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The Gardener's Tale

6

'Come on, Mr.Frodo!' Sam gasped.

He felt Frodo struggling to keep up beside him. He had his hand under his master's arm but he could feel Frodo fighting for breath and stumbling. It must be the spear thrust, thought Sam, he is hurt...

They had left Balin's tomb and were crossing the great pillared hall of Moria at a desperate pace. There was now no time to wonder at the majesty of the place. Gandalf led the way but his staff gave out only fitful ghostly light and the great vaulted roof was hidden in the gloom and darkness advanced towards them on all sides. Over the sound of his own desperate breathing and the footsteps of the others Sam could hear cries and screams echoing behind them along the endless tunnels and caves of Moria.

Sam expected Aragorn to come up and seize Frodo and carry him, so slow was he, but over his shoulder he saw Aragorn himself looking back and in the dark distance Sam saw the light reflected off thousands of metal helmets and shields and spear tips and realized that the darkness was alive with orcs rushing after them.

Sam sprang forward dragging Frodo with him. The others seemed to know too. There was a metallic rustling, like the rattling of a chain and instinctively Sam looked up and to his horror saw orcs pour out of fissures in the roof and clamber down the pillars at lightning speed using metal hooks to cling between the great stone blocks. The slithering and clacking rose to deafening and now Sam realized the dark shimmering host was rushing to cut them off in front as well.

Merry and Pippin were much faster than Sam and Frodo and ahead of them but now they slid to a halt behind Boromir. Gandalf had stopped. All around them, in front and behind, was a wall of orcs. They closed in with a sound like a wasps' nest or a horde of great black flies around a carcass.

The Company drew closer together, Sam with Frodo against him and Merry and Pippin on his left. Behind him stood Legolas and Aragorn, with his sword drawn. But there were too many for swords, Sam knew. In a matter of seconds the orcs would break and attack and they would be overrun and destroyed. His own sword heavy in his hand he saw the endless points of the enemy weapons and imagined his death. He held Frodo with his free hand and realisd he was gripping him tightly. He knew the same thoughts were going through Frodo's mind. Pippin beside him was rigid as wood with fright.

'What are they waiting for?' thought Sam. It would be better to have it over quickly, an end to this terror. Better to drop his sword and throw himself into the enemy host and be done with it, a quick fall into nothing. The orcs hissed and spat, but Sam avoided meeting their yellow eyes and was glad he could not understand their taunts. Sam had always known he would never leave Moria...

Suddenly he felt the ground tremble. It was like an earth tremor, and seemed to run through the orc host. The babble of the orcs fell away then rose again like a wave, only this time it was not directed at the Company, but at each other. The helmets swivelled and clattered and the swords and spears wavered and dropped. Again a rumble, and now a noise, like a great grumble, deep but not of the earth, more animal. With a chorus of yells the orcs began to melt away. Sam stared in astonishment at the ground suddenly bare of orcs just in front of him. Cries of relief came from the others. Then Sam looked down the hall and saw a great fiery light infuse the rows of pillars, like a red tide. At the same time a warm blast struck his face as if from an open furnace.

By now the orcs were scuttling away in all directions, forgetting the Company. Gimli yelled at them, but Boromir was watching the light. 'What new devilry is this?' he said to Gandalf in a low voice. Sam looked up at Gandalf and noticed suddenly how old and grey he looked suddenly. Legolas was staring down the hall as well, his bow lowered and forgotten.

The hall filled with a warm breeze. Sam felt a heat on the back of his neck like from a raging fire. The breeze blew before it a black gritty dust. Then the roar, again like a creature but like the earth moving as well. 'A Balrog' said Gandalf. 'A demon of the ancient world' Aragorn looked puzzled but the bow slipped out of Legolas's hand and Sam twisted round to look at the Elf's face in wonder, he had never seen fear there before. Before he or anyone could speak Gandalf set off with a yell 'Run.'

Even if they had not heard the approach of the unseen being Gandalf's pace and set grim expression would have sped them on. They ran the rest of the way to the end of the hall and plunged down the steps at the end, down into twisting steep staircases leading to the Bridge out of Khazad-Dum.

