See here for playthrough report.
Dusk deepened. Mist lay behind them among the trees below, and brooded on the pale margins of the Anduin, but the sky was clear. Stars came out. The waxing moon was riding in the West, and the shadows of the rocks were black. They had come to the feet of stony hills, and their pace was slower, for the trail was no longer easy to follow. Here the highlands of the Emyn Muil ran from North to South in two long tumbled ridges. The western side of each ridge was steep and difficult, but the eastward slopes were gentler, furrowed with many gullies and narrow ravines. All night the seven companions scrambled in this bony land, climbing to the crest of the first and tallest ridge, and down again into the darkness of a deep winding valley on the other side.
There in the still cool hour before dawn they rested for a brief space. The moon had long gone down before them, the stars glittered above them; the first light of day had not yet come over the dark hills behind. For the moment Aragorn was at a loss: the orc-trail had descended into the valley, but there it had vanished.
“Which way would they turn, do you think?” said Legolas. “Northward to take a straighter road to Isengard, or Fangorn, if that is their aim as you guess? Or southward to strike the Entwash?”
“They will not make for the river, whatever mark they aim at,” said Aragorn. “And unless there is much amiss in Rohan and the power of Saruman is greatly increased; they will take the shortest way that they can find over the fields of the Rohirrim. Let us search northwards!”
The dale ran like a stony trough between the ridged hills, and a trickling stream flowed among the boulders at the bottom. A cliff frowned upon their right; to their left rose grey slopes, dim and shadowy in the late night.
They went on for a mile or more northwards. Aragorn was searching. bent towards the ground, among the folds and gullies leading up into the western ridge. Celeborn was some way ahead. Suddenly the Elf gave a cry and the others came running towards him.
“We have already overtaken some of those that we are hunting,” he said. “Look!” He pointed, and they saw that what they had at first taken to be boulders lying at the foot of the slope were huddled bodies. Five dead Orcs lay there. They had been hewn with many cruel strokes, and two had been beheaded. The ground was wet with their dark blood.
“Here is another riddle!” said Elrohir. “But it needs the light of day and for that we dare not wait.”
“Yet however you read it, it seems not unhopeful,” said Elladan. “Enemies of the Orcs are likely to be our friends. Do any folk dwell in these hills?”
“No,” said Faramir. “The Rohirrim seldom come here, and it is far from Minas Tirith. It might be that some company of Men were hunting here for reasons that we do not know. Yet I think not.”
“Well what then do you think?” said Elrohir.
“I think,” answered Celeborn, “that the enemy brought his own enemy with him.”
Aragorn agreed. “These are Northern Orcs from far away. Among the slain are none of the great Orcs with the strange badges. There was a quarrel, I guess: it is no uncommon thing with these foul folk. Maybe there was some dispute about the road.”
“Or about the captives,” said Legolas. “Let us hope that they, too, did not meet their end here.”
Aragorn searched the ground in a wide circle, but no other traces of the fight could be found. They went on. Already the eastward sky was turning pale; the stars were fading, and a grey light was slowly growing. A little further north they came to a fold in which a tiny stream, falling and winding, had cut a stony path down into the valley. In it some bushes grew, and there were patches of grass upon its sides.
“At last!” said Aragorn. “Here are the tracks that we seek! Up this water-channel: this is the way that the Orcs went after their debate.”
Swiftly now the pursuers turned and followed the new path. As if fresh from a night’s rest they sprang from stone to stone. At last they reached the crest of the grey hill, and a sudden breeze blew in their hair and stirred their cloaks: the chill wind of dawn.
Turning back they saw across the River the far hills kindled. Day leaped into the sky. The red rim of the sun rose over the shoulders of the dark land. Before them in the West the world lay still, formless and grey; but even as they looked, the shadows of night melted, the colours of the waking earth returned: green flowed over the wide meads of Rohan; the white mists shimmered in the watervales; and far off to the left, thirty leagues or more, blue and purple stood the White Mountains, rising into peaks of jet, tipped with glimmering snows, flushed with the rose of morning.
