کتاب سوم - فصل 02-03

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سه گانه ارباب حلقه ها

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کتاب سوم - فصل 02-03

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At length even Gimli could hear the distant beat of galloping hoofs. The horsemen, following the trail, had turned from the river, and were drawing near the downs. They were riding like the wind.

Now the cries of clear strong voices came ringing over the fields. Suddenly they swept up with a noise like thunder, and the foremost horseman swerved, passing by the foot of the hill, and leading the host back southward along the western skirts of the downs. After him they rode: a long line of mail-clad men. swift, shining, fell and fair to look upon.

Their horses were of great stature, strong and clean-limbed; their grey coats glistened, their long tails flowed in the wind, their manes were braided on their proud necks. The Men that rode them matched them well: tall and long-limbed; their hair, flaxen-pale, flowed under their light helms, and streamed in long braids behind them; their faces were stern and keen. In their hands were tall spears of ash, painted shields were slung at their backs, long swords were at their belts, their burnished skirts of mail hung down upon their knees.

In pairs they galloped by, and though every now and then one rose in his stirrups and gazed ahead and to either side, they appeared not to perceive the three strangers sitting silently and watching them. The host had almost passed when suddenly Aragorn stood up, and called in a loud voice: “What news from the North, Riders of Rohan?”

With astonishing speed and skill they checked their steeds, wheeled, and came charging round. Soon the three companions found themselves in a ring of horsemen moving in a running circle, up the hill-slope behind them and down, round and round them, and drawing ever inwards. Aragorn stood silent, and the other two sat without moving, wondering what way things would turn.

Without a word or cry, suddenly, the Riders halted. A thicket of spears were pointed towards the strangers; and some of the horsemen had bows in hand, and their arrows were already fitted to the string. Then one rode forward, a tall man, taller than all the rest; from his helm as a crest a white horsetail flowed. He advanced until the point of his spear was within a foot of Aragorn’s breast. Aragorn did not stir.

“Who are you, and what are you doing in this land?” said the Rider, using the Common Speech of the West, in manner and tone like to the speech of Boromir, Man of Gondor.

“I am called Strider,” answered Aragorn. “I came out of the North. I am hunting Orcs.”

The Rider leaped from his horse. Giving his spear to another who rode up and dismounted at his side, he drew his sword and stood face to face with Aragorn, surveying him keenly, and not without wonder. At length he spoke again.

“At first I thought that you yourselves were Orcs,” he said;”but now I see that it is not so. Indeed you know little of Orcs, if you go hunting them in this fashion. They were swift and well-armed, and they were many. You would have changed from hunters to prey, if ever you had overtaken them. But there is something strange about you, Strider.” He bent his clear bright eyes again upon the Ranger. “That is no name for a Man that you give. And strange too is your raiment. Have you sprung out of the grass? How did you escape our sight? Are you elvish folk?”

“No,” said Aragorn. “One only of us is an Elf, Legolas from the Woodland Realm in distant Mirkwood. But we have passed through Lothlórien, and the gifts and favour of the Lady go with us.”

The Rider looked at them with renewed wonder, but his eyes hardened. “Then there is a Lady in the Golden Wood, as old tales tell!” he said. “Few escape her nets, they say. These are strange days! But if you have her favour, then you also are net-weavers and sorcerers, maybe.” He turned a cold glance suddenly upon Legolas and Gimli. “Why do you not speak, silent ones?” he demanded.

Gimli rose and planted his feet firmly apart: his hand gripped the handle of his axe, and his dark eyes flashed. “Give me your name, horse-master, and I will give you mine, and more besides,” he said.

“As for that,” said the Rider, staring down at the Dwarf,”the stranger should declare himself first. Yet I am named Éomer son of Éomund, and am called the Third Marshal of Riddermark.”

“Then Éomer son of Éomund, Third Marshal of Riddermark, let Gimli the Dwarf Glóin’s son warn you against foolish words. You speak evil of that which is fair beyond the reach of your thought, and only little wit can excuse you.”

Éomer’s eyes blazed, and the Men of Rohan murmured angrily, and closed in, advancing their spears. “I would cut off your head, beard and all, Master Dwarf, if it stood but a little higher from the ground ‘ said Éomer.

“He stands not alone,” said Legolas, bending his bow and fitting an arrow with hands that moved quicker than sight. “You would die before your stroke fell.”

Éomer raised his sword, and things might have gone ill, but Aragorn sprang between them, and raised his hand. “Your pardon, Éomer!” he cried. “When you know more you will understand why you have angered my companions. We intend no evil to Rohan, nor to any of its folk, neither to man nor to horse. Will you not hear our tale before you strike?”

“I will,” said Éomer lowering his blade. “But wanderers in the Riddermark would be wise to be less haughty in these days of doubt. First tell me your right name.”

“First tell me whom you serve,” said Aragorn. “Are you friend or foe of Sauron, the Dark Lord of Mordor?”

