Chapter XV: The Passage Of The Marshes

See here for the playthrough report.

Chapter XIV: The Steward’s Counsel


“Well, master, we’re in a fix and no mistake,” said Sam Gamgee. He stood despondently with hunched shoulders beside Frodo, and peered out with puckered eyes into the gloom.

It was the third evening since they had crossed the Anduin with Faramir, and the second since the ranger had left to hunt for some game, as far as they could tell: but they had almost lost count of the hours during which they had climbed and laboured among the barren slopes and stones of the Emyn Muil, sometimes retracing their steps because they could find no way forward, sometimes discovering that they had wandered in a circle back to where they had been hours before. Faramir has insisted the hobbits continue to press on, assuring them that he would be able to locate them once again, though Sam thought that as they themselves did not know where they were, how was anyone else supposed to find them. Yet they had worked steadily eastward, keeping as near as they could find a way to the outer edge of this strange twisted knot of hills. But always they found its outward faces sheer, high and impassable, frowning over the plain below; beyond its tumbled skirts lay livid festering marshes where nothing moved and not even a bird was to be seen.

ffg- emyn muilThe hobbits stood now on the brink of a tall cliff, bare and bleak, its feet wrapped in mist; and behind them rose the broken highlands crowned with drifting cloud. A chill wind blew from the East. Night was gathering over the shapeless lands before them; the sickly green of them was fading to a sullen brown. Far away to the right the Anduin, that had gleamed fitfully in sun-breaks during the day, was now hidden in shadow. But their eyes did not look beyond the River, or even further back to Rohan, to their friends, to the lands of Men. South and east they stared to where, at the edge of the oncoming night, a dark line hung, like distant mountains of motionless smoke. Every now and again a tiny red gleam far away flickered upwards on the rim of earth and sky.

“What a fix!” said Sam. “That’s the one place in all the lands we’ve ever heard of that we don’t want to see any closer; and that’s the one place we’re trying to get to! And that’s just where we can’t get, nohow. We’ve come the wrong way altogether, seemingly. We can’t get down; and if we did get down, we’d find all that green land a nasty bog, I’ll warrant. Phew! Can you smell it?” He sniffed at the wind.

“Yes, I can smell it,” said Frodo, but he did not move, and his eyes remained fixed, staring out towards the dark line and the flickering flame. “Mordor!” he muttered under his breath. “If I must go there I wish I could come there quickly and make an end!” He shuddered. The wind was chilly and yet heavy with an odour of cold decay. “Well,” he said, at last withdrawing his eyes, “we cannot stay here all night, fix or no fix. We must find a more sheltered spot, and camp once more; and perhaps another day will show us a path.”

“Or another and another and another,” muttered Sam. “Or maybe no day. We’ve come the wrong way and even Faramir may struggle to find us now, not meaning to doubt him Mr Frodo, only we must be beyond the ken of even him by now.”

“I wonder,” said Frodo. “It’s my doom, I think, to go to that Shadow yonder, so that a way will be found. But will good or evil show it to me? What hope we had was in speed. Delay plays into the Enemy’s hands-and here I am: delayed. Is it the will of the Dark Tower that steers us? All my choices have proved ill. I should have left the Company long before, and come down from the North, east of the River and of the Emyn Muil, and so over the hard of Battle Plain to the passes of Mordor and so have avoided our capture. But now it isn’t possible for you and me alone to find a way back, and the Orcs are prowling on the east bank, hoping to find us again I imagine. Every day that passes is a precious day lost. I am tired, Sam. I don’t know what is to be done. What food have we got left?”

“Only those, what d’you call ’em, lembas, Mr. Frodo. A fair supply. But they are better than naught, by a long bite, at least until Faramir returns. I never thought, though, when I first set tooth in them, that I should ever come to wish for a change. But I do now: a bit of plain bread, and a mug – aye, half a mug – of beer would go down proper. I’ve lugged my cooking-gear all the way from the last camp, and what use has it been? Naught to make a fire with, for a start; and naught to cook, not even grass!”

They turned away and went down into a stony hollow. The westering sun was caught into clouds, and night came swiftly. They slept as well as they could for the cold, turn and turn about, in a nook among great jagged pinnacles of weathered rock; at least they were sheltered from the easterly wind.

Turn One

“Did you see them again, Mr. Frodo?” asked Sam, as they sat, stiff and chilled, munching wafers of lembas, in the cold grey of early morning.

“No,” said Frodo. “I’ve heard nothing, and seen nothing, for two nights now when we crossed the River.”

“Nor me, not since before we were taken,” said Sam. “Grrr! Those eyes did give me a turn! But perhaps we’ve shaken him off at last, the miserable slinker. Gollum! I’ll give him gollum in his throat, if ever I get my hands on his neck.”

“I hope you’ll never need to,” said Frodo. “I don’t know how he followed us; but it may be that he’s lost us again, as you say. In this dry bleak land we can’t leave many footprints, nor much scent, even for his snuffling nose.”

“I hope that’s the way of it,” said Sam. “I wish we could be rid of him for good!”

“So do I,” said Frodo; “but he’s not my chief trouble. I wish we could get away from these hills! I hate them. I feel all naked on the east side, stuck up here with nothing but the dead flats between me and that Shadow yonder. There’s an Eye in it. Come on! We’ve got to get down today somehow.”

But that day wore on, and when afternoon faded towards evening they were still scrambling along the ridge and had found no way of escape.

ffg- the highlandsSometimes in the silence of that barren country they fancied that they heard faint sounds behind them, a stone falling, or the imagined step of flapping feet on the rock. But if they halted and stood still listening, they heard no more, nothing but the wind sighing over the edges of the stones – yet even that reminded them of breath softly hissing through sharp teeth.

All that day the outer ridge of the Emyn Muil had been bending gradually northward, as they struggled on. Along its brink there now stretched a wide tumbled flat of scored and weathered rock, cut every now and again by trench-like gullies that sloped steeply down to deep notches in the cliff-face. To find a path in these clefts, which were becoming deeper and more frequent, Frodo and Sam were driven to their left, well away from the edge, and they did not notice that for several miles they had been going slowly but steadily downhill: the cliff-top was sinking towards the level of the lowlands.

At last they were brought to a halt. The ridge took a sharper bend northward and was gashed by a deeper ravine. On the further side it reared up again, many fathoms at a single leap: a great grey cliff loomed before them, cut sheer down as if by a knife stroke. They could go no further forwards, and must turn now either west or east. But west would lead them only into more labour and delay, back towards the heart of the hills; east would take them to the outer precipice.

“There’s nothing for it but to scramble down this gully, Sam,” said Frodo. “Let’s see what it leads to!”

“A nasty drop, I’ll bet,” said Sam.

The cleft was longer and deeper than it seemed. Some way down they found a few gnarled and stunted trees, the first they had seen for days: twisted birch for the most part, with here and there a fir-tree. Many were dead and gaunt, bitten to the core by the eastern winds. Once in milder days there must have been a fair thicket in the ravine, but now, after some fifty yards, the trees came to an end, though old broken stumps straggled on almost to the cliff’s brink. The bottom of the gully, which lay along the edge of a rock-fault, was rough with broken stone and slanted steeply down. When they came at last to the end of it, Frodo stooped and leaned out.

“Look!” he said. “We must have come down a long way, or else the cliff has sunk. It’s much lower here than it was, and it looks easier too.”

Sam knelt beside him and peered reluctantly over the edge. Then he glanced up at the great cliff rising up, away on their left. “Easier!” he grunted. “Well, I suppose it’s always easier getting down than up. Those as can’t fly can jump!”

“It would be a big jump still,” said Frodo. “About, well” – he stood for a moment measuring it with his eyes – “about eighteen fathoms I should guess. Not more.”

“And that’s enough!” said Sam. “Ugh! How I do hate looking down from a height! But looking’s better than climbing.”

“All the same,” said Frodo, “I think we could climb here; and I think we shall have to try. See – the rock is quite different from what it was a few miles back. It has slipped and cracked.”

