Chapter XVII: Shelob’s Lair

Chapter XVI: Journey to the Cross-Roads

See here for the playthrough report.


Frodo sighed and turned back southward. As by magic, there came from out of the undergrowth before them Gollum.

“Have they gone at last?” said Gollum. “Nassty wicked Men! They made the nasty red tongues. Fire, fire! It’s dangerous, yes it is. It burns, it kills. It tried to catch poor Smeagol, but we wouldn’t let it. Can we go now master? Before it comes back, please nice master.”

“Yes, let us go,” said Frodo. “We have much ground to cover before nightfall.”

Hoisting their packs and taking their staves in hand, they passed on into the remnant of the woods of Ithilien. The air was still heavy with heat of the fires that had ravaged the area north of them.

Twice that day they rested and took a little of the food provided by Boromir: dried fruits and salted meat, enough for many days; and bread enough to last while it was still fresh. Gollum ate nothing. 

The sun rose and passed overhead unseen, and began to sink, and the light through the trees to the west grew golden; and always they walked in cool green shadow, and all about them was silence. The birds seemed all to have flown away or to have fallen dumb.

That day passed much as the day before had gone, except that the silence seemed deeper; the air grew heavy, and it began to be stifling under the trees. It felt as if thunder was brewing. Gollum often paused, sniffing the air, and then he would mutter to himself and urge them to greater speed.

img_1301And so they went, as fast as their weariness would allow. At Gollum’s insistence the party began travelling by night, seeking shelter and rest during the daylight hours. As they travelled, the ground began to slope upwards, east toward the mountains. They could see little, for the night was now so deep that they were hardly aware of the stems of trees before they stumbled against them. The ground became more broken and walking was more difficult, but Gollum seemed in no way troubled. He led them through thickets and wastes of brambles; sometimes round the lip of a deep cleft or dark pit, sometimes down into black bush- shrouded hollows and out again; but if ever they went a little downward, always the further slope was longer and steeper. They were climbing steadily. At their first halt they looked back, and they could dimly perceive the roofs of the forest they had left behind lying like a vast dense shadow, a darker night under the dark blank sky. There seemed to be a great blackness looming slowly out of the East, eating up the faint blurred stars. Later the sinking moon escaped from the pursuing cloud, but it was ringed all about with a sickly yellow glare. 

At last Gollum turned to the hobbits. “Day soon,” he said. “Hobbits must hurry. Not safe to stay in the open in these places. Make haste!”

He quickened his pace, and they followed him wearily and soon they began to climb up on to a great hog-back of land. But no day came, only a dead brown twilight. In the East there was a dull red glare under the lowering cloud: it was not the red of dawn.

Across the tumbled lands between, the mountains of the Ephel Dúath frowned at them, black and shapeless below where night lay thick and did not pass away, above with jagged tops and edges outlined hard and menacing against the fiery glow. Away to their right a great shoulder of the mountains stood out, dark and black amid the shadows, thrusting westward.

“Which way do we go from here?” asked Frodo. “Is that the opening of-of the Morgul Valley, away over there beyond that black mass?”

“Need we think about it yet?” said Sam, “Surely we’re not going to move any more today, if day it is.”

“It is day, I think.” Faramir looked up at the sky. “But the sun has been obscured from us by some foul machinations. But we must press on regardless. The gloom will aid us yet and conceal our passage.”

The red glare over Mordor died away. The twilight deepened as great vapours rose in the East and crawled above them. They watched as these exhalations slowly blanketed the sky above them and their gaze was drawn to the West, to the forest they have left where the sun yet shone. Even Gollum seemed to survey the woods with a hint of longing, as though the foul fog above them was oppressive to even him.

Reluctantly Frodo turned his back on the West and followed as his guide led him, out into the darkness of the East. They crept along the road towards the mountains. This road ran straight for a while, but soon it began to bend away southwards, until it came right under the great shoulder of rock that they had seen from the distance. Black and forbidding it loomed above them, darker than the dark sky behind. Crawling under its shadow the road went on, and rounding it sprang east again and began to climb steeply.

They plodded along with heavy hearts, no longer able to care greatly about their peril. Frodo’s head was bowed; his burden was dragging him down again as it had in the marshes as they approached the blasted plains of the Morannon. Now, feeling the way become steep before his feet, he looked wearily up; and then he saw it, even as Gollum had said that he would: the city of the Ringwraiths.

Turn One

img_1302A long-tilted valley, a deep gulf of shadow, ran back far into the mountains. Upon the further side, some way within the valley’s arms high on a rocky seat upon the black knees of the Ephel Dúath, stood the walls and tower of Minas Morgul. All was dark about it, earth and sky, but it was lit with light. Not the imprisoned moonlight welling through the marble walls of Minas Ithil long ago, Tower of the Moon, fair and radiant in the hollow of the hills. Paler indeed than the moon ailing in some slow eclipse was the light of it now, wavering and blowing like a noisome exhalation of decay, a corpse- light, a light that illuminated nothing. In the walls and tower windows showed, like countless black holes looking inward into emptiness; but the topmost course of the tower revolved slowly, first one way and then another, a huge ghostly head leering into the night. For a moment the three companions stood there, shrinking, staring up with unwilling eyes. Gollum was the first to recover. Again he pulled at their cloaks urgently, but he spoke no word. Almost he dragged them forward. Every step was reluctant, and time seemed to slow its pace. so that between the raising of a foot and the setting of it down minutes of loathing passed.

So they came slowly to the white bridge. Here the road, gleaming faintly, passed over the stream in the midst of the valley, and went on, winding deviously up towards the city’s gate: a black mouth opening in the outer circle of the northward walls. Wide flats lay on either bank, shadowy meads filled with pale white flowers. Luminous these were too, beautiful and yet horrible of shape, like the demented forms in an uneasy dream; and they gave forth a faint sickening charnel-smell; an odour of rottenness filled the air. From mead to mead the bridge sprang. Figures stood there at its head, carven with cunning in forms human and bestial, but all corrupt and loathsome. The water flowing beneath was silent, and it steamed, but the vapour that rose from it, curling and twisting about the bridge, was deadly cold. Frodo felt his senses reeling and his mind darkening. Then suddenly, as if some force were at work other than his own will, he began to hurry, tottering forward, his groping hands held out, his head lolling from side to side. Both Sam and Gollum ran after him but it was Faramir who caught Frodo in his arms, as he stumbled and almost fell, right on the threshold of the bridge.

“Not that way! No, not that way!” whispered Gollum, but the breath between his teeth seemed to tear the heavy stillness like a whistle, and he cowered to the ground in terror.

“Hold fast now Frodo!” muttered Faramir in Frodo’s ear. “Come back to us. Come back!”

Frodo passed his hand over his brow and wrenched his eyes away from the city on the hill. The luminous tower fascinated him, and he fought the desire that was on him to run up the gleaming road towards its gate. At last with an effort he turned back, and as he did so, he felt the Ring resisting him, dragging at the chain about his neck; and his eyes too, as he looked away, seemed for the moment to have been blinded. The darkness before him was impenetrable.

img_1304.jpgGollum, crawling on the ground like a frightened animal, was already vanishing into the gloom. Sam, supporting and guiding his stumbling master, and Faramir came last following after. Not far from the near bank of the stream there was a gap in the stone-wall beside the road. Through this they passed, and Sam saw that they were on a narrow path that gleamed faintly at first, as the main road did, until climbing above the meads of deadly flowers it faded and went dark, winding its crooked way up into the northern sides of the valley.

Along this path they trudged, side by side, unable to see Gollum in front of them, except when he turned back to beckon them on. Then his eyes shone with a green-white light, reflecting the noisome Morgul-sheen perhaps, or kindled by some answering mood within. Of that deadly gleam and of the dark eye-holes they were always conscious, ever glancing fearfully over their shoulders, and ever dragging their eyes back to find the darkening path. Slowly they laboured on. As they all rose above the stench and vapours of the poisonous stream their breath became easier and their heads clearer; but now their limbs were deadly tired, as if they had walked all night under a burden, or had been swimming long against a heavy tide of water. At last they could go no further without a halt.

Frodo stopped and sat down on a stone. They had now climbed up to the top of a great hump of bare rock. Ahead of them there was a bay in the valley-side, and round the head of this the path went no more than a wide ledge with a chasm on the right; across the sheer southward face of the mountain it crawled upwards, until it disappeared into the blackness above.

“I must rest a while, Sam,” whispered Frodo. “It’s heavy on me, Sam lad, very heavy. I wonder how far I can carry it? Anyway I must rest before we venture on to that.” He pointed to the narrow way ahead.

“Sssh! ssh!” hissed Gollum hurrying back to them. “Sssh!” His fingers were on his lips and he shook his head urgently. Tugging at Frodo’s sleeve, he pointed towards the path; but Frodo would not move.