The ridge upon which the companions stood went down steeply before their feet. Below it twenty fathoms or more, there was a wide and rugged shelf which ended suddenly in the brink of a sheer cliff: the East Wall of Rohan. So ended the Emyn Muil, and the green plains of the Rohirrim stretched away before them to the edge of sight.
They followed their enemies now by the clear light of day. It seemed that the Orcs had pressed on with all possible speed. Every now and again the pursuers found things that had been dropped or cast away: food-bags, the rinds and crusts of hard grey bread. a torn black cloak, a heavy iron-nailed shoe broken on the stones. The trail led them north along the top of the escarpment, and at length they came to a deep cleft carved in the rock by a stream that splashed noisily down. In the narrow ravine a rough path descended like a steep stair into the plain.
At the bottom they came with a strange suddenness on the grass of Rohan. It swelled like a green sea up to the very foot of the Emyn Muil. The falling stream vanished into a deep growth of cresses and water-plants, and they could hear it tinkling away in green tunnels, down long gentle slopes towards the fens of Entwash Vale far away. They seemed to have left winter clinging to the hills behind. Here the air was softer and warmer, and faintly scented, as if spring was already stirring and the sap was flowing again in herb and leaf. Legolas took a deep breath, like one that drinks a great draught after long thirst in barren places.
“Ah! the green smell!” he said. “It is better than much sleep. Let us run!”
“Light feet may run swiftly here,” said Celeborn. “More swiftly, maybe, than iron-shod Orcs. Now we have a chance to lessen their lead!”
They went in single file, running like hounds on a strong scent, and an eager light was in their eyes. Nearly due west the broad swath of the marching Orcs tramped its ugly slot; the sweet grass of Rohan had been bruised and blackened as they passed.
The sun climbed to the noon and then rode slowly down the sky. Light clouds came up out of the sea in the distant South and were blown away upon the breeze. The sun sank. Shadows rose behind and reached out long arms from the East. Still the hunters held on. One day now had passed since they had left the Falls, and the Orcs were yet far ahead. No longer could any sight of them be seen in the level plains.
Sam lay in a dark and troubled dream: it seemed that he could hear his own small voice echoing in black tunnels, calling Frodo, Frodo! But instead of Frodo hundreds of hideous orc-faces grinned at him out of the shadows, hundreds of hideous arms grasped at him from every side. Where was his master?
He woke. Cold air blew on his face. He was lying on his back. Evening was coming and the sky above was growing dim. He turned and found that the dream was little worse than the waking. His wrists, legs, and ankles were tied with cords. Beside him Merry lay, white-faced, with a dirty rag bound across his brows, and Frodo on his other side, eyes closed with his hand bound behind his back. All about them sat or stood a great company of Orcs.
Slowly in Sam’s aching head memory pieced itself together and became separated from dream-shadows. Of course: he and Frodo were by the boats when a great big Orc had set upon them. He had drawn his sword, but it was no use. The Uruk had struck him with a great mailed fist and his last memory was of Frodo being lifted off the ground, then darkness fell suddenly.
“I suppose I was knocked on the head,” he said to himself. “I wonder if poor Mr Frodo is much hurt. And hat has happened to Merry? Why didn’t the Orcs kill us? Where are we, and where are we going?”
He could not answer the questions. He felt cold and sick. “I wish Elrond had never let me come along,” he thought. “What good have I been? Just a nuisance: a passenger, a piece of luggage. And now I have been stolen and I am just a piece of luggage for the Orcs. I hope Aragorn or someone will come and claim us! Well, claim Mr Frodo anyhow, I don’t see how I’d be much good to anyone I wish I could get free!”
He struggled a little, quite uselessly. One of the Orcs sitting near laughed and said something to a companion in their abominable tongue. “Rest while you can, little fool!” he said then to Sam, in the Common Speech, which he made almost as hideous as his own language. “Rest while you can! We’ll find a use for your legs before long. You’ll wish you had got none before we get home.”
“If I had my way, you’d wish you were dead now,” said the other. “I’d make you squeak, you miserable rat.” He stooped over Sam bringing his yellow fangs close to his face. He had a black knife with a long jagged blade in his hand. “Lie quiet, or I’ll tickle you with this,” he hissed.
