کتاب پنجم - فصل 03-02

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کتاب پنجم - فصل 03-02

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In the inner part of the pavilion was a small space, curtained off with broidered hangings, and strewn with skins: and there at a small table sat Théoden with Éomer and Éowyn, and Dúnhere, lord of Harrowdale. Merry stood beside the king’s stool and waited on him till presently the old man, coming out of deep thought, turned to him and smiled.

“Come, Master Meriadoc!” he said. “You shall not stand. You shall sit beside me, as long as I remain in my own lands, and lighten my heart with tales.”

Room was made for the hobbit at the king’s left hand, but no one called for any tale. There was indeed little speech, and they ate and drank for the most part in silence, until at last, plucking up courage, Merry asked the question that was tormenting him.

“Twice now, lord, I have heard of the Paths of the Dead,” he said. “What are they? And where has Strider, I mean the Lord Aragorn where has he gone?”

The king sighed, but no one answered, until at last Éomer spoke. “We do not know, and our hearts are heavy,” he said. “But as for the Paths of the Dead, you have yourself walked on their first steps. Nay. I speak no words of ill omen! The road that we have climbed is the approach to the Door, yonder in the Dimholt. But what lies beyond no man knows.”

“No man knows,” said Théoden: “yet ancient legend, now seldom spoken, has somewhat to report. If these old tales speak true that have come down from father to son in the House of Eorl, then the Door under Dwimorberg leads to a secret way that goes beneath the mountain to some forgotten end. But none have ever ventured in to search its secrets, since Baldor, son of Brego, passed the Door and was never seen among men again. A rash vow he spoke, as he drained the horn at that feast which Brego made to hallow new-built Meduseld, and he came never to the high seat of which he was the heir.

“Folk say that Dead Men out of the Dark Years guard the way and will suffer no living man to come to their hidden halls; but at whiles they may themselves be seen passing out of the door like shadows and down the stony road. Then the people of Harrowdale shut fast their doors and shroud their windows and are afraid. But the Dead come seldom forth and only at times of great unquiet and coming death.”

“Yet it is said in Harrowdale,” said Éowyn in a low voice. “that in the moonless nights but little while ago a great host in strange array passed by. Whence they came none knew, but they went up the stony road and vanished into the hill, as if they went to keep a tryst.”

“Then why has Aragorn gone that way?” asked Merry. “Don’t you know anything that would explain it?”

“Unless he has spoken words to you as his friend that we have not heard,” said Éomer, “none now in the land of the living can tell his purpose.”

“Greatly changed he seemed to me since I saw him first in the king’s house,” said Éowyn: “grimmer, older. Fey I thought him, and like one whom the Dead call.”

“Maybe he was called,” said Théoden; “and my heart tells me that I shall not see him again. Yet he is a kingly man of high destiny. And take comfort in this, daughter, since comfort you seem to need in your grief for this guest. It is said that when the Eorlingas came out of the North and passed at length up the Snowbourn, seeking strong places of refuge in time of need, Brego and his son Baldor climbed the Stair of the Hold and so came before the Door. On the threshold sat an old man, aged beyond guess of years; tall and kingly he had been, but now he was withered as an old stone. Indeed for stone they took him, for he moved not, and he said no word, until they sought to pass him by and enter. And then a voice came out of him, as it were out of the ground, and to their amaze it spoke in the western tongue: The way is shut.

“Then they halted and looked at him and saw that he lived still; but he did not look at them. The way is shut, his voice said again It was made by those who are Dead, and the Dead keep it, until the time comes. The way is shut.

“And when will that time be? said Baldor. But no answer did he ever get. For the old man died in that hour and fell upon his face; and no other tidings of the ancient dwellers in the mountains have our folk ever learned. Yet maybe at last the time foretold has come, and Aragorn may pass.”

“But how shall a man discover whether that time be come or no, save by daring the Door?” said Éomer. “And that way I would not go though all the hosts of Mordor stood before me, and I were alone and had no other refuge. Alas that a fey mood should fall on a man so greathearted in this hour of need! Are there not evil things enough abroad without seeking them under the earth? War is at hand.”

He paused, for at that moment there was a noise outside, a man’s voice crying the name of Théoden, and the challenge of the guard.

Presently the captain of the Guard thrust aside the curtain. “A man is here, lord,” he said, “an errand-rider of Gondor. He wishes to come before you at once.”

“Let him come!” said Théoden.

