A thin, cold, bitter air crept from the East, sighing over Mordor’s desolate plains. Frodo slept uneasily, and Sam not at all. He kept watch in the twilight, dreading to hear Orcs’ yells or Gollum’s soft hiss. But he heard only his own breathing and the faint sounds of Frodo twitching and mumbling in his sleep. Shedding his Elven-cloak, Sam cast it over him, then stood for a moment looking at him, his face irresolute, as if honor, and pity, and revulsion, and a hundred other emotions, all warred within him. Then shaking his head and scrunching his lips, he lay carefully behind him, and pulled the cloak over them both, his left hand coming to rest upon his chest. Frodo soon quieted, his breath coming now slow and deep. “Much better,” thought Sam. “Now if only I can stay awake.”
Pressed against Frodo he felt passably warm, and soon drowsiness stole upon him. Dissociated images flitted past his eyes; strange silent patterns drew and redrew themselves upon a hazy black field. He fought to remain conscious. Forcing open his eyes, he found himself still holding Frodo, but they were no longer huddled in a shallow cave somewhere upon Gorgoroth. As he lifted himself to lean upon his right elbow, he found that they lay upon a sandy shore. An afternoon’s wind rippled a calm Sea, and strange grey-and-white birds with swept-back wings soared and glided, calling to each other.
Moved by a feeling he didn’t understand, Sam raised his left hand and carefully stroked Frodo’s forehead. He marvelled at its softness, and at the fine, strong curvature of the eyebrow-ridges, and at the full, even brows themselves, smoothed in sleep. A strange expression, as of pain not recognized as such, passed over his face. His eyes glistened. After a moment he lay back, pressing his face into Frodo’s dark hair, its scent clean and warm and comforting. He sighed and closed his eyes.
The scene dissolved, to be replaced with another. Now they lay upon a hilltop overlooking a broad, fog-filled valley. Tall trees, growing upon invisible ridges, poked through the fog in jagged lines. Nearby, smoke rose from several hobbit-holes’ chimneys. A shadow passed over Sam, and he looked up. Gandalf stood there, robed in grey no longer, but in glistening white. “Come, Samwise,” he said, “It is time.”
“But we can’t leave Mr. Frodo!”
“He is here no longer. He had not the strength. You, now, must fulfill his promise,” said Gandalf. Then Sam realized that he held not Frodo, but himself only: his hand lay upon his own chest. A fine chain was about his neck, and behind a silent, grey, misty veil he felt a piercing, eager will, and he knew that he and that which he bore were foremost among the things that it sought. He quailed, his eyes going wide in fear.
“I can’t! It’s Mr. Frodo’s!”
“You must not fail us!” said Gandalf. Then he turned away. As he did so, his form began to dissolve. A gust of wind shook the trees, and he was gone. Sam stared at the place he had stood, then at where Frodo had lain. The grass was undisturbed there. “Mr. Frodo, me dear! I don’t know where they’ve taken you, but I’ll find you,” he said determinedly, “And there’s no Ring, nor no Dark Lord, nor no wizard that can stop me!” Roughly he got to his feet and began to descend a steep slope into the foggy valley.
Frodo’s dream began in fog: thick, earthy-smelling fog that hid everything from sight. He felt that he was in a forest, that he walked through tall undergrowth among ancient trees. He was alone, but felt that he should be with someone, yet he didn’t know whom. The fog lifted slightly. He was, indeed, in a forest. Great thick-trunked trees with deeply-furrowed bark stood all about him, a slight wind whispering in their innumerable needles. Suddenly he knew whom he missed. “Merry! Merry!” he called. “Sam! Pippin! Where are you? Why don’t you keep up?”
There was no answer. The air became cold, and a wind rushed through the trees. Rain began to fall. His pack seemed very heavy and he felt sleepy. He longed to lie down, but there was no dry place. He called again for the others. Suddenly a strong hand took his right wrist. He spun about to face his assailant, fumbling for Sting. It was too late. An arm gripped his torso, then another, then yet another. Orcs! He struggled desperately, managing to draw Sting with his left hand. It glittered a harsh blue in the gloom. The Orcs let out a cry of fear, and the hands upon him loosened. Immediately Frodo waded in, swinging Sting in a wild fury. One Orc fell with his head partially severed from his neck, and another screeched as the blade dug deep into his side. The rest backed away in terror of Sting and its determined wielder, then turned and fled, howling.
“What is this about?” Frodo grilled the wounded Orc. “What are you after?”
