder at the hobbits. Frodo and Sam exchanged an uneasy glance; he would be back-of this, they were sure.

Lurtz looked down at them. “We camp here tonight. Sleep if you must-or can. We will reach Isengard tomorrow; I have been instructed to bring you directly to Orthanc. What happens to you then is not my concern. But for tonight, none will touch you. Or they will deal with me.” His lip curled in what might have been a smile. “And they do not want to do that.”

He turned and strode away without a second glance, leaving Sam and Frodo alone. Just beyond them, they saw the flames of small fires lick up as the orc party settled in for the night. Shadows moved around the fires, guards and scouts on duty; they were not far from Rohan and knew that the horse-lords of this land would be quick to descend on any enemy group they spotted. Having encountered the Rohirrim before, they were wise to be cautious.

Frodo and Sam stayed as far back as possible, huddling together, wrapped in their cloaks to stay warm. They said little, and eventually, against all will, did fall asleep. The last thing Frodo did before succumbing to dreamless sleep was reach inside his shirt and stroke the shining band that lay there, close to his heart.

The fires died into glowing embers, and those not on patrol finished their meager rations and closed wary eyes, their weapons ever ready for a sudden attack.

But there was one whose eyes did not close.

Stealthily, the figure moved to Frodo’s side, and stooping swiftly, it reached out one thick finger and pushed aside the thin cloth of Frodo’s shirt. The ring lay there against pale skin, flawless except for a livid scar on his left shoulder. Though the lights of the stars had dimmed, the fire of the ring was undiminished, its letters burning bright. The creature stared at the object, hypnotized; his finger reached out to touch that smooth surface…

Just as he was about to grasp the silvered chain, a tiny cold hand flew up and jerked it away; and Frodo stared, petrified into those yellow eyes…