Through the Depths of Mirkwood

Author’s Note: Though the exact route that Aragorn followed in bringing Gollum to Thranduil’s halls is told in Unfinished Tales, for my purposes here, the narrative had to be derived from the actual events of the game being played. Thus, the tale here varies considerably from the canonical information. Nevertheless, I hope you enjoy!

Three days it took Aragorn and Gollum to leave the Dead Marshes on the path northwards. Aragorn pulled and pushed the creature day and night, driving him ever forward; little could he do to silence him until at last he tore a piece of cloth and gagged him. They moved into the wide expanse of Dagorlad, and slowly the lack of food and drink pacified Gollum, though it sapped his strength and Aragorn resorted at times to carrying or dragging him.

Their plight worsened as the battle plain slowly turned to rolling moors. The land turned a dismal grey and the wind whipped dust in their faces; no trees and no grass were there to hold the dry earth in place. Aragorn tied a cloth around his face, seeking refuge from the biting wind and dust. Gollum crawled on all fours and wailed, his bare skin exposed at all times; though Aragorn could not stop or find safety for them from the harshness of the Brown Lands.

Splintered trunks of long dead trees jutted from the ground and many looked as if some ancient fire had seared them in a powerful blast of heat delivered across the land all at once. Many places had Aragorn traveled and many strange lands had he seen, but few, save the deserts of Harad, compared to the bare waste of these lands. Their path carried them for many days and they walked and slept in the open air, beneath dark skies at night, and by day the sun remained blanketed by great clouds of dust, making even the sky above them a blend of orange and dull brown.

Near to the southern borders of Mirkwood, Aragorn at last rested where the land began to soften and green returned to the palette of the world. He sat at the base of a hill with Gollum tied and left to sit across from him. Aragorn ate from what provisions he carried, but water grew scarce, and Gollum cried without end.

“We are surely to die of thirst!” Gollum cried. He wailed and rolled on his back, his hands tied behind and his ankles as well. “Cruel ranger will kill us, kill us before we even reach nasty elvses.”

Aragorn sat, smoking his pipe, his thoughts unable to drive Gollum’s anguish from his ears. “If silent you remain for the night, I shall give you water, though we both thirst and still have ways to go before fair waters can quench us,” he said.

Gollum stopped his cries and looked at Aragorn with large, wet eyes, “We shall leave him alone if he but give us a drink,” he said. Gollum! Gollum!

Aragorn begrudgingly stood and walked over to the creature, holding his waterskin above Gollum’s trembling mouth. Aragorn gave him a small drink, sure not to expend all he had left, and Gollum closed his mouth and smiled a childlike grin. Though, as Aragorn plugged his waterskin once more, Gollum spat the water at him, and unleashed a howling, cackling laugh that echoed across the heath until Aragorn struck him with the back of his hand and the creature fell to his side; his laughs faded to cries and wails. He wrenched his body in the dirt and Aragorn sat again on his own.

The night wore on and in the morrow, he roused Gollum. Untying the bonds around the creature’s legs, Aragorn shook him and made him stand upright. They began their journey once more, and he led them to the north and east, driving Gollum away from Dol Guldur as best he could. The eaves of Mirkwood loomed ahead and the forest was dark and a cool mist lay between the trees.

As they entered the forest, trees entangled tightly overhead, forming a dense canopy that only small slivers of sunlight could penetrate in bright rays amid the thick air. He knew of a path in this region of the forest that the wood elves used, and found his way there without difficulty. The path was cut into the trees, wide enough for two men to walk abreast, but still covered above, forming a dark, winding tunnel. The ground was well tread, and once they stepped upon the path, they walked with greater ease.

Cowed by his lack of food and water, Gollum stumbled quietly along with Aragorn, ever at the end of a rope. Though the path they tread was laid by fair folk, Aragorn felt a growing dread all around him; the forest teemed with fell beasts and servants of the enemy. He brought them north as far from Dol Guldur as he could, but the power of that place defiled the greenwood, and threats now lay in all directions.

Jen Zee

But, suddenly, a voice called out, “Halt, there!” not fell, but fair and yet hard as steel.

Aragorn raised his hands, holding the rope still tied to Gollum. The creature gripped Aragorn’s leg and cowered behind like a child. From the trees above, an elf, small of stature, lithely dropped to the path in front of them. In his hands he held a bow, and the quiver at his side was filled with arrows fletched with feathers of orange and white. His raiment was several shades of green, and a hood covered his golden hair. Though ageless, the light and spirit of his youth shone within him.

“Aragorn of the Dunedain, are you not?” he asked cautiously.

“That I am,” Aragorn said.

