“Nassty men! They hurts us: hurts our back, hurts our feet, hurts our handses – and takes our fishes!” said Gollum. The hobbits did not respond. They walked onward, south through Ithilien’s forests toward the Crossroads, as Faramir had advised them. They kept no order, enjoying the travel while they could. And indeed the woods seemed wholesome and peaceful, roofed with great tall trees and floored with a pleasant green undergrowth that soothed the feet and pleased the eye.
They camped early that day, before the sun had set. Frodo settled down immediately to sleep, resting his head in the mossy crook between a tree’s roots and trunk. The fading light lulled him, and soon he slept: an even, quiet, dreamless slumber.
Sam felt restless. He stared at Frodo a long time, musing on his strangely un-hobbitlike face. It was narrower and more angular than most, the brows fuller and darker, the hidden eyes larger and wider-set, the ears more Elven. Only the hair was really hobbitlike, but almost too much so: thick and dark and curly and glossy it was, framing his pale face as a dense forest’s eves frame a path out onto a sunlit meadow.
He gazed for some time longer. Then, curiously drawn, he approached. Slowly he extended a hand to touch Frodo’s face. It was softer than he expected. He hesitated, unsure how Frodo might view this kind of attention, but even more unsure how he viewed it. One part of himself breathed quickly a dry-mouthed, tingling anticipation. But another part – new and strange and thus-far unacknowledged – felt distinctly queasy. Suppressing it, very gently Sam stroked Frodo’s cheek. He sighed softly, and quickly Sam drew back, holding his breath.
There was a hiss – not nearby, but not remote. Fear flooded Sam’s mind. Trembling, he rose and looked wildly about. Was there something under the trees’ shadows, not far uphill? A bird (was it really a bird?) called to the south. He whipped around, drawing his sword. To his right a twig snapped. Involuntarily he gasped. Was it orcs? Had Gollum finally sprung his trap? He glanced West at the fading afterglow and felt a thrill of fear. Then, standing completely still, he bent all his mind to listening for many slow minutes. Darkness fell and the crickets began their songs, but no enemy came, and Frodo slept quietly on.
Not until midnight did Sam sit down, dead-tired yet unable to rest. His mind refused to quiet. “Not yet, then,” he thought. “But I’ll be flogged with giant brambles if that Gollum ain’t plannin’ somewhat nasty for us. Where’s he at now, sneakin’ off soon as we lay down?” Then: “There ain’t no way. We ain’t never comin’ back, even say as we’re lucky enough to get there, if luck’s the right word. Why even Faramir, as mighty a Man as there could be, was afraid, sore afraid, to go where we’re goin’. And I don’t know, Mr. Frodo – I hope you do – what to do if we ever do get there.” Then: “Fro, I just – I don’t know aright what it is. You’re like that, and I – I can’t think of nowhere to be but with you. Even were it Mordor, it were the best place in all Middle-earth if I could be with you.” The wind whispered faintly in the forest’s roof of new-sprung leaves, and far off a stream chattered over cool stones. Sam’s thoughts dwindled, and finally sleep came.
Immediately he began to dream. He saw gentle sunlight through closed eyelids, and smelt the sweet smell of summer grasses, and heard their rustling light upon the wind. Opening his dream-eyes, he saw Frodo standing a few paces away, his arms spread wide, his head flung back, an expression of joy upon his face. Sam stepped towards him, but reluctantly, as if impelled by duty rather than drawn by affection. He stopped just beyond Frodo’s reach. Slowly Frodo lowered his gaze to look at him, and his smile faded, giving way to an expression of shock, then of horror. He turned to flee. “Mr. Frodo!” Sam shouted, grabbing his hand. Frodo yanked it away, scratching him, and ran down the hill, disappearing into the tall grass below. Tears sprang to Sam’s eyes. “Mr. Frodo!” he repeated, running after him.
Sam woke. Dawn was in the sky. The Sun’s first light touched the trees’ tops and, with a brisk, clean wind, shimmered in their new-sprung leaves. He breathed deeply and opened his eyes. Frodo lay close by, his face clear and peaceful in sleep. Sam gazed at him, but it was not like before: no stray thoughts tormented him, neither of longing, nor of hopelessness, nor of dark imagination. Instead a profound quiet filled all his mind, and a strange lightness his body. He felt as though he might grasp the sunlight and go sailing upon the wind.
