March 17, 3019 – More Walking in Mordor; Erebor Besieged

Welcome to March 17, 3019. Strange as this might seem so close to the end, this is a very light day. Our plotline with Gandalf, Aragorn and basically everybody who isn’t Sam, Frodo or Gollum, is a day of readying the army for a march. Even Tolkien skipped this day (Chapter 10 literally starts with the phrase “Two days later…”). Even for Sam and Frodo there wasn’t much. But let’s get to that now because there’s a bit more going on that we need to talk about.

Sam and Frodo

(“It was difficult and dangerous moving in the night in the pathless land…” Book Six, Chapter 2 – The Land of Shadow)

Sam and Frodo walked all night, though the going was slow. Though the darkness created by Mount Doom had lifted, the skies were the darkest of grays, and they didn’t lighten until long after sunrise.

As usual, they hid during most of the day, and slept for much of that. When they weren’t sleeping, Sam was thinking of food and asked Frodo how much longer they had to go. Frodo didn’t know.

Frodo recalled a map made before Sauron took over Mordor. He had seen it in Rivendell, but both the map’s origin and his study of it were long ago. But with those foggy memories in mind, Frodo guessed maybe it would take a week. Good guess, Frodo.

They were nearly out of food, with basically only a bit of the lembis left. I’d like to see a breakdown of what they ate because I recall a few times when this was true. I could (and probably am) missing something.

When darkness fell, they walked again through the night.

The Battle of Dale

We are told very little about the Battle of Dale. For the most part, it happens in the background and is mentioned only in passing. I’ll try to give some background.

The last we heard from the Dwarves in and around the Lonely Mountain was during the dinner before the Council of Elrond (though we discussed it here). About a year prior to that, the Dwarves of the Lonely Mountain were visited by a messenger from Mordor. Dáin, leader of the Dwarves. The messenger tried to make a deal with Dáin to trade safety for information about Hobbits and the Shire. The Dwarves refused several times, and today came the reckoning (though it probably would have come anyway).

The Easterlings marched out of Mordor sometimes probably a couple of weeks ago. They fell upon the Dwarves and the Men of Dale on March 15th.

As the Dwarves and Men retreated towards Erebor, King Brand, the grandson of Bard the Bowman, fell before its gates. Dáin Ironsides, though he was old, swung his axe, no doubt felling many as the body of Brand was (possibly?) saved.

The Lonely Mountain was besieged on this date, and the Easterlings could find no way to get in.

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March 16, 3019 – Debate of the Commanders; Upon the Morai

Welcome to March 16, 3019. With the Siege of Minas Tirith lifted, Gondor and Rohan have an opportunity before them. But before we get to that, let’s check in on Sam and Frodo.

Sam and Frodo

(“They woke together, hand in hand.” Book Six, Chapter 2 – The Land of Shadow)

When last we left them, they were curled up in a brier patch. It was daytime now, and Sam was ready to walk. Frodo was still exhausted, but they walked nonetheless.

They moved north in a valley between the Ephel Dúath mountain range on their left and the Morai, a tall, jagged ridge on their right.

Climbing and scrambling over scree to the top of the Morai, they saw far below them the “dreary fields of Gorgoroth – a plateau of basalt covering in vents and plumes of foul smoke. Mount Doom, Oroduin, reached into the sky some 40 miles away. And beyond it, the tower of Barad-dûr – fortress of Sauron.

Immediately below them was a sprawling encampment that looked more like a town than anything else.

Frodo felt that the whole thing was hopeless. “Still we shall have to try. They tried for a time to walk along the crest of the Morai, but the ridge was not walkable. They slide back down to the valley where they camped and continued north, passing an abandoned orc-hold. A few miles farther, they passed another, though it was not abandoned.

Near it, and near to Sam and Frodo, two Orcs were talking. They were, in fact, hunting for whomever or whatever killed all the Orcs at Cirith Ungol (actually, most had killed each other). They had seen Gollum (‘that gobbler with the flapping hands’), and were wondering what, if anything, he had to do with all of this.

Apparently one of the Orcs was a tracker and was following the scent of Sam and Frodo until Gollum showed up and threw him off of it. We also learn that word has spread through the Orc camps that the Witch-king had been killed. Then one Orc killed or horribly wounded the other before running away. Nice blokes.

We then learn that Frodo and Sam could understand what the Orcs were saying. This is curious since near Shelob’s lair, Sam needed the Ring to translate.

They walked a bit more and into the night, continuing north all through the night.

Gimli, Legolas, Merry and Pippin

(“The morning came after the day of battle…” Book Five, Chapter 9 – The Last Debate)

It was the morning after the battle. Gimli and Legolas visited with Merry and Pippin in the Houses of Healing. Merry was doing better, but still pretty beat. They caught up with each other, and Gimli told them about their march through the Paths of the Dead.

Gandalf, Aragorn, Éomer and the captains

(“When the Prince Imrahil had parted from Legolas and Gimli…” Book Five, Chapter 9 – The Last Debate)

Aragorn had established his camp on the battlefield, and here the captains of the various companies met to discuss the next step. Gandalf led the meeting.

They had won the battle and attained a great victory, but there were great forces still within Mordor. Gandalf admitted that victory could not be “achieved by arms.” They could remain in Minas Tirith and repel repeated attacks or bring the fight to the Enemy – either way they could not win by arms. Victory, said Gandalf, could only be achieved if the One Ring was destroyed. If Sauron regained it, all was utterly lost. But even if he didn’t, things were pretty bad.

If the Ring was destroyed, Sauron would become “a mere spirit of malice that gnaws itself in the shadows, but cannot again grow or take shape.”

The one thing that was on their side was Sauron’s doubt. Gandalf did not believe that Sauron knew where the Ring was. Knowing Sauron, Gandalf figured that the Dark Lord assumed that the Ring would be used against him, specifically by Aragorn.

Sauron was watching them, but in doing so, he was “blind almost to all else that is moving.” Since that included Frodo and Sam, Gandalf insisted that they had to keep Sauron’s eye on them.

“We cannot achieve victory by arms, but by arms we can give the Ring-bearer his only chance, frail though it be.”

