March 28, 3019 – Dol Guldur Attacked by Lórien

Welcome back! We’re still tying up loose ends following the destruction of the Ring. Yesterday we saw the Siege of Erebor broken, and today we’ll take a quick look at the fighting between Lórien and Dol Guldur.

Though we know even less about this battle than we do about the Erebor’s siege, let’s review.

Sauron was based out of Mordor, but he also had a strong presence in Dol Guldur, just across the Anduin from Lothlórien. On March 11, the second day of darkness, when Frodo and Sam were climbing the stairs to Cirith Ungol, Lórien was attacked by the Enemy’s forces.

They were driven back, but attacked again on the 15th, and once more on the 22nd. This attack was also beaten back. However, the forces of Dol Guldur must have been strong enough to make Celebor think twice about continuing a pursuit.

On this day, three days after the destruction of the Ring, he crossed the Anduin and fell upon Dol Guldur. Tolkien tells us basically nothing about this, saying only “destruction of Dol Guldur begins.”

It would take a few days for the destruction to take place, and in the end, it would be Galadriel who would see to it sometime in the next week (we don’t know for certain when).

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March 27, 3019 – Happy Spring? (Oh, and the war isn’t over)

As our main heroes recover and recoup, the war isn’t over. I mean, it’s basically over, but like in other wars, the fighting lasted longer than we’d think.

Take the Civil War, for example. After Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomatox, there was still a month of hard fighting in the Carolinas. Even more out west. The same was true during the War of the Ring.

The Siege of Erebor is lifted

By any reckoning, the baddies had lost when Sauron was sent packing with the destruction of the Ring. And while we’re told that the Enemy fighting the Battle of the Morannon were demoralized when that happened, the same couldn’t be said for Sauron’s forces elsewhere.

The Easterlings had attacked Dale on March 17th. The Dwarves and Men of Dale fought hard, but were ultimately pushed back into Erebor, the Lonely Mountain, and a siege ensued.

Whether word reached the Easterlings of Sauron’s defeat or they just felt it, they too were disheartened. They were not, however, defeated.

On this day, Bard II and Thorin III Stonehelm launched an assault to break the siege.

This is really all we know about the battle. Tolkien never really dug into it more.

Also at this time, Celebor was marching his army to Dol Guldur.

Spring?

Yes, spring! Today is the first day of spring. While many of the dates in Shire Reckoning sound like our dates (and generally can be applied), some, like equinoxes and solstices, are different. Or rather, they are the same, but the dates around them are differently named.

I went into a little more detail about this here.

March 24, 3019 – Before Mount Doom; Before the Black Gate

This is it. It’s the day before the last day.

Sam and Frodo

(“The last stage of their journey to Orodruin came…” Book Six, Chapter 3 – Mount Doom)

For well over a week now, Frodo has been utterly exhausted. It was so bad the previous day that he couldn’t even remember the Shire. Today, that same exhaustion (and really, “exhaustion” just isn’t a strong enough term) came over Sam. Good ol’ Sam.

He had been giving Frodo water, forsaking his own thirst and today it was catching up to him. Because of his thirst, he couldn’t even swallow the lembis bread.

Because of the volcanic activity of Mount Doom, the air was difficult to breathe. They were dizzy and near passing out as they walked through the morning.

By the afternoon, the mountain was before them. All they could see was Mount Doom to their front. They weren’t even walking anymore. They were crawling.

Frodo was basically a machine at this point – a dying, almost broken machine. Most of this was written through Sam’s point of view. “His will was set, and only death would break it.”

When night fell, he couldn’t sleep. Frodo had passed out. Sam held his shivering hand and tried to warm his friend’s cold body. With that, he finally slept through the night – their last on the journey to Mount Doom.

Gandalf, Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, Pippin, and the warriors of Gondor

(“…at nightfall of the fifth day of the march form Morgul Vale…” Book Five, Chapter 10 – The Black Gate Opens)

Following the loss of more men the previous day, Aragorn’s column continued their march north toward the Black Gate. Where as before they sent out scouts and flankers, they were now traveling tightly together.

