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When Hope Has Failed
Tolkien Fanfiction

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Chapter One

'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 gray hood over his head, and night came into his heart, and he knew no more.

When at last the blackness passed, Sam looked up and shadows were about him; but for how many minutes or hours the world had gone dragging on he could not tell. He was still in the same place, and still his master lay beside him dead. The mountains had not crumbled nor the earth fallen into ruin.

'What shall I do, what shall I do?' he said. 'Did I come all this way with him for nothing?' And then he remembered his own voice speaking words that at the time he did not understand himself, at the beginning of their journey: I have something to do before the end. I must see it through, sir, if you understand.

'But what can I do? Not leave Mr. Frodo dead, unburied on the top of the mountains, and go home? Or go on? Go on?' he repeated, and for a moment doubt and fear shook him. 'Go on? Is that what I've got to do? And leave him?'

Then at last he began to weep; and going to Frodo he composed his body, and folded his cold hands upon his breast, and wrapped his cloak about him; and he laid his own sword at one side, and the staff that Faramir had given at the other.

'If I'm to go on,' he said, 'then I must take your sword, by your leave, Mr. Frodo, but I'll put this one to lie by you, as it lay by the old king in the barrow; and you've got your beautiful mithril coat from old Mr. Bilbo. And your star-glass, Mr. Frodo, you did lend it to me and I'll need it again, for I'll be always in the dark now. It's too good for me, and the Lady gave it to you, but maybe she'd understand. Do you understand, Mr. Frodo? I've got to go on.'

But he could not go, not yet. He knelt and held Frodo's hand and could not release it. And time went by and still he knelt, holding his master's hand, and in his heart keeping a debate.

Now he tried to find strength to tear himself away and go on a lonely journey - for vengeance. If once he could go, his anger would bear him down all the roads of the world, pursuing, until he had him at last: Gollum. Then Gollum would die in a corner. But that was not what he had set out to do. It would not be worthwhile to leave his master for that. It would not bring him back. Nothing would. They had better both be dead together. And that too would be a lonely journey.

He looked on the bright point of the sword. He thought of the places behind where there was a black brink and an empty fall into nothingness. There was no escape that way. That was to do nothing, not even to grieve. That was not what he had set out to do. 'What am I do to then?' he cried again, and now he seemed plainly to know the hard answer: see it through. Another lonely journey, and the worst.

'What? Me, alone, go to the Crack of Doom and all?' He quailed still, but the resolve grew. 'What? Me take the Ring from him? The Council gave it to him.'

But the answer came at once: 'And the Council gave him companions, so that the errand should not fail. And you are the last of all the Company. The errand must not fail.'

'I wish I wasn't the last,' he groaned. 'I wish old Gandalf was here, or somebody. Why am I left alone to make up my mind? I'm sure to go wrong. And it's not for me to go taking the Ring, putting myself forward.'

'But you haven't put yourself forward; you've been put forward. And as for not being the right and proper person, why, Mr. Frodo wasn't, as you might say, nor Mr. Bilbo. They didn't chose themselves.'

'Ah well, I must make up my own mind. I will make it up. But I'll be sure to go wrong: that'd be Sam Gamgee all over.

'Let me see now: if we're found here, or Mr. Frodo's found, and that Thing's on him, well, the Enemy will get it. And that's the end of us all, of Lrien, and Rivendell, and the Shire and all. And there's no time to lose, or it'll be the end anyway. The war's begun, and more than likely things are all going the Enemy's way already. No chance to go back with It and get advice or permission. No, it's sit here till they come and kill me over master's body, and gets It; or take It and go. Then take It, it is!'

He stopped. Very gently he undid the clasp at the neck and slipped his hand inside Frodo's tunic; then with his other hand raising the head, he kissed the cold forehead, and softly drew the chain over it. And then the head lay quietly back again in rest. No change came over the still face, and by that more than by other tokens Sam was at last convinced that Frodo had died and laid aside the Quest.

'Good-bye, master, my dear!' he murmured. 'Forgive your Sam. He'll come back to this spot when the job's done - if he manages it. And then he'll not leave you again. Rest you quiet till I come; and may no foul creature come anigh you! And if the Lady could hear me and give me one wish, I would wish to come back here and find you again! Good-bye!'

And then he bent his own neck and put the chain upon it, and at once his head was bowed to the ground with the weight of the Ring, as if a great stone had been strung on him. But slowly, as if the weight became less, or new strength grew in him, he raised his head, and then with a great effort got to his feet and found that he could walk and bear his burden. And for a moment he lifted up the Phial and looked down at his master, and the light burned gently now with the soft radiance of the evening-star in summer, and in that light Frodo's face was fair of hue again, pale but beautiful with an elvish beauty, as of one who had long passed the shadows. And with the bitter comfort of that last sight Sam turned and hid the light and stumbled on into the growing dark.

He had not far to go. Though dusk had fallen, he could still make out the rough path, worn down by ages of use that wound its way from the tunnel behind him gently to a narrow cleft in the mountains. Here he found stairs leading up, long and shallow, and with the orc-tower tower behind him he fell into the shadows of the Cleft at last as he climbed the stairs. He climbed his way to the top, between the Cleft, doubt racing through his mind as he went: 'I've made my mind up,' he told himself, but he felt he was making the wrong choice. 'What should I have done?' Before he reached the summit, he looked back down at the mouth of the stairs to where he imagined he could still see Frodo's body neatly laid out, glittering perhaps in the dusk. He knew it was folly, and more likely a trick of his tears. He wiped them furiously and pressed on, thinking: 'If only I could have my wish, my one wish,' he sighed, 'to go back and find him!' Then at last he turned to the road in front of him, and took a few steps: the heaviest and the most reluctant he had ever taken.

Only a few steps, and a few steps more, and he would never again see that high place. His heart was heavy as he looked over his shoulder back the way he had come one final time, and then he shut his eyes tightly, one hand going up to grip the Ring that now hung at his neck. He nodded pressing away tears and turned to face the harshness of the plains of Gorgoroth with vengeance and a heavy heart. Ephel Dath stood sheer to his east in a falling cliff and beyond him stood a flying bridge of stone spanning the chasm between where he stood and the sloping hills and glens of Morgai.

Sam took a breath and his hand released the Ring and he crossed the chasm, taking broad determined steps. Behind him, the stones of the Tower of Cirith Ungol glowed softly as he took his leave. Soon the slopes of the Morgai rose to meet the bridge and he was safely over the chasm. It was a small accomplishment but he let out the breath had had been holding as he stood on the other side, safe from falling into the chasm. The Ring weighted even more heavily on him now than it had before, and he felt with each step he took into Mordor the weight would increase, and it felt it did. He marveled at the very thought of Frodo having borne it so far, so long.

It was night now, and Sam felt cold and hollow. The ache that rang through him seemed to permeate even the air of the foul world he found himself in. The road before him stretched on over hills, but Sam wondered if he should not follow the obvious trail and go another way. It would be wisest to avoid coming into contact with the Orcs if at all possible, and this very path would seem to lead right to them. His eyes took note of the slopes of Morgai that fed down into the valley that he could now make out beneath the bridge. Carefully sliding along the slick slope, he held out Sting which still glowed faintly from the Orc presence, and made out a surprising sight: a thicket of brambles grew beyond, complete with thorns and dark branches. He could easily hew some aside and make his way down, but he was hesitant.

Beyond, back across the chasm, he heard noises and by the increasing light of Sting he knew Orcs were approaching. If he waited much longer he'd be found and time was of the essence. He forced thoughts of Frodo being discovered out of his mind and slid down the slope the rest of the way, hacking at the brambles as he reached them and then he sheathed Sting as he ducked under the small bridge and cowered. Overhead Orcs called and their footsteps echoed. They spoke the black tongue so he could not understand their scything orders, but his skin crawled with the knowledge of him, and he hugged his pack to his stomach as he willed them away. When at last silence fell and the moon had risen he pulled himself to his feet.

The sky was black, not just with night, for there were no stars, but with the looming mountain range, so vast and huge it blotted out all the sky. He hurried along the valley, running by moonlight and stopping every then and again for a breather. He knew Gollum was still alive and could be following him, now that he bore the Precious. He greatly longed to face the vile creature again, for he wanted very much to run him through with the Elven sword at his side. At length he found he could go no further and trusting himself to a shallow pit of rocks, he nestled in tight, draped the Elf cloak from Lrien over him as it had hidden him well in the past and he hoped it would protect him now, and so tired was he that sleep claimed him without letting him give thought to his loneliness.

He awoke some hours later as a dark feeling washed over him. He felt it should be morning, though still the sky was black from the smoke of Mount Doom, and yet as his gray eyes stared up into the ink above him, he felt sure in his head a Black Rider flew over him. He dared not to move, nor hardly to breathe, though he felt certain he could not be seen, hidden as he was under the cloak of Lrien. He lay this way for some time, and once the darkness had fled his heart, he took a mouthful of water and a wafer of way bread and wept over the way his own ration supply had grown without another mouth to feed.

Drawing determination from this, he shouldered the pack again, putting the cloak around both himself and it, and headed out once more, making north for he was drawn that way and he found that it was the path of the most resistance: the Ring born him down with each step he took in that direction. There was no mistake that Gollum had led them south of Mount Doom when he had taken them through Osgiliath and so Sam knew that Mount Doom would lay ahead of him, back to the north, so he trudged onwards. Above, his eyes caught a glow of silver and he spun expecting to see two luminous eyes advancing on him.

Instead, the cliffs of the Ephel Dath were rimmed in gray as the light broke through the clouds above. He stood in awe watching as the war between clouds and light raged over his head. It came from behind him and spread northwards as he watched, and presently the black broke up and dissipated. He let out a sigh and shudder as if some great thing had just happened and he was relieved, though he knew not that Thoden King lay now on the Pelennor Fields dying, nor that Merry had just struck the final blow to kill the Lord of the Ringwraiths. Presently he heard a shriek and he knew it to be the cry of a Nazgul; but this cry no longer held terror in him: it was a cry of woe and dismay, and it bore ill tidings for the Dark Tower. Out of the west came a speck black against the sky, wheeling towards him, or towards the cliffs beyond him, and it passed him and plunged itself into the shadows of the Ephel Dath, defeated.

He would have let out a whoop of excitement for he knew that a Ringwraith defeated meant a victory for the Men of Gondor, but he couldn't fathom the strength to cheer or even smile. Even watching the trail of the Nazgul bore heavy on him, as when he closed his eyes he could only see the red Eye wreathed in flames, seeking him out. He let out a shuddered breath, wishing Frodo were with him; to comfort him or to be comforted. There was no one but himself though, and still he had to go on. He looked at the light and took what little comfort he could from it, for it meant at least he could see where he was headed and not have to stumble through the darkness. So he pressed on, going slowly but surely north.

Sam soon came to the long dirt bed of that which was once a river, now dried and withered. The stream sloped gently northwards along with the valley he walked in, between the two mountains. Beyond the riverbed he saw a beaten road that wound along the foothills of the western cliffs. It seemed a far more logical approach to take the road than to wear himself out scrambling over rocks and boulders, so he made for it, as it was empty and ran straight north. It would seem to run past Mount Doom, but Sam had little hope of actually walking up to the mountain and entering. He would stay to this road. It was used by the Orcs to carry messages from Isenmouthe and Cirith Ungol to Barad-dr, though he did not know this, as it laid empty while he traveled.

Sam trudged along on it, mouth parched from the dryness of the land, and his eyes ever watching the dark plume that billowed from Orodruin, belching up black smoke high into the air where it the spread like a carpet in the sky over all of Mordor. Still, the light from the sun did not falter, though it grew no brighter, and Sam found so long as he could at least see he could bear the gloom of the sky, for it matched the blackness in his heart. After an hour traveling on the road he stopped, for his ears heard the unmistakable trickling of water in the distance. Hardly able to believe his ears, or the thought that water might flow in this barren waste, he took from the road and followed the sound to its source, not very far off.

