Stars and Glory
Untold Tale Number 2 from the Mayor’s “Green Book”
“We’ve not heard that song before, Mister Fatty. You’ll have to sing it again!” an enthusiastic old hobbit encouraged Fatty in an encore.
“Wait a second!” Mr. Mugwort protested. “Where’d you learn it from? You come in with these odd tales and new songs and none of us know how ya came by ‘em.”
Fatty did not mind at all elaborating on a story given the slightest opportunity. He took a long pull at the pint in his hand. Fatty needed no extra prodding to offer a second helping of his tales, but Butterbur’s ale made every song taste better – both to the teller and to the listeners.
“Well, this one I learned from my good friend Samwise Gamgee, the Master up at Bag End in Hobbiton these days. He inherited it from Mr. Frodo Baggins, who inherited it from Mr. Bilbo Baggins, whose dad, Bungo, built it for his beautiful wife, the fabulous Belladonna Took, one of the three daughters of Ol’ Gerontius Took, the Old Took as we call him. The Old Took lived to be a hundred-thirty, if you can believe that, but Mister Bilbo made it past one-hundred thirty-one! Master Samwise told this story to the elves at Rivendell, and they put it to the tune I just sang for you.” He paused. “Ya sure you want to hear it again?” Fatty was obviously pleased with himself, and even more with the ale.
“Sing it again!” several voices begged in chorus.
“Keep in mind as you hear it that it’s all about how Mister Frodo and Sam was up in the mountains outside of Mordor in a dark cave. Sam says that it was one of the worst times of his adventures out beyond the Edge of the Wild. At the time it happened Sam thought that he would never live to tell the tale, much less hear it sung. But all kinds of songs came out of those days, as I’m sure you’ve all heard a time or two.”
“And you’ve sung a time or five!” laughed one of the men visiting down from Fornost on King’s business.
“I bet you’ve heard His Majesty tell a tale more than once up at the castle without too much complaint,” Fatty laughed back. “But who am I to take exception at what royalty does? It’s my way of showing him honor by following his lead. If singing a song’s good enough for a King to do twice, then the likes of us can’t turn our noses up at a fourth hearing.”
“Just one more time is all we asked, Fatty,” the King’s man shot back. “You can do the next two when you and the King get together again. We don’t want you to cheat the King of his due by being too generous with us commonfolk.”
“Such humility in one of so great estate is refreshing to see,” Fatty returned with a big grin. “Then, if we’re all ready, hear now The Defeat of Shelob.” Fatty and all the company fell silent for a moment. Then in a bright, clear tenor, Fatty began to sing:
1 Tangled in the traitor’s web the fly
succumbed to thoughts of dark despairing,
blinding dark that more the heart than eye
assailed, for in the gloom there staring
evil promised night would never die.
Rage and anger offered no avail
nor proffered any consolation;
breath denied the lips the pow’r to wail
against the coming desolation
sure to be the ending of this tale.
So benumbed his mind that seeming sweet
would be the awful pain enduring
of this wretched fall and cruel defeat,
for pangs at least are life’s assuring
blood is more than wine and flesh than meat.
16 Frodo followed step by step his back
away from what no nightmare’s haunting
ever held, regardless of how black.
The malice of the monster’s daunting
was the worst and first of her attack.
Eyes of lustful hate a thousand strong
she cast upon her prey recoiling,
laughing silent as she pondered wrong
triumphant over virtue toiling
lost, bereft, unmourned by sons or song.
Then a light burst forth unseen as yet
but brilliant as the morning leaping
to the mind refusing to forget
the gift the Lady gave for keeping
when all other suns had seemed to set.
31 “Master! Master!” Sam remembered sheen
upon the greensward at the midday
and the words bespoken by the Queen
of ill to be that none might gainsay,
thus she granted them a blade more keen.
Shining silver, golden, green and white,
Galadriel there stately standing
saw he by the pow’r of vision’s sight
upon the lawn, her treasures handing,
succor given for their hopeless fight.
“Heed the words we heard upon the grass:
‘If in the midst of frightful places
thou a luckless, lightless road must pass
where darkest doom thy pathway faces,
light be thine from this, thy Lady’s glass!’”
46 As the sleeper finds himself awake
‘tho’ dreams befog his early thinking
ere the morn’s first step he dares to take,
for eyes yet stare unseeing blinking,
slowly Frodo sense began to make
from the fears that grow from seeds of doubt.
”Why yes!” he cried. “I was forgetting,
‘til I heard your rousing, joyous shout,
of blessings ‘gainst the night besetting,
Light when ev’ry other light goes out!”
Hope enkindled flame from heaven’s hearth
within the ample bosom buried
in the bleakest depths of hell’s own heart.
A little while the noontide tarried
where but winter e’er had called his garth.
61 But at first she merely laughed her scorn
for Elvish curses vainly spoken
ever since the world was barely born;
of swords and spells she left each broken,
and as well the very light of morn.
Panic-struck, the heroes turned and fled,
then mirthful evil filled her seeing,
seeing how her prey were filled with dread.