Terrified Sam lay still, though the pain at his wrists and ankles was growing, and the stones beneath him were boring into his back. To take his mind off himself he listened intently to all that he could hear. There were many voices round about, and though orc-speech sounded at all times full of hate and anger, it seemed plain that something like a quarrel had begun, and was getting hotter.
To Sam’s surprise he found that much of the talk was intelligible many of the Orcs were using ordinary language. Apparently the members of two or three quite different tribes were present, and they could not understand one another’s orc-speech. There was an angry debate concerning what they were to do now: which way they were to take and what should be done with the prisoners.
“There’s no time to kill them properly,” said one. “No time for play on this trip.”
“That can’t be helped,” said another. “But why not kill them quick, kill them now? They’re a cursed nuisance, and we’re in a hurry. Evening’s coming on, and we ought to get a move on.”
“Orders.” said a third voice in a deep growl. “Kill all but not the Halfings; they are to be brought back alive as quickly as possible. That’s my orders.”
“What are they wanted for?” asked several voices. “Why alive? Do they give good sport?”
“No! I heard that one of them has got something, something that’s wanted for the War, some elvish plot or other. Anyway they’ll both be questioned.”
“Is that all you know? Why don’t we search them and find out? We might find something that we could use ourselves.”
“The prisoners are to be kept alive and no spoiling! Those are my orders.”
“Not our orders!” said one of the earlier voices. “We have come all the way from the Mines to kill, and avenge our folk. I wish to kill, and then go back north.”
“Then you can wish again,” said the growling voice. “I am Uglúk. I command. I return to Isengard by the shortest road. We must stick together. Now I don’t trust you little swine. You’ve no guts outside your own sties. But for us you’d all have run away. We are the fighting Uruk-hai! We slew the elf-guard! We took the prisoners. We are the servants of Saruman the Wise, the White Hand: the Hand that gives us man’s-flesh to eat. We came out of Isengard, and led you here, and we shall lead you back by the way we choose. I am Uglúk. I have spoken.”
Many loud yells in orc-speech answered him, and the ringing clash of weapons being drawn. Cautiously Sam rolled over, hoping to see what would happen. His guards had gone to join in the fray. In the twilight he saw a large black Orc, probably Uglúk, standing facing a short crook-legged creature, very broad and with long arms that hung almost to the ground. Round them were many smaller goblins. Sam supposed that these were the ones from the North. They had drawn their knives and swords, but hesitated to attack Uglúk.
Uglúk shouted, and a number of other Orcs of nearly his own size ran up. Then suddenly, without warning, Uglúk sprang forwards, and with two swift strokes swept the heads off two of his opponents. The crook-legged one stepped aside and vanished into the shadows. The others gave way, and one stepped backwards and fell over Merry’s prostrate form with a curse. Yet that probably saved his life, for Uglúk’s followers leaped over him and cut down another with their broad-bladed swords. It was the yellow-fanged guard. His body fell right on top of Sam, still clutching its long saw-edged knife.
“Put up your weapons!” shouted Uglúk. “And let’s have no more nonsense! We go straight west from here, and down the stair. From there straight to the downs, then along the river to the forest. And we march day and night. That clear?”
“Now,” thought Sam, “if only it takes that ugly fellow a little while to get his troop under control, I’ve got a chance.” A gleam of hope had come to him. The edge of the black knife had snicked his arm, and then slid down to his wrist. He felt the blood trickling on to his hand, but he also felt the cold touch of steel against his skin.
The Orcs were getting ready to march again, but some of the Northerners were still unwilling, and the Isengarders slew two more before the rest were cowed. There was much cursing and confusion. For the moment Sam was unwatched. His legs were securely bound, but his arms were only tied about the wrists, and his hands were in front of him. He could move them both together, though the bonds were cruelly tight. He pushed the dead Orc to one side, then hardly daring to breathe, he drew the knot of the wrist-cord up and down against the blade of the knife. It was sharp and the dead hand held it fast. The cord was cut! Quickly Sam took it in his fingers and knotted it again into a loose bracelet of two loops and slipped it over his hands. Then he lay very still.
