کتاب سوم - فصل 02-04

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سه گانه ارباب حلقه ها

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کتاب سوم - فصل 02-04

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“I thank you for your fair words,” said Aragorn,”and my heart desires to come with you; but I cannot desert my friends while hope remains.”

“Hope does not remain,” said Éomer. “You will not find your friends on the North-borders.”

“Yet my friends are not behind. We found a clear token not far from the East Wall that one at least of them was still alive there. But between the wall and the downs we have found no other trace of them, and no trail has turned aside, this way or that, unless my skill has wholly left me.”

“Then what do you think has become of them?”

“I do not know. They may have been slain and burned among the Orcs; but that you will say cannot be, and I do not fear it. I can only think that they were carried off into the forest before the battle, even before you encircled your foes, maybe. Can you swear that none escaped your net in such a way?”

“I would swear that no Orc escaped after we sighted them,” said Éomer. “We reached the forest-eaves before them, and if after that any living thing broke through our ring, then it was no Orc and had some elvish power.”

“Our friends were attired even as we are,” said Aragorn;”and you passed us by under the full light of day.”

“I had forgotten that,” said Éomer. “It is hard to be sure of anything among so many marvels. The world is all grown strange. Elf and Dwarf in company walk in our daily fields; and folk speak with the Lady of the Wood and yet live; and the Sword comes back to war that was broken in the long ages ere the fathers of our fathers rode into the Mark! How shall a man judge what to do in such times?”

“As he ever has judged,” said Aragorn. “Good and ill have not changed since yesteryear; nor are they one thing among Elves and Dwarves : and another among Men. It is a man’s part to discern them, as much in the Golden Wood as in his own house.”

“True indeed,” said Éomer. “But I do not doubt you, nor the deed which my heart would do. Yet I am not free to do all as I would. It is against our law to let strangers wander at will in our land, until the king himself shall give them leave, and more strict is the command in these days of peril. I have begged you to come back willingly with me, and you will not. Loth am I to begin a battle of one hundred against three.”

“I do not think your law was made for such a chance,” said Aragorn. “Nor indeed am I a stranger; for I have been in this land before, more than once, and ridden with the host of the Rohirrim, though under other name and in other guise. You I have not seen before, for you are young, but I have spoken with Éomund your father, and with Théoden son of Thengel. Never in former days would any high lord of this land have constrained a man to abandon such a quest as mine. My duty at least is clear, to go on. Come now, son of Éomund, the choice must be made at last. Aid us, or at the worst let us go free. Or seek to carry out your law. If you do so there will be fewer to return to your war or to your king.”

Éomer was silent for a moment, then he spoke. “We both have need of haste,” he said. “My company chafes to be away, and every hour lessens your hope. This is my choice. You may go; and what is more, I will lend you horses. This only I ask: when your quest is achieved, or is proved vain, return with the horses over the Entwade to Meduseld, the high house in Edoras where Théoden now sits. Thus you shall prove to him that I have not misjudged. In this I place myself, and maybe my very life, in the keeping of your good faith. Do not fail.”

“I will not,” said Aragorn.

There was great wonder, and many dark and doubtful glances, among his men, when Éomer gave orders that the spare horses were to be lent to the strangers; but only Éothain dared to speak openly.

“It may be well enough for this lord of the race of Gondor, as he claims,” he said,”but who has heard of a horse of the Mark being given to a Dwarf?”

“No one,” said Gimli. “And do not trouble: no one will ever hear of it. I would sooner walk than sit on the back of any beast so great, free or begrudged.”

“But you must ride now, or you will hinder us,” said Aragorn.

“Come, you shall sit behind me, friend Gimli, said Legolas. Then all will be well, and you need neither borrow a horse nor be troubled by one.”

A great dark-grey horse was brought to Aragorn, and he mounted it. “Hasufel is his name,” said Éomer. “May he bear you well and to better fortune than Gárulf, his late master!”

A smaller and lighter horse, but restive and fiery, was brought to Legolas. Arod was his name. But Legolas asked them to take off saddle and rein. “I need them not,” he said, and leaped lightly up, and to their wonder Arod was tame and willing beneath him, moving here and there with but a spoken word: such was the elvish way with all good beasts. Gimli was lifted up behind his friend. and he clung to him, not much more at ease than Sam Gamgee in a boat.

“Farewell, and may you find what you seek!” cried Éomer. “Return with what speed you may, and let our swords hereafter shine together!”

“I will come,” said Aragorn.