It flowed from a split in the black rocks that seemed as though it had been cut in half by a bolt of hard lightning. Where the water came from Sam did not know; it could be the remains of a gentle rain from far beyond, but he did not much care. He debated the chance it was foul and poisoned, but he knelt by it anyway and drank his fill. It tasted strange to him, oily and old as though it had run too long through the black of Mordor, but it satisfied his parched mouth and he refilled both his canteen and the one that had been Frodo's. Thus he felt better afterward, and while the burden of the Ring lightened none, he was able to thank his good luck for the lightened sky, the water and the emptiness of the road. He traveled several miles more until the road began to widen and walls rose up on the side, telling Sam he'd best stick to the rocks again, lest he stumble into a heavily populated Orc encampment.

He stole aside and found Mount Doom to his east and almost behind him and he sighed, knowing he should abandon the northward road entirely now and make for the very mountain itself, but he knew he could not do so much tonight. He would go until nightfall and start again come the morning. He scrambled down towards where the riverbed ran parallel and soon found several murky pools of water to his surprise, and therein he found twisted dark things growing in the pools. They were black and foul, but they lived and grew nonetheless. Mordor was a dying land, but it was not yet dead, and being a lover of all plants and life, Sam could find some compassion for this land that had strangled the life out of all it's inhabitants until only foul dank these as these could grow. He had half a mind to use the Ring himself and if he did he would make Mordor bright and beautiful again, as it should have been, and probably was once in ancient past. He would make green fields and potatoes would grow on the slopes of Mount Doom itself.

He finally could stand the flies that bit him and the harsh air that parched his mouth so fast any longer and so he curled himself underneath a thicket of brambles and ate what he could. Mount Doom seemed within sight, but he knew it was still many long days ahead, so he saved the remaining lembas and took all that remained of the provisions they had received from Faramir. He knelt a bit, eyes closed as he held the dried fruit and nuts in his hand, then divided everything up into two, even the sliver of cured meat. 'And here's your half, sir,' he whispered softly, 'I'll save it until I can take nothing more.' And he packaged away what would have been Frodo's half of the last bit of Faramir's gift and ate what belonged to him.

Then he lay out beneath the briar with his pack at his head and the Elven cloak pulled around him as a blanket and using his arm as a pillow he tried to sleep. It would have been easier if the Eye hadn't followed him into his dreams, but he forced it aside, just as he forced the ache of not having Frodo along and found sleep. It was fitful and light, but it was rest, and rest is what he needed.

He awoke with a sigh, for his night had been plagued with dreams of fire and waking brought no comfort. In fact, it only reminded him of the emptiness he held for the want of Frodo by his side. The sky was gray and the sun hidden beyond the mountains, so he took a morsel of lembas a mouthful of water and climbed up the last ravine, scrambling for the last hundred feet or so and then looked down at all that separated him in Morgai from the harsh emptiness of the plains of Gorgoroth below and beyond. Mount Doom towered in the distance, still some forty miles away, and between here and there stretched the foul reeking plains of Gorgoroth, void of water, plant or weed. And yet as Sam looked down, he could easily pick out many encampments below, one not even a mile beyond, with smoke drifting lazily from them, speaking of warmth, food and water.

He could tell, even from where he stood, that those below were not Orcs but Men, and he found he feared them more so because of it. Orcs he viewed as mindless creatures controlled by Saruman or Sauron, who could not help but do the evil bidding of their masters. But Men were the stuff that made up Aragorn and Faramir, and even though he knew men could go wrong he could not fathom them willing to serve Sauron en mass and live in such a despicable place as this. So he feared them, and what sort of horrible men they were. Tired of the view, he tried to find a way down the drop of the ravine, but it was futile, for any step he took would plunge him head over heels into the rocks.

So he was forced to turn and climb back down the ravine and stick along the wall that sprung up as it lead the road past the Orc-encampment. He edged onward, and it seemed he would make it through unseen and without running into danger. He slunk around a bend some two miles past and the Orc encampment was behind him and out of sight. No sooner had he turned though, he could hear the snarling sounds of voices coming upon him. His heart leapt into his throat and he cast about for somewhere to hide himself or an alterative to being found out. If it was one or two, he could probably take them by surprise. He could also try to out run them for he could run light and swift if he needed, aided now by his lighter figure. He had but seconds to decide, so he darted behind a low grouping of shrubs off the road and waited to see what would come around the corner.

Presently, two Orcs came into view, and they were arguing with each other in the Common Tongue, though Sam did not care to listen to what they said. There was a little one, sniffing about the rocks and reminding Sam of Gollum, and a big one with a bow and a spear and a large shield with the token of the eye painted on it. Sam shivered as the little one snuffed about near him and he willed himself not to stink. If only they'd pass him by, then he could sneak behind them. The smaller seemed to be a tracker and he paused and looked back over his shoulder at the solider Orc. 'I doubt he even came this way. He's up in the mountains now, far from here.'

'Just shut up and keep looking.' The bigger Orc said, and he scanned the area and kept walking forward down the path. Sam held his breath as the tracker sniffed about again and then followed after the solider.

He let them go some twenty paces before he slunk out from his hiding place after them. He crept, but fast, using his hobbit skills to keep him quiet and undetected. He was glad the shadows were behind him as he crept upon the two. One hand he kept on the hilt of Sting, sheathed still so its light would not drawn early notice, and the left hand found the Ring on it's chain and he gripped it. He could slit the throat of the big one easily, and then combat the smaller one. It might be a hard battle, but he felt with the element of surprise and Sting in his hand that he would triumph. They were coming on another bend, and fearing there might be more Orcs on the other side, Sam decided to act swiftly lest he delay and be caught.

He was matching the Orcs strides, holding his breath for the reek of stench they exuded and tensing all the muscles in his body for the pounce he would have to make to reach the bigger ones throat. He had to compensate for the heavy pack on his back, and the burden of the Ring, but with a silent wish to the Lady of Lrien to see him through, he sprung forward like cat and wrapped his legs about the Orcs middle and in one fluid motion had Sting out and drawn across the Orcs neck in a flash. A ribbon of black blood shout out and the solider died before he had a chance to shout. As it was the tracker hadn't even seen Sam and only turned to see why his partner had stopped following. By then it was too late for him, as Sam pushed the solider down and was on top the smaller Orc before he could even draw his weapon.

Sam grabbed the Orcs shoulder and thrust Sting deep into his belly. The Orc screamed, but his voice was muffled as Sam forced the trackers face into his shoulder. He felt a grim smile fall over his lips as he gave Sting a twist and pulled it free. The blade shone fiercely now through the Orc blood that coated it. The tracker's eyes rolled up and he felt to his knees as a black bloom blossomed from his chest. Sam looked around, then dragged the smaller Orc behind the shrub he'd hidden behind and stripped him, taking his orc tunic and mail off and donned them, as well as his helmet, which was tight, but fit. The garments stunk and he had a bloody mess on his front now, but chances were if he kept his head bent, he could pass for an orc if it came down to it. He returned to retrieve the solider too, and with much effort got him off the road as well. He stomped out the blood on the road and breathed in relief that he hadn't been happened upon during it all. He tugged the Orc helmet down and strode forward again, feeling a little more confident now that he had slain two and was in disguise.

As he rounded the bend, he could clearly see Mount Doom in the distance some forty miles still, and he wondered if he'd ever get there. Frodo would have known what to do, for he had studied the maps in Rivendell with Elrond and the other Council members. Sam had never paid them any mind and now he sorely wished he had. Mount Doom seemed easy enough to find: it was right in front of him, and yet somehow making a bee-line straight for it seemed a bit foolish, although no doubt the fastest. 'Well, you're in a fix, no mistake.' He said in soft murmurs, not yet used to hearing himself talking anymore. His tongue was dry, but he dared not take more water than he needed. 'What would you do, Mr. Frodo? Did you know a secret to getting up and in?' But he doubted it, and trying to be creative about travel in a realm he knew nothing about was even foolish enough for Sam to catch.

So he judged the distance from the mountain and the course of the road, and figured he would follow it until he met more Orcs or until it swerved beyond the mountain. Then he would make a straight line over the rocks for the mountain itself. It was probably the wrong choice, as Sam had not made many that were right, but he could think of nothing else short of stopping an Orc and asking him for directions, so he pressed on. Soon night fell and he found he did not want to travel in darkness, for his senses were dulled, sleep gnawed at him and the Ring born him down. He took off the road, curling into an alcove of rocks hidden by the brambles of a long-dead bush and pulling the Elven cloak over him he tried to sleep.

He was plagued with fears of Gollum happening upon him while he slept, and he feared the Eye in his dreams. And yet morning came and found him still alive, for which he almost regretted. Frodo had looked in peace at last once he had set aside the Quest and Sam only wished he could follow in suit. Still, he dragged himself to his feet and staggered with the weight of the Ring and sat back down. He forced the look of Frodo's cold pale face from his mind and focused instead on his wrath at Gollum. It made his blood burn and gave him the strength to carry on. He shouldered his pack and started out on the road again, and he traveled some twelve miles before the road turned and Sam felt compelled to abandon it for the rocky terrain.

He took a deep breath of the rancid air and climbed over the craggy sides and soon the road vanished out of sight. He had not taken breakfast or lunch, so now he stopped for a bite of lembas, and a mouthful of water. He sat for some ten minutes, watching the sky darken again as Mordor-blackness took over once more, and then he wearily forced himself to his feet. He picked his way slowly over the rocks, stopping then and again as he heard movement on the road beyond him. He was glad now he had abandoned it, for he saw Orc companies coming along it from ahead and he would have had no where to hide from them between the walls that rose up on either side of the road.

The Orcs were marching, at a faster pace than Sam could have ever traveled at, and soon they were far beyond him, and he was gladdened for it. Still, as he climbed, he could hear more Orcs crying beyond, and occasionally in the distance he could see streams of silver, which he knew was the light glinting off their spears. It seemed vast armies of Orcs were being summoned into Isenmouthe now, from Osgiliath where he'd come from and from Barad-dr, for the Captains of the West were advancing their troops and the Dark Lord was sending his own north. Sam was again relieved he had taken off the path of the road, for surely he would have been caught up with the mess of Orc armies and either found or sent out the Black Gates he and Frodo and Gollum had come to so long ago.

The plains of Gorgoroth were harsh and dry, but they were empty both of life and Orcs and for that Sam could travel without much care to being seen. It was well, too, for now he could think very little about avoiding Orcs so heavy was the burden of the Ring around him. He faced Mount Doom with every step he took, and as he trudged onwards, he found the burden was growing on him more and more. He stopped every mile to regain his breath and try to refuel himself with anger over Frodo's death, but as he staggered on, he found it hard to even conjure up his master's face in his mind. It was beyond him to think of flowers or Rivendell or even the beauty of the garden at Bag End. He knew they were real, and somewhere existed, but for him they were long gone dreams. By dusk he felt he could go no further, and so he slumped into a pile of boulders that formed a small crag by him and he burrowed into it. As he watched the Shadow Mountains in the west behind him grow darker with the setting sun, his eyes fell on Ondodruin in the distance, where it still belched out smoke.

It seemed no nearer now then it had when he had set out from the road this morning and his heart cinched for it. It was as if he would travel forever onwards, but never grow any nearer. To his left, facing northeast, stood the Ash Mountain range, darkened to gray in the twilight as it was. Beyond Mount Doom, though he could not see it for the mountain lay directly in his line of sight, stood Barad-dr, where the Dark Tower housed the Dark Lord himself. Sam found it almost folly that here he was, with the very Ring the Dark Lord so sought, sitting in his front yard. Sleep took him again, though it did not offer freedom from the dark mountain beyond him.

