46. The Fence Of Mordor
The Fence of Mordor
Frodo was first to raise his head. He wiped his eyes with his sleeve and looked up at the flashes of light in the sky to the north and west of where the hobbits were hidden above the Road that led from Morgul Vale.
"We cannot let his choice be for nothing," he whispered. "We must get as far as we can, before...before he can hold out no longer…"
Sam looked down at his clenched fist. "A moment, Mr. Frodo," he muttered. "I'm still carrying...what he gave me, right here!" He held up his right hand, clutching Narya. "I've got keep it safe. I can't just shove it into a pocket!"
Frodo swung his pack from his shoulders. "Get out your rope, Sam, I've got an idea." He dug in his bag and retrieved the wizard's empty pouch of pipeweed. It was of soft grey leather, cinched with a loop of silver cord. The sharp smell of Longbottom Leaf—and the scent of Gandalf's hands—clung to it.
Sam produced the rope of Lothlorien, and immediately both hobbits noted how it faintly glowed in the darkness.
"Just one end," Frodo whispered. "Perhaps a foot and a half..."
He took the end of the rope and carefully slid Sting out of the sheath at his belt. The blade shone blue, and by the light of both Elvish objects he could easily slice off a short section. He shoved Sting away and stuffed the rest of the rope into Sam's pack. Then he rubbed the end, first between his palms, then between his fingertips, unraveling it. He teased a strand loose and tucked the others away in his pocket. Then he slipped one end of the silky rope-strand through the loops of the silver cord and loosened the opening to the pouch.
Sam carefully placed the Ring of Fire into the leather pouch, tightened the silver cord, double-knotted the slender fiber of the rope into a lanyard and placed it over his neck. He tucked everything beneath his shirt and patted where a small bulge now showed at his breast. His eyes could not help but stray to the front of his Master's chest, where he knew another small gold object hung on its golden chain. His is an evil burden that the world must be rid of... What I carry was forged for hope... And if the One is not destroyed, all hope is in vain.
"Ready," he whispered.
They were just about to go on when a shadow, black against the flickers of light in the dark sky, veered swiftly from Morgul Vale, following the line of the Road to their left. Faintly they heard a high-pitched shriek that grew louder as the shadow approached.
Frodo gasped and cowered down against the stones. Sam flung himself forward and over his Master, covering them both with his cloak. He could feel Frodo shuddering beneath him.
The foul wings of the great featherless beast swooshed in the air above them, speeding with its messenger. The wraith's mind was focused intently Eastward. The Nazgûl took no notice of two small creatures lying as still as stones among the broken and pathless hills. His task was to bring news to his Master of an unexpected attack, and to return with instructions for the Witch King who waited in the Tower of Corpse-Light. For the Nazgûl Chieftain's plans to march with his host to the siege of Gondor had been upended, and his troops were being outdone by an old Fool with an Elf-Witch's wand in his hand.
But the hobbits knew only that a Black Rider was above, and horror and fear struck at their hearts. Frodo's wound throbbed with icy pain. He moaned, and his trembling hand moved of its own accord toward the chain on his neck.
"Sam," he whispered, "Help me..."
Sam took both his hands between his own and pressed them to the bulge on his chest. They both felt the terror abate somewhat as warmth slowly spread through them. The voice of the wraith faded into silence, and the shadow disappeared beyond the crest of the Ephel Dúath. Another minute passed. Frodo's shuddering ceased.
Without a word they got to their feet and crept up the ravine in which they'd landed when they tumbled from the top of the ridge. It narrowed as they climbed, forcing them to use their hands as much as their feet to move forward. The sounds of battle grew louder again, below them and to their left. They reached the top, and peeking over saw another narrow gully dropping steeply below them.
Frodo crouched on the top of the ridge and studied the dim landscape of ridges, shadowed crevices and tilting slopes. The Road was still in sight, winding a ways to the left before it switched back and up to the right.
