More than anything else, it was the smell: Samwise Gamgee would never forget that smell.
That terrible great spider, far greater by half than them as old Mr. Bilbo’d gone on about from there in Mirkwood, had folded herself all small and crept back into a crack that seemed far too small to have contained her bulk. But disappear she had, and somewhere in the darkness was lyin’ up, weak and wounded and sufferin’. And Sam Gamgee was that glad!
But although he knew he didn’t have to worry so much about her, there were other things to be wary of as he crept back out to where Frodo’s body had been found by the orcs. There might be other spiders--not, he realized, that there was a great chance of that. As big as Shelob was, she’d most likely killed any others as tried to hide within her halls, whether they were rivals, suitors, or offspring. After all, spiders of her sort didn’t usually brook others even of their own kind for any time more’n was strictly necessary. And what with the reek of the spider all about the place, Sam worried he might not notice the scent of another enemy creeping up on him in the dark. There were still orcs about, and mebbe some of them cave trolls such as had been sent against them in Moria.
The lower way into the tower was closed. Then he’d have to find another entrance even he had to climb the mountains themselves to get in! ’Tweren’t like he’d not spent how many days just climbin’ up all them stairs, after all; and some of them had been as bad as climbing any mountain!
At last he found the gate, and the Silent Watchers denied him entrance. He trembled as he faced them. “They know as someone’s here,” he murmured as he examined them. “But how t’get past--that’s the question!” He licked his lips and wondered if they could smell him. He smelled rank even to himself, what with the spider’s ichor all over his front and days of sweat from the climb up the stairs and the fear of Shelob’s lair.
Finally he thought of the Lady’s starglass and brought it out, and he felt them quail and their will break. Able to spring inside the walls at last he closed his hands about the glass and thrust it, as had Frodo, inside his shirt, trusting to the waistband of his trousers to hold it from falling. And if stone statues--even ones gifted with awareness and charged to guard the gates--could sweat, he reckoned as these must be doing so in concern for what had just got past then. A bell clanged, and he felt a momentary pang of alarm; but his courage rose as he looked about and saw on all sides of him the bodies of the dead.
He approached the door to the tower with concern. “If’n they took him up to the top as they said, there’ll be more stairs,” he whispered, dismayed for the moment. But again his courage rose. “Well,” he told himself, “it’s not like I haven’t had more’n a body’s normal practice, the last few days!” He took a deep breath to steady himself and entered the tower.
His first meeting with a live orc terrified them both; but it appeared the orc facing him was even more afraid than he. At least he could follow it to find the inner stair! “Some luck!” he told himself as he began to climb at last. “Got to find him, I do--livin’ or dead, I must find him!”
He could smell the stench of the dead on the upper pavement before he quite reached it, and was not surprised to look out and see still more bodies here. There were voices, also, to which he didn’t pay heed for the moment. There were so many dead here, and how all reeked with their blood! He had to fight to keep his gorge down, not that he had aught in his stomach to lose, he had to admit to himself. But he figured that if he once started retching it would undoubtedly be a time before he finished, and he did not wish to start and be heard by those as was talking!
It was as he was trying to puzzle out where his Master might have been imprisoned that one of the two speaking together raised his voice, and Sam recognized the voice of Captain Shagrat. “You won’t go, you say? Curse you, Snaga, you little maggot!”
“I told you twice that Gorbag’s swine got to the gate first, and none of ours got out!”
“Then you must go. ... News must get through to Lugbúrz, or we’ll both be for the Black Pits!”
“I’m not going down those stairs again! ...But a nice mess you two captains made of things, fighting over the swag.”
“I had my orders. It was Gorbag that started it, trying to pinch that pretty shirt.”
“...He had more sense than you. He told you more than once that the most dangerous of these spies was still loose, and you wouldn’t listen.”
Sam found himself having to scuttle to keep from being discovered as the larger orc, wounded as he was, began pursuing the smaller one, who would surely have joined the rest of the dead had the larger one not been hampered by his injuries. The small one managed to dart past Sam and up further stairs into a side chamber off the top and slam and secure the door, at which time Shagrat retreated back onto the flat pavement of the roof of the tower, cursing fluently and retrieving a bundle there. Except that as he leaned over the parapet calling below, apparently hoping another of his fellows might have survived the carnage in the lower courtyard, one of the bodies proved not to be dead after all. Whatever orc it was was nearly dead from its wounds as it struggled to its feet, but its gasp of pain as it tried to stagger toward Shagrat with a broken spear in its hand alerted Shagrat to his danger. Sam watched the ensuing revenge by Shagrat with disbelieving shock as the orc captain, having been unable to catch Snaga earlier, appeared to be taking out his doubled rage against the patrol leader from Minas Morgul. The reek redoubled with this further violence and the freshly spilled blood--again Sam found he had to fight to keep from retching--until he realized that this time, as Shagrat himself headed for the stair downward and found himself face to face with the Hobbit there was no means of further concealing himself, and the need to protect himself drove the nausea out of Sam’s thoughts.
