Author's Note: Hi, people! Mish here, bringing you another story, this one co-authored with one of my favorite writers: Trilliah! This story will be posted in several chapters (although how many chapters altogether, I don't know at the moment). As all should know, the characters, places, and storyline belong to J.R.R. Tolkien. And just so everyone is aware, much of the book's dialogue is quoted directly in this story. Tolkien did so well originally (so we thought) that we decided to leave it as it is. Of course, there are times where we do our own, especially during the times Tolkien didn't go into detail on; but when you read and realize, "Hey, I've read this before," you know why. ;) Okay. I think I've covered everything I wanted to...if not, I will at the beginning of the next chapter. :D Happy reading!

*~*~*~*~*

"The pass, Sam!" Frodo cried. "The pass! Run, run, and we'll be through - through before anyone can stop us!" He dashed away from the tunnel elated, almost drunk with the excitement and relief at being released from the horror of that dark hole. Its blackness was so thick it was stifling. He almost laughed as he ran forward. No one could stop them now! Not orcs, not Gollum, not - Frodo's step faltered. That creature whose lair they just escaped...surely it wouldn't have given up its prey so easily...

...He couldn't hear Sam behind him...

...But there was something. Something was pursuing him, the Ring-bearer, on its creaky legs. Where was Sam? Why wasn't he running beside Frodo? Had the creature gotten him? Frodo choked. He would never forgive himself if it had. Tears rose, but his feet had a mind of their own as they continued to carry him up the path. He longed to stop, to turn and run back to his friend. What was that? A voice? Sam! Oh, praise Eru, he still lived! But what was he saying?

An overwhelming stench from behind nearly knocked Frodo forward, and he shuddered as a pale, eerie light appeared from behind, casting a long, trembling shadow before him. His heart leapt in his throat as an unimaginable terror filled his being. Before he could even turn to see his pursuer - if, indeed, he wanted to see it - he was struck in the neck, fire flowing through his veins as he collapsed to the ground. Sting fell useless from his grasp, and he uttered a small, pain-filled cry before losing consciousness.

*****

Darkness surrounded him. For a moment, Frodo feared he was back in the tunnel, but here it was not smothering. A cold breeze blew, and he shivered. The air was not fresh. It smelled of death and decay and rottenness. Foul fumes were lifted on the wind, and smoke wafted by every now and then. Coughing racked his body, and during a brief spell when he could breathe freely he lifted his head to see a red light suddenly flare up ahead of him. He could barely discern a mountain of ash and hardened lava reaching up to the shadowy smoke canopy. "How did I get here?" he muttered to himself. "And where's Sam?"

He was too frightened and disoriented to move, but as he cowered on the ground fear grew in him until it became unbearable. He could not stay there! Something was hunting him, and if he stayed where he was, it would surely find what it sought. Frodo found himself constantly wondering where Sam had gone.

Quivering with fright, he crawled forward, using his hands to help him navigate the uneven terrain. The glow from the volcano had increased enough to illuminate the landscape in crimson and black. Frodo nearly screamed as his hands bumped into something soft. It seemed to be a pile of clothes. He inched closer for a better look.

This time he did scream - a long, mournful wail that echoed to the mountain and back, but Frodo did not care who heard. "SAM!!!" He shook the lifeless figure. "Sam, wake up!" Tears burned down his cheeks, and he found himself gasping and sobbing.

"He's dead," a harsh, careless voice whispered to Frodo.

"No!" Frodo shook his head, denying it, although he knew the voice spoke the truth. He felt Sam's chilled hands and stroked his icy brow. "No," he repeated quieter, his voice cracking. "Not my Sam." He bowed, crushed with horror, and touched his forehead to Sam's, his tears falling on Sam's cheeks.

"He's dead, and you know it," the voice continued to taunt. It paused as if savoring the moment, then added, "You killed him."

"Me?!" Frodo cried, lifting his head. He peered down at his hands, covered in a red, sticky substance. Sam's blood. Frodo gasped in disbelief. "How-?"