It was still dark out when he awoke, and he wondered if it was the cover of the clouds again, making a black dawn, or if he had only slept a short while. He was not rested, far from it, but he had heard something, or felt something in the air and it had stirred him. He poked his head up from the crag he was beside and let his eyes scan the darkness for signs of Orcs or Black Riders, though he saw none. He was about to dismiss it when he heard a sound that made his blood rise and boil, and heated him to the core. 'Ach, sss.' It came, quietly, drifting over the rocks.

Sleep and fear left him, and weariness too, as his hand gripped Sting at his side. The blade was dark and cool for no Orcs were near, but sharp and hungered for blood as much as he. His breathing was shallow as he scanned the darkness for those luminescent eyes that would give Gollum away, and then he saw him, barely a shadow in the darkness of shadows, slinking along on all fours like the starved dog he resembled. Sam resisted the urge to call and shout at him, for as great as his fury was at the sickening creature, he did not want to lose the element of surprise he had.

So he left his pack behind the crag and flittered down over the rocks, moving as hobbit like quiet as he possibly could. He froze as Gollum did, the latter looking around as if sensing he wasn't alone. Sam held his breath and let the cloak of Lrien hide his face. After an agonizing minute of not breathing Gollum slithered forward again, and Sam came on him. He would not make the mistake Gollum had made when he had attacked him back at Cirith Ungol of gloating before the deed was done. He slunk forward and soon he was over him, and stretched up to grab his shoulder to cut his throat.

Gollum sensed him at the last moment though, and whipped around with a gargled screech and fell on his backside. Sam, in mid-lunge, missed and Sting swung wide over Gollum's head. Gollum reacted quickly, and sprung up, his arms wrapping around Sam's middle and the force of the assault knocked Sam off his feet and he soon found himself on his back with Gollum straddling him, clacking like a beetle. 'Sss, nasty hobbits try to hurt Smagol.' He hissed, one hand holding Sam's sword arm down, even as the hobbit flailed to get Gollum off him. 'O no! I knew, I saw the Precious, didn't we? Yes. Silly Sam.' And his other hand went to Sam's throat and he pressed down tight, blocking Sam's air flow.

Sam beat his free hand on Gollum's side but the creature did not budge. In fact Sam's ministrations seemed to only anger him and forced him to press harder as those glowing eyes leered down at him. Sam's hand drooped and he clutched at his chest, where the Ring pressed into his skin. He was fighting for a moment, struggling with breath and his energy draining to reach the Ring. It was his only hope for himself: he had to put it on. His hand slipped inside his tunic even as the wretched face above him started swirling into darkness. His hand groped and he gagged until at last his fingers found something cold and hard and gripped it tightly.

He did not vanish, but instead pulled out his brown hand and held tight in the calloused grasp was the Phial of Galadriel, and it shone brighter than the sun Herself as he shoved it into Gollum's face. 'Galadriel!' Sam cried, and his tongue was loosed again, as it had been in the lair of Shelob:

Gilthoniel A Elbereth!
A Elbereth Gilthoniel
o menel palan-diriel,
le nallon si singuruthos!
A tiro nin, Fanuilos!

Gollum shrieked and his hands let off Sam's throat to claw at his eyes that were now blinded beyond sight at the brilliance of the Phial. Sam's left hand drooped, but only slightly and he sat up and as Gollum cursed him, Sting found the blood it sought. Sam dug the blade in until the hilt would not go further, and he smiled with malice as Gollum's shrieks increased with the burning pain of the Elven blade. 'That's for Mr. Frodo you filth!' He screamed as his own vision blurred, blinded by his tears. Still, Gollum fought, writhing, and Sam pulled the blade out, his hand slick with dark blood and he shoved Gollum off him and staggered to his feet, the Phial still clutched in his left hand.

Then he knelt and silenced Gollum with another swift slice of Sting, cutting cleanly through the flesh and taunt muscles at his throat. Gollum's eyes bulged, bright and round, but they saw nothing now, and never would again. Sam gasped, then pocketed the Phial, fearful that the light might be seen and sat back. He watched the pool of blood trickle from Gollum's lifeless body ever closer to him. Sam panted for several moments, then took Sting by the handle and stabbed Gollum through the stomach with the blade. 'And that,' he whispered, 'is for my broken heart.' He left it there while he got to his feet.

There was neither pity in his eyes nor remorse. Only a dark gleam that seemed brighter as he wiped the blood from his hands onto his Orc shirt. He fondled the Ring a moment, through the folds of the fabric, then put his bare foot on Gollum's chest and wretched the blade out. He cleaned it on the corner of his Elven cloak and then kicked dirt onto the fallen creature. 'No more will you plague my dreams.' He breathed then turned his back to him, retrieved his pack from the rocks and started out again. Dawn was breaking over Orodruin and he was much too riled up to sleep.

Morning came and cast the world into lighter grays than before, and Sam hoped soon the sun would break through bright and strong and burn Gollum's corpse into a charred crisp. He had no regret for killing him nor for leaving him exposed to the elements for all time. He wished only he could have hurt him worse; death was too good for him. His hand subconsciously fell to his chest, over the Ring as he continued on. Frodo deserved better than just Gollum's death at his hands. And he found that even having killed him did not free the guilt and hate he still held for the creature. Killing Gollum had not brought Frodo back; nothing would. The going was light some time, for his blood still ran hot from the fury of the fight and carried him well. He did not ponder how close he had come to putting the Ring on back there, for the light of Galadriel had saved him. Still, the fact remained that he almost had, to save himself, and he had felt a change come over him for it.

He could not think of anything happy save for the squelch of blood as Sting tore through Gollum's belly at long last. His mind could not think of returning to the Shire to be happy ever again, for he had killed now; murdered in the name of Frodo, and he had born the Ring and lost his master. There was no happy world for him to return to; there was only the journey. His heart was heavy, for he knew that if he should succeed to the top, and cast the Ring into the flames that wrought it, he would just as likely cast himself in as a final effort. He knew there was a pretty lass back home he had once fancied, but he could not picture her face in his mind, nor call her name to his lips. There was no comfort in the Shire. There was no happy Garden back home, for the Sackville-Baggins surely had taken it by now. At any rate, he could never bring himself to garden there if Frodo was not there too.

He traveled this way, with his thoughts turning ever inwards and darker, and soon noon became dusk and he still had not stopped to eat. He forced himself to rest, and sat on a small rock, opening his pack and pulling out a wafer of lembas. It was daylight yet, but cold and dark, and despite the fight with Gollum, he felt neither tired nor weary. So he took a mouthful of water and pressed on, walking well into the night, no longer afraid of the dark now that he had slaughtered the one thing that he had feared. Orcs he would meet gladly now, and hew them down with glee, for his body was beyond pain, his mind beyond thought, and his burden all he could see.

He rested some four hours and when he awoke it was nearing noon. He ate a bit and took some water and set out. Mount Doom was looming larger and larger before him, and he knew he could reach it tonight if he tried hard enough. Still, he found he could hardly walk upright anymore, so heavy was his burden. After only two hours on the road he sank to his knees and threw off the pack. It was senseless to carry the things he had inside there any further: pots and pans and bits of useless Elven rope. So he took them out, and threw them aside. He had no regard for the things he had once found precious: his pans scattered on the rough earth, being dented and dinged as he threw them aside. The rope, given to him freely by the Elves, fell and uncoiled on the parched earth and still he rummaged.

He threw off the Orc helmet and tunic, for he would be an Orc no more. He discarded the salt and the heavy blanket he had brought all this way and rarely used. In the end, only the food was left, with the twin canteens nestled inside. The pack was deliciously lighter and Sam felt he could go on. He left the mess of discarded things behind, caring not who found them or what happened to them. He was going to his death, so all he needed was enough to get him there. He traveled on, and slowly the ground sloped before him, and as he rose night fell and the air became even more rank. Smoke filled his nostrils as it rained ash down from the gaping hole above, and on the foothills he rested, unable to go any further for the weight in his heart.

He curled into himself alone on the last night of his journey to Mount Doom, and thought of what it might have been like if Frodo had made it this far with him. Chances were they might have been curled up together right now, sleeping their last night together in the safety of each other's arms, but beyond that he could not pretend to guess. Sam breathed shallowly as he looked down over the slopes in the direction he had come, back to where, unseen, Osgiliath stood tall and dark, and somewhere inside were the remains of Frodo Baggins. Sam did not have much heart left anymore, for he was too drawn to the Ring and to his death to feel much beyond the weight and the stench of smoke, but thinking of Frodo's body remaining in that harsh land for all eternity touched him. It touched the pureness that remained deep in Sam, buried and hidden safely where the blackness of the Ring could not touch him.

'Oh, Mr. Frodo, it weren't supposed to be like this, I know it.' He lamented softly to himself, his voice cracked with disuse and parchment. 'Somewhere I went wrong,' he felt the tears streaking down his face, and found it surprising he had the moisture to spare to cry. 'I came along this mission to protect you, sir, not to see it through alone like this.' He did not wipe away his tears and they fell to his nose and his lips and dripped onto the cold hard earth. He lowered his eyes, looking at his knees and sighed. There was nothing more to it, nothing he could say or do that would ease his heart nor bring Frodo back from beyond. His eyes looked at his hand, and he realized he was gripping the Ring tightly, enough to make his knuckles shine white at the action, and he had not even noticed.

'So you have me, don't you?' He said quietly, addressing the Ring.

He found even though he had noticed his vice-like grip on the Ring, he would not let it go, for in this black world, it was all that was left to give him any sort of comfort. The Ring was smooth, and comforting in his palm, and he no longer cared that the Dark Lord controlled it. His master was dead, long since dead even, and cold, and he would never make breakfast for him again, or find his heart fluttering when he made him laugh. All his truths had been shattered, and if the Darkness was the only thing that remained true and solid anymore, he would embrace it, for he must have something to hold to. Sam was not afraid of death, but he had a job to do, and without taking strength from somewhere, even the Ring itself, morning would find him and he would not get up.

It was the rest of Middle-earth that Sam rose for the following morning. He was broken now, empty and violated, but he was not selfish. Not yet. That part of him had still been preserved, and he knew the Quest must be completed. He dragged himself onwards practically crawling at the end, gasping for air that grew thick with smoke and darkness. The mountain sloped upwards, and while Sam could not see the peak for the steepness of the slope and the plume of smoke above, his eyes caught what appeared to be a road beaten into the side of the mountain, and it was not far away. He set out for it, crawling along like an insect on the side of the mountain, pausing for five or ten minute breaks as he went and coughing all the while.

He came to the path and found it was made of rubble and ash packed together, yet it wound upwards of the mountain and so he could travel, pulling his cloak over his mouth as he staggered, barely crawling. He could not fathom why the road was here, nor did he even realize it was out of place to find it. Sam had stopped to rest, and he turned to look East, as if he were compelled to look towards the Dark Lord. Far off the shadows of Sauron hung; but torn by some gust of wind out of the world, or else moved by some great disquiet within, the mantling clouds swirled, and for a moment drew aside; and then he saw, rising black, blacker and darker than the vast shades amid which it stood, the cruel pinnacles and iron crown of the topmost tower of Barad-dr. One moment only it stared out, by as from some great window immeasurably high there stabbed northward a flame of red, the flicker of a piercing Eye; and then the shadows were furled again and the terrible vision was removed. The Eye was not turned to him: it was gazing north to where the Captains of the West stood at bay, and thither all its malice was now bent, as the Power moved to strike its deadly blow; but Sam at that dreadful glimpse fell as one stricken mortally. His hand sought the chain about his neck.

