Faramir, Prince of Ithilien and Steward of Gondor, as he walked down the wide hallway toward the entrance to the Steward’s wing once again found himself contemplating the carved wooden screen that now fenced off the end of the corridor. The Lord King Elessar had found the screen in some storehouse he’d explored, and had asked it be set up toward the north end of the hallway, and beyond it had asked that comfortably cushioned low couches and chairs be set, interspersed with low tables and plants that flourished in indirect light, as a quiet, semi-private place where some might come for quiet conversation or reading or relaxation.
The screen, apparently a gift to one of Faramir’s forebears from a member of the Guild of Traders, was a thing of beauty, carved on both sides over the whole of its expanse with woven vines and stems punctuated with leaves, flowers, flying or resting birds, butterflies, and larger insects, pierced to allow one a feeling of being surrounded by a particularly lush and lively hedge. After four days the presence of it was still a surprise to Faramir, and seemed almost jarring after the starkness he’d been accustomed to all his life as far as the decoration of the Citadel went. One could see the large expanse of arched mullioned windows that looked out onto the north gardens only over the screen, and somehow the light they admitted seemed even more brilliant when viewed through the pierced holes.
Curious to see if any was taking advantage of the seating area Aragorn had seen prepared, the Man peered around the east end of the screen. Yes, there sat a single individual, apparently reading as evidenced by the glimpsed corner of a book. A goblet and carafe of water sat on the table to the reader’s right alongside a tray of sliced vegetables, fruits, and cheese. The top of the head that barely could be discerned over the carved and cushioned back of the couch was covered with curls, indicating the individual was one of the Pheriannath, and probably either Lord Samwise or Lord Frodo, considering the plate of food placed by him.
Three quiet steps beyond the screen and his curiosity was fully satisfied, for the dark gold curls indicated this was indeed Lord Samwise. The former Captain of the Rangers of Ithilien found himself well pleased, for there was a matter that he had desired to ask the Hobbit about, should the chance occur allowing him to question the gardener from the Shire. He took another two steps forward to fully reveal himself, offering a bow of his head and a murmured, “May I join you, Master Samwise?”
The Hobbit flushed somewhat as he hurried to rise to his feet, and Faramir was both amused and touched. “Nay, sir, do not bother to rise. As you and your beloved Master Frodo were both openly declared Lords of all of the Free Peoples of Middle Earth upon the Field of Cormallen, I suspect you and I are now peers; and after all this is but an informal meeting in which I am the one to interrupt your privacy.”
Sam, now standing sturdily on his feet, flushed a deeper red as he clutched his now closed book to his chest. “That might be, Captain Faramir, sir; but even if we was to be equals, isn’t it still considered polite here in Gondor to rise when someone else joins you?”
Faramir shrugged as he sank into the chair to the Hobbit’s right, noting that Sam immediately followed suit. “I must admit you are correct, although I don’t see the need for overmuch formality, myself.” He examined the garments the Hobbit wore. “This is an example of the clothing proper to your people?” he asked. “They are most becoming, I must admit.”
Again the Pherian flushed. “Yes—just got ’em today from the tailor. It’s a relief to be wearin’ clothes such as I’m used to, if you take my meanin’, and to be wearin’ braces again. Makes me feel more secure, not wonderin’ if my trousers might take it into their heads to fall down. Although I never wore Shire clothes as fine as these afore.” He looked down at the fine brocade of the garment he wore over his shirt, and ran a single finger over the fabric and the brass button that decorated it. “I feel a bit odd in ’em, I must admit.”
Faramir smiled. “They suit you well, sir,” he said admiringly. “Very elegant.”
Sam smiled self-consciously. “Thanks,” he said, still fingering the buttons.
“What are you reading, Master Gamgee?” Faramir asked, hoping to relieve the Hobbit of his self-consciousness.
Sam’s smile became more open, and he held out the book to show it to the Man. “It’s a book of tales I used to read in the Common Tongue when I was a little ’un,” he explained. “It seems to be a copy of the same book as old Mr. Bilbo translated a long time ago.”
Noting the Tengwar script in which the tome was copied, again the Steward was impressed. “You read Sindarin?” he asked.