“Pick up those prisoners!” shouted Uglúk. “Don’t play any tricks with them! If they are not alive when we get back, someone else will die too.”
An Orc seized Sam like a sack. put its head between his tied hands, grabbed his arms and dragged them down, until Sam’s face was crushed against its neck; then it jolted off with him. Another treated Merry in the same way, and another hoisted Frodo over his shoulders. The Orc’s clawlike hand gripped Sam’s arms like iron; the nails bit into him. He shut his eyes and slipped back into evil dreams.
The company ran through the night, following the beaten path of the Orcs. The elvish eyes amongst them could pick out no deviating of the trail in the night gloom and so on they went, sometimes running, sometimes striding, as if no weariness could quench the fire that burned them. They seldom spoke. Over the wide solitude they passed and their elven-cloaks faded against the background of the grey-green fields; even in the cool sunlight of mid-day few but elvish eyes would have marked them, until they were close at hand. Often in their hearts they thanked the Lady of Lórien for the gift of lembas, for they could eat of it and find new strength even as they ran.
All night the track of their enemies led straight on, going north-west without a break or turn. As once again the night wore on they came to long treeless slopes, where the land rose, swelling up towards a line of low humpbacked downs ahead. The orc-trail grew fainter as it bent north towards them, for the ground became harder and the grass shorter. Far away to the left the river Entwash wound, a silver thread in a green floor. No moving thing could be seen by even the keen eyes of Legolas. Often Aragorn wondered that they saw no sign of beast or man. The dwellings of the Rohirrim were for the most part many leagues away to the South, under the wooded eaves of the White Mountains, now hidden in mist and cloud; yet the Horse-lords had formerly kept many herds and studs in the Eastemnet, this easterly region of their realm, and there the herdsmen had wandered much, living in camp and tent, even in winter-time. But now all the land was empty, and there was silence that did not seem to be the quiet of peace.
It was several hours into that night before Faramir cried aloud, “Enough I beg of you. I am a young man and by no means the least hardy of my folk, but I cannot run all the way to Isengard without any pause. My heart burns within me, and I would have started sooner but now I must rest a little to run the better. And if we rest, then the blind night is the time to do so.”
“My heart too is grieved, but I also must rest,” said Aragorn. “Even should we overtake our quarry this very night, I would be in no state for a confrontation and would be a hindrance rather than a help.”
“My heart bids me go on,” said Legolas. “But we must hold together. I will follow your counsel.”
“We too are eager to pursue,” said Elladan. “But we have followed you for many decades thus far, and you have not led us astray. We shall likewise follow your lead.”
“What say you Glorfindel? You have been silent since we left the lawn of Parth Galen.” Aragorn asked the elf-lord.
“My heart is troubled by my failure,” Glorfindel said. “It is no longer my place to offer counsel to the Fellowship since my choices led us through Moria and to the slopes of Amon Hen, and all the calamities that have pursued us. I shall obey your instruction Aragorn.”
“You place too heavy a burden on your shoulders my friend.” Aragorn placed his hand on Glorfindel’s shoulder. “It was Gimli’s free choice to enter Moria, as it was for all of us. So too did we freely choose to set off down the Anduin to Rauros. My dear friend, come. Let us rest. Our hearts shall prove lighter after some respite, that we may follow our prey with swiffer feet.”
Glorfindel nodded and sat upon the grass, his head still bowed. Aragorn cast himself on the ground and fell at once into sleep, for he had not slept since their night under the shadow of Tol Brandir. Before dawn was in the sky he woke and rose. Faramir was still deep in slumber, but Legolas was standing with the twins, all gazing northwards into the darkness, thoughtful and silent as young trees in a windless night.
“They are far far away,” the Silvan elf said sadly, turning to Aragorn. “I know in my heart that they have not rested these past hours. Only an eagle could overtake them now.”
“Nonetheless we will still follow as we may,” said Aragorn. Stooping he roused Faramir. “Come! We must go,” he said. “The scent is growing cold.”
The Gondorian climbed to his feet. “I fear we have rested too long, though I do feel the benefit of it. Forgive me, for now we must make up lost ground.”