The Ring bit into his palm as he gripped it. Faint, almost inaudibly he whimpered: 'Help me, sir. Help me, Mr. Frodo.' For he was taken by that glimpse of the Eye and his fingers found the cool of the Ring enticing. He shut his eyes tightly, and there behind his lids the dark Eye burned brighter and he cried out. 'Help me!' But the only one left to help him was himself and his right hand fumbled with his sword, drawing it out swiftly and he cut himself across the back of his left arm hard with it. The pain was nothing compared to the fierce desire in him to claim the Ring, but it stung enough to make him loose his grip, and he flung himself to the ground, weeping for his own weakness.

True tears did not come this time, though weep he did, but the blood came, and it stained the ash road black before Sam was able to move on. It was not far, and he abandoned his pack with his precious water and food, and he abandoned his cloak of Elven weave and he left Sting discarded behind him as he crawled up the path. His nails caked with dirt cracked as he dug them ever forward, almost dragging himself to the top of the slope, the Ring pulling him down, making him weaker and heavier with each fraction of an inch he took.

The road had been rent with destruction, and fires had spewed forth and destroyed much of it when Sauron's troops had been defeated at Pelennor Fields and the road had suffered from the fires that had spewed forth in his fury. Crags jutted up, vomited up from the furnaces of Mount Doom once long ago, and rents in the mountain, and Sam could barely crawl between them but he did, making the bend and struggling on. The sun was burning high overhead, and the air made him gape like a fish for breath, but still he crawled, slithering on his belly. Until, at long last, the ground leveled out and he found himself facing the mouth of a tunnel that spewed forth heat.

He looked up at it, and inside it rumbled from the fires within. Somehow he found the strength to stand, one hand holding tightly to the chain and the Ring it bore. For a moment he stood, then stepped inside, as if he found a sudden reserve of strength that welled up into him. It was dark inside, black enough not to see anything, but he did not reach for the Phial of Galadriel, for he knew it would not shine in this blackness, nor did he want to see that brilliance here.

He went forth; fear and depair washed off him and he knew them not. His hand undid the clasp of the necklace that he had worn for what seemed years and the Ring fell into his hand. It was no less heavy, but he felt he could now bear the weight. He walked the dark tunnel and saw the fires leaping from the Crack of Doom before he did. He knew where he was, and so he pressed on. The tunnel ended and the inside of the mountain was buried in flames that rose from what seemed the core of hell itself. A small outthrust of the mountain jutted from the rest of the walls and he continued on it, his hand tightly wrapped around the Ring, his eyes blazing red with the reflected fire.

He stood at the edge of the pass, at the very brink of the Crack of Doom, and he did not move. He was tall, erect, and cast into black silhouettes from the light beyond, but still as though he had been turned to stone.

He stood this way for a long time, staring down into the deep fires below. He had come to destroy the Ring, hadn't he? He had lost Frodo at the expense of this Ring, and with it all his joy and happiness. Middle-earth would fall and crumble should his errand fail, and yet, looking down into the sweltering fires below, he found he did not want to part with it. He opened his hand to look at it there, nestled in his palm, glittering with the firelight. It whispered to him:

All that you desire can be yours.

Sam looked at the Ring, his face an expression of emptiness. 'I want Mr. Frodo.' It was a simple statement, but it took all the will he had in him to say it. Still it was out, and he pressed on, pouring his desires into the Ring: 'I want him back, alive. Can you do that? Can you bring back Mr. Frodo? I want nothing else, but that.'

Yes. It whispered, curling its lies through Sam's mind. There are ways. Come, Samwise, come. All that you desire can be yours.

Sam's eyes closed as he felt his heart surge as if for the first time ever. Hope was gone within him now, but something else lived, and he completely gave himself over to it: 'I have come.' He breathed, and then opened his eyes, his voice suddenly clear and strong: 'But I do not choose now to do what I came to do. I will not do this deed. The Ring is mine!' And with that he set it upon his finger and vanished from mortal eyes.

Far away, as Samwise put on the Ring and claimed it for his own, even in Sammath Naur the very heart of his realm, the Power in Barad-dur was shaken, and the Tower trembled from its foundations to its proud and bitter crown. The Dark Lord was suddenly aware of him, and his Eye piercing all shadows looked across the plain to the door that he had made; and the magnitude of his own folly was revealed to him in a blinding flash, and all the devices of his enemies were at last laid bare. Then his wraith blazed in consuming flame, but his fear rose like a vast black smoke to choke him. For he knew his deadly peril and the thread upon which his doom now hung.

From all his polices and webs of fear and treachery, from all his stratagems and wars his mind shook free; and throughout his realm a tremor ran, his slaves quailed, and his armies halted, and his captains suddenly steerless, bereft of will, wavered and despaired. For they were forgotten. The whole mind and purpose of the Power that wielded them was now bent with overwhelming force upon the Mountain. At his summons, wheeling with a rendering cry, in a last desperate race there flew, faster than the winds, the Nazgul, the Ringwraiths, and with a storm of wings they hurtled southwards to Mount Doom.

Here ends Chapter One.

NOTE: This is a dark story, but it is not a Death Fic. If you have read Chapter One you know the nature of the story. The text grows darker and much more violent. You have been warned. I have strived to make this as accurate as possible, so if you notice any inaccuracies or official errors, please inform me. Thank you.

Disclaimer: I do not own any of these characters. Many passages through out this story are transcribed directly or in part from the books themselves. No plagiarism is intended of any sort. These passages and thoughts all belong to J.R.R. Tolkien, and his estate.

Chapter Two

The mountain of Orodruin did not crumble into dust, nor did the fires within boil over in glee or spite. The sky remained the mottle of greys and blues and in the west the cries of the remaining Ringwraiths screamed as they wheeled nearer to Mount Doom. The only earthly change was the rumbling, like a tremor, as it spread out from the base of the mountain past Isenmouthe and to Gondor, Rohan, beyond Lothlrien and the Misty Mountains, beyond Mirkwood, Rivendell and out to the farthest reaches of Middle-earth, to the Shire and to even the waters at the shores to the Gulf of Lhn beyond the Grey Havens. Even there, so far from Mordor, the Dark Lord's wrath was felt.

And returned was a cry from Middle-earth herself, for to distract the Dark Lord so greatly meant something even greater had happened, and the people feared the Quest had failed. But the hesitancy of the Dark Lord was good-tidings for those fighting against his armies, for they found their foe's morals weakened and the armies of Man were taking the upper hand. Yet, in the hearts of those who knew, there was grief. In the forest of Lrien Lady Galadriel fell to her throne and wept. In Rivendell a dark shadow passed over Master Elrond's eyes, and even in Mirkwood the princes' quailed, for they knew that the Ring had not been destroyed, and that the halfling they had sent to complete the journey had failed, and the Fellowship was in ruin.

On Mount Doom it seemed a wind blew and stirred the grey-green folds of the Elven cloak that Sam had brought to the peak where he had discared it on the ground, for it rose up as if of its own will and fluttered. Yet it did not drop, and instead seemed to find purchase on a pair of shoulders that could not be seen. Sting, too, rose up, glinting in the grey light as Samwise Gamgee, Lord of the Ring, turned to face the west as eight tiny specks came into his view, arcing towards him with deadly accuracy. Sting switched from left hand to right as Sam looked up as the specks grew into clearer forms and he could easily make out the billowing white robes and the gaunt faces of the White Kings as they descended on their winged nightmarish steeds.

Sam felt no fear, for power greater than anything ever conceived in him before now flowed through his veins. His hand was loose but firm in his grip on Sting, and his legs bent, tensed, waiting for the fight to start. He did not yet come to the hips of the Ringwraiths, but he did not back away as they landed and advanced upon him, dismounting from their steeds as they drew close. He swayed a step, advancing, and they came on.

The Eight flowed like molten fire rushing toward him, and Sam merely danced, one foot nimbly falling out of the way of another while his sword hand spun with his body, effortlessly slashing through robe and flesh and bone. Two held him at bay while another came behind him so he turned and raised his left hand with a sweeping gesture and with a mere thought the Ringwraith behind him was flung into the air and backwards until he smashed it into the higher peak of Onodruin above the mouth of the tunnel that lead to the Cracks of Doom, and there he lay, broken.

Sam was toying with them, and they seemed to sense this. They advanced cautiously, moving more like One instead of Seven and at last Sam took a step back, but it was only to plant his feet so he could laugh at them. 'I fear you not!' He called and he charged forward to meet them, and for a time was lost in a midst of swirling cloaks of white and the glitter of wicked blades of steel as they arced, cutting air. Sting slashed out between them all, cleaving off hands of death with swords yet in their grasps and slashing legs that came too close.
It was a blur outside of the fight, but for Sam it was all he could see, all he could hear, and all he could think. Images of Weathertop returned to him, watching the King-witch of Angmar, the Lord the Nazgl approaching where Frodo had fallen. In his mind he could now see where Frodo had laid that night, though at the time simple gardener Sam had not known Frodo was near his death. The pain in Frodo's eyes afterward he remembered well though, and it was brilliant in his mind as he hewed through the bodies about him, dancing in his fight as not even Aragorn could have done.

And still they came, for should they fail, there was little between their Dark Lord that would keep Sam from destroying him. The Ring had no desire to let Sam destroy Sauron for Sauron was it's master to whom it most wanted to return, but it bent to the will of its new owner, and Sam's very first fight called upon its powers to destroy the Ringwraiths, and so he would.

All around him cloaks fell to the dirt with cries that resembled the wail of a dying banshee, screeching out in desperation until their bodies turned black and eroded away. Behind them, their winged steeds wheeled and screamed, rearing up and flying off to return to the Tower of Barad-dr, riderless. Seven became Six, and Six became Five before Sam's Elven blade, and soon only One yet stood against the young hobbit. All around them billowed the empty cloaks of the other fallen Ringwraiths, turned white in Sam's eyes by the power of the Ring, and black in the world without. The One left was not the one who Sam had wanted to kill last, the Witch-king of Angmar, as he was called, the Lord of the Nazgl, and the one that had stabbed Sam's master Frodo so long ago. Alas, the Witch-king was dead before Sam could reach him, inflicted a mortal wound on the Fields of Pelennor by the valiant Meriadoc and the Shield Maiden of Rohan, owyn, and so Sam was spared the pleasure of exacting that revenge, but still knew not of his fellow hobbit friends triumph over his loss.

Still, the last of the Ringwraiths, formerly one of the White Kings of Man, finally seemed to be fearful of Sam, for his Lord-king was destroyed and his seven comrades lay eternally resting on the ground beside him, motionless; and before him the cold grey eyes of an enraged halfing pierced him as he watched him advancing, wielding the Elven blade that had cut down his fellow kings. Once he had been called Gothmog, a King of the ancient lands, but now he was but a wraith in black, destined for eternity to seek out the One Ring and return with it to Sauron, the Dark Lord. With his leader the Witch-king killed, the other Seven had looked to him for direction, for he had been second-in-command and had lead their assault on Pelennor Fields before Sauron had called him here. Now all the wraiths by he were all slain about him, bodies littered like so much garbage, felled by this little hobbit. Gothmog would not have himself meet the same fate.

Dead eyes of the former White King looked at Sam, for he could see him in the black world of Sauron so long as the hobbit wore the Ring. In the hobbit's hand was gripped an Elven blade, Sting, and Gothmog marveled at it, for there were few blades that could strike a Nazgl and not be destroyed in the process. The creature before him was small, but with eyes deeper in their commitment than any he had ever seen. Would it not be wise to retreat and let the Dark Lord handle this determined one himself? He had been proven too many times the past day that he was not invincible, that his True Lord could be killed and his fellow riders cut down like so many withered roses. This new Lord of the Ring wanted something, and he fought for it, and Gothmog understood the depth of power Lord of the Rings' want could bring.

