کتاب سوم - فصل 07-02

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کتاب سوم - فصل 07-02

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“We did not come too soon,” said Aragorn, looking at the gates. Their great hinges and iron bars were wrenched and bent; many of their timbers were cracked.

“Yet we cannot stay here beyond the walls to defend them,” said Éomer. “Look!” He pointed to the causeway. Already a great press of Orcs and Men were gathering again beyond the stream. Arrows whined, and skipped on the stones about them. “Come! We must get back and see what we can do to pile stone and beam across the gates within. Come now!”

They turned and ran. At that moment some dozen Orcs that had lain motionless among the slain leaped to their feet, and came silently and swiftly behind. Two flung themselves to the ground at Éomer’s heels, tripped him, and in a moment they were on top of him. But a small dark figure that none had observed sprang out of the shadows and gave a hoarse shout: Baruk Khazâd! Khazâd ai-mênu! An axe swung and swept back. Two Orcs fell headless. The rest fled.

Éomer struggled to his feet, even as Aragorn ran back to his aid.

The postern was closed again, the iron door was barred and piled inside with stones. When all were safe within, Éomer turned: “I thank you, Gimli son of Glóin!” he said. “I did not know that you were with us in the sortie. But oft the unbidden guest proves the best company. How came you there?”

“I followed you to shake off sleep,” said Gimli;”but I looked on the hillmen and they seemed over large for me, so I sat beside a stone to see your sword-play.”

“I shall not find it easy to repay you,” said Éomer.

“There may be many a chance ere the night is over,” laughed the Dwarf. “But I am content. Till now I have hewn naught but wood since I left Moria.”

“Two!” said Gimli, patting his axe. He had returned to his place on the wall.

“Two?” said Legolas. “I have done better, though now I must grope for spent arrows; all mine are gone. Yet I make my tale twenty at the least. But that is only a few leaves in a forest.”

The sky now was quickly clearing and the sinking moon was shining brightly. But the light brought little hope to the Riders of the Mark. The enemy before them seemed to have grown rather than diminished, still more were pressing up from the valley through the breach. The sortie upon the Rock gained only a brief respite. The assault on the gates was redoubled. Against the Deeping Wall the hosts of Isengard roared like a sea. Orcs and hillmen swarmed about its feet from end to end. Ropes with grappling hooks were hurled over the parapet faster than men could cut them or fling them back. Hundreds of long ladders were lifted up. Many were cast down in ruin, but many more replaced them, and Orcs sprang up them like apes in the dark forests of the South. Before the wall’s foot the dead and broken were piled like shingle in a storm; ever higher rose the hideous mounds, and still the enemy came on.

The men of Rohan grew weary. All their arrows were spent, and every shaft was shot; their swords were notched, and their shields were riven. Three times Aragorn and Éomer rallied them, and three times Andúril flamed in a desperate charge that drove the enemy from the wall.

Then a clamour arose in the Deep behind. Orcs had crept like rats through the culvert through which the stream flowed out. There they had gathered in the shadow of the cliffs, until the assault above was hottest and nearly all the men of the defence had rushed to the wall’s top. Then they sprang out. Already some had passed into the jaws of the Deep and were among the horses, fighting with the guards.

Down from the wall leapt Gimli with a fierce cry that echoed in the cliffs. “Khazâd! Khazâd!” He soon had work enough.

“Ai-oi!” he shouted. “The Orcs are behind the wall. Ai-oi! Come, Legolas! There are enough for us both. Khazâd ai-mênu!’

Gamling the Old looked down from the Hornburg, hearing the great voice of the dwarf above all the tumult. “The Orcs are in the Deep!” he cried. “Helm! Helm! Forth Helmingas. he shouted as he leaped down the stair from the Rock with many men of Westfold at his back.

Their onset was fierce and sudden, and the Orcs gave way before them. Ere long they were hemmed in in the narrows of the gorge, and all were slain or driven shrieking into the chasm of the Deep to fall before the guardians of the hidden caves.

“Twenty-one!” cried Gimli. He hewed a two-handed stroke and laid the last Orc before his feet. “Now my count passes Master Legolas again.”

“We must stop this rat-hole,” said Gamling. “Dwarves are said to be cunning folk with stone. Lend us your aid, master!”

“We do not shape stone with battle-axes, nor with our finger-nails,” said Gimli. “But I will help as I may.”