Boromir led the way, and was first down the steps and found only a gulf at the end. He wavered with a cry on the brink and Legolas, as if released from a spell by his shout, darted forward and threw his arms around Boromir aand the two both toppled backwards onto the steps. Boromir cast a grateful glance at the Elf before pulling him onto his feet. The light from fires deep down below them in the gulf reflected onto their faces and they no longer needed torches. Gandalf came up breathless and Sam saw him put his hand on Aragorn's shoulder. 'Lead them on, Aragorn, the bridge is near.' In the near distance the vast gulf was spanned by a delicate arch of stone, the Bridge of Khazad-Dum. Gimli's eyes shone. Aragorn looked back at Gandalf and put his arm up as if to support the wizard. Gandalf pushed him away. Sam saw the look of surprise and betrayal in Aragorn's eyes. But Gandalf had no time to explain. 'Swords are no more use here.'

Then Gandalf sprang forward and led them down a staircase and Sam was halfway down it before he realised it was a great pier of stone rising up from the very depths of Moria. He kept his eyes on his footing and his hand on Frodo's arm, not looking left or right. They were halfway down when Gandalf stopped. The steps were gone, there was a gap in front of them. Below was a dizzy drop to fire.

Without pausing Legolas leaped the gap nimbly as a mountain goat and called to Gandalf to follow. The wizard made ready to jump then a rumbling and cracking behind them made him turn his head slowly and look back. Again Sam thought how old and grey the wizard looked. He was staring at the sound following them as if hypnotized. 'Gandalf!' shouted Legolas sharply, and Gandalf pulled himself out of his daze and jumped the gap, caught and steadied by Legolas. They turned as the hobbits came to the last step then out of the darkness whined a long black orc arrow. It hit the steps and flew off with a chip of stone. The Company looked up and right up on the ledges of the high walks of Moria, long ruined, crouched a group of orc archers. Even as the Fellowship watched, they loosed more arrows and Merry skipped back a step as one missed his foot.

A gardener and a servant Sam's life was spent noticing details and reading others' needs and even in his fear he saw that among the tribes of orcs these were different to the insect horde in the Great Hall. Larger, more adept in their quick, furtive movements, bearing great well-made bows and taking aim with skill they reminded him of Elves. Down below Aragorn and Legolas slung their bows and fired back, and one then another of the archer orcs toppled off the ledges and fell the endless depth to the fires below. Others took their places, but with more caution. The deadly hail was exchanged until the orcs tired of their losses and fell back, grey kerns receding into the dark, only their eyes like green coals glowing with hatred and watchfulness.

Sam felt himself picked up without warning and launched into the air by Boromir. Before he could be aware of what was happening he was on the other side of the divide. Then Boromir seized Pippin and Merry under each arm and jumped the gap with a loud yell. Pride drove Gimli to jump unaided and he slipped and nearly joined his ancestors only Legolas caught him by the beard. Sam shut his ears to the Dwarvish curses.

Then there was only Frodo and Aragorn. Sam looked up at Frodo with sudden anxiety and just then the steps beneath him and Aragorn gave way and fell off into the void. Sam let a cry in spite of himself. Aragorn caught Frodo as he slithered off into nothing and pulled him up onto the safety of the steps. He pulled himself after, Frodo gripping his cloak. They got up; a wide space yawned now between them and the rest of the Company. Behind them a sudden rumble like an earthquake in the confined space struck the walls and stairs and great piers of stone cracked loose and fell from above. One fell onto the stairs and cut a great gap in them leaving Frodo and Aragorn on an unsupported pillar of stone wavering slowly backwards.

Sam gazed in horror. Aragorn clutched Frodo to him tightly but Sam could see his master's terror. Sam did not dare look down. The thought of the fall made him close his eyes. The pillar of rock swayed and lurched like a tree in a gale. Aragorn pushed Frodo in the back. 'Lean forward!' Sam even from where he was standing could hear his voice shaking. Sam had never thought he would see fear in Gandalf or Aragorn but that day had come. The pillar with its precarious foothold on top was swaying towards them. Sam met Frodo's eyes for a second then Legolas pushed him back and stepped forward to grab Aragorn as he jumped the last short space to safety.

