AS SHADOWS GROW It was getting dark. Dark and cold. And at the same time, Frodo still felt as if he had a fever. The Mountain of Doom was getting nearer…frighteningly near. Frodo knew that soon the critical moment would come…the moment for him to make his one and ultimate sacrifice. And the Ring was heavy…it was almost unbearable now. As each day passed, that cursed thing around his neck weighed more and more. But he would not give up, not now when they had gotten so far! He had decided that he would go on, and give his all to at least try and save the free peoples of Middle-Earth, to save all the goodness that still existed in the world. There was still hope…and love. And that’s what kept both Frodo and Sam from giving up. "Mr. Frodo!" cried Sam as Frodo weakly collapsed on the ground again. "Oh Sam…I can’t take it anymore…it’s too heavy…I have to rest…" "Frodo, we have to find a safer spot to rest than this! Someplace that is hidden from view." But Frodo was too tired to answer. Gently, Sam picked him up and carried him to a more secluded place in between two large rocks. Once there, he saw that only a little distance away was a small lake. He laid Frodo gently on the ground. "There’s a lake right behind those rocks, Frodo. I have to go and see if it’s safe to rest there, it will be secluded enough." He got up and made his way towards the black water. Suddenly an odd feeling came upon Frodo. He could almost feel that the place was no good for a rest. It was the lake. There was something about it that Frodo did not like. He could almost feel the danger coming out of it. He shook his head violently and moaned weakly, "No, Sam…! Not there…! Don’t go there!" But Sam couldn’t hear him. He was too far away. "Sam!" Frodo called after him again, "Sam, come back! Believe me, do not go there! Stay away from the lake, Sam!", but it was to no avail. Sam neared the lake, and Frodo felt that he had to gather up all his strength to get up and stop Sam… It was just then that he heard that voice again. That horrible voice, which he had heard so many times now, calling out to him. Now it was stronger than ever. "Frodo…Frodo…you can not stop him anymore…you can not stop Sam from going to that lake…to his doom! He will drown there…" "NO! No…oh no…" Frodo tried not to listen to it, but it was too strong now. It couldn’t be true, it just couldn’t! It was lying to him, it had to be lying! This couldn’t happen to Sam! With all his might, Frodo tried to fight the voice and the power of Sauron, which was slowly coming over him, taking control over him…but he was too weak. "Please…stop…" Frodo whispered desperately. " It is true, Frodo… Sam will drown. And there is nothing you can do to save him…". Frodo winced at hearing that again and covered his ears, but the voice seemed now to be coming from deep inside his head. He struggled to his feet and staggered a few steps towards Sam, but something stopped him. He felt a cold breeze in his neck and saw a bright light shining at him from behind him. Slowly, he turned around and gasped in awe and amazement. For before him stood all of his friends and loved ones from the Shire, smiling and waving at him. He saw Fatty Bolger and even Rosie Cotton standing there. And then, through the group of dear friends, emerged someone Frodo thought he would never see again. Surrounded by an almost blinding light, holding out his hands towards Frodo, and smiling warmly, stood Bilbo. Frodo gasped again and fell on his knees before the wonderful and yet somehow frightening apparition. "Bilbo…? Is…is that really…you?" Frodo stammered, filled with awe, tears filling his eyes. "Frodo, my dear boy…of course it’s me!" the figure answered, but no matter how hard Frodo tried, he couldn’t feel the same warmth and joy and love he felt when talking to Bilbo. He couldn’t help feeling that everything was not in it’s rightful place right now. "Frodo…come to us" said the figure again, beckoning to him hypnotically. "Come…just follow us…follow us…" and slowly the figures started to float away, towards the brink of a steep cliff. "Bilbo…where are you going? Wait! No, please, don’t go! Don’t leave me!" Frodo cried desperately and got up and, like he was in an extatic dream, started to follow them. "Come with us, Frodo, come with us…" the figures constantly kept on calling to him. Frodo held out his hands towards the figures as he slowly walked up to the brink of the cliff. He peered off into the distance, and looking down he could see, to his amazement, the Shire, Hobbiton, Bag End…every place he so dearly loved back at home, looking more beautiful than ever! What Frodo did not know was that at the base of the cliff, on the spot where he was seeing the hallucination of Hobbiton, were in fact situated sharp, deadly rocks. Standing now at the very brink of the cliff, he looked up at the figures again, that were now floating in the air before the cliff. "Take just one more step, Frodo", said the figure of Bilbo, offering his hand to Frodo, "just one more step, and everything will be alright again…". Frodo trembled with fear and he could almost hear his own heart beating. His feet started to move slowly even closer to the brink. He tried desperately to stop himself from moving, sensing that he was in danger, but his limbs did not obey