ROTK: Bk 6, Ch 3
"'Now for it! Now for the last gasp!' said Sam as he struggled to his feet."
Frodo and Sam lay quietly in the pit as the sounds of the troops passing into the Isenmouthe died down. They passed the evening sleeping in uneasy fits. The next morning, March 19th, they started out again. Southwards in the distance, the mountain loomed. Sam estimated it to be about fifty miles and a week's march away. The other conclusion that hit home was that their provisions were almost gone and, if they managed to make it to the mountain and complete their task, there could be no return. But despite Sam's loss of hope, a new resolve grew in him.
He woke Frodo and they climbed up to the road to Barad-dur that followed along the foot of the northern mountain range. Sauron's forces were moving only under the cover of darkness, for the Dark Lord sought secrecy with the thought of spies traveling in his lands. So the hobbits walked during the day, resting and hiding at night. It was a slow, plodding journey.
"There came at last a dreadful nightfall; and even as the Captains of the West drew near to the end of the living lands, the two wanderers came to an hour of blank despair. Four days had passed since they had escaped from the orcs, but the time lay behind them like an ever-darkening dream. All this last day Frodo had not spoken, but had walked half-bowed, often stumbling, as if his eyes no longer saw the way before his feet. Sam guessed that among all their pains he bore the worst, the growing weight of the Ring, a burden on the body and torment to his mind. Anxiously Sam had noted how his master's left hand would often be raised as if to ward off a blow, or to screen his shrinking eyes from a dreadful Eye that sought to look into them. And sometimes his right hand would creep to his breast, clutching, and then slowly, as the will recovered mastery, it would be withdrawn."
The time had come to turn southwest, off the road and straight for the fiery mountain. And at one point when Sam looked back he thought he could see the pale lights of eyes following them.
On the evening of March 23rd, the hobbits decided to cast away all that they carried to lighten their load. Only Sting was kept by Sam, as a last means of defense in this desolate land. It was hardest for Sam to toss aside his cooking gear. It made him think longingly about the rabbit that they cooked back in Ithilien. But Frodo said that while he remembered that such things happened, he couldn't see them. The images, sounds and feelings that once comforted him were fading.
They pressed on toward the their destination. At the end of the day, they rested again. While Frodo slept, Sam held a debate with himself in a fashion not unlike Gollum had when his two personalities argued over how they would get a hold of the Ring. But here Sam was considering how weak Frodo was and trying to decide whether or not they should press on despite the suffering of his master. In the end, he knew that they must keep going no matter what it took to get there.
The last stage of the journey was tortuous. The air close to the mountain was full of fumes and it was difficult to breathe. But they continued throughout the day and at the moment that sleep took them the army of the West was setting up camp outside the desolation of the Morannon. The Sun poked through the clouds on the morning of March 25th. Lying at the foot of Mount Doom, the hobbits struggled to climb.
Frodo could barely crawl at this point. Sam wept at the sight of Frodo, weighed down by the Ring and pulling himself forward on all fours. He reached down to him saying, "Come Mr. Frodo! I can't carry it for you but I can carry you and it as well." Sam pulled him up onto his back.
"As Frodo clung upon his back, arms loosely about his neck, legs clasped firmly under his arms, Sam staggered to his feet; and then to his amazement he felt the burden light. He had feared that he would have barely strength to lift his master alone, and beyond that he had expected to share in the dreadful dragging weight of the accursed Ring. But it was not so. Whether because Frodo was so worn by his long pains, wound of knife, and venomous sting, and sorrow, fear, and homeless wandering, or because some gift of final strength was given to him, Sam lifted Frodo with no more difficulty than if he were carrying a hobbit-child pig-a-back in some romp on the lawns or hayfields of the Shire. He took a deep breath and started off."
They slowly ascended up the Northern side of Mount Doom. The base of the mountain rose as high as three thousand feet and after hours of steady climbing they drew closer to the narrow central cone. To their surprise, they reached a road that wound its way up from around the southern face. This road - originating from Barad-dur - led to the Sammath Naur, the Chamber of Fire. Step by step, Sam continued along the road, carrying Frodo until at last he could no longer bear him. They lay there for a while gathering their strength for the final crawl to the Crack of Doom.
Sauron's Eye was fixed Northward toward Udun, where the army of the West now challenged the Dark Lord. The last part of the road followed a bend to the right. They were now on the Eastern side, facing the Dark Tower. As they turned the bend, Sam was struck from behind by Gollum. When he got himself back up, he saw Frodo and Gollum locked together in a struggle. Frodo fought with a sudden fury that surprise Sam as much as it did Gollum, who at this point was "a lean, starved, haggard thing."
Soon Frodo appeared to Sam as a towering figure standing over the pititful crouching shape of Gollum. It was reminiscent of how he saw Frodo at the Emyn Muil when he tamed Smeagol. Frodo, clutching the Ring at his breast, said to Gollum sternly, "If you touch me ever again, you shall be cast yourself into the Fire of Doom!" With that, he turned toward the open fissure in the mountain and walked the remaining length of the road. Now Sam could at last finish off this creature that he hated so much. His head was filled with anger and wrath and it seemed that killing Gollum was the logical thing to do. Sam held Sting, poised to strike down the miserable creature.
"But deep in his heart there was something that restrained him: he could not strike this thing lying in the dust, forlorn, ruinous, utterly wretched. He himself, though only for a little while, had borne the Ring, and now dimly he guessed the agony of Gollum's shriveled mind and body, enslaved to that Ring, unable to find peace or relief ever in life again. But Sam had no worlds to express what he felt."
He screamed at Gollum to be off or he would kill him. But as Sam turned to join his master, the creature likewise turned back up the mountain and crept behind him, slinking among the stones. Sam entered the chamber to see Frodo on the brink of the Crack of Doom. He called to him and Frodo turned to Sam, declaring that he no longer chose to destroy the Ring. He would keep it. "The Ring is mine!" he said. It had taken complete control of Frodo and as he slipped it onto his finger he disappeared.
Now Sauron was suddenly aware of him and the Eye shifted across the plain to the eastern opening of the chamber. His vulnerability and danger was now fully revealed to him.
"From all his policies 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 rending 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."
This moment of the story was long foreseen by Tolkien. In an outline dated as early as 1939, he wrote of Frodo's inability to destroy the Ring and that Gollum would take it from him: "They wrestle and Gollum takes the Ring and falls into the Crack." In later outlines, Tolkien wrote that Sam would actually push Gollum into the fiery chasm. But in the final version as published, Gollum pushes Sam aside and then wrestles with an invisible Frodo. Bringing the hobbit's right hand to his mouth, Gollum digs his teeth into his finger and rips it from his hand. Frodo cries out as he becomes visible once again and Gollum dances with glee at the recovery of his "precious". But in his delirium, Gollum steps back too far and is hurled into the fiery depths. The Ring is destroyed.
All of Mordor then rumbled. The mountain shook and began to spew forth lava. Sam carries Frodo out of the Sammath Naur and his master, though pale and worn, is himself again. The burden was gone. It was only because of Gollum that the quest was fulfilled. Frodo recalls Gandalf's words that the creature may yet have a part to play in all of this. But now they looked around them and saw the end, for they knew that escape from the mountain would be impossible.
[Chronology: March 19th through March 25th 3019 T.A.]
Next: The Field Of Cormallen(revised 11/3/06)