On the Stairs of Cirith Ungol by Lbilover

Originally written for the LOTR_Community's 'Fix the Movies' challenge, in which you were given a chance to fix a scene from the movies. I chose the scene in ROTK where Frodo tells Sam to go home. Of the scenes in the movie that hit me as wrong both emotionally and logically, this was the one that, imo, most needed fixing. Each writer was given a flower element to include. Mine was 'ground ivy'. Ground ivy is known by several other names, including the one I used in the story as sounding most hobbity: ale hoof. I wrote this story as if the events of the movie remain unchanged up until this scene. Some of the dialogue from the movie screenplay and from the book has been incorporated into the story.

Mr. Frodo refused any lembas—‘I’m too tired to eat, Sam’—and took only two small mouthfuls of brackish water. Without a word he returned the skin to me, and I could see his arm trembling with the effort. He forced a smile to his cracked lips, trying to reassure me, but I wasn’t fooled. My poor dear master had reached the end of his tether. That awful climb up the stairs, with the weight of It a-dragging at him, had nearly done him in. I studied his face anxiously as I dropped the water skin beside my pack. Beneath the dirt, he was pale as clabbered milk, and his eyelids were puffy and pink. But that wasn’t the worst of it, not by a long road. 

The raw red sores caused by the chafing of the chain around his neck were a reproach worse than any my Gaffer could bestow, for I had promised to protect and care for Mr. Frodo. Yet I had naught at hand to soothe his wounds, if any hobbit-medicine could soothe a wound wrought by It, for such pitiful stock of medicinal herbs as I’d brought were used up, and not the stubbornest weeds like ale hoof or mugwort could find a toehold in this barren, lifeless place. Why, there wasn’t even a bit of moss to be seen. For certain, there would be no kingsfoil—not that I had Strider’s skill to wield it even if there were, but it might have served to ease my master’s pain a little.

“Lie down and take a rest, Mr. Frodo,” I said, blinking back tears of exhaustion and worry. 

“No time for rest, sleepies!” Gollum hissed. “Must keep climbing, yesss we must, up and up.”

I glanced sharply at him where he crouched on all fours atop an outcropping of rock. He caught me staring and quickly lowered his gaze, but not quick enough. There was a queer light in Stinker’s eyes that I recognised, a hungry green glint, and I didn’t trust it nohow. He was too eager for us to reach that tunnel, yes he was, Precious, and I wondered why. I’d seen that queer light earlier while he was waiting above us on this ledge, watching Mr. Frodo struggle up the last few steep steps. How he’d stared and flexed them long bony fingers of his, as if he were itching to throttle my master, or tear It from his throat, maybe. 

There’s many a slip twixt the cup and the lip, my old dad likes to say. One good shove, even from a scrawny creature like Gollum, and me and Mr. Frodo would’ve been dashed to the rocks below. ‘Twas only his terror of the nasty cruel steel that had stopped him, I’ll warrant, but it had been a near thing, and I’d nigh choked on my fear for my master as I warned Gollum off with my sword.

“I’m sorry, Sméagol,” Mr. Frodo said. “I simply must rest. It’s so heavy, you see. So heavy…” He pulled his cloak around him and sank wearily down, resting his cheek on the wet stone. In a blink, or so it seemed, his eyes were closed and he was fast asleep. 

“Poor master,” Gollum said. “The stairs are treacherous, yesss, and not easy for hobbits to climb. Rest, yesss, Precious, perhaps for sleepy hobbits rest is best.” He glanced at me. “Nice Sam should sleep, too, like master. Sméagol will keep watch, keep nasty things away.”

Tell ‘em where to find us, more like, I thought, but I said, “I’ll watch out for Mr. Frodo. You watch out for yourself.”

He muttered something under his breath I couldn’t make out, but it was probably just as well. I’d had enough and more than enough of his insults and the sly poison he was a-spilling into Mr. Frodo’s ears when he thought I couldn’t hear him. He wants it—he needs it. Sméagol sees it in his eyes. Very soon he will ask you for it—you will see . . . the Fat One will take it from you.

Well, he’d picked the wrong hobbit to try that on, I thought as I shook out my master’s tattered grey blanket and knelt to spread it carefully over him. Mr. Frodo was far from a fool; he was the wisest hobbit I’d ever known, and even burdened and wearied as he was, I had faith he’d see through Stinker’s lies. I’m glad you’re with me, Samwise Gamgee, he’d said when we set out for Mordor, and I’d held hard to those words through all the long miles since.

“Sleep well, master,” I whispered, lightly touching his shoulder, and climbed to my feet. There I stood, hands on hips, a-frowning down at Mr. Frodo. He was lying closer than I liked to the edge, but there was barely enough room for the three of us in this narrow space, and I reckoned him too exhausted to stir an inch. 

