Frodo and Denethor

by Lothithil

Chapter 9:
The Road to Mordor is Paved with Good Intentions

Frodo and Sam waited until the orc-host had passed, tramping noisily on its way to cross the bridges of Osgiliath to join the siege of Minas Tirith. The hobbits climbed the steep slope of the ditch that had been cut to funnel water to the drainageways and concealed themselves in the thick bushes and trees. The road ran past them a few yards away, and on it came more soldiers of Mordor, score upon score of orcs, companies of Men in dark and evil-looking armour, and teams of Trolls, pushing strange wooden contraptions and carrying great loads. They roared and grunted as their handlers kept them in line with cruel discipline.

Frodo lay in the cover of the trees and gulped his breath. The courage he had found in Minas Tirith seemed to have disappeared with the soft light of Peregrin's lantern, lost in the tunnels beneath the land. The orcs were so savage and so near... surely they would sense them or smell them, only a few yards away!

The stench of the sewers actually concealed the hobbits from the sharp noses of the orcs. They lay utterly still and waited, watching them file past. It seemed an endless stream of enemies, all headed toward that city where they had left their friends behind. And yet in their hearts, Frodo and Sam feared for those they cared for that stood behind stone and sheild, while they crouched cold and exposed in the weeds within bow-shot of the Morgul army.

Suddenly the fear they felt increased until Frodo though he would swoon with panic. His heart nearly stopped in his chest when he heard the Nazgúl and saw them fly overhead. He and Sam dared not move a muscle while those sharp-eyed beasts lurked. They soared through the corrupted sky, circling the army and screeching in their horrible voices while their beasts roared and fanned their wings, bringing foul draughts of air over the offended ruins of Osgiliath. They hastened westward, where the fear was thick in the air as a city despaired of the absence of the Sun.

It seemed almost that Frodo and Sam's road had come to an end, when the marchers trailed to a trickle of stragglers and the last Nazgúl flew past to settle on a broken tower. For a moment the road was abandoned, and the two hobbits hurried across swiftly and disappeared into the woods.

Now they traveled slowly and cautiously, watching for stray orcs and wolves that might have tarried behind. Another company of orcs were on the road now, but it was behind them and farther away, as they worked their way into the trees and followed the streamlet that Faramir had told them about. They had to stop frequently to let orcs pass, cutting swiftly through the trees on whatever mischief they were about. They didn't expect to find anybody on this side of the river, apparently, for they were not searching at all.

Sam and Frodo lay flat after the third such passing, gathering their strength for another furtive march. Sam fished in his pack and brought out some food to share with Frodo, and they drank liberally from their bottles, having the stream at hand to draw more from as they needed. They agreeded without speaking that they should linger beneath their leafy refuge for spell, and catch their breath.

Frodo lay with his eyes closed, trusting Sam to keep a watch. He was frustrated that they could not travel faster, and yet each step seemed harder than the last. He concentrated on his errand, to get the thing to Mt Doom where it would be ended, and then all his friends would be safe. The Shire, Bilbo, his cousins, Strider,...everyone who survived the war, anyway. No time for the luxury of tears, he opened his stinging eyes and nodded to Sam. They began to move stealthfully toward the tall trees.

A ruckus sounded ahead, and Frodo and Sam melted into the grass. It was deepening evening, and a fire's light could be seen, winking through the trees, and a smell of roasting meat came to them.

Frodo caught Sam's coat and shushed him, then crawled forward to see a party of four orcs camped beside the stream. Frodo heard Sam hiss ever so softly, then he, too, spotted him... a familiar gangly figure amid the orcs, bound by a rope to a tree.

"An' I'd though we'd seen the last of him," muttered Sam, very softly. He looked at his master, his forehead creased with doubt. "We don't need him anymore, Mr Frodo. Captain Faramir told us how to find the stair..."

Frodo was staring at Gollum, probably being marched toward the city he had just escaped from, or bound to be taken to Minas Morgul for questioning. He was filled with loathing and pity for the creature, and his heart whispered clearly to him. "We can't just leave him in the hands of the orcs, Sam."

