48. Of Webs And Water
Of Webs And Water
Frodo couldn't understand why he felt so clumsy. His hands were shaking; indeed, his entire body seemed to be shaking. He was running in a dark narrow cavern… or maybe it was a ravine… or a dungeon, perhaps? Yes, that seemed right. He was running down a hall in some deep, horrible dungeon. He had a wretched headache, his stomach churned and he felt bruised all over. His sight was dim, and what light there was in this place flickered red, like a far off torch.
He was searching for something—no, for someone. That was it: he was searching for the rest of the Fellowship! Just like Bilbo and the Dwarves, in the Wood Elves prison… A ring of heavy keys dragged on his hand—or something dragged, at any rate, perhaps it wasn't keys, he wasn't sure, and it was too dark to see—and apparently he was the only one of the Fellowship who was still free, who hadn't been taken captive by the Enemy. He couldn't remember exactly how this catastrophe had happened, but he knew it was up to him to find all his friends, unlock their cell doors, and remove their shackles, as Bilbo had.
But where was Sam? Now that he thought on it, Sam hadn't been taken prisoner, he felt quite certain of it. Gandalf had, he was very sure of that… And Aragorn, too… at least I think so… He had a clear image of Gandalf in chains, and seemed to recall that Aragorn was with him. He couldn't remember where everyone else was, but if the wizard had been taken, surely the rest had too… But Sam had been at his side when they saw Gandalf, hadn't he? Where on earth was he now? Had he lost him somehow?
Nothing made sense. If the powerful wizard had been taken captive, how on earth had he managed to remain free? The only thing he was absolutely clear about was that it was up to him to save the rest of his friends. The responsibility for their very lives rested upon his shoulders—on his thin, bruised shoulders—and he felt sick at the thought of what would happen to them if he failed to find them and set them free. Why such a dreadful task had come to him was a mystery. Well, Bilbo had no idea he'd be called upon to free thirteen Dwarves from prison when he left Bag End without his pocket-handkerchief… Frodo had at least had some warning of the danger he'd face, of the heavy burden he was taking on—not like poor Bilbo, who thought he was going on a treasure hunt, and might be asked at most to pick a lock. But not this… I never thought the rest of them would be in such trouble and I'd have to save them like this…
His eyes finally adjusted to the darkness. He tried to focus on where he was, but he was shaking so much it was difficult to see anything clearly. There were rocks in the path, and he seemed to be moving generally downhill, and at quite an unsafe speed, for how miserably unsteady he felt. Strange… He seemed to be in an odd position, sort of dangling to one side, and his head was turned toward the ground for some reason…
He gasped, and froze in terror. How on earth…! He was several feet up in the air! He was above the ground—as though he were floating!
"What… what's happening…" he groaned hoarsely.
Suddenly he stopped moving, and whatever had been clutching him—in that moment he realized that something was carrying him—gripped his right wrist and leg more strongly for a second before easing up.
It was Sam's voice! But where…?
"S…Sam?" Frodo's voice quavered with fear. "Where are you?"
"Right here, Mr. Frodo, I've got you on my shoulders!"
Frodo looked about frantically, and began to struggle. "Who's got me? Let me go! Let me down! Sam, Sam! Help! Where are you, Sam?" He pulled as hard as he could to try to free his right hand, and at the same moment began thrashing about with his left—shoving, pushing, punching—at whatever horrible unseen thing had him pinned. A Wraith, it must be a wraith, that's why I can't see it… "Help! Help, Sam, a wraith's got me, help me, Sam…"
"No, I'm not a wraith…! Ouch! Mr. Frodo, wait, stop… Hi! It's me, I've got you, Master… Shhh, don't shout so, Mr. Frodo, they'll hear you! Stop fighting, I'll let you go, wait…"
Frodo felt himself being lowered, and his panic to be let free suddenly turned to terror that he would be dropped. "What are you doing… Who are you? Help, don't drop me! Help…" He grasped at what felt like fabric… the leather strap of a rucksack… a hank of hair…
"Ouch! Mr. Frodo, please, keep your voice down, Master, the sound carries so… Just let go, I'll let you down slowly, I promise I won't drop you…"
Frodo's feet made contact with the ground. He swayed and reached up to his head, which was swimming. Something still had a hold on him, was grasping his arm, but it seemed as if the thing was supporting him, not holding him captive.
He reached out and touched the spot on his wrist where it felt like something gripped him, and gasped. A hand! Warm, not icy cold; sturdy, but not huge, or claw-like, rather small… a hobbit hand?
"Sam?" he whispered. "Is that you?"
Someone was laughing softly—Sam!
"Nobhead and Ninnyhammer!" he muttered. "I didn't know It had done it, like he said It might, no one around to see, or not see, if you take my meaning…"
"Sam, are you trying to tell me that you're invisible? That you put the Red… you've got Gandalf's gift on?"
