ROTK: Bk 6, Ch 2
"'Now down we go, Sam,' Frodo whispered. 'Down into the valley quick, and then turn northward, as soon as ever we can.'"
According to Christopher Tolkien, based on his father's papers it seemed very clear that this chapter was written "swiftly and in a single burst of writing". In the draft there is very little that is different from the version that we know in The Return of the King. Frodo and Sam ran down the road from the gate, down around a bend and underneath a cliff to get out of sight. Then, down the eastern face of the Ephal Duath they plunged until they reached the road the ran along the bottom. Between the foot of the mountain range and the Plateau of Gorgoroth was a deep ravine in which the Morgai flowed north and south. They came to a stone bridge and had no sooner reached the far side when a "hue and cry" of Orcs came down from the direction of the Tower.
Quickly they scrambled underneath the bridge to hide. After the rush of horses and Orcs crossed the bridge and died own, they decided it was safest to travel along the length of the Morgai valley rather than up on the road. Traversing across the boulders, bramble and thick thorny briar, Sam and Frodo journeyed north. They knew at some point they would have to turn eastwards but for now they couldn't risk being seen. Looking at the map insert above, it's clear that the hobbits were less than a few days journey eastwards from reaching Mount Doom. But Tolkien's problem at this point was that the Army of the West was not due to reach the Black Gate until March 25th. By having the Plateau of Gorgoroth covered with camps of the Enemy, he forced them into a rather long detour - first Northwards, then due East and finally turning Southwest, essentially circumnavigating a loop around the valley to the Northeastern side of the mountain. What follows in this chapter are the circumstances that lead to this longer journey.
They continued for many miles, making several stops to rest. Frodo in particular was weary from the weight of the burden the hung around his neck. Since they first headed east from the cross-roads on March 10th, the sky had been covered in darkness. But now they noticed a change.
"They stood up, and then they both stared in wonder. Away to the left, southward, against a sky that was turning grey, the peaks and high ridges of the great range began to appear dark and black, visible shapes. Light was growing behind them. Slowly it crept towards the North. There was battle far above in the high spaces of the air. The billowing clouds of Mordor were being driven back, their edges tattering as a wind out of the living world came up and swept the fumes and smokes towards the dark land of their home. Under the lifting skirts of the dreary canopy dim light leaked into Mordor like pale morning through the grimed window of a prison."It was the morning of March the 15th and the wind was coming from the south. It consoled them. Perhaps their fortunes were taking a turn for the better. Overhead, a dark shape flew out of the west towards Barad-dur. From it came "a cry of woe and dismay, ill tidings for the Dark Tower."
On the westward slope of the valley they noticed an Orc-path so they crossed the stony ravine and continued on this easier road. They later encountered a gully out of which trickled a stream. Being parched from their journey, they drank their fill of the unpleasant tasting water and filled their bottles. The weight of the Orc-mail shirt was too burdensome for Frodo. In his exhaustion, he decided to discard it. Then they collapsed into sleep. When they woke up, Frodo was still weary for his sleep was uneasy. They climbed the eastern side and looked out onto Mordor where they saw many camps of Orcs. One of the largest, ordered like a city, was right below them as the plain sloped below the top of the ravine. Sauron was reassembling his armies but for what purpose they did not know. They continued for a ways along the slope, staying out of sight.
A few miles down, they heard Orc voices and they hid in a small cave as they listened. Two Orcs - one small tracker and a large soldier - were speaking. They were looking for something, or someone. From the conversation, Frodo and Sam learned that the Orcs were seeking whoever it was that escaped the Tower as well as the "gobbler with the flapping hands". It seemed that Gollum was also about. Apparently, he was following the hobbits and, because he found and moved Frodo's cast-off mail shirt, the Orcs had lost track of their scent. The tracker Orc was fretting over rumors of bad news about the war. They feared that "they've done in Number One." He meant to desert and the Orc-soldier tried to spear him. But the smaller Orc put an arrow through the soldier's eye and fled.
Frodo thought back to the maps he had studied in Rivendell of this land. He knew they were approaching a point where the northern and western ranges met in a strange way. Inside the Northwestern corner of Mordor was an open area called Udun. It was framed underneath by two spurs that came out of each range. Looking down on Udun, the mountains would appear to wrap around an area in the center similar to one that would be made by touching the index fingers and thumbs of both hands in the shape of a circle. Between the points where the thumbs would meet, was a small opening called Carach Angren, the Isenmouthe. It was through this gap that Sauron's armies were entering the dale that lay behind the Morannon, awaiting a great battle.
Seeing the Isenmouthe in the distance, Frodo decided that it would be a good point to start heading east toward the fiery mountain. While the region was crawling with Orcs, they realized it was necessary to take to the road and try to sneak by. Before they set out, however, they decided to rest. As Frodo nodded off, Sam went in search of water. He came upon a small pool and as he filled his water bottle, something caught his eye. It is notable that in the original draft, there was no mention of Gollum. But in one of the revisions, Tolkien had the tracker make the reference to the "gobbler with the flapping hands" and included at this point the following passage:
"At that moment he caught a glimpse of a black form or shadow flitting among the rocks away near Frodo's hiding-place. Biting back a cry, he leapt down from the spring and ran, jumping from stone to stone. It was a wary creature, difficult to see, but Sam had little doubt about it: he longed to get his hands on its neck. But it heard him coming and slipped quickly away. Sam thought he saw a last fleeting glimpse of it, peering back over the edge of the eastward precipice, before it ducked and disappeared."
Before he plunged into sleep, Sam resolved to be diligent in looking out for Gollum.
The next day they traveled many miles. And it wasn't long before they were overtaken by marching feet. Frodo and Sam tried to huddle off to the side of the road, hoping not to be noticed but slave-drivers spied them and, taking them for Orcs, ordered them to fall into line. They had little choice but to comply. Keeping up with the column of marching Orc was a torment for them both, but especially for Frodo. As they approached the Isenmouthe, his strength gave out. Sam tried to pull him up but his efforts were in vain. He thought they were done for.
But just at that moment, there came an unexpected bit of luck. There were other columns of Orcs heading through the gap from other directions as well. And, in the turmoil of the different marching lines merging together to fit through the opening, the hobbits fell to the ground and crawled on their hands and knees to the edges of the road. Soon they were able to dive into a shallow pit and hide. The armies continued to fill the desolate dale of Udun. It was the morning of March 19th.
Elsewhere during the War of the Ring: The day after the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, the Captains of the West debated their course of action and two days later set out from Minas Tirith. As Frodo and Sam elude the column of Orcs, the army of the West pass through the Cross-roads, set the head of the king back upon the body of the statue and begin their journey north through Ithilien.
[Chronology: March 14th through March 19th 3019 T.A.]
Next: Mount Doom