TTT: Bk 4, Ch 3
The Black Gate Is Closed
"'Well, here we are!' said Sam. 'Here's the Gate, and it looks to me as if that's about as far as we are ever going to get. My word, but the Gaffer would have a thing or two to say, if he saw me now.'"Before dawn on March 5th, Frodo, Sam and Smeagol (note: going forward, unless this character specifically assumes the "Gollum" persona, I will refer to him as Smeagol) hide on top of a slag hill in sight of the Black Gate of Mordor. When Tolkien looked ahead to this part of the story, he had intended for the hobbits to actually enter Mordor at "Kirith Ungol" - the Pass of the Spiders. Considering however that the outline he had written of the Western story still had a couple of weeks to go he was left with a dilemma. It also occurred to him that walking in through the main entrance to Mordor, even if by a hidden passage, seemed implausible. So he came up with the idea of a "crossroads" further south that would lead to Minas Tirith if one turned right, the south lands of Harad if one continued straight on and to Minas Morgul (formerly Minas Ithil) if one turned left, toward the Ephel Duath. So the pass of Cirith Ungol was moved to that new location (and Kirith changed to Cirith though still with a hard "C" sound).
The main entrance now had a huge gate called the Morannon. And the entrance to the Black Lands that lay behind it was now called Cirith Gorgor. Tolkien describes the view of Frodo looking toward the gate:
"High cliffs lowered upon either side, and thrust forward from its mouth were two sheer hills, black-boned and bare. Upon them stood the Teeth of Mordor, two towers strong and tall. In days long past they were built by the Men of Gondor in their pride and power, after the overthrow of Sauron and his flight, lest he should seek to return to his old realm. But the strength of Gondor failed, and men slept, and for long years the towers stood empty. Then Sauron returned. Now the watch-towers, which had fallen into decay, were repaired, and filled with arms, and garrisoned with ceaseless vigilance. Stony-faced they were, with dark window-holes staring north and east and west, and each window was full of sleepless eyes."Just as Tolkien was vexed at this point as to how he would have his characters enter Mordor, Frodo and Sam watch helplessly as they ponder a way in.
Smeagol agrees that the gate is not passable but when Frodo admits that he nevertheless means to enter Mordor, he begs his new master not to take the Precious inside, to Sauron. He even goes so far as to ask Frodo to give the Ring to him to "keep it safe". Frodo says if there is only this one way, he must take it, but Smeagol tells him that there is indeed another way. Neither Frodo nor Sam are convinced that Smeagol is completely trustworthy, but after watching armies of men from the south marching to the Morannon, Frodo feels he now has not choice. "I will trust you once more," he tells Smeagol. But he is firm with him. Frodo reminds Smeagol of the promise he swore on the Precious and tells him to put away his desire for the Ring because he will never get it. Here he says something prescient:"If I, wearing it, were to command you, you would obey, even if it were to leap from a precipice or to cast yourself into the fire."
Frodo's threat unnerves Smeagol. He is quite compliant and tells Frodo and Sam about the crossroads that lay south. To the east there are stairs that go up to a pass above Minas Morgul and then to a tunnel that leads into Mordor. He explains that while that way is not without risk, Sauron's forces are likely to be concentrated at the front gate where he most anticipates an attack. Considering that Ithilien - the lands West of Mordor that stretched to the Anduin - was under the Dark Lord's control, the security of the pass above Minas Morgul was not considered by Sauron to be in an danger of an attack by Gondor. Frodo has concerns about this tunnel Smeagol speaks of and asks if it is guarded. All Smeagol would say is yes, perhaps but the only choice was to try it or go home.
Later that day, as evening drew to a close, they see three Nazgul upon their flying steeds; "The winged shapes wheeled, and stooped swiftly down, speeding back to Mordor". They were returning from their reconnaissance in Rohan. Frodo, Sam and Smeagol wait for the dark of night before they proceed south through the early morning hours of March 6th.
Meanwhile, on the Western side of the Anduin...
Theoden reaches Helm's Deep while the Ents complete the destruction of Isengard. Saruman's forces are defeated at the Battle of Helm's Deep. The victors head north to Isengard and the two factions of the broken Fellowship meet again at the outer wall. Gandalf parlays with Saruman, drives him out the Order and acquires the Palantir.
And at this moment, Pippin has just looked into the Palantir and attracts the gaze of Sauron from Mordor. He and Gandalf ride east towards Minas Tirith. It is March 5th and from this point forward, Frodo and Sam's story surpasses the others chronologically.
[Chronology: March 3rd - March 5th 3019 T.A.]
Next: Of Herbs And Stewed Rabbit