"That's right… half a moment…"
The hand released him, and an instant later Sam Gamgee appeared! Frodo blinked in amazement; then, he stumbled and swayed again. Sam reached out and caught him.
After his vision stopped spinning, Frodo laughed. "Sam!" He reached out and clutched him with both hands, pulling him closer. "Sam, what happened?" he whispered. "Why did you put on the… put It on? Why were you carrying me?"
"There's quite a tale, Mr. Frodo—but first, are you feeling a'right, Master? Your head took a very nasty bump back there…" He let go of one of Frodo's arms for a moment to point back up the ravine.
Frodo rubbed the tender knob on the back of his head as he squinted where Sam indicated; nothing looked even slightly familiar. The ravine was a long dark crevice; the top was hidden in the shadows. To his left, a sheer wall towered above. To his right was a jumble of boulders and cracks, and he couldn't see over the top of them, except to notice that what faltering light there was came from generally in that direction, and that it was red.
"I don't remember anything… No, that isn't right… I remember…" He frowned and looked Sam in the eye. "I am remembering correctly, aren't I? We saw them… taking him away, didn't we…"
"Yes, Mr. Frodo. We did, and later I saw them further on, going through the lower range of mountains on a road that continued… beyond…"
Suddenly Frodo's legs felt very weak, and without warning he slid to the ground. He leaned forward and held his head in his hands.
"I feel awful…"
Sam crouched down beside him and swung his pack off his shoulders. "No wonder at that, Mr. Frodo. Like I said, you had a bad fall, and you were knocked clean out… Here, Master, drink this…"
Frodo frowned as Sam proffered the miruvor flask. "Sam, I've told you I don't want…"
"I chose this one special, Master," Sam interjected, firmly but quietly. "The scent of Master Elrond's drink—or maybe even a few drops of it that might still have been in the bottom of that flask—might do you some good… Come on, Mr. Frodo, drink the rest of it. You need it, after what you've been through…"
"All right… But not the whole flask, we can't spare that much…"
"We can, Mr. Frodo. Gandalf said we'd find water hereabouts, and his water skin is still nearly full… Go on…"
The slightly astringent taste of the water from the miruvor flask was precisely the remedy Frodo needed to calm his queasy stomach and put an end to the swirling of his head. He swallowed one mouthful after another, pausing between drinks to let the cool, fragrant water settle. He'd been afraid a vision of Gandalf would come to him to tear at his already aching heart; but instead, the scent of the miruvor made him think of Master Elrond. He saw the Peredhel Lord as he looked that day in October, at the Council: youthful, yet ancient; his raven-black hair fastened back and away from his breathtakingly handsome face with intricate braids; his deep blue-grey eyes so piercing, yet so kindly as he gazed at him solemnly.
Frodo felt, oddly enough, a sort of kinship with Elrond at that moment—even though they were separated by hundreds of miles, several rivers, and at least two tall mountain ranges. He lost his parents when he was young, too… It had never occurred to him before, that he had something in common with such a great and lofty person. Of course, Elrond's parents hadn't died, but they were gone from his life, just like Drogo and Primula were gone from Frodo's life… It was a strange thing to be thinking of, here, on the edge of the Enemy's realm… I wonder what he's thinking about tonight…
He looked up. "Thank you, Sam, you were right, the water from that flask was the perfect remedy. I feel much better. Now, tell me exactly what happened. Where did I fall? How did I bump my head, and what made you decide to use the… to use Gandalf's Gift?"
Sam sat beside him and leaned in close. Hesitantly at first, then gaining confidence, he told Frodo what had happened since the last thing his Master seemed to recall most clearly. In whispers he filled him in on every detail, from his horror at watching Frodo pitch off the top of the ridge and out of sight to slicing away the sticky cords. He left out only that miserable minute of his utter hopelessness and rage, when he first glimpsed the interior of the ravaged land they must cross.
"I thought I could carry you like he did, Mr. Frodo, holding you in my arms in front of me," Sam said. "But after just a few dozen yards or so I saw that I didn't have the strength, even with It on my finger. I was afraid I'd hurt you, slinging you over my shoulders and all, like a sack of 'taters! But I didn't see as I had any choice if we was to get anywhere, so I hoisted you up as careful as I could and went on. Then you woke up. I'd forgot, of course, that I still wore It…"
Frodo reached out and grasped Sam's hand and pressed it. "Sam, you are a marvel! You did all that by yourself…!"
"Now don't go saying things like that, Master, it weren't my doing. I wouldn't have even found a way off the top of that ridge if it hadn't been for…"
"Hear me, Samwise Gamgee," Frodo whispered firmly. "You've saved my life, and yes, Gandalf's Gift helped you do it… But you are the one who did all that, Sam. He's right, you know: there is no better Bearer for what he carried for all those years, than you."
