Welcome to October 20, 3018 of the Third Age. Today our Hobbits cross the Bruinen. It’s a big day for everyone – Man, Wizard, Hobbit, Elf, and Nazgûl alike. Let’s dig in.
Chapter 12: Flight to the Ford
“The hobbits were still weary, when they set out again early next morning.”
Catching Up and the Morning
The Hobbits were beat. They had walked over 50 miles in the last two days and had around 20 to go today to get to Rivendell. Their last day off was at Tom Bombadil’s house on September 27th. From that point on, they had 15 to 20 mile days without rest.
For a hiker, this is pretty normal. But these weren’t just hikers out for a ramble. They were attacked, chased, off trail through thickets and rocks. These were hard miles and it was life or death.
When they woke up this morning, Glorfindel gave them the inspiring news that his heart warned him “that the pursuit is now swift behind us, and other danger may be waiting by the Ford.”
The morning and early afternoon were uneventful. There was grass along the road and the Hobbits walked on it to soothe their feet. Frodo was now riding Glorfindel’s horse, Asfaloth.
But once they passed through a tunnel of pine trees, everything changed.
‘They Called To Him with Fell Voices’
‘Fly!’ he called. ‘Fly! The enemy is upon us!’
As it turns out, Glorfindel’s heart was right. The Nazgûl were behind them. Frodo was pretty close to unconscious, but this woke him. The Nazgûl seemed to be commanding him to halt, which he did.
Then at once fear and hatred awoke in him. His hand left the bridle and gripped the hilt of his sword, and with a red flash he drew it.
Frodo’s out of it for a little while and wake up with delusions of grandeur, right? Apparently so.
Glorfindel, probably rolling the hell out of his Elvish eyes, stops telling Frodo to ride on and speaks directly to the horse: “noro lim, noro lim, Asfaloth!” – Run swift. run swift, Asfaloth!
Though Frodo made time against the Nazgûl behind him, there were four in front, coming in on his left to cut him off before reaching the ford.
The Nazgûl here are described in striking terms. Tolkien wrote that they “appeared” to Frodo to not be wearing their black cloaks – “they were robed in white and grey.” They held their swords and “helms were on their heads.”
Gandalf will explain this when they reach Rivendell. “You were beginning to fade,” he would tell him, referencing his wound from Weathertop. Even without the Ring, Frodo was starting to be able to see the Nazgûl as they saw him.
And though they “called to him with fell voices,” Frodo was nothing but terrified. He held onto Asfaloth’s mane as the horse darted past all of the Nazgûl, who were clearly unaware of the speed of an Elf-horse.
Of course, they could have just been waiting on the road to intercept Frodo, and still have been mostly out of sight, but then we’d have a very different story.
‘To Mordor We Will Take You’
Anyway, Frodo crossed the river with his eyes closed and basically without incident. To him, of course, it was dramatic. The Nazgûl were right behind him. Maybe they could even overtake him!
But when he reached the far shore, Asfaloth turned around. Horse and rider both saw the Nine just waiting on the other side. Though he had safely crossed, Frodo felt defeated. “…he had no longer the strength to refuse.”
It should be pointed out (quickly) that Strider, Glorfindel, and the three Hobbits were on the other side of the Nazgûl at this point. Gandalf fills in the details to Frodo in Rivendell: “Your friends sprang aside, off the road, or they would have been ridden down. They knew that nothing could save you, if the white horse could not.”
With the Nine stood still at the water’s edge, everything seemed to stop. The Witch-king advanced, but his horse reared up in fear before the river.
This spurred something in Frodo!
‘Go back!’ he cried. ‘Go back to the Land of Mordor, and follow me no more!’
With that, the Nazgûl laughed and urged him to recross the river – “to Mordor we will take you!”
Three of the Nine, with the Witch-king in the lead, began to cross. Frodo called to them, dropping the names of both “Elbereth” and “Lúthien the Fair,” that they “shall have neither the Ring nor me!”
The Witch-king stood up in his stirrups and raised a hand. Apparently through magic, he broke Frodo’s sword and caused his tongue to stick to the roof of his mouth. By this time, the Witch-king was nearly across.
And here is where the flood came. We’re later told that Elrond controlled the river, but it was Gandalf who made the “white riders upon white horses with frothing manes” appear on the waves. Nice touch!
Only three of the Nine were in the river and washed away. These were the Witch-king (for certain), Khamûl (as confirmed in Tolkien’s note), and another – maybe Khamûl’s messenger (unconfirmed, and actually Tolkien’s notes say that there were “possibly some others” rather than just one).
As for the other six, we only get Frodo’s hazy vision of what’s going on:
“…a shining figure of white light; and behind it ran small shadowy forms waving flames, that flared red in the grey mist that was falling over the world.”
This is, of course, his Ring-o-Vision™. In notes, Tolkien clarified: “Aragorn and Glorfindel drive the others into the River with fire.”
Gandalf also clarifies this to Frodo when the latter awakens in Rivendell: “Yes, you saw him for a moment as he is upon the other side: one of the mighty of the Firstborn.”
With that, Frodo passed out.
It can be assumed that they made it the rest of the way to Rivendell without incident.
We’ll meet again whenever the hell Frodo wakes up – ‘the morning of October the twenty-fourth, if you want to know.’