"Gandalf was right," he whispered, pointing. "The Pass takes the longer, easier way, but not the only way." He indicated a possible route, up the ridge, down a slope and up another ridge, cutting off a great sweep of the Road. "We could come through those ridges and valleys and intersect the Road again, over there."
We could, if we don't break our necks trying, Sam thought doubtfully, as he nodded to his Master.
They turned back one last time. The bulk of Morgul Vale was no longer in view, but they could still see the uppermost Tower of the City and the end of the bridge. A line of flames spread across the valley floor, and smoke poured across the Morgulduin, carried by the swift cold wind. The lowering clouds flickered. Faintly they heard a great voice calling; clamoring Orc voices responded, mixed with screams and the roll of drums.
Frodo squeezed his eyes shut for a moment. When he opened them, he caught Sam's gaze and nodded. He turned and slipped over the top of the ridge and left the sight of Imlad Morgul behind.
The hobbits scrambled and slid on the steep hillsides above the Road, slowly making progress eastward and up. When they came to the top of a ridge, Frodo would crouch and search for their next route, doing his best to keep a glimpse of the glimmering line of the Road in sight to his left. Sam could see little farther than a dozen feet away, and placed his entire trust in his Master's uncanny ability to see in the dark.
An hour passed, then two, and the hobbits paused to drink from the small flask that had once carried the liqueur of Rivendell. A fresh flavor, as if they had bitten into the needle of a high mountain fir tree, lingered on their tongues. For a brief moment the harsh surroundings vanished and Frodo was on the western slopes of the Misty Mountains in the midst of a whirling snowstorm. A blue-green fire sparkled in the darkness, and their companions were beside them again—and Gandalf leaned down to him with a worried look on his face, the brim of his hat covered with snow, his familiar gnarled yet strong hand offering the flask of miruvor. Frodo sighed and bowed his head.
Just a foot away, Sam sat frowning. We've been moving—no, climbing—without a halt since before sunset, he thought, and that was yesterday, all the way back over there, just past the Crossroads. He looked up toward what he supposed must be westward; he was no longer at all certain of the direction. And neither of them had slept, nor eaten much, since the day before that, he recalled. We'll have to take a rest sometime, or one of us is likely to slip on this treacherous path we're taking...if it can be called a path.
"Perhaps we should take a rest here, Mr. Frodo," Sam whispered. "It's been a long and tiring stretch since we last stopped..."
Sam looked at his companion. Frodo was now watching the sky to the west and north. The flashes of light were fainter now, and came less often.
"We'll go on until we can go no further." With that he raised himself to his hands and knees and started crawling up the steep slope, loosening small stones that rolled away behind him. Sam sighed before following as quickly as he could.
Crawling up to the top of a ridge-crest; creeping along a narrow, treacherous spine of rock and scree; a sliding scramble down the other side. Slowly the hobbits moved toward the heights of the Ephel Dúath to the south of the Nameless Pass. They crept along the top of yet another ridge when the wraith-messenger returned, the sounds of huge wing beats above and to the north of where they cowered and shivered. The Nazgûl was silent as it passed nearby, only releasing its heart-stopping shriek when it dropped down into the Valley of the Ringwraiths' City. Far off, other hideous voices faintly answered its call. The hobbits dared to raise their heads to look back; but Morgul Vale was now hidden by many peaks and ridges. They could no longer see any flashes of light. Or perhaps, Frodo thought, the lightning has ceased; his heart sank at the bitter thought. They moved onward, crawling up and slipping as quietly as they could over another rocky edge, and sliding into another, darker crevice.
Finally, Frodo lay sprawled at the bottom of a slope of loose, slippery stones. He panted, his throat raw in the arid, smoky air. Sam slid down after him, a spray of bouncing stones preceding him and gathering speed as they piled into Frodo's side and back. A cloud of dust gathered about them as they lay gasping, side by side, at the bottom of a steep-walled gully.
"How long do you reckon we've been at this?" Sam whispered.
"Hours," Frodo said huskily. "Maybe five, or six."