Sam shrugged slightly. “I read it better’n I speak it, if take my meanin’, sir. When I was a little lad takin’ lessons and Mr. Bilbo was teachin’ Master Frodo Elvish, I couldn’t help but learn a good deal of it, particular as I had Mr. Frodo show me the letters after and all. But then I was doin’ more and more for my Dad in the gardens as his joints pained him worse and worse, and I had to stop most of my lessons. I’d pretty much forgot most a’ what I used to know by the time as we left Hobbiton. While we was in Rivendell, though, there wasn’t a good deal to do other than to practice our weapons and study some, and the same later in Lorien. Lord Elrond and Gandalf would pull my master away to the library to go over old texts and maps, and I’d go along and look at books. When Lord Erestor learned as I was interested some in Sindarin he started goin’ over the Tengwar with me again, and it all started to come back to me. Then in Lorien when the Elves bringin’ books for Frodo and Strider realized as I was lookin’ at them, too, they started bringin’ easy ones for me, and I could understand more’n I’d expected to. Findin’ this one was rather like findin’ a bit of my childhood, I think.”
Faramir examined the face of the Hobbit gardener more closely. There was definitely more to this Hobbit than was easily visible, he realized. It appeared Lord Samwise Gamgee was already more educated than any within Gondor appreciated.
He looked at the pipe that lay on the table before the Hobbit, one he remembered seeing Lord Halladan presenting to Sam a few days ago. “You smoke while you read, then?” he asked, remembering the name for the activity as described by the King.
Sam nodded slowly as he reached out to take up the item. “I used to smoke while I read, but it’s more like I’m used to havin’ the pipe in my hand when I’m readin’. Somehow it helps me keep my mind on the words better, especial when it’s Elvish. Can’t say as to why, of course. I’m not smokin’ a good lot as yet, not havin’ been able to smoke much for so long. And Strider don’t want me leapin’ with both feet into it, he tells me—says to ease back into it slow so as not to bother the lungs so much. And so far my master’s not been able to abide it at all. If the fireplace in his bedroom smokes it leaves him coughin’ and chokin’ fit to bust.”
Faramir realized that this was as good an opening as he was likely to find to satisfy his own curiosity. “Speaking of Lo—Master Frodo, I was wanting to ask you something—something about our meeting there in Ithilien.”
Sam set his book, closed over the stem of his pipe to mark his place, beside him on the cushions, and reached for his water goblet, nodding finally as he took a sip from it.
“When we found you and your master there, Master Frodo appeared very alert throughout the day, until we arrived at Henneth Annun. I ordered cots be readied for you in the alcove where you rested, and your master at least seems to have slept.”
“Yes,” Sam admitted.
“Why did your master collapse as he did as we spoke that evening, Master Samwise? After all, he’d not done a good deal that was strenuous, and he’d remained quiet and still so much of the day.”
Again Sam sipped thoughtfully from his goblet as he considered what to answer. At last he set the goblet on the table beside him and folded his hands in his lap. He took a deep breath and held it for a time, then released it with an audible sigh. “It’s a long answer, to really understand, sir.”
“Not all answers are simple ones,” Faramir agreed.
Sam nodded, then began, looking slightly beyond the table that lay before him. “It’s hard to understand just what it was like to carry—that thing—as long as he did.” He looked up sideways to consider Faramir’s face. “Did you know as I did carry It, for a bit, at least?”
Faramir found himself shocked and slightly fascinated by the idea. “But I thought that the Ring wouldn’t allow Its bearer to share It easily with any other,” he said.
“No more It would,” Sam confirmed. “One time there in Rivendell old Mr. Bilbo asked to see It and touch It again, and Mr. Frodo leapt as if it was a troll or an orc plannin’ to take It from him. And there in the orc tower when he grabbed It back—he told me after he saw me as an orc indeed, pawin’ at It for his torture.
“You have to member, sir—he carried It for many years, since he come of age when he was thirty-three.”
“Thirty-three? That’s how old you are when you are admitted as adults, then?”
Nodding, Sam continued. “Yes, sir, thirty-three. He had It seventeen years afore we left the Shire.”
“You and he are fifty?” Faramir asked.
“No, sir—I’m not fifty. I just turned forty, in fact, there in Ithilien, just afore him and me woke up, you see. Member—the Great Rings—they extend the—the appearance of youth. Old Mr. Bilbo found the Ring when he was fifty and kept it till he was eleventy-one, and still looked but in his seventies when we saw him in Rivendell, there last fall. And that Gollum—he’d had It for centuries—carried It well over four hundred years, old Gandalf told me. He ought to of died well over three hundred years past, if'n he was really a Stoor.”
“What’s a Stoor? I’ve not heard of such creatures.”
