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Today’s is the most extensive Tale of Years entry until the Battle of the Pelennor itself in five days:
- The Dawnless Day. The Muster of Rohan: the Rohirrim ride from Harrowdale. Faramir rescued by Gandalf outside the gates of the City. Aragorn crosses Ringló. An army from the Morannon takes Cair Andros and passes into Anórien. Frodo passes the Cross-roads, and sees the Morgul-host set forth.
Note a detail here whose timing we would not otherwise have known for sure: it’s today that Aragorn crosses the river Ringló in Lamedon.
Gollum wakes in the middle of the night and leads Frodo and Sam east, out from under the eaves of the forest of Ithilien and up barren slopes at the dark mountains’ feet. The stars ahead of them start to wink out, leaving the eastern part of the sky dark.
Frodo and Sam hide under some bushes as night wanes, but dawn never comes; only a red glow behind the mountains, rumblings in the earth, and a dark roof of cloud overhead. They take turns sleeping while Gollum disappears for the day. ‘Off hunting,’ Sam supposes.
Gandalf says it is ‘Past the second hour’ when he wakes Pippin. Assuming that the bell for the first hour is rung at dawn itself, and the second bell an hour later, Pippin is waking more than an hour after dawn itself.
No dawn comes in Gondor—a dark pall flows west from Mordor in the upper air. Pippin is wakened by Gandalf, gets only a small loaf as breakfast, and must serve Denethor today as esquire. The armoury provides halfling-sized armour in the black & silver of the Guards of the Citadel.
At what hour does Théoden ride out? First, Merry is awakened; then he witnesses the meeting between Théoden and the second rider from Gondor, who arrived in the night; then we are told that ‘Two swift hours passed’ before King Théoden leads his Riders east. That seems to place his departure almost three hours after dawn.
In the gloom of a day without dawn, Théoden on his horse Snowmane rides out from Dunharrow leading six thousand spears to war. They take paths leading downhill towards Edoras on the plain. Merry rides behind Éomer and the king, on his pony Stybba.
The ride down from Dunharrow to Edoras apparently takes only a few hours, for ‘the king came to Edoras, although it was then but noon by the hour’. He departs again after a halt and a mid-day meal.
After eating briefly at Edoras, Théoden now turns east and leads his riders at speed along the road to Minas Tirith.
Théoden decided to leave Merry behind—he was asked to protect the hobbit, not take him to war—but a rider named Dernhelm carries Merry, hidden under his cloak.
From the walls of Minas Tirith, Pippin and Beregond watch Faramir and three other men race desperately towards the city under the shadow of five Nazgûl. What looks like a bright star on the fields is Gandalf riding south. Light flashes from his hand. The Nazgûl retreat.
After more than an hour walking east, Gollum brings Frodo and Sam to the Southward road and then the Cross-roads with its huge stone statue. A few beams of sunlight from the setting sun fall on their faces and on the kingly head of the statue. They walk east towards Minas Morgul.
Faramir has reached the Citadel and reported the Southron ambush to his father Denethor. He looks at Pippin. ‘This is not the first halfling that I have seen walking out of northern legends.’ He mentions ‘Cirith Ungol’ and Gandalf fears: has the Ring-bearer already been captured?
Faramir reassures Gandalf ‘the darkness is not due to their venture’—it started before Frodo reached the cross-roads. Denethor is aghast: ‘To send It in the hands of a witless halfling into the land of the Enemy himself, as you have done, and this son of mine, that is madness.’
As the road climbs into the deadly valley of Minas Morgul, glowing in the darkness, Frodo suddenly runs straight toward the haunted city. Gollum and Sam have to tackle him. Gollum leads them off the road to the left, where a narrow path scales the northern wall of the valley.
As they rest partway up the path, Frodo and Sam see a red flash in the east, lightning from Minas Morgul below, then an army marching out behind the Lord of Morgul—who unexpectedly pauses at the bridge and looks about. Frodo grasps Galadriel’s phial, and the Wraith-king rides on.
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