Celeborn interrupted, his eyes fixed on the sky growing lighter in the east. “Come now, we must fly! It is a red dawn. Strange things await us in this land of the horsemen. Good or evil, I do not know; but we are called!”
The others sprang up, and almost at once they set off again. Slowly the downs drew near. It was still an hour before noon when they reached them: green slopes rising to bare ridges that ran in a line straight towards the North. They climbed to the top of one of these ridges to gain a better vantage of the land. At their feet the ground was dry and the turf short, but a long strip of sunken land, some ten miles wide, lay between them and the river wandering deep in dim thickets of reed and rush. Just to the West of the southernmost slope there was a great ring, where the turf had been torn and beaten by many trampling feet. From it the orc-trail ran out again, turning north along the dry skirts of the hills. Ahead and eastward they saw the windy uplands of the Wold of Rohan that they had already glimpsed many days ago from the Great River. North-westward stalked the dark forest of Fangorn; still ten leagues away stood its shadowy eaves, and its further slopes faded into the distant blue. Beyond there glimmered far away, as if floating on a grey cloud, the white head of tall Methedras, the last peak of the Misty Mountains. Out of the forest the Entwash flowed to meet them, its stream now swift and narrow, and its banks deep-cloven. The orc-trail turned from the downs towards it.
Following with his keen eyes the trail to the river, and then the river back towards the forest, Aragorn saw a shadow on the distant green, a dark swift-moving blur. He cast himself upon the ground and listened intently. But the sons of Elrond stood beside him, shading their bright elven-eyes with long slender hands, and they saw not a shadow, nor a blur, but the small figures of horsemen, many horsemen, wheeling and charging into a mass of silhouettes on foot.
“Riders!” Aragorn sprang to his feet. “Riders doing battle!”
“Yes,” said Elladan. “There are just over one hundred of them, but I see many empty saddles. They have found our quarry and are circling them as a wolf circles the herd. Already their bows have taken their toll.”
“Then we must be swift,” said Glorfindel. “The Ringbearer is amongst them, he must not come to harm. They are not three leagues away, come now.”
The company leapt down from the hill-top, their feet spurred by the proximity of their prey and their hearts pricked by the urgency of their need.
Dimly Sam became aware of voices clamouring: it seemed that many of the Orcs were demanding a halt. Uglúk was shouting. He felt himself flung to the ground, and he lay as he fell, till black dreams took him. But he did not long escape from pain; soon the iron grip of merciless hands was on him again. For a long time he was tossed and shaken, and then slowly the darkness gave way, and he came back to the waking world and found that it was morning. Orders were shouted and he was thrown roughly on the grass.
There he lay for a while, fighting with despair. His head swam, but from the heat in his body he guessed that he had been given another draught. An Orc stooped over him, and flung him some bread and a strip of raw dried flesh. He ate the stale grey bread hungrily, but not the meat. He was famished but not yet so famished as to eat flesh flung to him by an Orc, the flesh of he dared not guess what creature.
He sat up and looked about. Frodo was not far away, and neither was. They were by the banks of a swift narrow river. Ahead mountains loomed: a tall peak was catching the first rays of the sun. A dark smudge of forest lay on the lower slopes before them.
There was much shouting and debating among the Orcs; a quarrel seemed on the point of breaking out again between the Northerners and the Isengarders. Some were pointing back away south, and some were pointing eastward.
“Very well,” said Uglúk. “Leave them to me then! No killing, as I’ve told you before; but if you want to throw away what we’ve come all the way to get, throw it away! I’ll look after it. Let the fighting Uruk-hai do the work, as usual. If you’re afraid of the Whiteskins, run! Run! There’s the forest,” he shouted, pointing ahead. “Get to it! It’s your best hope. Off you go! And quick, before I knock a few more heads off, to put some sense into the others.”
There was some cursing and scuffling, and then most of the Northerners broke away and dashed off, over a hundred of them, running wildly along the river towards the mountains. The hobbits were left with the Isengarders: a grim dark band, four score at least of large, swart, slant-eyed Orcs with great bows and short broad-bladed swords. A few of the larger and bolder Northerners remained with them but some even of the Uruks were looking uneasily south and eastwards.