The red light in the Eastern sky suddenly flared brightly, and they heard a low-pitched rumble from the far distance. The light died just as quickly, and the darkness that followed seemed denser. Both hobbits looked up.
"How much time has gone by, do you think, since we crossed over the very top?"
Sam frowned and scratched behind one ear. "I can't tell, not by this light… Them flashes, like the one we just saw, don't have any pattern, but they blot out any other hints we might have of whether day or night has come, somewhere above that gloomy sky. I was still a ways below you when you fell, and had to climb up, of course. It didn't take me too long to shimmy down that rope and come down to you afterwards. Took a mite longer to get you from there to here… But by my belly, what's grumbling something fierce, I'm guessing some hours have passed, four, at least... It might be tomorrow already…"
"Hmm," Frodo said. "Yes, even I feel hungry, despite that bump on my head. Well, Sam, whatever day or time it is, it is a new day for us, and well past time for breakfast."
They did not know it, but midday was approaching on the 12th of March by the Shire Reckoning. Their glimpse of Gandalf had come at midnight, and they had reached the top of the ridge above the Pass near dawn. Since then, Frodo and Sam had come less than a third of the way down the ravine that led from the base of the sheer eastern cliffs of the Ephel Dúath and into the rough terrain between those mountains and the lower peaks of the Morgai. Once they veered to the left of the Nameless Pass, they were directly between the higher, more northerly pass Gandalf had called Cirith Ungol, where a Tower and a fortress occupied by several hundred Orcs was situated, and the great Road that led from Minas Morgul to Barad-dûr. Unaware of their precarious position, the hobbits opened their packs and divided a packet of food from Captain Faramir in half, and each ate half of that. Sam took a few sips from Gandalf's water skin, and pressed Frodo to take another, too.
They had stopped in a sheltered spot, beneath a high wall and at a bend in the ravine that shielded them from spying eyes from the East and below. While they ate in silence and rested, a troop of hunting Orcs from Cirith Ungol marched directly by the ravine as it emptied onto the hillside above the twisting trail that led from the fortress to the Morgul Road. Their Watchers were nervous, and Shagrat, their Captain, was more nervous than the Watchers, what with the news from Morgul City, and the tone of simmering rage in all the dispatches from Lugbûrz. If the hobbits had continued down the winding way of the ravine without pausing for a while to rest and eat, they might well have run right into them.
But their luck held. Whispering, they discussed their next move, as best as they could determine. Finding water was uppermost in Sam's mind, and for that, he surmised, they should head for the lowest spot they could find between the two ranges of peaks.
"Water flows downhill, I reckon, so we ought to look at the bottom…"
Frodo wasn't sure, and was reluctant to waste too much time in a search that might prove futile—for in this rocky, barren terrain they might come within ten feet of a spring and miss it entirely as moisture trickled and vanished into the arid soil. To Frodo, the most important priority was to get to the end of their journey—to the Mountain—and destroy the Ring as quickly as they could.
For a nagging thought had been growing in his mind, planted days back—possibly weeks ago—when he first realized what Gandalf planned to do. The longer we delay, the longer he will be at the mercy of… He heard an echo of Gandalf's voice as he explained why he felt he could not enter Mordor. He reserves for me the special hatred that one bears for another who was once a friend... The look of dread on the wizard's face as he spoke those words was etched in the Ring-bearer's memory. He knew exactly what would happen…
Since the Crossroads, the quest to destroy the Enemy's Ring was more than just a lofty idea that, if successful, would impact all of Middle Earth. By its very loftiness, such a concept had always been a bit difficult for the hobbit to grasp. But now, Frodo's task was intensely personal, and every hour of delay had immediate and horrible consequences for one of his dearest friends. It is the only thing I can do for him… I'm the only one who can do anything for him now, who can bring an end to… to what he must be going through… Along with his sense of urgency, his resolve hardened. Whatever happens, I must succeed. I must…
But simultaneously, the Ring was growing stronger and more devious the closer It came to the place It was forged. And other evil things began to stir, drawn to Its haunting, persistent Voice.
They shrugged their rucksacks onto their backs and slung their grey Elven cloaks about their shoulders. Sam returned Sting to his Master, and Frodo slipped the hilt into his belt. He checked to see if the blade shone; the Elven dagger glowed faintly. They agreed that Sting would in all likelihood not cease glowing at least a little bit for the remainder of their journey, as surrounded by Orcs as they would be from this point onward. Sam also insisted that Frodo go a step or two before him, for he was worried that his Master was not yet steady on his feet. If he stumbled or fell behind, Sam might not know it in the dark crevice through which they crept.