"Yes, you." The voice cackled. "He offered to help you carry the Ring because he hated seeing you suffer so, and in your rage of possession you killed him."

"But - I couldn't have! Not Sam! Not my dear Sam!"

"Yet you did." Frodo could almost hear the smile in its voice.

He cried out in anguish, wanting to end his life right there. Curling up beside the motionless body of his friend, he wrapped an arm around him. "Oh, Sam! I am so sorry!" He was so swallowed up in his sorrow that he did not hear them come until they were right at hand.

"Ho la! What's that?"

Frodo moaned, putting his hands over his ears. Couldn't they leave him to die in peace?

Peace? Frodo laughed bitterly to himself. This wasn't peace.

Suddenly he felt his head being yanked back as he was pulled to his feet by his hair. "Ah, look here, boys!" the orc growled, chuckling. "It appears we've found him. The Boss will be happy to hear this! He may even be moved to some promotions!" There was harsh laughter and Frodo was tossed into the group.

"Nooo!" He reached out for Sam, despite the fact that he was dead. A vicious kick to the stomach silenced him, and they bound him as he was doubled over in pain.

"Looks like we'll have some good eatin' tonight, my lads!" the orc leader called out as he lifted Sam's body. Frodo's heart was so broken by the comment that he passed out.

What happened next was a blur to Frodo. His cruel captors enjoyed playing games of torture with their prey. Frodo was too hopeless to care. He had no reason to live anymore. The Ring was taken, Sam was dead...the rest of Middle-earth would soon follow. He just wanted it to all end quickly.

The problem was, he knew it wouldn't. The Dark Lord wouldn't be so merciful as to grant him death. Not for a long while, anyway. He opened his eyes after having swooned again. His heart froze. His mind went numb. His spirit quailed. Before him was Sauron himself, Ring back in possession. This would not be good...

*****

All was black again. There was a pain at the back of his neck, and his blood ran hot even though he felt cold. Dimly he heard a voice calling...Sam? But...but he's dead!

"Frodo, Mr. Frodo! Don't leave me here alone! It's your Sam calling. Don't go where I can't follow!" The voice was sobbing. Frodo struggled to answer, but he could not move. "Wake up, Mr. Frodo! O wake up, Frodo, me dear, me dear. Wake up!" The voice faded.

"No, Sam! Come back! I'm here!" But there was no reply. Sam was gone. Frodo wept. Then he fell back into more darkness and foul dreams...

*****

Something terrible was being poured down his throat. Frodo coughed violently and spat out what he could of the burning liquid. Around him rose cruel laughter. He froze, afraid to open his eyes. Was this another dream?

Slowly his vision returned, and he found himself in a room full of orcs. The flickering flames of the torches filled the room with a dim, red light. The creatures around him jeered and taunted, pinching Frodo with their claws and poking him with their knives. Their ruthless faces grinned down at him as he huddled on the floor, alone and terrified. This was real. Somehow he knew it was not another dream. And that made it all the more worse. Where was Sam?

'No, I'm not going through that again," he thought to himself, squeezing his eyes shut. His body screamed at him, aches and pains sending wave after wave of torment. He was immensely weary and longed just to lie down and die. At least then he would no longer suffer.

His mind began fleeing, but it was suddenly and harshly brought back to reality as an orc stuck his face in Frodo's and demanded something. Frodo's eyes shot open again and widened in fear. Apparently his captors had been talking to him since he revived, although he had paid no attention to them. They had noticed - and were not happy about it.

"Look, if you wish to stay whole and sane long enough for the questioning, listen to me!" the orc yelled. "I'm sure I'm not the only here who would love to have the fun begin right now, see?" The others hollered in agreement. Frodo nodded.

"Let's see. First orders are to have all the prisoner's items removed and recorded." The orc peered down at him, an odd look on his face.

"Excuse me?!" Frodo involuntarily clutched for the Ring.