He then urged the captains to make an offensive to draw out as many of the forces of Mordor as they could. They would be “the bait.” If they were lucky, Sauron would think that the leader of this offensive was the new Ringlord. Even if it meant death for them all, they had to do this to give Frodo a chance.

Aragorn seconded this. As did the sons of Elrond from Rivendell, and Éomer from Rohan, and Imrahil from Dol Amroth (and the interim Steward of Gondor).

They agreed to march in two days with 7,000 troops. Remaining behind were another 7,000 to guard Minas Tirith.

March 15, 3019 – Dawn Again and All Out War upon Minas Tirith

This is one of the most important days we’ll encounter. While there’s not much going on with Sam and Frodo, there’s the whole battle of Minas Tirith to deal with. Let’s get going!

Sam and Frodo

(“Sam scrambled to his feet.” Book Six, Chapter 2 – The Land of Shadow)

They didn’t mean to doze off, but apparently did. Sam woke first just before dawn and they continued on deeper into Mordor. Frodo was utterly exhausted from wearing the Orc armor. Discarding it, they went on.

The sun rose for the first time in six days. They heard the cry of a Nazgûl, but no terror because of it – “a cry of woe and dismay”. This gave Sam some hope, but Frodo had little. They stuck to the main road, which was dangerous, but speed was of the essence.

They found water good enough for drinking. As they neared an Orc stronghold, they left the road to parallel another heading north. Shortly after, they found a patch of thorns to curl up in. Frodo was tired and needed to sleep. Sam held his hand until nightfall. With that, he slept.

Merry, Éowyn, Éomer, King Théoden, and the Riders of Rohan

(“But it was no orc-chieftain or brigand that led the assault upon Gondor.” Book Five, Chapter 6 – The Battle of Pelennor Fields)

Dawn broke over the Pelennor Fields before Minas Tirith. The Enemy’s army had breached the gate and all seemed lost. But with the sun came the sound of a horn. Rohan had arrived.

The Riders threw themselves onto the right flank of Sauron’s forces, hacking and slaying without let. Seeing this, the Witch-king, now mounted no a winged beast, flew towards King Théoden. The beast killed the king’s horse and apparently most of the men around him, mortally wounding the king himself.

One, a warrior known as Dernhelm, but actually Théoden’s daughter Éowyn in disguise, still stood. Merry was behind her. She faced off against the Witch-king, who warned her to “come not between the Nazgûl and his prey!” There were quite a few other wordy threats as well. She told the Witch-king to do his worst, but she would “hinder it, if I may.”

“Hinder me? Thou fool. No living man may hinder me!”

If you’ll remember, there was a bit of a riddle or curse or mystery that stated that the Witch-king could be killed by no man. Just what this meant wasn’t exactly known. Until now.

‘But no living man am I! You look upon a woman. Éowyn I am, Éomund’s daughter. You stand between me and my lord and kin. Begone, if you be not deathless! For living or dark undead, I will smite you, if you touch him.’

This seems to have stumped the Witch-king. Maybe he didn’t even know what the mysterious curse meant for sure. Okay, a man couldn’t slay him. But what about a woman? Good question. And he seemed to think this over.

His beast, however, was not so hesitant. It screamed at her and attacked. She quickly cleaved off its head. The Witch-king rose from the carnage and smashed his mace into her shield, smashing it and breaking her arm. Merry, seeing an opportunity, stabbed the Nazgûl in the back of the damn knee. The Witch-king cried out in pain.

With this, Éowyn stabbed him “between crown and mantle,” breaking her sword. There was a cry (likely “of woe and dismay”) and the Nazgûl was gone from this world.

King Théoden was nearly dead. He asked for Éomer and Éowyn (he had no idea of Dernhelm’s true identity). While Éowyn appeared to be dead, Éomer rode up and spoke with his father. The battle must be continued. Then Éomer saw his sister lying beaten on the ground before him. This threw him into a mournful rage. With no time to spare, he led his men back into the battle. Their cry was “death!”

The few men remaining bore the body of the King and Éowyn to the rear. But the Prince of Dol Amroth rode up to them and noticed that she still lived. He sent a rider to fetch her aid.

The Enemy continued to be reinforced, though it lost some ground with the flank attack of the Rohirrim. They were help, but not help enough. The battle could not be won as it now stood.

Gandalf, Pippin, Denethor, and Faramir

(“When the dark shadow at the Gate withdrew Gandalf still sat motionless.” Book Five, Chapter 7 – The Pyre of Denethor)

After leaving King Théoden, the Prince of Dol Amroth rode back into the city and found Gandalf trying to figure out what to do about the suicidal Denethor. The Steward of Gondor was trying to burn himself and his son, Faramir alive.

Gandalf and Pippin rode to where Denethor was and asked him where Faramir was. Denethor said that Faramir was already burning. Taking him at his word, Gandalf rushed in and found him ready to be set ablaze, but not yet so. Gandalf grabbed the unconscious Faramir and threw him over his shoulder. After a bit of back and forth between the wizard and Denethor, the latter drew a dagger to kill his own son.

Beregond (the warrior who had befriended Pippin a few days back) stood between the Denethor and Faramir. With that, Denethor jumped on the pyre and set himself ablaze, holding his palantír in his hands.

This was a bummer, but Gandalf had stuff to do. Beregond and Pippin took Faramir to the Houses of Healing. Gandalf announced to all that the Witch-king was slain.

Merry and Pippin

(“A mist was in Merry’s eyes of tears and weariness…” Book Five, Chapter 8 – The Houses of Healing)

As the battle raged, Merry and Pippin reunited near what used to be the Gate of Minas Tirith. They had not seen each other since March 6th near Helm’s Deep. Pippin was here to take Merry to the Houses of Healing.

Once there, he was put into a bed near both Faramir and Éowyn and watched over by Gandalf. Many of the warriors already here were sick with “the Black Shadow,” a disease of sorts received from the Nazgûl. There was no cure for that.

An ‘old wife’ (so-called) named Ioreth, gave Gandalf an idea. “The hands of the king are the hands of a healer.” Gandalf left to find Aragorn.

Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas

(“For Anduin, from the bend at the Harlond, so flowed that from the City men could look down it lengthwise for some leagues…” Book Five, Chapter 6 – The Battle of Pelennor Fields)

From Minas Tirith, the men could see down the river. And what they saw at this moment, when the battle seemed lost, was black ships sailing towards them. Being the ships of the Enemy, the destruction of Minas Tirith and thus the fall of Gondor seemed certain.

But, as we know, while these were Enemy ships, they were full of thousands of Gondorians, led by Aragorn, ready to fight. The warriors of Minas Tirith were ordered back into the defenses. But Éomer, who was closer to the shore, saw the ships for what they were: reinforcements for the city.

The Rohirrim, joined by the knights of Dol Amroth, cleared a path to the ships, slaughtering Orc and Troll as they went. Out of the ships spilled perhaps 4,000 well-rested warriors seeking justice against Mordor.

The battle raged all through the day, and by evening every single foe was dead on the field. This was victory.

Gandalf, Aragorn, Faramir, Éowyn, Merry and Pippin

(“Now as the sun went down Aragorn and Éomer and Imrahil drew near the City…” Book Five, Chapter 8 – The Houses of Healing)

With the battle won and the day over, Aragorn was headed into Minas Tirith. He was now the rightful king, but didn’t want to push the matter so soon. So again he disguised himself as “a captain of the Rangers.”

They found the Houses of Healing, which made Gandalf pretty happy. Aragorn, Gandalf understood, could heal them. he asked Ioreth if she had any kingsfoil, a healing herb that he thought would do the trick.

They had a ton of kingsfoil round back in the woods (there was more to it than this, but you get the idea). When some finally arrived, Aragorn worked his magic/not-magic. First it was on Faramir, then Éowyn (with Éomer’s help), and then Merry.

Aragorn later met with the sons of Elrond, and planned out what was to come next.

Battles in Other Places

On the same day as the assault upon Minas Tirith, Sauron’s forces also assailed Lórien (for a second time), Mirkwoord (attacking Thranduil), and Dale.

In each of these, the enemy was beaten back, though the Battle of Dale would last two more days, as Erebor was besieged.

March 14, 3019 – Escape from Cirith Ungel; Minas Tirith Breached; Gathering Forces

It’s hard to believe we’re so close to the end. And while things are falling into place, there’s a lot more to come. Tolkien summed it up best:

“…and even now Aragorn was leading the black fleet from Pelargir, and Merry was riding with the Rohirrim down the Stonewain Valley, while in Minas Tirith flames were rising and Pippin watched the madness growing in the eyes of Denethor. Yet amid all their cares and fear the thoughts of their friends turned constantly to Frodo and Sam. They were not forgotten.”

Sam, Frodo, and Gollum

(“Sam roused himself painfully from the ground.” Book Six, Chapter 1 – The Tower of Cirith Ungol)

With a very unconscious Frodo captured by Orcs and taken to the tower, Sam followed but was accidentally knocked unconscious at the gate. He had slept unnoticed until noon. Unsure of what to do, he wandered around a bit, retraced his steps and put on the Ring again.

With the Ring he could hear the Orcs in the tower fighting. He decided then that he could save Frodo, and took off the Ring. It had begun to tempt him – if he claimed the Ring as his own, everything could be saved and made perfect. But in the end, Sam’s “plain hobbit-sense” won out. The Ring offered him endless gardens in Gondor, but “the one small garden of a free gardener was all his need and due, not a garden swollen to a realm; his own hands to use, not the hands of others to command.”

Sam fully understood that even the practical use of the Ring – to become invisible – would just invite Sauron, so there was no point in it. And so, he’d just be Sam. And he would save Frodo.

At a quick count, Sam figured there were something around 120 Orcs in the tower. He still went forward, Sting in hand, to the gate, but was stopped by the Two Watchers seated on thrones. As if the cast a spell on him, Sam couldn’t pass them until he drew the Phial of Galadriel and their will crumbled into fear.

Once inside, he tried to find his way to Frodo, passing dead Orc bodies and doorways. He encountered an Orc, who saw Sam silhouetted in the torchlight, and mistook him for “a great silent shape” holding a sword. The Orc ran in terror. Sam continued, finding stairs and climbing. Frodo would be near to top.

When he reached a large room, he saw a floor covered in Orc bodies. They had not just quarreled, but warred with each other. In fact, a few were still fighting. In the story, we can understand what the Orcs are saying, and yesterday Sam could understand them due to the Ring translating. But here, we’re not really sure if Sam can understand them or not. Still, it’s a fine bit of colorful dialog.

On the top of the turret, Sam saw one of the Orcs clutching a bundle. That Orc was killed by another, a head Orc named Shagrat, who took the bundle. Sam confronted him, but the Orc ran off (basically), carrying the bundle.

Though its contents won’t be shown to Gandalf until March 25th, readers already know the contents: Sam’s sword, Frodo’s cloak and his mithril-mail shirt – items gathered from just outside Shelob’s lair on the 13th. Shagrat would deliver this bundle to Barad-dûr on the 17th.

Anyway, with Shagrat gone, Sam continued, but soon another Orc (Snaga) came apparently to check on Frodo. Sam hid and watched Snaga lead the way. Snaga struck Frodo with a whip once, and when he went for it again, Sam chopped off his hand with Sting. The Orc fell down the trap door leading to Frodo’s cell and died. Sam found Frodo.

Frodo was alive, but exhausted. He was distraught thinking that the Orcs took everything, including the Ring. But Sam had his back, of course. Frodo slipped into a bit of a Gollum phase, calling Sam a thief. It was a whole Ring thing, you’ll remember. It passed and they both had a bit of a cry over it.

Before leaving, they took some clothes off a couple of dead Orcs. Passing the Two Watchers, they left at a run with Sam leading the way. A Nazgûl cried out, but there was no answer. They crossed a bridge, and an alarm sounded – the prisoner had been rescued. They dropped off the road into a tangle of thorny bushes, hidden from the Enemy, now moving all around them. They slowly cut themselves free as the next morning was breaking.

