The Muster of Rohan
For much of the three days of their journey through the secret paths of the hills, Merry had ridden next to the king, telling stories of the Shire and listening in turn to tales of Rohan and its heroes.
At last they arrived at Dunharrow, an ancient refuge high in the mountains above Harrowdale. A winding road led them up the face of the cliff, until it opened onto a wide upland field.
At the top, they were greeted by a woman with long braided hair gleaming in the twilight. "Hail, Lord of the Mark!" she cried. "My heart is glad at your returning. I have had tidings of you from Aragorn."
"He rode away yester-morn and passed into the shadow of the Paths of the Dead," said Eowyn, "I could not dissuade him. He is gone."
"Then our paths are sundered," said Eomer. "We must ride without him, and our hope dwindles."
Later, Merry asked Theoden about the Paths of the Dead. "There is a secret way that goes beneath the mountains to some forgotten end," answered the king. "But none have ever ventured in to search its secrets, since Baldor. Folk say that Dead Men out of the Dark Years guard the way and will suffer no living man to come to their hidden halls. I do not know Aragorn's purpose in going there."
There was a noise and a guard brought in and errand-rider of Gondor. He was a tall man, grey-eyed and proud, who looked much like Boromir. He bore a single arrow. He sank on one knee and presented the arrow to Theoden.
Hail, Lord of the Rohirrim, friend of Gondor. I bring this message from Denethor. Gondor is in great need, and he asks for all your strength and all your speed, lest Gondor fall at last."
Theoden trembled at this news. "The Red Arrow has not been seen in the Mark in all my years! Has it come to that?"
"Many kings have ridden from the East to the service of Mordor," said the messenger. "In the South the Haradrim are moving. Make haste! For it is before the walls of Minas Tirith that the doom of our time will be decided, and if the tide be not stemmed there, then it will flow over all the fair fields of Rohan, and even in the Hold among the hills there shall be no refuge."
"Dark tidings," said Theoden, "yet not all unguessed. In the morning the forces of Rohan will gather and set out for the aid of our allies in Minas Tirith."
Morning arrived without the sun, as thick clouds from the East darkened the sky. Theoden brought his force to Edoras, but only to eat and resupply. As they made ready to depart, Theoden wished Merry a kindly farewell. "What would you do in battle, Master Meriadoc, swordthain though you be, and greater of heart than of stature?"
Merry bowed and went away unhappily, but a Rider came up and spoke softly in his ear. "Where will wants not, a way opens. You wish to go whither the Lord of the Mark goes: I see it in your face."
"I do," said Merry.
"Then come with me," said the Rider. "I will bear you before me, under my cloak. Call me Dernhelm."
Thus it came to pass that when the king set out, Merry rode before Dernhelm, and none of the Riders noticed his presence. Out into the shadow they rode, and so King Theoden departed from his own realm.
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