54. The Ring-Bearer and His Servant
The Ring-Bearer and His Servant
The end of the Quest was before them now, so near it seemed to prickle on their skin like the awareness of lightning. The last of the landmarks Frodo had so fancifully named from the boundary of this terrible plain—a chair, a toadstool, a pony's head, mythical objects out of long ago legend—had vanished behind them. Neither hobbit could now easily picture any other landscape than the ravished one they now stumbled across. They had shared their last wafer of lembas, and had but one bottle of the water they'd drawn up from the Orc-well remaining: the small flask that had once held miruvor.
The great forbidding Fortress of Barad-dûr stood in the distance, directly in their path, sprawling, black and enormous even from four leagues away. The Mountain loomed above and to their right, much closer, and to Frodo's surprise, not as tall as he had feared. Mount Doom was no peak on the scale of Caradhras or Zirak-Zigil in the far off north. The Fiery Mountain was less than half the height of the Redhorn, and its sides were not nearly as steep. But as Frodo gazed up its slopes wearily, he winced as he thought of attempting to climb it.
Nothing but broken rock, fissures belching steam and foul smoke, and melted stone oozing to the surface… Gandalf said something about a road to the top, or to the opening to the Cracks of Doom, at least… But I don't see any road... It's all a tumble of razor-edged rocks to slice into our poor, battered feet…
He had known this journey would be difficult, had long suspected he would not survive it. What he had not counted on was day after day, hour after hour of unrelenting agony. Not a moment passed that Frodo did not feel sharp pain in the soles of his poor feet, did not suffer from intense throbbing in every joint. His lips had cracked open so many times that his chin was crusted with blood, and his fingers were as swollen as sausages. It took great effort and concentration simply to raise one foot and swing it forward. He could feel his heart racing in his chest, and his head hammered with aching. His strength waned, and his determination to complete his task was faltering rapidly.
It's no use… I cannot do this…
For days now—if such a word as "day" had any meaning in this lightless desert—he had been waging a war inside, between what seemed to be two halves of himself. 'Frodo' was convinced this was impossible; that Gandalf and the rest of the Wise had been cruel and inhuman when they had set this quest before him, or anyone. No one can do it—not a powerful wizard, or a courageous warrior… certainly not me, an ordinary hobbit of the Shire… I am here by nothing more than an accident of fate… I don't belong here in this awful place, attempting to do something no one else would even try… But the other part of him, the self that 'Frodo' had begun to call 'The Fool,' still believed it was worth carrying on, no matter how difficult or horrible. I promised I would, and if I don't, Gandalf will be imprisoned for who knows how long… I must try, even if I cannot do it in the end… I might be a fool to try it, but I must…
That Sam knew he was torn apart with inner conflict was quite apparent to Frodo. He knew he was whispering to himself, muttering aloud, glancing about with suspicion. He could no more stop himself doing so than he could command his heart to beat more slowly. It doesn't matter…. 'Frodo' sighed and frowned down at his left wrist with a look of irritation. Dratted scarf… He was attached by the scarf to his servant, still too weak to really be of much use, and he was beginning to regret having agreed to drag Sam Gamgee forward. Yet, 'The Fool' took notice of the undeniable fact that the only small part of his entire body that did not ache was his left wrist, where the scarf was tied loosely and tugged at him constantly. It feels cool, and pleasant… I have no pain there, at just that one spot… That's a tiny bit of encouragement, isn't it?
He halted his slow, stumbling march forward between the lowest slopes of the Mountain and the broad road built of crushed rock that led directly to the gate of Barad-dûr and looked up. A black Tower, apparently built of stones as smooth as glass, rose up behind layers of thick ramparts. Glowing red lights flickered, at the very top and wavering upon the walls. But before it all, floating like a beacon, he saw a ring of flames hovering in the air between him and the great Tower. He knew that should he turn instead toward the mountain on his right, or even turn around entirely and make his way westward toward the Morgai, the Fiery Ring would be there, as it had been for days now—and for weeks, before that, in his nightmares.
From out of the center of the Fire, a Voice whispered. You poor thing; you've suffered enough. Come this way, Frodo, and find some peace at last… No one can blame you. You've tried valiantly, but it simply can't be done, and they were wicked to ask you to do it… Come this way. It will end sooner for you; you can rest all the more quickly. You'll see your old friend once more before you die; you can say your good-byes to him one last time...
He began walking eastward, his eyes upon the Tower. But the silver scarf pulled upon his arm, holding him back.