“I serve only the Lord of the Mark, Théoden King son of Thengel,” answered Éomer. “We do not serve the Power of the Black Land far away, but neither are we yet at open war with him; and if you are fleeing from him, then you had best leave this land. There is trouble now on all our borders, and we are threatened; but we desire only to be free, and to live as we have lived, keeping our own, and serving no foreign lord, good or evil. We welcomed guests kindly in the better days, but in these times the unbidden stranger finds us swift and hard. Come! Who are you? Whom do you serve? At whose command do you hunt Orcs in our land?”

“I serve no man,” said Aragorn;”but the servants of Sauron I pursue into whatever land they may go. There are few among mortal Men who know more of Orcs; and I do not hunt them in this fashion out of choice. The Orcs whom we pursued took captive two of my friends. In such need a man that has no horse will go on foot, and he will not ask for leave to follow the trail. Nor will he count the heads of the enemy save with a sword. I am not weaponless.”

Aragorn threw back his cloak. The elven-sheath glittered as he grasped it, and the bright blade of Andúril shone like a sudden flame as he swept it out. “Elendil!” he cried. “I am Aragorn son of Arathorn and am called Elessar, the Elfstone, Dúnadan, the heir of Isildur Elendil’s son of Gondor. Here is the Sword that was Broken and is forged again! Will you aid me or thwart me? Choose swiftly!”

Gimli and Legolas looked at their companion in amazement, for they had not seen him in this mood before. He seemed to have grown in stature while Éomer had shrunk; and in his living face they caught a brief vision of the power and majesty of the kings of stone. For a moment it seemed to the eyes of Legolas that a white flame flickered on the brows of Aragorn like a shining crown.

Éomer stepped back and a look of awe was in his face. He cast down his proud eyes. “These are indeed strange days,” he muttered. “Dreams and legends spring to life out of the grass.

“Tell me, lord,” he said,”what brings you here? And what was the meaning of the dark words? Long has Boromir son of Denethor been gone seeking an answer, and the horse that we lent him came back riderless. What doom do you bring out of the North?”

“The doom of choice,” said Aragorn. “You may say this to Théoden son of Thengel: open war lies before him, with Sauron or against him. None may live now as they have lived, and few shall keep what they call their own. But of these great matters we will speak later. If chance allows, I will come myself to the king. Now I am in great need, and I ask for help, or at least for tidings. You heard that we are pursuing an orc-host that carried off our friends. What can you tell us?”

“That you need not pursue them further,” said Éomer. “The Orcs are destroyed.”

“And our friends?”

“We found none but Orcs.”

“But that is strange indeed,” said Aragorn. “Did you search the slain? Were there no bodies other than those of orc-kind? They would be small. Only children to your eyes, unshod but clad in grey.”

“There were no dwarves nor children,” said Éomer. “We counted all the slain and despoiled them, and then we piled the carcases and burned them, as is our custom. The ashes are smoking still.”

“We do not speak of dwarves or children,” said Gimli. “Our friends were hobbits.”

“Hobbits?” said Éomer. “And what may they be? It is a strange name.”

“A strange name for a strange folk,” said Gimli. “But these were very dear to us. It seems that you have heard in Rohan of the words that troubled Minas Tirith. They spoke of the Halfling. These hobbits are Halflings.”

“Halflings!” laughed the Rider that stood beside Éomer. “Halflings! But they are only a little people in old songs and children’s tales out of the North. Do we walk in legends or on the green earth in the daylight?”

“A man may do both,” said Aragorn. “For not we but those who come after will make the legends of our time. The green earth, say you? That is a mighty matter of legend, though you tread it under the light of day!”

“Time is pressing,” said the Rider, not heeding Aragorn. “We must hasten south, lord. Let us leave these wild folk to their fancies. Or let us bind them and take them to the king.”

“Peace, Éothain!” said Éomer in his own tongue. “Leave me a while. Tell the éored to assemble on the path’ and make ready to ride to the Entwade.”

Muttering Éothain retired, and spoke to the others. Soon they drew off and left Éomer alone with the three companions.

“All that you say is strange, Aragorn.” he said. “Yet you speak the truth, that is plain: the Men of the Mark do not lie, and therefore they are not easily deceived. But you have not told all. Will you not now speak more fully of your errand, so that I may judge what to do?”

“I set out from Imladris, as it is named in the rhyme, many weeks ago,” answered Aragorn. “With me went Boromir of Minas Tirith. My errand was to go to that city with the son of Denethor, to aid his folk in their war against Sauron. But the Company that I journeyed with had other business. Of that I cannot speak now. Gandalf the Grey was our leader.”

“Gandalf!” Éomer exclaimed. “Gandalf Greyhame is known in the Mark: but his name, I warn you, is no longer a password to the king’s favour. He has been a guest in the land many times in the memory of men, coming as he will, after a season, or after many years. He is ever the herald of strange events: a bringer of evil, some now say.

