ROTK: Bk 5, Ch 2
"He looked up, and it seemed that he had made some decision; his face was less troubled. 'Then, by your leave, lord, I must take new counsel for myself and my kindred. We must ride our own road, and no longer in secret. For me the time of stealth has passed. I will ride east by the swiftest way, and I will take the Paths of the Dead.'"The next two chapters were originally part of one huge draft that Tolkien titled "Many Roads Lead Eastward" that dealt with all of the characters who remained in Rohan after Gandalf and Pippin rode towards Minas Tirith. However, it became clear to Tolkien that he could break the text up into two separate chapters. Chronologically, we return to March 5th just after the departure of Gandalf. Four members of the original Fellowship remained with Theoden's party - Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli and Merry. But the hobbit would follow a different path than that of his friends, one that paralleled Pippin's experience.
Because of the presence of the Nazgul, Aragorn leads them under the cover of darkness towards Helm's Deep. Some time in the early hours of the morning, they cross the Fords of Isen. As they continue to ride east, they hear the sounds of hooves galloping behind them. Still wary of some evil device of Saruman, they prepare for the worst. However, as the riders approach, the leader reveals himself to be a Dunadan of the North. His name is Halbarad and he and the other 29 Dunadain that rode with him are looking for Aragorn. Also accompanying him are Elrond's two sons, Elladan and Elrohir. Elrohir has brought a message to Aragorn from his father: "If thou art in haste, remember the Paths of the Dead." Halbarad brought a standard that was made by the Lady Arwen. Aragorn asks him to hold onto it for him for a while.
Elrond had received word from Galadriel of the Fellowship's fate and she warned that Aragorn might be in need of aid. Elrond sent his sons to gather as many of the Dunadain in Eriador that they could and make haste to Rohan. Aragorn knew of the Paths of the Dead but he was not yet sure if that path was necessary. He decided to ride to Helm's Deep with Halbarad and the Dunadain ahead of Theoden. Gimli and Legolas went with him. When they at last arrived at the fortress, Aragorn and Halbarad locked themselves away in a high chamber in the Hornburg. Aragorn took with him the Palantir.
Meanwhile, Merry is wondering what is to become of him when Theoden offers to make him his esquire. The decision is wholly up to Merry who gratefully accepts and the King takes the hobbit into his service. Unlike Pippin's pledge to Denethor, however, Merry's fealty is less formal and Theoden considers him as more of a friend than a servant. This begins a bond between the two in which the hobbit's loyalty comes from his love and admiration for Theoden, whereas Pippin's service to Denethor was offered as payment of a debt. The two situations provide an interesting contrast over the next several chapters.
When Aragorn returns from the Hornburg, there is a change that has come over him. His face is grim and weary. While he was locked away, Aragorn made an executive decision and looked into the Orthanc stone. He spoke no words but he revealed himself and Narsil, the sword of Elendil which was newly forged and renamed Anduril - Flame of the West. It was a bitter struggle and Aragorn mustered all of his will in the confrontation. As the rightful owner of the Palantir, he deemed he had the strength to use it. And he did, though only barely. Sauron revealed to him many things of the war designed to drive Aragorn to despair, including the fleet of black ships that sailed up the Anduin towards Minas Tirith, the Corsairs of Umbar. He knew he had to go quickly to intercept them. Need drove him to the Paths of the Dead.
By revealing himself to Sauron, Aragorn hoped to induce the Dark Lord into putting his plan into action before he was ready - "The hasty stroke goes oft astray". He also hoped to draw as much of Sauron's attention away from his own borders as possible so that Frodo and Sam would have a better chance of entering Mordor undetected.
They headed east along the White Mountains until they reached Harrowdale, a valley in the cleft of the range. Before he departed from Edoras to Helm's Deep, Theoden had put out a call to the able-bodied men of Rohan to assemble there in preparation for war. When they arrived, Eowyn was there to greet them. But when she finds out the way that Aragorn intends to go, she is horrified and begs him not to go. When he is insistent, she asks to go with him which of course he refuses. He tells her that her duty is to her people and that she must stay. But Eowyn is a fierce shieldmaiden who hates having to stay behind and wait for the men to return. She wishes to go and fight for Rohan.
She tells Aragorn of here frustration:
"I can ride and wield a blade, and I do not fear either pain or death."
"What do you fear, lady?" he asked.
"A cage," she said. "To stay behind bars, until use and old age accept them, and all chance of doing great deeds is gone beyond recall or desire."
It's becomes clear to Aragorn that Eowyn is in love with him. But he realizes that it is more of an ideal that she is love with. In any case, he cannot return her love because his heart and his fate are bound to Arwen.
The next morning as he prepares to leave, Eowyn greets him with a cup. She drinks and offers it to Aragorn. As he drinks, she asks him once more if he will let her come with him. Again, he tells her he cannot and he kisses her hand, bidding her farewell. He turns and heads toward the Haunted Mountain to fulfill his destiny. Accompanying him are Legolas, Gimli, Elrond's sons, Halbarad and the other Dunadain. Soon, they come to a dark opening in the mountainside. They light torches and enter. Even Gimli, who is most at home in caves and dark places, is loath to go in. In the darkness, they hear faint whispers around them, murmuring in a strange tongue.
In the early days of Gondor, Isildur placed a great round stone that he had brought from Numenor atop the hill of Erech which was located in the Blackroot Vale along the southern side of the White Mountains. Here he met with the King of the men of those mountains, who swore an oath of allegiance to Isildur upon the stone. Later, at the end of the Second Age when Arnor and Gondor were at war with Sauron, Isildur returned and called upon the Men of the mountains to fight. They refused and fled. Isildur then cursed them, that their souls would never find rest until the had fulfilled their oath to him or one of his descendents. The Men never again emerged from the mountains and their spirits haunted the pass under Mount Dwimorberg ever after. It was said that they would suffer no living man to pass except for Isildur's rightful heir.
Aragorn was here to command the Oathbreakers to join him now and fight for him. As they approached the southern exit of the Paths of the Dead, he turned and called back to the whispering voices "I summon you to the Stone of Erech!" It was clear after they emerged that the Dead were following. When they reached the Stone, Elrohir gave to Aragorn a silver horn and blew into it. The sound of horns was heard in the distance in answer to it.
Aragorn dismounted his horse and faced them, asking them why they have come. A voice came out of the night: "To fulfill our oath and have peace". He announced himself as Elessar, Isildur's Heir of Gondor, and that when these lands were clean of the servants of Sauron that he would release them from their oath and allow them to depart forever in peace. Halbarad unfurled the standard that he had brought and they headed east through the narrow valley known as Tarlang's Neck. Their destination was the city of Pelargir along the banks of the Anduin to head off the Corsairs that were sailing towards Minas Tirith. The Army of the Dead followed Aragorn towards the dawn in the east. But there was no dawn on that day.
[Chronology: March 5th - March 9th 3019 T.A.]
Next: The Muster Of Rohan(revised 10/13/06)