Of the Journey of the Black Riders according to the account that Gandalf gave to Frodo
Gollum was captured in Mordor in the year 3017 and taken Barad-dûr, and there questioned and tormented. When he had learned what he could from him, Sauron released him and sent him forth again. He did not trust Gollum, for he divined something indomitable in him, which could not be overcome, even by the Shadow of Fear, except by destroying him. But Sauron perceived the depth of Gollum’s malice towards those that had “robbed” him, and guessing that he would go in search of them to avenge himself, Sauron hoped that his spies would thus be led to the Ring.
What Gollum revealed to Sauron of the Ring and the place of its finding was sufficient to warn Sauron that this was indeed the One, but that of its present whereabouts he could only discover that it was stolen by a creature named Baggins in the Misty Mountains, and that Baggins came from a land called Shire. Sauron’s fears were much allayed when he perceived from Gollum’s account that Baggins must have been a creature of the same sort. From all accounts it is clear that Gollum did at least know in which direction the Shire lay; but though no doubt more could have been wrung from him by torture, Sauron plainly had no inkling that Baggins came from a region far removed from the Misty Mountains or that Gollum knew where it was, and assumed that he would be found in the Vales of Anduin, in the same region as Gollum himself had once lived. This was a very small and natural error – but possibly the most important mistake that Sauron made in the whole affair. But for it, the Black Riders would have reached the Shire weeks sooner.
After his release from Mordor, Gollum soon disappeared into the Dead Marshes, where Sauron’s emissaries could not or would not follow him. Yet all his ordinary spies and emissaries could bring him no tidings. And this was due largely both to the vigilance of the Dúnedain and to the treachery of Saruman, whose own servants either waylaid or misled the servants of Sauron. Of this Sauron became aware, but his arm was not yet long enough to reach Saruman in Isengard. Therefore he hid his knowledge of Saruman’s double-dealing and concealed his wrath, biding his time, and preparing for the great war in which he planned to sweep all his enemies into the western sea. He had been reluctant to use the Ringwraiths, until he knew precisely where the Ring was, for several reasons. They were by far the most powerful of his servants, and the most suitable for such a mission, since they were entirely enslaved to their Nine Rings, which he now himself held; they were quite incapable of acting against his will, and if one of them, even the Witch-king their captain, had seized the One Ring, he would have brought it back to his Master, But they had disadvantages, until open war began (for which Sauron was not yet ready). All except the Witch-king were apt to stray when alone by daylight; and all, again save the Witch-King, feared water, and were unwilling, except in dire need, to enter it or to cross streams unless dry-shod by a bridge. At the Ford of Bruinen, only the Witch-king and two others, with the lure of the Ring straight before them, had dared to enter the river; the others were driven into it by Glorfindel and Aragorn. Moreover, their chief weapon was terror. This was actually greater when they were unclad and invisible; and it was greater also when the were gathered together. So any mission on which they were sent could hardly be conducted with secrecy; while the passage of Anduin and other rivers presented an obstacle. For such reasons Sauron long hesitated, since he did not desire that his chief enemies should become aware of his servants’ errand. It must be supposed that Sauron did not know at first that anyone save Gollum and “the thief Baggins” had any knowledge of the Ring. Until Gandalf came and questioned him (Gandalf, as he recounted to the Council of Elrond, questioned Gollum while he was imprisoned by the Elves of Thranduil), Gollum did not know that Gandalf had any connection with Bilbo; he had not even known of Gandalf’s existence.
Gollum, however, was before long captured by Aragorn, and taken to Northern Mirkwood; and though they were followed, Gollum could not be rescued before he was in safe keeping.