Almost at once, the shield of tumbled rocks that had hid them from the East dwindled to a low wall of rubble, and they found themselves frighteningly exposed. Hunching low to the ground, the hobbits moved quickly through the open gap, glancing anxiously to the left as they did so. Far off, the Mountain oozed and smoked, and behind it the darkness deepened. There's an Eye in that shadow, Frodo thought. The jagged hills of the Morgai hid much of the cracked plains from their current vantage point. But the nearby lands fell steeply away from the foothills of the Ephel Dúath, and between them and the Morgai peaks lay a deep, wide trench.
To his surprise, Frodo could pick out lines of stunted trees and shrubs clinging to the sides of the trench, and at the bottom a thick mat of dense vegetation grew. It was the first plant life they had seen since leaving the slopes of the Mountains of Shadow as they climbed from the West. He tried to imagine the sort of furtive, creeping creatures that might scrape out their existence in that dismal valley. Nothing but insects, lizards and snakes, I expect… Then the glimpse of the trench was gone as they reached the end of the gap and moved behind taller rocks again.
Their path wove back and forth as the narrow ravine sliced through the eastward slopes of the Ephel Dúath. The way sometimes slanted precipitously downward, other times climbed up. Often they found themselves faced with a fork, and had to explore one side only to discover they had reached a tight, blind end. Retracing their steps they would then take the other fork, hoping their way would not be blocked on the opposite side as well. They managed to continue without any insurmountable obstacles, though the hobbits were thankful for their small size as they squeezed themselves sideways through a narrow crevice, their packs in their hands, every button, buckle and brooch scraping on stone.
"Can't imagine old Boromir getting himself through this tiny space, can you, Mr. Frodo?"
"Not a chance! He would have had to leave that glorious shield of his behind, wouldn't he?"
"Aye, and Gimli would have been forced to carry his axe upon his head!"
After another few hours, Sam insisted that they stop again, and that his Master take some water. Frodo was grateful for a moment's rest. His head still ached, and he had been feeling a little wobbly in the knees, though thankfully his queasiness was gone. They huddled side by side in another sheltered pocket on the tumbled hillside. Sam scrambled to the top of a boulder for a peek out.
"We've come a good ways," he whispered when he slid down beside Frodo. "Hard to judge with the slanting of the land and all, but them stunted bushes and things in the deep valley look a lot closer now…"
Soon after they continued, they came to another sharp bend in the way. The crevice was deep at that point, and the walls on either side rose high above their heads. They could not see beyond the turn. Frodo slowed his pace. As he halted, he frowned. Had he heard something? A whisper, or a soft scraping noise behind them? Or was it in front of them? The faint sound echoed on the walls; it was impossible to tell which direction it came from. He could not say why, but suddenly Frodo felt certain that something waited for them, just beyond the turn in the path.
Sam came close behind him. "I dunno why," he muttered in his companion's ear, "but all at once I feel as though something is watching us…"
"I feel it too…"
Sam put a hand on his Master's arm. "Better let me go first…"
"Might be best if you used Gandalf's Gift again…"
Sam caught the gleam in his Master's eyes. He got out the pouch he wore around his neck, reached inside and withdrew Narya, holding it in his fingertips. Frodo stared at the heavy gold ring with its brilliant red gem; he reached out, and traced a line over its carved edge. Then he looked up at Sam and nodded.
Sam slipped on the Red Ring, and Frodo had to force himself not to gasp aloud as his friend vanished. He heard the soft padding of hobbit feet on the stones as Sam took a few steps. Then Frodo reached out to grasp his unseen cloak; he managed to catch the end of it.
"Hold on," he whispered. "Here—take this…"
Silently Frodo drew Sting from its sheath and held it out, hilt-first. He felt the knife pull as Sam grasped it, then as his companion fully took hold of the weapon, Sting vanished as well, but for a faint shimmer of blue.
"Right then," Sam muttered. "I'll be back in a minute…"
As quietly as he knew how, Frodo crept forward, step by step, to the turn in the ravine. I wish Sam hadn't lost his Dúnedain dagger back up there; we surely could use another blade… At once an image came into his mind's eye, of a folding knife with a handle made of a lustrous creamy white material, very like bone. He said it was made of the tusk of a mûmak… And that made him recall that he was also carrying Boromir's razor-sharp blade—but Gandalf's dagger had a lot more heft, and would be a more effective weapon. Frodo stopped and swung his pack off. He bent over it and had begun digging deep inside, searching for Gandalf's knife, when he heard a hiss behind him.
His head jerked up, and he saw something flit across his vision—something moving very fast. It was too dark, even with his uncannily keen night vision, to see what shape the thing had been, but it seemed about the size of a squirrel, or maybe a rat. Then another—or had he just imagined that one, as anxious as he was? Whatever it had been it was gone—for now.
