The red lamp, hanging monster fruit no maggot would touch, take it away. I shut my eyes, but then all is darkness, unbearable. Black pit with one glowing coal, and I am the roast….
Huddle, then pace, then huddle again. Still, still. Death all around. The smells. Their voices, knives, claws, whips, words. I hurt so badly, so badly. My throat, parched and sore. Sam, where are you now? Please come, please come back, now….
I clutch the fabric of the cloak, which is all I have to cover me. What if there’s one left alive out there, and it springs and kills him?
But now I hear his voice: Elbereth, Elbereth. No orc would say that. I lower the ladder, shakily. And there he is, arms full. Rags, clothing, helmets, stink. Yes, I’m supposed to put these on. But how can I? I sink and huddle once more, while Sam’s voice urges me.
Mister Frodo, we have to do it. Nothing for it. We have to get out of here. There may be some left alive out there.
Why can’t I move? For he is right, of course. Yet all I can do is crouch pitifully in the cloak. Sam, come and hold me for a minute. Just a minute. Then perhaps I can go on…but no, but no. Only Elves can escape. Away, away out of Middle-earth, far away over the Sea….
But what is he doing now? Laying down the orc-clothes and taking things from his knap-sack?
“Mister Frodo, I just remembered this,” he says taking out a small earthen jar. “First I go and forget about the rope, then I forget about this. I took it out of Strider’s things when I was gettin’ my stuff at the river-bank. I figured we need it more than he did. It’s the same stuff he used on us when we were hurt in the mines. Remember this?”
He takes out the stopper, which is made of cork, and yes, I remember that smell. Balm. Yes. I remember it well.
“Let me put some on you,” he says. “I remember Strider sayin’ that it won’t work unless somebody else puts it on you, if you put it on yourself it don’t have no more effect than any other medicine. Fancy what my old Gaffer would say to that! He’d of rushed out and bought up a whole cartload.”
And he holds it close to my nose so the scent can waft its way into my senses and I grow calmer. And I allow him to dab a bit of the cool creamy salve on my face, which is scratched and bruised, in my hair, which is matted with blood, then on the back of my neck which is throbbing and burning from the bite of that spider-creature. Then I let the cloak down around my hips so he can anoint the whip-marks and scratches on my body and arms. I hear him sniffle and turn my head to see tears seeping over his cheeks at the sight of my wounds, yet a wonderful change comes over me. The pain abates almost instantly, after a moment of stinging. I can remember that feeling, yes. Pleasanter, actually, than when I wasn’t hurt. Yes, it is sweet and I am floating, floating, my insides are singing, I am home, my wounds are sleeping, you are with me, rain on the roof, the Shadow flees….
“Let me put some on you now,” I say after he is done. “Look at you, your hands and face are scraped raw.”
“No no, master, I’m all right,” he insists, still snuffling. “We better save it for when we really need it. This is just scratches, is all.”
But I take the jar from him, and I dip my fingers in and I put a bit on him, nonetheless. And he agrees that yes, it feels better than when he isn’t hurt, and he certainly hopes there is more where this stuff came from, Elvish it is without a doubt. And he puts the cloak over my shoulders again and then puts his arms around me for one full minute, and I am ready to put on the vile garments, and leave this unthinkable place never to return….
Days later, nights later, so sick, so weary, but for the balm I could not continue; night is falling and we sit beneath a thorny-bush, its maggoty buds just beginning to open; what possible flowers could it bear? Misbegotten blossoms of starvation and venom, orc flowers, monster fruit teeming with seeds of anger…is this from whence orc-children spring?
As we sit, Sam whispers to me of Gollum’s treachery and his battle with the spider-monster, and all the rest of it, and I sit close, my head drooping on his shoulder, and he has put some more of the balm on me. I have no words, I take his hand, there are no words. He strokes my hair and it feels wonderful. Strange he should want to touch it, the way it must look, feel and smell now, but he says no, it feels just a little damp, and smells like it’s just been washed, with the balm in it and all. Now we know what Legolas uses on his hair, I say, and he laughs, and I laugh, and the sound is as rain on parched earth. Sam, if we ever survive this, I shall write such a song for you as was never written in all the world…but who could write such a song? Only Eru Himself, surely…if He is there….
“Sam,” I remember saying, “if I should ever say anything terrible to you again, take no heed. It is the Ring speaking, not myself.”
“Yes, Mister Frodo, I know,” he says.
“How can you love me this much,” I murmur after a long while without looking at him. “I do not deserve it.”
“Why Mister Frodo, if you don't, who does?” he says with a shocked stunned simplicity. Innocence sits on him like a butterfly after a storm.
“I’m wrecked, Sam,” I hear a voice whisper far into the night. “I will never be the same, even if we survive.”
That is, I am certain I heard someone say this, someone with my voice and dressed in my clothes…who wears what was once my face, who even bears my name, but is not myself, someone who shed pieces of himself all through that stifled land under a star-starved sky.
I am wrecked, the voice says. Be still, I tell it. It has no right to say such things. Not to the being who is trying with all his small might to keep more pieces from falling, to keep what is left moving along, tearing pieces from himself to patch it. That beautiful being should not have to hear the voice of wreckage. All we need is two wrecked hobbits. One is more than enough.
I know, Mister Frodo, the being says. You need rest, lots of it. But there’s no place or time for it here. You tell me, I’ll carry you if I have to. Maybe you need some more of this here balm, it might help.
And I let him put it on me, though reluctant to uncover myself once more to this staring land and his tender eyes. And he puts it on my neck where the heavy mill-stone of a Ring is dragging on it, rubbing it raw, and the Ring grows heavier, as if in mockery.
You cannot escape Me, it says. You cannot destroy Me. You are a fool if you think any balm will erase the marks I will put on you. I will enter you as a devouring worm and live inside of you for all your days. You will have no rest, no rest. You are mine. In My image I have made you. You cannot escape Me. I am the hands of the orcs when they touched you, tore the patches from you and tossed them to the wind, they are My slaves and so you shall be. I have only begun to take you apart, and no adoring wretch of a servant can put you together again. You are Mine. And I have only begun to show you. You will scream to die before I am done with you. Did you really think you could destroy Me? I was born before your kind walked the earth. I will be when your kind are no more. And you will love Me and call Me your own even as I violate and kick you into the dust, you pathetic little heap of ugliness. Defy Me if you will, I own you, and you cannot escape, cannot escape...there is no life in the Void....
And still my feet move, my eyes fixed on the mountain that bleeds fire many miles ahead. And then I rest, in the arms of my Sam, who rubs the balm on my wounds until they are healed, and my head is on his shoulder and I sleep without hearing the taunting words of the obscene golden curl, sleeping in the faint hopeful perfume of the balm as a star glimmers through a grey curtain behind the jutting ruin of rock and ash…..
I look back at what I’ve written, blinking and shivering. Was there any balm? Or did I just add that in? I know such stuff exists, for Lady Celebrían used it on me once when I spilled boiling oil on myself in the kitchen, and I clearly recall how it soothed the searing pain almost instantly, and she said someone else had to put it on you for it to take full effect. But did we really have any with us on that excruciating trek? Tell me, Sam, I wish to know. I would have written of it in the Red Book surely…but I wrote so little between the ordeal with Shelob and our time in the House of Healing. And I made mention of no balm.
But one other thing I do know: perhaps there was no balm at all and I simply added that because I wanted it so. Perhaps it is something I rubbed onto the scars of memory to try to make them disappear. Yet, I know, that even if so, if there was no balm, there was Sam. And nothing can change that.