The Return of the King (Page 61)

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With a cry Sam leapt across the floor, Sting in hand. The orc wheeled round, but before it could make a move Sam slashed its whip-hand from its arm. Howling with pain and fear but desperate the orc charged head-down at him. Sam’s next blow went wide, and thrown off his balance he fell backwards, clutching at the orc as it stumbled over him. Before he could scramble up he heard a cry and a thud. The orc in its wild haste had tripped on the ladder-head and fallen through the open trap-door. Sam gave no more thought to it. He ran to the figure huddled on the floor. It was Frodo.

He was naked, lying as if in a swoon on a heap of filthy rags: his arm was flung up, shielding his head, and across his side there ran an ugly whip-weal.

‘Frodo! Mr. Frodo, my dear!’ cried Sam, tears almost blinding him. ‘It’s Sam, I’ve come!’ He half lifted his master and hugged him to his breast. Frodo opened his eyes.

‘Am I still dreaming?’ he muttered. ‘But the other dreams were horrible.’

‘You’re not dreaming at all, Master,’ said Sam. ‘It’s real. It’s me. I’ve come.’

‘I can hardly believe it,’ said Frodo, clutching him. ‘There was an orc with a whip, and then it turns into Sam! Then I wasn’t dreaming after all when I heard that singing down below, and I tried to answer? Was it you?’

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‘It was indeed, Mr. Frodo. I’d given up hope, almost. I couldn’t find you.’

‘Well, you have now, Sam, dear Sam,’ said Frodo, and he lay back in Sam’s gentle arms, closing his eyes, like a child at rest when night-fears are driven away by some loved voice or hand.

Sam felt that he could sit like that in endless happiness; but it was not allowed. It was not enough for him to find his master, he had still to try and save him. He kissed Frodo’s forehead. ‘Come! Wake up, Mr. Frodo!’ he said, trying to sound as cheerful as he had when he drew back the curtains at Bag End on a summer’s morning.

Frodo sighed and sat up. ‘Where are we? How did I get here?’ he asked.

‘There’s no time for tales till we get somewhere else, Mr. Frodo,’ said Sam. ‘But you’re in the top of that tower you and me saw from away down by the tunnel before the orcs got you. How long ago that was I don’t know. More than a day, I guess.’

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‘Only that?’ said Frodo. ‘It seems weeks. You must tell me all about it, if we get a chance. Something hit me, didn’t it? And I fell into darkness and foul dreams, and woke and found that waking was worse. Orcs were all round me. I think they had just been pouring some horrible burning drink down my throat. My head grew clear, but I was aching and weary. They stripped me of everything; and then two great brutes came and questioned me, questioned me until I thought I should go mad, standing over me, gloating, fingering their knives. I’ll never forget their claws and eyes.’

‘You won’t, if you talk about them, Mr. Frodo,’ said Sam. ‘And if we don’t want to see them again, the sooner we get going the better. Can you walk?’

‘Yes, I can walk,’ said Frodo, getting up slowly. ‘I am not hurt, Sam. Only I feel very tired, and I’ve a pain here.’ He put his hand to the back of his neck above his left shoulder. He stood up, and it looked to Sam as if he was clothed in flame: his naked skin was scarlet in the light of the lamp above. Twice he paced across the floor.

‘That’s better!’ he said, his spirits rising a little. ‘I didn’t dare to move when I was left alone, or one of the guards came. Until the yelling and fighting began. The two big brutes: they quarrelled, I think. Over me and my things. I lay here terrified. And then all went deadly quiet, and that was worse.’

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‘Yes, they quarrelled, seemingly,’ said Sam. ‘There must have been a couple of hundred of the dirty creatures in this place. A bit of a tall order for Sam Gamgee, as you might say. But they’ve done all the killing of themselves. That’s lucky, but it’s too long to make a song about, till we’re out of here. Now what’s to be done? You can’t go walking in the Black Land in naught but your skin, Mr. Frodo.’

‘They’ve taken everything, Sam,’ said Frodo. ‘Everything I had. Do you understand? Everything!’ He cowered on the floor again with bowed head, as his own words brought home to him the fullness of the disaster, and despair overwhelmed him. ‘The quest has failed, Sam. Even if we get out of here, we can’t escape. Only Elves can escape. Away, away out of Middle-earth, far away over the Sea. If even that is wide enough to keep the Shadow out.’

‘No, not everything, Mr. Frodo. And it hasn’t failed, not yet. I took it, Mr. Frodo, begging your pardon. And I’ve kept it safe. It’s round my neck now, and a terrible burden it is, too.’ Sam fumbled for the Ring and its chain. ‘But I suppose you must take it back.’ Now it had come to it, Sam felt reluctant to give up the Ring and burden his master with it again.

‘You’ve got it?’ gasped Frodo. ‘You’ve got it here? Sam, you’re a marvel!’ Then quickly and strangely his tone changed. ‘Give it to me!’ he cried, standing up, holding out a trembling hand. ‘Give it me at once! You can’t have it!’

‘All right, Mr. Frodo,’ said Sam, rather startled. ‘Here it is!’ Slowly he drew the Ring out and passed the chain over his head. ‘But you’re in the land of Mordor now, sir; and when you get out, you’ll see the Fiery Mountain and all. You’ll find the Ring very dangerous now, and very hard to bear. If it’s too hard a job, I could share it with you, maybe?’

‘No, no!’ cried Frodo, snatching the Ring and chain from Sam’s hands. ‘No you won’t, you thief!’ He panted, staring at Sam with eyes wide with fear and enmity. Then suddenly, clasping the Ring in one clenched fist, he stood aghast. A mist seemed to clear from his eyes, and he passed a hand over his aching brow. The hideous vision had seemed so real to him, half bemused as he was still with wound and fear. Sam had changed before his very eyes into an orc again, leering and pawing at his treasure, a foul little creature with greedy eyes and slobbering mouth. But now the vision had passed. There was Sam kneeling before him, his face wrung with pain, as if he had been stabbed in the heart; tears welled from his eyes.

‘O Sam!’ cried Frodo. ‘What have I said? What have I done? Forgive me! After all you have done. It is the horrible power of the Ring. I wish it had never, never, been found. But don’t mind me, Sam. I must carry the burden to the end. It can’t be altered. You can’t come between me and this doom.’

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