Gothmog knew what the forces looked like amassing beyond the mountains of the Ephel Dath, fighting beyond Isenmouthe. The Men of Gondor were winning now that Sauron's powers had been shaken, for he had been there at Minas Morgul, commanding the troops and leading them on after his leader from Angmar had been destroyed by Meriadoc and owyn. He knew with the doubt and fear that grew in Sauron's mind that the tide was turning, and not only would the free people of Middle-earth prevail in these battles, that the Ring was lost to this halfling and next if the halfling here did not kill him first, the Men of Gondor would storm Mordor and into Barad-dr and Sauron would be defeated, and he with them. Sauron's leash on him had faltered. The Dark Lord still controlled the ring he wore, but now He was afraid of the halfling who had claimed the One Ring. Gothmog was scared too, for if the halfling did not kill him, Sauron very well might. He held his head proud as Samwise advanced, then made a decision.

He lowered his eyes and bowed low and deep, one hand smoothing over the flowing white robes about him, bending until one knee touched the hard packed earth and he was in full submission. There was no mistake what his bow meant: he was kneeling to his new Lord, knowing that it was death or to submit. He had chosen submission. Perhaps there would be pity in the heart of the hobbit, although he did not pretend to think there would be. Still, if it made Sam lower his sword for even a moment, Gothmog might be spared.

Sam paused, Sting still held out before him, as the Ringwraith, King of White, knelt before him. He grimaced with dark mirth to see how the Power could sway even the Dark Lord's highest minions. 'O but this is sweet,' he said, his voice cold and emotionless, 'so great is your loyalty to Sauron that you should change sides when the tide has turned so!' And the hobbit laughed, for he found much amusement in the wraith knelt before him and all the irony that it forebode. 'Why should I spare you, then, you who conspired these long months to take my master and force the Ring from him, caring not who you killed along the way?' He shook his head, shaking with fury: 'O no, I shall not give you reward for your treason!' He shouted, advancing on the kneeling Gothmog, who in turn did not flinch.

'No, and yet, to kill whatever vile thing you have become is too good for you.' Sam stood just before Gothmog, now able to see the top of his head as the King knelt to him. 'I have a better use for you, Nazgl.' He said, the word of the name slipping from his tongue like blackness voiced. 'You have denounced your Lord to save yourself, and now you shall lead me to him, so that I may return the hurt to him he has given me ten-fold. You shall be my guide through Barad-dr. Now rise!' He stated, and his voice commanded like it should never have, and Gothmog rose to his full height, towering over the small hobbit. He would not attack him, however, for he had been spared and now Sauron was only a lord, a very dark one, but Sam had taken his place as the Dark Lord, and Gothmog would do as his new Lord commanded.

Long ago he had been stripped of the ability to speak, unable to form words beyond the harshest of screeches and hisses. It was the Black Tongue he could now communicate with, directly to Sam through the Power of the Ring, and he said this into the mind of the hobbit: 'Sauron awaits you.' Sam's lips curled, as if disgusted by the speech inside his head, but he nodded placidly as though he had expected such a statement.

'We had best not make him wait, then.' Sam said coolly, and his eyes darted over the incline he stood upon. His pack lay not far from the entrance of the mountain tunnel, and all about them were the scattered robes that were all that remained of the other Seven Ringwraiths but all the winged-steeds had fled, including the one that was Gothmog's. 'So there is no rest for the weary footed.' Sam murmured, sheathing Sting and walking to his pack to heft it up. He had not thought he would have to carry the pack ever again, for he had planned to die once he had reached the mountain peak and destroyed the Ring.

He raised his right hand and looked at the finger where the Ring sat. He could feel the burning of Sauron's Eye in his mind, and he knew if he looked to Barad-dr he could see it clearly as day, but he did not fear it. A cry in the air made him turn and he felt his brows furrow as in the distance he saw shapes flying towards him from the north and he wondered if somehow there were more than Nine Nazgl. No hobbit of normal sight could have picked them out, nor could even an Elf at this distance, but it was easy for Sam as he focused his sight to make out the broad sweeping wings and smooth feathered heads as a trio of the Great Eagles flying in from the Misty Mountains. He did not know them for who they were, for he had not know Gandalf had been rescued by them from Orthanac and he did not know they had now been sent as a last ditch effort to rescue himself and Frodo from the disastrous mountain top.

His eyes narrowed, and he ran along the mountain peak, knowing Gothmog was following him, and he looked out east to Barad-dr. The flames at the spiked pinnacle of the tower flared to life, spying the Great Eagles as they flew closer. Sauron might have missed two tiny little halflings creeping into his realm, but he would not let three Eagles trespass as well, regardless if he feared Samwise now or not. Sam watched anxiously, unsure what he could do to save the Eagles if anything at all, and wanting them to arrive so he could ride them to Barad-dr for he did not relish the thought of walking that distance.

There was a crack of lightning in the sky, but it was fire not lightning, and it seemed to shoot up right from the Tower of the Dark Lord itself. It curled around the black spires, as though it were gaining strength, and then shot out, arcing through the air

diagonally and in a hundredth of a second had crossed all the distance from Gwaihir the Eagle and his followers to the Tower. One bird faltered, it's cry of anguish audible even from atop Orodruin and one of the distant birds fell, plummeting. It was Landroval who fell from the sky, struck dead by a bolt of fire from the Tower, and Sam's eyes flamed, enraged. Before him, the sky cracked again as the Dark Lord seemed to be preparing another fiery bolt to send out to the remaining Eagles. Gwaihir and Meneldor cried out their fury at the death of Landroval and they took evasive actions, planning to retreat if need be.

Sauron would not win against the Eagles, Sam thought, and he grounded his feet deep in the earth on the mountain peak and raised his arms. He began to chant in the Black Speech and knew not what he spoke. Above him the clouds roared in thunder and condensed; lightning arched through the sky but did not strike out at anything, living or dead. So loud was the cacophony that Sam's voice was lost in the tumultuous winds he created. Another bolt of fire shot out from Barad-dr, singing the tips of Gwaihir's flight feathers but not seriously damaging him. Sam let out a cry and his hands clenched into fists and the heavens shook and suddenly a torrent of rain began to fall.

The fires in Barad-dr sputtered with the fall of the drenching rain and went out. It was not just hard rain, but pouring, as though the sea was falling from the sky. The water ran down the mountain in rivers, turning ash and soot into black streams of mud, and the fires inside Mount Doom hissed and spat as the opened lip of the mountain peak was drenched. Far off in Barad-dr Sauron cursed as the fires went out around him, and the Great Eagles were able to fly free of attack to rest on Orodruin and they landed admits the soggy ruin there. And rain fell in Mordor for the first time in a hundred years.

Sam went to Gwaihir removing the Ring to reappear in his cloak and pack but kept it clenched tightly in his fist and spoke to the Lord of the Eagles in the language of their kind: 'You have come to rescue me but alas I cannot be saved. Instead do me justice and bear me upon your back to the Tower of Barad-dr so that I might face Sauron myself and exact revenge for my Master Frodo, and so too your fallen comrade.' Gwaihir feared for what Sam had become for he saw the glittering of the Ring in his hand and the fire that grew in his eyes. Meneldor watched from behind Gwaihir, his sharp eyes fixed on Gothmog who lurked behind Sam, his heart longing to seek out his fallen comrade Landroval.

'It is folly which you choose to do, young one,' Gwaihir said in grave tones, tucking his wings tight to his back against the pelting rain. 'I have come to return you to your people, for they fear much for you and your master, who must have fallen by the look in your eyes, and the Ring in your grip.' Sam did not flinch at the statement, and even more so Gwaihir knew it must be true. 'Then hope is lost!' He lamented in sudden despair, and his wings unfurled. 'I shall bare you to Bara-dr!' He cried, for at least Sauron could be destroyed, even if Sam should rise in his place. Sam pulled out Sting and held out the blade pointing towards Gothmog.

'Call your steed, Nazgul,' he said, switching effortlessly into the Black Speech. 'You cannot ride these,' he then turned to Meneldor, his speech again of the Eagles: 'Go back to the others and tell them what you have learned, and if the ones of my kind called Meriadoc and Peregrin live yet, return them to the Shire should they ask to go.' Meneldor bowed lowly as an Eagle could, his beak almost touching the ground, shaken with the loss of his own brethren and now having to deliver yet harsher news.

'Meriadoc has fallen.' Meneldor spoke, his voice grave, 'with him he took the Witch-king of Angmar, Lord of the Nazgl, but he could not be saved from the Black Breath. My condolences.' He straightened then took off, flying out towards the mountains of the Ephel Dath.
Sam let the rain wash over him and hide his tears for they fell as hard as the rain did as he wept for the loss of Merry. A crying wail went out over the mountain, but Sam did not utter it: Gothmog had called his steed, and through the sheets of rain it came, flapping wings of night as it settled opposite Gwaihir. Sam cast off his pack for it only burdened him and donned the Ring again, vanishing completely now, including now his cloak that had been visible before. He mounted Gwaihir with little effort despite his size and the Eagle took off.

Gothmog, on his winged steed, followed close behind for a few moments then wheeled in front to lead them. Sauron might be unable to stop with them from coming for the driving rain hindering his fires, but he could still see their approach. Gothmog knew ways into Barad-dr no one else could know, for he had been the second in command of the Nazgl, and they were Sauron's most trusted servants and knew many secrets. He flew low, skirting over the wastelands turned now to mud, far below the pinnacled peak of the Tower.

Sam thought about shaking the very foundations of the Tower fortress and destroying it and Sauron with it, but he wanted the pleasure of watching the Dark Lord bend and break beneath his power, so he flew on. Too he knew so long as the Ring survived the Dark Tower would not fall easily, and Sauron would be defeated but not destroyed. So on they flew, covering the distance of five days travel in half an hour. Gwaihir landed in the muck outside Barad-dr where Sam slid off and looked about. Orcs abounded here, and Uruk-hai, but none saw him, for they saw only the Eagle who could not cloak into invisibility. Gwaihir took off again, not even wishing Sam luck, for the Orcs had begun to unleash arrows on the Eagle, and he flew to escape. Gothmog was the only one beside Sauron now who could see Sam, and he dismounted his steed and walked towards the Orcs. Sam followed him close and the Orcs broke aside as the Nazgl passed, some even bending low to honour him. They were foolish and stupid and did not yet know what had happened or that the tides of the war had turned.

'Sauron keeps in the top of the Tower.' Gothmog said, his voice a snarl of growls in the Black Speech as he briskly walked through the dank bridge that opened into the Tower. 'This is the fastest way.' Sam hurried his small legs to keep up with the Ringwraiths' massive strides. 'He knows we are coming, and so he waits, but he does not know when.' The White King looked to Sam with empty black eyes then stopped before a door that opened into the Tower. He waved his hands and the doors flew open and strode in. The Orcs fled at his step and he led the hobbit deeper inside.

The interior of the Tower was as black as the exterior. Its stones seemed to be carved of midnight and death, for it reeked of musk and pain inside and not even the oddly placed torches illuminated the black walls; it was as though light itself was swallowed whole by the oppressiveness of the Tower. Sam's eyes followed the path of Orcs as they bustled through the passageways paying him no mind for they could not see him. He looked to the staircase Gothmog had stopped in front of and knew that his destiny lie in that direction. He began to mount the steep stairs turning as they spiraled, and Gothmog followed him, his robes fluttering on behind him.

'Why do you help me, Nazgl?' Sam asked after several moments' silence as they traveled endlessly up the stairs. Gothmog did not at first respond, and so Sam continued, cold certainty in his voice. 'I seek to destroy your Lord, Sauron. Then I shall destroy the Ring. Am I right in my belief that with the destruction of the Ring you will be destroyed too?' Gothmog was silent, and a look over Sam's shoulder told him it seemed he was raging an inner debate with himself, so he let the Nazgl think. He suspected he was being led to a trap, but he was prepared for it. Even if it meant his death, he would go into it with his chin raised.