A tall man entered, and Merry choked back a cry; for a moment it seemed to him that Boromir was alive again and had returned. Then he saw that it was not so; the man was a stranger, though as like to Boromir as if he were one of his kin, tall and grey-eyed and proud. He was clad as a rider with a cloak of dark green over a coat of fine mail; on the front of his helm was wrought a small silver star. In his hand he bore a single arrow, black-feathered and barbed with steel, but the point was painted red.

He sank on one knee and presented the arrow to Théoden. “Hail Lord of the Rohirrim, friend of Gondor!” he said. “Hirgon I am, errand-rider of Denethor, who bring you this token of war. Gondor is in great need. Often the Rohirrim have aided us, but now the Lord Denethor asks for all your strength and all your speed; lest Gondor fall at last.”

“The Red Arrow!” said Théoden, holding it, as one who receives a summons long expected and yet dreadful when it comes. His hand trembled. “The Red Arrow has not been seen in the Mark in all my years! Has it indeed come to that? And what does the Lord Denethor reckon that all my strength and all my speed may be?”

“That is best known to yourself, lord,” said Hirgon. “But ere long it may well come to pass that Minas Tirith is surrounded, and unless you have the strength to break a siege of many powers, the Lord Denethor bids me say that he judges that the strong arms of the Rohirrim would be better within his walls than without.”

“But he knows that we are a people who fight rather upon horseback and in the open, and that we are also a scattered people and time is needed for the gathering of our Riders. Is it not true, Hirgon, that the Lord of Minas Tirith knows more than he sets in his message? For we are already at war, as you may have seen, and you do not find us all unprepared. Gandalf the Grey has been among us, and even now we are mustering for battle in the East.”

“What the Lord Denethor may know or guess of all these things I cannot say,” answered Hirgon. “But indeed our case is desperate. My lord does not issue any command to you, he begs you only to remember old friendship and oaths long spoken, and for your own good to do all that you may. It is reported to us that many kings have ridden in from the East to the service of Mordor. From the North to the field of Dagorlad there is skirmish and rumour of war. In the South the Haradrim are moving, and fear has fallen on all our coastlands, so that little help will come to us thence. Make haste! For it is before the walls of Minas Tirith that the doom of our time will be decided, and if the tide be not stemmed there, then it will flow over all the fair fields of Rohan, and even in this Hold among the hills there shall be no refuge.”

“Dark tidings,” said Théoden, “yet not all unguessed. But say to Denethor that even if Rohan itself felt no peril, still we would come to his aid. But we have suffered much loss in our battles with Saruman the traitor, and we must still think of our frontier to the north and east, as his own tidings make clear. So great a power as the Dark Lord seems now to wield might well contain us in battle before the City and yet strike with great force across the River away beyond the Gate of Kings.

“But we will speak no longer counsels of prudence. We will come. The weapontake was set for the morrow. When all is ordered we will set out. Ten thousand spears I might have sent riding over the plain to the dismay of your foes. It will be less now, I fear; for I will not leave my strongholds all unguarded. Yet six thousands at the least shall ride behind me. For say to Denethor that in this hour the King of the Mark himself will come down to the land of Gondor, though maybe he will not ride back. But it is a long road, and man and beast must reach the end with strength to fight. A week it may be from tomorrow’s morn ere you hear the cry of the Sons of Eorl coming from the North.

“A week!” said Hirgon. “If it must be so, it must. But you are like to find only ruined walls in seven days from now, unless other help unlooked-for comes. Still, you may at the least disturb the Orcs and Swarthy Men from their feasting in the White Tower.”

“At the least we will do that,” said Théoden. “But I myself am new-come from battle and long journey, and I will now go to rest. Tarry here this night. Then you shall look on the muster of Rohan and ride away the gladder for the sight, and the swifter for the rest. In the morning counsels are best, and night changes many thoughts.

With that the king stood up, and they all rose. “Go now each to your rest.” he said, “and sleep well. And you, Master Meriadoc, I need no more tonight. But be ready to my call as soon as the Sun is risen.”

“I will be ready,” said Merry, “even if you bid me ride with you on the Paths of the Dead.”

“Speak not words of omen!” said the king. “For there may be more roads than one that could bear that name. But I did not say that I would bid you ride with me on any road. Good night!”

“I won’t be left behind, to be called for on return!” said Merry. “I won’t be left, I won’t.” And repeating this over and over again to himself he fell asleep at last in his tent.

He was wakened by a man shaking him. “Wake up, wake up. Master Holbytla!” he cried; and at length Merry came out of deep dreams and sat up with a start. It still seemed very dark, he thought.

“What is the matter?” he asked.

“The king calls for you.”

“But the Sun has not risen, yet,” said Merry.

“No, and will not rise today, Master Holbytla. Nor ever again, one would think under this cloud. But time does not stand still, though the Sun be lost. Make haste!”

