Whether we should stay for the whole three days was something I had to think about. Something else Legolas had told me was weighing on my mind, urging me to make haste in getting to Mount Doom and back again. It seemed that the ent Quickbeam, Master of Isengard since Treebeard had departed eastwards on his ill-fated mission, had sold the Tower of Orthanc, which stood like a natural spire of jagged rock in the centre of the Ring of Isengard, to Morfindel.

It was of little interest to Quickbeam himself, since ents have no use for the abodes of men, and little need for a fastness, no matter how impregnable. His chief concern had been to hold it in the King’s name. Not to let it fall into the hands of bandits, rebels, or others inimical to the Throne, since once in there, short of a costly and interminable siege, it would be well nigh impossible to get them out.

Morfindel’s credentials on the other hand had been impressive. Quickbeam had seen no reason not to make over the fortress to him. Morfindel had then approached dwarf locksmiths to have the fortifications checked and secured once again to standards of the utmost rigour. Then he had commissioned elf wrights to have it furnished sumptuously—fit for a Queen, it was rumoured. All this had been accomplished. For what possible reason I couldn’t imagine.

Or could I?

Orthanc stood empty and waiting. Not for long—that was for sure. Maybe my journey to Mount Doom would teach me much about whatever plot was in the making. I hoped so. But were it not to be, then I would be ill-advised to tarry on the way.

I planned to journey through the grim territory of the Mandate by the sole wain-road, the one which passed through the dismal dale of the Morannon, between the ruined Towers of the Teeth, where I had gone five days ago, bearing Morfindel’s head in a jar. Secretly I sent word on ahead to Grishnakh.

By mid-afternoon we were ready and we clattered out of Gimli’s driveway and found ourselves at Minas Ithil before nightfall. We didn’t enter the City itself, having all the supplies we needed. Instead we rode a little way north under the evening sky towards Henneth Annûn and camped that night by a gushing stream that tumbled in a torrent beneath a charming little hump-backed bridge. It would take us all the next day, and most of the day after, to get within sight of the Morannon, a hundred miles to the north. I planned to arrive at the Towers of the Teeth by daybreak on Tuesday. On our way we would pass Henneth Annûn. Since we were travelling as Master and Mistress Overdale, we thought it prudent not to show our faces there, but to drive straight on.

The day dawned to clear spring skies and the birds sang as if the world had only just been made. Goldberry reclined naked on a wide flat rock just out of the waterfall’s reach, droplets pattering on her shoulders in an aura of spray. She had fashioned a garland for her brow of ivy leaves, which lessened the starkness of her shaven head, something I still couldn’t quite get used to. But as I sat on the bank of the stream with my feet in the water, gazing at her, I felt anew the pangs of boyhood love.

“Goldie,” I mooned, “if I sit here looking at you much longer, I’m suddenly going to get up and rush round gathering you buckets of water lilies!”

She lowered her chin to her shoulder and regarded me reproachfully with her blue-grey eyes. “It’s ‘Goldberry’—or ‘Gee’, if we are in strange company,” she said. “I love my beautiful name! I don’t like it bent like a piece of metal.”

I was sorry the moment I said it. I made myself a vow that I would never again recall Tom to her mind.

Soon the sun came up, beaming out all of a sudden over fragments of far-away cloud, and the world was bright and jolly and moist with dew. But alas, it was time for us to be moving on.

The road from Minas Ithil winds north beneath the Ephel Duath through some of the loveliest countryside I know. The best time to see it is in spring, and I was much aggrieved that the pair of us could not spend a week on our journey to the Morannon, rather than the two days we were planning on, provided the going was good. It was not until you reached Henneth Annûn that the road became wide and paved. Here it was little more than two parallel ruts, muddy and stony by turns, so we travelled at no more than walking pace. We would not be making good enough progress unless we were well past Henneth Annûn by nightfall.

But the dawn of the second day found us well on our way. It had grown colder during the night and the sky was overcast, the sun hiding her face from us during the whole of that day. But as we reminded ourselves, in springtime changeable weather was only to be expected. By nightfall the forested slopes and tumbling glens of Ithilien were starting to give way to bare rock, bog and heather moorland, as we drew nigh unto the Land of Shadows.

We were now but a few miles south of the Morannon. Nestling in the shelter of a cleft just off the road, we pitched our last camp. These were unsafe lands! So with much regret we abstained from sleeping in each others’ arms, but took four-hourly spells at keeping watch. When the gibbous Moon began to descend from his zenith towards the western hills, then I knew it was time to break camp and be on our way, if we were to arrive at the Morannon by daybreak.

…to be continued.