“Indeed since his last coming in the summer all things have gone amiss. At that time our trouble with Saruman began. Until then we counted Saruman our friend, hut Gandalf came then and warned us that sudden war was preparing in Isengard. He said that he himself had been a prisoner in Orthanc and had hardly escaped, and he begged for help. But Théoden would not listen to him, and he went away. Speak not the name of Gandalf loudly in Théoden’s ears! He is wroth. For Gandalf took the horse that is called Shadowfax, the most precious of all the king’s steeds, chief of the Mearas, which only the Lord of the Mark may ride. For the sire of their race was the great horse of Eorl that knew the speech of Men. Seven nights ago Shadowfax returned; but the king’s anger is not less, for now the horse is wild and will let no man handle him.”

“Then Shadowfax has found his way alone from the far North,” said Aragorn;”for it was there that he and Gandalf parted. But alas! Gandalf will ride no longer. He fell into darkness in the Mines of Moria and comes not again.”

“That is heavy tidings,” said Éomer. “At least to me, and to many; though not to all, as you may find, if you come to the king.”

“It is tidings more grievous than any in this land can understand, though it may touch them sorely ere the year is much older,” said Aragorn. “But when the great fall, the less must lead. My part it has been to guide our Company on the long road from Moria. Through Lórien we came - of which it were well that you should learn the truth ere you speak of it again - and thence down the leagues of the Great River to the falls of Rauros. There Boromir was slain by the same Orcs whom you destroyed.”

“Your news is all of woe!” cried Éomer in dismay. “Great harm is this death to Minas Tirith, and to us all. That was a worthy man! All spoke his praise. He came seldom to the Mark, for he was ever in the wars on the East-borders; but I have seen him. More like to the swift sons of Eorl than to the grave Men of Gondor he seemed to me, and likely to prove a great captain of his people when his time came. But we have had no word of this grief out of Gondor. When did he fall?”

“It is now the fourth day since he was slain,” answered Aragorn,”and since the evening of that day we have journeyed from the shadow of Tol Brandir.”

“On foot?” cried Éomer.

“Yes, even as you see us.”

Wide wonder came into Éomer’s eyes. “Strider is too poor a name, son of Arathorn,” he said. “Wingfoot I name you. This deed of the three friends should be sung in many a hall. Forty leagues and five you have measured ere the fourth day is ended! Hardy is the race of Elendil!

“But now, lord, what would you have me do! I must return in haste to Théoden. I spoke warily before my men. It is true that we are not yet at open war with the Black Land, and there are some, close to the king’s ear, that speak craven counsels; but war is coming. We shall not forsake our old alliance with Gondor, and while they fight we shall aid them: so say I and all who hold with me. The East-mark is my charge. the ward of the Third Marshal, and I have removed all our herds and herdfolk, withdrawing them beyond Entwash, and leaving none here but guards and swift scouts.”

“Then you do not pay tribute to Sauron?” said Gimli.

“We do not and we never have.” said Éomer with a flash of his eyes;”though it comes to my ears that that lie has been told. Some years ago the Lord of the Black Land wished to purchase horses of us at great price, but we refused him. for he puts beasts to evil use. Then he sent plundering Orcs, and they carry off what they can, choosing always the black horses: few of these are now left. For that reason our feud with the Orcs is bitter.

“But at this time our chief concern is with Saruman. He has claimed lordship over all this land, and there has been war between us for many months. He has taken Orcs into his service, and Wolf-riders, and evil Men, and he has closed the Gap against us, so that we are likely to be beset both east and west.

“It is ill dealing with such a foe: he is a wizard both cunning and dwimmer-crafty, having many guises. He walks here and there, they say, as an old man hooded and cloaked, very like to Gandalf, as many now recall. His spies slip through every net, and his birds of ill omen are abroad in the sky. I do not know how it will all end, and my heart misgives me; for it seems to me that his friends do not all dwell in Isengard. But if you come to the king’s house, you shall see for yourself. Will you not come? Do I hope in vain that you have been sent to me for a help in doubt and need?”

“I will come when I may,” said Aragorn.

“Come now!” said Éomer. “The Heir of Elendil would be a strength indeed to the Sons of Eorl in this evil tide. There is battle even now upon the Westemnet, and I fear that it may go ill for us.

“Indeed in this riding north I went without the king’s leave, for in my absence his house is left with little guard. But scouts warned me of the orc-host coming down out of the East Wall three nights ago, and among them they reported that some bore the white badges of Saruman. So suspecting what I most fear, a league between Orthanc and the Dark Tower, I led forth my éored, men of my own household; and we overtook the Orcs at nightfall two days ago, near to the borders of the Entwood. There we surrounded them, and gave battle yesterday at dawn. Fifteen of my men I lost, and twelve horses alas! For the Orcs were greater in number than we counted on. Others joined them. coming out of the East across the Great River: their trail is plain to see a little north of this spot. And others, too, came out of the forest. Great Orcs, who also bore the White Hand of Isengard: that kind is stronger and more fell than all others.

“Nonetheless we put an end to them. But we have been too long away. We are needed south and west. Will you not come? There are spare horses as you see. There is work for the Sword to do. Yes, and we could find a use for Gimli’s axe and the bow of Legolas, if they will pardon my rash words concerning the Lady of the Wood. I spoke only as do all men in my land, and I would gladly learn better.”

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