The outer fall was indeed no longer sheer, but sloped outwards a little. It looked like a great rampart or sea-wall whose foundations had shifted, so that its courses were all twisted and disordered, leaving great fissures and long slanting edges that were in places almost as wide as stairs.

“And if we’re going to try and get down, we had better try at once. It’s getting dark early. I think there’s a storm coming.”

The smoky blur of the mountains in the East was lost in a deeper blackness that was already reaching out westwards with long arms. There was a distant mutter of thunder borne on the rising breeze. Frodo sniffed the air and looked up doubtfully at the sky. He strapped his belt outside his cloak and tightened it, and settled his light pack on his back; then he stepped towards the edge.

“I’m going to try it,” he said. “Sam, do you…”

“Very good!” said Sam gloomily. “I’ll go first.”

“You?” said Frodo. “What’s made you change your mind about climbing?”

“I haven’t changed my mind. But it’s only sense: put the one lowest as is most likely to slip. I don’t want to come down atop of you and knock you off no sense in killing two with one fall.”

Before Frodo could stop him, he sat down, swung his legs over the brink, and twisted round, scrabbling with his toes for a foothold. It is doubtful if he ever did anything braver in cold blood, or more unwise.

“No, no! Sam, you old ass!” said Frodo. “You’ll kill yourself for certain going over like that without even a look to see what to make for. Come back!” He took Sam under the armpits and hauled him up again. “I was about to ask whether you still had your rooe. It’s too far to climb in this light without it.”

“Rope!” cried Sam, talking wildly to himself in his excitement and relief. “Well, if I don’t deserve to be hung on the end of one as a warning to numbskulls! You’re nowt but a ninnyhammer, Sam Gamgee: that’s what the Gaffer said to me often enough, it being a word of his. Rope!”

“Stop chattering!” cried Frodo, now recovered enough to feel both amused and annoyed. ‘Never mind your Old Gaffer. I know you’ve some rope, I saw you pack some when Haldir met us on the outskirts of Lorien. Come now then, out with it!”

“Why yes, Mr. Frodo, in my pack and all. Carried it hundreds of miles and I’d clean forgotten it!”

“Then get busy and let an end down!”

ffg-elven-rope.jpgQuickly Sam unslung his pack and rummaged in it. There indeed at the bottom was a coil of the silken-grey rope made by the folk of Lorien. Thunder growled and rumbled in the distance, and the rain was still falling heavily. The hobbits crawled away back into the gully; but they did not find much shelter there. Rills of water began to run down; soon they grew to a spate that splashed and fumed on the stones, and spouted out over the cliff like the gutters of a vast roof.

“You should have been half drowned down there, or washed clean off,” said Frodo. “Imagine what may have happened if we’d tried the climb without thinking of the rope.”

“Well all I can say is it’s a good thing your memory is better than mine,” said Sam. “Thinking back I do remember them putting the ropes in the boats, as we started off from the elvish country. I took a fancy to it, and I stowed a coil in my pack. Years ago, it seems. ‘It may be a help in many needs,’ he said: Haldir, or one of those folk. And he spoke right.”

“A pity I didn’t think of bringing another length,” said Frodo; “but we were taken from the Company in such a hurry and confusion. If only we had enough we could use it to get down. How long is your rope, I wonder?”

Sam paid it out slowly, measuring it with his arms: “Five, ten, twenty, thirty ells, more or less,” he said.

“Who’d have thought it!” Frodo exclaimed.

“Ah! Who would?” said Sam.”Elves are wonderful folk. It looks a bit thin, but it’s tough; and soft as milk to the hand. Packs close too, and as light as light. Wonderful folk to be sure!”

“Thirty ells!” said Frodo considering. “I believe it would be enough. If the storm passes before nightfall, I’m going to try it.”

With that he stood up and went down to the bottom of the gully. He looked out. Clear sky was growing in the East once more. The skirts of the storm were lifting, ragged and wet, and the main battle had passed to spread its great wings over the Emyn Muil; upon which the dark thought of Sauron brooded for a while. But here, over the desert and the reeking marshes the deep blue sky of evening opened once more, and a few pallid stars appeared, like small white holes in the canopy above the crescent moon.

“Make it fast to that stump, Sam!” Frodo said, breathing deep. “Then I think you shall have your wish and go first. I’ll lower you, and you need do no more than use your feet and hands to fend yourself off the rock. Though, if you put your weight on some of the ledges and give me a rest, it will help. When you’re down, I’ll follow.”

“Very well,” said Sam heavily. “it must be, let’s get it over!” He took up the rope and made it fast over the stump nearest to the brink; then the other end he tied about his own waist. Reluctantly he turned and prepared to go over the edge a second time.

Turn Two

It did not, however, turn out half as bad as he had expected. The rope seemed to give him confidence, though he shut his eyes more than once when he looked down between his feet. There was one awkward spot, where there was no ledge and the wall was sheer and even undercut for a short space; there he slipped and swung out on the silver line. But Frodo lowered him slowly and steadily, and it was over at last. His chief fear had been that the rope-length would give out while he was still high up, but there was still a good bit in Frodo’s hands, when Sam came to the bottom and called up:”I’m down!” His voice came up clearly from below, but Frodo could not see him; his grey elven-cloak had melted into the twilight.

Frodo took rather more time to follow him. He had the rope about his waist and it was fast above, and he had shortened it so that it would pull him up before he reached the ground; still he did not want to risk a fall, and he had not quite Sam’s faith in this slender grey line. He found two places, all the same, where he had to trust wholly to it: smooth surfaces where there was no hold even for his strong hobbit fingers and the ledges were far apart. But at last he too was down.

“Well!” he cried. “We’ve done it! We’ve escaped from the Emyn Muil! And now what next, I wonder? Maybe we shall soon be sighing for good hard rock under foot again.”

But Sam did not answer: he was staring back up the cliff. “Ninnyhammers!” he said.”Noodles! My beautiful rope! There it is tied to a stump, and we’re at the bottom. Just as nice a little stair for that slinking Gollum as we could leave. Better put up a signpost to say which way we’ve gone! I thought it seemed a bit too easy.”

“If you can think of any way we could have both used the rope and yet brought it down with us, then you can pass on to me ninnyhammer, or any other name your Gaffer gave you,” said Frodo.”Climb up and untie it and let yourself down, if you want to!”

Sam scratched his head.”No, I can’t think how, begging your pardon,” he said. “But I don’t like leaving it, and that’s a fact.” He stroked the rope’s end and shook it gently.”It goes hard parting with anything I brought out of the Elf-country,” he murmured nodding his head mournfully. He looked up and gave one last pull to the rope as if in farewell.

To the complete surprise of both the hobbits it came loose. Sam fell over, and the long grey coils slithered silently down on top of him. Frodo laughed. “Who tied the rope?” he said.”A good thing it held as long as it did! To think that I trusted all my weight to your knot!”

Sam did not laugh. “I may not be much good at climbing, Mr. Frodo,” he said in injured tones,”but I do know something about rope and about knots. It’s in the family, as you might say. I think the rope came off itself – when I called.” He coiled it up and stowed it lovingly in his pack.

“It certainly came,” said Frodo, “and that’s the chief thing. But now we’ve got to think of our next move. Night will be on us soon. How beautiful the stars are, and the Moon!”

“They do cheer the heart, don’t they?” said Sam looking up. “Elvish they are. somehow. And the Moon’s growing. We haven’t seen him for a night or two in this cloudy weather. He’s beginning to give quite a light.”

“Yes,” said Frodo; “but he won’t be full for some days. I don’t think we’ll try the marshes by the light of half a moon.”

Under the first shadows of night they started out on the next stage of their journey. After a while Sam turned and looked back at the way they had come. The mouth of the gully was a black notch in the dim cliff. “I’m glad we’ve got the rope,” he said. “We’ve set a little puzzle for that footpad, anyhow. He can try his nasty flappy feet on those ledges!”

They picked their steps away from the skirts of the cliff, among a wilderness of boulders and rough stones, wet and slippery with the heavy rain. The ground still fell away sharply. They had not gone very far when they came upon a great fissure that yawned suddenly black before their feet. It was not wide, but it was too wide to jump across in the dim light. They thought they could hear water gurgling in its depths. It curved away on their left northward, back towards the hills. and so barred their road in that direction, at any rate while darkness lasted.