“Nothing,” he whimpered, shaking.
“So you just go about waylaying travellers for the sport of it?”
“I’m dying! Help me!”
Frodo felt confused. Help an Orc? It made no sense.
The Orc moaned, a terrible sound of pain and of despair. Frodo’s breath stopped in his throat. Tears sprung unwanted to his eyes. He looked upon his assailant, and thought of the strange paths that he had trodden thus far. Faintly, but clearly, Gandalf’s words returned to his mind. Deserves death? I daresay he does. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it them? Then be not too eager to deal out death in judgement, for even the very wise cannot see all ends.
Recovering himself, Frodo knelt beside the Orc and put Sting aside. “Lie still!” he said as he began to unlace his armor. The Orc trembled, breathing heavily. Frodo opened the armor to reveal a gash nearly reaching his navel. Bright blood pulsed from it. The Orc took another shuddering breath, then lay a hand gently upon Frodo’s. Frodo flinched, but did not withdraw. “Gnatha I am,” the Orc gasped out. “You do good, little one, though I wrong you. I forgive –” Then he lay still, his frightened eyes staring straight ahead.
An unaccountable grief came upon Frodo. He shook with pain and sadness, as if Gnatha had been a friend, as if the dead hand upon his had tousled his hair, or stroked his shoulders, or held him close in the bitter night.
Frodo woke. The grey evening had faded to night. Sam snored quietly, his arm about him and his cloak covering them both. Frodo tried to recall his dream, but only a faint sadness remained, a regret for things lost. What those things were he couldn’t quite remember. He tried to think of the Shire. He named grass, and said that it was soft and cool and green and sweet-smelling, but no recollection came. He thought of cherries, and called them tender and tart and spicy, but the words had no longer any power. Even Sam’s touch felt indifferent. His eyes stung, but no tears would come. And behind the grey misty veil that hid him from the Enemy he felt, more clearly than ever, His fierce sleepless will. He shivered and gripped Sam’s hand tightly.
Frodo’s next day was more empty, and the one following still more. The Eye was ever before him as he hiked the hard land, and the Ring sang of the joyful relief that could be got by giving in, by looking into that Eye, and the perverse temptation to do so became stronger with every step they neared the Mountain, and the Tower that brooded beside it, and the Power that dwelt therein.
As the day ended and the Mountain loomed broader and higher before them, Frodo felt a darkness coming upon him, something more profound than mere nightfall. Everything about him faded to shadows, but the Eye shone brightly, and had become fixed to his gaze so that neither turning his head, nor moving his eyes, nor even shutting them, could remove it from his sight. He staggered, falling to his knees. “Sam! Sam!” he whispered, unable fully to voice his words. “I can’t see!”
Sam looked at Frodo. A feeling of intense revulsion seized him, stopping his breath. Images came to him, not in a continuous stream as in ordinary sight, but as frozen instants of time: images of him kicking Frodo, once – an expression of pain and surprise came to his face; twice – it became incomprehension, and the tears began to flow; again – why didn’t he fight back?; yet again and harder, then with all his strength. He saw himself ripping Frodo’s clothes from his emaciated body, then stomping him brutally, again and again. He saw himself dropping his breeches, and forcing apart Frodo’s legs, and he felt a hot, fast-running joy as his friend’s weak, uncomprehending stare became a mask of horror. Then came images of Frodo’s lifeless husk splayed upon the gasping earth, his finely-sculpted, almost elvish face gashed and bloodied, his eyes open – but bright no longer; and his fingers twisted and broken. Last Sam saw himself reach for the golden orb that lay, red and gold and shimmering, upon his motionless chest.
Then the images passed. Sam tasted salt. Drawing a deep breath he knelt and carefully stroked Frodo’s hair back from his face. “It’s alright. Your Sam’s here,” he whispered. “Your Sam’s here. But we can’t stop just right in this orc-path. Up, now. It’s naught but a few feet to the edge.”
“I can’t, Sam. It’s too hard. I can’t hold Him off much longer.”
“Just you give me your hand, and you’ll be alright.” Sam took his hand firmly and pulled him to his feet, supporting him with his other arm. They limped to the path’s edge, then down its embankment, coming to rest on the far side of a boulder. But the exertion seemed to have taken all of Frodo’s remaining strength. He lay shivering, his eyes filled with fear. Again briefly, as in a waking dream, Sam felt the urge to strike him.