“Not yet,” he said, “not yet.” Weariness and more than weariness oppressed him; it seemed as if a heavy spell was laid on his mind and body. “I must rest,” he muttered.

At this Gollum’s fear and agitation became so great that he spoke again, hissing behind his hand, as if to keep the sound from unseen listeners in the air. “Not here, no. Not rest here. Fools! Eyes can see us. When they come to the bridge they will see us. Come away! Climb, climb! Come!”

“Come, Mr. Frodo,” said Sam. “He’s right, again. We can’t stay here.”

“Let me carry you, if I may,” Faramir suggested. “At least for a little ways while you rest for a bit.”

“All right,” said Frodo in a remote voice, as of one speaking half asleep. “I will try.” Wearily he began to pull himself to his feet.

But it was too late. At that moment the rock quivered and trembled beneath them. The great rumbling noise, louder than ever before, rolled in the ground and echoed in the mountains. Then with searing suddenness there came a great red flash. Far beyond the eastern mountains it leapt into the sky and splashed the lowering clouds with crimson. In that valley of shadow and cold deathly light it seemed unbearably violent and fierce. Peaks of stone and ridges like notched knives sprang out in staring black against the uprushing flame in Gorgoroth. Then came a great crack of thunder.

And Minas Morgul answered. There was a flare of livid lightnings: forks of blue flame springing up from the tower and from the encircling hills into the sullen clouds. The earth groaned; and out of the city there came a cry. Mingled with harsh high voices as of birds of prey, and the shrill neighing of horses wild with rage and fear, there came a rending screech, shivering, rising swiftly to a piercing pitch beyond the range of hearing. The hobbits wheeled round towards it, and cast themselves down, holding their hands upon their ears.

The terrible cry ended, falling back through a long sickening wail to silence. Frodo raised his head and across the narrow valley, now almost on a level with his eyes, the walls of the evil city stood, and its cavernous gate, shaped like an open mouth with gleaming teeth, was gaping wide. And out of the gate an army came.

Turn Two

FFG- Morgul Host.pngAll that host was clad in sable, dark as the night. Against the wan walls and the luminous pavement of the road Frodo could see them, small black figures in rank upon rank, marching swiftly and silently, passing outwards in an endless stream. Before them went a great cavalry of horsemen moving like ordered shadows, and at their head was one greater than all the rest: a Rider, all black, save that on his hooded head he had a helm like a crown that flickered with a perilous light. Now he was drawing near the bridge below, and Frodo’s staring eyes followed him, unable to wink or to withdraw. Surely there was the Lord of the Nine Riders returned to earth to lead his ghastly host to battle? Here, yes here indeed was the haggard king whose cold hand had smitten down the Ring- bearer with his deadly knife. The old wound throbbed with pain and a great chill spread towards Frodo’s heart.

Even as these thoughts pierced him with dread and held him bound as with a spell, the Rider halted suddenly, right before the entrance of the bridge, and behind him all the host stood still. There was a pause, a dead silence. Maybe it was the Ring that called to the Wraith-lord, and for a moment he was troubled, sensing some other power within his valley. This way and that turned the dark head helmed and crowned with fear, sweeping the shadows with its unseen eyes. Frodo waited, like a bird at the approach of a snake, unable to move.

And as he waited, he felt, more urgent than ever before, the command that he should put on the Ring. But great as the pressure was, he felt no inclination now to yield to it. He knew that the Ring would only betray him, and that he had not, even if he put it on, the power to face the Morgul-king-not yet. There was no longer any answer to that command in his own will, dismayed by terror though it was, and he felt only the beating upon him of a great power from outside. It took his hand, and as Frodo watched with his mind, not willing it but in suspense (as if he looked on some old story far away), it moved the hand inch by inch towards the chain upon his neck. Then his own will was stirred; slowly it forced the hand back. and set it to find another thing, a thing lying hidden near his breast. Cold and hard it seemed as his grip closed on it: the phial of Galadriel, so long treasured, and almost forgotten till that hour. As he touched it, for a while all thought of the Ring was banished from his mind. He sighed and bent his head.

At that moment the Wraith-king turned and spurred his horse and rode across the bridge, and all his dark host followed him in deathly silence. Maybe the elven-hoods defied his unseen eyes, and the mind of his small enemy; being strengthened, had turned aside his thought. But he was in haste. Already the hour had struck, and at his great Master’s bidding he must march with war into the West.

And just as he passed under where Frodo and his companions lay hid, the stifling quiet was shattered by a horn giving forth a defiant cry, though small it seemed after the thunderings and cries of Orodruin and Minas Morgul. And still obstinate in its resistance, proud in its rebellion against the dark clamours it sounded, and following it came a shouting of many men, singing battle-hymns that had not been heard in that valley since the coming of Ar-Pharazon to demand servitude from The Dark Lord.

Frodo and Faramir both looked to see. And there, coming up the valley where they had not long crept, a wall of steel could be seen marching up the gleaming road. Here and there he caught the gleam of spears and helmets and above them rose a white banner, true white that is, which shone all the more brilliantly amid the pale sickly glow emanating from the Morgul City. Frodo’s heart stirred with hope for one wild moment, but it quickly failed as the terror radiating from the Wraith-King redoubled, as if to meet the oncoming forces. Suddenly made fully aware of the peril of their position, Frodo quickly drew his frail grey hood close upon his head, and turned to Gollum.

“Take us from here Smeagol,” he whispered to the terrified creature. “Lead us now, lest we be discovered.” Gollum did not answer, but nodded and turned. They followed him on to the climbing ledge. It was little to the liking of any of them, not even after facing so many other perils; but it did not last long.

As they went they heard the clear voice of Gondor’s Captain call out in challenge. They dared not look back, but again the scream of the Wraith-King pierced through them as they fled and soon the path reached a rounded angle where the mountain-side swelled out again, and there it suddenly entered a narrow opening in the rock. They had come to the first stair that Gollum had spoken of. The darkness was almost complete, and they could see nothing much beyond their hands’ stretch; but Gollum’s eyes shone pale, several feet above, as he turned back towards them.

“Careful!” he whispered. “Steps. Lots of steps. Must be careful!”

ffg-smeagols-stairs.jpgCare was certainly needed. Frodo and Sam at first felt easier, having now a wall on either side, but the stairway was almost as steep as a ladder, and as they climbed up and up, they became more and more aware of the long black fall behind them. And the steps were narrow, spaced unevenly, and often treacherous: they were worn and smooth at the edges, and some were broken, and some cracked as foot was set upon them. They struggled on, until at last they were clinging with desperate fingers to the steps ahead, and forcing their aching knees to bend and straighten; and ever as the stair cut its way deeper into the sheer mountain the rocky walls rose higher and higher above their heads.

Turn Three

The carrion cry ripped through the sons of Gondor, but the steel wall did not fail nor falter at its sounding. Rather their singing railed and raged and they pressed forward. From their forefront, Boromir looked to either side of him and felt pride and humility swell in him. Pride that he led these men; that behind each broad black shield emblazoned with the White Tree was a true man of Gondor; that wielding each tall spear was a heart of courage and defiance; and they were his to command. And humility that every one of these men had willingly placed their trust in him; pledged their swords to him; given their lives over to him.

Boromir saw the host clothed in night before them, and with a shout the men around him redressed their line, forming a spearhead with Boromir at the tip. Behind him was carried the white banner of Minas Tirith and on either side spears were lowered, so that their shield wall bristled as they approached their foes. Ahead the Lord of the Ringwraiths sat motionless upon his black steed, but issued another deathly cry and at that signal the black host surged forward. The men of Gondor braced themselves for the oncoming wave, leaning into their shields and planting their feet.

FFG- Wrath and Ruin.jpgJust as the Orcs reached their target, a hail of shafts fell among at them, cutting them down as they ran. The spears of the shield-wall finished off any stragglers and took two steps forward before rooting themselves again. Once more the archers behind them loosed and once again the sons of Gondor advanced. The front rank stepped over the fallen Orcs and the second also, but the third dispatched any survivors with their swords. Again the bows of Gondor sang and again the line advanced.

But the press of Orcs was too great for their arrows to thin out for long, and first one, then another, then a pair and a clutch engaged the shield-wall. Before long the entire line was pressed and the archers could not miss for the mass of targets. But still the sable host came and still the black shields held. The first rank did naught but brace their shields and hold back the tide, and the second reached over them with spears and slew all they could reach.

And still the tide came rushing in, until the press was so great the slain Orcs did not fall, but were held up but the crush of those behind pushing into the black shields. Then below Boromir’s feet he felt the ground begin to slip, and on the line to his right a man slipped and was cast down. Leaving only defiant cries behind, he was dragged into the crush of Orcs and never seen again. The shield wall reformed, a man from the second row stepping forward without hesitation and joined his shield with those to his either side. But then another man went down on Boromir’s left, and a third even further down the line. The soldier standing on Boromir’s right slipped and would have differed the same fate, but seeing this the Captain of the White Tower pushed forward and the fallen man was pulled back to his feet by those behind and sent to the back of the column to recover. And ever more the minions of the Morgul King came crashing on.