"Mr. Frodo, wait!' a hoarse voice whispered out of the darkness behind him. "Not that way, sir! We've got to go southwards now, Master, toward the Mountain…"
Frodo turned his face toward where he knew Sam must be, for the faint blue glow of Sting hung in mid-air about five feet behind him, and the silver scarf led off into nothingness. He shivered, and blinked his gritty eyes, trying to dispel the vision of Fire that would not leave him. He felt utterly wretched, certain that he would die a horrible death no matter which path he took. All he desired at that moment was to lay down and let death take him, the sooner the better; but even as he wished it his heart broke with the thought that he would betray everyone he had ever known or loved if he did so. If he had been able to produce them, his eyes would have overrun with tears at that moment.
"I can't, Sam," he whispered. "I don't know the way anymore…"
Then, Sam Gamgee appeared out of the darkness. He was much thinner than Frodo remembered, his eyes were hollow, and his face was pinched with pain and streaked with dirt. A dark lump still swelled from the side of his neck where a huge spider had bitten him over a week ago. Frodo noticed that his companion and servant's right hand was gripping something that seemed to glow faintly red. Sam slipped that something into the front of his shirt as he stepped forward.
"Then let me lead now, Master," Sam said softly. "You've found the path this far; I'll find the rest of the way."
Frodo closed his eyes and bowed his head, reaching up to clutch his forehead as a deep sob threatened to burst out of him. Sam was there in a moment, holding his arm.
"It's all right, Mr. Frodo," he said in a scratchy whisper. "You've been so strong… You can lean on me now, for a while… I can manage…"
Frodo looked up. The terrible vision was still there, and he was horrified by the image of his old friend and gardener's brown head surrounded by flames. He choked back the cry that threatened to burst out of him.
"But how, Sam? Where will you lead us? How will we get there? Gandalf was wrong! I think he lied to us to make us feel less discouraged, or maybe he'd forgotten, or made a mistake… There isn't any road, like he claimed there would be! The Mountain is impossible to climb, we can't do it…"
Sam smiled gently. "But the road's right here, Mr. Frodo…" He pointed up.
Frodo squinted up the slope. He could discern nothing that resembled even a footpath. "Where?"
Sam stepped beside him and leaned close as he pointed again. "There—see? It loops from the other side. I reckon it must come from the Fortress… But it isn't far up on this side. We only have to climb a bit, then we'll get to it… Don't you see it, Master?"
Frodo shook his head, confused and afraid to admit aloud that all he could see now was Fire hanging in the sky before him.
"I don't see it, Sam... I don't think I am able see it..."
Sam hesitated as he peered at his companion, then back up the slope. Frodo saw a look of determination settle on his gardener's filthy face.
"Well, maybe it's... the Gift, his Gift. It's stronger, more awake, somehow, Mr. Frodo... I've felt it growing for a while now, and even though I'm not wearing it I think it can still help me. Maybe it is helping me see something that you can't." Sam turned toward him. "What about a swallow of what's left of our water before we're on our way..."
At the foot of Orodruin, where no water had flowed for more than two Ages, and no scent of such a thing as miruvor had ever been detected, not even during the Great Siege, when that very place had been the desperate, final encampment of an army of Elves and Men, the two hobbits shared the bottle between them, knowing it might well be their final chance to do so. The faint remnant of Rivendell's liqueur was no longer enough for either of their swollen tongues to taste—but it mattered not. For a moment, the vision of the Fiery Ring flickered and faded. Frodo sighed with relief. He mused aloud.
"I, too, feel the strength of what you now bear, Sam... It's given me a bit of hope again, that I'd thought I'd completely lost... But I wonder if it... Gandalf's Gift... is stronger now, because the Other is stronger... After all, the Other One is the Master, and there is no doubt It has grown greatly as we come closer. I can feel that, too..."
Sam frowned. "I hadn't thought of that... P'rhaps you're right, Mr. Frodo. But what I'd been thinking was that this..." and he touched the front of his shirt as he spoke; "...is stronger because every step we take brings us closer to him that bore it for so long... to where he's been taken..."
He nodded his head toward the great Tower, and gazed off in that direction with a pained look on his face. Frodo followed his gaze.
Time's running out, for all of us. If the quest is to be done, it must be now, or never...
"I'm ready, Sam," he said, his voice rough. "Lead on."
Sam turned south, and within just a few hundred feet they began to climb. The stones were every bit as sharp and brittle as Frodo thought they would be, and the soles of their feet, already bruised and blistered, were soon oozing from dozens of tiny cuts. Their throats were raw, and though they did their best to avoid them, the fumes increased as they rose above the plain. Already short of breath, they choked and coughed on the Mountain's foul emissions. Yet, Sam led them onward, and Frodo followed. Slowly, steadily, they made progress up the broken, desolate slope.
