Sam had not gone far into the tunnel before the light failed and he was reduced to groping his way alone. The dreadful smell grew worse until the hobbit’s senses were almost overcome. Beneath his feet however the floor was smooth and dry and even, as if trodden flat by constant passing…..Sam clamped his woolly feet to the solid ground as if to draw strength from it…
Sam was no hunter, but he thought this cave resembled the lair of some great beast. Fear gnawed his heart but the thought of Frodo in danger dispelled it. He drew his sword. The blade rang and even in the darkness it glinted slightly, for as the tunnel delved deeper the walls began to give off a faint, phosphorescent glow. Curious despite himself Sam put a tentative hand on the surface of the walls but snatched it away almost at once. It was covered with gossamer-like threads fine as spun sugar which gave off a faint white light and illuminated the cave. It was sticky to the touch and Sam pulled away his hand in disgust.
‘Mister Frodo? Where are you?’ he called nervously. ‘..and what else lives here?’ he thought to himself.
What lived there always knew what entered her lair, and rarely allowed it to depart alive. But Sam was lucky; Shelob the Great, last child of Ungoliant, older almost than the earth itself, was engaged elsewhere when Sam entered her domain.
Shelob’s sneaking friend, Gollum, had led prey to her, as he promised. But Frodo had not proved easy meat; in his hand he bore a light that had scored Shelob’s vision, piercing her brain with a thousand daggers, recalling every bitter wound received at the hands of the hated Elves of old. Shelob had once stalked Elvish warriors when this terrible vale was a fair glade. Elves! Sweetest meat of all but most dangerous and hardest won. Shelob’s ancient hide, encrusted with filth, bore many scars inflicted by the swords of courageous Elves….and this little one had borne such a weapon; an Elven blade that had bit into her precious flesh, making it ooze green blood. A piercing Elvish light and a searing Elvish blade! Shelob had been forced to let her quarry go….
But Shelob was never cheated of her prey; as Frodo picked himself up and staggered on, relieved to be out of the darkness and smell and determined to reach his goal, Shelob crept from yet another of the countless entrances to her lair and prepared to pounce on the unsuspecting hobbit….
Sam had passed many openings on either side of the tunnel, passages that led down into nameless depths. All breathed the same foul, chill air. But guided by instinct he kept on, his footfalls and his laboured breathing the only sounds to be heard, his desperation to reach Frodo his only thought.
And so at last his foot struck something lying on the floor of the passage. Quickly he drew back and stooping passed a hand over it; at once he recoiled in horror; it was a skull, smashed and emptied and dry. Whether of an orc or a man Sam could not tell in the dark, but now he knew some terrible danger lurked in this dreadful place…
‘Frodo!’ he thought to himself and no longer heedful of any danger he ran forward, his feet crunching bones and knocking aside skulls. Then suddenly something struck his face and stopped him short. He leaped back with a gasp, raising his sword, then realised he was not under attack but struck by something dangling from the roof of the passage…
Sam could barely see in the dim green light; it was a man, or had been once. Some warrior of Gondor or Ithilien brave and hardy enough to cross the pass on some daring scouting errand. Now, drained of every drop of blood, his flesh dried to dust, he hung tangled in spider webs as tough as wire, his empty eye sockets staring sightlessly at Sam, his bony jaws open in a silent scream….
Horrified Sam knocked the dangling corpse aside and ran on, blundering as much now from fear as darkness….Frodo…would he ever find Frodo….
And then suddenly there was brightness. The tunnel had ended, giving way to a wide crack in the mountain through which sullen daylight streamed into the cave. Sam leaped forward; impelled by joy at the thought that Frodo had somehow, even without his help, passed through the darkness to safety.
Then his foot struck something else; not a dessicated corpse this time but something metal. He looked down; dismay groped at his heart; it was his master’s sword, Sting.
She saw him clearly now in the daylight, although even in darkness Shelob was aware of all that passed through her realm. Not an Elf, not even a man, but a figure like a child, small and slight and vulnerable, stumbling forward as if urged on by a will stronger than his tiny frame….
Shelob was driven by two forces; hate and hunger. Now both sent her darting forth with frightening speed from a crevasse high above the path Frodo walked upon. She overtook him, suspending her spiny legs across a place where the rocky walls narrowed. Then she lowered her greenish bulk closer and closer….
Sam snatched up Sting with a cry of astonishment; the edges of the blade glowed blue. He looked round wildly, then ran forward out of the cave, tearing through the last shreds of a thick curtain of tough strands spun across the entrance. Before him a pathway gleamed in the sullen light, leading upwards to a staircase and a black tower with a red light at the pinnacle.
And on the pathway, halting and stumbling but moving forward with his head down and fists clenched in determination, was Frodo…
And poised above him, her great mottled body looming against the smoky sky, was Shelob. Her many eyes sparkled in anticipation, her sting was ready..
Sam’s warning shout died in his throat; he was paralysed, struck dumb. All his nightmares had come true. Before his eyes Shelob pounced, moving with speed and even as Frodo was suddenly made aware of his peril and looked up, the spider’s sting, sharp and lethal, plunged into his neck above the protection of the Elven mithril shirt…
For a few heartbeats Frodo’s will, strengthened to steel by all he had endured, battled the flood of poison surging through his veins. But Shelob had the evil of ages distilled in her venom; more potent was it than any spell of Sauron, any taint of Saruman. Blinding, numbing, washing away all feeling and thought, it filled Frodo’s senses and he fell to the ground unconscious…
Shelob had no face to show joy or victory, only a cluster of great eyes above her beak and horns and pincers to feed it. But as she pounced down beside the still form of the hobbit triumph impelled her every move. With her short curved front talons she snatched up the still-warm body and began to exude a white substance that instantly took on the strength and texture of silken cord. Round and round the hobbit she wrapped it, cocooning him….
Then a swift run of footsteps, a sudden flash of painful light and a ringing cry of defiance marred Shelob’s victory….
‘Let him go, you filth…’