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The Gardener's Tale

Hobbits Can't Climb

‘Hobbits can’t climb!’ snorted the Gaffer, giving young Sam a buffet on the ear. ‘Nor should they, when it’s someone else’s apples they be after! Let that teach you a lesson, Samwise Gamgee….’

Sam ducked a second box on the ear from his dad and pondered ruefully on the truth of his words. Old Nemesia Crowhandle had set his broken arm well, and strapped it up, but Sam still was in pain, although more perhaps from damaged pride. For his crime of attempting to steal Farmer Maggot’s small hard red apples he had suffered a painful ride back to Hobbiton in the farmer’s bumpy cart, with old Maggot sermonising him on the evils of scrumping.

‘I won’t do it again, Farmer Maggot, I promise….’ said a beaten Sam.

‘Humph! exploded Maggot. ‘Next time my dogs will eat you for their dinner, broken bones or no. You leave my apples alone, young Gamgee….’

But Maggot had lifted the injured young hobbit down from his cart tenderly when he reached Hobbiton in the twilight and he found Sam asleep from exhaustion and pain.

‘I hope you never have to climb anything worse than an apple tree, young Sam’ said Maggot, looking on Sam’s sleeping face in the sudden beam of the yellow inn-yard lantern. For living as he did close to the Old Forest and the border Farmer Maggot knew better than more protected hobbits that the world was not as safe as it had been….he stirred himself and called through the inn door; ‘Hoy there, Gaffer! I’ve brought your lad home….’

Sam thought he would never stop falling. He was lucky to have his pack on his back, for it protected him from the sharp edges of rock that buffeted him as he hurtled downward. The breath was driven out of him and he could not think, but he knew how far it was to the ground, and hoped he would soon be knocked out, and know nothing of the last long descent to death….

Death almost came, too, when he suddenly fell flat on a rocky outcrop between two turnings of the Stairs. Once again the pack cushioned the worst of the shock, but it was still a crushing, jarring fall onto rock, and Sam lay for a long while, winded and stunned, the rattle of his pots dying away across the rock face of the mountain….

At last, with a groan of pain, he raised himself up on his elbow. He felt devoid of hope, unwilling to go back but forbidden to go on by his own master. He found himself wishing he had indeed perished, plunging on down to death….then suddenly something caught his eye; something green. A leaf, lying on the rock beside the stairs.

At once Sam pushed himself up till he sat on the rock and could see more clearly. Nothing grew here….it could not be a living plant. A long black cloud trailed away to reveal the white face of the moon and in the sudden light Sam saw the Lórien leaves that the lembas had been wrapped in lying scattered about on the rough, stony ledge.

Even in that empty, black land the leaves spoke to Sam of forests and growing things. He felt his heart ease, then a voice in the back of his mind awoke and called to him; ‘Samwise you fool! What is a leaf from Lórien doing here?’

He got up quickly and looked about. There was another, and another. With a dreadful sinking of his heart, Sam realised at last what they were; the contents of his pack. Strewn beyond them, harder to see in the gloom, were the wafers of lembas, crushed and broken by the fall, but still wholesome even in Mordor. Sam reached out his bruised and grazed hand and picked them up. He gazed at them for a long time, then tears sprang into his eyes.

‘Samwise Gamgee, you are a fool! A child could have seen through that trick, but you fell for it! The Gaffer was right, brains are not your strong point….’

But what Sam lacked in brains he made up for in love. Realising now at last the extent of Gollum’s treachery, Sam’s first thought was not for himself, nor even hatred for Gollum, but fear for Frodo. What had Gollum wanted him out of the way for? The question burned Sam’s mind. He seized the lembas wafers and thrust them roughly into his pack and turning he did not even look up the long, long winding stairs; he merely leaped from step to step, as if possessed by some madness…

‘If you’ve harmed a hair of his head, you nasty worm, I’ll kill you ten times over….’

Sam had reached the entrance to the tunnel before he drew breath. Then he found himself unable to breathe, as Frodo had before him.

‘What an ‘orrible smell!’ he gasped, pulling his kerchief up in front of his face.

It was a hard smell to define; part animal, part musty, mouldy rock hidden deep away from sunshine, part rottenness that he had never smelt before. Something of it reminded him of Moria, and the smells rising out of tunnels inhabited by orcs and other unnamed things. Sam shuddered in spite of himself. Anywhere else, at any other time, he would not have dreamed of entering this foul cave. But the dust on the ground at the mouth had been disturbed; two sets of footsteps led inside. One was long and splayed, like a giant frog. The other was a hobbit’s feet. They were Frodo’s footprints….

‘Well, Master..’ thought Sam grimly ‘if you’ve gone in, I can’t linger but must follow. Never ever again will I leave my master….’

But for a moment Sam could not go any further. The smell was too intense, the darkness too utterly black. He quailed, and leaned back against the rock outside, sweat beading his forehead….

‘You did not wish to leave your master before you saw the vision…’

Sam started; he could have sworn it was the Lady Galadriel standing beside him speaking, but Sam knew it was only his memory, recalling the words she had spoken to him when he looked into the Mirror.

‘No, I won’t go back. I won’t leave Frodo….’

It was his own voice, the reply he had given Lady Galadriel. The words awakened his courage; steeling himself, he drew his bright blade, not as bright or sharp as Frodo’s Sting but a sword of Númenorean make, of the kings of the North, made long ago….The moon grew dim; dawn was not far off…

‘Good!’ thought Sam grimly. ‘Whatever evil trap Gollum has led Mister Frodo into, at least any daylight this foul land can afford will help me find them….’

And Sam stepped forward to enter Shelob’s Cave. He paused for a heartbeat on the threshold, and in that moment of dying moonlight Sam was transformed by his courage into something more akin to an Elvish warrior of old than a plain humble hobbit. Unthinkingly he reached into his pocket and fingered the tiny box of Lothlórien earth given to him by Galadriel. Then he started forward again with determination, sword gripped firmly in his hand…

‘I’m coming, Mr Frodo, wait for your Sam….’