According to Aragorn, Gollum was taken at nightfall on February 1st. Hoping to escape detection by any of Sauron’s spies he drove Gollum through the north end of the Emyn Muil, and crossed Anduin just above Sarn Gebir. Driftwood was often cast up there on the shoals by the east shore, and binding Gollum to a log he swam across with him, and continued his journey north by tracks as westerly as he could find through the skirts of Fangorn, and so over Limlight, then over Nimrodel and Silverlode through the eaves of Lórien (Gandalf told the Council of Elrond that after he left Minas Tirith “messages came to me out of Lórien that Aragorn had passed that way, and that he had found the creature called Gollum”), and then on, avoiding Moria and Dimrill Dale, over Gladden until he came near the Carrock. There he crossed Anduin again, with the help of the Beornings, and passed into the Forest. The whole journey, on foot, was not much short of nine hundred miles, and this Aragorn accomplished with weariness in fifty days, reaching Thranduil on the twenty-first of March. Gandalf arrived two days later, and left on the 29th of March early in the morning. After the Carrock he had a horse, but he had the High Pass over the Mountains to cross. He got a fresh horse at Rivendell, and making the greatest speed he could he reached Hobbiton late on the 12th of April, after a journey of nearly eight hundred miles.
It is thus most likely that the first news of Gollum would be learned by the servants of Dol Guldur after Aragorn entered the Forest; for though the power of Dol Guldur was supposed to come to an end at the Old Forest Road, its spies were many in the wood. The news evidently did not reach the Nazgûl commander of Dol Guldur for some time, and he probably did not inform Barad-dûr until he had tried to learn more of Gollum’s whereabouts. It would then no doubt be late in April before Sauron heard that Gollum had been seen again, apparently captive in the hands of a Man. This might mean little. Neither Sauron nor any of his servants yet knew of Aragorn or who he was. But evidently later (since the lands of Thranduil would now be closely watched), possibly a month later, Sauron heard the disquieting news that the Wise were aware of Gollum, and that Gandalf had passed into Thranduil’s realm.
Sauron had never paid heed to the “Halflings,” even if he had heard of them, and he did not yet know where their land lay. From Gollum, even under pain, he could not get any clear account, both because Gollum indeed had no certain knowledge himself, and because what he knew, he falsified. Ultimately indomitable he was, except by death, as Sauron did not fully comprehend, being himself consumed by lust for the ring. Then Gollum became filled with a hatred of Sauron even greater than his terror, seeing in him truly his greatest enemy and rival. Thus it was that he dared to pretend that he believed that the land of the Halflings was near to the places where he had once dwelt beside the banks of the Gladden.
Now Sauron learning of the capture of Gollum by the chiefs of his enemies was filled with anger and alarm. At length he resolved that no others would serve him in this case but his mightiest servants, the Ringwraiths – for speed rather than secrecy was now important. Hoping to alarm his enemies and disturb their counsels with the fear of war (which he did not intend to make for some time), he attacked Thranduil and Gondor at about the same time. He had these two additional objects: to capture or kill Gollum, or at least to deprive his enemies of him; and to force the passage of the bridge of Osgiliath, so that the Nazgûl could cross, while testing the strength of Gondor.
Now few could withstand even one of these fell creatures, and (as Sauron deemed) none could withstand them when gathered together under their terrible captain, the Lord of Morgul. Yet this weakness they had for Sauron’s present purpose: so great was the terror that went with them (even invisible and unclad) that their coming forth might soon be perceived and their mission be guessed by the Wise.
So it was that Sauron prepared two strokes – in which many saw the beginnings of the War of the Ring. They were made together. The Orcs assailed the realm of Thranduil, with orders to recapture Gollum; and the Lord of Morgul was sent forth openly to battle against Gondor. These things were done towards the end of June 3018. Thus Sauron tested the strength and preparedness of Denethor, and found them more than he had hoped. But that troubled him little, since he had used little force in the assault, and his chief purpose was that the coming forth of the Nazgûl should appear only as part of his policy of war against Gondor.
In the event, Gollum escaped. But the assault on Osgiliath and the passage of the bridge on the 20th of June was effected. The forces there used were probably much less than men in Gondor thought. In the panic of the first assault, when the Witch-king was allowed to reveal himself briefly in his full terror, the Nazgûl crossed the bridge at night and dispersed northwards. This no doubt relates to Boromir’s account of the battle at Osgiliath which he gave to the Council of Elrond: “A power was there that we have not felt before. Some said that it could be seen, like a great black horseman, a dark shadow under the moon.” Without belittling the valor of Gondor, it is clear that Boromir and Faramir were able to drive back the enemy and destroy the bridge, only because the attack had now served its main purpose.