They had, by hidden wisdom or chance, made a crucial choice to scale the lower slopes of the Mountain from the northwest. Had they searched for the beginning of the great Road that led from the Dark Lord's Tower to the door to his Chamber of Fire, they would have laid themselves open to the many ceaselessly searching eyes that patrolled the tumbled wastes between Orodruin and Barad-dûr. And the lower curves of that Road had quite recently been devastated by a surge of molten rock, blocking the way. They would have found themselves forced to try to cross over barely solidified lava, still fiercely hot to the touch. Even if they had not been seen and caught, they would have succumbed to the deadly heat. By climbing up to the Road as they did, their path was, in the end, safer. Still, they barely had the strength to make the climb until collapsing at last just below the built-up wall that supported Sauron's most important Road.
Frodo lay on his side, gasping, and Sam was no better off. He hunched down, bowed over his knees, next to his Master and tried to catch his breath. They rested, with no means to gauge the passing of time—was it just a few minutes, or did they halt for hours, slipping from a dull fog of pain into fitful sleep? Frodo didn't know, except to be jolted, startled, by a sudden shuddering of the very ground upon which he lay. He sat up in alarm and clasped Sam's arm.
Sam needed no arousal, for he had been shocked awake as well by the Mountain Itself. Orodruin rumbled and groaned, and its stones rattled and shook. A loud, low-pitched scraping sound rose from behind and below them, building to an unbearable screech. The shaking became more intense, and suddenly a spurt of thick smoke shot up from the ground, just thirty feet away.
"Run!" Frodo gasped, and the hobbits tripped to their feet and began stumbling forward and up. They clambered over the low wall and onto the Road, running headlong without heed of any danger that might lie in wait before them. Frodo looked back, and saw a huge crack open in the side of the Mountain just below where they had been climbing. The fissure opened, and like some massive grinning maw, it widened and stretched, red shimmering within its burning hot throat.
Fumes pumped into the air, building into an enormous cloud of ash and poison; their eyes stung and they could see nothing as they continued to race up the ash-and-pumice surface. Then the cloud seemed to shift, and it drifted toward the north and west. Frodo found he could open his eyes again, and he saw that their frantic sprint to escape the fumes had brought them around a great curve of the Road. He looked up, seeing the hideous Wheel of Fire, and behind it the Road climbed steeply then seemed to stop.
Sam was beside him, his eyes focused upward on their final route.
"There it is, Master…"
But the Voice was roaring in Frodo's ears now, and he could hardly hear his companion.
They lied to you, Frodo… All of those you once deemed Wise lied to you! Your so-called friend, the Fool Wizard—he lied! Have you not yet realized the truth: that if you do what you set out to do, and are somehow able to achieve My Destruction, that you will be destroyed as well? This is the path to your Death, Frodo Baggins… Why should you have to die, after everything you've done? Haven't you suffered enough? There is no need for such foolishness! You do not deserve it!
Frodo felt himself being led forward. Someone was gently but firmly holding his right arm and pressing a hand into the small of his back. His feet shuffled up the slope. A part of him—'The Fool'—knew it was Sam leading him onward, and was grateful for his presence and his determination. The greater part of him—'Frodo'—was hardly aware, so intently was he listening to the seductive words of the Voice; and that part of him moved forward of his own accord, to come even closer to the Source of those compelling, convincing words.
"Almost there, Mr. Frodo… After all this time… Almost there, I can see a sort of a Doorway off that flat area… Can hardly believe it… Do you see it, Master?"
"No… No…" Frodo whispered, and whether he spoke to Sam, or to himself, or to the Voice, he wasn't sure.
"Fifty yards, Master… That's all…"
They staggered now, side by side, Sam supporting Frodo, the silver scarf dragging in the ashes and gravel. Frodo's right hand began twitching, and Sam clutched him more firmly. Sam's eyes never left the tall dark opening that gaped in the side of a cliff-face just above now and to their right. The Road flattened out and narrowed as it approached the Door. Fleeting bursts of light came and left from the darkness beyond the opening. Huge jagged boulders lay all around like a makeshift wall. To their left the Mountain fell off steeply, tumbling down in massive fissures and blocks of black stone thrown about as if they were nothing but children's toys.
Frodo's left hand began moving upward. He was aware of it, and The Fool cried out inside him to stop; but he could not stop. The Voice was commanding him now, and he had to obey.
Take It out… Yank off that flimsy Elvish chain… How I despise that chain… Take Me out, now, Frodo… Put Me on your finger… Do it… Do it, now, Frodo Baggins, I command you!