Perhaps had Shagrat not been carrying his bundle in his one good hand he might have prevailed against Sam. After all, a curved blade clutched between one’s teeth is not easily wielded when the usable hand is too encumbered to hold it! Sam barely registered the color of the bundle and certainly failed at the moment to realize what it must contain; had he done so perhaps he would have taken more thought to killing the large orc. As it was, he felt relief that Shagrat appeared so frightened he merely deflected Sam’s attempted blow using the bundle and fled down the stair, after which his attention was focused only on finding Frodo Baggins.
Apparently only two living orcs remained of all those who’d inhabited the tower earlier. But where was Frodo? The scent of blood began to go stale, and the dry wind sweeping over the tower dispersed the further smells of sweat and fear and fury and revenge. Sam reentered the turret at the top of stair he’d climbed, and climbed the last stair that led up toward the actual top of the tower. But once he got to what appeared to be the top of the turret, he found himself stymied, for it appeared there was no place in which Frodo Baggins might be imprisoned.
“Where are you, Master?” Sam asked from between gritted teeth as he searched for some sign of a further stair or other chamber beyond the one in which the orc that Shagrat had addressed as Snaga was holed up. Was Frodo locked in there with the orc? The thought made him shiver in horror!
His own body smelled of the cooled terror and the long, dogged climb as well as the residual reek of Shelob’s lair he’d known earlier. Now he barely registered a new scent--the frustration he was feeling was giving way to near despair! And what it was that caused him to sink down on the stair some steps below the last landing and begin singing he could not afterward say.
“In western lands beneath the sun
the flowers may bloom in spring....”
And then he heard the answer--and at the same time heard the door to the chamber where Snaga had concealed himself being unbarred.
“You up there, you dunghill rat! Stop your squeaking, or I’ll come up there and deal with you. D’you hear? ... All right. But I’ll come and have a look at you all the same and see what you’re up to.”
There was a glimmer of torchlight at the top of the stair, and an odd shuffling. And it hit Samwise Gamgee--above the stairhead there must be one last room, there at the very top of the tower, under the roof; and it must be reached by means of a ladder rather than a proper stair. He peeked over the top of the stair just in time to see the smaller orc setting a ladder in place, then rapidly climbing it to push open a trap door. As the orc’s legs disappeared through the door Sam crept to the ladder’s foot, listening hard.
“You lie quiet, or you’ll pay for it! ...If you don’t want the fun to begin right now, keep your trap shut, see? There’s a reminder for you!”
At the crack of a whip Sam swarmed up the ladder, somehow drawing Sting as he did so; and found Snaga lifting his whip a second time. With a wordless cry Sam ran forward, and as the surprised orc turned toward him, its whip still raised, Sam struck out with Sting. Hand and whip went thudding dully to the floor. Still the orc reached out with his remaining hand to try to grasp the intruder. Sam gave a push at the creature, and it somersaulted over him, knocking the Hobbit to the floor as the orc tripped over the lip of the trap and fell with a sickening crack to the floor below.
A fresh whip weal marred the side of Frodo Baggins, and there was a line of blood across the flesh. However, it was obvious that this was not the first blow administered to Sam’s Master, for there were blackened scabs on his back and shoulders, and a reddened area where apparently the spider had bitten and poisoned him. Frodo twisted to stare disbelieving at his savior, and Sam dropped the Elven blade to fall to his knees by the older Hobbit’s side.
“Frodo! Mr. Frodo, my dear! It’s Sam, I’ve come!”
He gathered his Master and friend into his arms, reassured to feel Frodo’s thin body within them at last.
“Am I still dreaming? But the other dreams were horrible!” Frodo smelled of blood, pain, bewilderment, and fading terror. And in spite of the sweat and blood and filth, there was that indefinable scent to him that was simply that of Frodo Baggins of the Shire.
Trembling with relief, Sam held him as close as he dared. “It’s real, Master. It’s me. I’ve come. ... I’d given up hope, almost. I couldn’t find you.”
Frodo gave a soft laugh, giddy with relief. “Well, you have now, Sam, dear Sam.”
And as Frodo Baggins relaxed in relief in Sam’s arms, the gardener felt happier still as his Master’s scent reflected the trust he felt and renewed hope, even as the Ringbearer slipped into near unconsciousness. Sam, too, felt hope rise in him anew as he held Frodo cradled in his arms. He’d been right, he now knew, to turn back. This was indeed where he belonged, at the side of Frodo Baggins.