کتاب ششم - فصل 02-02

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کتاب ششم - فصل 02-02

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They soon found that it was impossible to make their way along the crest of the Morgai, or anywhere along its higher levels, pathless as they were and scored with deep ghylls. In the end they were forced to go back down the ravine that they had climbed and seek for a way along the valley. It was rough going, for they dared not cross over to the path on the westward side. After a mile or more they saw, huddled in a hollow at the cliff’s foot, the orc-hold that they had guessed was near at hand: a wall and a cluster of stone huts set about the dark mouth of a cave. There was no movement to be seen, but the hobbits crept by cautiously, keeping as much as they could to the thorn-brakes that grew thickly at this point along both sides of the old water-course.

They went two or three miles further, and the orc-hold was hidden from sight behind them; but they had hardly begun to breathe more freely again when harsh and loud they heard orc-voices. Quickly they slunk out of sight behind a brown and stunted bush. The voices drew nearer. Presently two orcs came into view. One was clad in ragged brown and was armed with a bow of horn; it was of a small breed, black-skinned, with wide and snuffling nostrils: evidently a tracker of some kind. The other was a big fighting-orc, like those of Shagrat’s company, bearing the token of the Eye. He also had a bow at his back and carried a short broad-headed spear. As usual they were quarrelling, and being of different breeds they used the Common Speech after their fashion.

Hardly twenty paces from where the hobbits lurked the small orc stopped. “Nar!” it snarled. “I’m going home.” It pointed across the valley to the orc-hold. “No good wearing my nose out on stones any more. There’s not a trace left, I say. I’ve lost the scent through giving way to you. It went up into the hills, not along the valley, I tell you.”

“Not much use are you, you little snufflers?” said the big orc. “I reckon eyes are better than your snotty noses.”

“Then what have you seen with them?” snarled the other. “Garn! You don’t even know what you’re looking for.”

“Whose blame’s that?” said the soldier. “Not mine. That comes from Higher Up. First they say it’s a great Elf in bright armour, then it’s a sort of small dwarf-man, then it must be a pack of rebel Uruk-hai; or maybe it’s all the lot together.”

“Ar!” said the tracker. “They’ve lost their heads, that’s what it is. And some of the bosses are going to lose their skins too, I guess, if what I hear is true: Tower raided and all, and hundreds of your lads done in, and prisoner got away. If that’s the way you fighters go on, small wonder there’s bad news from the battles.”

“Who says there’s bad news?” shouted the soldier.

“Ar! Who says there isn’t?”

“That’s cursed rebel-talk, and I’ll stick you, if you don’t shut it down, see?”

“All right, all right!” said the tracker. “I’ll say no more and go on thinking. But what’s the black sneak got to do with it all? That gobbler with the flapping hands?”

“I don’t know. Nothing, maybe. But he’s up to no good, nosing around, I’ll wager. Curse him! No sooner had he slipped us and run off than word came he’s wanted alive, wanted quick.”

“Well, I hope they get him and put him through it,” growled the tracker. “He messed up the scent back there, pinching that cast-off mail-shirt that he found, and paddling all round the place before I could get there.”

“It saved his life anyhow,” said the soldier. “Why, before I knew he was wanted I shot him, as neat as neat, at fifty paces right in the back; but he ran on.”

“Garn! You missed him,” said the tracker. “First you shoot wild, then you run too slow, and then you send for the poor trackers. I’ve had enough of you.” He loped off.

“You come back,” shouted the soldier, “or I’ll report you!”

“Who to? Not to your precious Shagrat. He won’t be captain any more.”

“I’ll give your name and number to the Nazgûl,” said the soldier lowering his voice to a hiss. “One of them’s in charge at the Tower now.”

The other halted, and his voice was full of fear and rage. “You cursed peaching sneakthief!” he yelled. “You can’t do your job, and you can’t even stick by your own folk. Go to your filthy Shriekers, and may they freeze the flesh off you! If the enemy doesn’t get them first. They’ve done in Number One, I’ve heard, and I hope it’s true!”

The big orc, spear in hand, leapt after him. But the tracker, springing behind a stone, put an arrow in his eye as he ran up, and he fell with a crash. The other ran off across the valley and disappeared.

For a while the hobbits sat in silence. At length Sam stirred. “Well I call that neat as neat,” he said. “If this nice friendliness would spread about in Mordor, half our trouble would be over.”

“Quietly, Sam,” Frodo whispered. “There may be others about. We have evidently had a very narrow escape, and the hunt was hotter on our tracks than we guessed. But that is the spirit of Mordor, Sam; and it has spread to every corner of it. Orcs have always behaved like that, or so all tales say, when they are on their own. But you can’t get much hope out of it. They hate us far more, altogether and all the time. If those two had seen us, they would have dropped all their quarrel until we were dead.”