By the night of this date they encamped mere miles away from the Gate, practically on what would soon become the battlefield. The men hardly slept, if they did at all.

They set a multitude of fires which served two purposes. First it hid their numbers, and second, it burned the underbrush all around them. While this exposed themselves to the Enemy, it also exposed the Enemy to them.

But that would come. Now it was night, and just beyond their camp, on the other side of the fires, things prowled around them. Wolves howled and the air was still.

March 22, 3019 – The Dreadful Nightfall; Lorien Attacked AGAIN

This is absolutely a filler day where Tolkien was getting everyone into position. Everyone is walking. Gandalf and crew are walking north to the Black Gate. Éowyn and Faramir are walking in the gardens near the Houses of Healing. Oh, and Loren was attacked for a third time, though that’s pretty much all we know about it.

Sam and Frodo

(“There came at last a dreadful nightfall…” Book Six, Chapter 3 – Mount Doom)

Sam and Frodo had been walking along it for four days now, and had seen not a single living thing since parting with the Orcs.

Frodo had not spoken all day. He was bowed over and stumbling – a real mess. The Ring was weighing him down in all ways imaginable.

Mount Doom was on their right, and all these days of walking had brought them closer to it. While the road went to Barad-dûr, on this night, they had to leave it. They would cut across the “fuming, barren, ash-ridden land.” making straight for the mountain itself.

They had almost no water left, and only a very little bit of lembas, which fed the will more than the stomach. It moved them onward, but they craved food like never before.

Sam slept along their pathless way. Frodo, it seems, did not.

March 21, 3019 – Ambush Averted and a Growing Love

Welcome to March 21st. Our Sam and Frodo are still walking along the road leading to Barad-dûr, and Tolkien is still in montage mode as far as they’re concerned (this was also the last water they’d have until…). But that’s not quite the case for everyone else. Let’s check in.

Gandalf, Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, Pippin, and the warriors of Gondor

(“It was near the end of the second day of their march from the Cross-roads…” Book Five, Chapter 10 – The Black Gate Opens)

The armies of the West had been marching for two days now. They had been making roughly 20 to 25 miles each day, which is pretty typical for infantry on the move.

They had seen no enemy at all until the afternoon of this date. As stated before, the column had sent out skirmishers and flankers, as well as scouts, to feel out any potential danger. It was the scouts who saw that a fairly strong company of Orcs and men of Harad were waiting in ambush along a deep cut.

Without letting on, Aragorn ordered his cavalry to circle around the cut on both sides to entrap the Enemy. Surprised, the foes fell back to the east or were killed.

This small skirmish was a feint, thought Aragorn. It was a way for Sauron to draw his enemies closer, to hopefully bolster their confidence before overpowering and crushing them with his numbers.

And this was the real problem. In order for this march against Mordor to pay off, Frodo had to destroy the Ring. If he didn’t, they’d likely all be slaughtered. It seems that everyone knew this – at least the captains were well aware of it. It was, we are told, a “hopeless journey.”

That night, the Nazgûl flew overhead and kept a watch on their movements. This was incredibly unsettling to the men in the ranks.

Éowyn, and Faramir (and Merry, I suppose)

(“But in the morning, as Faramir came from the Houses, he saw her…” Book Six, Chapter 5 – The Steward and the King)

Tolkien didn’t give his characters much time for lovin’, but Faramir and Éowyn are thrown a paragraph on this date.

Both, along with Merry, were still recovering in the Houses of Healing at Minas Tirith. Faramir and Merry had hung out in the garden the night previous waiting to see if Éowyn would show up (she didn’t).

On the morning of this date, however, when Faramir came down to the garden, there she was… standing upon the walls (like you do). He called up to her and she came down.

They seem to have spent most of today (and the next few days) walking and chatting shit all over the garden. There’s no mention of Merry, but you know how it is. When your friend meets someone they’re digging on, they’re gone. And, lo Faramir did dig upon the fair Éowyn, leaving poor Merry to his solitude. But our dear Éowyn loved another.

