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In the year S.R. 1418
Gandalf reaches the fortress of Orthanc late in the evening. Twelve days ago he received a message from the White Wizard Saruman that the Nazgûl were searching for the Shire, but that Saruman could offer aid if Gandalf came quickly. But once Gandalf enters the fortress, Saruman reveals that his own desire is to either ally with Mordor or possess the Ruling Ring himself. He imprisons Gandalf on the platform atop his fortress, where the Grey Wizard will remain imprisoned for more than two months.
Boromir leaves Minas Tirith to journey north in search of the legendary valley of Imaldris, where dwells the lore-master Elrond Halfelven from whom Boromir hopes to learn the meaning of a dream. His father, the Steward of Gondor, has entrusted the long journey to Boromir despite the fact that the dream came first — and most often — to his brother Faramir.
Gandalf and his horse leave Bree at dawn, and begin the several-hundred mile journey down the Greenway to the fortress of Isengard, where the wizard Saruman has summoned him.
The innkeeper in Bree, Barliman Butterbur, cannot find anyone to take Gandalf's letter to the Shire, and he will soon forget about it entirely; the letter will sit at the Inn for three more months until Frodo himself arrives in Bree with the Nazgûl nearly upon his heels.
Having learned from fugitives on the southern borders of the Shire that Gondor suffered a defeat nearly two weeks ago, Gandalf rides the Greenway north from Sarn Ford toward Bree. On the road he meets his fellow wizard Radagast, who comes from their peer Saruman the White with the news that the Nazgûl have come forth from Mordor to war, but that Saruman offers aid if Gandalf can reach him in time. Gandalf is too weary to set off at once, and spends the night at the Prancing Pony in Bree. He leaves with the proprietor a letter that urges Frodo to leave the Shire at once.
[In some editions,
the Tale of Years gives this as the date on which Gandalf meets Radagast.
The main text, however, twice places their meeting on Midyear's Day:
(a) Gandalf at the Council of Elrond quotes Radagast as saying
The forces of Sauron make a sudden attack upon the ruins of the ancient city of Osgiliath that straddle the River Anduin. Not only are allied Easterlings and Haradrim present for the battle, but Sauron for the first time deploys openly the Nazgûl, who exert their terror to drive back the soldiers of Gondor and take the eastern half of the ruins.
They fail to push across the river, however, for Boromir and Faramir — the sons of the Ruling Steward — hold the eastern end of the bridge with a few remaining soldiers until the rest of their forces are able to destroy the bridge behind them. Of the soldiers then trapped on the eastern bank, only the two brothers and two other others are able to swim the river and return alive.
But the main objective of Sauron is accomplished: to make it appear as for the sake of the attack that the Nine had been sent forth from Mordor and Dol Guldur, so that their appearance in the West will be thought an act of war rather than the beginnings of his hunt for the Ruling Ring.
At around the same time as the Nazgûl assault Osgiliath, Orcs move over the mountains into northern Mirkwood and attack the Wood-elves who hold Gollum hostage. Though they are successful in freeing Gollum, the Orcs themselves are apparently unable to apprehend him, and Gollum disappears into the woods and travels southeast.
Gandalf meets Aragorn at Sarn Ford and informs him that Frodo will be leaving for Rivendell in September.
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In the year S.R. 1419
The Hobbits and Elves who ride north with Gandalf toward their homes come upon the wizard Saruman, who is also passing north. After a vicious exchange of words on the part of the ruined wizard, they continue north while he moves off to the northwest.
Aragorn and the Hobbits and Elves riding north come finally to Isengard. From Treebeard they learn that the wizard Saruman is no longer imprisoned in Orthanc. The Hobbits make their farewell to Treebeard, as do Celeborn and Galadriel whom he has not seen since more ancient times.
Legolas and Gimli bid the other riders farewell, and accept the invitation of Treebeard to ride north through Fangorn forest as they ride toward their homes in the northern Mirkwood (now named the Wood of Greenleaves following the victories of the Elves against Dol Guldur, as they will learn upon their return) — Legolas toward the city of the Wood-elves where the father reigns, and Gimli toward the great caves under the Lonely Mountain where he will find the old King Dáin Ironfoot has fallen in battle and his distant cousin Thorin III Stonehelm now reigning.
At sunset they approach the Gap of Rohan, the westernmost border of ancient Gondor, where Aragorn bids them farewell so that he may ride back to his Queen who waits in Edoras for both of them to return to Minas Tirith and being in earnest their reign. Aragorn and his knights do not turn immediately, but sit awhile upon their horses to watch the travellers disappear into the sunset, who in return see behind them the sunlight gleaming upon the harnesses and a final flash of green from the Elfstone.
Aragorn continues to ride north toward Isengard with the Hobbits and Elves who are now returning to the North following their involvement in the War of the Ring or, in the case of many of the Elves, their long ride to the south to see his wedding to Arwen. They come to Helm's Deep, where Gimli is finally able to show Legolas the beauties of the Glittering Caves that lie behind the Deeping Coomb, of which he became enamored when forced to flee there during the Battle of Helm's Deep more than five months ago.
The four Hobbits and the Elves who arrived in Edoras a week ago for the funeral of King Théoden bid farewell to King Éomer and ride north from the city. Arwen stays behind at Edoras while Aragorn her husband leaves to ride with them as far as Isengard; thus she is parted for the last time from her father Elrond 2,778 years after being born to him and his wife Celebrían.
The people of the Mark bury King Théoden in an eighth and final barrow they have heaped on the east side of the Barrowfield at the foot of the city. After the funeral the new King Éomer gives his sister, the Lady Éowyn, as wife to Faramir the Steward of Gondor.
The funeral escort of King Théoden reaches Edoras after fifteen days of travel from Minas Tirith. Arriving with him are Aragorn and Arwen; Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin; Legolas and Gimli; Gandalf; and the High-elves who were in Minas Tirith for the Midsummer wedding of Aragorn and Arwen and who are now returning to their lands in the north — Elrond and his sons, and Galadriel and Celeborn.
The men of the Mark begin three days of preparation for the great funeral feast and ceremony for their late king.
The body of King Théoden sets out upon its last journey; having laid in state in the Citadel of Minas Tirith for the four months since his fall in the Battle of the Pelennor, he will now be returned to Edoras where a mound at the bottom of the hill will be ready to receive him. The remaining Company of the Ring are among the throng that rides northwest to escort the body. Though Aragorn and Arwen will return to Minas Tirith after the funeral, all the rest of the Company will be continuing north toward their homes — Legolas and Gimli to the north east toward the Forest and Lonely Mountain, while Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin journey northwest toward the Shire. They will be joined along some portion of their way by Gandalf and many High-elves, among whom ride Elrond, Galadriel, and Celeborn.