“Here, Gollum,” I began, meaning to ask him just how much further it was to the tunnel, but he’d curled up with his back to me, and was sound asleep too, seemingly, for he made no reply. I shrugged, and returned to my pack. At every halt I counted our precious store of food, as if somehow the Lady could conjure more of the Elven waybread out of thin air. But only three whole leaf-wrapped cakes remained plus one that was half gone. Too little, I thought. We’ll need to be more careful. Well, I can eat less.

I broke off a tiny wafer of lembas and savoured it, letting its sweetness melt on my tongue; a little strength crept back into me. I wet my parched mouth with water then wrapped myself in my blanket and settled into a shallow hollow in the rock. Hard, cold and unforgiving it was, like everything in this cruel place, and I could have spit over the edge of the cliff easily enough; but I was too tired to care. A lifetime ago it seemed that Mr. Merry, Mr. Pippin and me had climbed to a flet in Lórien to sleep, and thought that fearfully high. How time and experience do change one, but I’d be right glad to sleep in a proper hobbit-hole again when we got home, and no mistake. 

I studied my master, drowned deep in sleep with his pale hands a-resting limp by his breast. That faint light that I’d first noticed in Rivendell was clear now, and stronger, as if Mr. Frodo’s very skin was growing thinner with the rest of him. His face looked peaceful, as it never was now while he was awake, but somehow old, old and beautiful. I shook my head, unable to find the proper words, and murmured, “He’s like that, and sometimes it shines through, somehow. But I love him, whether or no.”

That was my last waking thought before my chin nodded to my chest, and sleep took me despite myself.

You can’t spend months on the Road with danger hounding your every footstep and not have a sixth sense for when something is amiss. A nagging worry woke me, and my eyes fell straightaway on Gollum—not the pleasantest sight to wake up to, I don’t mind saying. He was crouching at the cliff’s edge, just above me, and brushing his hands together, as if dusting them clean of dirt. He felt my eyes on him—I reckon we’ve that much in common, at least, a sense for trouble—and quick as a wink he was a-facing me. I’d seen the same startled, guilty look on the faces of hobbit-children who’d been caught out in mischief, and my heart sank. What had Stinker been up to? Sending a signal to some enemy who would be lying in wait for me and Mr. Frodo in that tunnel he was so all-fired anxious for us to reach?

I threw off my blanket and stood up. While I tightened my loose belt another notch, I looked suspiciously around. (Fat one, he called me? Why I’d be disappearing sooner rather than later at this rate.) But a fog had risen while I slept, and there was naught to be seen save damp dark rock and shreds of mist. Even the queer green glow of that Dead City far below was obscured by a shroud of pale grey—and a right good thing, too, if you ask me. If we couldn’t see it, then it stood to reason no one in it could see us.

“What are you up to?” I asked. “Sneaking off, are we?” Aye, I could imagine it: Stinker giving the signal, and then making himself scarce until me and Mr. Frodo was dead, and the Precious in his greedy hands.

“Sneaking? Sneaking?” repeated Gollum, sounding outraged. “Fat Hobbit is always so polite. Sméagol shows them secret ways that nobody else could find and they say ‘Sneak!’ ‘Sneak!’ Very nice friends, oh yesss, my Precious, very nice.”

I sighed. “Alright, alright—you just startled me is all,” I said, feeling a little remorseful, but not a whit more trustful. “What were you doing?” I added, peering over the edge into the mist, to no avail.

But Gollum turned sullen. “Sneaking!” he hissed, and the glint that sparked in his eyes now made me shudder inside.

“Fine, have it your own way.” I wasn’t about to argue with Stinker, and of Slinker no sign remained. I went to my master and crouched by his side. During all this, he hadn’t so much as stirred. I shook his arm gently, apologetically. “Sorry to wake you, Mr. Frodo,” I said, “but it’s time to be moving on.”

His eyes opened with painful slowness. “Alright, Sam,” he said, or croaked, rather. His voice was hoarse with sleep, and he didn’t look rested at all. 

“You’d best have a bite to eat first, though,” I added, and as Mr. Frodo sat up, rubbing at his eyes, I went to my pack and opened it. 

“It’s dark still,” my master said, looking around him.

“It’s always dark here—" I began, and then shock, like a bucketful of icy water dumped on my head, robbed me of breath. The space that should have held the four leaf-wrapped cakes was empty! Frantically, I searched through my pack, unable to believe the truth of my own eyes. “It’s gone!” I exclaimed in horror. “The Elven bread.”

“What?” Mr. Frodo said, sounding startled and alarmed. “That’s all we have left.”

My mind flew straight to the memory of Stinker, a-crouching by the edge of the cliff and brushing those long-fingered hands together. Not dirt, as I'd first thought. It had been lembas he was cleaning from his fingers, the precious waybread that was all we had to eat. Anger flamed up inside me, hotter than any smithy’s forge fire. 

