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.