Today seems to be a day where Tolkien was getting all the pieces into play for the story’s finalé. However, that’s not to say that nothing happens, as you’ll see.
Sam, Frodo, and Gollum
(“In a dark crevice between two great piers of rock they sat down…” Book Four, Chapter 8 – The Stairs of Cirith Ungol)
In the Frodo’s part of the tale, Tolkien blurred the divisions between days. The darkness certain helped this, but it helps us see that our Hobbits were exhausted.
That said, he did specifically work out what happened each day of the darkness (of course he did). Some of that is in the ‘Tale of Years’ (Appendix B), and some of it is from his notes on the finished text. It’s not incredibly surprising that this timeline had a few variations, but that is a bit out of our grasp or the time being.
They made camp in a a crevice of rocks. Sam and Frodo, rather than sleeping right away, stayed up and talked. They understood that this was probably their last “meal” together. On February 29th, Sam counted the rations and decided that they had about three weeks worth left. This is short of that mark, especially if you add the food given to them by Faramir. They seemed to still have some lembas from Rivendell, but that was basically magical hardtack. By “meal,” this indicates the last of their food from Gondor. They were also nearly out of water – a slightly bigger issue.
They talked of old Tales, and if anyone would remember them. Sam dips into a bit of the Silmarillion, and it dawned on him that “to think of it, we’re in the same tale still! It’s going on. Don’t the great tales never end?” (I always get a bit misty here.) When Frodo laughted, Tolkien reminds us that “Such a sound had not been heard in those places since Sauron came to Middle-earth.”
But Frodo brings up a wonderful point:
“‘I want to hear more about Sam, dad. Why didn’t they put in more of his talk, dad? That’s what I like, it makes me laugh. And Frodo wouldn’t have got far without Sam, would he, dad?’”
They then noticed that Gollum was missing. In his notes, Tolkien explains: “Gollum slips off to see Shelob.” He played around with the date of the actual visit for some time before settling on right now. He also indicates in his notes that Gollum did not return until the next day. The story also supports this. Appendix B’s “Tale of Years” makes it seem like it all happened on the same day. But it didn’t.
Anyway, Frodo didn’t think it’s a huge deal that Gollum is missing. Sam still didn’t trust him. Frodo had a point – why would Gollum wait until now to send the Orcs after them? He concluded that it was probably “some little private trick of his own that he thinks is quite secret.”
And then it was sleep.
Meanwhile, Gollum was meeting with Shelob. He had had some contact with her in the past. The recent rise of Sauron had scared most of the living things away from her lair. Gollum wanted the Ring, but couldn’t kill Frodo. Shelob needed food, and didn’t care about the Ring. This was the perfect plan. She wouldn’t eat the Ring and he could then find it among the bones of the Hobbits.
This seems to be the entire day. But again, what is a “day” here? There’s no sunrise, no Shire clocks. I guess we’ll just have to trust Tolkien on this one.
Gandalf, Denethor and Faramir (and Pippin)
(“The next day came with a morning like a brown dusk, and the hearts of men, lifted for a while by the return of Faramir, sank low again.” Book Five, Chapter 4 – The Siege of Gondor)
That morning, before most were awake, a council of war was held. Because of the attacks in the south, the city of Minas Tirith was too weak to launch any sort of offensive. They also wondered if the Riders of Rohan were coming at all.
In truth, the Enemy in the south was being dealt with by Aragorn and the Army of the Dead (we’ll get to that shortly), and the Riders of Rohan were well on their way (we won’t cover that today since it’s basically just riding and camping). All seemed lost, but all was not lost.
Denethor argued that Sauron would attack first at Osgiliath. But Cair Andros, an island and river crossing about 50 miles north of the city, was also an issue. But Denethor blew that off – it was manned, and there was no way to bolster it. What he didn’t know was that it had fallen the day before.
Out of spite, Denethor ordered Faramir to lead the troops at Osgiliath. He parted with his father, Denethor, on pretty bad terms.
That night, word reached them that the army of Sauron had left Minas Morgul and were closing in on Osgiliath. This was the same army seen by Frodo and Sam the day before, the army led by the Witch-king.
Aragorn, Gimli, Legolas, and the Army of the Dead
There’s not too much to tell concerning Aragorn’s column out of the Paths of the Dead. But on this day, there was a battle. Gimli retells their tale in “The Last Debate,” but Tolkien had a more fleshed out version written which he never published.
On this day, around nightfall, they marched into the town of Linhir. It was here that the people against them made their stand. The column had been pushing the enemy back from town to town, but here, at Linhir, along the banks of the Gilrain, they attempted to make a stand.
Gathered before Aragorn’s army was “a great strength of the Haradrim, and of their allies the Shipmen of Umbar, who had sailed up Gailrain-mouth and far up the waters of Anduin with a host of ships and were now ravaging Lebennin and the coast of Belfalas.”
In essence, the allies of Sauron to the south had attacked as a way to pin down reinforcements coming to Minas Tirith. Each of these town had a garrison and each of those garrisons were unable to fight in Minas Tirith because they were too busy saving their own homes. Aragorn’s column was marching through to not only liberate at towns, but to bring the garrisons with him.
Of course, having an Army of the Dead is enough to freak out both the attackers and home defenders. Because of this, they crossed into Lebennin unopposed and encamped for the night.
In the story, we learn that it was only Angbor, the Lord of Lamedon, who understood what Aragorn’s mission was. He was told to fall in behind the Army of the Dead if he could.
‘Thus we crossed over Gilrain, driving the allies of Mordor in rout before us; and then we rested a while.’
Treebeard and Galadriel
Though we know almost nothing about this, it seems that Lórien was attacked on this day. You’ll remember on March 7th when Galadriel sent the Eagles as messengers to summon the Ents to Lórien. This was the reason and result.
The only thing the “Tale of Years” tell us is: “First assault on Lórien.” We’ll have to dig deeper.
In his notes (as published in The War of the Ring), Tolkien relates that:
“Treebeard and many Ents set out [on the 7th] at once at great speed and cover over 200 miles, coming down on the enemy camp at south end of Down in Eastemnet on 11 March.”
The fight apparently lasts overnight or at least into the next day. We’ll pick it up tomorrow.