“I am Henamarth, and am called Riversong. Legolas, son of Thranduil sent me to look for your coming with the creature Gollum,” the elf said.

Aragorn relaxed and Gollum peeked from behind his leg. He gave Gollum a fiery look and the creature let go of his leg and cowered on the ground before the elf. “I am in Legolas’s debt, and now, yours, Henamarth. Long have I traveled with Gollum, alone and through fen and heath.”

“I am to lead you to Thranduil’s halls, for I know these parts well, though filled with darkness they have become,” Henamarth said, putting away the arrow that had been knocked on his bow.

“I welcome your company, and bow to your knowledge of these lands. We will follow you, whither you shall go,” Aragorn said.

Henamarth led them safely along the wood elf path as it wound northward, staying to the eastern borders of the forest. As they passed quietly, Aragorn listened to the groaning trees that surrounded them. At times the forest became still and silent, and Henamarth stopped and waited, training his eyes and ears in all directions. Aragorn jerked the rope tied to Gollum to pull him forward, for the creature lagged behind.

For many days and nights they traveled until Henamarth brought them off the path and into the wood to what seemed a thicket made by elvish hands. Branches and bushes intertwined and mingled together, forming a protective hovel that appeared nearly indistinguishable from thick, entangling growth all around it. They sat beneath the boughs and a small ring of stones sat there, where a fire had once been. The ground was soft and fair, and in the back against the boughs Henamarth drew a wrapped bundle hidden carefully.

“We can rest here for a night,” Henamarth said to them. “Here is a little food and water, though I do not know what food the creature eats.”

Gollum cautiously crawled toward Aragorn and Henamarth, who sat closely together. Henamarth unwrapped the bundle and within were dried fruits and breads. Gollum gave them a queer look and Aragorn tossed a piece of the hard crusted bread on the ground in front of Gollum. He smelled the bread and picked it up, looking at it curiously. Gollum thrust the bread in his mouth at once, but immediately spat it back out in anguish, coughing and spitting.

“What is it!” Gollum! Gollum!

“Bread,” Henamarth said plainly.

“We cannot eats it. Short elf tries to kill us!” Gollum wailed.

Aragorn jerked the rope tied to Gollum and the creature became subdued, “If kill you we wished, it would not be with strange food, and not here but many leagues before,” he said.

Gollum whimpered and crawled into the back of the hovel, curling into himself against the boughs that formed the wall behind them. Aragorn and Henamarth sat quietly, eating and Henamarth refreshed Aragorn’s waterskin. Though he trusted the elf’s wisdom and knowledge of the forest, he wondered about the path that lay ahead of them, and which way he intended to lead them. With no light of day and the thick forest appearing featureless all about them, Aragorn could not tell where they finally stopped. As if knowing his mind, Henamarth spoke.

“We are near the Narrows of the Forest,” he said. “I fear heading west as the path leads, would take us too close to webs and traps of the forest spiders, and the power of Dol Guldur lies there.”

“What path then shall we take?” Aragorn asked.

“We may cross the East Bight, though we shall be exposed for at least a day and night, depending on our speed,” Henamarth said. “On the other side, I know a way that continues northward.”

“Then that is our road,” Aragorn said, pulling out his pipe.

He smoked in silence as Henamarth sat singing a soft song and for a brief moment they felt at ease. The night deepened the forest creaked and moaned. The air was still and cool, and they heard the sounds of beasts moving over the undergrowth and the chirping of insects. Henamarth stopped his song and at times walked into the darkness, returning silently and sitting again with Aragorn beside him. Gollum breathed rhythmically as he slept, thought the bile in his throat made his breaths seem more like a sinister growl than a peaceful snoring. At times he mumbled to himself.

“What creature is this that has led you on such a journey, Aragorn?” Henamarth asked him.

“This is the creature Gollum. I do not know if you are aware of him, but he has been pursued far and wide not just by myself, but by forces of the enemy as well; I met them upon the Amon Hen,” Aragorn said.

“Is the creature a servant of His?” Henamarth asked.

“No, though he is little friend of ours,” Aragorn said. “Why the enemy seeks him I cannot say.” Aragorn hid his true meaning from Henamarth, though a friend he clearly was; but giving away the purpose of Gandalf’s request he did not feel to be prudent. “It was the wizard, Gandalf, who you know as Mithrandir, that sent me on this hunt,” Aragorn continued, “he and Thranduil agreed for me to bring Gollum back to be held in Thranduil’s dungeons.”

“Clearly there is some purpose at work here that is above our station,” Henamarth said, lying back with his hands behind his head.

