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To date the events of the journey south on the Anduin we rely heavily on the Tale of Years, supplemented by a count of days and nights since the start of the journey. For example, the Tale of Years gives us this date, which we could not have guessed otherwise:
The great eagle Gwaihir finds Gandalf stranded but alive on the burned and broken summit of Zirak-zigil. He carries the wizard southeast to Lórien where he can recover.
‘As the third day of their voyage wore on the lands changed slowly: the trees thinned and then failed altogether.’ Since they started floating south on the 16th, this change in the scenery must date to the 18th.
The forests along each bank of the Anduin become sparse and then disappear as the Company float south in their Elven-boats. To the west they can now see the plains of Rohan. To the east lie brown and desolate lands.
It’s ‘as dusk drew down on the fourth day’, thus the 19th, that Sam sees Gollum floating on a log behind them, and ‘in the dead hours’ following midnight that Frodo confronts him.
Frodo, on watch while the rest of the Company are asleep, sees shining eyes only a few feet away in the dark. He draws Sting. With a hiss and a splash the intruder is gone.
Strider wakes and sends Frodo back to sleep. He keeps watch himself for the rest of the night.
Next comes a big announcement—the only editor’s note in the annual cycle, to excuse the mismatch over the coming week between calendar dates and Shire dates.
[Editor’s note: February has 30 days in the Shire Calendar. To avoid skipping the important events on February 29 and 30, we shorten the river trip and place the events of February 22–30 S.R. on February 20–28 instead. The calendars will match again starting March 1.]
Returning to the narrative, we are told that ‘time passed without event until the seventh day’ which means we can date that evening to February 22nd in the Shire Calendar.
As evening falls, the overcast skies of the past few days start to clear at the western edge of the horizon. Sam can see the thin crescent of the New Moon setting.
‘The next day’ when ‘the country on either side began to change’ is February 23rd.
The country along either bank of the Anduin has become rocky, steep, and choked with thorns and brambles. Flocks of birds are wheeling to and fro as the Company lie quietly in camp for the day—not wanting to return to the Anduin’s open water until darkness falls.
In seven days, on February 30th, Eomer and Aragorn will meet for the first time. Eomer will report that ‘Seven nights ago Shadowfax returned; but the king’s anger is not less, for now the horse is wild and will let no man handle him.’ Shadowfax has journeyed alone since October 7, when Gandalf reached the Ettenmoors and send him back south, and has been absent from Rohan since September 21.
Shadowfax returns to the herds of Rohan. It was 155 days ago that Théoden commanded Gandalf to ‘Take any horse, only be gone!’ and 138 days ago that Gandalf sent Shadowfax back south from the Ettenmoors.
Théoden is furious: Shadowfax is now wild and cannot be handled.
The evening of February 23rd is described in the text as as the ‘eighth night of their journey’. ‘It was close on midnight’ when they reach Sarn Gebir.
The Company, risking one final night on the Anduin, now come unexpectedly on the rapids of Sarn Gebir in the dark. They paddle against the current. Just as the keel of the boats scrape bottom, orc-arrows are shot from the east bank and fall among the Company and their gear.
Several minutes of frantic rowing bring the Company safe to the Anduin’s west shore. They look up and, in front of the stars, see vast wings speeding towards them from the south. Legolas shoots an arrow with the bow of Galadriel and, with a cry, the dark shadow falls to the east.
Now that they are ashore, Boromir wants the Company to set out for Minas Tirith, but Aragorn wants to portage the rapid and continue on the Anduin—not least so that he can stand at the high place on Amon Hen.
Aragorn and Legolas set out into the fog to find the old portage-way.
‘Only two or three hours had passed, and it was barely mid-day’ when they return.
Aragorn and Legolas return, having found the old portage-way. It runs inland of the tiny bay where the Company have come ashore—they are already downstream of its upper landing. Everyone starts carrying baggage and boats uphill through rocks and thickets to reach the trail.
‘Already the short afternoon was past, and a dim cloudy dusk was closing in’ when the Company, boats, and baggage are finally collected together at the lower landing.
It has taken the entire afternoon, and two trips down the portage-way, but the Company have brought their boats and luggage safe to the lower landing. They must now sleep. For the first time on the journey they set a double watch, with two awake and on guard at all times.
‘As soon as it was fully light they started… In the mid-morning the clouds drew down lower.’
The clouds have been getting lower, and now a heavy morning rain starts pouring on the Company as they ride the Anduin south. They draw the skin covers tight across their boats and keep as close as they can to the western shore.
It’s difficult to guess at which hour the Company reach the Argonath. Once they have passed it and reached the lake, we are told that ‘The sun, already long fallen from the noon, was shining in a windy sky.’
The rain has stopped and a blue sky arcs above the Company as their boats are swept through a narrow gorge. Rearing vast above them on either bank are statues of Isildur and Anárion, carved from the high cliffs: the Argonath, guarding the northern border of old Gondor.
Another thread of story intervenes: we have the authority of the Tale of Years that Theodred falls on this date, and from details in ‘The Battles of the Fords of Isen’ in Unfinished Tales we can imagine that his death took place just at sunset.
‘To me, Eorlingas!’ Far to the west, on the lonely eyot that stands midstream at the Fords of Isen, Théodred son of Théoden rallies his men against the axe-company from Isengard who have them surrounded. Grimbold and Elfhelm race to his recsue, but he receives a fatal axe-wound.
The Company take enough time to cross the lake that ‘here and there a misty star peered out’ before they reach their camp—so they must reach it well after sunset.
The stars are coming out as the members of the Company finish rowing down the lake and reach the green lawn of Parth Galen on its western shore. There, at the foot of Amon Hen, they set up camp and start their watch.
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