Frodo's heart was racing. Sam had told him about the filmy, sticky strands that he had found wrapped around his legs. Spiders! And by the look of the thing he'd glimpsed, big ones, almost as big as the ones Bilbo had encountered in Mirkwood. With shaking hands he dug in his pack again. Where is that knife? Got to find it, hurry… There! For safety, he had placed the knife in an inside pocket, along with Boromir's healer's kit, but when he tumbled off the ridge everything had been upended. The folding knife had slid to the very bottom. Closing his pack, he quickly shrugged it back on his shoulders. He'd learned how the knife could be fastened into an open position. He clicked the tiny, silver lever and locked it. Then he went on, his hands trembling slightly, with the blade pointed forward.
At the sharp bend he leaned against the wall and crept forward cautiously. From the corner of his eye, he saw them coming behind him--flit, flit, one after another—and heard their soft hisses and the scampering patter of hairy legs on stone.
"Sam!" he whispered, as he leaped around the bend.
"Mr. Frodo!" Sam said in a choked voice at the same instant.
Frodo's eyes were wide and his heart was pounding as he tried to see what was happening. Dark, hissing blobs with many legs were crawling over the walls—a dozen, maybe more—he wasn't sure, and it didn't matter, for in the middle of the narrow path a pile of them were crawling up something that was trying to stab them and shove them off, but they were sending out their strands of sticky threads and winding them about the invisible figure, and there were more of them than he could manage with only two hands...
"Sam!" he cried, lunging forward and stabbing at the nearest spider, and then swiftly at a second, and a third. Sam—Frodo assumed, though he couldn't see him—stabbed at others, and their hissing voices turned into little screeches of pain and rage. Again and again they stabbed and thrust, darting back and forth, Frodo trying to stay out of the way of the faint blue flame that was waving and swinging in the middle of the path.
Dozens of spiders lay dead in the narrow ravine. Some lay on their rounded backs, their hideous hairy legs still waving feebly in the air above them, and Frodo caught glimpses of other shadowy blobs skittering away into crevices in the walls. The hissing stopped. Everywhere the rocks were stained with blotches of black blood, and strands of sticky webs crisscrossed the path and were draped above them. For the moment, the spider attack ceased.
Sam suddenly reappeared, right next to Frodo, his right hand clenched around the hilt of Sting. His eyes were wide.
"That was mighty close!"
"We have to get out of here, right now…"
"That's what I was trying to tell you, Master, when them things attacked…"
Sam pointed toward the narrow gap of the ravine before them. No more than twenty feet ahead, a filmy grey shadow filled in the space between the stony walls. The passage was blocked.
"A spider web!" Frodo whispered. "And a huge one…"
Sam stepped forward to the web. "And no ordinary one, either, Mr. Frodo. I already tried to swipe it away, but each strand is as thick as twine, just as sticky as ordinary cobweb, and stings…"
"Sting!" Frodo said as he joined Sam at the web. "Try using Sting, like Bilbo did in Mirkwood, and I'll stand guard…"
Frodo turned, brandishing the knife, meant to be a pocket dagger for a Big Person and hardly a weapon of defense, even for a Hobbit. But it's something, at any rate… His eyes swept over the path, the walls, and the rocks as he searched for any sign of the spiders returning. Behind him he could hear Sam ripping through the cords over and over. He glanced over his shoulder; his companion had cut deeply into the web, and the individual strands waved in the air. But the web was very thick; Sam stood right in the middle of it now, and still more of the shadowy wall lay before him.
Without warning they were there again—spiders, everywhere, dropping from the rocks, clambering along the path, sending their sticky strands through the air at the hobbits. The attack had come in complete silence, but as soon as it began the creatures all started hissing and sputtering. Frodo lunged and slashed, stabbing and slicing through as many creatures as he could reach with his small knife. Sam gave up on trying to cut through the web and went on the attack as well, and for a few moments it seemed they were keeping the spiders at bay.
"Sam! Keep at it, you've got to clear a way, we have to get through!" Frodo said hoarsely even as he jabbed and kicked at three spiders that leaped from the wall and started clambering up his leg.
"Yes, Master!" Sam spun around quickly and went to work as fast as he could at dismantling the web. The spiders took note, now that his fearsome blue-tinged blade was occupied in another task. More than twenty of them scrambled up and over the rocks where the web was hung, hissing fiercely. They started dropping onto Sam, and to Frodo's horror the beasts began stinging his companion.
"Uh.. Ow.. I…I'm making progress… J…just a bit more… Ah!"
Frodo went on the offensive. He threw himself forward and tore one spider off Sam after another, as fast as he could, stabbing and slashing. Of course that only enraged them more, and they divided their forces, a quarter of them jumping onto Frodo and stinging him, while the rest continued to attack Sam. The spider bites hurt smartly, though neither hobbit was slowed down much by a few stings. But the number of stings kept increasing, and the hobbits began to feel the cumulative effect of their poison. The little beasts seemed to grow angrier as Sam continued slicing through their web. The largest spiders gave out growling noises as they clung to Sam's neck and shoulders. He cried out as a particularly big creature jabbed him deeply with its stinger on the back of his right shoulder, then groaned as another got him on the side of his neck.
