کتاب پنجم - فصل 02-01

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کتاب پنجم - فصل 02-01

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Chapter 2:

The Passing of the Grey Company

Gandalf was gone, and the thudding hoofs of Shadowfax were lost in the night, when Merry came back to Aragorn. He had only a light bundle, for he had lost his pack at Parth Galen, and all he had was a few useful things he had picked up among the wreckage of Isengard. Hasufel was already saddled. Legolas and Gimli with their horse stood close by.

“So four of the Company still remain,” said Aragorn. “We will ride on together. But we shall not go alone, as I thought. The king is now determined to set out at once. Since the coming of the winged shadow, he desires to return to the hills under cover of night.”

“And then whither?” said Legolas.

“I cannot say yet,” Aragorn answered. “As for the king, he will go to the muster that he commanded at Edoras, four nights from now. And there, I think, he will hear tidings of war, and the Riders of Rohan will go down to Minas Tirith. But for myself, and any that will go with me . . .”

“I for one!” cried Legolas. “And Gimli with him!” said the Dwarf.

“Well, for myself,” said Aragorn, “it is dark before me. I must go down also to Minas Tirith, but I do not yet see the road. An hour long prepared approaches.”

“Don’t leave me behind!” said Merry. “I have not been of much use yet; but I don’t want to be laid aside, like baggage to be called for when all is over. I don’t think the Riders will want to be bothered with me now. Though, of course, the king did say that I was to sit by him when he came to his house and tell him all about the Shire.”

“Yes,” said Aragorn, “and your road lies with him, I think, Merry. But do not look for mirth at the ending. It will be long, I fear, ere Théoden sits at ease again in Meduseld. Many hopes will wither in this bitter Spring.”

Soon all were ready to depart: twenty-four horses, with Gimli behind Legolas, and Merry in front of Aragorn. Presently they were riding swiftly through the night. They had not long passed the mounds at the Fords of Isen, when a Rider galloped up from the rear of their line.

“My lord,” he said to the king, “there are horsemen behind us. As we crossed the fords I thought that I heard them. Now we are sure. They are overtaking us, riding hard.”

Théoden at once called a halt. The Riders turned about and seized their spears. Aragorn dismounted and set Merry on the ground, and drawing his sword he stood by the king’s stirrup. Éomer and his esquire rode back to the rear. Merry felt more like unneeded baggage than ever, and he wondered, if there was a fight, what he should do. Supposing the king’s small escort was trapped and overcome, but he escaped into the darkness - alone in the wild fields of Rohan with no idea of where he was in all the endless miles? “No good!” he thought. He drew his sword and tightened his belt.

The sinking moon was obscured by a great sailing cloud, but suddenly it rode out clear again. Then they all heard the sound of hoofs, and at the same moment they saw dark shapes coming swiftly on the path from the fords. The moonlight glinted here and there on the points of spears. The number of the pursuers could not be told, but they seemed no fewer than the king’s escort, at the least.

When they were some fifty paces off, Éomer cried in a loud voice: “Halt! Halt! Who rides in Rohan?”

The pursuers brought their steeds to a sudden stand. A silence followed: and then in the moonlight, a horseman could be seen dismounting and walking slowly forward. His hand showed white as he held it up, palm outward, in token of peace; but the king’s men gripped their weapons. At ten paces the man stopped. He was tall, a dark standing shadow. Then his clear voice rang out.

“Rohan? Rohan did you say? That is a glad word. We seek that land in haste from long afar.”

“You have found it,” said Éomer. “When you crossed the fords yonder you entered it. But it is the realm of Théoden the King. None ride here save by his leave. Who are you? And what is your haste?”

“Halbarad Dúnadan, Ranger of the North I am,” cried the man. “We seek one Aragorn son of Arathorn, and we heard that he was in Rohan.”

“And you have found him also!” cried Aragorn. Giving his reins to Merry, he ran forward and embraced the newcomer. “Halbarad!” he said. “Of all joys this is the least expected!”

Merry breathed a sigh of relief. He had thought that this was some last trick of Saruman’s, to waylay the king while he had only a few men about him; but it seemed that there would be no need to die in Théoden’s defence, not yet at any rate. He sheathed his sword.

“All is well,” said Aragorn, turning back. “Here are some of my own kin from the far land where I dwelt. But why they come, and how many they be, Halbarad shall tell us.”

“I have thirty with me,” said Halbarad. “That is all of our kindred that could be gathered in haste; but the brethren Elladan and Elrohir have ridden with us, desiring to go to the war. We rode as swiftly as we might when your summons came.”

“But I did not summon you,” said Aragorn, “save only in wish. My thoughts have often turned to you, and seldom more than tonight; yet I have sent no word. But come! All such matters must wait. You find us riding in haste and danger. Ride with us now, if the king will give his leave.”