"Dawn can't be far off."
"We are beneath the Darkness of the Enemy now," Frodo whispered. "There will be no dawn for us, until we are done with what we came to do."
Sam swung his pack from his shoulders.
"Time for another sip," he said firmly as he withdrew the miruvor flask. "And a bite of food, Mr. Frodo." He got out the last of the dried fruit and a slice of hard cheese, all that was left of the rations Boromir and Pippin had pressed into their hands, nearly two weeks ago. To his relief Frodo did not protest, but nodded and reached for the flask. But he stopped and handed it back.
"Put it away." Sam saw that his eyes were shimmering, even in the near-complete darkness of the hour before dawn. "Find one of our other water-skins, and save this one. I don't think I can bear to drink from it again, not so soon, after..."
They huddled together and sipped from Sam's water-skin and nibbled a handful of food. "You sleep now, Master," Sam whispered, as he settled himself behind Frodo and draped his arm about his shoulder. "I'll wake you in two hours." Too thin, he is, Sam thought, as his Master leaned into his chest and lay his head back. The pouch caught between them, and he felt a glow of warmth spreading toward Frodo, and reaching toward his own aching heart.
* * *
Sam woke shivering, and for a few moments he blinked in confusion. Where in Middle Earth were they? Why was the air so sour and cold, and why did every limb ache? Frodo had slid out of his arms and lay beside him on a bed of stones with his head tucked onto his bent arm. His Master's face was coated with dust, and his brow was creased with a frown, even in sleep. What were they doing in this desolate place? Then memory returned. We're perched halfway up the wall of mountains, trying to get to where anyone with a lick of sense would run from, and it's just the place we can't seem to get to. Sam released a sigh.
The darkness was not as complete as what he remembered. Faint light hovered in the sky, and a dull red glow came from the East. Jagged peaks rose above their heads, and he saw that they had skidded to the bottom of a narrow crevice. There was just one way out of this ravine, and that was back up the way they had come, last night, or earlier this dim morning—or whenever it had been. He could no longer judge the time.
The silence of the Mountains of Shadow seemed to settle onto Sam's shoulders as a heavy cloak. All he could hear was the thin whisper of the wind over teeth of rock. No bird, no call, no tinkle of water. And no rumble of drums, nor harsh cries or shouts; no distant thunder. The sounds of battle were either too far away for him to hear, or the battle was over. Gandalf. And they were not yet through the fence of Mordor.
Sam grasped the pouch beneath the front of his shirt. Forged for hope. He would not give up.
"Mr. Frodo," he whispered, gently shaking his Master's shoulder. "Mr. Frodo, time to wake up!"
Frodo groaned and blinked. "It's so dark yet, Sam," he muttered, as he shuddered and rubbed his arms. "What time is it?"
"I don't rightly know, but I think day has come; it's a shade brighter. We should take a bite to eat, and a swallow, and then we ought to be going on."
Frodo opened his eyes fully and stared up. The clouds were a shade of black barely lighter than night, but lighter than they had been, and the peaks to the East were dark against the red that simmered behind them. Had they some method to mark the time, they would have discovered that sunset had arrived, on March the 11th by the Shire Reckoning. The hobbits had fallen asleep a few hours after dawn. The Battle of Minas Morgul had just ended.
"Have you seen or heard anything?" Frodo said hoarsely.
Sam shook his head. "Nothing. Everything's quiet now. But we could just be too far away..."
Frodo's gaze bored into him as he shook his head. "No. I suspect the battle is over."
Sam swallowed hard. "He's gone, then..."
"I truly hope it is so," Frodo whispered. Sam looked aghast, but Frodo gazed at him sharply. "The alternative is more than I can bear to consider." Sam squeezed his eyes shut and nodded. "All we can do is try to finish what we've set out to do. Get us out that bite, Sam, and that swallow, and let's move on."
