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Timeline Event

Gandalf rides to Isengard

Event Type: Military/Strategic

Age: 3rd Age - Ring War

Date: March 3, 3019

An event in the prelude of the Battle of the Hornburg and the aftermath of the Destruction of Isengard by Ents; see those entries for overviews:

[3 March 3019 (late afternoon), as Théoden diverts the reinforcements to Helm's Deep:]
While Théoden was speaking [to the errand-rider, Ceorl], Gandalf rode a short way ahead, and he sat there alone, gazing north to Isengard and west to the setting sun. Now he came back.

'Ride, Théoden!' he said. 'Ride to Helm's Deep! ... I must leave you for a while. Shadowfax must bear me now on a swift errand.' ... he cried: ... 'Await me at Helm's Gate! Farewell!'

He spoke a word to Shadowfax, and like an arrow from the bow the great horse sprang away. Even as they looked he was gone: a flash of silver in the sunset....

The Two Towers, LoTR Book 3, Ch 7, Helm's Deep

[Later that night, as the reinforcements arrive at Helm's Deep:]
'Has aught been seen of Gandalf?' asked Théoden.

'Yes, lord. Many have seen an old man in white upon a horse, passing hither and thither over the plains like wind in the grass. Some thought he was Saruman. It is said that he went away ere nightfall towards Isengard.

The Two Towers, LoTR Book 3, Ch 7, Helm's Deep

What followed is less clear, since only Gandalf had full knowledge of it. He received news of the disaster only in the late afternoon of March the 3rd.1 The King was then at a point not far east of the junction of the Road with the branch going to the Hornburg. From there it was about ninety miles in a direct line to Isengard; and Gandalf must have ridden there with the greatest speed that Shadowfax could command. He reached Isengard in the early darkness,2 and left again in no more than twenty minutes.

Unfinished Tales, Part 3, Ch 5, The Battles of the Fords of Isen

[That same night, after the Ents breach the Ring of Isengard:]
'There was the sound of a rider coming swiftly up the road. Merry and I lay quiet, and Treebeard hid himself in the shadows under the arch. ...

'He halted just by us and looked down at us. ... "Get up, you tom-fool of a Took! Where, in the name of wonder, in all this ruin is Treebeard? I want him. Quick!"

'Treebeard heard his voice and came out of the shadows at once; and there was a strange meeting. ... Gandalf obviously expected to find Treebeard here; and Treebeard might almost have been loitering about near the gates on purpose to meet him. ...

'"Hoom! Gandalf!" said Treebeard. "I am glad you have come. Wood and water, stock and stone, I can master; but there is a Wizard to manage here."

'"Treebeard," said Gandalf. "I need your help. You have done much, but I need more. I have about ten thousand Orcs to manage."

'Then those two went off and had a council together in some corner. It must have seemed very hasty to Treebeard, for Gandalf was in a tremendous hurry, and was already talking at a great pace, before they passed out of hearing. They were only away a matter of minutes, perhaps a quarter of an hour. Then Gandalf came back to us, and he seemed relieved, almost merry. ...

'"But Gandalf," I cried, "where have you been?" ...

'"Wherever I have been, I am back," he answered ... "This is a perilous night, and I must ride fast. But the dawn may be brighter; and if so, we shall meet again. Take care of yourselves, and keep away from Orthanc! Good-bye!"

'Treebeard was very thoughtful after Gandalf had gone. He had evidently learnt a lot in a short time and was digesting it. He looked at us and said: "Hm, well, I find you are not such hasty folk as I thought. You said much less than you might, and not more than you should. Hm, this is a bundle of news and no mistake! Well, now Treebeard must get busy again."

'Before he went, we got a little news out of him; and it did not cheer us up at all. ... For we gathered that there was a great battle going on, or soon would be, and that you were in it, and might never come out of it.

'"Huorns will help," said Treebeard. Then he went away and we did not see him again....

The Two Towers, LoTR Book 3, Ch 9, Flotsam and Jetsam

Both on the outward journey, when his direct route would take him close to the Fords, and on his return south to find Erkenbrand, he must have met Grimbold and Elfhelm. They were convinced that he was acting for the King, not only by his appearance on Shadowfax, but also by his knowledge of the name of the errand-rider, Ceorl, and the message that he brought; and they took as orders the advice that he gave.

Unfinished Tales, Part 3, Ch 5, The Battles of the Fords of Isen

[5 March 3019, as Théoden approaches Isengard:]
They rode down to the river, and as they came the wolves ceased their howling and slunk away. ... The riders passed over to the islet....

And they saw that in the midst of the eyot a mound was piled, ringed with stones, and set about with many spears.

'Here lie all the Men of the Mark that fell near this place,' said Gandalf. ...

'Is this your work also, Gandalf, my friend?' said Théoden. 'You accomplished much in an evening and a night!'

'With the help of Shadowfax -- and others,' said Gandalf. 'I rode fast and far. But here beside the mound I will say this for your comfort: many fell in the battles of the Fords, but fewer than rumour made them. More were scattered than were slain; I gathered together all that I could find. Some men I sent with Grimbold of Westfold to join Erkenbrand. Some I set to make this burial. They have now followed your marshal, Elfhelm. I sent him with many Riders to Edoras. Saruman I knew had despatched his full strength against you, and his servants had turned aside from all other errands and gone to Helm's Deep: the lands seemed empty of enemies; yet I feared that wolf-riders and plunderers might ride nonetheless to Meduseld, while it was undefended. But now I think you need not fear: you will find your house to welcome your return.'

The Two Towers, LoTR Book 3, Ch 8, The Road to Isengard


The news was brought by the Rider named Ceorl, who returning from the Fords fell in with Gandalf, Théoden and Éomer as they rode west with reinforcements from Edoras: The Two Towers III 7.

Unfinished Tales, Part 3, Ch 5, The Battles of the Fords of Isen: Notes, Note 15

2 As the narrative suggests, Gandalf must already have made contact with Treebeard, and knew that the patience of the Ents was at an end; and he had also read the meaning of Legolas' words (The Two Towers III 7, at the beginning of the chapter): Isengard was veiled in an impenetrable shadow, the Ents had already surrounded it. [Author's note.]

Unfinished Tales, Part 3, Ch 5, The Battles of the Fords of Isen: Notes, Note 16

Elena Tiriel 22Jan05, 27Jan05, 2Feb05

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