“I know,” growled Uglúk. “The cursed horse-boys have got wind of us. But that’s all your fault, Snaga. You and the other scouts ought to have your ears cut off. But we are the fighters. We’ll feast on horseflesh yet, or something better.”
The Isengarders seized the hobbits again and slung them on their backs. Then the troop started off. Hour after hour they ran, pausing now and again only to sling the hobbits to fresh carriers. Soon they were gaining on the Northerners ahead. The forest began to draw nearer.
Sam was bruised and torn, his aching head was grated by the filthy jowl and hairy ear of the Orc that held him. Immediately in front were bowed backs, and tough thick legs going up and down, up and down, unresting, as if they were made of wire and horn, beating out the nightmare seconds of an endless time.
In the early afternoon Uglúk’s troop overtook the Northerners. They were flagging in the rays of the bright sun, winter sun shining in a pale cool sky though it was; their heads were down and their tongues lolling out.
“Maggots!” jeered the Isengarders. “You’re cooked. The Whiteskins will catch you and eat you. They’re coming!”
A cry from an Orc in the rear showed that this was not mere jest. Horsemen, riding very swiftly, had indeed been sighted: still far behind, but gaining on the Orcs, gaining on them like a tide over the flats on folk straying in a quicksand.
The Isengarders began to run with a redoubled pace that astonished Sam, a terrific spurt it seemed for the end of a race. He saw that the sun was above Misty Mountains; but shadows were beginning to reach over the land. The Northerners lifted their heads and also began to put on speed. The forest was still far off, but it grew closer with every passing minute
“They will make it. They will escape,” thought Sam. And then he managed to twist his neck. so as to glance back with one eye over his shoulder. He saw that riders away eastward were already level with the Orcs, galloping over the plain. The sun gilded their spears and helmets, and glinted in their pale flowing hair. They were hemming the Orcs in, preventing them from scattering, and driving them along the line of the river.
He wondered very much what kind of folk they were. He wished now that he had learned more in Rivendell, and looked more at maps and things; but in those days the plans for the journey seemed to be in more competent hands. He remembered Faramir spoke highly of them, so there was that at least.
A few of the riders appeared to be bowmen, skilled at shooting from a running horse. Riding swiftly into range they shot arrows at the Orcs that straggled behind, and several of them fell; then the riders wheeled away out of the range of the answering bows of their enemies, who shot wildly, not daring to halt. This happened many times, and on one occasion arrows fell among the Isengarders. One of them, just in front of Sam, stumbled and did not get up again.
In the early evening the Orcs came to a hillock. The eaves of the forest were near, probably no more than two leagues away, but they could go no further. The horsemen had encircled them. A small band disobeyed Uglúk’s command, and ran on towards the forest: only three returned.
“Put those Halflings down!” ordered Uglúk. “You, Lugdush, get two others and stand guard over them! They’re not to be killed, unless the filthy Whiteskins break through. Understand? As long as I’m alive, I want ’em. But they’re not to cry out, and they’re not to be rescued. Bind their legs!”
The last part of the order was carried out mercilessly. But Sam found that for the first time he was close to Frodo and Merry. The Orcs were making a great deal of noise, shouting and clashing their weapons, and the hobbits managed to whisper together for a while.
“I don’t think much of this,” said Merry. “I feel nearly done in. Don’t think I could crawl away far, even if I was free.”
“Lembas!” whispered Frodo. “Lembas: I’ve got some. Have you? I don’t think they’ve taken anything but our swords. How will I ever tell poor Bilbo about Sting?”
“Yes, I had a packet in my pocket,” answered Merry, “but it must be battered to crumbs. Anyway I can’t put my mouth in my pocket!”
“You won’t have to. I’ve-”; but just then a savage kick warned Sam that the noise had died down, and the guards were watchful.
The evening was cold and still. All round the knoll on which the Orcs were gathered little watch-fires sprang up, golden-red in the gloom, a complete ring of them. They were within a long bowshot. but the riders did not show themselves against the light, and the Orcs wasted many arrows shooting at the fires, until Uglúk stopped them. The riders made no sound. Later, as the night come on and the moon came out of the mist, then occasionally they could be seen, shadowy shapes that glinted now and again in the white light, as they moved in ceaseless patrol.
