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ROTK: Bk 5, Ch 9

The Last Debate
"'I do not counsel prudence. I said victory could not be achieved by arms. I still hope for victory, but not by arms.'"

The next morning was a fair, clear day. Legolas and Gimli entered Minas Tirith and presented quite a sight to its inhabitants - the fair-faced Elf alongside the brooding Dwarf. Gimli comments on the good stone work of the city and observes that it has fallen into disrepair. Legolas sees the lack of gardens and growing things among the stone-work. Both resolve that, if Aragorn comes into his own, they will enlist the skills of their respective peoples to rebuild the beauty of this once-proud city. They bring a message to Eomer and Imrahil from Aragorn that a council is to be held at the encampment outside the city walls.

They are led to the Houses of Healing where they meet their hobbit friends. Pippin implores them to recount their journey with Aragorn. Gimli doesn't wish to speak of it, but Legolas had no fear of the "shadows of men" deeming them to be powerless and frail. He shared the tale starting with the passage through the Paths of the Dead. From the Stone of Erech, where Aragorn summoned the Shadow Host, they journeyed several days across the southern provinces of Gondor. Across the river Ringlo, they entered into the land of Lebennin. Between there and Minas Tirith they had to cross several more rivers starting with the river Gilrain. Lebennin itself means "five rivers" (leben meaning "five" and nin meaning "waters").

The encountered some men of Gondor fighting with folk of the Haradrim over the ford at Gilrain. At the sight of the Army of the Dead approaching, members of both sides fled. Angbor, the Lord of Lamedon, was not afraid and met with Aragorn who asked that he bring whatever force of his men he could gather and follow them to the port city of Pelargir on the Anduin. For at Pelargir, the black ships were assembled.

When they arrived to find the main fleet of Umbar, the evil men laughed at the sight of the Grey Company approaching, which numbered so few. As Legolas recounts:

"But Aragorn halted and cried with a great voice: "Now Come! By the Black Stone I call you!" And suddenly the Shadow Host that had hung back at the last came up like a grey tide, sweeping all away before it. Faint cries I heard, and dim horns blowing, and a murmur as of countless far voices: it was like the echo of some forgotten battle in the Dark Years long ago. Pale swords were drawn; but I know not whether their blades would still bite, for the Dead needed no longer any weapon but fear. None would withstand them."

The men of Umbar were driven into madness with fear and many leapt overboard to escape the dread army. Many drowned and the rest fled south back towards their own lands. Aboard the ships there were captives, men of Gondor who had been taken in raids and made to serve as slaves of the Southrons. Many of them were chained to the oars or locked away below decks. Aragorn and the Dunedain freed and comforted them. Now all the black fleet was under Aragorn's command. He then spoke to the Dead on the banks of the Anduin. Aragorn declared that their oaths had been fulfilled and he bid them to depart and be at peace. The King of the Dead came forward and broke his spear, casting it down. He then bowed to Aragorn and, as he turned away, the whole host vanished as if they had been blown away by a strong wind. The Men who once haunted the mountains were seen no more.

Now that the fear of the Dead had been removed, many men from throughout the lands of South Gondor came to join the Grey Company. Some Aragorn took with him aboard the ships. The rest he bid to follow him up the Anduin on foot towards Minas Tirith. Slowly the ships passed north up the river under the power of the oars. But they were going against the current and Aragorn feared that the would be too late. From afar, they could see a red glow and they knew Minas Tirith was burning.

But in the early hours of the morning of March 15th, a fresh wind from the Sea blew northwards, breaking up the darkness above them. This was the same wind that was perceived by Ghan-buri-Ghan as the Rohirrim emerged from the Druadan Forest. So they unfurled their sails and it helped drive them faster towards the city. Was this change in the wind, which had the effect of blowing away Sauron's manufactured darkness, an intervention by the Vala Manwe, or perhaps by Eru Iluvatar himself? Tolkein does not discuss this as a possible explanation but certainly it is implied. By daybreak they had reached the Harlond just in time to reinforce the defenders and help drive the enemy from the Pelennor Fields.

But Legolas and Gimli had seen the grave faces of Aragorn and Gandalf that morning and they knew that Mordor still threatened the Free Peoples, despite the victory. There was a meeting taking place to decide what to do next.

Assembled were the White Wizard, the sons of Elrond, Eomer, Imrahil and Aragorn. Gandalf told them that they had but two choices before them: to stay and await the onset of another siege or to march out across the river to certain defeat. While prudence called for the former, this was not his council. He recommended the latter, but for a different purpose than trying to defeat the forces of Mordor. There was still the matter of the Ring. Frodo and Sam were heading into the Enemy's lands. Sauron was now in doubt. He had seen the revelation of Aragorn and the sword that had once cut the Ring from his hand reforged. His black captain had been destroyed. And the "winds of fortune" had, literally, turned against him.

Gandalf declared that they must draw the Eye of Sauron away from Mordor. They should send out an army to lure his forces to the Black Gate. Sauron might believe that one among them wielded the Ring and he would undoubtedly empty his lands of his remaining strength to meet this threat. This would give Frodo a better chance to reach Mount Doom and destroy the Ring.

"We must walk open-eyed into that trap, with courage, but small hope for ourselves. For, my lords, it may well prove that we ourselves shall perish utterly in a black battle far from the living lands; so that even if Barad-dur be thrown down, we shall not live to see a new age. But this, I deem, is out duty. And better so than to perish nonetheless - as we surely shall, if we sit here - and know as we die that no new age shall be."

It was a grim choice to ride to certain death on only a faint hope for the Ringbearer's success. Aragorn thought, but not for long. Though the choice was difficult it was all too clear. He resolved to go and follow this plan. One by one, the others agreed. They resolved to assemble a force that was large enough to challenge battle, while leaving enough men to guard the city against an attack from the Orcs on the West Road, should it come. They would leave in two days time at the latest, when the four thousand or so men that Angbor led up the Anduin was expected to arrive. Their army would number six thousand on foot and one thousand on horseback, totaling seven thousand in all.

Aragorn knew that one way or another this would be the endgame.

"Then he drew Anduril and held it up glittering in the sun. 'You shall not be sheathed again until the last battle is fought' he said."

[Chronology: March 16th 3019 T.A.]

Next: The Black Gate Opens

(revised 10/26/06)


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