ROTK: Bk 5, Ch 3
The Muster Of Rohan
"Now all roads were running together to the East to meet the coming of war and the onset of the Shadow. And even as Pippin stood at the Great Gate of the City and saw the Prince of Dol Amroth ride in with his banners, the King of Rohan came down out of the hills."It is March 9th and as Aragorn and his company set out on the Paths of the Dead, Theoden arrives at Dunharrow, beneath the feet of the White Mountains. He was surprised to see so many of the armies of Rohan already assembled. They told the King that three days earlier Gandalf rode through on Shadowfax to bring them the news of victory at Helm's Deep and Isengard. He also urged them to hasten the muster of Rohan, as war was coming soon. The men were camped in rows of tents all along the valley of Harrowdale, a cleft in the White Mountains. Theoden, needing rest, rode up the paths that led to the upward ledge of the Firienfeld - the grassy plateau of Dunharrow where he could camp and survey his troops.
Merry looked up in amazement at the looming cliff in front of him.
"He was on a road the likes of which he had never seen before, a great work of men's hands in years beyond the reach of song. Upward it wound, coiling like a snake, boring its way across the sheer slope of rock. Steep as a stair, it looped backwards and forwards as it climbed. Up it horses could walk, and wains could be slowly hauled; but no enemy could come that way, except out of the air, if it was defended from above."Merry also noticed that at each turn of the road there were little statues of short, primitive-looking men sitting cross-legged. Their features has been worn over the years but he could make out the eye-holes in the faces. These statues were known by the people of Rohan as "Pukel-men" and were carved by the mysterious race of people who built the fortress of Dunharrow. It was believed that they represented the ancestors of the wild men, or the Woses, who lived in the strange Druadan forest along the northern edge of the mountains in the Gondorian province or Anorien. These stone sentinels sat guard as the horses climbed higher and higher until they finally reached the top. No one knew for what purpose this outpost was built though it was completed long before the Numenoreans arrived and created the Dunedain Kingdom of Gondor.
Eowyn greeted the King, who was pleased to see her. She informed Theoden of Aragorn's arrival and confirmed his fear that he had decided to seek the Paths of the Dead. The Dimholt road, which led to the Haunted Mountain of Dwimorberg, lay at the far eastern end of Dunharrow but everyone stayed clear of it. Later, as they settled in for the night, Merry fretted about all the dangerous paths his friends had taken and wondered what path lay before him. In a large pavilion, they gathered for a meal and Merry was seated next to the King. It is here that he asks Theoden about the Paths of the Dead. The King lets him - and the reader - in on much of the legends of the haunted pass.
Soon an errand-rider from Gondor arrives to see the King. The rider, named Hirgon, brings Theoden a red-tipped arrow with black feathers. It is the token of war designated to beckon the King of Rohan for aid should Gondor be in need. Word had reached Denethor that forces of Sauron had begun marching towards Minas Tirith from the Black Gate and an army of Southrons was headed north through Ithilien. Theoden understands that even if he were to head out with the Rohirrim first thing in the morning they still might be too late. He regrets that he only has six thousand spears so far. If he had time, he could have mustered as many as ten thousand.
The next morning, March 10th, the sun did not seem to rise. There was a darkness coming out of the east. It was the same darkness that Aragorn saw as he led the Shadow Host from Erech towards Pelargir. It was the same darkness that Pippin would see from the walls of Minas Tirith. It was also the same darkness that Frodo, Sam and Gollum had seen as they watched the Witch-King lead his army out of Minas Morgul towards Gondor. March 10th of the year 3019 F.A. would be known ever after as the Dawnless Day. The darkness was a device of Sauron designed to give cover from the sun to his Orcs who were now heading west. The war had begun.
As Eomer marshaled the Riders together, Theoden tells Merry that though they are riding to war, the hobbit was released from his service. He is to stay behind with the Lady Eowyn. Merry is speechless. He still wishes to aid Rohan and doesn't want to be left behind. Not only did the hobbit genuinely want to fight beside Theoden, but he was willing to risk death in battle for what might be his last chance to see any of his friends again. Theoden explains that they will be riding swiftly and his pony Stybba would not be able to keep up. He would also be too heavy a burden for any of his men to bear with them on their horse, otherwise Theoden would bear Merry himself.
A few hours passed and the Rohirrim was ready to depart. Theoden raised his hand as the signal for the host of the Mark to ride forth. At the end of the line was a young man, slighter of build and less in height than the other riders. He asks Merry if he wishes to go. Merry says yes, he does. The man takes the hobbit up on his horse to ride with him. He can hide under the rider's cloak until they are off. The combined weight was not too much for the horse. Merry asks the rider his name. He tells Merry to call him Dernhelm.
As they rode on there were reports of Orcs coming down from the north, attacking the eastern borders of Rohan. But there was not time to tarry. They rode with great haste towards Minas Tirith passing the beacons which no longer burned, for the fires had died out. Hope was waning.
[Chronology: March 5th - March 11th 3019 T.A.]
Next: The Siege Of Gondor