They gathered such small boulders and broken stones as they could find to hand, and under Gimli’s direction the Westfold-men blocked up the inner end of the culvert, until only a narrow outlet remained. Then the Deeping-stream, swollen by the rain, churned and fretted in its choked path, and spread slowly in cold pools from cliff to cliff.

“It will be drier above,” said Gimli. “Come, Gamling, let us see how things go on the wall!”

He climbed up and found Legolas beside Aragorn and Éomer. The elf was whetting his long knife. There was for a while a lull in the assault, since the attempt to break in through the culvert had been foiled.

“Twenty-one!” said Gimli.

“Good!” said Legolas. “But my count is now two dozen. It has been knife-work up here.”

Éomer and Aragorn leant wearily on their swords. Away on the left the crash and clamour of the battle on the Rock rose loud again. But the Hornburg still held fast, like an island in the sea. Its gates lay in ruin; but over the barricade of beams and stones within no enemy as yet had passed.

Aragorn looked at the pale stars, and at the moon, now sloping behind the western hills that enclosed the valley. “This is a night as long as years,” he said. “How long will the day tarry?”

“Dawn is not far off,” said Gamling, who had now climbed up beside him. “But dawn will not help us, I fear.”

“Yet dawn is ever the hope of men,” said Aragorn.

“But these creatures of Isengard, these half-orcs and goblin-men that the foul craft of Saruman has bred, they will not quail at the sun,” said Gamling. “And neither will the wild men of the hills. Do you not hear their voices?”

“I hear them,” said Éomer;”but they are only the scream of birds and the bellowing of beasts to my ears.”

“Yet there are many that cry in the Dunland tongue,” said Gamling. “I know that tongue. It is an ancient speech of men, and once was spoken in many western valleys of the Mark. Hark! They hate us, and they are glad; for our doom seems certain to them. “The king the king!” they cry. “We will take their king. Death to the Forgoil! Death to the Strawheads! Death to the robbers of the North!” Such names they have for us. Not in half a thousand years have they forgotten their grievance that the lords of Gondor gave the Mark to Eorl the Young and made alliance with him. That old hatred Saruman has inflamed. They are fierce folk when roused. They will not give way now for dusk or dawn, until Théoden is taken, or they themselves are slain.”

“Nonetheless day will bring hope to me,” said Aragorn. “Is it not said that no foe has ever taken the Hornburg, if men defended it?”

“So the minstrels say,” said Éomer.

“Then let us defend it, and hope!” said Aragorn.

Even as they spoke there came a blare of trumpets. Then there was a crash and a flash of flame and smoke. The waters of the Deeping-stream poured out hissing and foaming: they were choked no longer, a gaping hole was blasted in the wall. A host of dark shapes poured in.

“Devilry of Saruman!” cried Aragorn. “They have crept in the culvert again, while we talked, and they have lit the fire of Orthanc beneath our feet. Elendil, Elendil!’ he shouted, as he leaped down into the breach; but even as he did so a hundred ladders were raised against the battlements. Over the wall and under the wall the last assault came sweeping like a dark wave upon a hill of sand. The defence was swept away. Some of the Riders were driven back, further and further into the Deep, falling and fighting as they gave way, step by step, towards the caves. Others cut their way back towards the citadel.

A broad stairway, climbed from the Deep up to the Rock and the rear-gate of the Hornburg. Near the bottom stood Aragorn. In his hand still Andúril gleamed, and the terror of the sword for a while held back the enemy, as one by one all who could gain the stair passed up towards the gate. Behind on the upper steps knelt Legolas. His bow was bent, but one gleaned arrow was all that he had left, and he peered out now, ready to shoot the first Orc that should dare to approach the stair.

“All who can have now got safe within, Aragorn,” he called. “Come back!”

Aragorn turned and sped up the stair; but as he ran he stumbled in his weariness. At once his enemies leapt forward. Up came the Orcs, yelling, with their long arms stretched out to seize him. The foremost fell with Legolas’ last arrow in his throat. but the rest sprang over him. Then a great boulder, cast from the outer wall above, crashed down upon the stair, and hurled them back into the Deep. Aragorn gained the door, and swiftly it clanged to behind him.

“Things go ill, my friends,” he said, wiping the sweat from his brow with his arm.

“Ill enough,” said Legolas,”but not yet hopeless, while we have you with us. Where is Gimli?”

“I do not know.” said Aragorn. “I last saw him fighting on the ground behind the wall, but the enemy swept us apart.”

