Orcs all around, a Nazgûl overhead, and horns blaring all around them, Sam and Frodo run from Cirith Ungol, out onto a long bridge, and… another company of Orcs up ahead that haven’t spotted the Hobbits yet, but are coming straight for them. All they can do is jump. They land safely — their Orc clothes and armor barely protect them from the briar spikes — and make their way to the valley below with considerable difficulty.
Provisions from Faramir are low. Sam relates the adventures he had while he and Frodo were separated, and then tells Frodo that if they ever see the Lady Galadriel again, his only request will be for light and water, far more precious than any jewels. As though ordered from a menu, the Hobbits are given exactly that. The water is oily and tastes bad, but it is drinkable. The light comes, and reports of the Witch-king’s demise reaches them by way of wailing Nazgûl. Even so, the Ring grows heavier, sapping Frodo’s will and hope with each passing step.
To the east another forty miles or so rises Mount Doom, across a great valley. Directly behind that is Barad-dûr, the Dark Tower from where the Eye of Sauron casts his gaze over Mordor. Across the valley as far as the Hobbits can see are the armies of Mordor, poised and ready for the final battle ahead. Moving undetected is hopeless for our half-sized heroes, but equally certain is the lack of choice. They have to go on.
After a couple of days, they are unable to move aside on a narrow road, and a company of Orcs overtakes them. In the gloom, the Orc leader assumes his own and forces them into line with the others. They travel at pace towards Mount Doom, which is sheer agony for Frodo as the Ring’s weight increases. As they reach a busy crossroads, armies from the south are moving in anticipation of Aragorn’s army. Taking advantages of the confusion, Frodo and Sam cast themselves off the road and behind a nearby boulder. To Sam’s eyes, Frodo seems lifeless.
This chapter illustrates the old adage “so close, yet so far.” Compared to the map when the quest began, and Mount Doom seemed so very far away, the great chasm of Barad-dûr might as well be a mere stone’s throw at this point. And yet the closer they get, the more hopeless the task seems. Tolkien milks it for all it’s worth too, ensuring the reader gets no reprieve from Frodo’s anguish. Even with the escape of the Hobbits, the demise of the Witch-king, and the coming of the light, the weight of the Ring is made real to character and to reader alike.