“Perhaps when we reach Thranduil’s halls, and Mithrandir questions the creature, we shall all know the truth of it,” Aragorn replied, and said no more.

They started out once more at first light, and Henamarth led them off the wood elf path to the East Bight. They passed through the edge of the trees into the wide clearing, with hills and dry waterways. Henamarth stayed to the low ground, avoiding the naked hills where trees once grew. The land was barren and the grass dry and drab; it crunched underfoot and the earth lost the softness of the verdant forest undergrowth. During the night, Aragorn kept watch as the moon and stars shone overhead. They brought joy to his heart as they would soon return underneath the dark blanket of Mirkwood.

By midday they entered the forest again, the dry, brown expanse of the East Bight behind them, and the forest ahead green and a cool dew still clung to the foliage. Henamarth led them to a dry watercourse that wound through the trees. The small streambed was now covered with green moss and grass, which grew up on the trees whose roots clung to the streambed and protruded through the forest floor, seeking water that no longer ran there. The watercourse became their new path and they walked for many days more.

As they neared the Forest Road, danger grew about them. Aragorn could feel eyes upon them, and the webs spun between and among the trees became greater, but Henamarth did not dismay until they reached a place where the dry streambed disappeared into a lowland that at some point must have been flooded, with trees growing from the waters of old. There, Henamarth stopped and put his shoulder to a tree, motioning to Aragorn. As they hid there, a great spider, large enough to catch prey such as a fawn it carried in its jowls, passed them by, though far enough ahead to avoid their scent.

“Attercop! Attercop!” Gollum sang, and Aragorn swiftly put a hand to the creature’s mouth to cut off his song.

Henamarth kept his eyes on the spider, which did not seem to hear, and continued on its path, disappearing into great webs up to their right. Henamarth dropped his shoulders in relief and Aragorn gripped Gollum tightly by the neck. But before he could chide the creature, a great crash came from their right and they looked upon a large troll. Carrying a tree in its hand, it broke through trees and webs, heading straight for them, a great roar bouncing off the trees around them.

“Quick! This way!” Henamarth cried.

Without hesitation, Aragorn lifted Gollum off his feet and sprang away, behind Henamarth and across the lowland. They ran in a roundabout path through the trees, but the troll cared not for the obstacles in front of it, and it roared as it broke them left and right, letting no force hold it back. Henamarth was light on his feet and his speed carried him many paces ahead of Aragorn; in front of them Aragorn could see a place where the trees grew thick once more, and the watercourse continued on its way. Henamarth led them there, but he questioned the wisdom of their path as it would run them into a narrow pathway where the troll could easily make ground and be on them at last.

Henamarth reached the opening where the watercourse began again in a streambed barely wide enough for one man, and as he came there, he leaped, but no obstacle could Aragorn detect there. The elf turned and shouted back at Aragorn, who nearly carried Gollum like a babe.

“Leap!” Henamarth cried, pointing to the ground in front of him.

Aragorn did as Henamarth called, and right before he reached the watercourse, he leaped over the flat ground, stumbling as he landed, the awkward weight and hold of Gollum pulling him to the earth. They rolled in a heap, and Henamarth drew his bow, aiming squarely at the troll. It was but a stone’s throw away when suddenly a sharp snap was heard and the ground moved beneath it; a great rush of leaves and grass filled the air and a net of thick ropes sprang up and around the troll, entangling it and halting its chase. The beast roared and swung the trunk in its hand wildly, which only entangled it further.

Henamarth put away his bow and smiled as Aragorn stood, dumbfounded. “Forgive me, Henamarth, for I doubted your course,” Aragorn said.

Before Henamarth could respond, they looked about for Gollum, and did not see him. They shared a look and quickly set about to search for him. Aragorn listened and clumsily ran through the trees until he heard the familiar arguments that Gollum routinely carried out with himself.

Tom Garden

“Must hurry before they finds us,” Gollum said. And in answer, he spoke more harshly, “Gollum! Gollum! Do not speak; bite nasty ropes!”

Aragorn sprang upon him and Gollum cried out, attempting to scamper away, but Aragorn seized the rope and Gollum fell backward. Henamarth came there as well and Gollum began to whimper and cry.

“A strange creature, indeed,” Henamarth said. “His skin is gray and his look is dark and cruel, but pity do I feel for him all the same.”

“May your pity for him cure his bite,” Aragorn said.

“He has bitten you?!” Henamarth replied.

“Do not let his anguish fool you, Henamarth. Though pitiable he may be, he will harm you if he can,” Aragorn said.