In vain had proved all frightened fleeing
once her bloodlust bellowed to be fed.
“Stand! Stand!” Frodo bravely turned to bay.
“Stand! Running is no use!” and wielding
at the last his Sting and crystal ray,
the Shire-born hobbit strode unyielding
back to make the huntress rue her prey.
76 Ghastly is the specter of the fiend
that prowls the margins of the nightmares
haunting babes in arms as yet unweaned;
far worse the flesh the Reaper’s face wears
which the corpse beheld ere mourners keened.
Death itself took form in Frodo’s eyes
of spider-shape four fathoms spreading.
Thousand-fold her hate looked on her prize
and thought with awful joy of threading
out the bones where sweetest fresh meat lies.
Eight the legs with countless horns she wore
and joints unnumbered gave her creaking
movement speed, ‘tho’ tons of weight she bore
which won the game who hid her seeking
living blood then lifeless guts and gore.
91 Stench erupted from her bowels to fill
her lair with terror’s dun despairing:
“All the rot around you shortly will
be you as well, your last wayfaring
once your breath now held I hold and still!”
Life and light she loathed and so devour’d,
unceasing in her noisome eating
heedless of how much she long had sour’d
on spinning webs or foes’ defeating,
caring only that her victims cow’r’d.
“Stand! Stand!” Never ere a meal had cried.
What happened here that light and living
had not rendered up the ghost and died?
A blazing brand most unforgiving
blade in hand drew near with brazen stride.
106 “O Galadriel!” he shouted clear,
and hurled an orb from heaven’s regions
hellward, there to ward the fang and fear
of one of Angband’s orphaned legions
from two souls the Valar held most dear.
Dark the eyes that savored darkness grew,
for blinding light they could not suffer
burst within their keep, and now in lieu
of feasts and tombs, they sought a buffer
‘tween themselves and pain they never knew.
“Stars and glory!” Sam bid Frodo ware.
“O Master! Long may Elves be singing
songs to praise your deed surpassing fair,
but now our swords should not be ringing,
for her wrath we must not chance or dare!”
121 Flight she took into her depths, and they
their flight they sought to take them higher
where the air flowed free and light of day
once mortal hearts could still inspire,
‘tho’ in Mordor all was ever grey.
But her webs she long had spun around
the mountain’s crest with cruelest cunning,
so to snare the flies who thought they found
escape from death by merely running,
as the fox dreams trees defeat the hound.
While she rushed into and from descent,
the hobbits plodded yet unknowing
where their footsteps led in their ascent.
Ere long they felt a chill wind blowing,
‘tho’ they saw as yet no freeing vent.
136 Hope, however, gave no quarter to
the blindness that for hours unending
draped their hearts and minds until they drew
their swords, and prayers and courage blending
broke the bonds that only light can hew.
Sensing that the dawn might come again,
a final thrust toward tomorrow
Sam and Frodo made, but made in vain,
for barring them from hope a sorrow
stood to serve the spider as their bane.
There they found a monstrous web whose weave
no simple fly was meant to capture;
all her victims struggled to believe
and to escape her glutt’nous rapture,
much too large to be or to conceive.
151 “Cobwebs!” shouted Sam with laughing frown,
then with determined grunts went leaping
with his ancient sword to tear them down.
His sturdy arm described a sweeping
arc t’ward earth from ‘neath the cave-mouth’s crown.
Time and time again he manly strove,
and every time his glance went spinning,
leaving strands unscathed, ‘cept one he clove
upon his seventh swinging, winning
but a stinging wound for all he hove.
Then a sharper Sting his master swung
while Sam upheld the Phial in splendor.
Frodo hacked until but fragments hung,
for elven blades were forged to render
just such horrors, as the ballads sung
166 of the Elder Days when terrors walked
in greater numbers, and no lesser
was the fear they wielded as they stalked,
nor webs more yielding to possessors
of the blades of which the epics talked.
As before the dreadful Barrow night
and as he did near Morgul Valley,
Frodo rashly took to wilding flight
in which he made a foolish sally
forth from harm to far more parlous plight.
Samwise sprang as well, but kept his head
enough to wonder why his Master
gave no heed to caution as he fled,
and in his fey mood flew the faster
from their peril to the Land of Dread.
181 Briefly had he time to give such thought,
for as his Master rushed on further,
Sam was of a sudden struck and caught
by hell-bent hands intent on murder
‘til they got the Thing they really sought.
Gollum was the traitor who had spun
this web in which the flies’ deceiving
meant the spider’s foiling would be won,
for more than gold he sought retrieving:
now his quest for vengeance had begun.
“She can have the flessh and bones and blood,
my Precious. We will get the better,
yess, ‘tho’ even if through floods of mud
I have to search, but then we’ll get her,
once I have you, her and all the crud.
196 “Sneak! You nassty, filthy hobbit, now
we takes this one, but not the other,
no, my Precious, since I made the vow
on you, but this one we can smother,
yess, he’s got you, sneak, and how!”