“He took it,” I said with what calm I could muster, though my voice shook a little, and pointed at Gollum. “He must have.”

“Sméagol?” Stinker couldn’t have sounded more shocked. Oh, but he could playact, and no mistake. The brazen, barefaced lie rolled off his tongue smooth as Elven silk. “No, no, not poor Sméagol. Sméagol hates nasty Elf bread.” 

“You’re a lying wretch,” I said, and the tears that threatened to spill over now were hot tears of anger and frustration. “What did you do with it?” 

“He doesn’t eat it…” Mr. Frodo said, puzzled. “He can’t have taken it…”

I stared at my dear master, and I could see the confusion and doubt in his red-rimmed, exhausted eyes. Pain stabbed my heart. Was Mr. Frodo taken in by Stinker’s playacting? Had he been poisoned against me after all?

A bony hand slapped sharp against my jacket sleeve, making me jump. A tiny shower of yellow was dislodged, falling to the ground. I stared in disbelief. They were lembas crumbs.

“What’s this?” Gollum hissed. “Crumbs on his jacketses? He took it. He took it. I seen him, he’s always stuffing himself when Master’s not looking!”

And so the full depth of Stinker’s treachery was revealed to me. I’ll not lie: my fingers itched to have that scrawny throat beneath them, to throttle him as he would have throttled my master. Almost I leapt at him. And then Mr. Frodo spoke, and a thrill went through me.

“No,” he said quietly, but without the least hesitation. “No. It was not Sam who did this thing.” 

Though still pale as death, he appeared clear-eyed and calm, as if an obscuring mist, like that which shrouded the dark cliffs, had passed from his sight. His gaze went to my shrinking waist, and the trailing end of my belt that grew longer and longer with every passing day. 

“It was not Sam.” he repeated, and to my surprise a trace of rueful amusement appeared in his eyes. “Indeed, though he thinks I do not notice, he always takes less than his fair share of our food.” But then his face and voice grew stern. “What have you done with the lembas, Sméagol?”

But Stinker made no answer; it was clear that he’d never expected Mr. Frodo to see through his little game. I’d have felt satisfaction at his comeuppance, oh yes, Precious, if not for the fact that our supply of food was now gone, save for a few crumbs, and we’d likely starve to death before ever we reached that Crack of Doom, unless a miracle happened.

“Well?” Mr. Frodo said, but Gollum was silent.

“I’ll warrant he tossed it off there, Mr. Frodo,” I said, pointing to where I’d caught Stinker crouching when I woke up. Gollum gave me a look that promised no good to 'nice Sam' if he got me alone, while in two quick strides my master was at the spot I'd indicated. He went to one knee, and his fingertips brushed the roughness of the damp stone. He held them up in silence, for no words were necessary; the pads were dotted with lembas crumbs.

Stinker cowered pitifully, and gollumed deep in his throat, whimpering that we were cruel to poor Sméagol, cruel, and that we needed him, yes, Precious, to show us the secret ways that no one else knew. But my master was unmoved. Such strength he had, I thought, watching him approvingly.

“You will go down and retrieve as much of the lembas you wantonly threw away as you possibly can and bring it back here,” he commanded.

“But master…” Stinker crept forward and pawed at the hem of Mr. Frodo’s Elven cloak. “We hates nasty Elf food,” he whined. “It sickens us, yes, Precious, it sickens us to touch it and smell it, it does.”

Mr. Frodo didn’t move or pull the cloak away, as I’d have done, but his expression showed no sign of softening. “You overcame your revulsion long enough to remove it from Sam’s pack and dispose of it.” He leaned forward on one hand and peered over the edge. “It should not be necessary to climb all the way down. There is a shelf like this one not far below; if my eyes do not deceive me, the waybread came to rest there.” He straightened. “Now go,” he ordered, “and return swiftly. Sam and I will wait for you here.”

“Very well. If master tells us to go, then go we will,” Stinker said, slinking away like a beaten dog. In a few moments he had disappeared headfirst down the stair, golluming under his breath all the while. 

“He might never return, Mr. Frodo,” I said.

“He’ll return—for this.” His expression grim, my master gestured at his breast, where It lay concealed beneath his filthy shirt. He came to me and set his hand on my sleeve. “Sam, I’m sorry,” Mr. Frodo said quietly, and I knew the apology wasn’t for Stinker’s attempt to turn him against me, but for those moments when he’d almost believed the old villain.

“There’s naught to be sorry for, sir,” I replied. 

“Sam.” His hand tightened briefly on my sleeve. “We need Sméagol's help, but I could never do this without you.”

“And you won’t have to, Mr. Frodo,” I said. “Whatever’s awaiting us in that tunnel, and after, we’ll face it together, like always.”

A smile lit his tired face. “Yes, together, Sam.”

Then we sat and waited for Gollum to return, in a silence that was almost blessed.