Gothmog's voice was nails on an unwaxed gourd mixed with the shriek of a dying vulture, but he spoke nonetheless, and it was as black as the speech he used: 'To die would be welcome,' he said, having carefully chosen his words, 'but you have already failed to destroy the Ring.'

Sam's eyes narrowed as he thought on that. He had taken the thing to be reunited with his master, but as soon as he had borne the Ring he knew it had tricked him into lies to save itself. Frodo would not come back from the dead, Ring or not. So Sam had planned to destroy It after all, but only after killing Sauron. His mind did not contend to the fact that if the Ring were destroyed Sauron would be undone with it. For the loss of Sam's master, Sauron deserved a fate worse than death and Sam felt only he could dole it out. 'What will you gain from helping me?' He finally said, for his questions had not been answered, and he was not reveling in the new ones Gothmog had given his mind to feed on.

'Sauron is afraid,' Gothmog said, dragging his brittle voice down the halls that opened to their right and left as they climbed as he spoke sounding like too many rusted chains trying to rattle but only snapping at their own weight. 'His power wanes for his armies are defeated and the Nazgl, all but I, are fallen. His control over the ring that commands me has faltered. If there is no hope for a Black Rider as I, death at last would be welcome.' He halted on the stairs and Sam looked back at him, for they were not quite reach the top.

'If only death is what you sought,' Sam said, his voice cool and very uncharacteristic of him, 'then I would have slaughtered you on Orodruin like your brethren.' Now more than before he believed Gothmog was taking him to certain doom, but he cared not. His footsteps were silent on the dark stairs as he continued up.

'There is no reward in death without redemption.'

Two doors stood fifteen feet high before them, carved of solid wood and painted and polished to match the black of the pits of hell. Grotesque figures of solid wood leaned from the carved door with gaunt faces like those of the dead and hands that reached out in beckoning as if to suck out ones soul. The figures' eyes stared fathomlessly black yet glittering in the pitch darkness, unblinking. The stairway abruptly ended here and there was no light save the soft glow of Sting held tight in Sam's hand and the ethereal glow of the white robes that clad Gothmog in the negative light of the visions in Ring world. Beyond the doorway Sam knew stood Sauron, although he could not fathom what the Dark Lord looked like, or if he even had a form at all. As far as Sam knew, Sauron was merely a lidless eye wreathed in flame.

Gothmog stepped forward and placed his hand on the thinnest of cracks that split the doors. He incanted darkly under his breath and light, red as if in flame, suddenly flared between the crack and the doors opened with a great screeching as they moved. Sam raised his left arm to shield his eyes from the firelight flooding his vision, Sting held tight in his right. Gothmog strode forward fearlessly and Sam followed, his heart void of any emotion save for that of revenge.

They stood in a many-windowed chamber, void of glass in the frames and of all furniture and finery save a large pedestal in the center of the room. Upon it rested a small sphere, perfectly round and smooth. Inside it flared horrible fire and Sam realized that the blaze of the room was not from any live flame within the chamber, but emitted instead from this ball. The sphere revolved, or the fires within it rotated and Sam tore his eyes from it, for he then knew what it was: a palantr, one of the seven Seeing-stones and not what he had come to find. The young hobbits eyes focused on the one patch of black within the room, a place directly behind the palantr where no light shone nor was reflected.

Sauron stood like a shadow over the crystal globe of fire. His body was tall and broad, well muscled by definition and in the shape of a man like the White King beside Sam, but that was where the similarities of Sauron to Man ended. His skin was an unnatural black, charred by flame and cracked, and all around him lifted the faintest of steamy mists as though he were still smoldering within his own skin. Clothes he did not wear, for there was no make that could withstand the burning flesh of Sauron. Yet no features of the Dark Lord were visible that were not outlined in red from the palantr and those were few.

Two points where Sauron's eyes should have been suddenly blazed to life, a hot inferno raging within, and those fiery points focused on Sam and did not waver. The hobbit did not flinch nor cower at their piercing gaze. Instead he took a confident step forward, Sting held out like some charm that could ward off the evil before him. 'I see you have wasted no time in coming to me.' The Dark Lord said in the Black Speech, his voice spoken directly into Sam's mind where it was magnified as though a thousand roaring lions and a thousand blazing fires made up the sound. Gothmog did not move from where he stood behind Sam, for it was not yet his time for action.

'I have come to destroy you, Sauron the Deceiver.' Sam said, his voice plain and quiet amid the raging of the flames before him, but it held no fear.

'You have come to die.' Sauron corrected and with that he seemed to grow in stature and in breadth as he drew nigh the small hobbit. Sting lost any light of its own left and blazed with the inferno before it, for as Sauron approached the palantr exploded with a conflagration of fiery light. One wraithlike hand rose, fingers spread and Sam was flung backwards and slammed against the doors he had just entered, which were now sealed tight again. The hobbit gasped as he slid down them, his right hand still tightly holding to Sting and saw Gothmog motionless beside him, looking at Sauron.

Sam's eyes opened, a blue flame flaring to life behind them as he focused them on Sauron. The Dark Lord raised his hand again, but Sam was faster and his own left hand came up and from it shot a tidal wave of energy. Sauron swayed back with the force of the blast but did not budge. Parts of his skin curled and peeled away as ash and disintegrated like so much dust. Beneath the flesh burned a red-hot fire and Sam was reminded of the Balrog in Moria as the muscles of Sauron flared and again his skin was charred and blackness enveloped him once more. 'You fight for your fallen master, do you not?' The Dark Lord sneered, his arms opening wide.

'I seek revenge for his death.' Sam answered, his voice cracking in a curl of anger. He would not let Sauron's Voice turn his head from his purpose.

A violent laugher filled the room and froze Sam's blood in his veins and stilled his blade hand. 'If he is dead, then it is of your own hand!' Sauron shouted, his eyes blazing brighter as did the places beneath where his skin flaked, flaring brilliant red. 'Behold!' He commanded and his hand stretched out and the palantr once again filled Sam's sight. The fires inside were swirling, spinning dizzily bright and Sam did not want to look for whatever was there was conjured only to stray his heart from the fight, but his eyes once fixed on the orb could not be torn away.

Fire became cloud and cloud became earth and soon the jagged peaks of the Ephel Dath formed inside the globe. The fortress of Osgiliath solidified and soon the palantr soared over the chasm separating Morgai from Mordor and into the pass Sam had climbed to leave Frodo's body behind. He crept forward unknown to himself, his breath held in his throat as the orb traveled closer to where he had laid Frodo down to rest with the sword of the King from the Barrow at his side and his arms folded gently over his chest. 'Mr. Frodo!'

His voice was wretched from him as the place Frodo had been left was empty! The horrors in his mind of what the Orcs or Shelob could have done - or be doing - to Frodo's fair body now filled his blood with rage enough to tear his eyes off the palantr and fix them again on Sauron. 'Death is far too good for you,' he said through clenched teeth as he advanced. His footsteps caused the tile beneath his feet to pop and crack with the energy he exuded and the air was tense with the fury behind his eyes. 'But it is all I can offer, and it will be enough.' He hissed and with one motion the floor exploded up around him sending black shrapnel about as he launched off it and sprung towards the towering black form of Sauron.

Sting found purchase in the Dark Lord's shoulder, and the roar of anger Sauron uttered stole away Sam's hearing for several long moments. Sam twisted the blade with a cry inside the shoulder and then wretched it free. His hands bled where he had touched the scalding flesh of Sauron, and his knees smoldered where they had rested on the charred skin and the fabric had melted away. Sauron was grabbing for him, and Sam fell back and scooted on his backside to evade, switching Sting from right hand to left for the blood coating it made his right too slick to fight with. His free hand now folded into a tight ball to protect the Ring and he scrambled to his feet in defiance.

'Fool!' Sauron shrieked, his voice breaking into a choir of demons singing in despair. 'Then let your heart be shattered!' He hissed and his left hand rose and clenched tightly into a fist. Sam cried out at Sting clattering from his grasp as his body crushed in on itself as though he were paper inside that flaming hand. He writhed in agony as bones popped in his legs and shoulders and his eyes flew open wide as his fingers bent backwards and snapped with wet cracks. 'Your master is dead to you, and you could not save him!' Tears coursed down Sam's cheeks marking pale rivers against the ash that stained his face grey. Sauron stalked forward, ignoring his own ichors as they flowed from his wounded shoulder.

'You let him die, you pathetic halfling, and not even with the One Ring could you exact your revenge for him.' Sauron's black foot pushed on Sam's chest and the hidden flames that existed there quickly burned through the tattered shirt Sam wore and seared his flesh. Sam writhed on his back, his eyes wide with pain, unseeing Sauron or Gothmog or even the flames about his head. 'What great love you have for your master.' He sneered sardonically, rubbing his heel into Sam's belly until blood boiled from the contact.

Sauron bent and grabbed Sam's right wrist, pulling the hand that held the Ring to him greedily. He was content to rip the whole thing off, wrist and all, but before he could Sam's left hand shot up and his nails dug into the massive black hand that held his right. There was fire again in Sam's eyes for now he was trying to be robbed of the Ring, and the desires that drove one for possession of the Ring delved deeper than those that mortal pain could. Strength beyond Samwise flowed forth and he bent Sauron's hand back with broken fingers and when his right hand was freed he pulled it back and sent a punch to connected to the Dark Lord's fierce jaw.

It was not strong enough to send Sauron reeling but it stopped the inevitable reclaiming of the Ring by him, at least for the moment. Sam's hands wrapped around the foot at his middle and grimace though he did at the burning it did to his hands he tried to knock it off his stomach, to no avail. Sauron's weight and his presence were suddenly gone and Sam jerked up, one hand clutching the bleeding, bubbling mass of flesh at his abdomen as he looked before him to see what had just transpired.

Gothmog had come alive and his white robes billowed about him as if the flames of Sauron created a wind that blew them about. In Gothmog's hand clenched his own long blade, three times the length of Sting, and to Sam's surprise he could now see it jutting out Sauron's back, the hilt nuzzled into Sauron's gut. Gothmog's other hand was clamped over Sauron's open mouth, and smoke poured from the junction, but Gothmog felt no pain. The White King's dark eyes narrowed to slits and he twisted the sword in its place and Sauron's scream echoed beyond the Ringwraiths' grip. A blinding light flashed suddenly and Sam's eyes were drawn to Gothmog's right hand where it held the hilt of his sword. There, on the index finger had been one of the Nine Rings of Power given to the Kings of Man by the Dark Lord, and it was shattered now to dust as Sauron's control over Gothmog was completely severed.

The White King roared and the sound was fierce like a waterfall coupled with a thousand panes of breaking glass and he pulled the sword from Sauron's body with the fluidity of a feline and before the Dark Lord could fall prone to the floor Gothmog's blade arced ringing through the air and cleaved off the Maker of the Rings of Power's head in one fell stroke. The head hit the far wall and burst asunder into flames so great was the swing; and the body collapsed and smoldered.

Sauron, the Enemy of the Free People of Middle-earth, was defeated.

Sam gasped at the scene before him, watching as Gothmog nonchalantly sheathed his sword and wiped his hands on his glittering white robes. He turned to face Sam and his eyes were a startling blue, so vivid Sam forgot his pain a moment. 'Can you stand, Master Gamgee?' He spoke, and the sound was no longer death voiced but the old gruff call of one unaccustomed to speaking. Sam realized Gothmog was staring towards him, but not at him and it was a slow realization that the once-Ringwraith could no longer see him for his ring had been destroyed. Sam looked to the Ring on his own hand and only by clenching his jaw did he snap the finger back into place and slip it off with a cry.