Merry, Eówyn, Éomer, Théoden, the Riders of Rohan, and Ghân-buri-Ghân

(“He was wakened by a man shaking him.” Book Five, Chapter 3 – The Muster of Rohan)

We usually check in with Gandalf first, but let’s see how the Ride of the Rohirrim is going. They had been on the road since leaving Edoras on the 10th. Now they were moving into the Drúadan Forest, home of the Woses, the so-called “Wild Men of the Woods.” They were still likely two days out from Minas Tirith as they would likely have to go around the forest. But that way was blocked by obstacles left by the Enemy’s forces that crossed at Cair Andros a couple days prior.

But one of the “head men” of the Woses was brought to King Théoden. His name was Ghân-buri-Ghân and while he didn’t want to fight, he really hated Orcs, gorgûn (incidentally, the only word of his language we are given).

Ghân-buri-Ghân had scouted ahead and saw the Minas Tirith was surrounded and under siege. They needed to get to the city quickly, and he knew of a secret road through the forest and bypass the obstacles. He and his people would allow them to use it, but there was a condition. After all the fighting was over, the men of Rohan could no longer “hunt them like beasts any more” (which kind of says a lot about some folk of Rohan, no?). Théoden agreed.

The ride through the woods took much of the day. When they hit the main road into Minas Tirith, they halted and waited for nightfall. When it came, they rode silently and swiftly.

Before the first light, they struck the out-walls and almost effortlessly dispatched the few Orcs left to guard it. They halted here, still ten or so miles away from the city itself, now burning. They moved over the field unnoticed. From the city they heard a loud boom. King Théoden rose in his saddle and called to his men as the next morning was breaking.

Aragorn, Gimli, Legolas, and their gathered army

To the south of Minas Tirith on the day previous, Aragorn and his column had beaten the enemy before him and captured their fleet harbored on the Anduin at Pelargir. Now, on this day before the dawn, with his numbered grown by the freed men, they sailed and rowed upriver to the harbor nearest Minas Tirith.

Even if they were swift, they would not reach the city before the next morning.

Gandalf, Pippin, Denethor and Faramir

(“Busy as ants hurrying orcs were digging, digging lines of deep trenches in a huge ring, just out of bowshot from the walls…” Book Five, Chapter 4 – The Siege of Gondor)

As the men of Minas Tirith prepared the defenses, the Enemy established their opposing lines. Soon, they were throwing the severed heads of the fallen Gondorians into the city. The Nazgûl circled and scared the hell out of everyone.

Meanwhile, Faramir was unconscious, thought to have been pierced by a Morgul arrow. Denethor was grieved and worn. Pippin tried uselessly to comfort him.

With both Denethor and Faramir out of the fight, Gandalf took command. More of the Enemy’s forces crossed the pontoon bridges over the Anduin to bolster their numbers. This lasted most of the day.

Finally, around midnight, the assault began in earnest. Thinking Faramir was dying from his fever, Denethor decided to burn both of them on a funeral pyre and ordered that it be prepared. Pippin was rightly freaked out and went to find Gandalf who was engaged in the battle.

The Enemy’s forces bore down on the city walls with huge animals, hoping to breech them. They even brought forwards a battering ram to smash down what it could. The bodies at the Gate piled up quickly, but still they attacked. They went for the Gate again and again. And with the cry of the Witch-king, they smashed it wide.

With the Gate open, the Witch-king rode in. The men fled in terror while Gandalf sat upon Shadowfax, warning the Nazgûl to “Go back! Fall into the nothingness that awaits you and your Master.”

But the Witch-king replied. “Old fool! This is my hour. Do you not know Death when you see it? Die now and curse in vain!”

Gandalf didn’t move. In the distance a cock crowed – the next morning was breaking.

March 13, 3019 – Shelob’s Final Attack; Sam’s Finest Moment; Minas Tirith Besieged

Things are certainly not looking great for Minas Tirith. There’s trouble on their left, right and – most of all – front. We know how it will all work out, but at this point, nobody else does. Also, this is a pretty huge day for Sam. Maybe Sam’s finest moment ever.

Sam, Frodo, and Gollum

(“It seemed light in that dark land to his eyes that had passed through the den of night.” Book Four, Chapter 9 – Shelob’s Lair)

When last we left our Sam and Frodo, they had just escaped Shelob’s tunnel. Immediately after this escape, Frodo saw the dark morning as one of “sudden hope.” They were out of the lair, but still had to clear Cirith Ungol, the pass. They were running.

But the exit they escaped from wasn’t Shelob’s only exit. Sam’s fear grew, despite his wearing of the Phial of Galadriel, and Sting was glittering in Frodo’s hand.

From Sam’s left, Shelob pounced between them. She ignored Sam and focused on Frodo, whose back was towards her, running. Sam tried to call out to him, but Gollum attacked him, throttling the hobbit by his throat. Sam was able to wrestle free and crack Gollum’s wrist with Faramir’s staff. Sam hit Gollum again, breaking the staff over his back. Sam grabbed his sword, and Gollum skittered away.

Meanwhile, Shelob attacked Frodo, wrapping him in her web. Sam quickly grabbed Sting, which Shelob had knocked out of Frodo’s hand, and cleaved off one of her feet before stabbing her in her damn face from below. Go Sam! And with hardly a moment lost, he slashed her underbelly. It hardly did any damage at all to her exoskeleton, but there was a wound, and poison dripped out of it.

Sam was under the spider, and she hoped to smother him to death with her body. Unaware that Sam was still holding the blade, she stabbed herself, driving Sting into her body while trying to crush poor Sam. But Sting bit hard, and repelled her. This gave Sam a few seconds kneel by Frodo and assess how he was doing. Not well. Sam was pissed.

She was about to spring on him again for a killing blow, but called upon Galadriel. Then, out of nowhere, Sam unleashes a string of Sindarin at Shelob. He threatened her and the Phial grew brighter. This freaked Shelob the hell out. She tried to escape, and did, but not before Sam hacked off another leg or two. She was gone. Sam was left alone with the unconscious Frodo, poisoned by Shelob’s venom.