They returned at last to their path and they crossed the Old Forest Road with speed and caution in the night. Aragorn could then see the following day, that they drove for the Mountains of Mirkwood. But as they neared the foot of the mountains, Henamarth stopped them once more, and Aragorn and Gollum took refuge in a thicket as Henamarth went ahead on his own. Many hours he was gone, before returning and stating their course to him. They moved ahead and through the night, coming in the morrow to a wide glade where an old woodman’s cottage stood. The glade was bright and green, a peaceful space among the trees. Henamarth said he had not seen the woodman around, and feared the cottage may sit empty.

As they crossed the glade, through grass that came past their knees, Aragorn stopped and lifted his nose to the air. Henamarth, ahead, stopped and turned, looking at Aragorn and then scanning the trees around the glade. Suddenly, amid the darkness that lay behind them beneath the trees, he saw the faint glow of sinister eyes, watching them. Aragorn turned and looked to the eyes as well; they moved beneath the trees and disappeared, coming back once more, moving around them. Aragorn looked down to Gollum and warned him that to attempt to flee meant he would not get far, for the enemy was upon them.

Mark Poole

Aragorn drew his blade and Henamarth stood near him, an arrow nocked on his bow. Aragorn spoke to himself, bidding the creatures to attack so as to end their standoff. And they did, as three wargs sprang from the trees in three directions. Barking and snapping, they were of black matted fur and larger than Aragorn himself. Henamarth let loose an arrow, which struck a warg in the shoulder, but its hide was thick and his fury holding back any pain from the shot.

The three were on them in no time, and Aragorn fell beneath one, holding back its bite and driving his blade into it. As he climbed to his feet and left the fallen beast behind, he saw Henamarth dancing around a warg as it charged; the elf let loose an arrow and struck the creature in the hind quarter and it fell, stumbling, unable to press the attack. But the third charged for Henamarth from behind, and Aragorn moved to intercept it.

As he neared, Aragorn cried in a voice that filled the glade and Henamarth turned, just as the warg looked toward the charging Aragorn, who hit the warg with his shoulder, all his might knocking the creature off course. They rolled and Aragorn felt its claws swiping at him; but Aragorn drove his blade into the creature, silencing it. Henamarth put an end to the whimpering warg that lay wounded and came to Aragorn’s side.

“My thanks to you, Aragorn,” he said. “Though you did not owe it in my mind, your debt is now paid.”

“Many leagues lay between us and the Elven-king’s halls, still,” Aragorn said, sheathing his blade. “I do not yet consider myself out of your debt.”

Henamarth smiled and Aragorn retrieved the cowering Gollum, who lay curled up in the tall grass. He drove him onward as Henamarth led. They climbed into the mountains, following a well-worn pass that brought them to the lowlands and tumbling rocks on the mountain’s northern side. Here the Enchanted River began and Henamarth followed its course down the hills until the water calmed and began to cut through the forest at the foot of the mountains.

On the eastern bank, Henamarth pulled a small boat from among the dense growth, one which he had hid there many times for his use. He and Aragorn carried it until the bank sloped more gently and allowed them to launch the boat into the black waters. Although the Enchanted River was treacherous, and any who fell beneath it would enter a long, dark sleep, Henamarth plied the water with ease. Aragorn sat in front of him, with Gollum clutching the side of the boat, staring at his reflection in the strange water.

“I have not told you how I came to be called Riversong,” Henamarth said.

Aragorn smiled, “No, you did not.”

“Our course from here will take us to the Forest River, and we shall safely reach the halls of Thranduil by this route,” Henamarth said. “Let me sing a song, which I composed myself, to combat the strange sleep that the waters here seem to lay upon those who do not know its ways.”

In a voice clear and bright as a spring morning, Henamarth began to sing. His voice seemed to draw out the sun, as Aragorn felt its warmth on his back and neck. He closed his eyes and smiled, delighted by Henamarth’s voice, which even pacified Gollum, who sat unmoving. Aragorn thought back to the first time he saw and heard Arwen Undomiel among the birches of Imladris when he was young. The river flowed gently northwards, meeting the greater Forest River; the songs of Henamarth and the calm trickle of the water beneath their boat sent Aragorn into a warm and pleasant trance, which he could not, nor wanted to shake until they reached the halls of Thranduil.

And thus it was that Aragorn, in the year T.A. 3017, captured Gollum and carried him northwards to Thranduil. While Aragorn remained there for some time, Gandalf questioned the creature, and his discoveries led the wizard to Hobbiton, where he informed the halfling, Frodo Baggins, who in his time, became very dear to Aragorn, that the ring he inherited from his uncle, Bilbo, was indeed the One Ring. The events of that trial, and of the War of the Ring, are well recounted in the Red Book of Westmarch.