“We had better try a way back southwards along the line of the cliff, I think,” said Sam. “We might find some nook there, or even a cave or something.”

“I suppose so,” said Frodo.I’m tired. and I don’t think I can scramble among stones much longer tonight – though I grudge the delay. I wish there was a clear path in front of us: then I’d go on till my legs gave way.”

They did not find the going any easier at the broken feet of the Emyn Muil. Nor did Sam find any nook or hollow to shelter in: only bare stony slopes frowned over by the cliff, which now rose again, higher and more sheer as they went back. In the end, worn out, they just cast themselves on the ground under the lee of a boulder lying not far from the foot of the precipice. There for some time they sat huddled mournfully together in the cold stony night, while sleep crept upon them in spite of all they could do to hold it off.

The moon now rode high and clear. Its thin white light lit up the faces of the rocks and drenched the cold frowning walls of the cliff, turning all the wide looming darkness into a chill pale grey scored with black shadows.

“Well!” said Frodo, standing up and drawing his cloak more closely round him. “You sleep for a bit Sam and take my blanket. I’ll walk up and down on sentry for a while. With any luck Faramir will find us soon and our shifts keeping watch will be the shorter for it.” Suddenly he stiffened, and stooping he gripped Sam by the arm. “What’s that?” he whispered. “Look over there on the cliff!”

Sam looked and breathed in sharply through his teeth. “Ssss!” he said. “That’s what it is. It’s that Gollum! Snakes and adders! And to think that I thought that we’d puzzle him with our bit of a climb! Look at him! Like a nasty crawling spider on a wall.”

ffg- gollumDown the face of a precipice, sheer and almost smooth it seemed in the pale moonlight, a small black shape was moving with its thin limbs splayed out. Maybe its soft clinging hands and toes were finding crevices and holds that no hobbit could ever have seen or used, but it looked as if it was just creeping down on sticky pads, like some large prowling thing of insect-kind. And it was coming down head first, as if it was smelling its way. Now and again it lifted its head slowly, turning it right back on its long skinny neck, and the hobbits caught a glimpse of two small pale gleaming lights, its eyes that blinked at the moon for a moment and then were quickly lidded again.

`Do you think he can see us? ‘ said Sam.

“I don’t know,” said Frodo quietly, “but I think not. It is hard even for friendly eyes to see these elven-cloaks: I cannot see you in the shadow even at a few paces. And I’ve heard that he doesn’t like Sun or Moon. Bu he can smell us, perhaps. And he can hear as keen as Elves, I believe. I think he has heard something now: our voices probably. We did a lot of shouting away back there; and we were talking far too loudly until a minute ago.”

“Well, I’m sick of him,” said Sam. “He’s come once too often for me and I’m going to have a word with him, if I can. I don’t suppose we could give him the slip now anyway.” Drawing his grey hood well over his face, Sam crept stealthily towards the cliff.

“Careful!” whispered Frodo coming behind. “Don’t alarm him! He’s much more dangerous than he looks.”

The black crawling shape was now three-quarters of the way down, and perhaps fifty feet or less above the cliff’s foot. Crouching stone-still in the shadow of a large boulder the hobbits watched him. He seemed to have come to a difficult passage or to be troubled about something. They could hear him snuffling, and now and again there was a harsh hiss of breath that sounded like a curse. He lifted his head, and they thought they heard him spit. Then he moved on again. Now they could hear his voice creaking and whistling.

“Ach, sss! Cautious, my precious! More haste less speed. We musstn’t rissk our neck, musst we, precious? No, precious – gollum!” He lifted his head again, blinked at the moon, and quickly shut his eyes. “We hate it,” he hissed. “Nassty, nassty shivery light it is – sss – it spies on us, precious – it hurts our eyes.”

He was getting lower now and the hisses became sharper and clearer. “Where iss it, where iss it: my Precious, my Precious? It’s ours, it is, and we wants it. The thieves, the thieves, the filthy little thieves. Where are they with my Precious? Curse them! We hates them.”

“It doesn’t sound as if he knew we were here, does it?” whispered Sam. “And what’s his Precious? Does he mean the…”

“Hsh!” breathed Frodo. “He’s getting near now, near enough to hear a whisper.”

Indeed Gollum had suddenly paused again, and his large head on its scrawny neck was lolling from side to side as if he was listening. His pale eyes were half unlidded. Sam restrained himself, though his fingers were twitching. His eyes, filled with anger and disgust, were fixed on the wretched creature as he now began to move again, still whispering and hissing to himself.
At last he was no more than a dozen feet from the ground, right above their heads. From that point there was a sheer drop, for the cliff was slightly undercut, and even Gollum could not find a hold of any kind. He seemed to be trying to twist round, so as to go legs first, when suddenly with a shrill whistling shriek he fell. As he did so, he curled his legs and arms up round him, like a spider whose descending thread is snapped.

Sam was out of his hiding in a flash and crossed the space between him and the cliff foot in a couple of leaps. Before Gollum could get up, he was on top of him. But he found Gollum more than he bargained for, even taken like that, suddenly, off his guard after a fall. Before Sam could get a hold, long legs and arms were wound round him pinning his arms, and a clinging grip, soft but horribly strong, was squeezing him like slowly tightening cords; clammy fingers were feeling for his throat. Then sharp teeth bit into his shoulder. All he could do was to butt his hard round head sideways into the creature’s face. Gollum hissed and spat, but he did not let go.

Turn Three

Things would have gone ill with Sam, if he had been alone. But Frodo sprang up, and drew Sting from its sheath. With his left hand he drew back Gollum’s head by his thin lank hair, stretching his long neck, and forcing his pale venomous eyes to stare up at the sky.

ffg- taming of smeagol“Let go! Gollum,” he said. “This is Sting. You have seen it before once upon a time. Let go, or you’ll feel it this time! I’ll cut your throat.”

Gollum collapsed and went as loose as wet string. Sam got up, fingering his shoulder. His eyes smouldered with anger, but he could not avenge himself: his miserable enemy lay grovelling on the stones whimpering. “Don’t hurt us! Don’t let them hurt us, precious! They won’t hurt us will they, nice little hobbitses? We didn’t mean no harm, but they jumps on us like cats on poor mices, they did, precious. And we’re so lonely, gollum. We’ll be nice to them, very nice, if they’ll be nice to us, won’t we, yes, yess.”

“Well, what’s to be done with it?” said Sam. “Tie it up, so as it can’t come sneaking after us no more, I say.”

“But that would kill us, kill us,” whimpered Gollum. “Cruel little hobbitses. Tie us up in the cold hard lands and leave us, gollum, gollum.” Sobs welled up in his gobbling throat.

“No,” said Frodo. “If we kill him, we must kill him outright. But we can’t do that, not as things are. Poor wretch! He has done us no harm.”

“Oh hasn’t he!” said Sam rubbing his shoulder. “Anyway he meant to, and he means to, I’ll warrant. Throttle us in our sleep, that’s his plan.”

“I daresay,” said Frodo. “But what he means to do is another matter. For now that I see him, I do pity him.”

Gollum lifted his head. “Yess, wretched we are, precious,” he whined. “Misery misery! Hobbits won’t kill us, nice hobbits.”

“No, we won’t,” said Frodo. “But we won’t let you go, either. You’re full of wickedness and mischief, Gollum. You will have to come with us, that’s all, while we keep an eye on you. But you must help us, if you can. One good turn deserves another.”

“Yess, yes indeed,” said Gollum sitting up. “Nice hobbits! We will come with them. Find them safe paths in the dark, yes we will. And where are they going in these cold hard lands, we wonders, yes we wonders?” He looked up at them, and a faint light of cunning and eagerness flickered for a second in his pale blinking eyes.

Sam scowled at him, and sucked his teeth; but he seemed to sense that there was something odd about his master’s mood and that the matter was beyond argument. All the same he was amazed at Frodo’s reply.