“Well, sir, they’re one of the original tribes of Hobbits, you see. Most Hobbits are mixes of Harfoots, Stoors, and Fallohides, you understand. The Brandybucks are said to have strong Stoor blood in ’em, although they’ve all been related to the Tooks since their ancestors come to the Shire from what we can tell, and the Tooks was mostly Fallohide, although it’s said they have some faerie blood in ’em. The Bagginses have a good mixture of all three tribes to them, what we can tell—a good balance up till recently, at least. But my family—I’d always thought we was almost pure Harfoot, what was the strongest farmers. But Gandalf tells me as he thinks us Gamgees have had our share of Fallohide to us, too. We’re not close related to the Tooks, Brandybucks, or Bagginses, though—not for many, many centuries, what we can tell.
“Anyways, the Ring—It was mostly asleep the sixty-one years old Bilbo carried It, and most of the seventeen years as Frodo had It, too. But It’s been wakin’ up, stirrin’ from time to time, since It tried to leave Gollum there under the Misty Mountains, back when It felt Its Master stirrin’ when he was plannin’ on goin’ back to Mordor there, from what I can tell from what Gandalf and Lord Elrond had to say to Mr. Frodo. And when the Black Riders entered the Shire as we was leavin’ it, then It woke up indeed, and It’s been awake ever since.”
He sighed again, picked up his goblet and drained it, carefully refilled it, then set the carafe back on the table before turning the goblet between his hands. “Seventeen years he carried It, and didn’t even know what It was or was capable of, most of that time. And Gandalf says as somehow he was figurin’ out how to protect others from It even then. Says as the reason Frodo had dreams of circles of fire and bein’ chased by eyes in the dark was ’cause of the Ring, but that he wouldn’t let the Ring to look at anyone else, kept Its attention focused on him. He’d wake up from those nightmares tired as if he’d really been runnin’ through caverns and darkness.
“Once It was awake, just carryin’ It become a burden. He continued not only havin’ to fight Its urges and whispers in his heart, but to keep It focused on him, not lettin’ It reach out to others easy. As long as he carried It, most of the time I didn’t hear It, until he was almost lost when the shard from the Morgul knife was workin’ on him. Only ’cause we was in Rivendell were we somewhat protected, I suppose. He could protect us three as come with him pretty easy, it seems, but Strider, Legolas, Gimli, and Gandalf have all admitted It was callin’ to them, too, and they had to fight It while we was travellin’. The Elves of Lorien didn’t want us to enter there, mostly ’cause he was carryin’ It, you see. Said as he brought great evil with him, and wouldn’t let us go on until the Lady Galadriel sent word as we was to be brought to her and Lord Celeborn. Only there was he at peace for a time, for somehow the Lady’s protection of her realm helped him, too, what I could tell.”
He drank again from the goblet and set it beside the carafe. Again he was quiet for a bit, then continued. “The further we went, the more worried he was. He was bad hurt when he was stabbed with the Morgul knife; and when old Gandalf fell there in Moria it about tore his heart out of him. There on the river, when we come down it in the Elven boats, he was fightin’ with hisself. He couldn’t keep It from callin’ to your brother, you see, and he knew he wasn’t protecting Strider or Legolas or Gimli proper, neither. Worse, he knew as It was callin’ evil creatures to Itself, just as It tried to call to the Black Riders along the way to Rivendell, and as he believed It called the Balrog as Gandalf fell fightin’. He knew he had to go on alone, leave the rest of us behind. The others didn’t see it, but then they didn’t know him as well as I do, they didn’t.
“I don’t know all what happened there on Amon Hen when Frodo went off to think and your brother followed him, but I think as your brother tried to take It from my master. Captain Boromir come back white-faced, shakin’. Then the rest of us all went a bit mad, and ran off all in different directions, lookin’ for Mr. Frodo. But only I realized as which direction he’d take, and I caught up with him, just in time to keep him from goin’ off east of the river on his own. “
He straightened and rolled his shoulders, then leaned back, his eyes closed. “Gollum had been hidin’ out in Moria for some time—don’t know exactly how long; when we went that way he found us and followed us. He tried to climb the tree what we was up the first night as we was in Lorien, stayin’ on a flet with Haldir and his brothers. Then we didn’t see him again until we was on the river, and he was lyin’ on a log, paddlin’ after our boats.
“I’d hoped we’d lose him in the Emyn Muil, but he followed us even there, and that’s where we caught him, and Mr. Frodo made him swear by the Precious—that’s what he called the Ring, you see—that he’d guide us and help us and not betray us, or at least not Frodo. But Frodo couldn’t keep the Ring from workin’ on Gollum like he could protect me. I’m certain as he tried, but the Ring had had Gollum too long to ignore him. Your folk capturin’ him as you did helped break his intent to keep the promise, although I certainly don’t blame you. But from then on I did my best to make certain one of us stayed awake.”