"You heard me: strip!" They all laughed at Frodo's suddenly pale face. "Well, boys, it appears he has difficulty understanding. We'll have to do it ourselves!" Frodo struggled as dozens of pairs of hands reached for him and began tearing off his clothes, but even under normal conditions he wouldn't have been able to resist their strong arms. He finally went limp, exhausted and defeated. "Oh, isn't this a pretty thing?" the orc that had been speaking to him exclaimed as he held up the mithril coat.

"Be sure that goes in the pile with all the other things!" a loud voice bellowed from within the crowd. The room suddenly went silent, and the orcs parted to let two especially ugly brutes storm up to the captive. Frodo ducked his head in shame, his face flushing scarlet. "Embarrassed, are we?" the loud one asked, roughly grabbing Frodo's chin and forcing the hobbit to stare into his face. His eyes glinted coldly as he chuckled at the young, frightened creature before him. Frodo tried not to show his fear, but he knew he was failing miserably. The clawed hand was ungentle, and he could feel drops of blood trickle down where the skin had been broken. "Hey, you!" the orc hollered, turning to catch the other brute fingering the silver shirt greedily. "Put that back with the other stuff!"

"Shut your mouth, Shagrat," the other growled back, shooting him an icy glare. "I was just inspecting the articles."

"You liar, Gorbag!" Shagrat spat. "Who's in charge of the tower? That's right! So I'm the one who gives orders here, unless you want to answer to Them!"

Frodo cringed on the cold stone floor, wishing he could disappear. He stared as Shagrat and Gorbag continued their argument for a few minutes. Finally they seemed to remember why they were there in the first place, and both turned back to him.

"Well there, little rat. Ready to answer some questions?" Gorbag chortled, leaning in close. Frodo backed away, and the orc laughed again.

Shagrat shouted at the company of orcs, ordering them to leave the room, and they began to disappear down a hole in the middle of the floor. "There now. Perhaps we'll have peace and quiet enough to hear your squeaking," he said, striding back up to Frodo and Gorbag and shooting Frodo an unfriendly smile. Frodo gulped. Shagrat began poking through Frodo's items as he asked, "Who - and what - are you? You seem a bit like those cursed Elves," - here he swore - "but you're too small." When Frodo made no move to reply, he pulled out a long knife and waved it under Frodo's chin. "Don't make this harder than it has to be, you hear?" A shiver ran down Frodo's spine, and both interrogators must have seen it, for they laughed.

"Recall, Shagrat, that I asked if teeth, nails, and hair were to be included in the stripping, and you said no," Gorbag said, turning to face the other orc but glancing sideways to catch Frodo's reaction. "Perhaps we should reconsider if he plans on being stubborn like this, you think?"

Frodo visibly gulped. "I - I'm a - a h-hobbit," he stammered, blue eyes shimmering with unshed tears. "A h-halfling."

They laughed again. Shagrat fingered his knife. "Good, good. I'm glad you've decided to cooperate. Now, you didn't answer my first question. What is your name?" Gorbag seemed to have caught a fancy for his blade, too, as he pulled it out and began toying with it.

"F-Frodo." That was all he would give.

"And where are you from?" He seemed almost bored asking it, holding up his dagger and gazing at it nonchalantly. Silence. He turned back to the little rat. "I said, where are you from?" he repeated, voice edged with anger.

Frodo glanced from Shagrat to Gorbag to Shagrat again. He couldn't say! What would they do to his beloved home and people? He couldn't betray them! The two orcs gripped the hilts of their knives and move closer, and his resolve began to waver. Shagrat pressed the flat of his blade against Frodo's chest and grabbed him by the back of his neck. Oh, his neck! The pain flared, and he couldn't help crying out. "The Shire!" he hissed.

All was lost anyway. They had It now.

"I suggest you start being a little more respectful and answer when we ask you. You do realize that your life is in our hands, do you not?" Shagrat was getting impatient.