Sam put his arms around Frodo and felt him return the embrace before they were hurried down the steps and at a run towards the great Bridge. Now there was less thought of tiredness, they sensed freedom and ran like the wind. Even Gandalf seemed spurred by hope of escape. Sam was aware of something behind them but did not look back, nor did Frodo or the others. They came out onto a wide stone platform. Up above it were pillars decorated with carved designs and pediments, marking the ancient Eastern entrance hall of Moria. Before them stretched the bridge, its surface worn smooth by centuries of passing feet, dwarves then orcs. It was only wide enough for one and had no guardrail, as an ancient defense.

Aragorn led the way, followed by the hobbits. Sam did not look down, and gained the far side with relief. A dim stair case led up into the dark but far away there was the gleam of what could have been daylight. They were nearly there! Sam leaped up the steps with renewed energy but was halted by a cry from Frodo.

Turning around Sam gazed for some seconds without understanding what he saw. It was as if the very darkness at the bottom of the gulf of Moria had risen to engulf them. A great pillar of smoke, black with fire darting in and out of its depths towered up almost to the roof of the cavern. But far worse than this sight was the sight of Gandalf, still on the bridge, turning back to face this black tide. At the moment he raised his staff and a white light spread around him the black cloud suddenly burst into flames and Sam saw the shape of a great figure, etched in fire, spreading its arms out with great shadowy wings of smoke and fumes as if to embrace the lone figure on the bridge. In brought its cloven foot down on the stones with a great shudder of the delicate arch.

In Sam's quiet life in the Shire, even in his worst nightmares, he had never imagined any sight like this. But it was no dream; a hot wind like the breath from a raging fire hit him in the face. Below him on the steps Frodo and Merry were rooted to the spot. Aragorn turned and ran back to the end of the bridge.

It was too far way for Sam to hear, but he thought that Gandalf shouted something to the creature. As if in reply it raised a fiery whip, long and trailing almost to the depths of the pit. It lashed it along the bridge but seemed afraid to strike Gandalf with it. The wizard raised his sword and as if obeying a signal the creature brought its own long sword with blade wreathed in flame down onto it. Sam looked away from the blinding flash as the blades clashed. When he looked again Glamdring was still intact but the Balrog was drawing itself up for the final attack.

Gandalf took his sword and staff in both hands and as the Company watched drove them down on the middle of the bridge and was still. The Balrog hesitated then raised its whip again and seemed sure to overcome the lone grey figure in front of it when suddenly a great crack was heard and just in front of Gandalf the bridge suddenly split and half of it plunged away into the abyss, the Balrog still rooted to it.

A shiver ran through the Company. Not relief, they were still overcome by the sight and sound of the terrible creature. Down towards the fires it fell, almost slowly. On the broken bridge Gandalf stood breathing heavily, as if exhausted. The others started back up the steps as he turned to follow them, then from below, with a sound like a thundercrack came the Balrog's whip, snaking back up and lashing the wizard from head to foot as he stood on the bridge.

Gandalf's staff and sword flew out of his hand and disappeared into the deep. The fiery whip wrapped itself around his ankle and yanked tight and Gandalf was pulled off his feet and into the gulf, only seizing the broken stones of the bridge with both hands as he fell.

Frodo gave a wail and threw himself down the steps. Sam was paralysed with shock and could not follow him. Boromir was on the bridge and he felt more than saw the hobbit dart past him and swung round quickly and caught him in his arms. Frodo shouted and his nails dug into Boromir's mail coat. But Boromir had him fast. Then a silence fell for a few heartbeats. Sam saw Gandalf look at Frodo and try to haul himself briefly up, but the inexorable pull of the monster was too much for him. He looked at them and gasped. 'Fly, fools, fly!'

Then Sam saw Gandalf open his hands and let go. At the same time he heard Frodo give a cry, a wail of loss and grief that broke Sam's heart. But Boromir turned to take him from the sight and leaping up the stairs pushed Sam ahead of him, looking back and calling to Aragorn.