After sitting up once more, he again sighed. “Once we got east of the river, the Ring was workin’ hard on Frodo. It was whisperin’ to him all the time, was showin’ him—showin’ him evil images, what I could tell. It was convincin’ him as he was to blame for Gandalf’s fall and death, and for Boromir bein’ tempted by It. And It was gettin’ heavier and heavier, the closer we’d get to the gates to his land. When we reached the Black Gates It was truly draggin’ him down. He was fightin’ Its weight and Its images and Its whispers and Its promises. At last he just collapsed in a pit, he did, and we had to rest there afore he was able to go on. Only after Gollum talked us into goin’ south toward the evil city was he able to go on, and once we got into Ithilien he was able to stand upright again, and pay attention to what was around him.”
“What do you mean, about the—the Ring getting heavier?”
Sam searched his eyes. “The further we went, the closer to him, the more weight It would take to Itself. I carried It only about a day, and even—even wore It, twice, afore good sense took me and I took the cursed thing off me. But the little I wore It, it was as if I had a boulder around my finger where It sat. I took It out of my pocket to put It on the second time, and it was all I could do to hold It up to put It on, even. When we got really inside, especial when we got there near the mountain, it was like It had the weight of the Dark Tower itself in It. You haven’t seen him without a shirt, and aren’t like to; but he has scars around his neck where Its weight made the chain It was on dig deep into his skin. He had real cuts by the time we got inside the mountain, and I doubt as the scars will ever go away, any more than the scar from the Morgul wound will go away—not in his lifetime. And Gandalf and Elrond both said as the Morgul wound won’t really heal for as long as he remains in Middle Earth.”
It was a sobering thought. “How did you come to carry It, then?” Faramir finally asked.
“Member how you told us the word was there was a horror up there, there in the pass above Minas Morgul, but that no one would say what it was, only the old Men would blanch if they was asked?” At Faramir’s nod he went on, “Well, we finally found out. Gollum—he knew. It was a great spider like those as live in Mirkwood, only older and more horrid and evil still. Gandalf says as she was Ungoliant’s own daughter, although I’m not certain as how he knows. But since he was sent back he seems to know more’n he did afore, he does.
“Anyways, Gollum apparently had a plan—he wouldn’t hurt the Master, he wouldn’t, or at least not hisself; instead he intended to let Shelob—that’s what the orcs named the spider—do it for him. He’d lead us to her, let her have Mr. Frodo and he’d see to me dyin’, he would; and then when she was done with Mr. Frodo’s body he’d find the Ring and take It back. And it almost worked. Almost.
“The spider got atween my Master and me, and Gollum grabbed me from behind and tried to throttle me. I beat him off, then went to protect Mr. Frodo, but the spider’d already bit his neck and poisoned him. I was certain as he was dead, and at last realized as I was the only one left, so I had to take It and go on. I put my sword aside him and took his, and took the Ring, and finally—finally started on without him. Only there was orcs comin’, and I had to hide from them, I did. So—so I put—I put It on, and pushed against the rocks, and they didn’t see me, passed me right up and found him. I couldn’t see well when I wore It, but I could hear better, and I could hear ’em talkin’ about how she had two poisons, and the one she used on Frodo was meant to—to freeze him for a time, but not to kill. She only sucked out warm blood, you see, so she didn’t intend to kill him—just carry him off to her larder and hang him up there. What they said, they’d found orcs taken that way, and didn’t think to rescue them from her, just left them all tied up in her silk, hangin’ from the ceilin’ for when she was ready to come back and—and—feed, at last.
“They’d taken Frodo with them. I took the Ring off me and put It in my pocket so as I could see well enough to try to find the way into their cellar, only I couldn’t find the catch, so I had to go through the front door, and I put It back on, in case I saw more orcs. Only as I started to cross the border I took It off again, just in time, I think. The relief as I took It off was—was so great, and It was so tryin’ to take me, It was. It was tellin’ me so how I could be the one what brought Sauron down—I could be the general as called all to my standard, and fight him, and beat him. Can you imagine—the Ring tellin’ me, a Hobbit what hardly knew how to use a sword, as I could command armies? I think as this was the usual trick as It used on Men like Captain Boromir, and as It would of tried on you had you stayed near us. I don’t know if the Ring thought I was Strider or what, although It—It called me the King’s brother or somethin’ like. And—and It tried to tell me I had to—to protect Frodo from gettin’ It back. Said as I should keep It from him. Tried to make me not rescue him, even. Tried to make me think as he’d be safer that way. I ask you—him safer in the hands of orcs, there on the borders of Mordor itself? How It thought as I’d ever believe that I have no idea. And It tried to convince me I could make all Mordor into a great garden with a Word. Now, now that almost got me, it did. But somehow my Hobbit sense made me realize as I didn’t need that.”