Gollum shook him from his reverie. “Must get up, yes they must!” he said. “Long ways to go still, south and east. Hobbits must make haste!”
As they continued the trees gradually became fewer and larger. The wood was still pleasant to look upon, but a feeling of watchfulness grew as they went forward. Mid-day passed. The wind failed and a moist air welled up from the south, blearing the Sun. They walked silently, each wrapped in his own thoughts.
Frodo gazed fixedly at Gollum, pondering what Gandalf had said of him: of how, though perhaps not altogether innocent in the beginning, he had been taken thrall by a Power – of Whom, looking with curious unaccountable desire upon the golden Ring in his friend’s hand – he had known, he could have known, nothing. Of how that Power had forced him to do what he never would have done of his own will: to take his friend by the throat and, gasp by frenzied gasp, to squeeze the life from him. Of how his family and his folk had disowned him and had driven him from his home to scrape his sustenance from the wilderness. And of his horror at realizing that the Power had stolen from him not only his innocence, but also even the very rest of death, condemning him to live far beyond the span of his kind; indeed to live, it would seem, forever – eternally slave, hating what he had become but lacking all power to change or to escape.
As Frodo thought these thoughts, pity awakened in his heart, and he considered how similar he and Gollum were, how he might have, might still, most probably would, become even thus himself. His eyes filled with tears and, quite without thinking, he reached out lightly to touch Gollum’s shoulder. I am so sorry, he whispered.
Gollum flinched from his hand, but rather in shyness or because he was unused to being touched than in offense. Turning, he looked Frodo square in the eyes, and, for a brief moment, Frodo read there the full measure of his loneliness and his sadness, of his hatred and his desire – and of his despair. They stopped. Slowly Gollum opened his left hand, and raised it to his face, and touched his own cheek, then, very lightly, Frodo’s. Then he folded his hand and dropped his gaze, his lips curling and forehead wrinkling as if in pain. “Masster sees. Masster knows what the Precious does.”
“I do,” said Frodo softly, almost to himself. “I have felt it in myself.” They were still for a time, then Frodo touched Gollum’s chin with his fingertips, gently raising his head to look into his eyes. Gollum did not resist.
“He took you, the Master of the Precious did,” said Frodo.
“And He took your friend.”
“And made you fight.”
“I, we, I won’t say, no Precious! It was my, our, my birthday present, It was,” said Gollum, but without conviction.
“It was something you didn’t want to do.”
“Yess! No! We never wanted it, never, my Precious!”
“But He took your hand, didn’t He?”
“Oh my Precious, yess, Masster understands. He takes your hand, too, does He not? Oh yes, we sees! We sees when Masster has to touch It, yess! We sees when he wants to put It on!”
“And he took your hand and raised it against your friend.”
“No precious, we won’t say! Not nice hobbit to ask uss, not nice at all.”
“But you didn’t want to do it.”
“Good Masster, he must understand: I, we, I loved him; Déagol was my friend. I never wanted – to hurt him.”
“Mr. Frodo! What’s wrong?” shouted Sam, running back down the trail towards them. “Is that Gollum hurtin’ you?” At this Gollum crouched, folding back into himself, anger plain upon his face.
“No Sam, nothing’s wrong. Sméagol is not hurting me; he is helping me,” replied Frodo.
Sam glanced at Frodo, his brows raised for an instant longer than surprise would justify. “Well then, you didn’t ought to get so far behind. It ain’t safe.”
“I’ll try to keep up, Sam.”