On those last steps out of Moria chaos reigned in the Company. Some blinded by panic, wanted to flee while others tried to return back down the stairs. Divided they milled about. Gimli had stoppped and was looking back as if turned to the stone beloved of his people. Pippin had fallen or had thrown himself on the steps and Legolas and Merry were tying to get him up. When Boromir ran past still bearing Frodo Sam looked back down the stairs and saw Aragorn on the base of the broken bridge, gazing into the depths, ducking the arrows of the orc archers now lined up opposite jeering and calling to him to shoot back if he dared. A long black arrow spun back past his head and another followed, and Aragorn took the stairs in great bounds and followed the rest of the Company out of Moria.

Running till stopped by grief and exhaustion they emerged from night into day and found themselves on a wide barren platform of rock dazzlingly bright in the winter sunlight. After the suffocating heat and gloom of Moria the air was sweet and crisp, but Sam's eyes blurred with tears and he sat down suddenly on the rocks and wept. All around him the others stood or sat and wept too. Sam could not believe it; Gandalf was gone! In every face he saw the awful truth; their leader was gone.

Sam heard someone crying and realised it was a hobbit voice. He brushed away his own tears and looked around. Pippin was lying on the ground beside Merry, curled up and racked by sobs. Merry was whispering to him trying to console him but Pippin was too lost in grief to be comforted. Sam remembered the well and the skeleton and thought 'poor Pip!' Sam longed to comfort him but was too sick at heart to move. He closed his eyes and unbidden into his mind's eye came the sight of the wizard's long arm and bony fingers seizing him by the collar and hauling him through the parlour window at Bag End all that time ago in the spring when he had been caught eavesdropping on him and Frodo. He saw himself suspended in the air showering clippings onto Mr. Frodo's floor while the wizard glowered at him from under his bushy eyebrows and Frodo looked on with puzzlement and amusement. 'Well, it's Sam Gamgee, is it not?' said Gandalf, his look softening and his voice growing kinder...

But then Sam thought of those same hands gripping the broken bridge in the halflight of Moria, then letting go and falling away into the void. Sam screwed his eyes shut; he would see these hands all his life....

Voices raised in disagreement brought him back to himself. He looked up. Aragorn and Boromir were arguing. Boromir wanted to let the Company rest, but Aragorn was fierce against it. 'By nightfall these hills will be swarming with orcs!' shouted Aragorn.

In spite of himself Sam looked around at the bright hillside with a shudder. Already a pale moon hung in the late winter afternoon sky, it was getting late. Boromir bent his head, Sam saw him concede leadership to Aragorn. He turned to Legolas, standing as if listening to some sound only he could hear, his bright Elf eyes far away, and Sam realised he was grieving, after the manner of his kind.

'Get them up, Legolas' Aragorn said to the Elf, gesturing to Pippin and Merry. Legolas broke out of his daze and went over to them but reluctantly, and Merry looked up helplessly at him as he tried to pull the hobbits to their feet. Then Aragorn came over to Sam and picked him up easily by his clothes and set him on his feet, brusquely but not ungently. 'On your feet, Sam.'

Sam was arranging his pack and pulling his cloak closer on his shoulders when he heard Aragorn call for Frodo. Frodo! Sam realised with a shock that in his own grief he had forgotten his master. He looked around wildly and to his relief saw Frodo a short way away, standing with his back to the door of Moria, not moving. Sam hurried over to him but as he approached Frodo turned and Sam saw the tears on his race and that he was looking through Sam and thinking only of Gandalf.

Sam came up to Frodo but could think of nothing to say. With a jerky movement Frodo brushed his tears away with his hand and looked dumbly at Sam. Gandalf had been as a father to him, and now he was gone. Sam wanted more than anything before in his life to ease Frodo's hurt but could only put up a hand to adjust his master's pack then lay his arm on Frodo's shoulder. With all the strength he could muster he said;

'Come on Mr. Frodo, we'd best be getting on....'