Sam, of course, thought Frodo was dead. What was he to do? Give up? Go on? Go home? Sam wept and held Frodo’s cold hand. In time Sam resolved to take the Ring and go one. He was the last of the Fellowship. He took the Ring and vowed to return to Frodo’s body “when the job’s done.”

He began to walk and climb out of the pass of Cirith Ungol when he hear Orc voices. They were coming closer, closing in from all sides. Sam put on the Ring. The Orcs were all around him and around Frodo. The Orcs took Frodo’s body with them, heading back to their tower. Invisible, Sam followed them into Shelob’s tunnels.

Through the Ring, Sam could understand the language of the Orcs. It seems to be “translated” into Sam’s own Shire-speak. It’s all very fun. Anyway, the Orcs went into a hidden passage and Sam couldn’t follow. He could hear them, however, and they knew there were two – Frodo and himself. Only, they thought it was a large Elvish warrior, not another Hobbit. But the important thing was Shagrat telling Gorbag that “This fellow isn’t dead!”

The voices were moving away, and so Sam was able to scramble over the rock door and follow them. He made a move to attack them and rescue Frodo, but he misjudged the distance. They were far ahead. As they closed a gate behind them, Sam threw himself against it and was knocked out.

He would be unconscious until the morning of the next day. And thus Frodo and Sam have finally left the Two Towers volume.

If you’re curious, pretty much everybody else left it on March 6th, eight days before.

Gandalf, Pippin, Denethor and Faramir

(“The bells of day had scarcely rung out again, a mockery in the unlightened dark…” Book Five, Chapter 4 – The Siege of Gondor)

If the fighting abated through the night, it did not do so for long. Morning brought the full retreat from Osgiliath and an attack on the walls of the Pelennor, which the Enemy was using explosives to breach.

By mid-morning, Gandalf returned from the front. Visiting Denethor and Pippin, Gandalf told them that Faramir was still alive and with the rear guard. They hoped to hold the wall.

But there was worse news. Fugitives had been streaming into Minas Tirith from Cair Andros in the north. Another army was on the move, having crossed the River Anduin. Denethor knew this already and had a plan.

That afternoon, the wounded and retreating men from the walls began to enter the city. The outskirts were on fire by evening, and this fire was moving closer. There was hope, but it was dwindling as the Enemy drew closer to the city itself.

With nightfall, the main army that once held the walls was at the city, and the rear guard, still commanded by Faramir, was all that stood between the Enemy and the gates. The Nazgûl flew above them. This set the men of Minas Tirith into a rout.

Denethor’s plan was for every horseman in the city to form up and wait for his signal. Most of this sortie was made up of swan-knights of Dol Amroth, one of the few Gondorian forces not from Minas Tirith proper. Originally from Belfalas along the coast. Led by Prince Imrahil and Gandalf, the 700 or so men attacked, saving the rear guard from annihilation.

Gandalf’s presence dealt with the Nazgûl and the swan-knights handled the advanced forces of the Enemy. The advance was halted with great slaughter With that, Denethor recalled his forces. When they returned, the saw the Faramir was desperately injured, perhaps pierced by a dart fired from one of the Nazgûl. This was bad.

Denethor hardly acknowledged his apparently dying son, instead, he consulted his Palentír.

Rohan was no longer expected, blocked by the Enemy who crossed at Cain Andros. Of course, they could not know that the Riders of Rohan were now encamped in the Druadan Forest, just north of Minas Tirith.

The city was besieged, and now it was only a matter of time.

Aragorn, Gimli, Legolas, and the Army of the Dead

(Most of this information comes from “The Tale of Gimli and Legolas” as published in War of the Ring.)

The day previous, Aragorn’s column drove the enemy before him to Pelargir, a large Gondorian city on the Anduin. On this day, they would attain victory.

They rode through the night, fighting as they went. Rumors from the countryside around them held that it was not Aragorn who was leading the column, but Isildur come back from the dead.

These rumors caused great fear in the enemy as they fled toward the Anduin. When Aragorn and his men drew closer to the river, they saw the great harbor and the enemy’s ships within in – the fleets of Umbar.

Here, they fought, and the fear within their enemy was their greatest weapon. Some of the enemy escaped, to be sure. But many more were scattered and unable. Orcs were left to guard these empty ships.

Many Gondorians who had been liberated by Aragorn had fallen in with his ranks, bolstering his numbers. In the weeks before Aragorn arrived, the enemy had scoured the land capturing slaves, and holding them on their ships. Now, seeing the coming army under Aragorn, Isildur heir, the slaves on the ships of Umbar rebelled and overthrowing their masters, liberating themselves from their bondage.

A few of the ships were set on fire by the enemy, but most were abandoned. By nightfall, the many ships left in the fleet were under Aragorn’s command.

The following morning, they would set course for Minas Tirith.

March 12, 3019 – Frodo in Shelob’s Lair; Attack on Osgiliath; Victory at Lórien

With the exception of Sam and Frodo, much of the action happens off-screen (so to speak). We’ll dig into Tolkien’s notes to suss it out. Here we go!

Sam, Frodo, and Gollum

(“And so Gollum found them hours later, when he returned…” Book Four, Chapter 8 – The Stairs of Cirith Ungol)

While our Hobbits had no idea where Gollum went, we know that he was arranging treachery with Shelob in her nearby lair. On the morning (?) of this date, Gollum returned to wake them. In his notes, Tolkien wrote that when Gollum saw Frodo sleeping, he “nearly repents, but finally surrenders to evil.”

This near-repentance was drawn as “a strange expression” on Gollum’s face, and a “spasm of pain” which “seemed to twist him.” He debated with himself, but finally gave in, waking Frodo. After giving in, Tolkien described him as “almost spider-like.”

He promised to bring them a “secret way.” This secret was a tunnel that smelled “as if filth unnameable were piled and hoarded in the dark within.”

They entered and soon passed three or four other tunnel openings. After what was probably hours, they were exhausted and holding hands, “and so together they still went on.”

They came to an open room and then a fork. And here they discovered that Gollum was missing. There was a hissing and something moving closer. Sam remembered the Phial of Galadriel, filled with the light of Eärendil in it – “a light when all other lights go out“. Frodo pulled it out and spoke “Aiya Eärendil Elenion Ancalima!” But all it did was reveal what had been watching them: the many eyes of Shelob.