Then with no warning the tide abated, and the black shields surged forward, catching many and more in their momentum. And they gained four, five, six paces and passed over the fallen bodies of their foes. Looking at the corses of those they overtook, the men of Gondor could see protruding from them shafts feathered with dark green fletches, and Boromir knew that his trap had been sprung. For in the shade of the vale sides, having set aside their brown and green garbs for those of grey and black, had placed themselves unawares the Rangers of Ithilien, using the clamour and clash of forces to Secret themselves along the flanks of the forces of Morgul and let fly at the moment of their choosing. And the shafts of the rangers cut into the flanks of the Orcs, cutting them down as a sickle at harvest and leaving the path of the black shields once again clear.

So Boromir lifted aloft his sword and cried aloud, and the men of Gondor cheered in answer, and breaking their ranks they fell upon their enemies with fury and abandon as a storm off the sea commanded by Ossë himself. And the waves of that storm buffeted and battered the forces of the Morgul King, whose forward ranks quailed and fled before the tide.

FFG- Morgul ArmyBut the Orcs held in fear nothing greater than their dread King, save the Dark Lord himself, and the terror of him stayed the flight of those in the front and urged forward the next ranks into the fray. And the tide of black shields reached its zenith and could not prevail against the cold, hard horror that radiated from the Witch-King atop his dark steed. For the wraith merely lighted his dread gauntlet and pointed forward, and all his servants hurried to obey, and the tide was turned.

Into the broken ranks of Gondor poured the sable host: Orcs and Wargs setting upon them with equal ferocity, driven to frenzy by the closeness of the Wraith Lord’s radiating terror. Looking on this, Boromir saw that the day had been lost, as would always have been the case for he had never hoped to prevail.

And as he beheld the might of the enemy, he saw climbing a rise to his left several figures, hooded and cloaked. A stray gust tugged at the hood of the foremost of them and the Captain of the White Tower recognised Mablung. Even as he watched, they slipped behind a rocky outcrop and it was as though the mountainside had swallowed them whole. Boromir looked up from where he had seen Mablung, following the line of the mountain’s side, and the ranger’s purpose soon became apparent. For above them Boromir saw a handful of dim forms clinging to the sheer rock face, slowly climbing where they should not be able to, and he knew that it was Frodo and with a sinking heart he knew what would need to be done.

Boromir turned to the man behind him and clasped his arm. “Belagon, faithful friend, you must sound the retreat. Lead our men away from this accursed place. There is no purpose to be found in all our deaths, we have taught them that even their own roads are not yet safe. Now go, I will hear no dispute. Take all you can back to the White City, she will need every bow and spear before the end.” And before Belagon could protest or refuse, Boromir turned and was gone.

Turn Four

At length, just as they felt that they could endure no more, they saw Gollum’s eyes peering down at them again. “We’re up,” he whispered. “First stair’s past. Clever hobbits to climb so high, very clever hobbits.” Gollum caught Faramir’s eye. “And clever man too, yes, yes. Just a few more little steps and that’s all, yes.”

Dizzy and very tired Sam, and Frodo following with Faramir last of all, crawled up the last step, and sat down rubbing their legs and knees. They were in a deep dark passage that seemed still to go up before them, though at a gentler slope and without steps. Gollum did not let them rest long.

“There’s another stair still,” he said. “Much longer stair. Rest when we get to the top of next stair. Not yet.”

Sam groaned. “Longer, did you say?” he asked.
“Yes, yess, longer,” said Gollum. “But not so difficult. We have climbed the Straight Stair. Next comes the Winding Stair.”

“And what after that?” said Sam.

“We shall see,” said Gollum softly. “O yes, we shall see!”

“Did you not say there was a tunnel,” said Faramir.

“O yes, there’s a tunnel,” said Gollum. `But they can rest before they try that. If they get through that, they’ll be nearly at the top. Very nearly, if they get through. O yes!”

Frodo shivered. The climb had made him sweat, but now he felt cold and clammy, and there was a chill draught in the dark passage, blowing down from the invisible heights above. The hobbit looked over the edge of the ledge and saw the torches of the Morgul host on the move again. ‘The storm has burst at last,’ he thought to himself. ‘I wonder if Boromir will get to Osgiliath in time.’ Then Frodo got up and shook himself. “Well, let’s go on!” he said. “This is no place to sit in.”

ffg-stairs-of-cirith-ungol.jpgThe passage seemed to go on for miles, and always the chill air flowed over them, rising as they went on to a bitter wind. The mountains seemed to be trying with their deadly breath to daunt them, to turn them back from the secrets of the high places, or to blow them away into the darkness behind. They only knew that they had come to the end, when suddenly they felt no wall at their right hand. They could see very little. Great black shapeless masses and deep grey shadows loomed above them and about them, but now and again a dull red light flickered up under the lowering clouds, and for a moment they were aware of tall peaks, in front and on either side, like pillars holding up a vast sagging roof. They seemed to have climbed up many hundreds of feet, on to a wide shelf. A cliff was on their left and a chasm on their right.

Gollum led the way close under the cliff. For the present they were no longer climbing, but the ground was now more broken and dangerous in the dark, and there were blocks and lumps of fallen stone in the way. Their going was slow and cautious. How many hours had passed since they had entered the Morgul Vale they could any longer guess. The night seemed endless.

At length they were once more aware of a wall looming up, and once more a stairway opened before them. Again they halted, and again they began to climb. It was a long and weary ascent; but this stairway did not delve into the mountain-side. Here the huge cliff face sloped backwards, and the path like a snake wound to and fro across it. At one point it crawled sideways right to the edge of the dark chasm, and Frodo glancing down saw below him as a vast deep pit the great ravine at the head of the Morgul Valley. Down in its depths glimmered like a glow-worm thread the wraith-road from the dead city to the Nameless Pass. He turned hastily away, his stomach churning within him. Looking now the other way, Frodo could see much of the path they had come, and what he saw sent daggers of fear into him. “Sam! Faramir, look there!” Frodo’s voice could barely be heard for he did not raise it much above a whisper.

His two companions turned and looked and saw that coming up the stairs behind them were a handful of figures, far below and distant but rapidly making up the gap between them.

“Come on!” Gollum hissed. “They won’t finds us in the tunnel, no they won’t. But we needs to go now precious, yes!”

With trembling limbs they climbed, driven by fear and desperation, for while they knew not who followed them, all they knew it would be ill if their pursuers caught them. And still on and up the stairway bent and crawled, until at last with a final flight, short and straight, it climbed out again on to another level. The path had veered away from the main pass in the great ravine, and it now followed its own perilous course at the bottom of a lesser cleft among the higher regions of the Ephel Dúath. Dimly the hobbits could discern tall piers and jagged pinnacles of stone on either side, between which were great crevices and fissures blacker than the night, where forgotten winters had gnawed and carved the sunless stone. And now the red light in the sky seemed stronger; though they could not tell whether a dreadful morning were indeed coming to this place of shadow, or whether they saw only the flame of some great violence of Sauron in the torment of Gorgoroth beyond. Still far ahead, and still high above, Frodo, looking up, saw, as he guessed, the very crown of that bitter road.

Against the sullen redness of the eastern sky a cleft was outlined in the topmost ridge, narrow, deep-cloven between two black shoulders; and on either shoulder was a horn of stone.

He paused and looked more attentively despite the urgency of their errand. The horn upon the left was tall and slender; and in it burned a red light, or else the red light in the land beyond was shining through a hole. He saw now: it was a black tower poised above the outer pass. He touched Sam’s arm and pointed.

“I don’t like the look of that!” said Sam. “So this secret way of yours is guarded after all,” he growled, turning to Gollum. “As you knew all along, I suppose?”

“All ways are watched, yes,” said Gollum. “Of course they are. But hobbits must try some way. This may be least watched. Perhaps they’ve all gone away to big battle, perhaps!”

ffg-tower-of-cirith-ungol.jpg“Perhaps,” grunted Sam. “Well, it still seems a long way off, and a long way up before we get there. And there’s still the tunnel. I think you ought to rest now, Mr. Frodo. I don’t know what time of day or night it is, or even how far behind whoever’s coming after is, but we’ve kept going for hours and hours.”

“Yes, we must rest,” said Faramir. “And if they be mortal then our pursuers will need their rest also. If not, then we cannot outrun them and we shall need all our strength if we are to face them.”