Sam's voice was hoarse, and he sounded weaker. Frodo kicked one and stabbed another, and for a moment he was free of them. He spun and ran forward. Sam's arm came down, and the last layer of the web was cut through.
"Run! Sam, run!" Frodo cried.
He grabbed Sam's arm and pulled him through the narrow gap. Sam leaned heavily on his Master as they ran headlong down the narrow slope. They were ten feet, then twenty, then fifty feet beyond the web, and without looking back they stumbled down the path.
Frodo and Sam now found themselves in the steepest and most jumbled part of the foothills, weaving their way down a broken cliff-face above a wide ledge. Of old, the men of Gondor, who had built the fortress as a watchtower upon the Enemy's land, placed the juncture of the road from Cirith Ungol with what would become the Morgul Road upon that ledge. The joined way spanned the bottom of the trench between the Ephel Dúath and the Morgai peaks upon a high arched bridge. But for many centuries the tower and its citadel had been in the hands of the Enemy, and his servants gladly took advantage of the engineering skills of their ancient foes, putting the well-built fortress, roads and bridge to use.
The hobbits' path took them in and out of view of the eastern end of the bridge, and they had glimpses of the smaller road below them. The main road from Morgul Vale was hidden behind a great buttress of stone, and though they twisted and craned their necks to peer up, they could see nothing of the fortress of Cirith Ungol save for a red lantern in its topmost turret. The part of the bridge and road they could see remained deserted, and they heard no sound save the dull moan of the wind on stone as they crept onward.
But other things crept upon the edge of Mordor. In their brief battle Frodo and Sam had killed dozens, perhaps fifty spiders, and injured many more. But the crevices and foothills of the Ephel Dúath, on either side of Cirith Ungol and all the way to the Morgul Road, which the creatures avoided, were infested with spiders. They were the Daughters of Shelob, the Great Spider who had lived in the maze of caves at the top of the pass for three thousand years or more—and She was the Daughter of another Great Spider, and she the Daughter of another, going all the way back to the Great Spiders of the Elder Days that lived in the Mountains of Terror. And even those Spiders were but children of the Greatest Spider of them all, Ungoliant, the Eater of Light who spewed darkness and shadow, and who had killed the Two Trees.
The spiders of the eastern slopes of the Ephel Dúath lived on tough rations—mostly other insects, an occasional rat, or if they were very lucky, a Orc that fell and injured itself among the rocks and couldn't escape from them—and they were always hungry. These strange invaders, the hobbits, smelled marvelously sweet. The spiders desire for something good to eat was overwhelming. And they were angry, for they were not used to their prey battling them off, nor of anyone escaping from their fibrous and impenetrable webs.
Frodo was very worried as he and Sam continued in a sliding, circuitous downward path. His companion was breathing heavily, and the face of the ordinarily unflappable gardener of Bag End was creased with grimaces of pain. When Frodo noticed that Sam's right arm shook and twitched, he reached out and grasped his wrist.
"Hold on, Sam," he whispered. "How badly are you hurt? Those spider bites…"
But Sam frowned and shook his head. "It don't matter, we've got to keep going, Mr. Frodo, no time to stop, nor a safe place…"
"I insist that you tell me the truth!"
Sam raised his head, and Frodo could see the pain etched in his face. His companion's arm twitched and shuddered, and Sam winced.
"All right, Master. If you've got to know, it's true, I am hurt, and sick… Them bigger spiders, the ones at the last spot, they nabbed me a dozen times or more. I feel all shaky and feverish, and my arm's tingly and numb. Now there, I've told you the truth, and here's more of it: it don't matter, 'cause we mustn't stay here! We've got to keep on, Mr. Frodo…"
Frodo stared, his jaw clenched, seemingly poised to argue with Sam and insist that they stop and allow him to rest. But Frodo's shoulders sagged, and he nodded.
"You're right. We must keep on, no matter what." He squinted into the darkness, which seemed to be deepening. The dull red light had faded, and the sky was a deeper shade of black, if such a thing were possible. "We must try to get to the valley, and cross it… Perhaps we'll find water along the way. We cannot use the bridge and the main road, of course, so we'll have to force our way through those dense bushes we saw at the bottom…" Frodo turned back to his companion. "Your turn to go first. I feel better than you do now, and it won't do for you to fall behind."
The darkness thickened as they did their best to find any safe way down the ever steeper hillsides. At times the hobbits were forced to slide on their backsides down crumbling slopes, or turn around and climb down backwards, reaching toe by toe for the next irregular rocky edge. Finally, after what seemed like hours of precarious scrambling, they were perched on a shelf just above the wide ledge, on which the narrow but well-paved road from Cirith Ungol was laid.
