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The Tale of Years offers several threads of story for March 5th:
- Théoden reaches Isengard at noon. Parley with Saruman in Orthanc. Winged Nazgûl passes over the camp at Dol Baran. Gandalf sets out with Peregrin for Minas Tirith. Frodo hides in sight of the Morannon, and leaves at dusk.
What it does not comment upon is that March 5th is the only date between the breaking of the Fellowship on February 26th and the Battle of the Pelennor on March 15th—a period of more than a fortnight—on which all the members of the Company of the Ring who survive west of the Anduin are together in one place: Merry and Pippin are finally reunited with the faithful friends who hunted them across the eastern plains of Rohan.
By midnight, the companions will be sundered again, as Gandalf takes Pippin and races east on Shadowfax.
March 5th has the distinction of being one of the few dates in the year explicitly mentioned in the story:
They smoked in silence for a while, and the sun shone on them, slanting into the valley from among white clouds high in the West. Legolas lay still, looking up at the sun and sky with steady eyes, and singing softly to himself. At last he sat up. ‘Come now!’ he said. ‘Time wears on, and the mists are blowing away, or would if you strange folk did not wreathe yourselves in smoke. What of the tale?’
‘Well, my tale begins with waking up in the dark and finding myself all strung-up in an orc-camp,’ said Pippin. ‘Let me see, what is today?’
‘The fifth of March in the Shire-reckoning,’ said Aragorn.
The last date of which the reader heard explicit mention was January 12th, in the snowstorm on Caradhras; the next will be March 14th as Sam sets out to find Frodo in the tower of Cirith Ungol.
In the late night Théoden and his camp are awoken by darkness rolling past on both sides of the river: the Huorn-wood is returning to Fangorn. Gandalf reassures them—‘Draw no weapons! Wait’—but they don’t get back to sleep. Soon, water starts tumbling down the Isen’s dry bed.
In the grey morning light Frodo and Sam see the Black Gate of Mordor, looming only a furlong from the pit where they cower with Gollum. Sam is reflective: ‘The Gaffer would have a thing or two to say, if he saw me now! Often said I’d come to a bad end, if I didn’t watch my step.’
Frodo stares at the Gate. ‘I purpose to enter Mordor, and I know no other way. Therefore I shall go this way. I do not ask anyone to go with me.’
Gollum is dismayed. ‘But master is going to take it to Him, straight to the Black Hand.’ He whispers about another, secret path.
Théoden’s treacherous advisor Gríma reaches Isengard—but Gandalf has already warned Treebeard. The Ent forces Gríma to join Saruman inside of Orthanc. Merry and Pippin watch Gríma wade across the flood, nearly up to his neck.
Their arrival at Isengard falls sometime after 12 pm—the narrative is specific that ‘the mists had cleared, and a pale sunlight shone. The hour of noon had passed. They were come to the doors of Isengard.’
Merry greets King Théoden at the ruined gates: ‘Welcome, my lords, to Isengard!’ Gandalf leads the king away to meet the Ents.
Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli sit down with Merry and Pippin. They share lunch, stories, and a welcome smoke of Longbottom Leaf (for all but the Elf).
Gandalf, Théoden, and their friends walk to the foot of Orthanc.
Saruman the White appears. He addresses the king. ‘My lord of Rohan, am I to be called a murderer, because valiant men have fallen in battle? … I say, Théoden King: shall we have peace and friendship, you and I?’
Théoden answers Saruman.
‘Even if your war on me was just—as it was not, for were you ten times as wise, you would have no right to rule me and mine for your own profit as you desired—even so, what will you say of your torches in Westfold and the children that lie dead there?’
‘And they hewed Háma’s body before the gates of the Hornburg, after he was dead. When you hang from a gibbet at your window for the sport of your own crows, I will have peace with you and Orthanc,’ Théoden declares. ‘Turn elsewhither. But I fear your voice has lost its charm.’
Saruman turns to go, but is dragged to the balcony rail by Gandalf’s command: ‘Come back, Saruman!
‘I am not Gandalf the Grey, whom you betrayed.
‘I am Gandalf the White who has returned from death. I cast you from the order and from the Council. Saruman, your staff is broken.’
Saruman’s staff shatters. He crawls back inside of Orthanc. Gríma hurls the palantír from a high window. It barely misses Gandalf, striking one of the steps. Pippin catches it before it rolls into a pool.
As Gandalf leads them away from Orthanc, they hear a scream.
Note that Frodo is still hanging in doubt through these events, still trying to decide whether to enter Mordor by the gates—a coincidence which is called out explicitly in the text:
‘Is it not guarded?’ Frodo repeated.
‘Yes, yes, perhaps. No safe places in this country,’ said Gollum sulkily. ‘No safe places. But master must try it or go home. No other way.’ They could not get him to say more. The name of the perilous place and the high pass he could not tell, or would not.
Its name was Cirith Ungol, a name of dreadful rumour. Aragorn could perhaps have told them that name and its significance: Gandalf would have warned them. But they were alone, and Aragorn was far away, and Gandalf stood amid the ruin of Isengard and strove with Saruman, delayed by treason. Yet even as he spoke his last words to Saruman, and the palantír crashed in fire upon the steps of Orthanc, his thought was ever upon Frodo and Samwise, over the long leagues his mind sought for them in hope and pity.
Maybe Frodo felt it…
Thus our attention turns from Isengard to the wastes in front of the Morannon.
Frodo, Sam, and Gollum cower as a Southron army passes their hiding place and enters the Black Gate. Sam asks: did they have any oliphaunts?
‘Grey as a mouse
Big as a house
Nose like a snake
I make the earth shake.’
Frodo laughs, and decides: they will try Gollum’s secret path.
Close to sunset, Treebeard bids the hobbits farewell, adding them to the Long List: ‘Hungry as hunters, the Hobbit children, the laughing-folk, the little people—they shall remain friends as long as leaves are renewed.’
They ride away south with Gandalf, Théoden, and the rest.
In the dusk, Frodo, Sam, and Gollum leave the pit where they have spent the day hidden in front of the Black Gate. They creep away west. For several hours they see a red light burning high in the Black Gate’s tower behind them, until the road finally turns south out of sight.
Pippin cannot sleep. He creeps over to Gandalf and steals the palantír. He looks in and sees the Barad-dûr, then the Nine, then hears the voice of the Dark Lord himself.
He’s released with a message: ‘Tell Saruman that this dainty is not for him. I will send for it at once.’
Gandalf confesses that he considered looking in the palantír himself—from which Pippin has saved him.
A shadow passes overhead. ‘The storm is coming,’ Gandalf cries. ‘The Nazgûl have crossed the River!’ He puts Pippin on Shadowfax and races for Minas Tirith before it’s besieged.
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