Frodo nodded. “Let us find some corner out of the wind, and gather ourselves for the last lap.” For so he felt it to be. The terrors of the land beyond, and the deed to be done there, seemed remote, too far off yet to trouble him. All his mind was bent on getting through or over this impenetrable wall and guard. If once he could do that impossible thing, then somehow the errand would be accomplished, or so it seemed to him in that dark hour of weariness, still labouring in the stony shadows under Cirith Ungol.

In a dark crevice between two great piers of rock they sat down: Frodo and Sam a little way within. with Faramir laying himself down near the opening and Gollum crouched upon the ground in the opening itself. There they took what they expected would be their last meal before they went down into the Nameless Land, maybe the last meal they would ever eat together. Some of the food of Gondor they ate, and wafers of the waybread of the Elves. and they drank a little. But of their water they were sparing and took only enough to moisten their dry mouths. Gollum had refused their food, though he had, as usual, accepted a mouthful of water; and then he had seemed to curl up for a sleep.

Weary and aching from their climb, it did not take long before each of them slipped into a deep and dreamless sleep, even Faramir, who had promised to take the first watch, found himself unable to keep himself from drifting, and not even the threat of those that followed could keep them from sleep.

Turn Five

Sam awoke with a start, pulled suddenly from his slumber and at once he was wide awake. He thought he had heard his master cried out, and as he awoke he saw Gollum first of all, with his hand on Frodo’s shoulder.

“Hey you!” Sam said roughly. “What are you up to?”

“Nothing, nothing,” said Gollum softly. “Nice Master!”

“I daresay,” said Sam. “But what have you been doing – sneaking off and sneaking back I daresay, you old villain?”

Gollum withdrew himself, and a green glint flickered under his heavy lids. Almost spider-like he looked now, crouched back on his bent limbs, with his protruding eyes. “Sneaking, sneaking!” he hissed. “Hobbits always so polite, yes. O nice hobbits! Sméagol brings them up secret ways that nobody else could find. Tired he is, thirsty he is, yes thirsty; and he guides them and he searches for paths, and they say sneak, sneak. Very nice friends, O yes my precious, very nice.”

Sam felt a bit remorseful, though not more trustful. “Sorry.” he said. “I’m sorry, but you startled me out of my sleep. And I shouldn’t have been sleeping, and that made me a bit sharp. But Mr. Frodo. he’s that tired, I asked him to have a wink; and well, that’s how it is. Sorry. But what were you doing?”

“Sneaking,” said Gollum, and the green glint did not leave his eyes.

“O very well,” said Sam, “have it your own way! I don’t suppose it’s so far from the truth. And now we’d better all be sneaking along together. What’s the time? Is it today or tomorrow?”

“It’s tomorrow,” said Gollum, “or this was tomorrow when they all went to sleep. Very foolish, very dangerous-if poor Smeagol wasn’t sneaking about to watch. Mustn’t worry though, nasty folkses still aways behind, Smeagol saw with his sneaking.”

“I think we shall get tired of that word soon”’ said Sam. “But never mind. I’ll wake the others up.” Sam went over to Faramir and roused him, quietly reassuring him that they had not been discovered, but that was time to move on. Then he went over to his master and knelt next to him. Gently he smoothed the hair back from Frodo’s brow, and bending down spoke softly to him. “Wake up, Mr. Frodo! Wake up!”

Frodo stirred and opened his eyes, and smiled, seeing Sam’s face bending over him. “Calling me early aren’t you, Sam?” he said. “It’s dark still!”

“Yes it’s always dark here,” said Sam. “But Gollum says it’s tomorrow. So we must be walking on. The last lap.”

Frodo drew a deep breath and sat up. “The last lap!” he said. “Hullo, Smeagol! Did you get any food? Have you had any rest?”

“No food, no rest, nothing for Smeagol,” said Gollum. “He’s a sneak.”

Sam clicked his tongue, but restrained himself.

“Don’t take names to yourself, Smeagol,” said Frodo. “It’s unwise whether they are true or false. But now we seem to have come to the point, you and I, Smeagol. Tell me. Can we find the rest of the way by ourselves? We’re in sight of the pass, of a way in, and if we can find it now, then I suppose our agreement can be said to be over. You have done what you promised, and you’re free: free to go back to food and rest, wherever you wish to go, except to servants of the Enemy. And one day I may reward you, I or those that remember me.”

“No, no, not yet,” Gollum whined. “O no! They can’t find the way themselves, can they? O no indeed. There’s the tunnel coming. Smeagol must go on. No rest. No food. Not yet.”

It may indeed have been daytime now, as Gollum said, but none of them could see little difference, unless, perhaps, the heavy sky above was less utterly black, more like a great roof of smoke; while instead of the darkness of deep night, which lingered still in cracks and holes, a grey blurring shadow shrouded the stony world about them. They passed on, Gollum in front and the hobbits now side by side, up the long ravine between the piers and columns of torn and weathered rock, standing like huge unshapen statues on either hand. There was no sound. Some way ahead, a mile or so, perhaps, was a great grey wall, a last huge upthrusting mass of mountain-stone. Darker it loomed, and steadily it rose as they approached, until it towered up high above them, shutting out the view of all that lay beyond. Deep shadow lay before its feet. Sam sniffed the air.

“Ugh! That smell!” he said. “It’s getting stronger and stronger.”

Faramir nodded. “It is less the smell of blood and death, as you would find on the field after a great battle, but closer to the odour of filth and waste I think.”

FFG- Toroch UngolPresently they were under the shadow, and there in the midst of it they saw the opening of a cave. “This is the way in,” said Gollum softly. “This is the entrance to the tunnel.” He did not speak its name: Torech Ungol, Shelob’s Lair.

And out of it indeed came a stench, not the sickly odour of decay in the meads of Morgul, but a foul reek, as if filth unnameable were piled and hoarded in the dark within.

“Is this the only way, Smeagol?” said Frodo.

“Yes, yes,” he answered. “Yes, we must go this way now. There isn’t any ways-“

Gollum bit off his words, raising his head and tilting it slightly, as a hound that has caught a scent half-remembered. His eyes widened and he flung himself to the ground. At the same moment, Frodo felt cold tendrils creep round his heart as he heard the falling of heavy boots behind him. He turned as Faramir’s sword left its scabbard and several dark hooded figures emerged on the path they had just travelled, and seemingly surrounding them all at once Frodo heard that fell scream that had haunted him since Bag End.

“Lead them on Gollum,” Faramir whispered. “But know that now a doom lies upon you. And that doom will surely fall if any man of Gondor finds you without the guardianship of Frodo. And may death find you swiftly, within Gondor or without, if you do not well serve him. Frodo, all hope lies now with you. Go, be gone from this place.”

As one the hobbits turned and ran, following Gollum into the tunnel and so they passed inside. In a few steps they were in utter and impenetrable dark.

Turn Six

Not since the lightless passages of Moria had Frodo or Sam known such darkness, and if possible here it was deeper and denser. There, there were airs moving, and echoes, and a sense of space. Here the air was still, stagnant, heavy, and sound fell dead. They slowed their pace to a walk, for it was too dangerous to maintain their faster pace, and as the hobbits went it was as it were in a black vapour wrought of veritable darkness itself that, as it was breathed, brought blindness not only to the eyes but to the mind, so that even the memory of colours and of forms and of any light faded out of thought. Even memory of Faramir behind them, and the Nazgul he fought faded from their minds, such was the spell wrought on them. Night always had been, and always would be, and night was all.

But for a while they could still feel, and indeed the senses of their feet and fingers at first seemed sharpened almost painfully. The walls felt, to their surprise, smooth, and the floor, save for a step now and again, was straight and even, going ever up at the same stiff slope. The tunnel was high and wide, so wide that, though the hobbits walked abreast, only touching the side-walls with their outstretched hands, they were separated, cut off alone in the darkness.

Gollum had gone in first and seemed to be only a few steps ahead. While they were still able to give heed to such things, they could hear his breath hissing and gasping just in front of them. But after a time their senses became duller, both touch and hearing seemed to grow numb, and they kept on, groping, walking, on and on, mainly by the force of the will with which they had entered, will to go through and desire to come at last to the high gate beyond.

Before they had gone very far, perhaps, but time and distance soon passed out of his reckoning, Sam on the right, feeling the wall, was aware that there was an opening at the side: for a moment he caught a faint breath of some air less heavy, and then they passed it by.

“There’s more than one passage here,” he whispered with an effort: it seemed hard to make his breath give any sound. “It’s as orc-like a place as ever there could be!”

