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As the Armies of the West make their seven-day march from Minas Tirith to the Black Gate, and Frodo and Sam struggle across the final fifty-odd miles to Orodruin, the attention of the Tale of Years starts to flag—entries are not even provided for March 20th or March 21st. These are the first two dates in March that the Tale of Years has skipped, and is the first time the Tale has skipped a day since the Company was riding the Anduin south on February 24th.
18. The Host of the West marches from Minas Tirith. Frodo comes in sight of the Isenmouthe; he is over-taken by Orcs on the road from Durthang to Udûn.
19. The Host comes to Morgul-vale. Frodo and Samwise escape and begin their journey along the road to the Barad-dûr.
22. The dreadful nightfall. Frodo and Samwise leave the road and turn south to Mount Doom. Third assault on Lórien.
23. The Host passes out of Ithilien. Aragorn dismisses the faint-hearted. Frodo and Samwise cast away their arms and gear.
24. Frodo and Samwise make their last journey to the feet of Mount Doom. The Host camps in the Desolation of the Morannon.
The dates of these events can also be determined by counting sunrises and nightfalls in the chapters ‘The Black Gate Opens’, ‘The Land of Shadow’, and ‘Mount Doom’. But without the Tale of Years entry for March 22, we would not otherwise have known the date of the third assault on Lorien.
After hiking north along the orc-road overnight, Sam and Frodo hide for the day. Giving Frodo their last water, Sam leaves him asleep and finds a trickling spring at the head of the valley—returning barely in time to scare off Gollum. Frodo takes the next watch so Sam can sleep.
Merry is left behind in Minas Tirith to recover while Pippin, Legolas, and Gimli ride east from the city with the seven thousands led by the Captains of the West: the Lord Aragorn, the Prince of Dol Amroth, King Éomer, and Gandalf the White.
The army led by the Lord Aragorn enters Osgiliath. They cross the Anduin on the floating bridges used by the forces of Mordor, pausing to improve and repair them in case they need to retreat back across the river.
The army halts for the night, five miles east of Osgiliath. Aragorn leads horsemen to the cross-roads. They repair the statue of the king—where Sam and Frodo stood just eight days ago with Gollum and watched the sunset shine out underneath the pall of growing darkness.
Seeing no movement along the orc-road as night falls, Frodo and Sam refill their water bottle again at the head of the ravine, then hasten along the road, which now turns east and leads downhill towards the Isenmouthe and the plain of Gorgoroth.
After making it twelve miles along the orc-road without being discovered, Frodo and Sam are overtaken by a company of Orcs that mistake them for small goblins. A whip is cracked, they are forced into line, and must run down the road with the orcs.
Frodo is stumbling as the road finally reaches the plain. It meets another road, where a company of Uruks collides with theirs. Scuffles break out. Sam pulls Frodo to the ground, tripping several Orcs. They crawl away into the dark. Sam covers them both with his elven-cloak.
In the grey dawn Sam sees the mountain—fifty miles away. Their food will take them there, not back.
‘So that was the job I felt I had to do when I started, to help Mr. Frodo to the last step and then die with him? Well, if that’s the job then I must do it.’
He leads Frodo east.
The army of the West reaches the Cross-roads in Ithilien. Only the vanguard rides with Gandalf and Aragorn up Morgul Vale, into view of Minas Morgul itself—now empty of Orcs and Nazgûl. They set the poisoned fields afire, tear down the bridge, and return to the Cross-roads.
From the Cross-roads, the Captains of the West start leading their army up the north road toward the Black Gate—the same road that Frodo, Sam, and Gollum took south into Ithilien.
On their third day of cautious hiking east along the road from the Isenmouthe toward the Barad-dûr, Sam finds muddy water in a cistern intended for Orcs. He and Frodo drink. Sam fills his water bottle for the last time.
A combined force of Orcs and Easterlings has prepared an ambush on the road in northern Ithilien—at the same narrow cutting where Faramir set his ambush a fortnight ago. But the captains of the West are wary, send scouts forward, and are able to out-flank and destroy them.
The army of the West settles into camp for the night. They sense the Nazgûl overhead, who begin following the army day and night, soaring high out of sight above them.
From the fortress of Dol Guldur in southern Mirkwood, a third and final attack is made across the Anduin against Lórien. The Orcs set fires on the edge of the forest, but cannot overcome either Elven arms or the power of Galadriel. The Orcs are driven back into the Anduin.
No longer needing any disguise as they leave the road, Frodo takes off his orc-gear. Sam drops even his beloved cooking pans into a fissure. They carry only food, water, Sting, and the gifts of the Lady as they start hiking toward the mountain across the plain of Gorgoroth.
The army of the West leaves northern Ithilien and enters the ruined land west of the Black Gate. The Lord Aragorn allows the fainthearted to turn back, asking them to re-take the isle of Cair Andros from the Orcs who retreated from Anórien.
Riding into sight of the Black Gate, the army of the West makes its final camp. In the twilight they light fires around the camp’s edge.
The army of the West enjoys little sleep through the long hours of the night. Wolves howl, and they sense that figures are walking in the darkness beyond their firelight.
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