Flinging on some clothes, Merry looked outside. The world was darkling. The very air seemed brown, and all things about were black and grey and shadowless; there was a great stillness. No shape of cloud could be seen, unless it were far away westward, where the furthest groping fingers of the great gloom still crawled onwards and a little light leaked through them. Overhead there hung a heavy roof, sombre and featureless, and light seemed rather to be failing than growing.

Merry saw many folk standing, looking up and muttering: all their faces were grey and sad, and some were afraid. With a sinking heart he made his way to the king. Hirgon the rider of Gondor was there before him, and beside him stood now another man, like him and dressed alike, but shorter and broader. As Merry entered he was speaking to the king.

“It comes from Mordor, lord,” he said. “It began last night at sunset. From the hills in the Eastfold of your realm I saw it rise and creep across the sky, and all night as I rode it came behind eating up the stars. Now the great cloud hangs over all the land between here and the Mountains of Shadow; and it is deepening. War has already begun.”

For a while the king sat silent. At last he spoke. “So we come to it in the end,” he said: “the great battle of our time, in which many things shall pass away. But at least there is no longer need for hiding. We will ride the straight way and the open road and with all our speed. The muster shall begin at once, and wait for none that tarry. Have you good store in Minas Tirith? For if we must ride now in all haste, then we must ride light, with but meal and water enough to last us into battle.”

“We have very great store long prepared,” answered Hirgon. Ride now as light and as swift as you may!”

“Then call the heralds, Éomer,” said Théoden. “Let the Riders be marshalled!”

Éomer went out, and presently the trumpets rang in the Hold and were answered by many others from below; but their voices no longer sounded clear and brave as they had seemed to Merry the night before. Dull they seemed and harsh in the heavy air, braying ominously.

The king turned to Merry. “I am going to war, Master Meriadoc,” he said. “In a little while I shall take the road. I release you from my service, but not from my friendship. You shall abide here, and if you will, you shall serve the Lady Éowyn, who will govern the folk in my stead.”

“But, but, lord,” Merry stammered, “I offered you my sword. I do not want to be parted from you like this, Théoden King. And as all my friends have gone to the battle’ I should be ashamed to stay behind.”

“But we ride on horses tall and swift,” said Théoden; “and great though your heart be, you cannot ride on such beasts.”

“Then tie me on to the back of one, or let me hang on a stirrup, or something,” said Merry. “It is a long way to run; but run I shall, if I cannot ride, even if I wear my feet off and arrive weeks too late.”

Théoden smiled. “Rather than that I would bear you with me on Snowmane,” he said. “But at the least you shall ride with me to Edoras and look on Meduseld; for that way I shall go. So far Stybba can bear you: the great race will not begin till we reach the plains.”

Then Éowyn rose up. “Come now, Meriadoc!” she said. “I will show you the gear that I have prepared fur you.” They went out together. “This request only did Aragorn make to me,” said Éowyn, as they passed among the tents, “that you should be armed for battle. I have granted it, as I could. For my heart tells me that you will need such gear ere the end.”

Now she led Merry to a booth among the lodges of the king’s guard and there an armourer brought out to her a small helm, and a round shield, and other gear.

“No mail have we to fit you,” said Éowyn, “nor any time for the forging of such a hauberk; but here is also a stout jerkin of leather, a belt, and a knife. A sword you have.”

Merry bowed, and the lady showed him the shield, which was like the shield that had been given to Gimli, and it bore on it the device of the white horse. “Take all these things,” she said, “and bear them to good fortune! Farewell now, Master Meriadoc! Yet maybe we shall meet again, you and I.”

So it was that amid a gathering gloom the King of the Mark made ready to lead all his Riders on the eastward road. Hearts were heavy and many quailed in the shadow. But they were a stern people, loyal to their lord, and little weeping or murmuring was heard, even in the camp in the Hold where the exiles from Edoras were housed, women and children and old men. Doom hung over them, but they faced it silently.

Two swift hours passed, and now the king sat upon his white horse, glimmering in the half light. Proud and tall he seemed, though the hair that flowed beneath his high helm was like snow; and many marvelled at him and took heart to see him unbent and unafraid.