FFG- Exhalation of Decay.jpgAfter that, first he on the right, and then Frodo on the left, passed three or four such openings, some wider, some smaller; but there was as yet no doubt of the main way, for it was straight, and did not turn, and still went steadily up. But how long was it, how much more of this would they have to endure, or could they endure? The breathlessness of the air was growing as they climbed; and now they seemed often in the blind dark to sense some resistance thicker than the foul air. As they thrust forward they felt things brush against their heads, or against their hands, long tentacles, or hanging growths perhaps: they could not tell what they were. And still the stench grew. It grew, until almost it seemed to them that smell was the only clear sense left to them. and that was for their torment. One hour, two hours, three hours: how many had they passed in this lightless hole? Hours, days, weeks rather. Sam left the tunnel-side and shrank towards Frodo, and their hands met and clasped. and so together they still went on.

At length Frodo, groping along the left-hand wall, came suddenly to a void. Almost he fell sideways into the emptiness. Here was some opening in the rock far wider than any they had yet passed; and out of it came a reek so foul, and a sense of lurking malice so intense, that Frodo reeled. And at that moment Sam too lurched and fell forwards.

Fighting off both the sickness and the fear, Frodo gripped Sam’s hand. “Up!” he said in a hoarse breath without voice. “It all comes from here, the stench and the peril. Now for it! Quick!”

Calling up his remaining strength and resolution, he dragged Sam to his feet, and forced his own limbs to move. Sam stumbled beside him. One step, two steps, three steps-at last six steps. Maybe they had passed the dreadful unseen opening, but whether that was so or not, suddenly it was easier to move, as if some hostile will for the moment had released them. They struggled on, still hand in hand.

But almost at once they came to a new difficulty. The tunnel forked, or so it seemed, and in the dark they could not tell which was the wider way, or which kept nearer to the straight. Which should they take, the left, or the right? They knew of nothing to guide them, yet a false choice would almost certainly be fatal.

“Which way has Gollum gone?” panted Sam. “And why didn’t he wait?”

“Smeagol!” said Frodo, trying to call. “Smeagol!” But his voice croaked, and the name fell dead almost as it left his lips. There was no answer, not an echo, not even a tremor of the air.

“He’s really gone this time, I fancy,” muttered Sam. “I guess this is just exactly where he meant to bring us. Gollum! If ever I lay hands on you again, you’ll be sorry for it.”

Presently, groping and fumbling in the dark, they found that the opening on the left was blocked: either it was a blind, or else some great stone had fallen in the passage. “This can’t be the way,” Frodo whispered. “Right or wrong, we must take the other.”

“And quick!” Sam panted. “There’s something worse than Gollum about. I can feel something looking at us.”

They had not gone more than a few yards when from behind them came a sound, startling and horrible in the heavy padded silence: a gurgling, bubbling noise, and a long venomous hiss. They wheeled round, but nothing could be seen. Still as stones they stood, staring, waiting for they did not know what.

Turn Seven

FFG- Winding Stair BoromirWith one last effort Boromir was up. As far as he could tell, he had been neither noticed nor followed by any of the Morgul Host. As for his quarry, three Rangers and one Guard of the Citadel, he was gaining on them, albeit slowly. By no measurement was he as good a tracker as Faramir, not even half as much the elder brother reckoned, but to say he was without skill would be a disservice. He was but half an hour’s march behind Mablung and the others of his city, and had he not overslept on a ledge just beyond the Steep Stair, Boromir would already have met with them.

But as it was, he just had made it onto a level section of the path, one that departed from the main thrust of the Morgul Vale and up one of the many lesser rifts in the mountain that lead into the greater. As he went, it seemed to Boromir as the jagged stone reaching into the red sky were as teeth gnashing and gnawing at their fate, as though the very rocks themselves were crying out at the corruption that had been visited upon their land.

Through a great fissure in the ridge ahead, Boromir saw the red sky shining malevolently through, and on either side of that gap he saw the same horns that the hobbits had seen. He knew one was a tower, having studied the maps and atlases kept in the Citadel that detailed the land of Mordor he knew its name and shuddered at its sight. Few tales or reports were there of Cirith Ungol, and every at telling of them the voices of his tutors were filled with dread and despair.

And so he went on in the silence of that place, resolutely placing on foot in front of the next, ignoring the advice of his heart to turn back at each instant. The tortured mountains rose up on either side of him until before him he saw as it were a great wall of stone rising up into the sky across his path. He could see no way forward, yet Boromir knew this was the way the halflings and his brother must have come, for there had been no other path that might have led them to another place.

From high above came the deathly scream of his nightmares, one heard at Osgiliath when it almost fell, and again on the Morgul Road. Another may have quailed at the sound, but Boromir was of the line of Mardil and the blood of Numenor ran yet in him, and so he pressed forward. When the cry became corporeal, then he would pause but that time had not yet come. And besides this, it seemed to him it came not from one hunting quarry, but a cry of greeting from one ally to another. Indeed from behind him came a second cry, and a shadow passed over the heart of Boromir as he thought on Belagon, and how the men he had led down the Morgul Vale yet fared. Did any live, or had he thrown away the lives of his men for no discernible purpose?

Hastening on, Boromir’s sight gradually adjusted to the gloom he was drawing near to, And against the Great Wall before him he saw several shadowy figures, four stood before one whose back was to a small opening in the rock, one no higher than a man’s height. The four were advancing on the one, and in their hands glinted cold bright steel.

The son of Gondor set his jaw and took his great shield from his back. Approaching the figures, Boromir levelled his spear toward them when the two rearmost turned to him. Though unsurprised, he was still dismayed to see before him Anborn and Mablung, still bent on their mission to recover Isildur’s Bane for his father. That surely meant the other two must be Damrod and Beregond, he saw the latter’s plate armour was barely showing forth from under a heavy cloak.

“You should not have come,” Mablung opened while Boromir was still several paces away.

“That I know for a certainty.” agreed Boromir. “Through my actions many noble women of Gondor will not see their husbands or sons return to them; many maids shall cry for their sweethearts and mourn; and their children shall yearn for the embrace of their fathers and go wanting.”

“And how many more voices wailing will there be if Gondor cannot defend herself?” Mablung came back at him. “If the White City falters, how will the West stand?”

FFG- Rivendell Seige“Many and more, it is true, a great many voices,” nodded Boromir. “But know this, if Isildur’s Bane is taken to Minas Tirith there shall be no-one left to mourn. No wives left to long for their husbands, no children to honour their fathers’ memories. No one left to sing the songs of the fallen in Merethond, or hold vigil in the Court of the Fountain. For we cannot wield the Ruling Ring, not as its Master can, and there will come a day when he himself shall come forth to claim it, though we hold strong where all else have fallen. And who then could stand before him? No, even were we stand to stand after Dunharrow fell, and the Golden Wood burned, even after Imladris was overthrown and the great fastness of Erebor was breeched, the end too would come for us. And would the Dark Lord not visit his particular wrath upon those who sought to use that which was his against him? You ask if I stand against you with the thoughts of our people in mind? I say to you that it is with those thoughts that I stand against you, and your mission. Turn aside my brothers, for Gondor’s sake, if not my own.”

Silence followed the words of Boromir, heir to the line of Mardil, and the quiet of it filled the vale.

And as Faramir held the gaze of those before him, Anborn bowed his head, lowered his blade and stepped to the side. “For you, not for Gondor, for your sake shall I heed your words.” The ranger then went and stood by Boromir’s side and extended his open hand to Mablung. “Come, our mission is at an end. The halflings have escaped our reach, we can do no more than what we have.”

The sons of Denethor watched as one by one each of the men of Gondor lowered first their eyes and then their blades, before stepping back to join Anborn by Boromir’s side.

Before any could utter a word however, up from the tunnel behind Faramir came a cry, a word shouted in desperation and panic whose meaning had been lost, but whose urgency remained undimmed. Faramir’s eyes locked with those of his brother. “The halflings.”

Together they both plunged into that darkness, those sons of Denethor, they in whom the blood of Numenor still yet ran. And after them came the men of Gondor who followed now not out of duty, but of love for their captains that if their end should be in such a dark and forsaken place, it should not be alone and friendless.

Turn Eight

The hobbits peered into the darkness before them. “It’s a trap!” said Sam, and he laid his hand upon the hilt of his sword; and as he did so, he thought of the darkness of the barrow whence it came. Then as he stood, darkness drew close about him and a blackness of despair and anger in his heart. But then it seemed to him that he saw a light: a light in his mind, almost unbearably bright at first, as a sun-ray to the eyes of one long hidden in a windowless pit. Then the light became colour: green, blue, silver, white. Far off he saw the Lord Celeborn standing on the grass in Rohan that night so long ago, and in his hands was his gift. “And you, Ring-bearer,” he heard the elf-lord say, remote but clear, “to you, I have been charged to give this by the Lady of the Wood.”

ffg-phial-of-galadriel.jpgThe bubbling hiss drew nearer, and there was a creaking as of some great jointed thing that moved with slow purpose in the dark. A reek came on before it. “Master, master!” cried Sam, and the life and urgency came back into his voice. “Celeborn’s gift! The star-glass! A light to you in dark places, he said it was to be. The star-glass!”

