کتاب سوم - فصل 02-01

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کتاب سوم - فصل 02-01

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Chapter 2:

The Riders of Rohan

Dusk deepened. Mist lay behind them among the trees below, and brooded on the pale margins of the Anduin, but the sky was clear. Stars came out. The waxing moon was riding in the West, and the shadows of the rocks were black. They had come to the feet of stony hills, and their pace was slower, for the trail was no longer easy to follow. Here the highlands of the Emyn Muil ran from North to South in two long tumbled ridges. The western side of each ridge was steep and difficult, but the eastward slopes were gentler, furrowed with many gullies and narrow ravines. All night the three companions scrambled in this bony land, climbing to the crest of the first and tallest ridge, and down again into the darkness of a deep winding valley on the other side.

There in the still cool hour before dawn they rested for a brief space. The moon had long gone down before them, the stars glittered above them; the first light of day had not yet come over the dark hills behind. For the moment Aragorn was at a loss: the orc-trail had descended into the valley, but there it had vanished.

“Which way would they turn, do you think?” said Legolas. “Northward to take a straighter road to Isengard, or Fangorn, if that is their aim as you guess? Or southward to strike the Entwash?”

“They will not make for the river, whatever mark they aim at’’ said Aragorn. “And unless there is much amiss in Rohan and the power of Saruman is greatly increased; they will take the shortest way that they can find over the fields of the Rohirrim. Let us search northwards!”

The dale ran like a stony trough between the ridged hills, and a trickling stream flowed among the boulders at the bottom. A cliff frowned upon their right; to their left rose grey slopes, dim and shadowy in the late night. They went on for a mile or more northwards. Aragorn was searching. bent towards the ground, among the folds and gullies leading up into the western ridge. Legolas was some way ahead. Suddenly the Elf gave a cry and the others came running towards him.

“We have already overtaken some of those that we are hunting,” he said. “Look!” He pointed, and they saw that what they had at first taken to be boulders lying at the foot of the slope were huddled bodies. Five dead Orcs lay there. They had been hewn with many cruel strokes, and two had been beheaded. The ground was wet with their dark blood.

“Here is another riddle!” said Gimli. “But it needs the light of day and for that we cannot wait.”

“Yet however you read it, it seems not unhopeful,” said Legolas. “Enemies of the Orcs are likely to be our friends. Do any folk dwell in these hills?”

“No,” said Aragorn. “The Rohirrim seldom come here, and it is far from Minas Tirith. It might be that some company of Men were hunting here for reasons that we do not know. Yet I think not.”

“What do you think?” said Gimli.

“I think that the enemy brought his own enemy with him,” answered Aragorn. “These are Northern Orcs from far away. Among the slain are none of the great Orcs with the strange badges. There was a quarrel, I guess: it is no uncommon thing with these foul folk. Maybe there was some dispute about the road.”

“Or about the captives,” said Gimli. “Let us hope that they, too, did not meet their end here.”

Aragorn searched the ground in a wide circle, but no other traces of the fight could be found. They went on. Already the eastward sky was turning pale; the stars were fading, and a grey light was slowly growing. A little further north they came to a fold in which a tiny stream, falling and winding, had cut a stony path down into the valley. In it some bushes grew, and there were patches of grass upon its sides.

“At last!” said Aragorn. “Here are the tracks that we seek! Up this water-channel: this is the way that the Orcs went after their debate.”

Swiftly now the pursuers turned and followed the new path. As if fresh from a night’s rest they sprang from stone to stone. At last they reached the crest of the grey hill, and a sudden breeze blew in their hair and stirred their cloaks: the chill wind of dawn.

Turning back they saw across the River the far hills kindled. Day leaped into the sky. The red rim of the sun rose over the shoulders of the dark land. Before them in the West the world lay still, formless and grey; but even as they looked, the shadows of night melted, the colours of the waking earth returned: green flowed over the wide meads of Rohan; the white mists shimmered in the watervales; and far off to the left, thirty leagues or more, blue and purple stood the White Mountains, rising into peaks of jet, tipped with glimmering snows, flushed with the rose of morning.

“Gondor! Gondor!” cried Aragorn. “Would that I looked on you again in happier hour! Not yet does my road lie southward to your bright streams.

Gondor! Gondor, between the Mountains and the Sea!

West Wind blew there; the light upon the Silver Tree

Fell like bright rain in gardens of the Kings of old.

O proud walls! White towers! O winged crown and throne of gold!

O Gondor, Gondor! Shall Men behold the Silver Tree,

Or West Wind blow again between the Mountains and the Sea?”

“Now let us go!” he said, drawing his eyes away from the South, and looking out west and north to the way that he must tread.

The ridge upon which the companions stood went down steeply before their feet. Below it twenty fathoms or more, there was a wide and rugged shelf which ended suddenly in the brink of a sheer cliff: the East Wall of Rohan. So ended the Emyn Muil, and the green plains of the Rohirrim stretched away before them to the edge of sight.

“Look!” cried Legolas, pointing up into the pale sky above them. “There is the eagle again! He is very high. He seems to be flying now away, from this land back to the North. He is going with great speed. Look!”

“No, not even my eyes can see him, my good Legolas,” said Aragorn. “He must be far aloft indeed. I wonder what is his errand, if he is the same bird that I have seen before. But look! I can see something nearer at hand and more urgent; there is something moving over the plain!”

“Many things,” said Legolas. “It is a great company on foot; but I cannot say more, nor see what kind of folk they may be. They are many leagues away: twelve, I guess; but the flatness of the plain is hard to measure.”