Frodo looked straight into Gollum’s eyes which flinched and twisted away. “You know that, or you guess well enough, Smeagol,” he said. quietly and sternly. “We are going to Mordor, of course. And you know the way there, I believe.”

“Ach! sss!” said Gollum, covering his ears with his hands, as if such frankness, and the open speaking of the names, hurt him. “We guessed, yes we guessed,” he whispered; “and we didn’t want them to go, did we? No, precious, not the nice hobbits. Ashes, ashes, and dust, and thirst there is; and pits, pits, pits, and Orcs, thousands of Orcses. Nice hobbits mustn’t go to – sss – those places. He is there, he isss watching always, calling usss. We won’t!” he suddenly cried. “Not for you.” Then he collapsed again. “Gollum, gollum,” he whimpered with his face to the ground. “Don’t look at us! Go away! Go to sleep!”

“He will not go away or go to sleep at your command, Smeagol,” said Frodo. “But if you really wish to be free of him again. then you must help me. And that I fear means finding us a path towards him. But you need not go all the way, not beyond the gates of his land. Now get up!”

Gollum stood up and backed away against the cliff.

“Your rope might prove useful again, Sam.” he said. “All we need is something to keep a hold on him,” said Frodo. “We want him to walk, so it’s no good tying his legs-or his arms. he seems to use them nearly as much. Tie one end to his ankle, and keep a grip on the other end.”

He stood over Gollum, while Sam tied the knot. The result surprised them both. Gollum began to scream, a thin, tearing sound, very horrible to hear. He writhed, and tried to get his mouth to his ankle and bite the rope. He kept on screaming.

At last Frodo was convinced that he really was in pain; but it could not be from the knot. He examined it and found that it was not too tight, indeed hardly tight enough. Sam was gentler than his words. “What’s the matter with you?” he said. “If you will try to run away. you must be tied; but we don’t wish to hurt you.”

“It hurts us, it hurts us,” hissed Gollum. “It freezes, it bites! Elves twisted it, curse them! Nasty cruel hobbits! We guessed they were cruel hobbits. They visits Elves, fierce Elves with bright eyes. Take it off us! It hurts us.”

“No, I will not take it off you,” said Frodo, “not unless” – he paused a moment in thought – “not unless there is any promise you can make that I can trust.”

“We will swear to do what he wants, yes, yess,” said Gollum, still twisting and grabbling at his ankle. “It hurts us.”

“Swear?” said Frodo.

“Smeagol,” said Gollum suddenly and clearly, opening his eyes wide and staring at Frodo with a strange light. “Smeagol will swear on the Precious.”

Frodo drew himself up, and again Sam was startled by his words and his stern voice. “On the Precious? How dare you?” he said. “Think!
One Ring to rule them all and in the Darkness bind them.
Would you commit your promise to that, Smeagol? It will hold you. But it is more treacherous than you are. It may twist your words. Beware!”

Gollum cowered. “On the Precious. on the Precious!” he repeated.

“And what would you swear?” asked Frodo.

“To be very very good,” said Gollum. Then crawling to Frodo’s feet he grovelled before him, whispering hoarsely: a shudder ran over him, as if the words shook his very bones with fear. “Smeagol will swear never, never, to let Him have it. Never! Smeagol will save it. But he must swear on the Precious.”

“No! not on it,” said Frodo, looking down at him with stern pity. “All you wish is to see it and touch it, if you can, though you know it would drive you mad. Not on it. Swear by it, if you will. For you know where it is. Yes, you know, Smeagol. It is before you.”

ffg- promiseFor a moment it appeared to Sam that his master had grown and Gollum had shrunk: a tall stern shadow, a mighty lord who hid his brightness in grey cloud, and at his feet a little whining dog. Yet the two were in some way akin and not alien: they could reach one another’s minds. Gollum raised himself and began pawing at Frodo, fawning at his knees.

“Down! down!” said Frodo. “Now speak your promise!”

“We promises, yes I promise!” said Gollum. “I will serve the master of the Precious. Good master, good Smeagol, gollum, gollum!” Suddenly he began to weep and bite at his ankle again.

“Take the rope off, Sam!” said Frodo.

Reluctantly Sam obeyed. At once Gollum got up and began prancing about, like a whipped cur whose master has patted it. From that moment a change, which lasted for some time, came over him. He spoke with less hissing and whining, and he spoke to his companions direct, not to his precious self. He would cringe and flinch, if they stepped near him or made any sudden movement, and he avoided the touch of their elven-cloaks; but he was friendly, and indeed pitifully anxious to please. He would cackle with laughter and caper, if any jest was made, or even if Frodo spoke kindly to him, and weep if Frodo rebuked him. Sam said little to him of any sort. He suspected him more deeply than ever, and if possible liked the new Gollum, the Smeagol, less than the old.

“Well, Gollum, or whatever it is we’re to call you,” he said. “now for it! The Moon’s gone. and the night’s going. We’d better start.”

“Yes, yes,” agreed Gollum, skipping about. “Off we go! There’s only one way across between the North-end and the South-end. I found it, I did. Orcs don’t use it, Orcs don’t know it. Orcs don’t cross the Marshes, they go round for miles and miles. Very lucky you came this way. Very lucky you found Smeagol, yes. Follow Smeagol!”

He took a few steps away and looked back inquiringly, like a dog inviting them for a walk. “Wait a bit, Gollum!” cried Sam. “Not too far ahead now! I’m going to be at your tail, and I’ve got the rope handy.”

“No, no!” said Gollum. “Smeagol promised.”

In the deep of night under hard clear stars they set off. Gollum led them back northward for a while along the way they had come; then he slanted to the right away from the steep edge of the Emyn Muil, down the broken stony slopes towards the vast fens below. They faded swiftly and softly into the darkness. Over all the leagues of waste before the gates of Mordor there was a black silence.

Turn Four

Faramir crouched low to the ground, slowing his breath lest anyone hear. It was the third night since he had left Frodo and Sam to find game for eating, thinking to hunt along the eastern shore of the Anduin but had become waylaid and lost and now found himself on the borders of a great and vast marsh, which had a stench that could be felt for miles around it. Since he had left the hobbits, Faramir had not only failed to catch any more than two dark squirrels and a bird, the ranger had lost his bearings twice and had no inclination as to in which direction the Halflings might be. And that very day he had felt a shadow pass overhead, felt rather than seen for he did not dare look up for it but lay flat upon the hard ground, praying whatever it was heeded him not.

Almost as soon as it had appeared though, the shadow passed and the terror upon his heart lifted. Only once before in Osgiliath had he felt something akin to that overwhelming fear, in the days leading to his departure from Gondor seeking out the haven of Imladris to seek answer for the dream that visited him and his brother.

He still remembered the terror of that day, the power of it that left creatures on both sides filled with a madness. Wherever it went, those that fought for the Dark Tower became frenzied in their efforts to push forward, while those on the side of the White Tower were stricken with dread, and the boldest fled in horror. Some said the power itself could be seen as a great black bird in the night sky, without feather or quill, causing even the stars to quail before it. Others described it as a great black horseman that could only be seen when the moon shone through the clouds in the black canopy above.

ffg- boromir osgiliathA mere remnant of Gondor’s eastern force came back, rallied only by the efforts of his elder brother. It was in that darkest moment that Boromir held aloft the Banner of Gondor, the Tree of Numenor stitched in gold upon a white field that seemed to glow in the shadow of that day. Faramir remembered the moment that horror faded as Boromir charged the forces of Mordor, wielding only that glorious standard and sounding the Horn of Gondor that had been held by the eldest son of the Steward’s line for generations. Loud and clear it had sounded in the city of Osgiliath and hope had sung in Faramir’s heart at that moment, and he had lifted his sword with a cry and followed Boromir into the teeth of the enemy for in that moment he would have followed his brother through the gates of Barad Dur itself.