“Sssam. I – I can’t go on.” Weakly Frodo reached for him. In pity he reached back, taking his hands in his own. And as he did so, something within him began to assemble itself. He paused, swallowing hard. But in his very grasp Frodo went cold, and into his eyes there came a faraway stare, as if he gazed through Sam, and indeed through all the world’s forms, to see that which is beyond. He whispered in a strange quavering voice: “It’s before me now, the Eye, His Eye! I can’t stop it! I can’t push Him away! Sam, help me! Help me!”
Sam froze in fear and indecision. Were they caught? What could he do? He thought of the Phial, but then remembered the Tower that loomed so large, so dark, so close, and he quailed. The Eye there wouldn’t, couldn’t miss its light. And there was nothing else. Nothing at all – except himself: his own will to see the Quest through, his own form to give however it must be given. He drew a deep, shaky breath. A vision, small but clear, he saw of himself upon the banks of the Silverlode, talking softly with the Lady Galadriel in the clear golden sunlight beside the swan-boats. Then, raising his gaze, he felt himself facing her, and she plied him with questions.
“’When the Darkness presses, always you will be there for him,’ I said when you left my land. Would you prove me wrong?”
“But I didn’t never think it would be like this.”
“Yet still you went, knowing that every step took you closer to torment and to death. Is this worse?” Her eyes gleamed strangely, almost, it seemed to Sam, in amusement.
“No, but – it’s wrong!”
“Is it? Do you believe that?”
“But I can’t – it would be like, like – as if I were tellin’ Rosie she weren’t good enough for me.”
“Would it? Doesn’t she want you to see your task through? Doesn’t she want you to help Frodo any way you can?”
“B-But it – I felt so strange. Like I wanted, like I would – hurt him. Just now! How can something that would have me hurt him be something good?”
“Think, Samwise! Who would turn touch to hurt? Does not the Ring call for you? Do you not hear It? Would you not have It?” She paused, her words falling into silence like mallorn-leaves into the Silverlode. “Or are you too pure?” she asked, mockery now plain.
“I –“ began Sam, but he found that he no longer could endure her gaze.
The vision melted, and Sam found himself facing Frodo, his eyes fixed and cloudy, his forehead bathed in cold sweat, his body rigid and shivering. With a choking sob he sat beside him and hugged him. “Oh M – Frodo! I didn’t know, me dear. I didn’t never want to know!” But Frodo seemed insensate, wrapped in something far larger than Sam’s tribulations. Sam chafed his cold hands, and smoothed the tangled hair back from his face, but he neither moved nor spoke. “Frodo, Frodo, Fro, me dear,” Sam said softly into his ear, “Come back! Come back to your Sam!” Then holding Frodo’s head, very gently he brushed his lips upon his neck just behind the jaw. A strange tingle bloomed within him, and he kissed more fervently, trailing the fingers of his free hand lightly over Frodo’s cheek and lips, then slowly down his neck. Weakly Frodo gripped his back. Again he kissed, now lower upon his neck, then just above his collarbone, then, shyly unbuttoning his shirt, upon the sensitive places of his chest. A hand tousled his hair, then another touched his shoulder and pushed lightly. He drew back, eyes lowered and face burning. But Frodo spoke no reproof; indeed he said nothing at all. Instead he took Sam’s chin and raised his head slowly, and Sam saw that his eyes were clear again: they looked neither deep within, nor far away and into the wraith-world, but steady and direct and luminous in the twilight they returned Sam’s gaze. Then drawing Sam towards himself Frodo kissed him: slowly, carefully, haltingly, as one who fears to end a dream. And within the thin, ragged mist the blazing Eye faded; and its power ceased to beat upon Frodo, and upon Sam unknowing; and its will shrank into itself as a snail into its shell.
The next day was their last upon the Quest. And though Frodo was strengthened in mind by Sam’s touch, and thus was able to parry Sauron’s gaze a little longer, he could not climb the Mountain himself. So Sam, giving again what was necessary, carried him much of the way. And thus they reached the Sammath Naur, even the very chasm where Sauron had forged the Ring in the depths of time. And Frodo took It in his hand, and looked upon It, and steeled himself to throw It within, but his will failed at the last, and he claimed It for his own, and so was revealed to Sauron. And thus would the Quest have come to naught even at its uttermost end, had not Gollum followed, and fought with Frodo, and taken tooth to his finger as he wore the Ring, and gloating thus upon his prize, stepped too far, and fell with It into the very Crack of Doom.
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