That night I dozed early.
The way had been hard and long and the air chill, but refreshing.
All day a sense of unease had lain settled on my heart, and with each hour as we neared the ancient fort on Weathertop, the foreboding grew. I noticed that Strider seemed to share my fears. His eyes were ever watchful, and his body was tense and alert. Merry and Pippin were grumbling and muttering about “scanty rations not fit for hobbits”, while Sam walked quietly beside Bill the pony, companionably sharing an apple or two.
Dusk was falling as we came to Amon Sul. “We will find shelter and some protection under the brow of the old fort.” Strider pointed in the direction of an overhang near the summit of the hill. “That way leads to the great hall where once the walls were fair and strong”. Following the direction of his hand, I saw a flight of stone stairs leading from the back of the hollow and disappearing into the darkness beyond.
We stumbled up the hill and into the shelter of the overhang. “Remain here quietly. I will scout the area roundabout and return when I am satisfied that no danger lurks here.” Aragorn swiftly melted into the darkness outside and we were left to our own devices. The others huddled together wrapping themselves in their cloaks: muttered conversations would spring up and quickly die. Bill nuzzled Sam’s shoulder comfortingly.
The sense of unease draped itself over the darkened landscape. Small tendrils of white mist writhed below amongst the scrubby bushes. The silence was oppressive. No bird calls, no breath of air disturbed the quiet.
I sat apart from my friends. My thoughts were confused and disturbed. I longed for the familiarity and security of Bag End. Warm fires, comfortable surroundings, and safety. How much further was there to go? What new dangers would we have to face? Where was Gandalf? While I felt that Strider was trustworthy he was still an unknown quantity and I would have preferred the strength, confidence and wisdom of the grey wizard.
The ring hung like a heavy weight around my neck. I think, even then at this early stage, I was beginning to realise that whatever help and strength my friends could lend me, this responsibility was mine alone, that I would be forced to make decisions that would have unforeseen consequences for all of us. I groaned and huddled deeper within my cloak.
Exhausted by physical and mental toil, I fell into an uneasy doze punctuated with unsettling dreams. The sound of cheery talk and crackling bacon; a red light behind my eyelids dragged me unwillingly back to reality.
I opened my eyes. Across the back wall of the overhang blazed a brilliant orange glow and illuminated against this were the black silhouettes of the other hobbits. My nose was assaulted by the fragrance of frying bacon and tomatoes.
A wave of anger surfaced. “You fools! What are you doing?”
“There’s some bacon and tomatoes for you, Frodo. We were just going to wake you up.”
“Idiots! Get that fire out! They’ll see us miles away!”
But it was already too late. A thin, wailing cry rose from the mist strewn landscape below. “They’re here!”
Merry had his wits about him. “Quick, up to the tower. Maybe we can hold them off there!”
I don’t remember how we got there. Forming a circle in the middle of the ruins, we drew our knives and waited. Dread and terror weighted down our thoughts and limbs.
Then they were there. In front of us, at last. Hooded cloaks disguising the emptiness that lay underneath. There was a moment when movement and thought ceased and we faced each other, waiting. The hiss of a sword being unsheathed caused my lungs to draw in a long ragged breath. This was it. Instinct took over from reason.
The leader strode forward, sword raised in front of him. Sam gave a desperate cry. “You leave Mr Frodo alone!” His short charge was halted by a flashing blade and the clash of steel on steel. Sam gave a grunt and was hurled against the stone. The same fate befell Merry and Pippin. Both were hurled aside.
I felt as if a nightmare had entangled me in its web. My hand refused to hold a weapon. My legs refused to move. Dragging one unwilling foot behind me I attempted to retreat. My body hit the ground and was shocked back into action. I scrabbled frantically for the safety of a stone wall and lay cowering at its foot. The fell creatures advanced implacably. An overwhleming impulse surged through my brain. Put on the ring, Frodo. Put on the ring.
Their faces emerged through the whirling grey. Cruel, arrogant, heartless. “Come with us, Frodo. Be one of us, Frodo. Let us have the ring, Frodo.”
“You cannot have the ring!” The words were barely a whisper.
“Then you must die!”
A searing pain burned down my left shoulder. A cry escaped from my lips. “Get it off, you fool. Get it off!” The familiar tone steadied my panic and eased the agonising pain for a second. Enough to bring me to my senses and pull the ring off my finger. It resisted, but my will was the stronger then. Instantly, pain overwhelmed me again, and through a haze of agony I could hear a whimpering sound, as of a lost child.
“Oh, Mr Frodo, sir, we thought we’d lost you!”
“It hurts, Sam, it hurts! I can’t stop it hurting, Sam!”
“Oh Mr Frodo, sir, let me help you.”
“No-one can help him, Sam. He has been pierced by a Morgul blade. It’s poison will work its way into his heart and he will become like one of them. A wraith.” The cool tones of Strider’s voice intervened. “We must get him to safety as quickly as possible.”