“Alas! That is evil news,” said Legolas.

“He is stout and strong,” said Aragorn. “Let us hope that he will escape back to the caves. There he would be safe for a while. Safer than we. Such a refuge would be to the liking of a dwarf.”

“That must be my hope’’ said Legolas. “But I wish that he had come this way. I desired to tell Master Gimli that my tale is now thirty-nine.”

“If he wins back to the caves, he will pass your count again,” laughed Aragorn. “Never did I see an axe so wielded.”

“I must go and seek some arrows,” said Legolas. “Would that this night would end, and I could have better light for shooting.”

Aragorn now passed into the citadel. There to his dismay he learned that Éomer had not reached the Hornburg.

“Nay, he did not come to the Rock,” said one of the Westfold-men, “I last saw him gathering men about him and fighting in the mouth of the Deep. Gamling was with him, and the dwarf; but I could not come to them.”

Aragorn strode on through the inner court, and mounted to a high chamber in the tower. There stood the king, dark against a narrow window, looking out upon the vale.

“What is the news, Aragorn?” he said.

“The Deeping Wall is taken, lord, and all the defence swept away; but many have escaped hither to the Rock.”

“Is Éomer here?”

“No, lord. But many of your men retreated into the Deep; and some say that Éomer was amongst them. In the narrows they may hold back the enemy and come within the caves. What hope they may have then I do not know.”

“More than we. Good provision, it is said. And the air is wholesome there because of the outlets through fissures in the rock far above. None can force an entrance against determined men. They may hold out long.”

“But the Orcs have brought a devilry from Orthanc,” said Aragorn. “They have a blasting fire, and with it they took the Wall. If they cannot come in the caves, they may seal up those that are inside. But now we must turn all our thoughts to our own defence.”

“I fret in this prison,” said Théoden. “If I could have set a spear in rest, riding before my men upon the field, maybe I could have felt again the joy of battle, and so ended. But I serve little purpose here.”

“Here at least you are guarded in the strongest fastness of the Mark,” said Aragorn. “More hope we have to defend you in the Hornburg than in Edoras, or even at Dunharrow in the mountains.”

“It is said that the Hornburg has never fallen to assault,” said Théoden;”but now my heart is doubtful. The world changes, and all that once was strong now proves unsure. How shall any tower withstand such numbers and such reckless hate? Had I known that the strength of Isengard was grown so great, maybe I should not so rashly have ridden forth to meet it, for all the arts of Gandalf. His counsel seems not now so good as it did under the morning sun.”

“Do not judge the counsel of Gandalf, until all is over, lord,” said Aragorn.

“The end will not be long,” said the king. “But I will not end here, taken like an old badger in a trap. Snowmane and Hasufel and the horses of my guard are in the inner court. When dawn comes, I will bid men sound Helm’s horn, and I will ride forth. Will you ride with me then, son of Arathorn? Maybe we shall cleave a road, or make such an end as will be worth a song-if any be left to sing of us hereafter.”

“I will ride with you,” said Aragorn.

Taking his leave, he returned to the walls, and passed round all their circuit, enheartening the men, and lending aid wherever the assault was hot. Legolas went with him. Blasts of fire leaped up from below shaking the stones. Grappling-hooks were hurled, and ladders raised. Again and again the Orcs gained the summit of the outer wall, and again the defenders cast them down.

At last Aragorn stood above the great gates, heedless of the darts of the enemy. As he looked forth he saw the eastern sky grow pale. Then he raised his empty hand, palm outward in token of parley.

The Orcs yelled and jeered. “Come down! Come down!” they cried. “If you wish to speak to us, come down! Bring out your king! We are the fighting Uruk-hai. We will fetch him from his hole, if he does not come. Bring out your skulking king!”

“The king stays or comes at his own will,” said Aragorn.

“Then what are you doing here?” they answered. “Why do you look out? Do you wish to see the greatness of our army? We are the fighting Uruk-hai.”

“I looked out to see the dawn,” said Aragorn.

“What of the dawn?” they jeered. “We are the Uruk-hai: we do not stop the fight for night or day, for fair weather or for storm. We come to kill, by sun or moon. What of the dawn?”

“None knows what the new day shall bring him,” said Aragorn. “Get you gone, ere it turn to your evil.”

“Get down or we will shoot you from the wall,” they cried. “This is no parley. You have nothing to say.”