The fires brought no light to the hillock. The riders were not, however, content merely to wait for the dawn and let their enemies rest. A sudden outcry on the east side of the knoll showed that something was wrong. It seemed that some of the Men had ridden in close, slipped off their horses, crawled to the edge of the camp and killed several Orcs, and then had faded away again. Uglúk dashed off to stop a stampede.
The hobbits sat up. Their guards, Isengarders, had gone with Uglúk. Suddenly an arm from out of the darkness seized Sam about the chest. The strength in the long arms and shoulders was terrifying. He was tucked under an armpit, and crushed fiercely to his captor’s side; a great stifling hand was clapped over each of his mouth. Sam was not able to look up but his face was held firmly facing forwards. He felt his assailant spring forward, stooping low. Quickly and silently he went, until he came to the edge of the knoll. There, choosing a gap between the watchers, they passed like a shadow out into the night, down the slope and away eastward towards the river that flowed out of the forest. In that direction there was a wide open space with only one fire.
After going a dozen yards his captor halted, as though to listen. Sam could hear a faint rustle behind them, before a voice came to him through the darkness. “Can you walk Sam?”
The hobbit took a stunned moment to compose himself, for the voice that whispered to him belonged to non other than Faramir. The ranger’s hand left Sam’s mouth and he was able to give a hushed affirmative. Now free to look about, Sam could see behind him the figures of Aragorn and Glorfindel hooded and cloaked, carrying Frodo and Merry respectively.
“Come then, the others are not far off.” Faramir led the troop silently through the night east away from the knoll.
Suddenly a great clamour was thrown up behind them. From yells and screeches that came from the knoll the hobbits guessed that their disappearance had been discovered: Uglúk was probably knocking off a few more heads. The group halted and crouched low to the ground, pulling their hoods down over their faces. There was the sound of galloping horses. The Riders were drawing in their ring close round the knoll, risking the orc-arrows to prevent a feared sortie. Suddenly, without moving, the group found themselves outside the circle of Riders.
“Do you suppose,” whispered Merry, “now that we’re nearly home and dry we might have out wrists and feet untied?”
“Actually,” Sam volunteered sheepishly, “I’ve already got mine unbound.”
Merry had to stifle a snort, and Sam could hear a faint smile on Frodo’s return. “Oh really Samwise? And when were you planning on helping your poor witless companions?”
“Just as soon as I was able, Mr Frodo,” Sam replied, slightly hurt that Frodo could question that of him, even in jest. “Only I hasn’t been able to until now.”
“You will all be untied soon,” Aragorn cut them off. “But now we must get away from this place.”
Before he could speak any further, a bareheaded horseman with black hair and bearing a torch rode up to them, dazzling them with the sudden light. At his back followed a dozen other Riders wielding bows and spears.
“What business have you here?” the lead man demanded. “Do you aid these Uruks, or are you merely caught in unfortunate happenstance? Speak quickly, you and your friends,” he motioned behind him, where Sam could see Elladan and Elrohir being held at spearpoint, along with Celeborn and another elf he had not seen before.
“Forgive us,” replied Aragorn. “We are strangers to these lands, but these Orcs captured our companions, whom we have now rescued. To whom do we give our address?”
The man gave the hobbits a long hard look, weighing them up each in turn before replying “I am Grima, son of Galmod, chief counsellor to Theoden King.” He moved his horse over them. “Fear not, for you are among friends.”
Merry shifted his weight, desperately trying to gain some measure of comfort on the back of the horse he now bounced on, clinging to its mane is he sat in front of Aragorn. Why did he have to be sent across these plains to Edoras with the Riders, why could he not go with Frodo and Sam back to the River Anduin, and continue their journey together.
