September is the best month for walking, Sam thought. There was not that blazing noonday summer sun beating down on your head, or winter snow suddenly falling and marooning you in great silent white drifts.
In September the hedgerows of the Shire were at their best, laden with hips and haws, blackberries and redcurrants and covered with small star-like white hawthorn flowers. Late honeysuckle straggled through the beech hedges with delicate tendrils of pink and cream. The branches of the rowans held such huge clusters of red berries that they bent almost the ground, and the elderberries, if they were not picked for jam or wine, fell onto the footpaths and left a stain like dried blood…..
There was no blood on Frodo’s face, nor on his clothes. As he lay cold and stiff in Sam’s arms outside the cavernous entrance to Shelob’s tunnels, it seemed as if he had no blood left, that it had all been replaced with some vile poison which lent his skin a sickening greenish colour….
‘You told me to wake you early, Mr.Frodo…’ said Sam, half to himself. ‘You said;’Sam, let’s not waste any of that precious September walking weather. Have your pack ready and your staff, and we will be away before sunrise. You know how short the days are in September. We don’t want the night to overtake us….’
‘But the night has overtaken us, Mr. Frodo….’ Said Sam aloud, although the sound of his own voice sounded strange and unsettling in the great silence of this desolate, rocky place. Sam was afraid that some other awful creature would be able to hear them. But what harm it could do now, he did not know…..
There might be a touch of frost on the grass as they set out down the lane, the cocks crowing away behind the hill at Hobbiton. Perhaps even a crust of ice on the puddles in the cart ruts. Sam’s woolly feet were numb at first, but he knew they would warm up.
‘Come along then, Sam!’ said Frodo. ‘We want to make the Spreading Oak before nightfall….’
‘I hear they make a right good scrumpy there, Mr.Frodo…..’ said Sam hopefully, but Frodo snorted. ‘Scrumpy? Sam! You know I never touch anything but ale…..’
By the time the sun had begun to dispel the great pools of mist that lay in the hollows they were well on their way, along the high road at first, then as the grass dried across the fields to the old orchard way, from where they could see the Anduin snaking in the distance, a silver scarf amid a tapestry of amber and ochre autumn fields. Pausing at the top of the hill, staff in hand, Frodo smiled and said to Sam, slightly out of breath; ‘Isn’t this the finest sight in all Middle Earth, Samwise?’
Sam nodded, and in his heart he added the thought that only a master like Frodo would let him come along to enjoy it, treating his gardener as if he was his own brother. Even if a younger and sometimes not very quick-witted brother…..
‘I could be as bright as a star, even the Star-glass of the Lady….’ Said Sam softly to his unheeding master. ‘…and it wouldn’t matter at all, Mr.Frodo; I can’t bring you back to life. I can’t do anything, not even bury you, not here on this rocky ground. Mayhap all I can do now is follow you….’
The thought rushed on Sam and took his breath away. Follow his master! Death yawned in front of him like a vast black chasm, terrible yet somehow comforting. At least all the pain would be over. He would not have to wake every morning to a world bereft of his master….
‘That is what I can’t bear, if you pardon me, Mr. Frodo…’ he said to the unmoving hobbit in his arms. ‘The day after day, remembering you but not having you with me, if you see what I mean…’
He doesn’t see, you numbskull! Sam thought angrily to himself. Then he raised his head and wailed aloud; ‘Because he’s dead….!’
For a while he was lost in his grief. Then, gently laying down his master, Sam drew his sword from its sheath and looked on the sharp tip, glinting in the dim light. After all that had happened, this would be easy. He looked at Frodo’s face, seeming an even deeper green in the poor light. Easier than it was for you, he thought…
Frodo set off ahead of him down the hill, swinging his walking staff and whistling. ‘Hurry up, Sam!’ he called back over his shoulder. ‘If we don’t get across the high road before the sun is up we will run into the Grubbs who live beyond the turnstile. Then we will have to talk for three hours before we can escape, and the best of the day will be gone….’
‘The best of the day is already gone….’ said Sam sadly, and a tear escaped and fell onto his master’s face. He jerked his head up. ‘Now, none of that now, Samwise Gamgee. Keep your head, and stop snivelling. You won’t be no ‘elp to him or anyone like that. Buck up…’
And obeying his own advice, Sam wiped his eyes on his sleeve and taking a large handkerchief out of his pocket he blew his nose. Then he put it back and looked at his drawn sword and sighed.
‘That is nothing’ he said. ‘It is doing nothing, not living or dying, just nothing. Not that way for Sam Gamgee….’ And he sheathed his sword.
For a long time Sam sat without moving, still cradling his master in his arms. Frodo’s face, from being livid green began to change to a cold grey-yellow, as if the poison was distilling itself out of his system, its fell work done. But Sam had no tears left to cry. He felt his master’s body growing cold and stiff in his arms, and knew that there could be no mistaking; Frodo was dead.