Therefore when Osgiliath was taken and the bridge broken Sauron stayed the assault, and the Nazgûl were ordered to begin the search for the Ring. But Sauron did not under-esteem the powers and vigilance of the Wise, and the Nazgûl were commanded to act as secretly as they could. Now at that time the Chieftain of the Ringwraiths dwelt in Minas Morgul with six companions, while the second to the Chief, Khamûl the Shadow of the East, abode in Dol Guldur as Sauron’s lieutenant, with one other as his messenger.
In 2951, Sauron sent three, not two, of the Nazgûl to reoccupy Dol Guldur. The two statements can be reconciled on the assumption that one of the Ringwraiths of Dol Guldur returned afterwards to Minas Morgul. From the movements of the Black Riders in the Shire it emerges that it was Khamûl who came to Hobbiton and spoke to Gaffer Gamgee, who followed the Hobbits along the road to Stock, and who narrowly missed them at the Bucklebury Ferry. The Rider who accompanied him, whom he summoned by cries on the ridge above Woodhall, and with whom he visited Farmer Maggot, was his companion from Dol Guldur. Of Khamûl it is said that he was the most ready of all the Nazgûl after the Black Captain himself, to perceive the presence of the Ring, but also the one whose power was most confused and diminished by daylight.
The Lord of Morgul therefore led his companions over Anduin, unclad and unmounted, and invisible to eyes, and yet a terror to all living things that they passed near. It was, maybe, on the first day of July that they went forth. They passed slowly and in stealth, through Anórien, and over the Entwade, and so into the Wold, and rumor of darkness and a dread of men knew not what went before them. They reached the west-shores of Anduin a little north of Sarn Gebir; and there received horses and raiment that were secretly ferried over the River. This was (it is thought) about the seventeenth of July. Then they passed northward seeking for the Shire, the land of the Halflings.
About the twenty-second of July they met their companions, the Nazgûl of Dol Guldur, in the Field of Celebrant. There they learned that Gollum had eluded both the Orcs that were to recapture him, and the Elves that pursued them, and had vanished.
It seems clear that, pursued both by Elves and Orcs, Gollum crossed the Anduin, probably by swimming, and so eluded the hunt of Sauron; but being still hunted by Elves, and not yet daring to pass near Lórien (only the lure of the Ring itself made him dare to do this afterwards), he hid himself in Moria. He had indeed in his terror of the Nazgûl dared to hide in Moria. That was probably in the autumn of the year; after which all trace of him was lost.
What then happened to Gollum cannot of course be known for certain. He was peculiarly fitted to survive in such straits, though at cost of great misery; but he was in great peril of discovery by the servants of Sauron that lurked in Moria (these were in fact not very numerous, it would seem; but sufficient to keep any intruders out, if not better armed or prepared than Balin’s company, and not in great numbers), especially since such bare necessity of food as he must have found he could only get by thieving dangerously. No doubt he had intended to use Moria simply as a secret passage westward, his purpose being to find “Shire” himself as quickly as he could; but he became lost, and it was a very long time before he found his way about. It thus seems probable that he had not long made his way towards the West-gate when the Nine Walkers arrived. He knew nothing, of course, about the action of the doors. To him they would seem huge and immovable; and though they had no lock or bar and opened outwards to a thrust, he did not discover that. In any case he was now far away from any source of food, for the Orcs were mostly in the East-end of Moria, and was become weak and desperate, so that even if he had known all about the doors he still could not have thrust them open. According to the Dwarves, this needed usually the thrust or two; only a very strong Dwarf could open them single-handed. Before the desertion of Moria, door wards were kept inside the West-gate and one at least was always there. In this way, a single person (and so any intruder or person trying to escape) could not get out without permission. It was thus a piece of singular good fortune for Gollum that the Nine Walkers arrived when they did.
