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Today in the Shire is:
In the year S.R. 1419
By dawn the far destruction of the Ring of Isengard is far advanced, but fires from beneath the plain are endangering the Ents; so they retreat and spend day and evening preparing to divert the Isen. In the late evening Merry and Pippin observe more Huorns pouring south to reinforce those who are already pursuing the armies of Saruman.
King Théoden and the Eorlingas break camp at dawn and ride for a second day toward the Fords of Isen, accompanied by Gandalf, Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli. In the morning-light Legolas discerns, far to their north, the distant shadow of the Huorn-wood which is attacking Isengard. At sunset they meet a refugee from yesterday's Second Battle of the Fords of Isen, who reports Erkenbrand's defeat; at this news Gandalf sends the King and his companions flying south to the Hornburg before it is besieged, while the wizard himself sets out across the fields.
Gandalf searches the Westfold south of the Fords. He determines that Saruman has defeated and scattered the western éored with a force of roughly ten thousand orcs, and that his forces are now all moving south toward the Hornburg. Gandalf organizes several responses by directing the fugitives he encounters: those who still have hope of reaching the Hornburg he sends there to buttress its defense; some others under Elfhelm he sends east towards Edoras, to protect it from any plundering party Saruman may have spared from his main force; and the majority, including a force under Grimbold of Westfold, he sends southwest to join Erkenbrand, who survived the disaster of the Fords. In the early night Gandalf interrupts this work to visit Isengard itself, where he negotiates with Treebeard who deploys a force of Huorns against the Orc-army.
Frodo and Sam trudge wearily after their guide, Gollum, through the blasted waste lying north of the gates of Mordor, in growing fear, and with the weight of the Ring dragging ever heavier upon Frodo.
After another day of debate the Entmoot concludes with the march of the Ents and many Huorn westward toward the setting sun and the ring of Isengard, with Merry and Pippin borne in their midst; at nightfall they crest the final ridge and descend upon the fortress. After quietly watching Saruman's army pour south from the gates, nearly ten thousand strong, the Ents divide into two forces, some following the armies southwards while the others attack the fortress. Saruman is almost caught amid the assault but escapes into Orthanc.
With immortal sight Legolas peers across fields lit with the slanting shafts of the rising sun, and describes to Aragorn and Gimli the fortress of Edoras and the golden roof of Meduseld shining upon its hill-crest. They and Gandalf negotiate entrance into both fortress and hall, where the wizard wakes King Théoden from the stupor woven by his traitorous counsellor Gríma — who flees when the wizard reveals him as an agent of Saruman. The Eorlingas is mustered and Théoden himself leads the host westward, leaving his niece Éowyn to govern the flight of the people into the hills. King and host make camp for the night after five hours' ride.
In the early hours Gollum leads Frodo and Sam out of the Dead Marshes and on to firm land again, where they cower as a winged Nazgûl passes overhead and into the west. After hiding through the day they continued marching south into the desolation lying between the marshes and the fences of Mordor. Frodo begins to flag under the weight of the Ring.
Merry and Pippin spend an entire day with Quickbeam near his rowan-grove while the Entmoot continues in the distance, the rumbling voices of the Ents continuing steadily beneath grey clouds and a cold wind.
In the light of morning Gimli, Legolas, and Aragorn search the field across which the Riders charged and destroyed the Orc-band two mornings ago. Scattered hobbit-prints lead them into the forest and, on the very ledge where Merry and Pippin met Treebeard two days ago, they meet Gandalf, now returned to life as the White wizard and head of the Order. The wizard explains that Merry and Pippin are safe, and that the news they brought is arousing the ancient wrath and power of the Ents against Saruman. Gandalf calls his horse Shadowfax, and with him come the two horses that bolted last night; so all four are able to set out on horseback for Edoras and the King of the Golden Hall. After riding for several hours into the night, they stop for a few brief hours of rest.
By dawn Gollum has lead Frodo and Sam to the end of the ravine they have followed overnight. They find themselves on the northern edge of the Dead Marshes, where lie the graves of those killed in the battle between the West and the forces of Sauron at the beginning of the Age. Gollum continues to lead them beneath the overcast sky, and after an afternoon rest they continue marching through the night amongst the bewildering lights that flicker above the pools of the marsh.
The Steward Denethor of Gondor orders his son Faramir to lead a contingent deep into Ithilien, where Southron forces are moving north along the road towards the Black Gate.
Treebeard carries Merry and Pippin to Derndingle, a hollow deep in Fangorn Forest, where he convenes an Entmoot to argue for immediate action against Saruman. The hobbits spend the night in a rowan-grove with a younger Ent named Quickbeam who had already decided in favor of Treebeard's proposal.
Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli wake upon the northernmost of the line of downs they passed yesterday as they followed the Orcs who captured Merry and Pippin four days ago. Sunrise shows that the edge of Fangorn Forest, which they fear the Orc-band reached two evenings ago, still lies ten leagues to their north. They also see horsemen riding from the north, whom they hail, and after a tense negotiation are granted two horses on which to continue their search for the Hobbits — though the leader of the horsemen, Éomer son of Éomund, warns that his life may depend on the three travelers returning the horses safely as they promise.
Riding north, the hunters find where a contingent of Orcs from Mordor joined those fleeing towards the Forest, but upon reaching and searching the site of yesterday's battle find no sign of the Hobbits. They make camp beside the battlefield, and wake when the figure of a wizard appears for a moment at the edge of their firelight. They then discover that their horses have escaped, leaving them stranded on the edge of the wood.