"If you kill me before my time, They won't be happy." Frodo glared back at him, a sudden strength surging through him. "Nor will He," he added quietly, not breaking his gaze.

Shagrat would have slain him right there had Gorbag not held him back. "He's right, Shagrat! Calm down! I'll do the asking for a bit." Shagrat settled down with a huff. "Now, little one," Gorbag growled, turning to Frodo. "Let's try this again. What are you doing here, lurking about the borders of Mordor? You don't seem the type to crave the darkness and deadness of this beautiful land. And what of your companion?" Frodo could not help starting at the mention of his friend, and the slight straightening of his back did not escape Gorbag's notice. "Yes, we know you were not alone. What is he?"

Frodo pressed his lips together, his mouth becoming a thin line. So Sam had survived! At least long enough for the orcs to know he existed, anyway. Frodo refused to give out any information that could hurt Sam...if he was still alive. Frodo closed his eyes against the sudden dizziness that came over him.

"Answer me!" Gorbag almost screamed.

"No." Frodo didn't care if they killed him for it. He would not betray Sam!

Gorbag took deep breaths, obviously incensed. Shagrat muttered something to him in the Black Speech, and Gorbag shot a glance back at him. But then he seemed to take control of himself, and his breathing became regular again. He played with his knife once more. "Oh well. He apparently didn't care for you that much anyway, the way he left you lying there on the ground like that."

Frodo blanched, cut deep by the remark. Of course Sam cared for him! Look how far he'd traveled with his master and all that he'd done for him. He knew he was as special to Sam as Sam was to him...wasn't he? Frodo swallowed and closed his eyes again. He only left because he had to, right? Or maybe because he was unconscious and couldn't do anything to follow anyway...

Now Frodo was confused. If Sam had been conscious, why had he let Frodo be captured? That didn't sound like the Sam he knew. No, something must have happened to him, surely. Sam wouldn't leave his Frodo behind on purpose. He wouldn't!

Would he?

Doubt began to plague Frodo's mind. He tried to shake it out of his head, but it was more stubborn even than Sam. A pain rose in his throat. Sam *did* care for Frodo, right? Or was it merely duty that kept Sam at Frodo's side? Or was it...

Or was it the Ring? Frodo's breath caught as the thought entered his mind. The Ring. It had already corrupted Boromir, and Frodo had left before it could tempt anyone else. The only one who had been with him after he left was Sam. The Ring was powerful. It already had a strong hold on Frodo. Could it be affecting Sam now?

"No," he whispered, burning tears falling to the ground. *No. Not dear, innocent Sam!*

Oh, how his heart ached from the stinging remark by that filthy orc! Such a simple comment causing such great heartache. He curled up into a pitiful little ball on the floor and spoke no more. No prodding or yelling or threatening by the two monsters above him would cause him to open up again. Finally they appeared to give up and stomped out of the room, gathering up his belongings in a dirty, black rag before disappearing through the hole in the floor. A tear trickled down Frodo's cheek as he slipped from consciousness.

*****

Some time passed and Frodo woke, finding himself alone in the room. At one point he decided to stand up and stretch, feeling his muscles getting tight. He wandered over to inspect the door in the floor. Yanking on the handle, he discovered it was locked. No surprise. But then he heard the bolt slide aside, and the hatch lifted, revealing an orc guard beneath who had come up to check on the prisoner. Frodo jumped and fell backwards, emitting a small cry of surprise and fright.

"Hey! What are you doing up?" the guard demanded, springing beside the traumatized hobbit and leaning over him, shooting him an angry glare. Frodo covered his head with his arms and whimpered, hiding his eyes from the beast. "You're not to move unless commanded, you hear? Or you'll get this!" There was a crack, and Frodo's side stung. He glanced up to catch sight of a whip in the orc's hand. Upon seeing Frodo's great blue eyes widen, the orc laughed. "That's right." He turned and left, bolting the door behind him. Frodo closed his eyes, now burning again with tears, and tried to sleep.