They crouched side by side, their cloaks and hoods wrapped over them, blending their forms into the stones and hiding them from any eyes that might spy them from far above. Away to the East, a faint, far off flicker appeared and disappeared, in the blink of an eye. Frodo frowned as he gazed toward it; had the Mountain just spewed fire? No—that wasn't a red light, more like violet, or blue… Whatever it had been, it was gone now. Like as not, the light of a furnace or a forge had flashed on the underside of the ashen clouds. After several seconds, another low rumble came from eastward, and then a second bright blue-violet flash came and went in an instant. Something's happening out there, some devilry of the Enemy… But that cannot concern us, not now. First things first: how to get down from here and keep moving onward…
To their right and southward, the ground fell off unevenly. The hobbits crawled forward slowly and peeked over the edge.
The rocky hillside was no worse than what they had just managed to climb down. But at the bottom of the slope, they could see the juncture of two roads: one, the path that snaked down from above them and to their left, from Cirith Ungol, and the second, a much broader way winding down from the West. Nearby, glittering black in the darkness, two Stone Watchers waited silently at the end of the high bridge over the Morgai Trench. They realized they were looking at the Morgul Road as it came down from the Nameless Pass.
"Don't want to go that way, do we, Mr. Frodo?"
"No, we certainly don't. It would defeat the entire purpose, to rouse the Watchers down there after we've escaped from other Watchers farther back."
To their left, the ground tilted upward again and led into an opening, a great crack like a doorway, filled with deep shadows. They could see nothing beyond the black opening, no sign that the crack led anywhere except to a blind end. And before them, the cliff dropped in one long smooth face to the road. The distance was not too great, and Sam's rope might be useful to lower them down—if they had any way to fasten it—but they would be completely exposed to any watching from above or below. That way would not do either.
Frodo turned and craned his neck to peer upward. To clamber back up the way they had come would be not only extremely exposed but very difficult; in several places they had slid downward with little or no control, and no handholds were apparent to help them climb back up.
"Well, it's going to have to be that dismal crack," he whispered as he stared to his right.
"I don't like the looks of it, and it's sure enough the wrong direction! We want to go East, not North…"
"I know, Sam. But I can't see that we have a choice."
Sam nodded doubtfully as they got to their feet.
"If we have to go this way, I'm going first, Master."
He began creeping forward. Frodo reached out and grasped his wrist.
"No, Sam. We'll go together, if we go at all."
Cautiously, they approached the entrance. Suddenly Sam stiffened.
"We shouldn't go in there…"
Frodo sensed danger at the same moment, and the two hobbits stumbled backward.
Several things happened at once. Far off eastward, Frodo heard the low rumble start up again, increasingly loud and moving toward them. Then another sound—a faint, wailing shriek, like the hideous voices of the Watchers at the Bridge of the Morgulduin—rose into the distant darkness. At the same time, a sudden gust swirled about them, and though Frodo dismissed the idea as absurd in this parched landscape, the East Wind seemed to carry the scent of rain. I'm so thirsty I'm imagining water…
Then his attention snapped again to the gaping crack. He gasped as the shadows inside the jagged doorway suddenly appeared to boil outward from the sharp edges of the stones.
Spiders—bigger than the ones that had attacked earlier—rushed out in a stream of black bodies and myriad twitching legs, hissing and growling in rage. From every surface of the rocks above and around them, spiders attacked.
The very air seemed thick with hairy legs and horrible hisses as the hobbits instinctively shrank together and stood back to back. Sam wielded Sting and Frodo brandished the wizard's dagger. They slashed and stabbed in ever-increasing desperation as the creatures swarmed and leapt onto them. Sticky strands flew through the air and snagged on their hands, in their hair, and on their faces. They kicked and stomped, poked and stabbed—and more and more spiders appeared. Three landed on Frodo's back and began stinging him as he hacked at five more climbing onto his limbs. A great spider the size of a small dog landed on Sam's shoulder and jammed its stinger into the side of his neck.
"Ahh! Master, run, if you can, run from here…" he cried as he twisted to jab at the thing. It squealed and dropped to the ground, but two more fell from the rock wall onto Sam's head and back.
"Uhnn… there's nowhere to run, Sam…"
Frodo could feel himself weakening. His eyesight was fading, and he was dizzy. The dagger was too short; he couldn't stab them until they were close, and he only had two hands. For every one spider he killed, three more appeared.
No! This can't be happening… We can't fail, not now…
Sam moaned behind him, and Frodo felt his companion sag against his back. The spiders began tossing more and more strands of their webs over and around them. Frodo fought frantically, slashing desperately at the strands; but Gandalf's dagger was not of Elf-make, and he could barely cut through the tough fibers using all of his failing strength. Another large spider jumped, hissing, onto Sam. Frodo heard him cry out, and Sting clanged on the ground as he dropped it.