Together they had gathered together a great company men about them, knights and men-at-arms both, and so great and terrible was their wrath that the enemy was driven from the western city and many were pressed into the waters of the Anduin itself. Indeed Boromir would have purged the city in its entirety were it not for the machinations of the Enemy, who unleashed then their most terrible of servants. Variags of Khand with their tall shields and wicked blades together with twisted troll-men from Far Harad threw themselves into the fray with abandon, wreaking a dreadful toll on the men of Gondor, as phalanxes of great Uruks from the shores of Rhun pushed back against their efforts. And yet all this would have been borne and beaten back by the soldiers of Gondor, such was their love for Boromir, where it not for the Black Riders.

Nine there were, marshals of the Dark Lord’s armies, and they came forth on their black steeds driving all before them in terror and madness. Faramir saw the pain in his brother’s eyes as he ordered the bridges behind them destroyed, isolating them with their forces on the eastern bank. Shoulder to shoulder they had stood, holding the last bridge to give as many as they could time to escape to the western shore, wielding sword and bow together, until at last as the Riders were almost upon them, when Faramir could felt their icy presence in his breath as they drew near, Boromir ordered the bridge cast down behind them. Then once they were sure the Enemy could not gain the crossing by the bridge, now cast in ruin into the Anduin, such survivors as had the ability cast themselves into the dark waters and swam for the western bank. Faramir could still hear the cries of those remaining on the other side, some in defiance and others in despair, but all slowly fading one by one into silence. And of those that attempted the crossing, only he, Boromir and two others were saved, while others had succumbed to the cold fingers of the water, pulled down by the weight of their armour, or struck by black feathered arrows dispatched by the enemy seeking to claim as many lives as possible. In the end, Faramir had been pulled exhausted onto the shore by his own brother, who then returned to the water and saved two others, Damrod and Mablung, men without equal among the Rangers of Ithilien in either skill or loyalty.

As Faramir crouched down on the foothills of Emyn Muil, it was the voices of these very men that he heard. Though he could not make out their words, the accents and lilt of those native to Ithilien was unmistakable to his ear, it’s rise and fall mirroring the hills in which they had made their home in happier days. And with them Faramir could hear other voices betraying the standardised intonation of the White City and the rougher tones of far-off Pelargir on the southern shores of Gondor. He fancied one of the voices belonged to a man he knew from the capital, Beregond of the Citadel Guards, though he could not be certain. But what purpose could these men be serving this far north at such a time of crisis in Gondor. The Enemy would surely not have let up His assault on the descendants of Numenor, so whatever has led these valiant men here must be of greater importance than the war to the south. Faramir pondered on this for a moment, drawing his cloak closer as a blast of chill wind swept the bitter reek of the marshes up to him.

Denethor’s second son went still. Some thought had occurred to him, though he did not want to entertain it long enough to take root, for it would be grave indeed were it to have any truth in it. But try as he might, Faramir could not forget that fear whose roots dug deeper and deeper into his mind’s eye. Desperate to be proven wrong, he crept closer to the voices coming from beyond the lip of the stoney ridge he now found himself on so as he could hear their words, and what he heard confirmed his deepest fears.

ffg-candle-bearer.jpgThe voice from Pelargir was angry, that much was unmistakable. “This was a fool’s errand, I have said it from the beginning. We have been sent to this accursed place chasing myth and old wives’ gossip. The light-bearers have already taken Anorian, how long before we too are claimed in our sleep, never to awake save with a rusted blade in our bellies or putrid water in our throats?”

“Peace Ingarion,” hushed a voice hailing from Minas Tirith. “We told her not to gaze at the candles, her demise was her own doing. There is nothing you or I, nor anyone of us could have done to save her.”

“It is well for you to say such things Beregond,” came Ingarion again, “but did you not hear her screams, her cries for aid growing ever more desperate even as they receded from us into the mists? Nay, I will not hear your excuses, save them for salving your conscience. We let them take her and now she has joined them in their damned vigil. And what of Anborn? It is now the second night since he has left us, and there has been no sight or sound, nor any other sign that he yet lives. Are we not to assume he too has been taken? How long now before the rest of us are picked off one by one, as a wolf picks sheep from the flock? Should we not return the way we came and report the truth to Denethor: that Isildur’s Bane is not found, much less that a Halfling should bear it, and be found in these parts no less?”

“Anborn will return.” Faramir recognises this voice as belonging to Mablung, a man unparalleled in the guerilla warfare so suited to the hills and forests of Ithilien. “I have complete faith in him, indeed more in his chances to return safely to Gondor than our own. Fear not for him, but for our mission. Remember we have been ordered to fulfill it at any cost, even that of our own lives. Such currency would be too precious in these days for the Lord Steward to squander on a mere rumour. No, I say his eyes and ears have told him something of great importance, and now we his hands have been tasked with addressing that matter.”

“And think on this,” Beregond rejoined the conversation, “should this be a mere fancy, as you fear it so Ingarion, then ultimately we are but a dozen soldiers lost in the tides of time. However, should this mission be of genuine important then the very fate of Middle-earth is at stake. Even if Denethor doubted his information, he has too much to lose if he ignores it. No, we seek on until we can do so no more and if we can, we shall bring Isildur’s Bane to Minas Tirith to be kept safe.”

Faramir could wait no longer. In his mind’s eye he saw Gondor lifted up, with Minas Tirith restored to her days of glory and strength. Her armies crushed all the forces of Mordor and Minas Morgul was reclaimed and reborn as Minas Ithil once again. But he did not want it. For he knew in his heart the White Tower would topple the Dark if they claimed the Ring, but that it would replace it in power and dread and would become a cruel mockery of what it once was. And Faramir would rather see the Tower of Ecthelion cast down in ruin than behold its corruption.

Holding his breath, Faramir inched back down from the edge of the ridge. The presence of these men changed everything. Now they would be hunted by men he had fought and trained with. He needed to find Frodo before they did, or everything would be lost.

Turn Five

Gollum moved quickly, with his head and neck thrust forward, often using his hands as well as his feet. Frodo and Sam were hard put to it to keep up with him; but he seemed no longer to have any thought of escaping, and if they fell behind, he would turn and wait for them. After a time he brought them to the brink of the narrow gully that they had struck before; but they were now further from the hills.

“Here it is!” he cried. “There is a way down inside, yes. Now we follows it – out, out away over there.” He pointed south and east towards the marshes. The reek of them came to their nostrils, heavy and foul even in the cool night air. Gollum cast up and down along the brink, and at length he called to them. “Here! We can get down here. Smeagol went this way once: I went this way, hiding from Orcs.”

ffg- rocky foothillsHe led the way, and following him the hobbits climbed down into the gloom. It was not difficult, for the rift was at this point only some fifteen feet deep and about a dozen across. There was running water at the bottom: it was in fact the bed of one of the many small rivers that trickled down from the hills to feed the stagnant pools and mires beyond.

They stumbled along in the dark winding gully for a long time, or so it seemed to the tired feet of Frodo and Sam. The gully turned eastward, and as they went on it broadened and got gradually shallower. At last the sky above grew faint with the first grey of morning. Gollum had shown no signs of tiring, but now he looked up and halted.

“Day is near,” he whispered, as if Day was something that might overhear him and spring on him. “Smeagol will stay here: I will stay here, and the Yellow Face won’t see me.”

“We should be glad to see the Sun;” said Frodo, “but we will stay here: we are too tired to go any further at present.”

“You are not wise to be glad of the Yellow Face,” said Gollum. “It shows you up. Nice sensible hobbits stay with Smeagol. Orcs and nasty things are about. They can see a long way. Stay and hide with me!“

The three of them settled down to rest at the foot of the rocky wall of the gully. It was not much more than a tall man’s height now, and at its base there were wide flat shelves of dry stone; the water ran in a channel on the other side. Frodo and Sam sat on one of the flats, resting their backs. Gollum paddled and scrabbled in the stream.

After breaking their fast on some lembas, Sam whispered to Frodo, not too softly: he did not really care whether Gollum heard him or not. `”We’ve got to get some sleep; but not both together with that villain nigh, promise or no promise. Smeagol or Gollum, he won’t change his habits in a hurry, I’ll warrant. You go to sleep, Mr. Frodo, and I’ll call you when I can’t keep my eyelids propped up. Turn and about, same as before, while he’s loose.”