Théoden was indeed glad of the news. “It is well!” he said. “If these kinsmen be in any way like to yourself, my lord Aragorn, thirty such knights will be a strength that cannot be counted by heads.”

Then the Riders set out again, and Aragorn for a while rode with the Dúnedain; and when they had spoken of tidings in the North and in the South, Elrohir said to him:

“I bring word to you from my father: The days are short. If thou art in haste, remember the Paths of the Dead.”

“Always my days have seemed to me too short to achieve my desire,” answered Aragorn. “But great indeed will be my haste ere I take that road.”

“That will soon be seen,” said Elrohir. “But let us speak no more of these things upon the open road!”

And Aragorn said to Halbarad: “What is that that you bear, kinsman?” For he saw that instead of a spear he bore a tall staff, as it were a standard, but it was close-furled in a black cloth bound about with many thongs.

“It is a gift that I bring you from the Lady of Rivendell,” answered Halbarad. “She wrought it in secret, and long was the making. But she also sends word to you: The days now are short. Either our hope cometh, or all hopes end. Therefore I send thee what I have made for thee. Fare well, Elfstone!’

And Aragorn said: “Now I know what you bear. Bear it still for me a while!” And he turned and looked away to the North under the great stars, and then he fell silent and spoke no more while the night’s journey lasted.

The night was old and the East grey when they rode up at last from Deeping-coomb and came back to the Hornburg. There they were to lie and rest for a brief while and take counsel.

Merry slept until he was roused by Legolas and Gimli. “The Sun is high,” said Legolas. “All others are up and doing. Come, Master Sluggard, and look at this place while you may!”

“There was a battle here three nights ago,” said Gimli, “and here Legolas and I played a game that I won only by a single orc. Come and see how it was! And there are caves, Merry, caves of wonder! Shall we visit them, Legolas, do you think?”

“Nay! There is no time,” said the Elf. “Do not spoil the wonder with haste! I have given you my word to return hither with you, if a day of peace and freedom comes again. But it is now near to noon, and at that hour we eat, and then set out again, I hear.”

Merry got up and yawned. His few hours’ sleep had not been nearly enough; he was tired and rather dismal. He missed Pippin, and felt that he was only a burden, while everybody was making plans for speed in a business that he did not fully understand. “Where is Aragorn?” he asked.

“In a high chamber of the Burg,” said Legolas. “He has neither rested nor slept, I think. He went thither some hours ago, saying that he must take thought, and only his kinsman, Halbarad, went with him; but some dark doubt or care sits on him.”

“They are a strange company, these newcomers,” said Gimli. “Stout men and lordly they are, and the Riders of Rohan look almost as boys beside them; for they are grim men of face, worn like weathered rocks for the most part, even as Aragorn himself; and they are silent.”

“But even as Aragorn they are courteous, if they break their silence.” said Legolas. “And have you marked the brethren Elladan and Elrohir? Less sombre is their gear than the others’, and they are fair and gallant as Elven-lords; and that is not to be wondered at in the sons of Elrond of Rivendell.”

“Why have they come? Have you heard?” asked Merry. He had now dressed, and he flung his grey cloak about his shoulders; and the three passed out together towards the ruined gate of the Burg.

“They answered a summons, as you heard,” said Gimli. “Word came to Rivendell, they say: Aragorn has need of his kindred. Let the Dúnedain ride to him in Rohan! But whence this message came they are now in doubt. Gandalf sent it, I would guess.”

“Nay, Galadriel,” said Legolas. “Did she not speak through Gandalf of the ride of the Grey Company from the North?”

“Yes, you have it,” said Gimli. “The Lady of the Wood! She read many hearts and desires. Now why did not we wish for some of our own kinsfolk, Legolas?”

Legolas stood before the gate and turned his bright eyes away north and east, and his fair face was troubled. “I do not think that any would come,” he answered. “They have no need to ride to war; war already marches on their own lands.”

For a while the three companions walked together, speaking of this and that turn of the battle, and they went down from the broken gate, and passed the mounds of the fallen on the greensward beside the road, until they stood on Helm’s Dike and looked into the Coomb. The Death Down already stood there, black and tall and stony, and the great trampling and scoring of the grass by the Huorns could be plainly seen. The Dunlendings and many men of the garrison of the Burg were at work on the Dike or in the fields and about the battered walls behind; yet all seemed strangely quiet: a weary valley resting after a great storm. Soon they turned back and went to the midday meal in the hall of the Burg.

The king was already there, and as soon as they entered he called for Merry and had a seat set for him at his side. “It is not as I would have it,” said Théoden; “for this is little like my fair house in Edoras. And your friend is gone, who should also be here. But it may be long ere we sit, you and I, at the high table in Meduseld; there will be no time for feasting when I return thither. But come now! Eat and drink, and let us speak together while we may. And then you shall ride with me.”

