It was too late! The Nazgul were upon them! Glorfindel called for him to fly, but Frodo hesitated.
Thoughts on the Passage – Book I, Chapter 12 (p212-5, 50th Anniv. Ed.)
The effects of the Ring that overtook Frodo the previous night (and discussed here) now grew even stronger. Five Black Riders, led by the Witch-king and accompanied by Khamul, finally caught up with our heroes. Strider and Glorfindel stood between the Nazgul and the hobbits.
“Fly!” he called. “Fly! The enemy is upon us!”
The Riders were on a hill behind them. The hobbits were making their way down the hill to the River Bruinin. Frodo, mounted on Glorfindel’s horse, Asfaloth, was ahead.
Asfaloth leaped ahead, but when Glorfindel called again to Frodo, the hobbit did not move, “for a strange reluctance seized him.” Frodo slowed the horse to a walk and turned to look back at the Black Riders. They were, Frodo could feel, commanding him to wait.
But Frodo wasn’t yet under their spell. He shook it off and drew his sword. As he did, Glorfindel called to him for a third time. But now, he spoke directly to his horse: “noro lim, noro lim, Asfaloth!” Run swift, run swift, Asfaloth!
Just as the white horse sprang toward the River, the Black Riders “leaped down the hill in pursuit, and from the Riders came a terrible cry, such as Frodo had heard filling the woods with horror in the Eastfarthing far away.”
This was the same cry that the hobbits had heard on their first night out from Hobbiton, when one Nazgul called to another. And just as then, a Black Rider answered. It was one of the four who had chased after Gandalf a week past. They were rejoining their leader, and appeared between Frodo and the Ford.
The speed of his horse distanced himself from the five original Nazgul, but “there seemed no chance of reaching the Ford before he was cut off by the others that had lain in ambush.”
Tolkien then describes what might be one of the most important happenings when it comes to understanding Frodo’s relationship with the Riders:
“He could see them clearly now: they appeared to have cast aside their hoods and black cloaks, and they were robed in white and grey. Swords were naked in their pale hands; helms were on their heads. Their cold eyes glittered, and they called to him with fell voices.”
The Nazgul were showing to Frodo their true forms, which at this point he was able to see perfectly well due to the effects of the Morgul-wound received on Weathertop, fourteen days before. The other hobbits, Strider, and even Glorfindel could not see them at all without their cloaks.
Frodo was so incredibly close to becoming a wraith, like the Nazgul, that he did not need the Ring to see them. Likewise, they could see Frodo perfectly well, even though he was not wearing it.
The Nazgul’s power likes in fear. That’s not to say that if one was not afraid of them, they’d be reduced to nothing, but to one afraid, they’re nearly irresistible. That “fear now filled all Frodo’s mind” was both a good thing and bad. When he had welcomed the coming of dark, he felt no fear. Had the Nazgul overtaken him then, at night, it’s conceivable that he would have even went without a struggle. But now, in his fear, though he couldn’t fight (“he thought no longer of his sword”), he clung to the horse’s mane as it made for the Ford.
So fast was Asfaloth that he blew past the foremost Rider, who attacked Frodo with his Black Breath. It “pierced him like a spear,” but the effects seemed minimal, though he hardly noticed that the horse had taken him across the river.
As a rule, though Tolkien never explained it, the Nazgul generally don’t cross water unless by a bridge. They feared water, and would only enter it when absolutely necessary. But Frodo didn’t know this. When he made it across, “he knew of nothing that would prevent them from crossing as easily as he had done; and he felt that it was useless to try to escape over the long uncertain path from the Ford to the edge of Rivendell, if once the Riders crossed.”
Frodo knew that his horse could outrun the horses of the Nazgul. Yet, he couldn’t believe that he could find his way to Rivendell, now eight miles away. It’s pretty safe to assume that the horse knew the way and would lead him there, but more than anything, he obeyed the Nazgul’s command to stop.
When the Witch-king came up to the other shore, Frodo drew his sword and told them to go back to Mordor. They stopped, but only to mock him. They knew that his was now his and the Ring was once again Sauron’s. ‘Come back! Come back!’ they called. ‘To Mordor we will take you!’
Frodo was defiant. As they called for the Ring, he called upon “Elbereth and Luthien the Fair,” vowing that they would have “neither the Ring nor me!” But the Witch-king stood in his stirrups and raised his hand, breaking Frodo’s sword and scaring the hell out of Asfaloth.
In a manuscript that was written after the publication of Lord of the Rings, Tolkien explained that after the Witch-king broke the sword, “he, Khamul, and possibly some others dare to ford the water – ‘for he is desperate, knows that the Ring is about to escape to Rivendell.'”
Three Nazgul managed the strength to enter the water, and the Witch-king was nearly across when the flood came. The three in the water were immediately consumed. For the remaining six, though Frodo could hardly notice, Glorfindel led Strider and even the three hobbits, now armed with torches.
“The black horses were filled with madness, and leaping forward in terror they bore their riders into the rushing flood. Their piercing cries were drowned in the roaring of the river as it carried them away. Then Frodo felt himself falling, and the roaring and confusion seemed to rise and engulf him together with this enemies. He heard and saw no more.”
At the time when Frodo became unconscious – just as this passage ends – he was completely subdued and under the command of the Nazgul. This is why he felt the same effects of the flood. He was with them in every way but bodily. Had the flood not come, even if Glorfindel and the others had still driven the remaining six into the River, Frodo and the Ring would be on their way to Mordor.
A Few Notes
- This ends Book One (of six). The next Book starts off in Rivendell and it’s two chapters until the Fellowship leaves. Though we’re given a ridiculous amount of information in those two chapters, this project deals only with Frodo’s journey. In a couple of days, our Hobbits, accompanied by Aragorn, Gimli, Legolas, Boromir and Gandalf.
- A few days ago, I talked about how Tolkien measured the effects of Frodo’s wound by how well he could see his friends. In this passage, he makes another reference to it. As he was being chased by the Nazgul, he looked back. “He could no longer see his friends.”
- I really really wish someone would publish the full version of the Hunt for the Ring manuscript (Marquette MSS 4/2/36). The snippets given in Hammond and Scull’s Reader’s Companion are welcome, but there’s got to be more!
About the Photo
I think it’s pretty obvious. I was saving this shot for the Ford of Bruinen post as it’s got two sets of horses coming right at you! And notice how the photos are numbered 4 and 5? It’s fate!
- Day 91
- Miles today: 5
- Miles thus far: 450
- 8 miles to Rivendell
- 1,328 miles to Mt. Doom
Today’s stopping place: Book I, Chapter 12. The Ford of Bruinin! (map)