There was another long silence. Sam broke it again, but with a whisper this time. “Did you hear what they said about that gobbler, Mr. Frodo? I told you Gollum wasn’t dead yet, didn’t I?”

“Yes, I remember. And I wondered how you knew,” said Frodo. “Well come now! I think we had better not move out from here again, until it has gone quite dark. So you shall tell me how you know, and all about what happened. If you can do it quietly.”

“I’ll try,” said Sam, “but when I think of that Stinker I get so hot I could shout.”

There the hobbits sat under the cover of the thorny bush, while the drear light of Mordor faded slowly into a deep and starless night; and Sam spoke into Frodo’s ear all that he could find words for of Gollum’s treacherous attack, the horror of Shelob, and his own adventures with the orcs. When he had finished, Frodo said nothing but took Sam’s hand and pressed it. At length he stirred.

“Well, I suppose we must be going on again,” he said. “I wonder how long it will be before we really are caught and all the toiling and the slinking will be over, and in vain.” He stood up. “It’s dark, and we cannot use the Lady’s glass. Keep it safe for me, Sam. I have nowhere to keep it now, except in my hand, and I shall need both hands in the blind night. But Sting I give to you. I have got an orc-blade, but I do not think it will be my part to strike any blow again.”

It was difficult and dangerous moving in the night in the pathless land; but slowly and with much stumbling the two hobbits toiled on hour by hour northward along the eastern edge of the stony valley. When a grey light crept back over the western heights, long after day had opened in the lands beyond, they went into hiding again and slept a little, turn by turn. In his times of waking Sam was busy with thoughts of food. At last when Frodo roused himself and spoke of eating and making ready for yet another effort, he asked the question that was troubling him most.

“Begging your pardon, Mr. Frodo,” he said, “but have you any notion how far there is still to go?”

“No, not any clear notion, Sam,” Frodo answered. “In Rivendell before I set out I was shown a map of Mordor that was made before the Enemy came back here; but I only remember it vaguely. I remember clearest that there was a place in the north where the western range and the northern range send out spurs that nearly meet. That must be twenty leagues at least from the bridge back by the Tower. It might be a good point at which to cross. But of course, if we get there, we shall be further than we were from the Mountain, sixty miles from it, I should think. I guess that we have gone about twelve leagues north from the bridge now. Even if all goes well, I could hardly reach the Mountain in a week. I am afraid, Sam, that the burden will get very heavy, and I shall go still slower as we get nearer.”

Sam sighed. “That’s just as I feared,” he said. “Well, to say nothing of water, we’ve got to eat less, Mr. Frodo, or else move a bit quicker, at any rate while we’re still in this valley. One more bite and all the food’s ended, save the Elves’ waybread.”

“I’ll try and be a bit quicker, Sam,” said Frodo, drawing a deep breath. “Come on then! Let’s start another march!”

It was not yet quite dark again. They plodded along, on into the night. The hours passed in a weary stumbling trudge with a few brief halts. At the first hint of grey light under the skirts of the canopy of shadow they hid themselves again in a dark hollow under an overhanging stone.

Slowly the light grew, until it was clearer than it yet had been. A strong wind from the West was now driving the fumes of Mordor from the upper airs. Before long the hobbits could make out the shape of the land for some miles about them. The trough between the mountains and the Morgai had steadily dwindled as it climbed upwards, and the inner ridge was now no more than a shelf in the steep faces of the Ephel Dúath; but to the east it fell as sheerly as ever down into Gorgoroth. Ahead the water-course came to an end in broken steps of rock; for out from the main range there sprang a high barren spur, thrusting eastward like a wall. To meet it there stretched out from the grey and misty northern range of Ered Lithui a long jutting arm; and between the ends there was a narrow gap: Carach Angren, the Isenmouthe, beyond which lay the deep dale of Udûn. In that dale behind the Morannon were the tunnels and deep armouries that the servants of Mordor had made for the defence of the Black Gate of their land; and there now their Lord was gathering in haste great forces to meet the onslaught of the Captains of the West. Upon the out-thrust spurs forts and towers were built, and watch-fires burned; and all across the gap an earth-wall had been raised, and a deep trench delved that could be crossed only by a single bridge.

A few miles north, high up in the angle where the western spur branched away from the main range, stood the old castle of Durthang, now one of the many orc-holds that clustered about the dale of Udûn. A road, already visible in the growing light, came winding down from it, until only a mile or two from where the hobbits lay it turned east and ran along a shelf cut in the side of the spur, and so went down into the plain, and on to the Isenmouthe.