So at last Sam laid his master down on the rocky ground, and got stiffly to his feet.
He walked up and down for some time, his arms folded and his brows knit. Then he stopped and said to his master’s body; ‘What will I do now, Mr. Frodo? Go back? What would they say, all those great ones, Elrond and Galadriel and Haldir and all? Would they say I was a coward, not able to carry on on my own? That would be hard, Mr. Frodo, for I thought so highly of the Lady, and of Master Elrond too, although he caught me eavesdropping….’
Suddenly Sam punched the air.
‘Why did this fall on me?’ he cried. ‘All those others, Elves and men and great warriors and wise ones, they had the wisdom, they had the means, as it were. Why didn’t this happen to them? Why did it happen to me? I’m just a gardener, Mr. Frodo! I don’t know what to do…..’
‘Go on, Sam!’ said Frodo, heaving his pack higher on his shoulders. Sam gazed in dismay at the fallen tree and landslip that blocked their path to the high road. ‘That is what we must do….’
‘But Master Frodo!’ protested Sam. ‘We will have to go round, it is near twelve mile as the crow flies! We won’t be home till nightfall!’
‘Well then…’ replied Frodo, looking at Sam with a wink. ‘We will have to walk a while under the stars. Doesn’t sound so bad to me, Sam….’
‘I wish there were some stars to walk under here…’ thought Sam, looking up at the grey canopy of sullen cloud that obscured the sky. Suddenly, as if in reply, a small gap appeared in the dense cover, and through it Sam could see one single star, blinking white and blue, as if it was winking at Sam. He smiled sadly. ‘One last star to guide me, then…’
Kneeling down, Sam put his hand inside Frodo’s collar and felt at once the smooth, cool circle of gold nestling there. Steeling himself, he grasped it and pulled it out. He put one hand under Frodo’s head and lifted it up, and gently pulled the chain over it. The ring swung on its chain, freed, glittering in the baleful red light from the tower that loomed over the pass of Cirith Ungol.
Sam looked at Frodo’s face, holding his breath. But it was still, unmoved, yellow-white now, cold and stiff.
‘Well now I know for sure that you are gone…’ thought Sam. ‘For not otherwise would you have permitted me to take this terrible burden from you….’
Bowing his neck, Sam slipped the chain over his own head. At once he staggered forward and almost fell.
‘My goodness! The weight!’ he gasped. He put out a hand to steady himself and prevent the Ring from dragging him right to the ground.
‘Master, how did you bear this for so long?’ he thought, fumbling to get a grip on a standing rock and stop himself from falling. ‘..now I understand so much….’he thought sadly.
It took Sam some time to regain his balance and get his breath back. In that time he was aware that the Ring was checking him, testing him. And Sam, in his turn, was testing his strength and his resolve; could he bear this burden?
‘Well, there ain’t nobody but me to do it!’ he said out loud in exasperation. ‘They all be gone, those great lords and Elves and Wizards. There be none but me, so I must take the Ring to Mordor, begging your pardon Mr. Frodo. And I swear I will come back and find you when I do. And as for that Stinker Gollum….’ Sam raised one fist without realising it. ‘He will be sorry the day we meet again….I’ll kill him!’
Sam stopped. The threat sounded empty and vain in the vast spaces of Cirith Ungol. He bowed his head. ‘Never mind. I’ll get even somehow….’ He muttered.
Fuelled by his anger, Sam made ready to go on. Gently he removed Sting from the scabbard around Frodo’s waist.
‘I am sorry, Mr. Frodo. I know Mr. Bilbo gave you this. But I will need it if I am to go on, to warn me when orcs are near. But I will take good care of it, and when I come back, I will bring it with me, to lie at your side for all time…’
Hastily wiping away a tear, Sam sheathed Sting in his own scabbard. Then he knelt and taking Frodo’s hands he crossed them on his chest and drew the Elven cloak round his master. Then he laid his own sword at his side and bent his head in silence for some moments. Frodo seemed now like some great chieftain of Arnor, laid in death with his weapons, never stained even in defeat.
At last Sam raised his head. ‘Goodbye, Mr. Frodo!’ he said. ‘I will go on, alone. For I will always be alone now….’
‘It’s so dark, Mr. Frodo!’ said Sam, a tremor in his voice. Frodo chuckled.
‘We’re all right, Sam!’ he said ‘Don’t worry! That fork in the road, with the right hand way looking wider than the left, that is the lane to the Brambleside’s farm. And further on we will come to the Bunstable’s hobbit-hole…’
‘How on earth do you know which is which?’ asked Sam querulously. ‘I can’t even see them!’
‘I don’t blame you, Sam!’ said Frodo with a laugh, walking on into the blackness with sure and steady steps. ‘It is very dark! But just follow me. You see, I know every inch of this part of the Shire, even on a dark September night. Because I love every inch of it. Now, mind your feet, and keep on going….’