The Ringwraiths were told also by Khamûl that no dwelling of Halflings could be discovered in the Vales of Anduin, and that the villages of the Stoors by the Gladden had long been deserted. Between 2463, when Déagol found the One Ring, and the beginning of special inquiries concerning the Ring nearly 500 years later, the Stoors appear indeed to have died out altogether; or to have fled from the shadow of Dol Guldur. Indeed, it may have been their exodus in 2470 that made Sméagol move into the Mountains. But the Lord of Morgul, seeing no better counsel, determined still to seek northward, hoping maybe to come upon Gollum as well as to discover the Shire. That this would prove to be not far from the hated land of Lórien seemed to him not unlikely, if it was not indeed within the fences of Galadriel. But the power of the White Ring he would not defy, nor enter yet into Lórien. Passing therefore between Lórien and the Mountains the Nine rode ever on into the North; and terror went before them and lingered behind them; but they did not find what they sought nor learn any news that availed them.
At length they returned; but the summer was now far waned, and the wrath and fear of Sauron was mounting. When they came back to the Wold, September had come; and there they met messengers from Barad-dûr conveying threats from their Master that filled even the Morgul-lord with dismay. For Sauron had now learned of the words of prophecy heard in Gondor, and the going forth of Boromir, of Saruman’s deeds, and the capture of Gandalf. From these things he concluded indeed that neither Saruman nor any other of the Wise had possession yet of the Ring, but that Saruman at least knew where it might be hidden. Speed alone would now serve, and secrecy must be abandoned.
Sauron had at this time, by means of the palantíri, at last begun to daunt Saruman, and could in any case often read his thought even when he withheld information. Thus Sauron was aware that Saruman had some guess at the place where the Ring was; and Saruman actually revealed that he had got as his prisoner Gandalf, who knew the most.
The Ringwraiths therefore were ordered to go straight to Isengard. They rode then through Rohan in haste, and the terror of their passing was so great that many folk fled from the land, and went wildly away north and west, believing that war out of the East was coming on the heels of the black horses.
The Lord of Morgul halted before the Gate of Isengard while Gandalf was still a prisoner in the tower. Then Saruman, in fear and despair, and perceiving the full horror of service to Mordor, resolved suddenly to yield to Gandalf, and to beg for his pardon and help. But he was wary and cunning still, and he had ordered Isengard against just such an evil chance. The Circle of Isengard was too strong for even the Lord of Morgul and his company to assail without great force of war. Therefore to his challenge and demands he received only the answer of the voice of Saruman, that spoke by some art as though it came from the Gate itself.
“It is not a land that you look for,” it said. “I know what you seek, though you do not name it. I have it not, as surely its servants perceive without telling; for if I had it, then you would bow before me and call me Lord. And if I knew where this thing was hid, I should not be here, but long gone before you came, to take it. There is one only whom I guess to have this knowledge: Mithrandir, enemy of Sauron.”
He admitted that he had Gandalf within, and said that he would go and try to discover what he knew; if that were unavailing, he would deliver Gandalf up to them. Then Saruman hastened to the summit of Orthanc – and found Gandalf gone. Away south against the setting moon he saw a great Eagle flying towards Edoras.
Now Saruman’s case was worse. If Gandalf had escaped there was still a real chance that Sauron would not get the Ring, and would be defeated. In his heart Saruman recognized the great power and the strange “good fortune” that went with Gandalf. Saruman perceived the peril of standing between enemies, a known traitor to both. His dread was great, for his hope of deceiving Sauron, or at the least of receiving his favor in victory, was utterly lost. Now either he must gain the Ring himself or come to ruin and torment. But for now he was left alone to deal with the Nine. His mood changed, and his pride reasserted itself in anger at Gandalf’s escape from impenetrable Isengard, and in a fury of jealousy. He went back to the Gate, and he lied, saying that he had made Gandalf confess. He did not admit that this was his own knowledge, not being aware of how much Sauron knew of his mind and heart.