“I have still this to say,” answered Aragorn. “No enemy has yet taken the Hornburg. Depart, or not one of you will be spared. Not one will be left alive to take back tidings to the North. You do not know your peril.”

So great a power and royalty was revealed in Aragorn, as he stood there alone above the ruined gates before the host of his enemies, that many of the wild men paused, and looked back over their shoulders to the valley, and some looked up doubtfully at the sky. But the Orcs laughed with loud voices; and a hail of darts and arrows whistled over the wall, as Aragorn leaped down.

There was a roar and a blast of fire. The archway of the gate above which he had stood a moment before crumbled and crashed in smoke and dust. The barricade was scattered as if by a thunderbolt. Aragorn ran to the king’s tower.

But even as the gate fell, and the Orcs about it yelled, preparing to charge, a murmur arose behind them. like a wind in the distance, and it grew to a clamour of many voices crying strange news in the dawn. The Orcs upon the Rock, hearing the rumour of dismay, wavered and looked back. And then, sudden and terrible, from the tower above, the sound of the great horn of Helm rang out.

All that heard that sound trembled. Many of the Orcs cast themselves on their faces and covered their ears with their claws. Back from the Deep the echoes came, blast upon blast, as if on every cliff and hill a mighty herald stood. But on the walls men looked up, listening with wonder; for the echoes did not die. Ever the horn-blasts wound on among the hills; nearer now and louder they answered one to another, blowing fierce and free.

“Helm! Helm!” the Riders shouted. “Helm is arisen and comes back to war. Helm for Théoden King!”

And with that shout the king came. His horse was white as snow, golden was his shield, and his spear was long. At his right hand was Aragorn, Elendil’s heir, behind him rode the lords of the House of Eorl the Young. Light sprang in the sky. Night departed.

“Forth Eorlingas!” With a cry and a great noise they charged. Down from the gates they roared, over the causeway they swept, and they drove through the hosts of Isengard as a wind among grass. Behind them from the Deep came the stern cries of’ men issuing from the caves, driving forth the enemy. Out poured all the men that were left upon the Rock. And ever the sound of blowing horns echoed in the hills.

On they rode, the king and his companions. Captains and champions fell or fled before them. Neither orc nor man withstood them. Their backs were to the swords and spears of the Riders and their faces to the valley. They cried and wailed, for fear and great wonder had come upon them with the rising of the day.

So King Théoden rode from Helm’s Gate and clove his path to the great Dike. There the company halted. Light grew bright about them. Shafts of the sun flared above the eastern hills and glimmered on their spears. But they sat silent on their horses, and they gazed down upon the Deeping-coomb.

The land had changed. Where before the green dale had lain, its grassy slopes lapping the ever-mounting hills, there now a forest loomed. Great trees, bare and silent, stood, rank on rank, with tangled bough and hoary head; their twisted roots were buried in the long green grass. Darkness was under them. Between the Dike and the eaves of that nameless wood only two open furlongs lay. There now cowered the proud hosts of Saruman, in terror of the king and in terror of the trees. They streamed down from Helm’s Gate until all above the Dike was empty of them, but below it they were packed like swarming flies. Vainly they crawled and clambered about the walls of the coomb. seeking to escape. Upon the east too sheer and stony was the valley’s side; upon the left, from the west, their final doom approached.

There suddenly upon a ridge appeared a rider, clad in white, shining in the rising sun. Over the low hills the horns were sounding. Behind him, hastening down the long slopes, were a thousand men on foot; their swords were in their hands. Amid them strode a man tall and strong. His shield was red. As he came to the valley’s brink, he set to his lips a great black horn and blew a ringing blast.

“Erkenbrand!” the Riders shouted. “Erkenbrand!”

“Behold the White Rider!” cried Aragorn. “Gandalf is come again!”

“Mithrandir, Mithrandir!” said Legolas. “This is wizardry indeed! Come! I would look on this forest, ere the spell changes.”

The hosts of Isengard roared, swaying this way and that, turning from fear to fear. Again the horn sounded from the tower. Down through the breach of the Dike charged the king’s company. Down from the hills leaped Erkenbrand, lord of Westfold. Down leaped Shadowfax, like a deer that runs surefooted in the mountains. The White Rider was upon them, and the terror of his coming filled the enemy with madness. The wild men fell on their faces before him. The Orcs reeled and screamed and cast aside both sword and spear. Like a black smoke driven by a mounting wind they fled. Wailing they passed under the waiting shadow of the trees; and from that shadow none ever came again.

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