After a time of mutual thought Faramir ventured, “So, that’s how you know about the weight of It, then.”
Sam nodded abstractedly, took up the goblet again and drained it, then put it down and picked up an apple slice, fiddling with it but not eating it. When he spoke again his voice was so low Faramir had to listen closely to hear him at all. “The day as your folk found us, we’d had a hot meal for the first time since afore we left the others. Gollum had been feelin’ right frisky and helpful, he had, and he brought us a brace of conies, and I stewed them for us. Now, I can build a fire what won’t smoke, but I wasn’t watchin’ it close enough, and some furze caught, and that’s how your Men found us. I slept for a time after the ambush, but I don’t think Frodo had a proper sleep then; and when I woke up you was back, questionin’ my master, until you decided to take us with you. Frodo’d not felt the weight of It so bad once we got into Ithilien, but now he was worried. He’d seen how the Ring affected your brother and how It had worked on takin’ him, after all. At first, of course, he didn’t know as Captain Boromir’d been your brother, only you was another captain of Men, and was like to be Its next target. He was workin’ hard to try to keep Its attention focused on him instead, so hopefully we could get past you and finish our journey. Then once he realized you and Boromir was brothers—well, would you be like him, then? And if you was, then what must be done? Would you try to take It, or would It work hard on tryin’ to take you? He was that worried. He slept in the alcove, but not as well as he might.
“Most of the journey, once we left Lorien, he didn’t sleep well. It worked on his dreams, It did, and of course he was worried—worried about everything. He was always a most responsible Hobbit, he was, but now he was convinced as he was responsible for everything and everyone. He knew as he needed to go on alone, but worried about doin’ it, afraid of breakin’ away, he was. To tell the truth, if’n your brother hadn’t done whatever he did on Amon Hen I suspect we’d not of broke away then, and from what the others tell us most like we’d of been caught by Saruman’s Uruk-hai and carried off toward Isengard like they done with Mr. Merry and Mr. Pippin. Whatever he did, the Captain forced Mr. Frodo to screw himself up at last and do it, and none too soon, neither.
“Once we was with you, he was bein’ responsible as only Mr. Frodo could be, you see—was tryin’ to protect us and that foul Gollum from you, and the Ring, of course; and he was tryin’ to protect you and your Men from the Ring.”
“And that wore him out?” asked Faramir.
“Maybe,” Sam said, shrugging again, “but I suspect as it was deeper than that. No, what made him collapse just then----” He went silent again, and took a very deep breath. At last he began again. “What made him collapse wasn’t just ’cause he was worried and runnin’ on will alone as he’d been doin’ and as he had to do at the last, there in Mordor when the food and the water’d give out and the fumes was like to take us and he couldn’t even walk no more. No, it wasn’t just that, not then. What it was—it was relief, sir.”
Faramir straightened in confusion. “Relief?”
The gardener nodded. “Yes, sir, relief. Once you knew as what It was you was sayin’ no to and you showed as you’d just keep on sayin’ no to It, he realized for the first time in days as it was all right, all right not to have to worry for a bit. He could let down his guard and rest, really rest for a time, and he did. He needed real rest so much, and he got so little of it, you see.
“It was more’n just food and water and the little wine as you sent with us and the walkin’ sticks as you gave us he took with him when we began again the next day, you see—you gave him hope that there was folk in Gondor as was true-hearted as Strider was, as was worth honorin’ and seekin’ to protect. His own hope was bein’ stripped away from him, bit by bit, by the Ring. The hope you give him helped give him heart to go that much further. And I thank you for it.”
Faramir examined the Hobbit with a feeling of humility in his heart. Finally he answered, “Again, the praise of the praiseworthy is far more of worth than all the jewels from all the forges of the Noldor, I ween.” He rose and bowed deeply to the Hobbit, who flushed again and rose but held his place.
And when he at last left Samwise to his book of Elvish tales, Faramir went away with one more worry of his own lifted from his heart.