That evening the hobbits lay among the branches of a gigantic holm-oak, the darkness so complete that neither could see the other, though only a few feet separated them. Frodo quickly fell asleep. Sam was on guard, but he found it difficult to stay awake. Time seemed to drag. To hold off the drowsiness he thought of the Shire: of Bag End’s pleasant, orderly gardens, of the Gaffer’s wry humor, or of Rosie’s warm smile and ready encouragement. But those thoughts were faint and indistinct, guttering like a candle in a cold wind as the darkness sought to sweep them into the background. “There just ain’t no way. The Enemy’s too strong. How can the likes of us think of doin’ aught against Him?” An image Sam saw of Frodo slumped upon a bit of broken stone, gazing wearily down a steep, dark, winding stair. He saw himself climbing those stairs, then, after a moment’s disorientation, he felt himself doing so: his feet bloody and swollen, his knees bruised, his lips cracked from thirst and his throat raw with the bitter air; each step took all his strength. He thought how easy it would be to stop, to give in, to tumble backward upon the worn, slippery rock to crash in a heap far below: a terrible moment of panic and pain ending in blessed forgetfulness. Or, or – why not? It didn’t have to be so hard. Just an instant, a quick, secret stab of the sword, and then he’d have It. Then no more pain, no more Gollum, no more Quest. He’d think it, and it’d be done: Sauron destroyed, the Dark Tower thrown down, the slaves liberated, Mordor’s blasted plains blooming like the Shire’s fields in springtime.
Sam reached the top of the stairs, but now Frodo lay on his side, his eyes closed and his breathing soft. What fortune! It would take only a moment. His fingers brushed the hilt of his sword.
“Ssss! What are they doing, the hobbitses?”
Sam jumped, startled. “What do you want?” he asked brusquely.
“Ssss! Quietly, hobbitses. Mustn’t disturb Masster! Must be secret; quiet as mices we must be!”
“Masster, he’ll hear!”
“Why shouldn’t he hear?”
“It’s a secret, just for you. He doesn’t want you to know, doesn’t want anyone to know! But Sméagol discovered it, yess! We heard it!”
“And what don’t he want me to know, Mr. Gollum?” asked Sam, his doubt plain.
“Ssss! It’s something very, very secret that we knows, that Sméagol knows.”
“And what is that?”
“Oh my precious! It’s secret, very secret. Whisper it we must; it’s all we dare.”
“Then whisper it,” Sam said, then mumbled under his breath, “If there’s anything to know, which I doubt.”
“He – he wants you, my precious!” whispered Gollum, looking at Sam first with his most innocent expression, then, seeing incomprehension, briefly with one of such lecherousness that Sam recoiled.
“What’re you saying, you little –“ began Sam.
“Ssss! Quiet, or you’ll wake him, let him know you know!”
“I don’t know nothing.”
“Oh my precious, you knows, yess. If you saw how he looks at you when you’re not looking back, if you heard the things he whispers to himself – so careful, so quiet, so secret.”
“Do we? ’My Sam, how I wish it could be otherwise. How I wish we could be together in a better place, be together forever. How I’d like to hold you close, to make you quiver with anticipation, to feel your hands upon me’ –“
“It’s all lies, you nasty treacherous creature! If I’d not sworn it –“
“’– to feel you open yourself to me, and –‘”
Sam’s eyes widened in revulsion. There was an uncomfortable verisimilitude in Gollum’s quotes. They sounded too much like Frodo, and too little like what Sam thought Gollum capable of imagining. A picture came to his mind of Frodo’s sad face lit by the dying Sun, his eyes deep and clear, his voice writhen with longing, taking Sam’s chin in his hand very gently, and saying even such things as these. “Enough! Or I’ll take blade to you, you –“
“Ssss. You’ll see, my precious, oh yes!” whispered Gollum.
There was a sharp crack and a growl. Sam snapped out of his day-dream to find Gollum nearby, a finger across his lips. He crept closer, quieter than a shadow, then whispered very softly, “Ssss! Puma!” his eyes dark with fear. “Big, nassty puma, bigger than Men and much stronger, with terrible teeth and claws. Quiet we must be, and let it pass.”
“What’s a p–?” Sam made to ask, but Gollum hushed him urgently.
“Quiet as mices we must be!” he whispered. A fragment of memory stirred, and Sam glanced at him sharply, but Gollum’s face betrayed nothing. Yet from that time Sam’s apprehension increased, and though he trusted Gollum even less than before, his dream-words cut deeper than he knew or would have cared to admit.
|« previous chapter||story index||next chapter »|