“And I will come, too,” said Gimli. “The matter of the Lady Galadriel lies still between us. I have yet to teach you gentle speech. ‘

“We shall see,” said Éomer. “So many strange things have chanced that to learn the praise of a fair lady under the loving strokes of a Dwarf’s axe will seem no great wonder. Farewell!”

With that they parted. Very swift were the horses of Rohan. When after a little Gimli looked back, the company of Éomer were already small and far away. Aragorn did not look back: he was watching the trail as they sped on their way, bending low with his head beside the neck of Hasufel. Before long they came to the borders of the Entwash, and there they met the other trail of which Éomer had spoken, coming down from the East out of the Wold.

Aragorn dismounted and surveyed the ground, then leaping back into the saddle, he rode away for some distance eastward, keeping to one side and taking care not to override the footprints. Then he again dismounted and examined the ground, going backwards and forwards on foot.

“There is little to discover,” he said when he returned. “The main trail is all confused with the passage of the horsemen as they came back; their outward course must have lain nearer the river. But this eastward trail is fresh and clear. There is no sign there of any feet going the other way, back towards Anduin. Now we must ride slower, and make sure that no trace or footstep branches off on either side. The Orcs must have been aware from this point that they were pursued; they may have made some attempt to get their captives away before they were overtaken.”

As they rode forward the day was overcast. Low grey clouds came over the Wold. A mist shrouded the sun. Ever nearer the tree-clad slopes of Fangorn loomed, slowly darkling as the sun went west. They saw no sign of any trail to right or left, but here and there they passed single Orcs, fallen in their tracks as they ran, with grey-feathered arrows sticking in back or throat.

At last as the afternoon was waning they came to the eaves of the forest, and in an open glade among the first trees they found the place of the great burning: the ashes were still hot and smoking. Beside it was a great pile of helms and mail, cloven shields, and broken swords, bows and darts and other gear of war. Upon a stake in the middle was set a great goblin head; upon its shattered helm the white badge could still be seen. Further away, not far from the river, where it came streaming out from the edge of the wood, there was a mound. It was newly raised: the raw earth was covered with fresh-cut turves: about it were planted fifteen spears.

Aragorn and his companions searched far and wide about the field of battle, but the light faded, and evening soon drew down, dim and misty. By nightfall they had discovered no trace of Merry and Pippin.

“We can do no more,” said Gimli sadly. “We have been set many riddles since we came to Tol Brandir, but this is the hardest to unravel. I would guess that the burned bones of the hobbits are now mingled with the Orcs’. It will be hard news for Frodo, if he lives to hear it; and hard too for the old hobbit who waits in Rivendell. Elrond was against their coming.”

“But Gandalf was not,” said Legolas.

“But Gandalf chose to come himself, and he was the first to be lost ‘ answered Gimli. “His foresight failed him.”

“The counsel of Gandalf was not founded on foreknowledge of safety, for himself or for others,” said Aragorn. “There are some things that it is better to begin than to refuse, even though the end may be dark. But I shall not depart from this place yet. In any case we must here await the morning-light.”

A little way beyond the battle-field they made their camp under a spreading tree: it looked like a chestnut, and yet it still bore many broad brown leaves of a former year, like dry hands with long splayed fingers; they rattled mournfully in the night-breeze.

Gimli shivered. They had brought only one blanket apiece. “Let us light a fire,” he said. “I care no longer for the danger. Let the Orcs come as thick as summer-moths round a candle!”

“If those unhappy hobbits are astray in the woods, it might draw them hither,” said Legolas.

“And it might draw other things, neither Orc nor Hobbit,” said Aragorn. “We are near to the mountain-marches of the traitor Saruman. Also we are on the very edge of Fangorn, and it is perilous to touch the trees of that wood, it is said.”

“But the Rohirrim made a great burning here yesterday,” said Gimli,”and they felled trees for the fire, as can be seen. Yet they passed the night after safely here, when their labour was ended.”

“They were many,” said Aragorn,”and they do not heed the wrath of Fangorn, for they come here seldom, and they do not go under the trees. But our paths are likely to lead us into the very forest itself. So have a care! Cut no living wood!”

“There is no need,” said Gimli. “The Riders have left chip and bough enough, and there is dead wood lying in plenty.” He went off to gather fuel, and busied himself with building and kindling a fire; but Aragorn sat silent with his back to the great tree, deep in thought; and Legolas stood alone in the open, looking towards the profound shadow of the wood, leaning forward, as one who listens to voices calling from a distance.

When the Dwarf had a small bright blaze going, the three companions drew close to it and sat together, shrouding the light with their hooded forms. Legolas looked up at the boughs of the tree reaching out above them.