“The star-glass?” muttered Frodo, as one answering out of sleep, hardly comprehending. “Why yes! Why had I forgotten it? A light when all other lights go out! And now indeed light alone can help us.”

Slowly his hand went to his bosom, and slowly he held aloft the Phial of Galadriel. For a moment it glimmered, faint as a rising star struggling in heavy earthward mists, and then as its power waxed, and hope grew in Frodo’s mind, it began to burn, and kindled to a silver flame, a minute heart of dazzling light, as though Eärendil had himself come down from the high sunset paths with the last Silmaril upon his brow. The darkness receded from it until it seemed to shine in the centre of a globe of airy crystal, and the hand that held it sparkled with white fire.

Frodo gazed in wonder at this marvellous gift that he had so long carried, not guessing its full worth and potency. Seldom had he remembered it on the road, until they came to Morgul Vale, and never had he used it for fear of its revealing light. “Aiya Earendil Elenion Ancalima!” he cried, and knew not what he had spoken; for it seemed that another voice spoke through his, clear, untroubled by the foul air of the pit.

But other potencies there are in Middle-earth, powers of night, and they are old and strong. And She that walked in the darkness had heard the Elves cry that cry far back in the deeps of time, and she had not heeded it, and it did not daunt her now. Even as Frodo spoke he felt a great malice bent upon him, and a deadly regard considering him. Not far down the tunnel, between them and the opening where they had reeled and stumbled, he was aware of eyes growing visible, two great clusters of many-windowed eyes – the coming menace was unmasked at last. The radiance of the star-glass was broken and thrown back from their thousand facets, but behind the glitter a pale deadly fire began steadily to glow within, a flame kindled in some deep pit of evil thought. Monstrous and abominable eyes they were, bestial and yet filled with purpose and with hideous delight, gloating over their prey trapped beyond all hope of escape.

Frodo and Sam, horror-stricken, began slowly to back away, their own gaze held by the dreadful stare of those baleful eyes; but as they backed so the eyes advanced. Frodo’s hand wavered, and slowly the Phial drooped. Then suddenly, released from the holding spell to run a little while in vain panic for the amusement of the eyes, they both turned and fled together; but even as they ran Frodo looked back and saw with terror that at once the eyes came leaping up behind. The stench of death was like a cloud about him.

“Stand! stand!” he cried desperately. “Running is no use.” Slowly the eyes crept nearer.

“Earendil” he called, and gathering his courage he lifted up the Phial once more. The eyes halted. For a moment their regard relaxed, as if some hint of doubt troubled them. Then Frodo’s heart flamed within him, and without thinking what he did, whether it was folly or despair or courage, he took the Phial in his left hand, and with his right hand drew his sword. Sting flashed out, and the sharp elven-blade sparkled in the silver light, but at its edges a blue fire flicked. Then holding the star aloft and the bright sword advanced, Frodo, hobbit of the Shire, walked steadily down to meet the eyes.

FFG- Shelob Held BackThey wavered. Doubt came into them as the light approached. One by one they dimmed, and slowly they drew back. No brightness so deadly had ever afflicted them before. From sun and moon and star they had been safe underground, but now a star had descended into the very earth. Still it approached, and the eyes began to quail. One by one they all went dark; they turned away, and a great bulk, beyond the light’s reach, heaved its huge shadow in between. They were gone.

“Master, master!” cried Sam. He was close behind, his own sword drawn and ready. “Stars and glory! But the Elves would make a song of that, if ever they heard of it! And may I live to tell them and hear them sing. But don’t go on, master. Don’t go down to that den! Now’s our only chance. Now let’s get out of this foul hole!”
And so back they turned once more, first walking and then running; for as they went the floor of the tunnel rose steeply, and with every stride they climbed higher above the stenches of the unseen lair, and strength returned to limb and heart. But still the hatred of the Watcher lurked behind them, blind for a while, perhaps, but undefeated, still bent on death. And now there came a flow of air to meet them, cold and thin. The opening, the tunnel’s end, at last it was before them. Panting, yearning for a roofless place, they flung themselves forward, and then in amazement they staggered, tumbling back. The outlet was blocked with some barrier, but not of stone: soft and a little yielding it seemed, and yet strong and impervious; air filtered through, hut not a glimmer of any light. Once more they charged and were hurled back.

Holding aloft the Phial Frodo looked and before him he saw a greyness which the radiance of the star-glass did not pierce and did not illuminate, as if it were a shadow that being cast by no light, no light could dissipate. Across the width and height of the tunnel a vast web was spun, orderly as the web of some huge spider, but denser-woven and far greater, and each thread was as thick as rope. 

Sam laughed grimly. “Cobwebs!” he said. “Is that all? Cobwebs! But what a spider! Have at ’em, down with ’em!”

In a fury he hewed at them with his sword, but the thread that he struck did not break. It gave a little and then sprang back like a plucked bowstring, turning the blade and tossing up both sword and arm. Three times Sam struck with all his force, and at last one single cord of all the countless cords snapped and twisted, curling and whipping through the air. One end of it lashed Sam’s hand, and he cried out in pain, starting back and drawing his hand across his mouth.
“It will take days to clear the road like this,” he said. “What’s to be done? Have those eyes come back?”

“No, not to be seen,” said Frodo. “But I still feel that they are looking at me, or thinking about me: making some other plan, perhaps. If this light were lowered, or if it failed, they would quickly come again.”

“Trapped in the end!” said Sam bitterly, his anger rising again above weariness and despair. “Gnats in a net. May Faramir find Gollum and teach him a sore lesson!”

“That would not help us now,” said Frodo. “Come! Let us see what Sting can do. It is an elven- blade. There were webs of horror in the dark ravines of Beleriand where it was forged. But you must be the guard and hold back the eyes. Here, take the star-glass. Do not be afraid. Hold it up and watch!”

Then Frodo stepped up to the great grey net, and hewed it with a wide sweeping stroke, drawing the bitter edge swiftly across a ladder of close-strung cords, and at once springing away. The blue-gleaming blade shore through them like a scythe through grass, and they leaped and writhed and then hung loose. A great rent was made.

FFG- Shelob's TrapStroke after stroke he dealt, until at last all the web within his reach was shattered, and the upper portion blew and swayed like a loose veil in the incoming wind. The trap was broken.

“Come!” cried Frodo. “On! On!” Wild joy at their escape from the very mouth of despair suddenly filled all his mind. His head whirled as with a draught of potent wine. He sprang out, shouting as he came.

It seemed light in that dark land to his eyes that had passed through the den of night. The great smokes had risen and grown thinner, and the last hours of a sombre day were passing; the red glare of Mordor had died away in sullen gloom. Yet it seemed to Frodo that he looked upon a morning of sudden hope. Almost he had reached the summit of the wall. Only a little higher now. The Cleft, Cirith Ungol, was before him, a dim notch in the black ridge, and the horns of rock darkling in the sky on either side. A short race, a sprinter’s course and he would be through!

“The pass, Sam!” he cried, not heeding the shrillness of his voice, that released from the choking airs of the tunnel rang out now high and wild. “The pass! Run, run, and we’ll be through-through before any one can stop us!”

Sam came up behind as fast as he could urge his legs; but glad as he was to be free, he was uneasy, and as he ran, he kept on glancing back at the dark arch of the tunnel, fearing to see eyes, or some shape beyond his imagining, spring out in pursuit. Too little did he or his master know of the craft of Shelob. She had many exits from her lair.

Turn Nine

There agelong she had dwelt, an evil thing in spider-form, even such as once of old had lived in the Land of the Elves in the West that is now under the Sea, such as Beren fought in the Mountains of Terror in Doriath, and so came to Lúthien upon the green sward amid the hemlocks in the moonlight long ago. How Shelob came there, flying from ruin, no tale tells, for out of the Dark Years few tales have come. But still she was there, who was there before Sauron, and before the first stone of Barad- dûr; and she served none but herself, drinking the blood of Elves and Men, bloated and grown fat with endless brooding on her feasts, weaving webs of shadow; for all living things were her food, and her vomit darkness. Far and wide her lesser broods, bastards of the miserable mates, her own offspring, that she slew, spread from glen to glen, from the Ephel Dúath to the eastern hills, to Dol Guldur and the fastnesses of Mirkwood. But none could rival her, Shelob the Great, last child of Ungoliant to trouble the unhappy world.

Already, years before, Gollum had beheld her, Sméagol who pried into all dark holes, and in past days he had bowed and worshipped her, and the darkness of her evil will walked through all the ways of his weariness beside him, cutting him off from light and from regret. And he had promised to bring her food. But her lust was not his lust. Little she knew of or cared for towers, or rings, or anything devised by mind or hand, who only desired death for all others, mind and body, and for herself a glut of life. alone, swollen till the mountains could no longer hold her up and the darkness could not contain her.