They stood no more than ten yards from the entrance to the Sammath Naur now. Frodo stopped walking. He reached into the front of his tattered, filthy shirt and withdrew the Ring on its gold chain. Gripping it tightly, he jerked, and the chain snapped. The Ring was clamped in his fist.
Frodo turned, and Sam's face was twisted with grief—and encircled by flames.
"Sam…" he said hoarsely, his fist raised and clenched. "It's over… I know the truth now…"
"Master, no!" his friend and faithful servant whispered.
Frodo's entire thin body began twitching and shaking. He staggered forward another trembling step.
"I cannot… I cannot let go of it, Sam… It won't let me…"
Sam lunged out and grabbed his fist, grappling with his clinched fingers; but Frodo was still the stronger of the two of them, even after all that they had both endured. The Master shoved his servant away, and Sam stumbled backward.
Frodo stared at him, his teeth bared and his lips drawn back in a snarl—or a grimace of pain. He hissed at his friend.
"I am going in there now… Do not follow me… I am taking It to the Fire, and I'm not coming back…"
Sam's hand flew up to his face, and a sob tore from him. "No! Mr. Frodo, no! Not that way! Not like that, not now, after everything…"
"There is no other way," he whispered. "I can't let go of It, and I must destroy It…"
"Then I'm going with you …"
"No, Sam! No…"
"There's got to be another answer…!"
"There isn't another way… Sam, there's no more time…"
"Wait!" Sam cried. "Wait, Frodo—wait… " He rushed forward and gripped both of Frodo's hands and hung on as tightly as he could. They collapsed toward one another, their hands clasped, their heads pressed together, as their grief finally poured forth. For a moment, in the heart of the Enemy's Realm, the Ring-Bearer and his Servant simply stood, whispering, as friends who knew that their time together had come to an end.
"I'll go with you, Master… I'll follow you, wherever you go, you know I will…"
"No, Sam, that would truly break my heart… You don't have to… I'm the one who has to do this…"
"There must be another way… Mr. Gandalf wouldn't have sent us here if this was the only way…"
"He didn't know how It would take me, in the end, how I wouldn't be able to let go of It… He couldn't have known…"
A frantic minute passed as they whispered and clutched one another. Then Frodo stirred. He pushed back and away from Sam, his chest heaving.
"I must go, now…"
Sam's head jerked up, and his eyes were wide and wild. "But wait--there is another way," he whispered urgently. "Remember the old tale, Mr. Frodo? Of Beren and Luthien… Beren Erchamion, they called him… He had that priceless jewel, that Silmaril in his hand, didn't he? He never let go of it… You don't have to let go of It, either… I'll use Sting… I'll…I'll take It from you… It will hurt something terrible, but not as bad as… I'll take it and d…drop It into the Fire, or whatever I must… And you, Mr. Frodo… You won't have to… to… I'll take it to the Crack of Doom…"
Frodo stared up into Sam's face. His mouth fell open. He looked down at his hand, still clenched in a tight fist. The Ring throbbed hot against his fingers and palm, and the Voice was screaming at him from the Fiery Wheel. But he looked again into the face of his friend. Sam stood six feet away. He had unsheathed Sting; the Elvish blade shimmered with blue fire. He stood waiting, his face streaming with tears. Frodo held out his left arm, and nodded.
The muscles in Sam's face hardened as he clamped his teeth together. He stared at his Master's hand. Then suddenly his arm swung up and rushed down. Sting sliced cleanly through Frodo's left arm, just above his wrist. He gasped and crumpled backward, while his still-clenched fist rolled twice in the ash and dust and came to a bloody halt.
"Take it, now!" he wailed as he curled around his wounded arm into a ball.
Sam dropped Sting and reached down. He grabbed the bloody mass in his bare hands and ran up and to the right. Frodo watched through a blur of pain as he vanished through the fearsome doorway.
He groaned as he clutched the searing wound. He felt faint, and a wave of heat rushed over him as he fell over. Blood still pumped from the open end of his arm. Feebly, he wrapped the scarf over the stump and tried to fasten it.
A deep rumble grew from within the Mountain itself, thrumming the ground on which he lay. He raised his head and gazed toward the Sammath Naur.
"Sam! Sam!" he cried as he dragged himself to his knees. The Black Doorway loomed, empty. Sam had sped into it, but where was he now? "Sam!" Frodo screamed.
In that moment Frodo realized that the Fiery Wheel was gone from his vision.
The Ring was gone!
And then, the world was torn apart: the Black Door filled with a flash of red, then smoke blew out followed instantly by flying lumps of fire. The ground shook violently, and Frodo was thrown from his knees to his side. Then he was tumbling and screaming as the slope of the Road buckled and tilted up, tossing him downward and away from the Door.
"Sam! Sam, no! No!"
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.