March 20, 3019 – Still Marching; A Love for Faramir

Today isn’t exactly the most exciting day in Middle-earth history. That is, unless you’re Faramir – then it’s a pretty big day. We’ll get to that before you know it.

Sam and Frodo

(“So the desperate journey went on…” Book Six, Chapter 3 – Mount Doom)

Tolkien has entered montage-mode with Sam and Frodo. This will last until March 23rd. They were growing weaker, while the land was growing more evil. They saw nothing along the way, and nothing saw them.

Gandalf, Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, Pippin, and the warriors of Gondor

(“The day after, being the third day since they set out from Minas Tirith…” Book Five, Chapter 10 – The Black Gate Opens)

By the dawn, the army was up and now all marching north on the road that led to the Black Gate. They threw out scouts and flankers as horns blasted, heralding their march. Three times a day, they announced that “King Elessar,” Aragorn, had some. “Let all leave this land or yield them up!” There was no reply on this day.

Merry, Éowyn, and Faramir

(“Over the city of Gondor doubt and great dread had hung…” Book Six, Chapter 5 – The Steward and the King)

Meanwhile, back in Minas Tirith, Merry, Éowyn and Faramir were still recovering in the Houses of Healing. Things were tense there, as no word had yet come from Aragorn’s army.

On this day, Éowyn got up for the first time since the battle. She asked the Warden of the House a few questions about what was going on and who was in command – he didn’t know. She then asked to be brought to Faramir.

Faramir was doing much better. He was up and walking, and when Éowyn found him, he was in the garden. They both took quite a shine to each other.

Éowyn didn’t want to be here anymore. She wanted to ride into battle. Faramir, who doubted she was strong enough to make the journey, was against it. “You and I, we must endure with patience the hours of waiting.”

At the very least, she wanted a window that faced to the East. Faramir could manage that, and had her moved.

Then, Faramir stole a moment, praising Éowyn’s beauty, and wishing to see her again. But Éowyn wasn’t exactly into it. “I am a shieldmaiden and my hand is ungentle.” Still, it was nice to be thought of. They walked together back to the House.

Later, all Faramir could think of was Éowyn, and needed to know more about her. Merry was sent to him to tell all he could. Through their talk, Faramir understood her better – her sorrow, her disposition. Towards evening, Merry and Faramir walked in the garden. Éowyn remained in her room.

March 19, 3019 – Marching East (Deeper) Into Mordor

Well, folks, we’re drawling closer to the end, but still, we’re in a sort of lull. Things are in motion. Let’s see.

Sam and Frodo

(“In the morning a grey light came again, for in the high regions the West Wind still blew…” Book Six, Chapter 3 – Mount Doom)

The dim morning didn’t exactly bring hope to Sam and Frodo, but they were fortunate enough to have successfully escaped the Orcs. In all they could view, nobody could be seen. But who was watching them? Mount Doom was, as far as Sam could tell, fifty miles off.

Sam was beginning to realize that while they might have enough food to get them to the mountain, they didn’t have enough to return. There was nothing anywhere in this land that they could eat, and very little they could drink. He thought of home, of Rosie Cotton, and wished that Gandalf were alive. (Incidentally, the mention of Rosie Cotton in this chapter was the first mention of her in the entire book.)

Sam looked over the plain of Gorgoroth and noticed that they could crawl from hole to hole, fissure to fissure and hardly been seen. And that’s just what they did. After a few miles, they took to the road that led to Barad-dûr, the Dark Tower, where Sauron dwelt.

When night came on, they continued on through it, probably stopping here and there for rest.

At this point, Tolkien quickly passed over the next three days, giving almost no details at all. We’ll check back in, of course.

Gandalf, Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, Pippin, and the warriors of Gondor

(“So the next day when the main host came up…” Book Five, Chapter 10 – The Black Gate Opens)

The previous evening, Aragorn had established his camp near the Cross-roads with the main body of the army some miles behind. When the army was up, he left a rear guard at the Cross-roads to check any Enemy attacks coming from Morgul Pass to their front. At the intersection, they turned left, and marched north along the same road Sam and Frodo paralleled south some ten days before.