him. Something was controlling him! He knew that it was the Ring. Now that they were so near the Dark Lord himself, the Power of the Ring combined with its master’s strong will could be too terrible to even imagine. "Yes…" whispered the figures, "come to us…". Frodo could not fight it any longer. He knew that he had failed. Tears rolled down his cheeks. This was the end. Sauron had won. He closed his eyes and everything went black. Suddenly his vision cleared and he heard something. Something that ignited a spark of hope in his heart. Could it be…? Yes, it was Sam’s voice! But they seemed to be cries of pain…he was screaming for help, shouting out Frodo’s name! It woke Frodo up from his frenzy. He opened his eyes and noticed that he was still standing at the brink of the cliff. But now the vision below had changed. Hobbiton had vanished, and he now saw the sharp rocks at the bottom of the cliff, and he gave out a cry of fear and surprise. Then he looked up to see that the figures had gone too. Instead he heard that voice again. "Curses on you, halfling! You should have done as the disguised spirits told you to! You would not be alive if you had taken that one more step!" But just then Frodo’s attention was drawn to another voice. "Mr. Frodo! Frodo, where are you? Help!!". Frodo’s heart took a leap. Sam was still alive! He noticed that he was able to move freely again, and quickly as lightning he started to run back towards that lake, from where Sam’s cries seemed to come. The sight that met Frodo’s eyes when he arrived at the lake was so frightening that he had to fight hard to keep himself from fainting. There was Sam, surrounded by a flock of large, devilish ghoul-like spirits, that were pulling Sam into the black water of the lake. "Frodo!" Sam cried, his eyes immediately lighting up at the sight of his dearest friend. "Frodo, help me, please! Do something! They’re too strong for me, I can’t fight them! Help!". Frodo ran a few strides towards Sam, but suddenly he stopped dead in his tracks. The Ring was still controlling him! He did everything he could to break free, but the Ring’s spell was overwhelming. "Sam, I can not move!" Frodo screeched in complete terror and fear over what might happen to Sam. If he now lost Sam, his dearest friend in the whole world, he would not be able to go on. Sam meant the world to him and it caused unbearable pain to Frodo when he wasn’t able to help him, or to do anything at all! "Frodo?! What is going on?! Frodo!!" Sam cried, as he desperately struggled against the foul spirits, that were viciously pulling him towards the water. He tried to grab hold of every single object he could get his hands on, in an attempt to pull himself back, but the spirits were by large much stronger than he. "Sam!!!" Frodo cried out, his voice breaking. He could do nothing as Sauron’s power cast its spells over him. Again, he felt that voice inside his head, and now Sam screamed in horror at noticing that Frodo was now completely under its spell. "Just look at your faithful companion now, Frodo", boomed the voice inside the Ringbearer’s mind. "He is not worth saving. Only you are.". And suddenly the tone of the voice seemed to change from the stern, commanding one into the soft and luring one. "Frodo…forget about Sam. Together you and I can rule all living creatures! The world could be ours! Just think about that, Frodo…no more pain, no more fear…just you and me and complete dominion above all…". Frodo stood silently, looking at Sam who was struggling against getting pulled into his doom, but he had suddenly forgotten who he was, why they were in those dark lands…who was that poor creature in front of him, calling out to him…? "Frodo, do not let it get hold of you! Do not listen to it! Help me Frodo, please…it’s me Sam!" "He does not care about you, Frodo", the dark voive said, "He only wants the power to dominate all living creatures for himself. He is not your friend…I am…I AM!!", it said now sounding harsh and ferocious again. Sam’s eyes filled with tears as he looked into Frodo’s own ones, which were now blank and staring at him coldly. To Sam, Frodo almost seemed like a wraith, although he hated the thought of it. He spoke to Frodo through broken sobs, "You have to remember, Frodo…you have to remember me, remember us, and all the times we have spent together…those memories are so precious, do not let go of them now!". It was becoming hard for Sam to speak, for he was almost up to his ribs in the water, and fear was engulfing him. "Frodo…" he choked through his sobs, looking at Frodo pleadingly, "Frodo, please…please help me…", and almost inaudibly he whispered, "I love you…!", as his head sank under the water. That’s when it happened. When Frodo looked deep into Sam’s eyes, he finally remembered everything. His love for Sam was stronger than the Power of the Ring! With an agonised scream, Frodo awoke from under the spell, drew Sting from its scabbard, dashed towards the foul spirits. His rage was tremendous as he swished back and forth with his sword and hissed and screamed at the spirits, who soon took off towards the Dark Tower, and gave a deafening screech as a sign of a constant danger that still existed. Frodo was exhausted, but despite his weariness, regardless of himself, he dived right