Gollum spent last night leading Frodo and Sam along a ravine away from the frowning cliffs of the Emyn Muil, from which they descended yesterday evening. After sleeping through the day in hiding with Gollum, they march again at nightfall.
The early hours find Merry and Pippin amongst the large force of Orcs that the éored lead by Éomer has surrounded upon a knoll some three leagues from Fangorn Wood. Several sorties are attempted before dawn: some Riders approach the Orcs and kill several before being driven away; and another Orc-band attacks from the direction of the forest but are defeated. Amidst this confusion the Orc leader from Mordor attempts to spirit the Hobbits away but is killed, leaving them free upon the plain and unspied in their Elven-cloaks.
The Riders attack with the dawn, riding upon the Orcs from the East with the rising sun behind them. Beneath the blue of the winter morning, every Orc is hunted and destroyed; the toughest prove to be Saruman's Uruk-hai, who almost reach the safety of Fangorn and whose leader is fought on foot by Éomer himself. The Riders spend the balance of the day making a great burning of the Orc-bodies, and raising a mound over their own dead — fifteen of their riders lost to destroy more than two hundred Orcs.
In the afternoon Merry and Pippin pass beneath the canopy of Fangorn and meet Treebeard, the ancient Ent and shepherd of the trees and the forest. After hearing of their adventures, and especially of the treachery of Saruman, he resolves that the White Wizard must be attacked.
The three hunters set off again in the red dawn and before noon come upon the remains of an Orc-camp amongst the downs, which Aragorn guesses was abandoned a full day and a half ago — giving the Orcs time to have reached Fangorn wood by yesterday evening. By nightfall they reach the most northerly of these downs that run beside the swift Entwash, and sleep admist cold winds off the Misty Mountains.
Gandalf in Fangorn wood learns the condition of Merry and Pippin. He bends his thought southward upon Shadowfax who speeds north from his pasture in southern Rohan.
The Lord Faramir, on guard beside the Anduin in Osgiliath, sees the body of his brother borne past him in the elven-boat which Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli cast over the Rauros two days ago.
After another day of hiking east along the south ridge of the Emyn Muil, Frodo and Sam reach a ravine that cuts deeply enough into the southern face that with their elven-rope they reach the plain safely. There they waylay Gollum whom follows them down the wall, grasping the sheer rock with his soft feet and hands, and Frodo tames him by making him swear fealty upon the Ring.
Merry and Pippin wake as prisoners on the plain beside the narrow Entwash, and can see the Misty Mountains and Fangorn Wood to the northwest. Here the composite Orc-party disintegrates: most of the mountain-Orcs flee for the wood, and the Orcs of Mordor who had fled eastwards return when scouts report that more than a hundred Riders of Rohan are approaching from the south. The Uruk-hai, despite the burden of two Hobbits, outrun both the mountain-Orcs and those of Mordor and are thus in the lead when they reach the borders of Fangorn at dusk — only to be surrounded by the Riders who encircle them upon a knoll at the edge of the grasslands, where they remain through the long night.
The three hunters wake before morning. Legolas fears that the Orc-band has not rested overnight and is now far ahead across the plains; Aragorn listens long to the earth but hears nothing but a rumor of galloping horses, very far away, and moving toward the north. They spend a second full day in pursuit, and cover a second twelve leagues as the Orcs' trail turns north toward high downs. The land is quite silent and empty of horsemen and their herds. As the three again stop overnight they feel heavy weariness and perceive the dark will of Saruman against them.
Frodo and Sam spend another day clambering among the stony slopes of the Emyn Muil, trying to find a path from its sharp edges down to the pungent marshes below.
Merry and Pippin remain another day in the grasp of the Orc-band that captured them yesterday by the Great River. The leaders, large Uruk-hai bred by Saruman, drive forward through the daylight both the mountain-Orcs that came to avenge their losses in Moria and the sinister Orcs of Mordor that already sense treachery in Saruman's bid to acquire these prisoners for himself.
In the dark hours just after midnight, Éomer resolves to disobey King Théoden's order that his force remain available for the last defense of Edoras. Fearing that Saruman has formed some alliance with their enemy the Dark Lord, he leads his éored northward in pursuit of the Orc-company that descended yesterday evening from the Emyn Muil.
Through the hours before dawn Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli pursue the Orcs that yesterday captured Merry and Pippin on the lower slopes of Amon Hen. By sunrise they reach the crest of the Emyn Muil, and Aragorn sees the White Mountains of Gondor again after many long years; also the light reveals the Orc-band already more than twelve leagues away and moving in a straight march toward the north-west. They spend the day in pursuit, finding the elven-brooch that Pippin cast aside; then at night they rest rather than wear themselves out and miss any further signs.
Frodo and his servant Sam spend their first full day negotiating the difficult and often impassible Emyn Muil as they struggle eastward toward the marshes that lie at their feet.
Merry and Pippin awake as prisoners of the Orcs. During a confrontation among his captors, Pippin is able to sever the bonds about his wrist; upon reaching the plain after nightfall he swerves aside and drops his Elven-clasp in the hope that Strider finds it. Then he is forced back into line and the Orcs lope off northwest-wards toward the distant borders of Fangorn.
Éomer, the Third Marshal of the Mark of Rohan, hears from one of his scouts that a great company of Orcs has descended to the plains from the Emyn Muil.
In the afternoon Frodo and Sam reach the east-shore of Nen Hithoel and hide their elven-boat before climbing into the broken hills of the Emyn Muil where they spend a first night. On his watch Frodo is startled to see gleaming eyes in the distance, hint that Gollum has followed the Ring across the river and is following them across the barren ridges.