“Perhaps you’re right, Sam,” said Frodo speaking openly. “There is a change in him, but just what kind of a change and how deep, I’m not sure yet. Seriously though, I don’t think there is any need for fear – at present. Still watch if you wish. Give me about two hours, not more, and then call me.”

So tired was Frodo that his head fell forward on his breast and he slept. almost as soon as he had spoken the words. Gollum seemed no longer to have any fears. He curled up and went quickly to sleep, quite unconcerned. Presently his breath was hissing softly through his clenched teeth, hut he lay still as stone.

When Sam woke up the sky above was dim, not lighter but darker than when they had breakfasted. Sam leapt to his feet. Not least from his own feeling of vigour and hunger, he suddenly understood that he had slept the daylight away, nine hours at least. Frodo was still fast asleep, lying now stretched on his side. Gollum was sitting on his haunches not far off. His fingers and face were soiled with black mud and he hissed through clenched teeth at a tall figure standing over him with blade drawn.

“Faramir! Where have you been?” Sam cried, for it was the ranger who stood now with his sword against Gollum’s throat. “I see you’ve met Gollum, but of a nasty creature I’m afraid, but you mustn’t harm him. I’m amazed you have been able to pin him down, so to speak. He can be quite slippery when he wants.”

Gollum said nothing at this, but a low rasping growl emerged in his throat, as though desperate to retort but feared the steel pressed against his windpipe.

“Gollum is it?” Faramir asked. “I found him face first half-buried in a rabbit-hole, scrabbling and muttering at the animals therein. I asked him of you, and he led me straight here. But how is it this creature has attached himself to you?”

“There’s a bit of a tale to that, but before it needs telling, we ought to get some food in us.” Before Faramir could protest, Sam had knelt down next to Frodo, gently shaking him awake while pulling out wafers of lembas from his pack. Frodo greeted the Gondorian with joy, as the reassuring presence of the ranger had been sorely missed, and told Faramir of all that had happened since they parted ways. During the exchange Gollum said nothing to them, keeping sullenly quite until he had drunk deeply and washed himself in the stream, by which time the others had breakfasted on a wafer of the lembas and Frodo was telling Faramir of Gollum’s vow of servitude. Then Gollum came up to them, licking his lips. “Better now?” he asked the ranger. “Trust Smeagol now? Very, very good. Now we goes, no more time to waste”

ffg- dead marshesAnd so on they went and in a chill hour they came to the end of the water-course. The banks became moss-grown mounds. Over the last shelf of rotting stone the stream gurgled and fell down into a brown bog and was lost. Dry reeds hissed and rattled though they could feel no wind. On either side and in front wide fens and mires now lay, stretching away southward and eastward into the dim half-light. Mists curled and smoked from dark and noisome pools. The reek of them hung stifling in the still air. Far away, now almost due south, the mountain-walls of Mordor loomed, like a black bar of rugged clouds floating above a dangerous fog-bound sea.

It was already day, a windless and sullen afternoon, and the marsh-reeks lay in heavy banks. No sun pierced the low clouded sky, and Gollum seemed anxious to continue the journey at once. So after a brief rest they set out again and were soon lost in a shadowy silent world, cut off from all view of the lands about, either the hills that they had left or the mountains that they sought. They went slowly in single file: Gollum, Sam, Frodo, Faramir.

It was dreary and wearisome. Cold clammy winter still held sway in this forsaken country. The only green was the scum of livid weed on the dark greasy surfaces of the sullen waters. Dead grasses and rotting reeds loomed up in the mists like ragged shadows of long-forgotten summers.

As the day wore on the light increased a little, and the mists lifted, growing thinner and more transparent. Far above the rot and vapours of the world the Sun was riding high and golden now in a serene country with floors of dazzling foam, but only a passing ghost of her could they see below, bleared, pale, giving no colour and no warmth. But even at this faint reminder of her presence Gollum scowled and flinched. He halted their journey, and they rested, squatting like little hunted animals, in the borders of a great brown reed-thicket. There was a deep silence, only scraped on its surfaces by the faint quiver of empty seed-plumes, and broken grass-blades trembling in small air-movements that they could not feel.

So passed the third day of the hobbits’ journey with Gollum, and Faramir’s first. Before the shadows of evening were long in happier lands, they went on again, always on and on with only brief halts. These they made not so much for rest as to help Gollum; for now even he had to go forward with great care, and he was sometimes at a loss for a while. They had come to the very midst of the Dead Marshes, and it was dark.

Turn Six

They walked slowly, stooping, keeping close in line, following attentively every move that Gollum made. The fens grew more wet, opening into wide stagnant meres, among which it grew more and more difficult to find the firmer places where feet could tread without sinking into gurgling mud. The travellers were light and left little imprint, but Faramir was only too aware of the deep tracks he was leaving through the fens behind them. Presently it grew altogether dark: the air itself seemed black and heavy to breathe. When lights appeared Sam rubbed his eyes: he thought his head was going queer. He first saw one with the corner of his left eye, a wisp of pale sheen that faded away; but others appeared soon after: some like dimly shining smoke, some like misty flames flickering slowly above unseen candles; here and there they twisted like ghostly sheets unfurled by hidden hands. But none of his companions spoke a word.

ffg- dead marshes lightsAt last Sam could bear it no longer. “What’s all this, Gollum?” he said in a whisper. “These lights? They’re all round us now. Are we trapped? Who are they?”

Gollum looked up. A dark water was before him, and he was crawling on the ground, this way and that, doubtful of the way. “Yes, they are all round us,” he whispered. “The tricksy lights. Candles of corpses, yes, yes. Don’t you heed them! Don’t look! Don’t follow them! Where’s the master?”

Sam looked back and found that Frodo had lagged behind Faramir. He could not see him. He went some paces back into the darkness, passing the ranger, not daring to move far, or to call in more than a hoarse whisper. Suddenly he stumbled against Frodo, who was standing lost in thought, looking at the pale lights. His hands hung stiff at his sides; water and slime were dripping from them.

“Come, Mr. Frodo!” said Sam. “Don’t look at them! Gollum says we mustn’t. Let’s keep up with him and get out of this cursed place as quick as we can – if we can!”

“All right,” said Frodo, as if returning out of a dream. “I’m coming. Go on!”

Hurrying forward again, Sam tripped, catching his foot in some old root or tussock. He fell and came heavily on his hands, which sank deep into sticky ooze, so that his face was brought close to the surface of the dark mere. There was a faint hiss, a noisome smell went up, the lights flickered and danced and swirled. For a moment the water below him looked like some window, glazed with grimy glass, through which he was peering. Before he could cry out, Faramir was next to him and pulled up and back by the collar of his cloak. “There are dead things, dead faces in the water,” he whispered with horror. “Dead faces!”

Gollum laughed. “The Dead Marshes, yes, yes: that is their names,” he cackled. “You should not look in when the candles are lit.”

”Who are they? What are they?” asked Sam shuddering, turning to Frodo, who was now behind him.

“I don’t know,” said Frodo in a dreamlike voice. “But I have seen them too. In the pools when the candles were lit. They lie in all the pools, pale faces, deep deep under the dark water. I saw them: grim faces and evil, and noble faces and sad. Many faces proud and fair, and weeds in their silver hair. But all foul, all rotting, all dead. A fell light is in them.” Frodo hid his eyes in his hands. “I know not who they are; but I thought I saw there Men and Elves, and Orcs beside them.”

ffg- dead faces“Yes, yes,” said Gollum. “All dead, all rotten. Elves and Men and Orcs. The Dead Marshes. There was a great battle long ago, yes, so they told him when Smeagol was young, when I was young before the Precious came. It was a great battle. Tall Men with long swords, and terrible Elves, and Orcses shrieking. They fought on the plain for days and months at the Black Gates. But the Marshes have grown since then, swallowed up the graves; always creeping, creeping.”

“But that is an age and more ago,” said Sam. “The Dead can’t be really there! Is it some devilry hatched in the Dark Land?”