To the hobbits as they looked out it seemed that all their journey north had been useless. The plain to their right was dim and smoky, and they could see there neither camps nor troops moving; but all that region was under the vigilance of the forts of Carach Angren.

“We have come to a dead end, Sam,” said Frodo. “If we go on, we shall only come up to that orc-tower, but the only road to take is that road that comes down from it - unless we go back. We can’t climb up westward, or climb down eastward.”

“Then we must take the road, Mr. Frodo,” said Sam. “We must take it and chance our luck, if there is any luck in Mordor. We might as well give ourselves up as wander about any more, or try to go back. Our food won’t last. We’ve got to make a dash for it!”

“All right, Sam,” said Frodo. “Lead me! As long as you’ve got any hope left. Mine is gone. But I can’t dash, Sam. I’ll just plod along after you.”

“Before you start any more plodding, you need sleep and food, Mr. Frodo. Come and take what you can get of them!”

He gave Frodo water and an additional wafer of the waybread, and he made a pillow of his cloak for his master’s head. Frodo was too weary to debate the matter, and Sam did not tell him that he had drunk the last drop of their water, and eaten Sam’s share of the food as well as his own. When Frodo was asleep Sam bent over him and listened to his breathing and scanned his face. It was lined and thin, and yet in sleep it looked content and unafraid. “Well, here goes, Master!” Sam muttered to himself. “I’ll have to leave you for a bit and trust to luck. Water we must have, or we’ll get no further.”

Sam crept out, and flitting from stone to stone with more than hobbit-care, he went down to the water-course, and then followed it for some way as it climbed north, until he came to the rock-steps where long ago, no doubt, its spring had come gushing down in a little waterfall. All now seemed dry and silent; but refusing to despair Sam stooped and listened, and to his delight he caught the sound of trickling. Clambering a few steps up he found a tiny stream of dark water that came out from the hill-side and filled a little bare pool, from which again it spilled, and vanished then under the barren stones.

Sam tasted the water, and it seemed good enough. Then he drank deeply, refilled the bottle, and turned to go back. At that moment he caught a glimpse of a black form or shadow flitting among the rocks away near Frodo’s hiding-place. Biting back a cry, he leapt down from the spring and ran, jumping from stone to stone. It was a wary creature, difficult to see, but Sam had little doubt about it: he longed to get his hands on its neck. But it heard him coming and slipped quickly away. Sam thought he saw a last fleeting glimpse of it, peering back over the edge of the eastward precipice, before it ducked and disappeared.

“Well, luck did not let me down,” muttered Sam, “but that was a near thing! Isn’t it enough to have orcs by the thousand without that stinking villain coming nosing round? I wish he had been shot!” He sat down by Frodo and did not rouse him; but he did not dare to go to sleep himself. At last when he felt his eyes closing and knew that his struggle to keep awake could not go on much longer, he wakened Frodo gently.

“That Gollum’s about again, I’m afraid, Mr. Frodo,” he said. “Leastways, if it wasn’t him, then there’s two of him. I went away to find some water and spied him nosing round just as I turned back. I reckon it isn’t safe for us both to sleep together, and begging your pardon, but I can’t hold up my lids much longer.”

“Bless you, Sam!” said Frodo. “Lie down and take your proper turn! But I’d rather have Gollum than orcs. At any rate he won’t give us away to them - not unless he’s caught himself.”

“But he might do a bit of robbery and murder on his own,” growled Sam. “Keep your eyes open, Mr. Frodo! There’s a bottle full of water. Drink up. We can fill it again when we go on.” With that Sam plunged into sleep.

Light was fading when he woke. Frodo sat propped against the rock behind, but he had fallen asleep. The water-bottle was empty. There was no sign of Gollum.

Mordor-dark had returned, and the watch-fires on the heights burned fierce and red, when the hobbits set out again on the most dangerous stage of all their journey. They went first to the little spring, and then climbing warily up they came to the road at the point where it swung east towards the Isenmouthe twenty miles away. It was not a broad road, and it had no wall or parapet along the edge and as it ran on the sheer drop from its brink became deeper and deeper. The hobbits could hear no movements, and after listening for a while they set off eastward at a steady pace.

After doing some twelve miles, they halted. A short way back the road had bent a little northward and the stretch that they had passed over was now screened from sight. This proved disastrous. They rested for some minutes and then went on; but they had not taken many steps when suddenly in the stillness of the night they heard the sound that all along they had secretly dreaded: the noise of marching feet. It was still some way behind them, but looking back they could see the twinkle of torches coming round the bend less than a mile away, and they were moving fast: too fast for Frodo to escape by flight along the road ahead.