As the army marched on, Aragorn and Gandalf road closer to the Morgul Vale and checked out the city of Minas Morgul. The streets and buildings were empty – all of the Orcs who had lived there had been killed during the Battle of Pelennore Fields.

They then destroyed the bridge and set afire the fields around it. This is mentioned in Sam and Frodo’s passage: ‘the Captains of the West had passed the Cross-roads and set flames in the deadly fields of Imlad Morgul.’

Aragorn and Gandalf rejoined the army and would continue their march north the following day.

March 18, 3019 – Where There’s a Whip There’s a Will

Welcome to March 18! Things are picking up again after a lull. Armies are on the move, as are our two Hobbits. Let’s check in with them first.

Sam and Frodo (and Gollum)

(“At the first hint of grey light…” Book Six, Chapter 2 – The Land of Shadow)

Sam and Frodo had walked through the night, and by dawn they were resting under an overhanging stone. They had been walking north for three days. And now the ridge which they were paralleling on their right, the Morgai, was coming to an end. As they peered east from around its northern ridge, below them they saw Gorgoroth, a broad plain surrounding Mount Doom. To their left was the cliffaces of the Ephel Dúath range, and to their front was the Ered Lithui range. The pass where these two ranges met was known as Cirith Gorgor. The Black Gate, the Morannon, guarded the pass.

An old Gondorian castle, Durthan, loomed over the road they must take leading to Gorgoroth. It was now and Orc stronghold. Frodo feared that this was a dead end. There was no way to bypass this. Sam, however, urged him on. “Our food won’t last. We’ve got to make a dash for it!”

Frodo slept while Sam went to find water. They could do without food well enough, but water was essential. He was able to find some not too far away, but while he was filling the canteens, he saw a shadow near Frodo. It was Gollum, who had not been seen since they entered Shelob’s lair.

When he returned, he told Frodo, who didn’t seem to care all that much. Sam slept, while Frodo kept watch. When night fell, they continued on.

After a dozen or so miles, they heard marching and saw torches coming behind them. As they were dressed more or less as Orcs (from the armor they got from the dead Orcs in Cirith Ungol), and hoped the Orcs passing them by would just mistake them for soldiers and leave them be. But that did not happen.

The Orcs did mistake them for soldiers, but ordered them to fall into the line of march. Both Hobbits were exhausted, but marched on with the Orcs who unknowingly captured them. “Where there’s a whip there’s a will, my slugs!”

It was some bit of fortune (I suppose) that the Orcs were going in the same direction Sam and Frodo were going – onto the plain of Gorgoroth. At the intersection leading to the Morannon, other companies of Orcs were joining the same road Sam and Frodo’s Orcs were using. This caused quite a bit of confusion, which allowed the Hobbits to crawl away to the edge of the roadway.

For the rest of the night, they hid and rested near the road, sleeping here and there till morning.

Everyone Else

(“Two days later the army of the West was all assembled on the Pelennor.” Book Five, Chapter 10 – The Black Gate Opens)

For the past two days the armies of Rohan and Gondor collected themselves, with some from Rohan clearing out the last of the Enemy. With the way now open before them, they marched, 7,000 strong.

The Dúnedain took the lead, with Aragorn, Gandalf, Legolas and Gimli riding in their front. While Pippin marched along, Merry had to remain in the Houses of Healing at Minas Tirith.

By noon, they marched through Osgiliath, crossing the Anduin on pontoon bridges and ferries. The foot soldiers halted and encamped five miles farther.

The Rohirrim, however, advanced a bit farther on horseback. They rode to the Crossroads and found no enemy. The road continued straight into Minas Morgul and Cirith Ungol, and finally to Mount Doom. Turning left and moving northward, the road lead to the Black Gate. Near the Crossroads, Aragorn established his camp.

The next morning, they planned to march north, hoping to draw Sauron’s Eye away from Frodo, who they believed to have gone through Cirith Ungol.

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.

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.