We’re told that Shelob had dealt with the Elves before and their words no longer effected her. But a streak of courage took Frodo, and with Sting and the Phial in hand, he advanced and drove back the eyes.

With Shelob retreated, the ran for it, and soon they were at the tunnel’s end. But just as soon, they were caught in her webs. Sam tried to cut themselves free with their swords, but it was no use at all – the web was too strong. Frodo drew Sting, and it “shore through them like a scythe though grass.”

With that (and a bunch more of that) they were free! They could smell the slightly-less-fetid air of Mordor, they could see the slightly-less-dark of outside. They had escaped. They were free from Shelob. However…

“She had many exists from her lair.”

According to his notes, The Hobbits escaped Shelob’s lair on the morning of the 13th. To make things more simple, I extended this day to the point of their escape.

Gandalf, Denethor and Faramir (and Pippin)

(“The next day, though the darkness had reached its full and grew no deeper, it weighed heavier on men’s hearts, and a great dread was on them.” Book Five, Chapter 4 – The Siege of Gondor)

For this day, we get three short paragraphs, though much was happening. The day before Faramir took command of the advance position at the Fords in Osgiliath.

You’ll recall that in June, the Enemy attacked east Osgiliath, claiming the city as its own. From then, they built their forces for an all out attack. On this day, that very attack took place.

Sauron’s forces, far outnumbering Faramir’s, drove them back and crossed the river on pontoon bridges. In a full but orderly retreat, Faramir was able to rally his men at the Causeway Forts.

A messenger sent back to Gandalf told him that the losses were great, but not as bad as feared. Though the Enemy’s numbers were greater, it was their captain, the Witch-king, that was the true terror. “Few will stand and abide even the rumour of his coming.”

With that, Gandalf rode forward to the battle.

Merry, Eówyn, and Théoden

To the north, the Enemy’s army which had issued from the Morannon on this day passed the Pelennor and marched west to block the advance of the Riders of Rohan. There was no attack, but they established a position to repel their march.

The Riders of Rohan, led by King Théoden, on this day were marching toward the Drúadan Forest along the Great West Road. They’d encamp for the night near the lit beacon of Min-Rimmon.

Aragorn, Gimli, Legolas, and the Army of the Dead


As for Aragorn’s column, we again have to dip into Tolkien’s notes. We learn from the “Tale of Years” that “Aragorn drives the enemy towards Pelargir.” Gimli, in “The Last Debate” chapter explains a bit more. We’ll augment his explanation with the notes.

Before dawn on this date, Aragorn seemed to have receive a message about Minas Tirith being assaulted (close enough), and he was afraid that it would fall before they could get there.

Towards evening, they all mounted and rode as quickly as they could over the land of Lebennin. Gimli recalled that “we hunted our foes through a day and a night.”

It doesn’t appear that they encamped anywhere, but that they made a straight line to the river.

Treebeard and Galadriel

The first battle of Lórien had lasted through the night. Or, at the very least, it started up immediately on the morning of this date. But here the Ents had an advantage.

With the light, they destroyed many and drove rest in rout back over Anduin, where they had made bridges of boats above Sarn Gebir (about where Legolas shot down Nazgûl) – but in too great disarray to destroy the pontoons. So Ents cross. Treebeard is here joined by Elves of Lórien.”

This will turn into a running battle which will last days, fighting and pushing the Enemy back towards the Morannon.

March 11, 3019 – The Armies Approach Minas Tirith; Lórien Attacked

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.

March 10, 3019 – The Day Without a Dawn

Welcome to March 10, the first of six days of darkness.

Sam, Frodo, and Gollum

(“At last Gollum turned to the hobbits. ‘Day soon,’ he said. ‘Hobbits must hurry. Not safe to stay in the open in these places. Make haste!’” Book Four, Chapter 7 – Journey to the Cross-roads)

The Hobbits and Gollum rested shortly before the dawn hour. They had crawled under a tangle of thorny vines and waited to watch the dawn.

“But no day came, only a dead brown twilight.”

In the distance, around Mount Doom, they could see a “dull red glare” under a low cloud. But it wasn’t the sun. The sun was hidden behind the eruption. Soon even the red glare was enveloped.

Sam fell asleep, Gollum wandered off, and Frodo stayed awake watching the dimming light of morning. When awake, they heard sounds they thought were thunder or drumbeats in the distance. Frodo slept, but was awakened in the afternoon as Gollum returned. Sam grew even more suspicious of Gollum, but they had to get going. It’s unsaid, even in Tolkien’s notes, but here is possibly where Gollum first decided upon his ultimate betrayal. Tomorrow, he would put his plan into action.

They approached the cross-roads around what would have been dusk. Far, far in the west they caught their last short glimpse of the sun as it had finally outraced the pursuing darkness.

Now they made their way along the road, moving east. Soon they came to a bridge. They had been following the road, but here they left it. The road continued across and wound its way to the city of Minas Morgul. Frodo at this point was wrecked. The Ring was pulling him into Minas Morgul, and it was defeating him. Gollum urged them to a side path, and Sam agreed.

Soon they were climbing out of the valley. Once they were a bit higher, Frodo needed to rest. They stopped, Gollum urged them on, and at that moment, a great army came out of the city, led by the Witch-king mounted again on a horse. Frodo successfully fought off the urge to wear the Ring. When the army passed, they moved on, coming soon the the staircase carved in the side of the mountains, Ephel Dúath.

First one stair, and then another. Gollum was vague and menacing about what came next, though let on that it was a tunnel. At the top, they saw the tower guarding the pass of Cirith Ungol. Once atop, they rested. It would be another dark morning soon.

Gandalf and Pippin, Denethor and Faramir

(“Pippin was roused by Gandalf.” Book Five, Chapter 4 – The Siege of Gondor)

Gandalf woke Pippin early. They ate a very small breakfast and then went to see Denethor, who soon sent him to the armory to be dressed. As Gandalf stayed with Denethor talking strategy, Pippin spend more time with Beregond. It had been dark all morning.