Doing their best to conserve their water and food, they ate sparingly of Faramir's provisions. Without speaking of it, they agreed to save the remaining lembas to the last; between theirs and Gandalf's supplies they had six packets of two wafers each. Sam rearranged them in the bottom of his pack, gently touching their leaf-wrappings. He reached up and fingered the silver and green brooch at the neck of his cloak, and followed Frodo as he clambered back up and out of the ravine.
Before they slept, they had come three-quarters of the way to the crest of the Ephel Dúath. The cleft where the Road pierced through the peaks was less than five miles to the north and east of them. But south of the pass, the hobbits clambered about in ever sharper and more treacherous terrain. Several times, they had to turn back and retrace their steps, finding that they had crawled along the top of a ridge only to come to a sheer drop, or had climbed into a crevice with no outlet. The brittle rocks crumbled beneath their clutching fingers all too easily. They slipped so many times that they were forced to crawl, their knees bruised and their hands torn and bleeding.
"I just don't see a way through," Frodo panted as he looked out from a precipice. They'd climbed up another wall of stone in the hopes that on the other side they might see a gentler descent. "It's as steep here as where we tried before." He slid and twisted to look in the other direction, keeping as flat to the ground as he could, in case any spying eyes were watching the small figures scrambling about on the high ground above the Road. Below them, the final course of the Road to the Pass curved up in long switchbacks before it slipped between two towering cliffs, silhouetted black against a fiery glow. The faces of the cliffs were sheer, as if some giant stonemason had chiseled a sharp edge along the entire crest. But across the Road, the peaks appeared more tumbled and broken.
"I think we'll have to risk going down and crossing the Road," he whispered. "I can't see how we can get over the crest on this side; it's too steep. But over there, it looks like we might have better luck."
Sam peered out into the gloom where Frodo had pointed. The terrain on the opposite side of the Road seemed more like what they had encountered at first: a series of broad, broken ridges and narrow crevices, places to hide, and more importantly at the moment, not nearly as steep.
"But Gandalf said to stay to the right."
Frodo nodded and frowned worriedly. "Believe me, I haven't forgotten. But I don't know what else to do. Even your rope won't help us over here. Everywhere we look it's as sheer as a wall, either straight up or down. This is worse than the East Portage-Stair of Rauros—steeper, and we'd be dangling with no idea where bottom was. We have to keep going somehow, and our only other choice would be to take the Road itself. That would be more dangerous still."
"I suppose, Mr. Frodo," Sam said unhappily. He had a very bad feeling about doing something that the wizard had specifically advised them not to do, but he agreed with Frodo that the way forward on this side seemed impossible.
With Frodo again in the lead, they scrambled over the top of the narrow ridge and began sliding and weaving down the slope on the other side. Another lower ridge to cross, and they would be on the Road. Their luck held, and no sound came from West or East.
At last they huddled behind a low screen of fallen rocks at the base of the second ridge and peeked out. They'd come down to the Road at a curve where the way swung slightly North. They could see a half a mile in both directions, and saw nothing. The gleam of the smooth surface had faded; all was dark beneath the tall cliffs above them.
The hobbits crouched motionless, listening for any sound. The cold wind hissed and moaned, but they heard no horses galloping, or boots stamping, no shouts or calls. They were alone.
Without a word, Frodo gripped Sam's forearm and caught his eye. He nodded, and together they rose to their feet and emerged from behind the rocks. After a final glance in both directions, they climbed into and out of the ditch, stepped over the low curb, sped across the pavement to the north side and began to climb the far slope. Their luck seemed to hold, for nothing appeared, and they heard no sound but their own feet scraping softly on the stones. In minutes, they had reached a ridge-crest. They slid over the top and began moving onward.
The light did not change, except that the red glow in the East flared up and faded on and off, with no pattern they could discern. As they had in the lower pass, just above Imlad Morgul, they were able to clamber along the faces of the slopes just below the ridge tops, then slide and scramble down into gullies. They checked their progress at the peaks, and it seemed to the hobbits that their strategy was succeeding, for the pass itself drew ever nearer, and they could see a circuitous, weaving way up to what they hoped was the topmost crest.
