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Summary

The Return of the King Book 6, Chapter 1 Summary Page 1

The Tower of Cirith Ungol

  • Let's check in with Frodo and Sam on the Ring quest, shall we? (For more on where we left them last, check out The Two Towers Book 4, Chapter 10.
  • Poor Sam, all alone in Mordor, is standing outside the closed gate to the orcs' stronghold in Cirith Ungol.
  • He can hear orc voices for a time, but then everything is silent, so he creeps to the edge of Shelob's lair.
  • After watching the orc-tower for a bit he decides he has only one option: he'll have to go right through the front door, using the Ring to keep himself out of sight.
  • As Sam wears the Ring, he finds his other senses sharpened (except vision; he sees everything in a fog).
  • He overhears an orc fight going on in the tower.
  • Now's the time. The orcs are distracted, so he can slip into the tower unnoticed. At least he hopes. 
  • He slips off the Ring so that he can see better and presses on.
  • As Sam looks out over Mordor, he can see Orodruin, the Mountain of Fire. Mount Doom. 
  • And just like that, he understands just how hopeless this whole business is. Even the Tower of Cirith Ungol, which he is trying to enter, is immensely strong and powerful. It's all far beyond Sam's abilities. 
  • He feels the pull of the Ring, but he knows that, if he puts the Ring on, it will draw the Eye of Sauron, so he's not really up for accessorizing just now.
  • Sam keeps the Ring on its chain and creeps towards the front gate of the orc-tower of Cirith Ungol.
  • As Sam reaches the gate, he draws Sting and makes a run for it.
  • But he runs right into an invisible obstacle. Whoops.
  • He looks up and sees the Two Watchers—carved stone blocks, each with three vulture-like heads. The décor in Mordor is just lovely.
  • Apparently, these Watchers can see an enemy, whether he is visible or invisible, so on instinct, Sam pulls out the Phial of Galadriel. 
  • Slowly, the will of the Two Watchers crumbles. 
  • Sam jumps past them, but as soon as he passes the gateway, a shrill cry rises up, which raises an alarm higher in the tower. Uh oh.
  • But as Sam walks through the tower, he realizes that the orcs are too busy to worry about the alarm.
  • Most of them are scuffling in twos and threes, and the stones of the tower are covered in dark orc blood. What's their beef. 
  • Sam spots two different uniforms on the orcs: one has the Red Eye and one has a Moon with a death's-head. 
  • Taking advantage of the distraction, Sam keeps walking upward to the top of the tower.
  • Suddenly, he hears running feet from the stairway above. Terrified, he clutches the Ring in his hand, with Sting in the other fist.
  • An orc jumps out of a dark doorway and passes in front of Sam.
  • When it sees him, he appears as "a great silent shape, cloaked in a grey shadow, looming against the wavering light behind; in one hand it held a sword, the very light of which was a bitter pain, the other was clutched at its breast, but held concealed some nameless menace of power and doom" (6.1.35).
  • The orc yelps, turns, and runs away.
  • An excited Sam chases after him, but the orc is too fast and disappears right quick.
  • As Sam walks up, he wonders if all of the orcs have killed each other and he is the only thing still alive in the place. Wouldn't that be lucky?
  • Up and up Sam travels.
  • At the top of the flat roof of the tower, Sam finds an open space with a small domed chamber in the middle of it.
  • There is light coming from a turret at the back of this high court, and the door to the turret is open. 
  • The court itself is covered with dead orcs. 
  • There is an orc voice speaking. It's Shagrat, Captain of the Tower, whom we met in The Two Towers Book 4, Chapter 10.
  • He is trying to bully Snaga, his one remaining soldier, to go and tell Barad-dûr about their hobbit prisoner, but Snaga is too scared of the rumors of a nearby Elf warrior to go anywhere. 
  • Elf warrior? Really?