There on the wide flats beside the noisy river were marshalled in many companies well nigh five and fifty hundreds of Riders fully armed, and many hundreds of other men with spare horses lightly burdened. A single trumpet sounded. The king raised his hand, and then silently the host of the Mark began to move. Foremost went twelve of the king’s household-men, Riders of renown. Then the king followed with Éomer on his right. He had said farewell to Éowyn above in the Hold, and the memory was grievous; but now he turned his mind to the road that lay ahead. Behind him Merry rode on Stybba with the errand riders of Gondor, and behind them again twelve more of the king’s household. They passed down the long ranks of waiting men with stern and unmoved faces. But when they had come almost to the end of the line one looked up glancing keenly at the hobbit. A young man, Merry thought as he returned the glance, less in height and girth than most. He caught the glint of clear grey eyes; and then he shivered, for it came suddenly to him that it was the face of one without hope who goes in search of death.

On down the grey road they went beside the Snowbourn rushing on its stones; through the hamlets of Underharrow and Upbourn, where many sad faces of women looked out from dark doors; and so without horn or harp or music of men’s voices the great ride into the East began with which the songs of Rohan were busy for many long lives of men thereafter.

From dark Dunharrow in the dim morning

with thane and captain rode Thengel’s son:

to Edoras he came, the ancient halls

of the Mark-wardens mist-enshrouded;

golden timbers were in gloom mantled.

Farewell he bade to his free people,

hearth and high-seat, and the hallowed places,

where long he had feasted ere the light faded.

Forth rode the king, fear behind him,

fate before him. Fealty kept he;

oaths he had taken, all fulfilled them.

Forth rode Théoden. Five nights and days

east and onward rode the Eorlingas

through Folde and Fenmarch and the Firienwood,

six thousand spears to Sunlending,

Mundburg the mighty under Mindolluin,

Sea-kings’ city in the South-kingdom

foe-beleaguered, fire-encircled.

Doom drove them on. Darkness took them,

Horse and horseman; hoofbeats afar

sank into silence: so the songs tell us.

It was indeed in deepening gloom that the king came to Edoras, although it was then but noon by the hour. There he halted only a short while and strengthened his host by some three score of Riders that came late to the weapontake. Now having eaten he made ready to set out again, and he wished his esquire a kindly farewell. But Merry begged for the last time not to be parted from him.

“This is no journey for such steeds as Stybba, as I have told you “ said Théoden. “And in such a battle as we think to make on the fields of Gondor what would you do, Master Meriadoc, sword-thain though you be, and greater of heart than of stature?”

“As for that, who can tell?” answered Merry. “But why, lord, did you receive me as sword-thain, if not to stay by your side? And I would not have it said of me in song only that I was always left behind!”

“I received you for your safe-keeping,” answered Théoden; “and also to do as I might bid. None of my Riders can bear you as burden. If the battle were before my gates, maybe your deeds would be remembered by the minstrels; but it is a hundred leagues and two to Mundburg where Denethor is lord. I will say no more.”

Merry bowed and went away unhappily, and stared at the lines of horsemen. Already the companies were preparing to start: men were tightening girths, looking to saddles, caressing their horses; some gazed uneasily at the lowering sky. Unnoticed a Rider came up and spoke softly in the hobbit’s ear.

“Where will wants not, a way opens, so we say,” he whispered; “and so I have found myself.” Merry looked up and saw that it was the young Rider whom he had noticed in the morning. “You wish to go whither the Lord of the Mark goes: I see it in your face.”

“I do,” said Merry.

“Then you shall go with me,” said the Rider. “I will bear you before me, under my cloak until we are far afield, and this darkness is yet darker. Such good will should not be denied. Say no more to any man, but come!”

“Thank you indeed!” said Merry. “Thank you, sir, though I do not know your name.”

“Do you not?” said the Rider softly. “Then call me Dernhelm.”

Thus it came to pass that when the king set out, before Dernhelm sat Meriadoc the hobbit, and the great grey steed Windfola made little of the burden; for Dernhelm was less in weight than many men, though lithe and well-knit in frame.

On into the shadow they rode. In the willow-thickets where Snowbourn flowed into Entwash, twelve leagues east of Edoras, they camped that night. And then on again through the Folde; and through the Fenmarch, where to their right great oakwoods climbed on the skirts of the hills under the shades of dark Halifirien by the borders of Gondor; but away to their left the mists lay on the marshes fed by the mouths of Entwash. And as they rode rumour came of war in the North. Lone men, riding wild, brought word of foes assailing their east-borders, of orc-hosts marching in the Wold of Rohan.

“Ride on! Ride on!” cried Éomer. “Too late now to turn aside. The fens of Entwash must guard our flank. Haste now we need. Ride on!”

And so King Théoden departed from his own realm, and mile by mile the long road wound away, and the beacon hills marched past: Calenhad, Min-Rimmon, Erelas, Nardol. But their fires were quenched. All the lands were grey and still; and ever the shadow deepened before them, and hope waned in every heart.

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