The Passing of the Grey Company
"Rohan, did you say?" asked the lead rider, dismounting. "That is a glad word. Halbarad Dunadan, Ranger of the North I am. We seek Aragorn son of Arathorn, and we heard that he was in Rohan."
"And you have found him!" cried Aragorn, gladly, running forward to greet the newcomer. "Of all joys this is the least expected." A company of Rangers had ridden from Rivendell, accompanied by Elladan and Elrohir, the sons of Elrond.
The Dunedain had brought messages for Aragorn. Elrond had sent word that "if thou art in haste, remember the Paths of the Dead." Arwen had said, "Either our hope cometh, or all hopes end. Farewell, Elfstone!"
The company of Theoden and their new companions rode through the night and arrived at Helm's Deep in the morning. Legolas and Gimli showed Merry around.
"There was a battle here three nights ago," said Gimli, "and here Legolas and I played a game that I won by a single orc."
Merry sat with Theoden at lunch. Merry was filled with love for the old man, and he drew his sword. "Here is the sword of Meriadoc of the Shire. Receive my service, if you will!"
"Gladly will I take it," said the king. "Rise now, Meriadoc, esquire of Rohan of the household of Meduseld.
"As a father you shall be to me," said Merry.
Theoden and his men were prepared to travel to Dunharrow by paths through the hills, but Aragorn announced different plans. "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." This was not at all to Eomer's liking, but Aragorn reassured him. "I say to you, Eomer, that in battle we may yet meet again, though all the hosts of Mordor should stand in between."
Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli rode with the Dunedain across the plains of Rohan until they came to the fastness of Dunharrow. Here Eowyn and the people of Edoras had taken refuge. Eowyn came out to greet them. "It was kindly done, lord, to ride so many miles out of your way to bring tidings to Eowyn, and to speak with her in her exile."
"Indeed no man would count such a journey wasted," said Aragorn, "but it is not out of my way. Tomorrow I shall ride by the Paths of the Dead." Eowyn was stricken by his statement, but asked to ride in his following. He refused, though, telling her her duty was with her people.
"Too often have I heard of duty," she cried. "But am I not of the House of Eorl, a shieldmaiden? Shall I always be left behind when the Riders depart, to mind the house while they win renown, and find food and beds when they return?"
The next morning Aragorn and his company rode deeper into the mountains, along a road lined with ancient stones, until they came to a dark opening in a sheer wall of rock. "This is an evil door," said Halbarad, "and my death lies beyond it. I will enter nonetheless."
Aragorn led the way, and such was the strength of his will that all the Dunedain and their horses followed him. Gimli's knees shook and he was wroth with himself. "Here is a thing unheard of!" he said. "An Elf will go underground and a Dwarf dare not!" With that he plunged through the door, though his feet dragged like lead.
As they rode through the dark tunnel, it seemed to Gimli that they were surrounded by whispers, and he was pursued by a groping horror. Aragorn, though, spoke in a loud voice to the surrounding darkness. "Keep your secrets! Let us pass, I summon you to the Stone of Erech!"
Gimli did not know how long they rode, but at last they came out of a gate into a dark ravine that opened into the uplands of a great vale. "The Dead are following," said Legolas. "I see shapes of Men and of horses, and pale banners like shreds of cloud."
The Company came to the Hill of Erech, where Aragorn cried in a great voice, "Oathbreakers, why have ye come!"
A voice came out of the night, as if from far away, "To fulfill our oath and have peace."
"The hour is come," said Aragorn. "I go to Pelargir upon Anduin, and ye shall come after me. And when this land is clean of the servants of Sauron, I will hold the oath fulfilled, and ye shall have peace. For I am Elessar, Isildur's hear of Gondor." And when the Company departed into the East, they were followed by a ghostly army, like a shadow of fear upon the countryside.
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