Hatred, haste, and hubris hurt his plan
for Gollum grabbed with too much hurry,
gloating even as they both yet ran;
but Samwise twisted with the fury
only rage and desperation can.
Teeth and fingers rent and squeezed and tore,
while cries rang out, a sword went falling,
then had Sam a final trick in store:
he pulled away as if forestalling,
then with all his strength and weight he bore
211 backwards on to Gollum by surprise,
believing Sam too dull and addled
even for such simple strategies.
A fleeting moment Samwise straddled
Gollum, now the spider caught by flies.
Up he leapt to mount his own attack.
He raised his staff and brought it swinging
down on Gollum with a whistling crack,
and then again he sent it ringing
hard across his foe’s retreating back.
With that biting sound and stinging pain
the villain, knowing he was humbled,
sought the Lair’s foul refuge safe to gain;
but after but a few steps stumbled
Sam recalled his master faced a bane
226 older, crueler, and more deadly far
than chasing vengeance offered sweetness;
thus forsaking hatred’s futile war,
Sam matched the fiend for rage and fleetness,
turning back to make a bigger score.
Cries he raised, to which she paid no heed,
Sam sent before him ere his onslaught
to relieve his fallen master’s need,
and leaving his own courage unthought
hurled him forward to the hopeless deed.
Frodo lay in bonds beneath the fright
which even then assumed her feasting
was assured as day gives way to night.
Her prey had ne’er escaped her stinging
nor had ever mounted any fight.
241 Samwise knew no hist’ry of this queen
begotten from a time unreckoned
when the sable had usurped the green
ere elves the Valar had yet beckoned
to behold unsullied living sheen.
Thus he strode unfearing of the death
that men and orcs she gave unnumbered;
hewing with the last of conscious breath,
Sam thrust against the eyes that cumbered
all her lowered head’s malicious breadth.
Then he thrusted Frodo’s elven sword
from stem to stern of her foul belly,
age-old thickened past a dragon’s gird.
Her poison frothed a rancid jelly
from the harmless wound that Samwise gored.
256 Crushing down with more than mortal force
and either elves or orcs surpassing,
hate enraged her on the deadly course
that lust age-long had been amassing
from the pits of hell whence bred her source.
Shelob sank upon the bitter spike
that Samwise held aloft undaunted;
thus she smote herself with strength unlike
the bards had sung or goblins vaunted
ever hand had set a blade to strike.
Wild with wrath she wanted now to rend
her foe, no stinging for his numbing
nor a gentle sleep to ease his end.
Here naught of mercy would be coming
as she craved but vengeance to descend.
271 Springing back she whirled to face the foe
who thrice her precious flesh had smitten.
Death she showed and death Sam saw, but lo!
Before by steel she had been bitten
Sam recalled she feared a harsher blow:
Light when ev’ry other light goes out!
“Gilthoniel! A Elbereth!” he
chanted with a bright, untroubled shout.
Thus battered by the holy blaze, she
beat retreat before the star’s redoubt.
Sam came on with barbs from ray and blade
to spear the fell and evil spirit
with the two-edged sword that elves had made
of grace turned curse when demons hear it,
and a glow undimmed by earthbound shade.
296 Agony in form of lightning seared
her thousand eyes, ‘tho’ left unblinded,
while a terror suddenly appeared
her pride had thought was safe unminded,
for for only others death had reared.
Knowing now the fear she long had dealt
the monster sought her reeking palace
where before no pain she e’er had felt,
there once again to nurture malice
whence all life and light perforce had knelt.
Sam no more gave heed as she withdrew
and neither this nor any story
tells the tale of how her hunger grew
again to hunt all living quarry
‘til herself her sateless glutt’ny slew.
301 Frodo lay on night-bound earth, entwined
in webs from foot to ‘round the shoulder,
but the beast had also looked to bind
him heart and soul with poison colder
than the strands Sam struggled to unwind.
As Sam cut the cords that stuck and clung,
his master’s face fell sickly ashen
as the foul and murky air that hung
all over Mordor in the fashion
of the filth Mount Doom forever flung.
“Frodo! Frodo! Master!” Samwise cried,
but ev’ry moan was unavailing.
From the awful truth he could not hide:
that all the Council’s plans were failing,
and that he could live ‘tho’ Frodo died.
316 Stars and glory could not bring him back
nor offer Samwise any surcease;
ev’ry day would now be vested black
and morn no longer promised heartsease
for no light survived this dark attack.
Samwise lifted high the Lady’s Phial
and looked the last on Frodo, weeping.
Taking up his lightless, luckless trial,
Sam left him in their Lady’s keeping,
trudging forward, praying all the while…
Thus did hope remain, ‘tho’ yet unclaimed.
At that moment Butterbur rushed in. “Have you started your song yet, Mister Fatty? I didn’t want to miss a word. Go ahead and start now!” And with that Fatty began again, Tangled in the traitor’s web the fly…
5-28-04: St. Augustine of Canterbury