But that desire was yet far away, and long now had she been hungry, lurking in her den, while the power of Sauron grew, and light and living things forsook his borders; and the city in the valley was dead, and no Elf or Man came near, only the unhappy Orcs. Poor food and wary. But she must eat, and however busily they delved new winding passages from the pass and from their tower, ever she found some way to snare them. But she lusted for sweeter meat. And Gollum had brought it to her.

ffg-shelob-and-gollum.jpg“We’ll see, we’ll see,” he said often to himself, when the evil mood was on him, as he walked the dangerous road from Emyn Muil to Morgul Vale, “we’ll see. It may well be, O yes, it may well be that when She throws away the bones and the empty garments, we shall find it, we shall get it, the Precious, a reward for poor Sméagol who brings nice food. And we’ll save the Precious, as we promised. O yes. And when we’ve got it safe, then She’ll know it, O yes, then we’ll pay Her back, my precious. Then we’ll pay everyone back.”

So he thought in an inner chamber of his cunning, which he still hoped to hide from her, even when he had come to her again and had bowed low before her while his companions slept.

And as for Sauron: he knew where she lurked. It pleased him that she should dwell there hungry but unabated in malice, a more sure watch upon that ancient path into his land than any other that his skill could have devised. And Orcs, they were useful slaves, but he had them in plenty. If now and again Shelob caught them to stay her appetite, she was welcome: he could spare them. And sometimes as a man may cast a dainty to his cat (his cat he calls her, but she owns him not) Sauron would send her prisoners that he had no better uses for: he would have them driven to her hole, and report brought back to him of the play she made.

So they both lived, delighting in their own devices, and feared no assault, nor wrath, nor any end of their wickedness. Never yet had any fly escaped from Shelob’s webs, and the greater now was her rage and hunger.

But nothing of this evil which they had stirred up against them did any of them that entered the tunnel know, and as Boromir led them Men of Gondor down the tunnel, his great spear held before him, they knew not of the terror that approached them.

As they went, Faramir thought he heard, as it were, the rumbling of low, far off thunder, and echoes of the occasional shrill voices of halflings rising above it. And so it was that as they passed by a great opening in the side of the tunnel, the mistress of these tunnels found them. But enraged as she was by the Light of Earendil, she did not stop as she passed them, wholly intent of hunting that light and its bearer and consuming them.

Too late did the torch of Beregond reveal to them the horror that bore down on them as it leapt upon the eldest son of Denethor, driving him down to the ground with her weight and ferocity. Too slow were the blades of Gondor, slashing blindly in the darkness against the vast hide of their ambusher. And too thick was her hide, for even though Anborn’s blade struck that beast it bounced harmlessly from her.

And then she was gone, swallowed once again by the night of the tunnels. She would return for these intruding flies, but now vengeance burned within her and it needed to be quenched.

The men of Gondor bent over Boromir, who lay upon the floor of the tunnel dazed and winded. “Do not worry over me,” he managed with a weak smile. “Go on, find the little ones. This is but a scratch I tell you, a scratch.”

“Courage brother,” said Faramir. “Courage now. The hurt cannot be much, surely.”

Boromir laughed. “Maybe not, maybe it shall serve. It matters little, you must go and find the hobbits. We shall follow, but they must be protected. We cannot fail now.”

Even in the flickering light of Beregond’s torch, Faramir saw the pain on his brother’s face and knew the hurt was more than he gave credit. But he knew in his heart the truth of Boromir’s words, and so with a heavy heart Faramir stood. Giving no more than a nod to the others, the second son of Denethor turned and pressed forward into the darkness.

Turn Ten

FFG- Shelob and FrodoAll this was unknown to Sam, nor could any thought keep root in the tempest of his mind, except that a fear was growing on him, a menace which he could not see; and such a weight did it become that it was a burden to him to run, and his feet seemed leaden.

Dread was round him, and enemies before him in the pass, and his master was in a fey mood running heedlessly to meet them. Turning his eyes away from the shadow behind and the deep gloom beneath the cliff upon his left, he looked ahead, and he saw two things that increased his dismay. He saw that the sword which Frodo still held unsheathed was glittering with blue flame; and he saw that though the sky behind was now dark. still the window in the tower was glowing red.

“Orcs!” he muttered. “We’ll never rush it like this. There’s Orcs about, and worse than Orcs.” Then returning quickly to his long habit of secrecy, he closed his hand about the precious Phial which he still bore. Red with his own living blood his hand shone for a moment, and then he thrust the revealing light deep into a pocket near his breast and drew his elven-cloak about him. Now he tried to quicken his pace. His master was gaining on him; already he was some twenty strides ahead, flitting on like a shadow; soon he would be lost to sight in that grey world.

Hardly had Sam hidden the light of the star-glass when she came. A little way ahead and to his left he saw suddenly, issuing from a black hole of shadow under the cliff, the most loathly shape that he had ever beheld, horrible beyond the horror of an evil dream. Most like a spider she was, but huger than the great hunting beasts, and more terrible than they because of the evil purpose in her remorseless eyes. Those same eyes that he had thought daunted and defeated, there they were lit with a fell light again, clustering in her out-thrust head. Great horns she had, and behind her short stalk-like neck was her huge swollen body, a vast bloated bag, swaying and sagging between her legs; its great bulk was black, blotched with livid marks, but the belly underneath was pale and luminous and gave forth a stench. Her legs were bent, with great knobbed joints high above her back, and hairs that stuck out like steel spines, and at each leg’s end there was a claw.

FFG- Shelob's HuntAs soon as she had squeezed her soft squelching body and its folded limbs out of the upper exit from her lair, she moved with a horrible speed, now running on her creaking legs, now making a sudden bound. She was between Sam and his master. Either she did not see Sam, or she avoided him for the moment as the bearer of the light and fixed all her intent upon one prey, upon Frodo, bereft of his Phial, running heedless up the path, unaware yet of his peril. Swiftly he ran, but Shelob was swifter; in a few leaps she would have him.

Sam gasped and gathered all his remaining breath to shout. “Look out behind!” he yelled. “Look out master! I’m -” but suddenly his cry was stifled.

Turn Eleven

A long clammy hand went over his mouth and another caught him by the neck, while something wrapped itself about his leg. Taken off his guard he toppled backwards into the arms of his attacker.

“Got him!” hissed Gollum in his ear. “At last, my precious, we’ve got him, yes, the nassty hobbit. We takes this one. She’ll get the other. O yes, Shelob will get him, not Smeagol: he promised; he won’t hurt Master at all. But he’s got you, you nassty filthy little sneak!” He spat on Sam’s neck.

Fury at the treachery, and desperation at the delay when his master was in deadly peril, gave to Sam a sudden violence and strength that was far beyond anything that Gollum had expected from this slow stupid hobbit, as he thought him. Not Gollum himself could have twisted more quickly or more fiercely. His hold on Sam’s mouth slipped, and Sam ducked and lunged forward again, trying to tear away from the grip on his neck. His sword was still in his hand, and on his left arm, hanging by its thong, was Faramir’s staff. Desperately he tried to turn and stab his enemy. But Gollum was too quick. His long right arm shot out, and he grabbed Sam’s wrist: his fingers were like a vice; slowly and relentlessly he bent the hand down and forward, till with a cry of pain Sam released the sword and it fell to the ground; and all the while Gollum’s other hand was tightening on Sam’s throat.

FFG- Shelob's Lair.jpgThen Sam played his last trick. With all his strength he pulled away and got his feet firmly planted; then suddenly he drove his legs against the ground and with his whole force hurled himself backwards. Not expecting even this simple trick from Sam, Gollum fell over with Sam on top, and he received the weight of the sturdy hobbit in his stomach. A sharp hiss came out of him, and for a second his hand upon Sam’s throat loosened; but his fingers still gripped the sword-hand. Sam tore himself forward and away, and stood up, and then quickly he wheeled away to his right, pivoted on the wrist held by Gollum. Laying hold of the staff with his left hand, Sam swung it up, and down it came with a whistling crack on Gollum’s outstretched arm, just below the elbow.With a squeal Gollum let go. Then Sam waded in; not waiting to change the staff from left to right he dealt another savage blow. Quick as a snake Gollum slithered aside. and the stroke aimed at his head fell across his back. The staff cracked and broke. That was enough for him. Grabbing from behind was an old game of his, and seldom had he failed in it. But this time, misled by spite, he had made the mistake of speaking and gloating before he had both hands on his victim’s neck. Everything had gone wrong with his beautiful plan, since that horrible light had so unexpectedly appeared in the darkness. And now he was face to face with a furious enemy, little less than his own size. Sam swept up his sword from the ground and raised it. Gollum squealed, and springing aside on to all fours, he jumped away in one big bound like a frog. This fight was not for him. Before Sam could reach him, he was off, running with amazing speed back towards the tunnel.