“I think, nonetheless, that we no longer need any trail to tell us which way to go,” said Gimli. “Let us find a path down to the fields as quick as may be.”

“I doubt if you will find a path quicker than the one that the Orcs chose,” said Aragorn.

They followed their enemies now by the clear light of day. It seemed that the Orcs had pressed on with all possible speed. Every now and again the pursuers found things that had been dropped or cast away: food-bags, the rinds and crusts of hard grey bread. a torn black cloak, a heavy iron-nailed shoe broken on the stones. The trail led them north along the top of the escarpment, and at length they came to a deep cleft carved in the rock by a stream that splashed noisily down. In the narrow ravine a rough path descended like a steep stair into the plain.

At the bottom they came with a strange suddenness on the grass of Rohan. It swelled like a green sea up to the very foot of the Emyn Muil. The falling stream vanished into a deep growth of cresses and water-plants, and they could hear it tinkling away in green tunnels, down long gentle slopes towards the fens of Entwash Vale far away. They seemed to have left winter clinging to the hills behind. Here the air was softer and warmer, and faintly scented, as if spring was already stirring and the sap was flowing again in herb and leaf. Legolas took a deep breath, like one that drinks a great draught after long thirst in barren places.

“Ah! the green smell!” he said. “It is better than much sleep. Let us run!”

“Light feet may run swiftly here,” said Aragorn. “More swiftly, maybe, than iron-shod Orcs. Now we have a chance to lessen their lead!”

They went in single file, running like hounds on a strong scent, and an eager light was in their eyes. Nearly due west the broad swath of the marching Orcs tramped its ugly slot; the sweet grass of Rohan had been bruised and blackened as they passed. Presently Aragorn gave a cry and turned aside. “Stay!” he shouted. “Do not follow me yet!” He ran quickly to the right, away from the main trail; for he had seen footprints that went that way, branching off from the others, the marks of small unshod feet. These, however, did not go far before they were crossed by orc-prints, also coming out from the main trail behind and in front, and then they curved sharply back again and were lost in the trampling. At the furthest point Aragorn stooped and picked up something from the grass; then he ran back.

“Yes,” he said,”they are quite plain: a hobbit’s footprints. Pippin’s I think. He is smaller than the other. And look at this! He held up a thing that glittered in the sunlight. It looked like the new-opened leaf of a beech-tree, fair and strange in that treeless plain.

“The brooch of an elven-cloak!” cried Legolas and Gimli together.

“Not idly do the leaves of Lórien fall,” said Aragorn. “This did not drop by chance: it was cast away as a token to any that might follow. I think Pippin ran away from the trail for that purpose.”

“Then he at least was alive,” said Gimli. “And he had the use of his wits, and of his legs too. That is heartening. We do not pursue in vain.”

“Let us hope that he did not pay too dearly for his boldness,” said Legolas. “Come! Let us go on! The thought of those merry young folk driven like cattle burns my heart.”

The sun climbed to the noon and then rode slowly down the sky. Light clouds came up out of the sea in the distant South and were blown away upon the breeze. The sun sank. Shadows rose behind and reached out long arms from the East. Still the hunters held on. One day now had passed since Boromir fell, and the Orcs were yet far ahead. No longer could any sight of them be seen in the level plains.

As nightshade was closing about them Aragorn halted. Only twice in the day’s march had they rested for a brief while, and twelve leagues now lay between them and the eastern wall where they had stood at dawn.

“We have come at last to a hard choice,” he said. “Shall we rest by night, or shall we go on while our will and strength hold?”

“Unless our enemies rest also, they will leave us far behind, if we stay to sleep.” said Legolas. “Surely even Orcs must pause on the march?” said Gimli. “Seldom will Orcs journey in the open under the sun. yet these have done so,” said Legolas. “Certainly they will not rest by night.”

“But if we walk by night, we cannot follow their trail,” said Gimli.

“The trail is straight, and turns neither right nor left, as far as my eyes can see,” said Legolas.

“Maybe, I could lead you at guess in the darkness and hold to the line,” said Aragorn; ‘but if we strayed, or they turned aside, then when light came there might be long delay before the trail was found again.”

“And there is this also,” said Gimli:”only by day can we see if any tracks lead away. If a prisoner should escape, or if one should be carried off, eastward, say, to the Great River, towards Mordor, we might pass the signs and never know it.”

“That is true,” said Aragorn. “But if I read the signs back yonder rightly, the Orcs of the White Hand prevailed, and the whole company is now bound for Isengard. Their present course bears me out.”

“Yet it would be rash to be sure of their counsels,” said Gimli. “And what of escape? In the dark we should have passed the signs that led you to the brooch.”

“The Orcs will be doubly on their guard since then, and the prisoners even wearier,” said Legolas. “There will be no escape again, if we do not contrive it. How that is to be done cannot be guessed, but first we must overtake them.”

“And yet even I, Dwarf of many journeys, and not the least hardy of my folk, cannot run all the way to Isengard without any pause ‘ said Gimli. “My heart burns me too, and I would have started sooner but now I must rest a little to run the better. And if we rest, then the blind night is the time to do so.”

“I said that it was a hard choice,” said Aragorn. “How shall we end this debate?”

“You are our guide,” said Gimli,”and you are skilled in the chase. You shall choose.”

“My heart bids me go on,” said Legolas. “But we must hold together. I will follow your counsel.”

“You give the choice to an ill chooser,” said Aragorn. “Since we passed through the Argonath my choices have gone amiss.” He fell silent gazing north and west into the gathering night for a long while.

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