For the most part, the dark day had been one of waiting. But soon the wait was over. Below them, on Pelennor Fields, five Nazgúl flew, seeming to look for something. They were swooping down upon Faramir and his few men, who were riding hard for Minas Tirith. Their horses were terrified and the men proceeded on foot, running.

In a streak of white light, Gandalf appeared and the Nazgúl turned for him. Gandalf struck back, turning aside one of the Riders. With that, the rest broke. Faramir and his men were saved and soon within the walls of Minas Tirith.

Soon after, Gandalf, Pippin, Denethor and Faramir sat together and entered into a larger discussion. Faramir related his time with Frodo and Sam. Gandalf reacted strangely, but was mostly worried. Denethor was a dick to Faramir, and lamented the loss of Boromir, saying that if Boromir had met Frodo at the falls of Henneth Annûn instead of Faramir, he would have brought the Ring to Minas Tirith. He then admitted (harshly) that he wish it was Faramir who had died.

When Gandalf tried to calm things (sort of), Denethor turned on Gandalf for sending the Ring with Frodo – “a hazard beyond all but a fool’s hope…” Denethor agreed that they shouldn’t use the Ring… unless it was totally necessary.

The talk turned to defense of the city. Faramir had sent a company to bolster the garrison at Osgiliath guarding the ford across the Anduin. With that, they all retired for the night.

Merry, Eówyn, and Théoden

(“He was wakened by a man shaking him.” Book Five, Chapter 3 – The Muster of Rohan)

Merry, King Théoden and the rest of the Rohirrim woke to the dark dawn. They were going to war. Théodin released Merry from his service and wished for him to stay at nearby Edoras with Éowyn, who had ridden out to meet them the night before.

Together they road to Edoras, and Merry begged to be allowed to accompany them into war. After a brief stop, Théoden and his army were on the march again, leaving Edoras on the road east.

A Rider, Dernhelm (known to us as Éowyn in disguise), approached Merry and offered him a ride. Éowyn seemed a little surprised that Merry didn’t recognize her, and told him to call her Dernhelm (a name that combines the words ‘secret’ and ‘helmet’).

The army encamped after a march of 36 miles.

Aragorn, Gimli, Legolas, and the Army of the Dead

(“But the next day there came no dawn” Book Five, Chapter 2 – The Passing of the Grey Company)

While writing Return of the King, Tolkien discovered that he had an Aragorn problem. In a letter written after publication, he said that his biggest problem was “how to bring up Aragorn unexpectedly to the raising of the siege.”

Because of this, the story drops Aragorn’s side of things from March 9 to March 13. He does give some exposition later, but he actually wrote a much longer piece which was later dubbed “The Tale of Gimli and Legolas”. It’s from this (on p412) where the information comes. It doesn’t contradict the publish text, some of which appeared in “The Last Debate” chapter.

Aragorn and company rose before dawn and rode east “to meet the gathering gloom; and ever close behind us came the Shadow Host…” The living were soon overtaken by the dead, some of them riding, some walking.

They passed through the town of Lamedon, and it’s people fled into the hills or hid in fear. According to the published text, they also crossed the rivers Ciril and Ringló (though the ‘Tale of Years’ only mentions the Ciril – it seems like Tolkien never fully nailed down the specifics here).

In his ‘Tale of Gimli and Legolas,’ Tolkien describes entering the town of Linhir, but he does seem to have decided that would happen tomorrow. And we’ll see you then.

March 9, 3019 – Gandalf in Minas Tirith; The Muster of Rohan

Welcome to March 9, 3019! It’s a day of motion for everyone except Gandalf, but we’ll get to him soon enough. Since Aragorn’s part of the day is simply traveling with Gimli, Legolas and the Dead, we’ll breeze by them.

Sam, Frodo, and Gollum

(“‘Must get up, yes they must!’ he said. ‘Long ways to go still, south and east. Hobbits must make haste!’” Book Four, Chapter 7 – Journey to the Cross-roads)

Today was basically a repeat of the day before – more forest walking. In the afternoon, the forest opened up a bit. By evening, they came upon a valley. The forest paused for a bit at the depression and start up again on the other side. They had come to Morgulduin, the Morgal Vale – the Valley of the Wraiths, forty-five miles from where they parted ways with Faramir. To their left, the east, was Mordor.

Like the forest, they paused for a rest and night fell fully. Around midnight, Gollum roused the Hobbits. Now they turned east, upstream, following the small river at a distance, walking parallel with the road. Soon their walk became a climb. Looking back they saw little more than the darkness over the forest.

Dawn was expected to come shortly.

Gandalf and Pippin

(“Now after Gandalf had ridden for some time the light of day grew in the sky, and Pippin roused himself and looked up.” Book Five, Chapter 1 – Minas Tirith)

Another night ride. Gandalf and Pippin had traveled swiftly from Edoras and where now at the gates of Minas Tirith. When they arrived, the gates were thrown open for them. Pippin was amazed at the sprawling city and its tower.

They were there to see Denethor, Steward of Gondor, father of Boromir and Faramir. Gandalf warned Pippin to “be careful of your words.” It was no time for “hobbit pertness.” Denethor was “proud and subtle, a man of far greater lineage and power, though he is not called a king.” Also, ixnay on the aragornway.

When they met Denethor, he immediately asked Pippin about Boromir. Surprisingly, Pippin held his own. There was no “hobbit pertness,” there was only praise for Boromir and straight talk. Quite straight, in fact, and soon Pippin pledged her service to Denethor and Gondor.

For the next hour, Pippin told Denethor the story so far. At its end, Gandalf brought up the King Aragorn thing without mentioning Aragorn by name. With that, they parted. Gandalf had a meeting to attend, and Pippin was now a soldier of Gondor. All this and it was only nine in the morning!

After they parted, Pippin was shown around by Beregond. He asked about mealtimes (obviously), and then they both hung out with Shadowfax. Beregond seemed like a really swell guy.

“They ate and drank; and they talked now of Gondor and its ways and customs, now of the Shire and the strange countries that Pippin had seen.”

It was now a “getting to know you” sort of montage moment. The two new friends talked all about a whole slew of things until around noon when they ate a small meal with Beregond’s company. Pippin was accepted and they hung on every word of his stories.