Frodo looked eastward, toward the knot of trees that hid the crossroads and obscured the road to the Morgul Vale. He couldn't afford the delay, he did not need Smeagol's guidance to find the pass, and yet, he could not forsake he creature. It had most likely been captured trying to follow Frodo's own trail.

Frodo sighed and removed his backpack. "Wait here, Sam," he said.

"Mr Frodo! You can't risk yourself, sir...!" Sam objected.

"Hush! Sam, don't worry; I will be right back. Stay right here and don't dare move!" Frodo crept carefully away. He approached the four orcs silently, coming as near as he dared.

Frodo knew he was taking a dreadful risk. But he learned something that he though the could use, and now seemed to be the perfect opportunity. It was dark and the Nazgúl were busy... he took out he Ring and slipped it on his finger.

It was still very dark, but the orcs he could see somewhat clearer. Their eyes seemed to shine oddly, and their weapons glowed with angry red light. He stood up, feeling extremely visible and vunerable, but still he walked softly forward until he was standing right beside the orcs.

They were disgusting, fithy and foul. They had a carcass of some beast that they were roasting, but unwilling to wait they tore raw flesh off in strips and ate them, buring their hands and cursing in their foul tongue. Smeagol was roped to a tree, sitting huddled down on himself in that way of his, like a spider with its legs drawn up, ready to spring if given a chance. Frodo meant to give him that chance.

Carefully and slowly, he slipped a small knife from the belt of one of the orcs, and using the sharp blade he stealthfully cut the straps to the orc's iron-shod boots. He stole arrows from a quiver and used them to nail down the hairy cloak of another orc. He took weapons he could find and hid them in the darkness, then finding nothing more to do to hinder them, he slipped close to Smeagol and cut the rope that bound him to the tree.

The wiley creature knew something was amiss. He had been watching quietly, his large lamp-like eyes darting about the camp. Gollum, more than any other mortal creature, was aware of the movements of one unseen. For a wonder he did not give the game away, as Frodo feared he might. He merely took the slack rope in his hands and waited. Frodo snuck out of the camp and then turned, hefting a sizable rock he had lifted. With all his strength, he threw it hard against the head of one of the orcs, then he dropped to the ground.

It was a fine throw and one for which his Uncle Bilbo would have been proud of him. The orc's skull was cracked by the stone and he fell dead on the spot... or rather, fell onto the fire. Sparks and flames leapt up and logs scattered coals and burning meat onto the other orcs. Smeagol leapt up and vanished into the darkness. An orc let out a yell and tried to follow him, but tripped over a rope tied across the ground in a snare.

A second orc picked himself up from the tumble he took when a flaming log of wood had landed in his lap. He tured to try to see what was going on and was yanked from his feet as his cloak caught on the ground. He fell and gagged, ripping the hide away with a snarl.

Smeagol was slithering in the direction from which Frodo had thrown the rock, and the third orc saw him with his sharp night vision. He drew a bead on the creature's back with his bow. He released the arrow with a shout of triumph that turned to disbelief. The arrow missed, seeming to glance off of the creature, as if it were made of stone. He heard a shout of pain, but when he ran to see, his boot come loose and he tripped, falling across his fallen companion. Loud curses rang out again.

Frodo lay still. He had leapt up to follow Smeagol as he had run past, and caught the parting shot in the center of his back. The mithril shirt had foiled the missile, but it had struck him like a fist and robbed him of wind. He lay and fought for breath, willing himself to move and yet unable to do so yet. He heard furtive movement near, and raised his head to look.

Smeagol was a shadow under the trees, and his huge eyes were like lamps indeed. He cames sniffing, proding the ground before him with his fingers. He looked right at Frodo and then past him, still sniffing. Frodo remembered that he had the Ring on. He slipped it off, tucking it back into a deep pocket.

Smeagol saw him at once, but he lay down flat. Frodo did not move. The orcs were in a row, now, trying to find their weapons. As the argument heated, Smeagol reached forward and grabbed Frodo by the jacket and hauled him into the trees.