“May I?” said Merry, surprised and delighted. “That would be splendid!” He had never felt more grateful for any kindness in words. “I am afraid I am only in everybody’s way,” he stammered; “but I should like to do anything I could, you know.”

“I doubt it not,” said the king. “I have had a good hill-pony made ready for you. He will bear you as swift as any horse by the roads that we shall take. For I will ride from the Burg by mountain paths, not by the plain, and so come to Edoras by way of Dunharrow where the Lady Éowyn awaits me. You shall be my esquire, if you will. Is there gear of war in this place, Éomer, that my sword-thain could use?”

“There are no great weapon-hoards here, lord.” answered Éomer. “Maybe a light helm might be found to fit him; but we have no mail or sword for one of his stature.”

“I have a sword,” said Merry, climbing from his seat, and drawing from its black sheath his small bright blade. Filled suddenly with love for this old man, he knelt on one knee, and took his hand and kissed it. “May I lay the sword of Meriadoc of the Shire on your lap Théoden King?” he cried. “Receive my service, if you will!”

“Gladly will I take it,” said the king; and laying his long old hands upon the brown hair of the hobbit; he blessed him. “Rise now, Meriadoc, esquire of Rohan of the household of Meduseld!” he said. “Take your sword and bear it unto good fortune!”

“As a father you shall be to me,” said Merry.

“For a little while,” said Théoden.

They talked then together as they ate, until presently Éomer spoke. “It is near the hour that we set for our going, lord,” he said. “Shall I bid men sound the horns? But where is Aragorn? His place is empty and he has not eaten.”

“We will make ready to ride,” said Théoden; “but let word be sent to the Lord Aragorn that the hour is nigh.”

The king with his guard and Merry at his side passed down from the gate of the Burg to where the Riders were assembling on the green. Many were already mounted. It would be a great company; for the king was leaving only a small garrison in the Burg, and all who could be spared were riding to the weapontake at Edoras. A thousand spears had indeed already ridden away at night; but still there would be some five hundred more to go with the king, for the most part men from the fields and dales of Westfold.

A little apart the Rangers sat, silent, in an ordered company, armed with spear and bow and sword. They were clad in cloaks of dark grey, and their hoods were cast now over helm and head. Their horses were strong and of proud bearing, but rough-haired; and one stood there without a rider, Aragorn’s own horse that they had brought from the North; Roheryn was his name. There was no gleam of stone or gold, nor any fair thing in all their gear and harness: nor did their riders bear any badge or token, save only that each cloak was pinned upon the left shoulder by a brooch of silver shaped like a rayed star.

The king mounted his horse, Snowmane, and Merry sat beside him on his pony: Stybba was his name. Presently Éomer came out from the gate, and with him was Aragorn, and Halbarad bearing the great staff close-furled in black, and two tall men, neither young nor old So much alike were they, the sons of Elrond, that few could tell them apart: dark-haired, grey-eyed, and their faces elven-fair, clad alike in bright mail beneath cloaks of silver-grey. Behind them walked Legolas and Gimli. But Merry had eyes only for Aragorn, so startling was the change that he saw in him, as if in one night many years had fallen on his head. Grim was his face, grey-hued and weary.

“I am troubled in mind, lord,” he said, standing by the king’s horse. “I have heard strange words, and I see new perils far off. I have laboured long in thought, and now I fear that I must change my purpose. Tell me, Théoden, you ride now to Dunharrow, how long will it be ere you come there?”

“It is now a full hour past noon,” said Éomer. “Before the night of the third day from now we should come to the Hold. The Moon will then be one night past his full, and the muster that the king commanded will be held the day after. More speed we cannot make, if the strength of Rohan is to be gathered.”

Aragorn was silent for a moment. “Three days,” he murmured, “and the muster of Rohan will only be begun. But I see that it cannot now be hastened.” He looked up, and it seemed that he had made some decision; his face was less troubled. Then, by our leave, lord, I must take new counsel for myself and my kindred. We must ride our own road, and no longer in secret. For me the time of stealth has passed. I will ride east by the swiftest way, and I will take the Paths of the Dead.”

“The Paths of the Dead!” said Théoden, and trembled. “Why do you speak of them?” Éomer turned and gazed at Aragorn, and it seemed to Merry that the faces of the Riders that sat within hearing turned pale at the words. “If there be in truth such paths,” said Théoden, “their gate is in Dunharrow; but no living man may pass it.”

“Alas! Aragorn my friend!” said Éomer. “I had hoped that we should ride to war together; but if you seek the Paths of the Dead, then our parting is come, and it is little likely that we shall ever meet again under the Sun.”