Gothmog was by his side in an instant and Sam merely gurgled, for the pain had increased ten-fold without the comfort of the Ring on. 'You cannot give up yet.' Gothmog said and he left Sam's side. Sam fought through his sea of pain unable to comprehend that Sauron was defeated and yet he was still alive, and Gothmog was the one he had to thank for such a deed. 'Look,' came the rough voice and the White King's hands, pale but flesh coloured now, were thrust before him and in his palms sat the palantr. The picture it showed was not of fire and death nor the Orcs ravaging his beloved master's corpse.

Instead it showed a black cell riddled with ruined bones and greasy rags against dark brick walls and broken floor, and huddled amid the filth atop a pile of greasy rags was the prone and broken body of a hobbit Sam knew very well. His heart surged in his ches, both for the sight of his masters' intact body and for the injustice that had been done to it. The Orcs had stripped Frodo down to bareness and left him not even a scrap of cloth to hide his dignity behind. His hair was flat on his brow as though it was wet with grim and sweat and his beautifully pale skin was marred with black and yellow bruises and ages of decay and filth. He looked thin and pale and Sam swallowed down the knowledge that a corpse five days dead could not hold its shape and would have begun to collapse in on itself in rot.

Then it happened, and as Sam watched there was a flicker of motion and lo! the nude form in the palantr shuddered and the head lifted, trembling like a babe. Frodo only rolled onto his side, his back to Sam's gaze now, and tuckered down curling into himself, showing a full view of his bony spinal column as it jutted beneath the thin flesh. 'He lives!' Sam cried, his eyes wide and his mouth opened. 'He lives!' He repeated louder and got to his feet, taking the palantr then collapsing for his broken legs and burned kneecaps. 'My master is alive! And O! I have left him!' And too he could not even rise up nor walk to save himself.

If not able to walk, he would crawl then, and if crawling failed him he would slither! He looked into the orb once more, burning the wretched form of Frodo's ravished body into his mind forever and then staggered to his feet once more and let the blinding lightning flash of pain help him concentrate on living. 'You will not make it, as you are.' Gothmog said, and before Sam could protest the White King had lifted the hobbit into his arms effortless and was crossing the room towards one of the many open windows. Sam felt light, one hand clutching the Ring, the other gripping the palantr and let his pain course through the rest of him.

Outside the Tower the rain still fell in heavy sheets but not even the torrent of rain could quell the excited pounding of Sam's heart.

Out of the dark of the pouring rain came a cry not unlike the Great Eagles, but Gwaihir did not appear. Instead it was the black winged spawn of the former-Nazgl who flew nigh, who now Sam could clearly see as though some veil that had previous obscured it had been lifted. It was neither horse nor bird nor dragon but all of these and none. Its wings stretched out with a breadth of eighty-feet, made of tough leathery black webbing spread between rippling muscles that beat the wind to keep it aloft. It's front legs and head were those of a terrible horse, and its eyes gleamed red and spittle fell from its mouth as it cried. Behind it had powerful hindquarters that ended in sharp talons and a tail viciously long and spiked towards its end that whip-cracked in the air as it hovered now before them. 'He will carry you back to Cirith Ungol.' Gothmog said, stepping back as the winged steed landed on the ledge. 'Where your master is.

'He is called Brzthrakat, Dark Bringer.' Gothmog said levelly, reaching out a hand to touch the beast's dark muzzle. It let out a gush of air and a shrill pitch and stamped. 'He will ride hard and he will ride far.' He looked at Sam and then crossed to Brzthrakat and set the hobbit on the beasts back. The creature reeked of sweat and blood and his back was wet with rain. Sam's left hand, broken though it was, clutched the coarse mane of hair tightly, for fear of falling off. He was small, and his legs barely reached about Brzthrakat's broad shoulders.

'Wear the Ring now, for it will lend its Power to you and heal that which would otherwise not heal.' He said and Sam vanished from sight as he complied wordlessly. It was so much easier to give into the Ring than to try and keep it off. Gothmog was blurry now, no longer the corpse-like king in white cloaks through the vision of the Ring. He looked human, alive but pale, and still in white he was both with the Ring on and without. Sam clenched his hands and found while there was still great pain in them they worked and he could hold onto Brzthrakat's mane and ride, for he was going to rescue Frodo. 'Gurat bartom, Brzthrakat, gurat bartom!' Gothmog spoke, urging the beast on in the Black Speech. 'Ma-u Cirith Ungol!'

With that the beast reared up and Sam held tight as the wings unfurled into the sky and his seat shifted with the creatures muscles. Brzthrakat dove off the lip of the Tower and soon they were airborne, and the rain was pelting them down. Gothmog became a white speck in a great vast maw and Sam soared on beyond the wicked spikes of the Tower head he'd just left, circling fully about the fortress before turning due south, back towards the Ephel Dath Mountain range. Sam held tight to Brzthrakat's mane as they flew onwards back towards the distant towers, covering a ten day journey in hardly an hour.

Brzthrakat flew along the mountain range so Sam could look down and see the plains stretching out to Gondor to his right and that which was Morgai and Gorgoroth behind him to the left. His heart ached for the ease of this journey and wished in times past his master and he could have been borne to Orodruin on wings of a steed and then they would have been spared much toil. 'Mr. Frodo.' Sam muttered, peering down into the dark orb in his right hand that still showed the motionless figure of Frodo Baggins, curled up on the cold floor.

The spires of Osgiliath came into view as they neared and Sam's heart tightened for he knew not where in this vast fortress his master was being held captive. 'It's impossible!' He cried and anger flowed in him. Far below he could see the Orcs running, for they had spotted his steed and mistook him for a Ringwraith. It would be easy to land and take one of those Orcs by the throat and look into his eyes and demand that he be shown to Frodo. They would compile or they would die, and Sam was sorely tempted by the thought.

In his hand, the palantr spun, and the room Frodo lay in swirled away. Sam cried out in fear for his master until he realized that the palantr was not betraying him, but obeying his command! It showed now what was like a magnified version of the towers he was circling and the orb gave a path dark and winding up through the mountain and into a tower and there Frodo was again, unmoved, on the stone floor. Sam sighed and with his feet pressed into Brzthrakat's flanks, directing the steed down, down to land on the harsh packed ground, slick with rain. He dismounted, grimacing in agony at the pain that shot up his knees at the drop but then clenched his right hand tight against it and began to run.

He was now in the very heart of the place he had left Frodo and his feet carried him on. Invisibility paid him some good, for he passed Orcs that did not mind him. And so he came to the Two Watchers, sitting like they were great figures on thrones of stone. They were grotesque with three joined bodies and three heads each, facing him, facing away and facing across the gate. Their faces were like those of sicken birds, vultures or worse, and their hands complimented their visages with long carved claws resting on their knees. Sam knew them to be stone and nothing more, but they were Watchers and would not let him pass, invisible or not.

A small voice inside him bade him use the Phial of Galadriel, but before he could act to think to use it, his left hand had risen up, for the right still held the palantr, and with a quick fist he crumbled the stone Watchers with a thought and ran past unheeded. It felt as though the stones had cried out in misery of defeat, but he was unstoppable now and should a legion of Orcs come charging him he knew in his heart he could slaughter them all with a wave of his arm.

He ran on and before him was the Orc army and the were all looking up aghast as the Two Watchers crumbled behind him, for they saw only the Watchers as Sam was invisible. Sam put the palantr in his left hand and drew Sting with his right but he did not slow down to fight, for the Tower that housed Frodo was before him, beyond the door that stood ajar beyond, flickering with a glowing red light inside. He cut two as he passed and they fell dead with screams and the Orcs grew fearful for they knew now that an enemy was amoung them, invisible to their eyes. Sam pressed on and before the Orcs could rally their forces he was through the door.

He advanced down the passage way, but faster now, each step more quickened as he drew near his destination. He began to fear what he might find in the Tower above. He was afraid Frodo would not be alive at all, or they would have moved him, or killed him just before he arrived. There was no sound save the quiet padding of his feet as he ran, and the muffled cries of the Orcs outside. Around the bent the torchlight flickered black on the walls as though blood dripped from them, but suddenly shadows of Orcs danced too. They had heard the cries from the front and came rushing to the fore. 'Embrace death.' Sam muttered and spun once and with a clean sweep all three of the approaching Orcs dropped dead and still Sam was running.

Stairs appeared before him, and Sam forgot his pain and his broken joints and mounted them two at a time, carried on by the power of the Ring sending strength into him and pushing him forward. Cries echoed down from the stairwell above and Sam found himself grinning darkly. He had not had enough bloodshed yet, for Gothmog had taken his kill of Sauron and these Orcs were no doubt the ones who had put Frodo into his current state of disarray. 'Come!' He sneered rushing to meet those black-tongued voices: 'Come unto your deaths!'

He had gone up and up beyond the blackness that was the stairwell and then it ended and he was cast out onto a flat roof on the top of the highest of the three spires. It was an opened space with only a lone parapet beyond. A small domed chamber in the middle of the room covered the stairwell and low doors stood facing east and west. Beyond the eastward door he could see Mount Doom standing silent in the rain, for once quiet and not smoking. He turned westward for the parapet that reached upwards into the sky blocked the door there and he could not see beyond.

Harsh Orc voices filtered down and he knew in this courtyard he could find those who had not rushed down to the skirmish he had stirred below. A snarl followed by a sharp cry sent him stalking forward and he put himself in the doorway and looked in. Inside was Shagrat, Captain of the Tower, though Sam knew him not, and with him were two others. Shagrat was arguing with the two Orcs, both of whom wanted to go and see the skirmish, but Shagrat would not let them. Sam strode forth and Shagrat's eyes opened hideous and wide as Sam stepped behind him and drew Sting across his throat. The other two Orc's eyes bulged but before they could question what had happened Sam had snapped the neck of one and grabbed the third with his mind, holding him in place with a thought. The Orc squirmed and whimpered and Sam sheathed Sting and sat the palantr down as he approached.

When he spoke, his tongue was loosed in the words of Orcish, which mirrored the Black Speech in sound but varied so that he knew the Orc could understand. His words did not form aloud for with the Ring on mortal ears could not hear him. Instead he spoke directly into the Orcs puny mind, and what he said was this: 'Where is the prisoner? Where is he kept!' And the Orc trembled, yellowed eyes frantically looking around the room for something to see or fight. 'I will kill you!' He said and stalked forward, raising his burned hand and placed it on the Orc's forehead where the skin between them began to burn. The Orc cried out.

'The turret! The turret!' And Sam released him and the Orc collapsed backwards. Sam let a smirk curl on his lips as, in a flash, he had Sting buried deep in the Orc's belly. He pulled the Elven blade free and was out of the court before the Orc fell. He crossed back towards the turret and opened the door peering inside. It was black inside but he could see for a dim light glowing to his right. Inside a passage lead to another staircase and therein burned a torch that lit very little. He passed the torch, and the doorway that led to an empty room, knowing Frodo would be at the very top. He reached another window facing east and a doorway illuminated faintly by the light of the torch above it, and here the stairway ended.

The door was open and lead out into another dark and empty chamber. He entered and looked about. There were doors on either side of him, but both were locked, and not a sound abounded. He looked around in despair and did not know where to turn. Suddenly his hand sought the palantr and with a shock he realized he'd left it down below in the courtyard where he'd slain the Orcs. 'Blast it all Samwise Gamgee!' He shouted to himself. He stalked forth and kicked the nearer of the doors, planning to tear it down to get inside. Just as he was about to raise his hand to strike it down, the door opened and he was face-to-face with a snarling Orc, who was staring right at him. 'Th'hell're you doin' up there!?' The Orc shouted, spraying Sam with spittle. The hobbit cowered backward, scared only by the unexpectedness of it all.