From time to time he would awake again. Once he decided to try going over to the window, but just as he took his third step, the door unlocked again. He immediately dropped to the floor, grimacing. 'Of course,' he though grimly to himself. 'Always when I get up. Never during all the time I am actually still!' Again he received "a reminder" for his movement. 'Never again,' he told himself. 'I am not going to move again.'

*****

He woke with a start to find someone shaking him. "Wake up, halfling! Time for more questioning." Shagrat smiled wickedly at him. With a groan, Frodo raised himself to a sitting position. Why couldn't they leave him alone?

Shagrat and Gorbag questioned him for hours, Frodo giving carefully guarded answers or silence in return. It seemed endless! Frodo felt he was beginning to go crazy. Couldn't they see he had had enough? At one point he even screamed, clawing his hair and dropping his head to the hard stone floor. At least the two orcs were kept amused. While Frodo wasn't intentionally putting on an act, he hoped such antics would keep the brutes from releasing their increasing anger at his stubbornness. Their eyes and cruel laughter haunted him, and their daggers glinted in the firelight.

A commotion downstairs caused the two captains to rush down the ladder, leaving Frodo huddled on the floor. Cautiously lifting his head, he gazed after them. Then he turned and spied a pile of dirty rags beneath the window. He decided to risk it. The floor was just too hard and uncomfortable. Sniffling, he crawled over to the pile and curled up on top. The shouting downstairs started quieting down. Shagrat came bounding up the ladder. He seemed startled that Frodo had moved. "Hey, you!" he snarled. "Don't you move again or you'll get it!" Frodo trembled in reply. A shout came from downstairs and Shagrat disappeared again.

Frodo could hear him ordering the others about. Suddenly he yelled at Gorbag, something about a silver shirt... Ah! The mithril mail! Harsh clanging made Frodo jump, and he quickly covered his ears. They had begun fighting! More yelling...they were arguing about the prisoner! They were fighting over him and his things! 'What a sad, sad race of people,' Frodo sighed, shaking his head. He shifted to a more comfortable position. Another orc raced up the ladder. "Hi! You! Come here!" He brandished his short sword, but before he could advance, an arrow from below stuck him in the back and he fell.

Terrified, Frodo lay still. He dared not move again. The sounds from below frightened him. What would happen now? They were evidently slaughtering each other down there. Would one of them come up and kill him before another tried to grab him and run off? "Oh, Sam, I wish you were here," he whispered, squeezing his eyes shut.

*****

It seemed the fighting would never stop. Frodo lay hunched on the pile beneath the window, contemplating his inevitable death. Even if Sam still lived, there was no way he could get through all these orcs to rescue his master, especially not with them fighting like this. If Sam would attempt to rescue him at all. Perhaps he wouldn't. He *had* left Frodo in the first place...perhaps he had taken the Ring and gone on alone...leaving his master behind...

Heartbreak. "Oh, Sam...!"

The sounds of battle were dimmer now, as the orcs had spread out through the building and into the courtyard. Then, incredibly, it stopped. There was silence: a deep, deathly silence. Frodo almost felt that was worse.

As he lay there with the only sound reaching his ears being his own ragged breathing, he modified that. It *was* worse. Far worse. His body shook uncontrollably as he huddled on the floor amid the rags, feeling so lost and forlorn. His breath hitched as he thought of Sam, probably lying dead somewhere.

"But what if he's alive?" a voice from deep inside him asked. "Now that the orcs have all killed each other, he may have a better chance of reaching you."

"Nonsense," his voice replied, muttering. "He won't be able to find me anyway, much less enter this place. How do you know all the orcs are dead? How do you know he wasn't killed in the battle that just took place?"

"How do you know he *was*?"

Frodo sighed. "Oh, be quiet, you two!" he pleaded. Then he laughed softly, grimacing. "Look at me: I *am* going crazy!" He shut his mouth, suddenly afraid someone would hear him. He listened, straining his ears. Nothing.