“The Battle of Dagorlad,” Faramir answered. “The War of the Last Alliance saw the fiercest battles Middle-Earth had known, or has known since. A great many fell here, for great and terrible was the conflict. The graves of those slain were said to be numbered in the tens of thousands. We had heard rumours in Gondor that the marshes here had swallowed up the graves of the slain, but no-one could have guessed anything of this scale. The ground here must be so blood-soaked as to have cursed it beyond the knowledge of men.”

“Smeagol doesn’t know,” said Gollum. “All we knows is you cannot reach them, you cannot touch them. We tried once, yes, precious. I tried once; but you cannot reach them. Only shapes to see, perhaps, not to touch. No precious! All dead.”

FFG- After Dagorlad.jpgSam looked darkly at him and shuddered again, thinking that he guessed why Smeagol had tried to touch them. “Well, I don’t want to see them,” he said. “Never again! Can’t we get on and get away?”

“Yes, yes,” said Gollum. “But slowly, very slowly. Very carefully! Or hobbits go down to join the Dead ones and light little candles of their own. Follow Smeagol! Don’t look at lights!”

Turn Seven

At last they came to the end of the black mere, and they crossed it, perilously, crawling or hopping from one treacherous island tussock to another. Often they floundered, stepping or falling hands-first into waters as noisome as a cesspool, till they were slimed and fouled almost up to their necks and stank in one another’s nostrils.

It was late in the night when at length they reached firmer ground again. Gollum hissed and whispered to himself, but it appeared that he was pleased: in some mysterious way, by some blended sense of feel, and smell, and uncanny memory for shapes in the dark, he seemed to know just where he was again, and to be sure of his road ahead.

“Now on we go!” he said. ‘Nice hobbits! Brave friends! Very very weary, of course; so we are, my precious, all of us. But we must take master away from the wicked lights, yes, yes, we must.” With these words he started off again, almost at a trot, down what appeared to be a long lane between high reeds, and they stumbled after him as quickly as they could. But in a little while he stopped suddenly and sniffed the air doubtfully, hissing as if he was troubled or displeased again.

“What is it?” growled Sam, misinterpreting the signs. “What’s the need to sniff? The stink nearly knocks me down with my nose held. You stink, Faramir stinks and master stinks; the whole place stinks.”

“Yes, yes, and Sam stinks!” answered Gollum. “Poor Smeagol smells it, but good Smeagol bears it. Helps nice master. But that’s no matter. The air’s moving, change is coming. Smeagol wonders; he’s not happy.”

He went on again, but his uneasiness grew, and every now and again he stood up to his full height, craning his neck eastward and southward. Faramir was on alert now also, his eyes twitching at every rustle and whisper. For some time they could not hear or feel what was troubling him, but they could sense the air had grown still and tense. Then suddenly all four halted, stiffening and listening. To Frodo and Sam it seemed that they heard, far away, a long wailing cry, high and thin and cruel, while Faramir felt rather than heard the sound. They shivered. At the same moment the stirring of the air became perceptible to them; and it grew very cold. As they stood straining their ears, they heard a noise like a wind coming in the distance. The misty lights wavered, dimmed, and went out.

Gollum would not move. He stood shaking and gibbering to himself, until with a rush the wind came upon them, hissing and snarling over the marshes. The night became less dark, light enough for them to see, or half see, shapeless drifts of fog, curling and twisting as it rolled over them and passed them. Looking up they saw the clouds breaking and shredding; and then high in the south the moon glimmered out, riding in the flying wrack.

ffg- call of the ringFor a moment the sight of it gladdened the hearts of the hobbits; but Gollum cowered down, muttering curses on the White Face. Then Frodo and Sam staring at the sky, breathing deeply of the fresher air, saw it come: a small cloud flying from the accursed hills; a black shadow loosed from Mordor; a vast shape winged and ominous. It scudded across the moon, and with a deadly cry went away westward, outrunning the wind in its fell speed.

They fell forward, grovelling heedlessly on the cold earth. But the shadow of horror wheeled and returned, passing lower now, right above them, sweeping the fen-reek with its ghastly wings.

And then it was gone, flying back to Mordor with the speed of the wrath of Sauron; and behind it the wind roared away, leaving the Dead Marshes bare and bleak. The naked waste, as far as the eye could pierce, even to the distant menace of the mountains, was dappled with the fitful moonlight.

Frodo and Sam got up, rubbing their eyes, like children wakened from an evil dream to find the familiar night still over the world. Faramir shook his head as he stood, memories of Osgiliath washing over him. But Gollum lay on the ground as if he had been stunned. They roused him with difficulty, and for some time he would not lift his face, but knelt forward on his elbows, covering the back of his head with his large flat hands.

“Wraiths!” he wailed. “Wraiths on wings! The Precious is their master. They see everything, everything. Nothing can hide from them. Curse the White Face! And they tell Him everything. He sees, He knows. Ach, gollum, gollum, gollum!” It was not until the moon had sunk, westering far beyond Tol Brandir, that he would get up or make a move.

From that time on Sam thought that he sensed a change in Gollum again. He was more fawning and would-be friendly; but Sam surprised some strange looks in his eyes at times, especially towards Frodo; and he went back more and more into his old manner of speaking. And Sam had another growing anxiety. Frodo seemed to be weary, weary to the point of exhaustion. He said nothing. indeed he hardly spoke at all; and he did not complain, but he walked like one who carries a load, the weight of which is ever increasing; and he dragged along, slower and slower, so that Faramir eventually handed his bow to an uncomplaining Sam and scooped up Frodo in his arms, carrying him as a little child too long without rest.

When day came at last they were surprised to see how much closer the ominous mountains had already drawn. The air was now clearer and colder, and though still far off, the walls of Mordor were no longer a cloudy menace on the edge of sight, but as grim black towers they frowned across a dismal waste. The marshes were at an end, dying away into dead peats and wide flats of dry cracked mud. The land ahead rose in long shallow slopes, barren and pitiless, towards the desert that lay at Sauron’s gate.

While the grey light lasted, they cowered under a black stone like worms, shrinking, lest the winged terror should pass and spy them with its cruel eyes. The remainder of that journey was a shadow of growing fear in which memory could find nothing to rest upon. For two more nights they struggled on through the weary pathless land. The air, as it seemed to them, grew harsh, and filled with a bitter reek that caught their breath and parched their mouths.

They had not gone far that next day before they felt once more the fear that had fallen on them when the winged shape swept over the marshes. They halted, cowering on the evil-smelling ground, hoping against hope that it would pass over them once again as it wheeled and circled above them.

ffg- searching eyeAnd then it descended, landing a short distance behind them, between they and the marshes. It was a winged creature: if bird, then greater than all other birds, and it was naked, and neither quill nor feather did it bear, and its vast pinions were as webs of hide between horned fingers; and it stank. A creature of an older world maybe it was, and on its back straddling a harness and saddle of black leather sat one of the Black Riders that still haunted Frodo’s nightmares of Weathertop. With a grim resolve, Faramir placed himself between the hobbits and wraith, nocking an arrow to his bow string.

“Go now,” Faramir said quietly. “Lead them on Gollum, and fail them not. Samwise, Frodo, make haste. I shall hold this foul creature as long as it is in my power. Go, fly!”

The ranger drew his bow as the hobbits fled behind him, a gibbering Gollum going before them as they sprinted across the wasteland away from the Black Rider. Faramir drew a breath and sighted the great fell beast along the shaft of his arrow. With a wordless cry of annoyance rather than pain, the winged creature lifted up its head to the clouds above as an arrow protruded from its side. But it was not Faramir who had pricked it so, for his own shaft was yet stayed in his hand, poised in its surprise. Then the ranger looked beyond the Nazgul, and saw several of the shadows in the marshes moving toward them. A second arrow flew out of the mist, and a third, striking the hell-hawk once and again. Shrieking in anger, the beast leapt into the air, scattering the mist about it with its vast leathery wings. And there, emerging from the gloom, came forth the men of Gondor,

Turn Eight

Anborn put another arrow to his bow, taking a breath to steady himself before letting it fly. He did not wait to look to see if it struck its target, though another demonic scream confirmed its accuracy a moment later. Instead he ran forward past Mablung and Damrod, who in turn loosed their own arrows. A pace or two beyond Damrod, he stopped and sent another arrow up at their foe, being passed by Mablung and then Damrod in turn. Together the three kept up the assault on the winged beast, whose pain and frustration prevented it from attempting the landing on the treacherous ground beyond. A misstep for a creature of that size and weight could prove fatal, for the marshes did not care who slipped into its grasp.