Sword in hand Sam went after him. For the moment he had forgotten everything else but the red fury in his brain and the desire to kill Gollum. But before he could overtake him, Gollum was gone. Then as the dark hole stood before him and the stench came out to meet him, like a clap of thunder the thought of Frodo and the monster smote upon Sam’s mind. He spun round, and rushed wildly up the path, calling and calling his master’s name. He was too late. So far Gollum’s plot had succeeded.

Turn Twelve

Frodo was lying face upward on the ground and the monster was bending over him, so intent upon her victim that she took no heed of Sam and his cries, until he was close at hand. As he rushed up he saw that Frodo was already bound in cords, wound about him from ankle to shoulder, and the monster with her great forelegs was beginning half to lift, half to drag his body away.

FFG- Shelob and Sam.JPGOn the near side of him lay, gleaming on the ground, his elven-blade, where it had fallen useless from his grasp. Sam did not wait to wonder what was to be done, or whether he was brave, or loyal, or filled with rage. He sprang forward with a yell, and seized his master’s sword in his left hand. Then he charged. No onslaught more fierce was ever seen in the savage world of beasts; where some desperate small creature armed with little teeth alone, will spring upon a tower of horn and hide that stands above its fallen mate.

Disturbed as if out of some gloating dream by his small yell she turned slowly the dreadful malice of her glance upon him. But almost before she was aware that a fury was upon her greater than any she had known in countless years, the shining sword bit upon her foot and shore away the claw. Sam sprang in, inside the arches of her legs, and with a quick upthrust of his other hand stabbed at the clustered eyes upon her lowered head. One great eye went dark.

Now the miserable creature was right under her, for the moment out of the reach of her sting and of her claws. Her vast belly was above him with its putrid light, and the stench of it almost smote him down. Still his fury held for one more blow, and before she could sink upon him, smothering him and all his little impudence of courage, he slashed the bright elven-blade across her with desperate strength.

But Shelob was not as dragons are, no softer spot had she save only her eyes. Knobbed and pitted with corruption was her age-old hide, but ever thickened from within with layer on layer of evil growth. The blade scored it with a dreadful gash, but those hideous folds could not be pierced by any strength of men, not though Elf or Dwarf should forge the steel or the hand of Beren or of Tuurin wield it. She yielded to the stroke, and then heaved up the great bag of her belly high above Sam’s head. Poison frothed and bubbled from the wound. Now splaying her legs she drove her huge bulk down on him again. Too soon. For Sam still stood upon his feet, and dropping his own sword, with both hands he held the elven-blade point upwards, fending off that ghastly roof; and so Shelob, with the driving force of her own cruel will, with strength greater than any warrior’s hand, thrust herself upon a bitter spike. Deep, deep it pricked, as Sam was crushed slowly to the ground.

No such anguish had Shelob ever known, or dreamed of knowing, in all her long world of wickedness. Not the doughtiest soldier of old Gondor, nor the most savage Orc entrapped, had ever thus endured her, or set blade to her beloved flesh. A shudder went through her. Heaving up again, wrenching away from the pain, she bent her writhing limbs beneath her and sprang backwards in a convulsive leap. 

Sam had fallen to his knees by Frodo’s head, his senses reeling in the foul stench, his two hands still gripping the hilt of the sword. Through the mist before his eyes he was aware dimly of Frodo’s face and stubbornly he fought to master himself and to drag himself out of the swoon that was upon him. Slowly he raised his head and saw her, only a few paces away, eyeing him, her beak drabbling a spittle of venom, and a green ooze trickling from below her wounded eye. There she crouched, her shuddering belly splayed upon the ground, the great bows of her legs quivering, as she gathered herself for another spring-this time to crush and sting to death: no little bite of poison to still the struggling of her meat; this time to slay and then to rend.

Even as Sam himself crouched, looking at her, seeing his death in her eyes, a thought came to him, as if some remote voice had spoken. and he fumbled in his breast with his left hand, and found what he sought: cold and hard and solid it seemed to his touch in a phantom world of horror, the Phial of Galadriel carrying the Light of Earendil within its heart.

“Earendil!” he said faintly, and then he heard voices far off but clear: the crying of the Elves as they walked under the stars in the beloved shadows of the Shire, and the music of the Elves as it came through his sleep in the Hall of Fire in the house of Elrond. “Gilthoniel A Elbereth!” And then his tongue was loosed and his voice cried in a language which he did not know:

A Elbereth Gilthoniel
o menel palan-diriel,
le nallon sí di’nguruthos! A tiro nin, Fanuilos!

And with that he staggered to his feet and was Samwise the hobbit, Hamfast’s son, again.

”Now come, you filth!” he cried. “You’ve hurt my master, you brute, and you’ll pay for it. We’re going on; but we’ll settle with you first. Come on, and taste it again!”


Turn Thirteen

As if his indomitable spirit had set its potency in motion, the glass blazed suddenly like a white torch in his hand. It flamed like a star that leaping from the firmament sears the dark air with intolerable light. No such terror out of heaven had ever burned in Shelob’s face before. The beams of it entered into her wounded head and scored it with unbearable pain, and the dreadful infection of light spread from eye to eye. She fell back beating the air with her forelegs, her sight blasted by inner lightnings, her mind in agony. Then turning her maimed head away, she rolled aside and began to crawl, claw by claw, towards the opening in the dark cliff behind.

Sam came on. He was reeling like a drunken man, but he came on. And Shelob cowed at last, shrunken in defeat, jerked and quivered as she tried to hasten from him. She reached the hole, and squeezing down, leaving a trail of green-yellow slime, she slipped in, even as Sam hewed a last stroke at her dragging legs. Then he fell to the ground.

Shelob was gone; and whether she lay long in her lair, nursing her malice and her misery, and in slow years of darkness healed herself from within, rebuilding her clustered eyes, until with hunger like death she spun once more her dreadful snares in the glens of the Mountains of Shadow, this tale does not tell.

Sam was left alone. Wearily, as the evening of the Nameless Land fell upon the place of battle, he crawled back to his master.

“Master, dear master,” he said, but Frodo did not speak. As he had run forward, eager, rejoicing to be free, Shelob with hideous speed had come behind and with one swift stroke had stung him in the neck. He lay now pale, and heard no voice. and did not move.

Faramir stood off to the side, by the entrance of the tunnel that Sam had just left moments ago. The ranger had arrived too late to be of any help, having only seen the phial shine forth and the great beast that was Shelob retreat into her lair. Behind him came Mablung and Anborn, carrying between them the stricken body of Boromir, and Damrod and Beregond after them. “He needs help,” said Faramir to them. “Healing craft beyond what we can manage, or anyone east of the White City I fear. You must take him now, to the Houses of Healing.” Mablung made as though to protest, but Faramir cut him short. “You saw the host on Morgul, do you imagine that is the only force the Dark Lord would sent. The Storm has broken, and Minas Tirith will need my brother before the end. She will need her cheif captain, or she will fall.”

Mablung hesitated, but seeing the pallour come over Boromir, who now tried to speak were it not for his breath failing him, the ranger nodded silently. “We shall take the hidden paths,” Damrod spoke, “and so by ways unseen overtake The Enemy. There are many tunnels as yet undiscovered into the Western Shores of Osgiliath.”

Faramir clasped each of their arms in turn. “Go then, and may Illuvitar watch over and protect you.” Then standing before his brother, the two sons of Denethor embraced wordlessly and parted. The men of Gondor turned, and the darkness of the tunnel swallowed them once again, held back only by the light of Beregond’s torch. Faramir turned from them, and beheld once more Samwise and his fallen master.

“Master, dear master!” said Sam, and through a long silence waited. listening in vain.

Then as quickly as he could he cut away the binding cords and laid his head upon Frodo’s breast and to his mouth, but no stir of life could he find, nor feel the faintest flutter of the heart. Often he chafed his master’s hands and feet, and touched his brow, but all were cold.

FFG- Wake Up.jpg“Frodo, Mr. Frodo!” he called. “Don’t leave me here alone! It’s your Sam calling. Don’t go where I can’t follow! Wake up, Mr. Frodo! O wake up, Frodo, me dear, me dear. Wake up!”

Then anger surged over hint, and he ran about his master’s body in a rage, stabbing the air, and smiting the stones, and shouting challenges. Presently he came back, and bending looked at Frodo’s face, pale beneath him in the dusk. “He’s dead!” he said. “Not asleep, dead!” And as he said it, as if the words had set the venom to its work again. it seemed to him that the hue of the face grew livid green.

And then black despair came down on him, and Sam bowed to the ground, and drew his grey hood over his head, and night came into his heart, and he knew no more.

Chapter XVIII: The Palantir