Curling up even tighter, he whimpered, longing for the comfort of Sam more than ever. Any hope that might have flared up earlier had long since vanished. He was doomed. The Ring was most likely taken by the Enemy, not by Sam...

"Oh, Sam, I pray you're all right! Do take care."

A harsh clanging suddenly split the air. 'What was that?' Frodo wondered, raising his head. When nothing else sounded, he laid his head back down and closed his eyes. Maybe he could fall asleep to never wake again...

...His neck hurt for some reason...

*****

There were voices down below. So some orcs had survived. 'I knew it!' Frodo murmured; then he groaned inwardly. They were arguing. Typical. Frodo rolled his eyes. He couldn't understand what they were saying, though. Sighing, he closed his eyes and tried to shut out their voices.

After a short period of silence, he heard another voice. This one was different. It started out quiet and weak, but it was lifted in song...

"In western lands beneath the Sun

the flowers may rise in Spring, the trees may bud, the waters run, the merry finches sing."

That was no orc!

"Or there maybe 'tis cloudless night

and swaying beeches bear the Elven-stars as jewels white amid their branching hair."

He knew that voice! His heart began pounding rapidly in his chest. Could it be? He longed to reply but found himself listening raptly to the strong voice as it increased in boldness.

"Though here at journey's end I lie

in darkness buried deep, beyond all towers strong and high, beyond all mountains steep, above all shadows rides the Sun and Stars for ever dwell: I will not say the Day is done, nor bid the Stars farewell."

He could not contain it any longer! "Sam!" he called out. "Sam, is that you?" The voice had started singing again, but it halted at the sound of Frodo's voice. He had heard!

But then his cry was answered by another harsher voice, causing him to cower back against the wall in fear. "Ho la! You up there, you dunghill rat! Stop your squeaking, or I'll come up and deal with you. D'you hear?" Frodo made not a sound. 'Please don't come up, please don't come up,' he begged in his mind. "All right," the orc growled. "But I'll come up and have a look at you all the same, and see what you're up to." Frodo paled. Had the singing just been his imagination, then? Surely the orc would have heard it, had it been real...wouldn't he?

The bolt to the door was drawn back, and the orc threw the door open, clambering inside. "You lie quiet, or you'll pay for it! You've not got long to live in peace, I guess; but if you don't want the fun to begin right now, keep your trap shut, see?" He pulled out a whip, and Frodo flinched. "There's a reminder for you!" He squeezed his eyes shut and flung his arms over his head to protect it as the orc raised the whip. The strip lashed his side, leaving a large, red streak. He bit his lip in an effort to keep from crying out at the pain. The orc raised his whip again, and Frodo readied himself.

But the next stroke never came. There was a yell from the ladder, then the sound of someone rushing Frodo's tormentor; another cry, some more struggling, and a thud below. Not once did he open his eyes. He was about to swoon...

"Frodo! Mr. Frodo, my dear!" a voice choked - Sam's voice. "It's Sam. I've come!" Gentle arms wrapped around Frodo and lifted him halfway, hugging him tightly. His eyes fluttered open, and he gazed into the familiar face of his beloved gardener. He muttered in shock.

"Am I still dreaming? But the other dreams were horrible."

"You're not dreaming at all, Master." Sam's voice was thick with emotion. "It's real. It's me. I've come."

Frodo clutched him, a wave of dizziness making him suddenly unsteady. "I can hardly believe it," he said. "There was an orc with a whip, and then it turns into Sam! Then I wasn't dreaming after all when I heard that singing down below, and I tried to answer? Was it you?"

"It was indeed, Mr. Frodo. I'd given up hope, almost. I couldn't find you."

Frodo felt an overwhelming sense of peace and joy pervade him, and he settled into Sam's arms, feeling safer than he had in a long while. "Well, you have now, Sam, dear Sam." Finally things were right again.

TBC...