“I will report this myself to the Lord of Barad-dûr,” he said loftily, “to whom I speak from afar on great matters that concern us. But all that you need to know on the mission that he has given you is where ‘the Shire’ lies. That, says Mithrandir, is northwest from here some six hundred miles, on the borders of the seaward Elvish country.” To his pleasure Saruman saw that even the Witch-king did not relish that. “You must cross Isen by the Fords, and then rounding the Mountains’ end make for Tharbad upon Greyflood. Go with speed, and I will report to your Master that you have done so.”
This skillful speech convinced even the Witch-king for the moment that Saruman was a faithful ally, high in Sauron’s confidence. Such was still the power of the voice of Saruman that even the Lord of the Nazgûl did not question what it said, whether it was false or short of the full truth. At once the Riders left the Gate and rode in haste to the Fords of Isen. Behind them Saruman sent out wolves and Orcs in vain pursuit of Gandalf; but in this he had other purposes also, to impress his power upon the Nazgûl, perhaps also to prevent them from lingering near, and in his anger he wished to do some injury to Rohan, and to increase the fear of him which his agent Wormtongue was building up in Théoden’s heart. Wormtongue had been in Isengard not long since, and was then on his way back to Edoras; among the pursuers were some bearing messages to him.
When he was rid of the Riders, Saruman retired to Orthanc, and sat in earnest and dreadful thought. It seems that he resolved still to temporize, and still to hope to get the Ring for himself. He thought that the direction of the Riders to the Shire might hinder them rather than help them, for he knew of the guard of the Rangers, and he believed also (knowing of the oracular dream-words and of Boromir’s mission) that the Ring had gone and was already on the way on Rivendell. At once he marshaled and sent out into Eriador all the spies, spy-birds, and agents that he could muster.
Now the Lord of the Nazgûl divided his company into four pairs, and they rode separately, but he went ahead with the swiftest pair. Thus they passed west out of Rohan. When the Black Riders were far across Enedwaith and drawing near at last to Tharbad, they had what was for them a great stroke of good fortune, but disastrous for Saruman (although nothing is written of what passed between Sauron and Saruman as a result of the latter’s unmasking), and deadly perilous for Frodo.
Saruman had long taken an interest in the Shire – because Gandalf did, and be was suspicious of him; and because (again, in secret imitation of Gandalf) he had taken to the “Halflings’ leaf,” and needed supplies, but in pride (having once scoffed at Gandalf’s use of the weed) kept this as secret as he could. Latterly other motives were added. He liked to extend his power, especially into Gandalf’s province, and he found that the money he could provide for the purchase of “leaf” was giving him power, and was corrupting some of the Hobbits, especially the Bracegirdles, who owned many plantations, and so also the Sackville-Bagginses. Lobelia Bracegirdle married Otho Sackville-Baggins; their son was Lotho, who seized control of the Shire after Frodo left, and was then known as “the Chief.” Farmer Cotton once referred in conversation with Frodo to Lotho’s property in leaf-plantations in the Southfarthing. But also Saruman had begun to feel certain that in some way the Shire was connected with the Ring in Gandalf’s mind. Why this strong guard upon it? He therefore began to collect detailed information about the Shire, its chief persons and families, its roads, and other matters. For this he used Hobbits within the Shire, in the pay of the Bracegirdles and the Sackville-Bagginses, but his agents were Men, of Dunlendish origin. When Gandalf had refused to treat with him, Saruman had redoubled his efforts. The Rangers were suspicious, but did not actually refuse entry to the servants of Saruman – for Gandalf was not at liberty to warn them, and when he had gone off to Isengard, Saruman was still recognized as an ally.
Some while ago, one of Saruman’s most trusted servants (yet a ruffianly fellow, an outlaw driven from Dunland, where many said that he had Orc-blood) had returned from the borders of the Shire, where he had been negotiating for the purpose of “leaf” and other supplies. Saruman was beginning to store Isengard against war. This man was now on his way back to continue the business, and to arrange for the transport of many goods before autumn failed. The usual way was by the crossing of Tharbad to Dunland (rather than direct to Isengard), whence goods were sent more secretly on to Saruman. He had orders also to get into the Shire if possible and learn if there had been any departures of persons well-known recently. He was well supplied with maps, lists of names, and notes concerning the Shire.