Smeagol pressed his repulsive face close to Frodo's ear, "Masster tried to trick Smeagol... gollum!" The long hands twitched as they held his tunic, as if Gollum would rather have them wrapped round Frodo's neck.

Frodo shook off his hands and whispered coldly, "I tried to save your life then, just as I have acted to free you now. We have a bargin, Smeagol. The Precious holds your promise!"

Gollum cowered down to the ground, snivelling, but his eyes were still lit with an angry green light. "Yess, masster. We promised to serve the preciouss."

They fell silent and remained hidden as the orcs went running past, foiled by the cunning of Smeagol and the elvish cloak Frodo wore. They disappeared through the trees. Frodo pointed toward the east and Gollum began to crawl that way. They came at length back to were Frodo had left Sam.

He was there waiting, looking as if he had not breathed the whole time Frodo had been gone. Frodo gave him no time to ask; they snatched up their things and set out at once, not wishing to be found by the angry orcs.

Smeagol was nearly dancing with delight to have 'found' his master (and his Precious), but he made no sound, only capered as he waited for them to catch him up when he had gone a few paces ahead. Sam would have grumbled if he had the breath for it. He had truly thought he might have seen the last of that wretched stinker!

They reached the tall trees before the moon rose, a smear of yellowish light beyond the murky air. They secreted themselves for a moment's rest in a ditch some distance from the road. There was no traffic on it now, no sounds at all except for the occasional boom and shriek from Osgiliath behind them, and a rummble of distressed earth coming from the east like thunder. Smeagol crept forward, leaving Frodo and Sam to themselves.

Frodo leaned against a tree and panted, his eyes closed. His breath was painful and he could not seem to catch it, even after they had rested a few moments. Sam came to him and gave him water. He noticed a gleam through a tear in the back of his master's tunic, matching a neat hole in his elvish cloak. The mithril coat winked at him in the moonlight.

Sam tisked and muttered, but taking his pack he dug into it and tried to find something to ease Frodo's discomfort.

"A bit of lembas for you, Mr Frodo. Do you good." He seemed to chuckle, but tried to cover it with a cough.

"What's funny, Sam?" asked Frodo in soft gasp, "I could... use a joke now."

"I wouldn't call it funny, sir. If you'll forgive me for asking, how did you get that slinker free of them orcs?"

"If I... told you, Sam, I would... only make you angry."

"Like as not. Well, we got our guide back, that is, if he's still willin' to lead us on. Are you sure this is what you want? Or shall we find some more orcs to play with?"

"Sam!" Frodo nearly laughed out loud, and he grabbed his friend's arm affectionately. Sam was shaking and white-faced, knowing that Frodo had endangered himself and suffered a very close shave. The only thing the hobbit could do was make a joke, and try to forget his fear.

"It's too dark to have a look at your back, Mr Frodo, but I'll be seeing to it, if morning ever comes."

Smeagol came snaking up, hissing and grabbin his mouth and fussing for them to be quiet. A sound of running came from the road and then faded. "Masster still wishes to go to Mordor? Good Smeagol searches for him and finds him. We go now, yess?"

Sam hurumphed. "You'd think he had found us, rather than the other way about!"

Frodo laid a hand on Sam's shoulder, and levered himself to his feet. "Yes, Smeagol. We still have our bargin, don't we?" Frodo asked softly.

Smeagol sat down and hung his head. "Masster tried to help men catch uss," came his voice in a sillabant hiss. Then another voice said, "Master freed us from the orcses and saved us. Master looks after us. We will serve the masster of the Preciouss!" Smeagol scrambled away toward the crossroads. "Dangerouss here! Very dangerous! Musst be quiet!"

They moved on, taking advantage of the hooded moon.

~~~Here endeth the musing. I release Frodo, Sam, and Smeagol back to their paths as preordained, knowing in my heart that while some things may be changed, others are irresolute. May the Valar protect them!