into the black lake in a desperate search for Sam. The water was so black and so filthy, that he could almost see nothing, and he had to return to the surface a few times for air, but then he dived again. It was truly a wonder that Frodo was able to see the weak sparkle of Sam’s Elven brooch under the water, but as soon as he saw it, he saw also a glimpse of Sam’s arm, and grabbed hold of it as fast as he could and pulled him towards the surface, and then to the shore. It was then that Frodo noticed that Sam was not breathing. "Sam…oh no…Sam, wake up! Please, Sam…please, you have to wake up…! Sam…?". He tried to shake him, he called his name…but not a single spark of life could be seen in Sam. A long time Frodo sat there beside Sam’s lifeless body, speaking gentle words to him. Eventually he stopped trying. There was nothing more to be done. He took Sam’s hand and held it close to his own heart. He could not believe Sam was gone. It all just seemed so unreal somehow. He had to go on alone, he knew he had to be brave…Sam would have wanted that. He kissed Sam’s hand and gently laid it on his chest and placed his sword on top of him. He would treasure every memory they had ever shared together, good ones as well as bad ones. Sam would always have a special place in his heart. "Sleep well, dear little hobbit…may you find a safer place than this…you will always be in my heart, my friend…for now…and forever…farewell…". And lovingly he kissed Sam’s forehead, and got up and walked a few steps away. But then he fell to the ground, crying. This kind of sorrow he had never felt before in his life. It seemed to him as if all the hidden tears of the past now bursted out of him. As he sat there grieving, he felt that eternities passed him then and there. He sat there praying with all his might that Sam could be at peace now, without all the worries of the world upon his shoulders. He wished with all of his heart, mind and soul that Sam would still be alive, that none of this had ever happened. That was all he wished forever… Suddenly he felt a strange wind blowing above him, and a small cool and comforting breeze went through his hair. Shivering, and not dearing to look up, he could almost feel a strong presence near him…and suddenly it disappeared, and the wind stopped blowing as fast as it had begun. And then Frodo heard a great sigh, which seemed to come from all around…even the ground breathed…it was as if a thousand voices exhaled deeply simultaneously. Frodo feared more than ever and started to tremble a little. And then… "Mr. Frodo? What time is it? I’m hungry.". Frodo could not believe his ears. He slowly turned around…and yes, it was Sam sitting there, alive and well. Frodo’s joy was undescribable as he ran back to embrace his dear friend, never ever wanting to let go. "Oh Sam…! Dearest Sam, you’re alive! Oh thank goodness…I thought I had lost you forever…". "I don’t know what happened, Frodo", Sam said, "I dreamt that I was back at home, together with my family…Rosie was there too…oh, how I miss my dear ol’ Gaffer!…but then I heard your voice, calling out my name, and I started to follow it. I heard you, but I could not see you anywhere, and I was truly afraid…but then I saw a bright light and I heard your voice now much stronger…and that’s when I woke up. Strange, isn’t it?". Frodo smiled gently. "Yes, Sam…it is…" and then he burst into tears again and took hold of Sam’s hands. "Oh Sam…! I’m so sorry I just stood there when you were in trouble! I should have tried harder to break the spell I was under…I’m sorry I did not help you! You are so dear to me, Sam, I don’t know what I would do if I lost you…oh it was all my fault…! Please, Sam…I beg you from the bottom of my heart…forgive me…please…for I can never forgive myself…". He could not say anything more through his tears, and just bowed his head in shame. Sam’s own eyes filled with tears too, and softly he placed his hand under Frodo’s chin and made him look him in the eyes. "Listen to me Frodo…I forgive you…of course I forgive you! I was not even your fault! It was that Ring all the while…you did nothing wrong, quite the opposite. You saved me! And I will forever be grateful to you for that…". Then he laughed and said, "Just how many times have you already saved me from drowning, Frodo? I’ve lost count.". Frodo laughed through his tears and felt such great relief. Sam continued, now seriously again, "Frodo…I don’t know what happened to me when you saved me from that lake…I don’t know why I could not be woken…but whatever mercy has been shown to me, I will be forever thankful that you were here to help me…". "Sam…oh Sam…you…were…", but Sam would not let him go on. "Sshh…it does not matter anymore…all that matters is that we are both here now…alive…and together…". And they embraced warmly and both were crying again, but this time they were tears of joy. After a while Sam said, "I think we should leave this place and try to continue onwards. Do you think you have the strength to do that, Frodo?". "Of course, Sam…let’s go.". And so they got up and with a last glance at that perilous lake, they made their way to a small hill and while the wind played around in their hair and caressed their faces, they stood hand in hand on the hill and looked out over the dark lands ahead.