The Orc strode forward, as though he were afraid none, and Sam realized he carried a ladder in his grip, and his eyes were not on -him- but the ceiling. Realization dawned on Sam suddenly that the Orc couldn't see him! And lo! he was carrying a ladder! Sam watched him set it up and climb it, and his heart knew that Frodo was lying there above his very head as the Orc opened a trapdoor in the ceiling and went through. Sam clamoured up the ladder after the Orc, his heart beating faster and faster with each step.

His head came out in the center of a large round chamber, and it was the same as the one he had seen in the palantr. A red lamp hung from the roof and a thin window slit faced westward, letting in not even starlight. The Orc was faster than Sam and had crossed the room in the amount of time it took Sam to reach the top. 'Told you not to make any more noise! You've had your reminders, now you're going to pay!' He pulled out a long thin whip and before Sam could utter a cry the Orc had snapped the black tongue across the motionless form huddled before him. If Frodo was alive, he did not cry or flinch at the attack and the Orc pulled his arm back to deliver another blow.

It never fell, for Sam had crossed the room in three steps, his heart blazing with fire and ripped the Orcs arm off his body, whip and all, with his bare hands. Howling with pain the Orc turned towards his invisible assaulter staring in horror at his arm floating before him. Sam tossed it aside and his left hand grabbed the Orc's throat and tightened, his eyes flaring with fury. One arm lost was not enough and he pulled Sting from its sheath to inflict proper damage. It blazed in blue glory as Sam shoved the Orc up against the wall and, pulling the Orc's own knife from the Orc's own belt he pinned the Orc to the wall through the palm of his remaining hand with it. Sam then gouged out both the Orcs eyes with Sting, and cut out his tongue to keep him from screaming. There was no reason this Orc deserved his full ruthless wraith any more than the others did or didn't, but this one had been unfortunate enough to be the one he caught hurting his master, so all his hatred was directed on him.

With that thought he remembered Frodo and the Orc was forgotten. He stabbed Sting through the Orc's foot, pinning him there with the Elven blade and returned to his fallen master, kneeling by him. Frodo was naked, lying as if in a swoon on a heap of filthy rags: his arm was held up to shield his head and there stood the brilliant red wound from the whip, and across his side and on his back Sam could see many more. 'Mr. Frodo! My dear Mr. Frodo!' cried Sam, his tears almost blinding him, but still Frodo did not move to acknowledge him. Sam pulled off his cloak and draped the Elven cloth over Frodo's thin ravaged body and only then did Frodo stir. Sam felt his heart was going to burst with joy at seeing Frodo's eyes flutter open, both scared and confused as he did. 'It's Sam! I've come!' He cried but Frodo's face did not change its expression and suddenly Sam realized it was because he wore the Ring and Frodo could not see him.

He tore it off without a thought and the look of shock that over came Frodo's beaten face made Sam laugh through his tears. 'It's Sam, Mr. Frodo!' He cried again. 'I've come at long last!'

'Sam!' Frodo cried, his voice dry and cracked, but recognizable in the end. It was the most beautiful sound Sam had ever heard, for it was a sound he had never thought he would hear again, not at least in this lifetime. Sam half lifted Frodo in his hug, embracing him hard as he could no longer contain his joy. 'Am I still dreaming?' Frodo murmured in his ear, his voice but a whisper. 'But the other dreams were so horrible.' He did not yet hold Sam back.

'It's not a dream at all. It's real. I'm here.' Sam said, breathing deep to control himself again. 'O and you're alive!'

'I can hardly believe it,' said Frodo and suddenly what little strength the master of Bag End had came forth and he clutched to Sam hard as though he were drown. 'Sam!' And he shook, rocked with sobs of joy for his rescue, for seeing a face he too had thought was dead, and a glimmer for hope, but no tears came to him.

'Hush sir, you're safe now.' Sam said softly, stroking Frodo's dark hair gently. Frodo laid back in Sam's gentle arms, closing his eyes in exhaustion and content, relaxing now like a child at rest when night-fears have been driven away by some loved voice or hand. Sam glowed and felt he could sit this way in happiness forever; but it was not allowed. It was not enough just to merely find Frodo, he had to get them both out of this Tower, and out of Mordor and now that he had lost the council of Gothmog and the speed of Brzthrakat and the surprise of the Ring he knew his journey would be harder. Soon Orcs would swamp up those stairs and come to them. Sam could overtake them he knew, but he did not want to risk the chance a stray arrow might pierce Frodo's flesh. He bent and kissed his masters brow: 'Come! Wake up, Mr. Frodo!' he said, trying to sound cheerful, as if they were not in a dark tower inside the hells or Mordor but at Bag End instead, and Frodo had only fallen asleep under the trees again.

Frodo sighed and sat up, the cloak falling about him. He was thin where the cloak revealed his flesh and Sam's eyes traveled his body, taking in the deep black marks on his flesh where he had been bruised by kicks and harsh hands, and thick welts on his arms and back where whips had been applied to his pale flesh. Sam did not cry, but he wept in his heart, knowing now what horrors Frodo had been enduring while he himself had left him for dead behind and carried on to Mordor. 'Where are we Sam?' Frodo breathed, looking around, his hands trembling as he raised one to touch his own cheek, looking at the Orc still writhing on the wall and then looked away.

Sam shuddered and dried his eyes with the backs of his palms. 'In the top of that tower we saw away down from that tunnel that housed that dreadful spider! How long ago that was I do not remember, more than a week I fear!'

'A week!' Frodo lamented for it had felt both longer and shorter. 'It seems years,' he breathed and sought solace in Sam's warm arms again. 'Something hit me, didn't it?' He regarded his welted arm. 'I fell into darkness, and black dreams, and found that waking was worse than sleeping. Orcs were all around me. They must have just poured their horrid Orc draught down into me,' he spoke as though he was familiar with it, for it was all he had been subsiding on since his existence here. 'It made my head grow clearer, but I was achy and weary. They stripped me of everything; and then two great brutes came and questioned me until I thought I should go mad, standing over me, gloating, fingering their knives. I'll never forget their claws and knives.' He buried his face against Sam's chest and inhaled deep, trying to take comfort in the scent of simple hobbit that Sam exuded for it was sweet and familiar.

'Don't speak of them,' Sam said quietly and held him for a moment longer, then he breathed softly: 'can you walk? I shall carry you if you cannot.' Frodo pulled back and nodded.

'I believe I can walk,' he said quietly. 'I am only bruised and whipped but not so bad I cannot stand.' So he got to his feet to prove his point, the Elven cloak falling as a pile on the floor. He wobbled a bit on shaky legs, but did not fall. 'I feel very tired,' he whispered, 'and very thirsty and very weary. I've got a pain here.' He said and touched his left shoulder near the back of his neck. Sam watched him, and as the firelight shone on Frodo's unclothed form it seemed as though he were dressed in flames: his naked skin was scarlet in the light of the lamp above. Frodo began to pace, and after two turns he said: 'Yes, I can walk.

'I have not tried since they fought so many nights ago. A quarrel amoung the ranks broke out and though I could not see what happened, I knew many died. It was only a day ago they restocked their guards, and that new Orc was assigned to me.' His eyes did not look to the Orc who writhed against the wall, though he knew well that it was there.

'A good thing they did then, sir. There were still some fifty I met on my way up, but they had their Two Watchers crushed and most went running to see what had happened and so I could get by, lucky thing that! A hundred Orcs against one Sam Gamgee would have been a bit of a tall order. Best they hadn't restocked all them yet. Now what's to be done?' He said, looking at Frodo as the older hobbit gingerly bent and reclaimed the cloak of Lrien. We can't go walking through Mordor with you in naught but your skin, Mr. Frodo.' He rose to his own feet, wishing he had brought the pack with him from Orodruin; but had never thought he would have needed it when he had gone to face Sauron, for he had still believed Frodo to be dead.

'They've taken everything, Sam,' said Frodo, his tone changed. 'Everything I had. Do you understand? -Everything-!' With that Frodo's strength gave out and he crumpled to the floor again, head bowed, as his own words brought home the full disaster of what he had let happen. The despair overwhelmed him, and he imagined what Sauron could have done in a week's time with the Ring returned to his power. 'The Quest had failed, Sam,' he whispered.

'Even if we get away from here, we can't escape. Only the Elves can escape. Away, away over the vast limitless sea beyond the reaches of Middle-earth, if even that is wide enough to escape the shadow.'

'No, sir. Not -everything-, Mr. Frodo. And it hasn't failed, not yet.' He brought his clenched fist up, wherein he held the Ring, but for the moment he did not open his hand, for he had his own confessions to make, and they would not be easy. If only he had known Frodo had been alive! 'It weren't right then,' he said, explaining softly, 'but that horrible spider woman had come and killed you. I thought you were dead, sir, and I stayed near you for as long as I could. Then I knew there was no hope for you, and if I did not go on there would be no hope for Middle-earth, so I took It. And . . . and I've kept It safe.' He had planned to open his hand at that, to show him the Ring, but he found he didn't want to. After all, it was his now. He had claimed it, and Frodo no longer needed to bear its burden, for it would be only that to him: a burden.

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

'No, sir,' Sam said, his tone dropped to an icy level, eyes narrowed to look at Frodo standing there like a hobbit child screaming over a stolen toy, 'it's no longer yours to have.' He got to his feet, rising up until he felt he towered over Frodo, although it was not so. 'I took the Ring. It is mine.'

Frodo's eyes widened in horror and his face contorted: 'No! No! You thief! The Ring is mine! You cannot have it! Give it to me!' Sam laughed at him, and it was the laughter of one who is amused by the trials of a dying dog trying to climb its way out of the steep banked river but in all its scampering only makes the hill worse and its slide down again and again to eventually be drowned. Sam's eyes were dark as he spoke.

'Thief I may be but that is not for you to say!' He shouted, and before him Frodo was no longer his beloved master but Sauron alive from the dead again and trying to pry the Ring from his tight grasp. 'The Ring is mine! You cannot have it back!' His left hand flung out, catching Frodo about the throat and he lifted him up with little effort and spun him around and slammed him hard up against the wall. Frodo's eyes rolled up but he held to consciousness having been knocked from his delirium. He looked on in horror as Sam's face twisted into a grin of malice as he slowly choked the breath out of Frodo.

Frodo was no longer scared, for he realized in a split second what had happened. A week had not passed because Sam had been minding the weeds outside Cirith Ungol. Sam had taken the Ring from what he had believed was a corpse and true to the purpose of the Fellowship he must have plotted north and headed for Mount Doom, alone. Frodo's eyes fluttered closed as his heart broke at the realization dawning upon him. Somewhere along the way, he knew not where, Sam had lost control to the Ring and it had taken him: he had claimed it. Unable to destroy it, he had somehow discovered Frodo still was alive and returned to save him.

But what good was saving someone who could not be saved in return? Frodo's arms went limp from where they'd been holding to Sam's hand at his throat and he let go of his mind. He did not want to live in a world where Sam would be his lord, for his desire for the Ring was so great that he would kill for it, even if that meant killing Sam, and he loved Sam too much to subject them to that. His death would be the better thing, so he would not have to see Sam ravished by its grip, and they two would not be torn apart over their want of it. No. It was best to leave Sam, for without Sam there was nothing left in this harsh world for him to live for, and what better way than to die than by the very hand that had come to save him?

Something awoke him then, and he knew that this moment was only temporary, for Sam -had- come to save him. Sam was not entirely consumed by the Ring, and so long as he could curb his desires himself there was still hope they could destroy it, together. All was not lost; indeed it was better than he had feared. Sam would awaken from his violent mood just as he had, and would weep for the harm he had done his master. Now if only Frodo could hold to life long enough to let Sam return to normal. He opened his mouth and breathlessly cried: 'Sam! Sam! It's yours!' He choked on the thumb that pressed into his throat and gagged and as black swarmed his vision he whimpered: 'The Ring is yours.' He felt that hard hand loosen at long last, and then he knew no more.

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