“That road I will take, nonetheless,” said Aragorn. “But I say to you, Éomer, that in battle we may yet meet again, though all the hosts of Mordor should stand between.”

“You will do as you will, my lord Aragorn,” said Théoden. “It is your doom, maybe, to tread strange paths that others dare not. This parting grieves me, and my strength is lessened by it; but now I must take the mountain-roads and delay no longer. Farewell!”

“Farewell, lord!” said Aragorn. “Ride unto great renown! Farewell, Merry! I leave you in good hands, better than we hoped when we hunted the orcs to Fangorn. Legolas and Gimli will still hunt with me, I hope; but we shall not forget you.”

“Good-bye!” said Merry. He could find no more to say. He felt very small, and he was puzzled and depressed by all these gloomy words. More than ever he missed the unquenchable cheerfulness of Pippin. The Riders were ready, and their horses were fidgeting; he wished they would start arid get it over.

Now Théoden spoke to Éomer, and he lifted up his hand and cried aloud, and with that word the Riders set forth. They rode over the Dike and down the Coomb, and then, turning swiftly eastwards, they took a path that skirted the foothills for a mile or so, until bending south it passed back among the hills and disappeared from view. Aragorn rode to the Dike and watched till the king’s men were far down the Coomb. Then he turned to Halbarad.

“There go three that I love, and the smallest not the least,” he said. “He knows not to what end he rides; yet if he knew, he still would go on.”

“A little people, but of great worth are the Shire-folk,” said Halbarad. “Little do they know of our long labour for the safekeeping of their borders, and yet I grudge it not.”

“And now our fates are woven together,” said Aragorn. “And yet, alas! here we must part. Well, I must eat a little, and then we also must hasten away. Come, Legolas and Gimli! I must speak with you as I eat.”

Together they went back into the Burg; yet for some time Aragorn sat silent at the table in the hall, and the others waited for him to speak. “Come!” said Legolas at last. “Speak and be comforted, and shake off the shadow! What has happened since we came back to this grim place in the grey morning?”

“A struggle somewhat grimmer for my part than the battle of the Hornburg,” answered Aragorn. “I have looked in the Stone of Orthanc, my friends.”

“You have looked in that accursed stone of wizardry!” exclaimed Gimli with fear and astonishment in his face. “Did you say aught to - him? Even Gandalf feared that encounter.”

“You forget to whom you speak,” said Aragorn sternly, and his eyes glinted. “Did I not openly proclaim my title before the doors of Edoras? What do you fear that I should say to him? Nay, Gimli,” he said in a softer voice, and the grimness left his face, and he looked like one who has laboured in sleepless pain for many nights. “Nay, my friends, I and the lawful master of the Stone, and I had both the right and the strength to use it, or so I judged. The right cannot be doubted. The strength was enough - barely.”

He drew a deep breath. “It was a bitter struggle, and the weariness is slow to pass. I spoke no word to him, and in the end I wrenched the Stone to my own will. That alone he will find hard to endure. And he beheld me. Yes, Master Gimli, he saw me, but in other guise than you see me here. If that will aid him, then I have done ill. But I do not think so. To know that I lived and walked the earth was a blow to his heart, I deem; for he knew it not till now. The eyes in Orthanc did not see through the armour of Théoden; but Sauron has not forgotten Isildur and the sword of Elendil. Now in the very hour of his great designs the heir of Isildur and the Sword are revealed; for I showed the blade re-forged to him. He is not so mighty yet that he is above fear; nay, doubt ever gnaws him.”

“But he wields great dominion, nonetheless,” said Gimli; “and now he will strike more swiftly.”

“The hasty stroke goes oft astray,” said Aragorn. “We must press our Enemy, and no longer wait upon him for the move. See my friends, when I had mastered the Stone, I learned many things. A grave peril I saw coming unlooked-for upon Gondor from the South that will draw off great strength from the defence of Minas Tirith. If it is not countered swiftly, I deem that the City will be lost ere ten days be gone.”

“Then lost it must be,” said Gimli. “For what help is there to send thither, and how could it come there in time?”

“I have no help to send, therefore I must go myself,” said Aragorn. “But there is only one way through the mountains that will bring me to the coastlands before all is lost. That is the Paths of the Dead.”

“The Paths of the Dead!” said Gimli. “It is a fell name; and little to the liking to the Men of Rohan, as I saw. Can the living use such a road and not perish? And even if you pass that way, what will so few avail to counter the strokes of Mordor?”

“The living have never used that road since the coming of the Rohirrim,” said Aragorn, “for it is closed to them. But in this dark hour the heir of Isildur may use it, if he dare. Listen! This is the word that the sons of Elrond bring to me from their father in Rivendell, wisest in lore: Bid Aragorn remember the words of the seer, and the Paths of the Dead.”

“And what may be the words of the seer?” said Legolas.

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