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This is a busy day that requires two entire chapters— ‘The Breaking of the Fellowship’ and ‘The Departure of Boromir’—to describe its events. By the day’s end, the single storyline we have been following since Frodo left Bag End in September will fragment into several storylines, with characters often separated by hundreds of miles.
The day’s events get underway before dawn: Aragorn wakes ‘in the small hours’ to talk.
Aragorn’s sleep is restless. He wakes during Frodo’s watch and asks him to draw Sting. Its edges glow slightly: there are Orcs somewhere in the area. Maybe they are only patrolling the eastern shore, but Aragorn fears they are also on this side of the river.
Dawn is described dramatically—’The day came like fire and smoke.’
After breakfast, Aragorn asks Frodo whether he will now turn west for Minas Tirith or east towards Mordor.
Frodo hesitates. ‘I know that haste is needed, yet I cannot choose. The burden is heavy. Give me an hour longer, and I will speak.’ He walks alone into the forest.
The time at which Boromir confronts Frodo is not precisely specified. Frodo asked for a single hour, but after his hike up to the clearing we are told only that ‘Time went on, and still he was no nearer to a choice.’ Just as Boromir is returning to the Company, Aragorn notes that ‘The hour is long passed. The morning is wearing away.’
Boromir finds Frodo in a small clearing. ‘May I stay now and talk for a while, since I have found you? It would comfort me.’
‘You are kind. But I do not think that any speech will help me. For I know what I should do, but I am afraid of doing it, Boromir: afraid.’
There are nearly ten minutes of written dialog between Boromir and Frodo, and additional dialog that is not recorded—‘Boromir strode up and down, speaking ever more loudly: Almost he seemed to have forgotten Frodo, while his talk dwelt on walls and weapons…’
Boromir wants the Ring to defend Minas Tirith. ‘How I would drive the hosts of Mordor, and all men would flock to my banner!’ Finally he cries ‘Give it to me!’ and leaps at Frodo.
Frodo puts on the Ring and disappears. He runs uphill with Boromir’s curses echoing behind him.
Frodo, still wearing the Ring, reaches the high seat atop Amon Hen. He can see all across Middle-earth. Orcs, armies, cavalry, fleets. Bright Minas Tirith and dark Minas Morgul. And then: the Barad-dûr.
Sauron feels the Ring-bearer’s gaze and begins to grope for its source.
Frodo cowers on the ground. Gandalf, sitting far away in a high place, feels the Dark Tower’s gaze and opposes it, managing to keep Frodo concealed for a final moment.
‘Fool, take it off! Take off the Ring!’
Frodo takes off the Ring. The Eye gropes past him to the west.
Frodo is weary after his escape from the Eye. But he is now resolved. ‘This at least is plain: the evil of the Ring is already at work even in the Company, and the Ring must leave them before it does more harm. I will go alone.’ He heads downhill toward the boats.
Boromir returns to the Company and admits he ‘grew angry’ with Frodo. ‘He vanished. I have never seen such a thing happen before, though I have heard of it in tales. He must have put the Ring on.’
The hobbits are suspicious and run into the woods calling ‘Frodo! Frodo!’
Strider runs uphill, hoping to look out from the high seat of Amon Hen. Sam stops to think: where is Frodo? ‘He can’t fly across rivers, and he can’t jump waterfalls. He’s got no gear. So he’s got to get back to the boats. Back to the boats!’ Sam turns and races back downhill.
Sam leaps for the boat that he sees slipping by itself into the water, but misses and falls into the lake. Frodo pulls him out and takes off the Ring.
‘Of all the confounded nuisances you are the worst, Sam!’
‘Oh, Mr. Frodo, that’s hard! That’s hard, trying to go without me.’
‘So all my plan is spoilt! It’s no good trying to escape you. But I’m glad, Sam. I cannot tell you how glad. We will go. May the others find a safe road! Strider will look after them. I don’t suppose we shall see them again.’
Sam grabs blankets, food, and his pack. They set out.
And with that, we move on from Book II of The Lord of the Rings to Book III which opens with Aragorn still running uphill towards the high seat.
Aragorn reaches the top of Amon Hen. He can see little from the high seat. But he hears Orcs, and the sudden clear call of a horn. ‘The horn of Boromir! He is in need! An ill fate is on me this day, and all that I do goes amiss. Where is Sam?’ He races back downhill.
Aragorn finds Boromir dying. Orc bodies lie all around him. ‘I tried to take the Ring from Frodo. I’m sorry. I have paid. They have gone: the Halflings: the Orcs have taken them. Farewell, Aragorn! Go to Minas Tirith and save my people! I have failed.’
‘No! You have conquered.’
We turn back to Book II only for a moment, to start Frodo and Sam on their journey east.
After paddling across the current at the southern end of Tol Brandir, Frodo and Sam reach the lake’s eastern shore. There on the west flank of Amon Lhaw they hide their Elven-boat and start hiking southeast into the broken hills of the Emyn Muil.
Now we turn back again to Book III. How long does it take Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli to prepare Boromir’s funeral boat? By the time they have rowed out into the lake ‘it was now mid-afternoon.’
Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli cast loose the elven-boat in which they have arrayed Boromir’s body and broken horn. It vanishes over the Falls of Rauros.
‘What news from the West,
O wandering wind,
do you bring to me tonight?
Have you seen Boromir the Tall
by moon or by starlight?’
From footprints, missing baggage, and a missing boat, Aragorn determines that Frodo and Sam rowed away and avoided capture. ‘My heart speaks clearly at last: the fate of the Bearer is in my hands no longer.’ He sets off with Legolas and Gimli to rescue Merry and Pippin.
Pippin wakes to find that dusk has fallen and that he and Merry are captives. The Orcs are arguing—those from Mordor are upset that the captives are being taken to Isengard. There is a fight, and several are killed before they start moving again.
‘It was early night, but the slim moon was already falling westward.’ when a Rider of Rohan spots the Orcs.
Earlier editions of The Lord of the Rings imply that Eomer hears of the Orcs on February 27th: upon meeting Aragorn on the 30th, he says that ‘scouts warned me of the orc-host coming down out of the East Wall three nights ago’. But Hammond and Scull have amended this to ‘four nights ago’ in the most recent editions, bringing the text into agreement with the Tale of Years where the entry for the 26th says ‘Éomer hears of the descent of the Orc-band from the Emyn Muil.’
A Rider of Rohan, on the fields below, glimpses the Orcs that carry Merry and Pippin as they reach the edge of the Emyn Muil. He rides west to alert his commander, Éomer son of Éomund, the Third Marshal of the Riddermark.
The Orcs force Pippin and Merry to run. As they reach damp soil where footprints will be obvious, Pippins veers sharply to the side and drops his Elven-brooch before the Orcs seize him. ‘I don’t know why I did it. If the others have escaped, they’ve probably all gone with Frodo.’
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