When Anborn had rejoined his companions he knew exactly where to lead them. Tracks led up to a foothill overlooking the camp, and then away again south into Emyn Muil. A handful of boot prints in the ground about the hills clearly identified them as Gondorian-made, and yet none of his company had ventured into Emyn Muil save him alone. Knowing the purpose of their mission, Anborn knew then that it was Faramir who had come upon them, having been told by Denethor with his companions of the task assigned to Faramir.

But yet instead of approaching his countrymen, who would have been all too eager to aid him in bringing Isildur’s Bane to Minas Tirith, his captain had instead chosen to forgo their aid. Faramir’s reasons for doing so Anborn could not guess, nor was it his place to do so, for their task was to see The Ring to Minas Tirith at all costs, even at their own lives.

Tracking Faramir from there had been relatively straightforward, especially once they entered the marshes. The hobbits he was travelling with left imprints that would have been hard to notice had Anborn not been actively seeking them, but the impressions left by Faramir’s great boots were deep and clear in the soft ground, and grew fresher with each march.

ffg- groping deadThe crossing of the meres and bogs had not been easy, or without cost, and two of their companions had slipped into deep waters, where the cloying mud had dragged them down beyond any hope of rescue. Another had gazed too long at the candles that littered the marshes and that night disappeared, with only screams of dead things and groping hands marking his demise. But still they pushed on, knowing what lay at stake with their task.

And now, just as they began to leave the marshes behind, a scream from the abyss has split the sky, one that veterans of Osgiliath still heard in their nightmares. A chill terror descended on their hearts, and through the mists ahead of them they could make out a great expansive wing-span plunge to the ground in fury. No words were needed, Anborn loosed a dart at the shadow, followed swiftly by Mablung and Damrod. Beregond and Ingarion raised their shields, drew their swords and advanced. As they went, the rangers continued to assail the beast, even as it leapt into the air, its great wings beating back the mist that shrouded them, even as it bellowed in frustration.

“Come, beneath it!” called Beregond, charging beneath the soft underbelly as it hovered over the marshes. The guard of the Citadel ducked behind his great shield as talons scratched at him, slashing back with his sword as it tried to crush him with its weight. The steel proved too much for the creature, and despite the infernal shrieks of the Black Rider atop it, once Beregond had pierced its flank with his blade it no longer wished to press the issue. Now Ingarion joined him, and together in concert with the rangers they were able to force the Nazgul away from the solid ground and up into the air, disappearing from sight into the canopy of mist above them.

Returning his gaze to the ground, Anborn let out a curse, for there fleeing from them was Faramir, running as fast as he was able and catching up to three small figures. “The Halflings!, he called. “Do not allow them to escape!” Anborn set off at a run, desperately trying to make up the ground they had lost, followed swiftly by Mablung and Damrod. Beregond took a mere moment to respond, still scanning the skies above them for an sign of the Nazgul’s return. But Ingarion was the swifter, dropping his shield in the soft turf to lend speed to his efforts.

They had not gone more than a few paces when they found themselves kneeling and sprawling on the ground, clutching their ears in a desperate attempt to block out a fresh horrendous shriek from above. Before they could recover, a blur of shadow and fury plummeted out of the mist above them, seized Ingarion in its dark talons and was carrying him off over the murky waters. The Pelargirian had only a moment to cry out in alarm before he was sent plummeting into the depths below, never again to surface and taste the sea-air of his city.

The wraith wheeled from for a second attack, allowing the Gondorians no time to grieve. Once and again it circled over them, that same shadow of terror filling their hearts with every pass. And yet faith in their cause and devotion to their lord lent steel to their hearts, and heedless of their safety they press on. Mablung and Anborn paused to loose deterrent arrows at the circling creature, but whether they missed or the creature did not feel the pain of being struck they did not know, but in silence the wraith now passed through the air, gliding on silent wings. And they pressed on, as fast as they dared without dropping their guard.

With a roar and a shriek the Black Rider descended, plummeting to the ground with the fury of the abyss. The hell-hawk landed behind Damrod at the rear of the party, whose demise was only prevented by swift arrow to its shoulder from Mablung. Damrod took his short spear from his back, jabbing and feinting to keep the creature at bay. “Begone,” he called to his companions. “I shall hold him as long as I can!”

ffg-for-gondor.pngBefore he had finished his cry, Damrod looked and found the shield and plate of the citadel resolutely by his side. “You stand not alone,” Beregond said. “Alone we shall get picked off one by one, together we may yet prevail.”

“The halflings will escape with Faramir,” Mablung joined them, his own spear lowered toward the Nazgul. “But we shall find them again. For now, our mission depends on letting them go.”

“Together then,” Anborn set an arrow to his bow, his last but one. “For Gondor.”

As one they cried, “For Gondor!”, and rushed the wraith and his infernal steed, daring to stand before them and prevail.

Turn Nine

At last, after running for what felt to Frodo like hours, they halted once more. Before them dark in the dawn the great mountains reached up to roofs of smoke and cloud. Out from their feet were flung huge buttresses and broken hills that were now at the nearest scarce a dozen miles away. Frodo looked round in horror. Dreadful as the Dead Marshes had been, and the arid moors of the Noman-lands, more loathsome far was the country that the crawling day now slowly unveiled to his shrinking eyes. Even to the Mere of Dead Faces some haggard phantom of green spring would come; but here neither spring nor summer would ever come again. Here nothing lived, not even the leprous growths that feed on rottenness. The gasping pools were choked with ash and crawling muds, sickly white and grey, as if the mountains had vomited the filth of their entrails upon the lands about. High mounds of crushed and powdered rock, great cones of earth fire-blasted and poison-stained, stood like an obscene graveyard in endless rows, slowly revealed in the reluctant light.

They had come to the desolation that lay before Mordor: the lasting monument to the dark labour of its slaves that should endure when all their purposes were made void; a land defiled, diseased beyond all healing – unless the Great Sea should enter in and wash it with oblivion. “I feel sick,” said Sam. Frodo did not speak and Faramir bower his head in contemplation.

ffg- dagorladFor a while they stood there, like men on the edge of a sleep where nightmare lurks, holding it off, though they know that they can only come to morning through the shadows. The light broadened and hardened. The gasping pits and poisonous mounds grew hideously clear. The sun was up, walking among clouds and long flags of smoke, but even the sunlight was defiled. The hobbits had no welcome for that light; unfriendly it seemed, revealing them in their helplessness – little squeaking ghosts that wandered among the ash-heaps of the Dark Lord.

Too weary to go further they sought for some place where they could rest. For a while they sat without speaking under the shadow of a mound of slag; but foul fumes leaked out of it, catching their throats and choking them. Gollum was the first to get up. Spluttering and cursing he rose, and without a word or a glance at the hobbits he crawled away on all fours. The others crawled after him, until they came to a wide almost circular pit, high-banked upon the west. It was cold and dead, and a foul sump of oily many-coloured ooze lay at its bottom. In this evil hole they cowered, hoping in its shadow to escape the attention of the Eye.

The day passed slowly. A great thirst troubled them, but they drank only a few drops from their bottles-last filled in the gully, which now as they looked back in thought seemed to them a place of peace and beauty. Faramir took the first watch and then the hobbits took it in turn after him. At first, tired as they were, neither of them could sleep at all; but as the sun far away was climbing down into slow moving cloud, Sam dozed. It was Frodo’s turn to be on guard. He lay back on the slope of the pit, but that did not ease the sense of burden that was on him. He looked up at the smoke-streaked sky and saw strange phantoms, dark riding shapes, and faces out of the past. He lost count of time, hovering between sleep and waking, until forgetfulness came over him.

Chapter XVI: Journey To The Crossroads