"No… No! It can't be… Not now, not after everything…" Frodo groaned as he was dragged down and back, tethered to Sam.
The wind whirled again. Plunk. A single fat drop of water landed right in front of Frodo, splattering in the dust. He stared at it. How strange, he thought, as dizziness began to overtake him. The East Wind roared into the Ephel Dúath, and as Frodo's thoughts began to dim he imagined he heard a deep Voice laughing all around him.
In the next moment the dark skies tore open, and a torrent of rain fell upon them. Two wailing shrieks rose from the valley to the right as the rain pelted the Watchers at the west end of the bridge; then as it continued another alarm sounded far above their heads, from the gate Guardian of Cirith Ungol. Frodo would later recall that the warning cries of the Watchers' of the Enemy's borders were different than the one he had heard in Morgul Vale; this time their dreaful voices were filled with fear. For rain had not fallen in that place since time before memory, since the days before their dark Master had taken this once prosperous land and defiled it and made it His own.
And there was one thing that the Daughters of Shelob hated more than anything else—water. Most of them had never before encountered it. Only in their legends and darkest nightmares were they even aware of the power of Rain against spiders. Their sticky legs could get no purchase upon its slippery surface, and the wet rocks were suddenly too slick for them to stand upon. Water flushed their many feet out from beneath them, spinning them away uncontrollably. The pelting, pounding drops stung like jabs of fire, and their impenetrable webs suddenly sagged and drooped. The wet fibers lost their sting. No spider bite had any power to stop a rainstorm. No web could hold back a flood.
The army of spiders that had eagerly surrounded their prey, ready to pounce and tear them to pieces, fell back screaming and hissing in agony and terror as the horrible Water poured down. They dispersed, scrambling and climbing, slipping and sliding, fleeing as fast as they could to the deepest, driest hiding places they could find. The Rain had defeated them.
Frodo blinked and panted as he knelt on the rocks, soaked through and chilled. He struggled against the strands of web that bound him to Sam, and this time he found that he could easily tear through the wet fibers. He tugged and pulled, swiping the weakened tangles away. The downpour continued unabated as he got to his feet. Sam lay sprawled behind him. Sting lay, glowing faintly, on the stones in front of him.
Frodo dropped to his knees. "Sam! Oh, Sam…" He clasped his friend's shoulder and shook him.
Sam groaned and opened his eyes, immediately squinting and frowning again as rain pounded his upturned face.
"Wha…What's this?" he sputtered. "Well I never… Rain!" he laughed. "Here, in this desert?"
"Yes!" Frodo cried as he too laughed aloud. The wind and steady thrumming of the storm drowned out the sound of their voices. "It's driven them off! The spiders…They're gone!" He reached out and clutched Sam's arm. "Can you walk?"
Sam sat up. "I… I think so… Those devils… Stung me all over again…"
They stood together, Sam swaying and leaning on Frodo. Sam's right arm hung limp at his side, and his face was ashen. A large red welt with a dark center showed just above the collar of his shirt, and he was shivering. Frodo bent and retrieved Sting.
"I'll keep Sting for the moment, Sam," he said as he tucked the blade into his belt. He closed the folding dagger and slid it deep into a pocket. "Right then," he shouted in Sam's ear as the wind howled. "Let's get out of here the quickest way we can!"
They turned toward the East. The streaming sky was black, and they could not see more than a hundred feet before them, even looking out from the height. All sign of the interior of Mordor was obscured. Frodo stepped forward to the edge. Rain sluiced off the shelf on which they stood and poured like a thin waterfall over the curving lip of stone. It swept down in an arc over the smooth stone, right down to the ditch at the side of the narrow road, thirty feet below them. He cinched his rucksack straps more tightly, made certain that Sting was secured, and turned.
He reached out his hand to Sam, and grinned.
"Come on!" he cried, shaking a splash of water from his eyes.
Sam swallowed hard, and took his Master's hand. Then the hobbits crouched down, sat on the slippery rock, and pushed off. With a gasp from Sam and a whoop from Frodo, they flew down the streaming wet stone face of the cliff like hobbit-lads sliding down a grassy hillside in the Eastfarthing. With a thud and a bump, they landed in the ditch at the side of the road.
Frodo grabbed Sam's arm and dragged him up onto his feet. They looked up and down the narrow road; no one was in sight. The rain kept pouring in sheets, pelting them and spattering on the paved surface. Another violet flash split the darkness, and thunder rolled overhead.
They sprinted across the road, hand in hand. Over the curb, a quick scramble through a low barrier of rocks, and down a slope; they reached the wall of stunted trees. In they dove, down they tumbled, coming to a halt in a thick mat of thorn bushes. They were safe—for the moment.
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.