“Look!” he said. “The tree is glad of the fire!”

It may have been that the dancing shadows tricked their eyes, but certainly to each of the companions the boughs appeared to be bending this way and that so as to come above the flames, while the upper branches were stooping down; the brown leaves now stood out stiff, and rubbed together like many cold cracked hands taking comfort in the warmth.

There was a silence, for suddenly the dark and unknown forest, so near at hand, made itself felt as a great brooding presence, full of secret purpose. After a while Legolas spoke again.

“Celeborn warned us not to go far into Fangorn,” he said. “Do you know why, Aragorn? What are the fables of the forest that Boromir had heard?”

“I have heard many tales in Gondor and elsewhere,” said Aragorn,”but if it were not for the words of Celeborn I should deem them only fables that Men have made as true knowledge fades. I had thought of asking you what was the truth of the matter. And if an Elf of the Wood does not know, how shall a Man answer?”

“You have journeyed further than I,” said Legolas. “I have heard nothing of this in my own land, save only songs that tell how the Onodrim, that Men call Ents, dwelt there long ago; for Fangorn is old, old even as the Elves would reckon it.”

“Yes, it is old,” said Aragorn,”as old as the forest by the Barrow-downs, and it is far greater. Elrond says that the two are akin, the last strongholds of the mighty woods of the Elder Days, in which the Firstborn roamed while Men still slept. Yet Fangorn holds some secret of its own. What it is I do not know.”

“And I do not wish to know,” said Gimli. “Let nothing that dwells in Fangorn be troubled on my account!”

They now drew lots for the watches, and the lot for the first watch fell to Gimli. The others lay down. Almost at once sleep laid hold on them. “Gimli!” said Aragorn drowsily. “Remember, it is perilous to cut bough or twig from a living tree in Fangorn. But do not stray far in search of dead wood. Let the fire die rather! Call me at need!”

With that he fell asleep. Legolas already lay motionless, his fair hands folded upon his breast, his eyes unclosed, blending living night and deep dream, as is the way with Elves. Gimli sat hunched by the fire, running his thumb thoughtfully along the edge of his axe. The tree rustled. There was no other sound.

Suddenly Gimli looked up, and there just on the edge of the fire-light stood an old bent man, leaning on a staff, and wrapped in a great cloak; his wide-brimmed hat was pulled down over his eyes. Gimli sprang up, too amazed for the moment to cry out, though at once the thought flashed into his mind that Saruman had caught them. Both Aragorn and Legolas, roused by his sudden movement, sat up and stared. The old man did not speak or make, sign.

“Well, father, what can we do for you?” said Aragorn, leaping to his feet. “Come and be warm, if you are cold!” He strode forward, but the old man was gone. There was no trace of him to be found near at hand, and they did not dare to wander far. The moon had set and the night was very dark.

Suddenly Legolas gave a cry. “The horses! The horses!”

The horses were gone. They had dragged their pickets and disappeared. For me time the three companions stood still and silent, troubled by this new stroke of ill fortune. They were under the eaves of Fangorn, and endless leagues lay between them and the Men of Rohan, their only friends in this wide and dangerous land. As they stood, it seemed to them that they heard, far off in the night. the sound of horses whinnying and neighing. Then all was quiet again, except for the cold rustle of the wind.

“Well, they are gone,” said Aragorn at last. “We cannot find them or catch them; so that if they do not return of their own will, we must do without. We started on our feet, and we have those still.”

“Feet!” said Gimli. “But we cannot eat them as well as walk on them ‘ He threw some fuel on the fire and slumped down beside it.

“Only a few hours ago you were unwilling to sit on a horse of Rohan,” laughed Legolas. “You will make a rider yet.”

“It seems unlikely that I shall have the chance,” said Gimli.

“If you wish to know what I think,” he began again after a while “I think it was Saruman. Who else? Remember the words of Éomer: he walks about like an old man hooded and cloaked. Those were the words. He has gone off with our horses, or scared them away, and here we are. There is more trouble coming to us, mark my words!”

“I mark them,” said Aragorn. “But I marked also that this old man had a hat not a hood. Still I do not doubt that you guess right, and that we are in peril here, by night or day. Yet in the meantime there is nothing that we can do but rest, while we may. I will watch for a while now, Gimli. I have more need of thought than of sleep.”

The night passed slowly. Legolas followed Aragorn, and Gimli followed Legolas, and their watches wore away. But nothing happened. The old man did not appear again, and the horses did not return.

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