“I feared it, Sam,” said Frodo. “We’ve trusted to luck, and it has failed us. We’re trapped.” He looked wildly up at the frowning wall, where the road-builders of old had cut the rock sheer for many fathoms above their heads. He ran to the other side and looked over the brink into a dark pit of gloom. “We’re trapped at last!” he said He sank to the ground beneath the wall of rock and bowed his head.

“Seems so,” said Sam. “Well, we can but wait and see.” And with that he sat down beside Frodo under the shadow of the cliff.

They did not have to wait long. The orcs were going at a great pace. Those in the foremost files bore torches. On they came, red flames in the dark, swiftly growing. Now Sam too bowed his head, hoping that it would hide his face when the torches reached them; and he set their shields before their knees to hide their feet.

“If only they are in a hurry and will let a couple of tired soldiers alone and pass on!” he thought.

And so it seemed that they would. The leading orcs came loping along, panting, holding their heads down. They were a gang of the smaller breeds being driven unwilling to their Dark Lord’s wars; all they cared for was to get the march over and escape the whip. Beside them, running up and down the line, went two of the large fierce uruks, cracking lashes and shouting. File after file passed, and the tell-tale torchlight was already some way ahead. Sam held his breath. Now more than half the line had gone by. Then suddenly one of the slave-drivers spied the two figures by the road-side. He flicked a whip at them and yelled: “Hi, you! Get up!” They did not answer, and with a shout he halted the whole company.

“Come on, you slugs!” he cried. “This is no time for slouching.” He took a step towards them, and even in the gloom he recognized the devices on their shields. “Deserting, eh?” he snarled. “Or thinking of it? All your folk should have been inside Udûn before yesterday evening. You know that. Up you get and fall in, or I’ll have your numbers and report you.”

They struggled to their feet, and keeping bent, limping like footsore soldiers, they shuffled back towards the rear of the line. “No, not at the rear!” the slave-driver shouted. “Three files up. And stay there, or you’ll know it, when I come down the line!” He sent his long whip-lash cracking over their heads; then with another crack and a yell he started the company off again at a brisk trot.

It was hard enough for poor Sam, tired as he was; but for Frodo it was a torment, and soon a nightmare. He set his teeth and tried to stop his mind from thinking, and he struggled on. The stench of the sweating orcs about him was stifling, and he began to gasp with thirst. On, on they went, and he bent all his will to draw his breath and to make his legs keep going; and yet to what evil end he toiled and endured he did not dare to think. There was no hope of falling out unseen: Now and again the orc-driver fell back and jeered at them.

“There now!” he laughed, flicking at their legs. “Where there’s a whip there’s a will, my slugs. Hold up! I’d give you a nice freshener now, only you’ll get as much lash as your skins will carry when you come in late to your camp. Do you good. Don’t you know we’re at war?”

They had gone some miles, and the road was at last running down a long slope into the plain, when Frodo’s strength began to give out and his will wavered. He lurched and stumbled. Desperately Sam tried to help him and hold him up, though he felt that he could himself hardly stay the pace much longer. At any moment now he knew that the end would come: his master would faint or fall, and all would be discovered, and their bitter efforts be in vain. “I’ll have that big slave-driving devil anyway,” he thought.

Then just as he was putting his hand to the hilt of his sword, there came an unexpected relief. They were out on the plain now and drawing near the entrance to Udûn. Some way in front of it, before the gate at the bridge-end, the road from the west converged with others coming from the south, and from Barad-dûr. Along all the roads troops were moving; for the Captains of the West were advancing and the Dark Lord was speeding his forces north. So it chanced that several companies came together at the road-meeting, in the dark beyond the light of the watch-fires on the wall. At once there was great jostling and cursing as each troop tried to get first to the gate and the ending of their march. Though the drivers yelled and plied their whips, scuffles broke out and some blades were drawn. A troop of heavy-armed uruks from Barad-dûr charged into the Durthang line and threw them into confusion.

Dazed as he was with pain and weariness, Sam woke up, grasped quickly at his chance, and threw himself to the ground, dragging Frodo down with him. Orcs fell over them, snarling and cursing. Slowly on hand and knee the hobbits crawled away out of the turmoil, until at last unnoticed they dropped over the further edge of the road. It had a high kerb by which troop-leaders could guide themselves in black night or fog, and it was banked up some feet above the level of the open land.

They lay still for a while. It was too dark to seek for cover, if indeed there was any to find; but Sam felt that they ought at least to get further away from the highways and out of the range of torch-light.

“Come on, Mr. Frodo!” he whispered. “One more crawl, and then you can lie still.”

With a last despairing effort Frodo raised himself on his hands, and struggled on for maybe twenty yards. Then he pitched down into a shallow pit that opened unexpectedly before them, and there he lay like a dead thing.

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