The Road switched back and forth, and once again swung closer to them. Frodo looked over the top of a ledge of stone and saw a loop of it, a hundred feet below them and to their right. Then he heard it: the echoing clatter of a horse's hooves ringing on stones and the tramping of booted feet.
They threw themselves flat against the ground and pulled their hoods up. Side by side they lay, still and silent as hobbits can be, and watched.
A tall rider robed in black on a black horse came into view, and behind him marched fifty Orcs in double lines, with closed ranks at the rear. Between the lines of Orcs was a wheeled cart, pulled by a pair of snarling Wargs in heavy harnesses. A cage of iron rose from the flat surface of the cart and enclosed it, and within the cage was a man, his arms chained to the bars. His head drooped down, so that from their vantage point above, the hobbits could not see his face. But his tangled grey hair and beard, and the grey of his robe amidst the black of the Orc soldiers and the Rider made his identity unmistakable.
Frodo's left shoulder throbbed, but the pain from his wound was not as great as the anguish that gripped his heart. The Rider, he saw, carried a long, narrow bundle wrapped in black cloth, clutching it proudly to his chest as though he bore some great treasure.
"His sword and staff," Frodo whispered. His head fell forward and he clenched his fists.
Sam watched until they passed out of sight behind the next slope. He reached beneath his shirt and fingered the supple leather of the pouch, feeling the small round object hidden there. The sounds of their footfalls faded, and the desolate silence of the Ethel Dúath fell once more.
Frodo raised his head and got to his feet. His face was grim as he turned away from the Road and put his sights on the crest. His fists were still clenched as he went on in a sudden rush. Sam struggled to keep up with him. On and on they clambered, driven by grief, up a shifting, sliding slope of loose stones, over a knife-edged ridge, and scrambling down into the next ravine.
Their way grew steeper, and the hobbits were forced to use their hands to pull themselves up. They stopped to consider whether Sam's rope might help them, but they were moving up, not down, and the stones all about them were loose and broken. There was nothing upon which to fasten a rope.
Finally, they reached the slope just below the crest. Far below them and to their right, the Road bent sharply up and dove between two sheer towers of stone. Those towers appeared to be part of a long, continuous wall that extended out from above where they now perched.
"If we can climb this last bit," Frodo said in a raspy voice, "I think we'll have crossed the old boundary, which ran along the crest of these peaks on the old maps. We should be able to see the Road looping downward, and see the valley between the Ephel Dúath and the Morgai."
"I hope so," Sam whispered hoarsely. "Let's have another swallow before we try it, Mr. Frodo."
They each took a deep swallow of the pure waters of Ithilien. Sam's water was now gone. They had one full bottle left—Gandalf's. Frodo's water skin was also empty, and only half of the much smaller miruvor flask's contents remained. Sam frowned worriedly. Gandalf had said that they would find water in the valley between this range of mountains and the next. We'd best find it soon, he thought. The other possible source of water that the wizard had mentioned did not sound one bit appealing to the gardener of Hobbiton.
"Now, for the final push," Frodo said. He reached up and started up the last and steepest slope.
Sam hurried after him, watching worriedly as his Master seemed to push himself forward with little caution. Frodo switched back and forth with tight, sharp turns, using his hands and arms as much as his legs and feet. He was within twenty feet of the ridge… ten… He reached up, jammed his fingers into a crevice between two stones and pulled himself up.
"Hurry, Sam," he whispered as he peered down. Frodo straddled the top of the sharp ridge; then he swung both legs over. The glowing light bathed him in red. Sam saw him gazing into Mordor; his face twisted in a grimace as he looked out over who knew what awful sight. Then Frodo turned back to watch his companion climb the remaining distance. Sam saw the frown of concern on his Master's face be replaced by a wide-eyed look of alarm as the slab of stone on which he sat suddenly shifted. Frodo's hands flew out to steady himself—too late. With a sharp cry, he vanished over the edge.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.