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.