He knew the reason of course, though that did not mean he was pleased by it. The man named Grima explained to them that Saruman knew one of the hobbits had The Ring, but did not know which. He had therefore sent his best hunters to capture all three of them and return to Isengard with them, and it. By splitting up, Saruman would not know for certain which way the Ring was going. Therefore, he was to go with Aragorn, Legolas, Elladan and Elrohir to Edoras, the chief city of these Riders, while Faramir took Frodo and Sam back to Amon Hen where they would cross the Anduin and go by lands familiar to the Gondorian. Glorfindel and Celeborn set off north, saying they had some errand to see to in Fangorn, though no-one bothered explaining to him exactly what that might be.
Merry thought that he liked these horsemen. They seemed a bit gruff, but he soon learned that was due to having lost so many of their kin to the Uruk-hai. Apparently they could be quite genial, courteous even should they be so inclined. Their captain was not the man who had first greeted them, he instead seemed to be held in a regard of disdain mingled with deference. They were commanded by a tall man with a helm whose crest had a white horsetail flowing from it. He was named Eomer, the nephew to the king, and Merry could tell that the men under him loved and honoured him in equal measure. Together, he and Grima had conferred with the Fellowship, discussing what had come to pass and all that might follow from it. It seems as though Grima used to be in Saruman’s employ, but had a chance of heart and now once again wished to serve Rohan wholeheartedly. Having confessed his treason, he was offered a chance to redeem himself by helping to undo all the wrongs he had a hand in. Part of that was guiding Eomer and his eored, that seemed to be their term for a company of men of about a hundred, to hunt down the hunters, to slay these Uruks and foil Saruman’s plot to capture The Ring. The king knew of The Ring from Grima, as did Eomer and a handful of others high in the king’s court, but few others it seems. To the other Riders then, Grima had guided them to a simple war party trespassing on Rohan’s soil.
Once the captains of Rohan realised what was at stake, that the plan was not merely to conceal The Ring but to have it destroyed, Eomer insisted on the aid and support of Rohan. Frodo, Sam and Faramir were equipped with fast horses and supplies and sent on their way east with all haste, with barely time for a brief farewell. Indeed, Merry had barely the time to hand Sam the last of his pipeweed as a parting gift before he and Frodo were whisked off to the side by Aragorn, Glorfindel and Celeborn. The hobbits were given a quick measure of advice before Aragorn knelt before Frodo and fastened Sting once again to the hobbit’s waist. Some of the Riders had scoffed at the sight, but seeing the reverence the tall ranger bore for Frodo, their mockings were quickly stilled. Finally Celeborn gave Frodo something small, Merry could not quite make it out but it seemed to be made of glass, and it gave forth a faint glow from it, as though lit from within. These being accomplished, the three were gone, soon no more than specks on the horizon.
“I am sorry for the burden that is fallen on you,” said Aragorn, snapping Merry out of his thoughts.
“Saruman and Sauron both will now know that a halfling bears the Ring, and that the Heir of Isildur went with him. When we arrive at Edoras, we shall let it be known that Isildur’s heir has come out of hiding at long last, and that you are among my companions.”
“But then everyone will think…” Merry trailed off as realisation struck him.
“Everyone will think that you have the Ring, and that Isildur’s heir intends to wield it in battle. Saruman will strike at us hard and soon, reacting out of panic and desperation. His betrayal of Sauron will not have escaped the Dark Lord’s notice, and now his only hope is to find the Ring for himself,” Aragorn explained.
“But what of Frodo and Sam? Surely they are travelling into even greater danger by going toward Mordor?”
“I fear so. But there is where the quest’s end lies. All we can do now to help them is to gather as much of the enemy’s attention on us, that Frodo might slip by unnoticed. Get some rest, if you can Meriadoc. I fear we will not stop at the Golden Hall for long.” Aragorn placed his hand on Merry’s shoulder.
Merry frowned. “But I thought we would be safer there. Is it not a great city that we might take refuge?”
“A city, yes. But no fortress.” Aragorn sighed. “Our chances are slim of surviving the wrath of Saruman, even with the full might of Rohan gathered. But the eastern eoreds cannot be recalled else the forces of Mordor find an open passage to our doorstep here. No, our best chance is to take to one of the great fortresses of old, a place they say has never fallen while the men of Rohan yet drew breath. We shall make for Helm’s Deep, and take our stand there.”