Beregond had stuff to do, so Pippin was left on his own to wander the city. He hung out with Beregond’s son who further showed him around.

That night, Pippin returned to his quarters, but Gandalf still had not returned. Before dawn, he was woken by Gandalf, now pacing and worried.

“The Darkness has begun. There will be no dawn.”

Merry and Théoden

(“Now all roads were running together to the East to meet the coming of war and the onset of the Shadow.” Book Five, Chapter 3 – The Muster of Rohan)

Merry, King Théoden, and the Rohirrim had traveled by mountain paths from Helm’s Deep. It was so uneventful that our story picks up near the end of this day. Just before nightfall, they came to Harrowdale, the valley which led down to Edoras, the home of Théoden.

As they came down the valley, horns sounded welcoming the King and his soldiers home, victorious over Saruman and Isengard. They were met by a messenger who told them that Gandalf wished for the troops to be mustered in the valley, not in the fields below. The course was reset for the Hold of Dunharrow, a more or less level ground above the valley, but not yet out of it. The Haunted Mountain, which Aragorn and company had passed the day before, loomed nearby.

When they reached the standing stones seen by Aragorn, they were met by Éowyn. She told them that Aragorn could not be dissuaded from traveling the Paths of the Dead. Everybody figured he was dead himself, along with Gimli, Legolas and all of the Rangers.

They made camp for the muster on the western end of the bare and grassy Firienfeld. A pavilion had been prepared for Théoden. They sat and talked about the Paths of the Dead for a bit.

They were interrupted by a messenger from Gondor carrying the Red Arrow, a sort of message by which Gondor summoned its allies. Rohan was planning on fighting anyway, so to Minas Tirith it was! He told the messenger that they’d be there in a week’s time.

With that, they slept.

March 8, 3019 – The Paths of the Dead; So Long, Faramir

Hello! Welcome to March 8, 3019! Gandalf and Pippin are still riding for Minas Tirith, and Théoden, while the Rohirrim and Pippin are still marching along hidden mountain paths somewhere east of Helm’s Deep. But let’s check on the Ring-bearer…

Sam, Frodo, and Faramir (and Gollum)

(“Frodo woke to find Faramir bending over him. For a second old fears seized him and he sat up and shrank away.” Book Four, Chapter 6 – The Forbidden Pool)

When last we left Sam and Frodo they were with Faramir in Ithilien, camping out in a cave behind a waterfall. Faramir woke Frodo up before dawn. His men had spotted Gollum and he figured Frodo knew what it was. Faramir’s men (and Faramir) wanted to kill him, but Frodo stopped them, explaining Gollum once bore the Ring and was now their guide.

Frodo was allowed to go down to the water where Gollum was spotted and fetch him. Using something that “was too much like trickery,” Frodo convinced Gollum to follow. He felt bad that it was a trap, but the men throttled Gollum and bound him.

After a bit of back and forth, Faramir freed Gollum. He also gave Frodo leave to travel in Gondor for a year and a day. The only stipulation was that Frodo had to reveal where he was headed next. This seemed more like Faramir’s curiosity than anything, but he’s the guy with the goon squad, so what can you do?

Frodo, with the “help” of Gollum, described the pass they’d take over the Ephel Dúath: Cirith Ungol. Gollum recoiled at the name, and this made Faramir really want to check with Frodo about all this. Asking Gollum to be taken away, Faramir told him flat out “I do not think you should go with this creature. It is wicked.”

Frodo countered, and Faramir settled on the still-reasonable request: “Do not go to Cirith Ungol!” After a spirited debate, Faramir finally re-settled on “beware this guide: Sméagol.” After a few parting words, and some breakfast, Frodo, Sam and Gollum got ready to leave.

Faramir saw to it that they had extra food, as well as a couple of newly-made, hobbit-sized walking sticks. He hugged them and kissed their heads good-bye, directed them south so that they would have the cover of the forest.

They walked all through the day (a nice change), resting twice. When the sun finally set, they walked a bit farther and then made camp. The trio covered 21 miles that day.

Aragorn, Gimli, Legolas, and the Rangers

“When the light of day was come into the sky but the sun was not yet risen above the high ridges in the East, Aragorn made ready to depart.” (Book Five, Chapter 2 – The Passing of the Grey Company)

Aragorn and company were up early at Edoras, and Éowyn, daughter of King Théoden, wanted to ride with them into the Paths of the Dead. Aragorn again refused.

The company entered Dunharrow, climbing towards the Haunted Mountain, passing ancient stones and black trees along the way. Finally, they came to the Dark Door (basically a cave or tunnel). Entering, the lit torches and basically everyone was afraid (except maybe Legolas). Whispers in strange voices could be heard all around them.

The deeper they went, the more their fear grew. This cave opened up into a large room. Aragorn spotted the bones of someone who had come before – Baldor, grandson of Eorl, who had tried to make it through the Paths of the Dead some 450 years before.

Aragorn spoke to the whispering voices. Asking them to let the company pass, he summoned the voices to the Stone of Erech, a huge spherical stone brought to Middle-earth by Isildur. With that, their torches went out. They went on in the darkness, but after some time, they heard water and the light began to grow. Soon, they were outside, on the other side of the mountain. When they looked behind, they were followed by an army of the dead.

These dead were the Oathbreakers. At the end of the Second Age, three millennia before, their king had sworn an oath to Isildur to fight against Sauron. The king did not keep his promise, and hid with his men in the mountains of Dunharrow. In anger, Isildur cursed them to haunt these places until they could fulfill their oath. Aragon, being a direct heir to Isildur, was their chance to make good.

Though the Rangers wanted to stop and make camp, Aragorn urged them forward. They had to get to the Stone of Erech tonight. They even passed through a small mountain town. The people living there closed their windows and doors to them: “The King of the Dead is come upon us!”

Just before midnight, they arrived. Aragorn blew a horn and it was answered by the ghostly Oathbreakers who vowed to fulfill their oath and finally have peace. Aragorn agreed to release them from the curse once Sauron’s armies were destroyed.

The Rangers made an uneasy camp that night.