Thence the Black Riders rode through Minhiriath, and even though they were not yet assembled a rumor of dread spread about them, and the creatures of the wild hid themselves, and lonely men fled away. But some fugitives on the road they captured; and to the delight of the Captain two proved to be spies and servants of Saruman.
This Dunlending was overtaken by several of them as they approached the Tharbad crossing. In an extremity of terror he was haled to the Witch-king and questioned. He saved his life by betraying Saruman. He had been used much in the traffic between Isengard and the Shire, and though he had not himself been beyond the Southfarthing he had charts prepared by Saruman which clearly depicted and described the Shire. These the Nazgûl took. Seeing that his Master suspected some move between the Shire and Rivendell, he saw also that Bree (the position of which he knew) would be an important point, at least for information. Since the Black Captain knew so much, it is perhaps strange that he had so little idea of where the Shire, the land of the Halflings, lay; there were already Hobbits settled in Bree at the beginning of the fourteenth century of the Third Age, when the Witch-king came north to Angmar. Nevertheless, he put therefore the Shadow of Fear on the Dunlending – warning him that he was now in the service of Mordor, and that if ever he tried to return to Isengard they would slay him with torture – and sent turn on to Bree as an agent. He was the squint-eyed southerner at the Inn. When Strider and the Hobbits left Bree, Frodo caught a glimpse of the Dunlending (“a sallow face with sly, slanting eyes”) in Bill Ferny’s house on the outskirts of Bree, and thought: “He looks more than half like a goblin.”
The Witch-king thus learned that Saruman knew well all along where the Shire was, and knew much about it, which he could and should have told to Sauron’s servants if he had been a true ally. The Witch-king also obtained much information, including some about the only name that interested him: Baggins. It was for this reason that Hobbiton was singled out as one of the points for immediate visit and enquiry.
The Witch-king had now a clearer understanding of the matter. He had known something of the country long ago, in his wars with the Dúnedain, and especially of the Tyrn Gothad of Cardolan, now the Barrow-downs, whose evil wights had been sent there by himself. It was during the Great Plague that reached Gondor in 1636 that an end came of the Dúnedain of Cardolan, and evil spirits out of Angmar and Rhudaur entered into the deserted mounds and dwelt there.
Night was waning on the twenty-second day of September when drawing together again they came to Sarn Ford and the southernmost borders of the Shire. They found them guarded for the Rangers barred their way. But this was a task beyond the power of the Dúnedain; and maybe it would still have proved so even if their captain, Aragorn, had been with them. But he was away to the north, upon the East Road near Bree; and the hearts even of the Dúnedain misgave them. Some fled northward, hoping to bear news to Aragorn, but they were pursued and slain or driven away into the wild. Some still dared to bar the ford, and held it while day lasted, but at night the Lord of Morgul swept them away, and the Black Riders passed into the Shire; and ere the cocks crowed in the small hours of the twenty-third day of September some were riding north through the land, even as Gandalf upon Shadowfax was riding over Rohan far behind.
It is noted that the Black Captain did not know whether the Ring was still in the Shire; that he had to find out. The Shire was too large for a violent onslaught; he must use as much stealth and as little terror as he could, and yet also guard the eastern borders. Therefore he sent some of the Riders into the Shire, with orders to disperse while traversing it; and of these Khamûl was to find Hobbiton, where “Baggins” lived, according to Saruman’s papers. But the Black Captain established a camp at Andrath, where the Greenway passed in a defile between the Barrow-downs and the South Downs (compare Gandalf’s words at the Council of Elrond: “Their Captain remained in secret away south of Bree”); and from there some others were sent to watch and patrol the eastern borders, while he visited the Barrow-downs himself. Of the movements of the Black Riders at that time it is said that the Black Captain stayed there for some days, and the Barrow-wights were roused, and all things of evil spirit, hostile to Elves and Men, were on the watch with malice in the Old Forest and on the Barrow-downs.