  • It turns out that all of this orc bloodshed erupted over an argument about who gets Frodo's mithril-coat. Real mature, guys.
  • As Shagrat leaves the tower, he picks up a small bundle that presumably contains this coat.
  • Sam tries to fight him as Shagrat goes, but Shagrat gets away. Oh so that explains how the Mouth of Sauron got his hands on Frodo's mail and cloak, much to everyone's terror.
  • Whatever. Sam has bigger fish to fry, so he heads to Frodo rather than chasing after Shagrat.
  • Unfortunately, he reaches a dead end in the dark turret, and he has no clue where to go next.
  • What else to do but sit down and start singing? 
  • Then, as he sings, he hears something: "a faint voice answering him" (6.1.64).
  • Then he hears footsteps and a door opening in a passage above him.
  • An orc voice says, "Ho la! You up there, you dunghill rat! Stop your squeaking, or I'll come and deal with you" (6.1.65). 
  • It is Snaga, who is still guarding Frodo's cell. 
  • Sam creeps up and sees Snaga through an open trap door. He's whipping Frodo. That is so not okay.
  • Sam is so furious that he draws Sting and slashes Snaga's hand off his arm. Take that, orc jerk.
  • Snaga runs at Sam, but he trips on the ladder to the trap door and falls through the opening in the floor. Well, that was easy.
  • Sam goes to Frodo, who is lying naked in a pile of dirty rags on the floor.
  • Frodo is staggered to see Sam there, and he realizes that the song he heard was not a dream, it was Sam.
  • Frodo explains that he has been totally terrified. The orcs have been arguing over his things and over him.
  • Sam confirms Frodo's story. There are a couple of hundred dead orcs in the tower right now, thanks to those arguments. 
  • When Frodo worries that the quest has failed, since the orcs have taken everything from him, Sam assures him that they're still in the clear. He has the Ring around his neck right now. 
  • Sam say what? Frodo is shocked at first, but then his tone changes. 
  • "Give it to me!" he demands, "Give it me at once! You can't have it!" (6.1.89).
  • A worried Sam suggests that he and Frodo share the task of carrying the ring, since the burden might be too heavy for Frodo here in Mordor.
  • No dice. Frodo looks at Sam and sees a leering orc face.
  • He snatches the Ring from Sam and calls Sam a thief.
  • But then, Frodo's vision clears and he begs Sam's forgiveness. 
  • An understanding Sam assures Frodo that all he wants to do is help. He suggests that they dress up in orc-gear to be less obvious as they traipse through Mordor. 
  • Sam goes down to scout for useful things while Frodo waits in his cell.
  • The two agree on a password for the rope ladder to be let down: Elbereth
  • Soon after, he comes back carrying horrible orc clothes for them both. 
  • Sam has a feeling that this place is being watched, even though it is empty, so they have got to get a move on.
  • But what about food and drink? It's still quite a trek to Mount Doom.
  • Luckily, Frodo finds his food-bag on the floor of his cell. In it, there is still some lembas bread, which the orcs must not have wanted even to touch (like Gollum, who found it totally disgusting in The Two Towers Book 4, Chapter 2).
  • Unfortunately, the nasty orcs have slashed Frodo's water bottle. Prepare yourselves for some thirsty days ahead, Frodo and Sam. 
  • At last, they descend from the tower and reach the gate again.
  • And again, there is some unseen obstacle keeping them from passing the Two Watchers.
  • Frodo sinks to the ground, too weak to go on. 
  • But Sam pulls out the Phial of Galadriel and yells out, "Gilthoniel, A Elbereth" (6.1.119), just as he did in Shelob's lair.
  • And just as he did in Shelob's lair, Frodo cries out "Aiya elenion ancalima"—hail, brightly shining star! (i.e. Eärendil). It's rally time.
  • The Watchers' will breaks and Frodo and Sam leg it through the gate.
  • They get through just in time, before the arch of the doorway falls and the Watchers start wailing.
  • A Nazgûl comes diving out of the sky at the sound.
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