But Théoden is preparing to ride to Edoras, the main City of Rohan, with an escort of about 24 men on horses (including Gimli, Legolas, Aragorn, and Merry).
There, he will muster troops to ride to the aid of Gondor.
But Aragorn will not be accompanying Théoden that far. Nah, he has got some other plans.
Legolas and Gimli volunteer to go with their buddy Aragorn, like the good friends they are.
But Aragorn isn't exactly sure where he is going. The way is dark, he tells them. This is no vacation.
Sadly, Aragorn tells Merry that Merry's road lies with Théoden. The fellowship is breaking apart once more.
As they ride quickly over the fords of the River Isen, a rider approaches their party from behind.
He tells Théoden that they are soon going to be overtaken by a company of riders, so they wait for the pursuers to catch up.
Éomer, Théoden's nephew, challenges them: "Halt! Halt! Who rides in Rohan?" (5.2.13).
A horseman dismounts and greets them gladly. He's stoked to hear that he is in Rohan, since he has ridden to it from far away.
Who is this guy? As it turns out, he's Halbarad Dúnadan, Ranger of the North. And he has ridden into Rohan in search of his old buddy Aragorn.
Reunited and it feels so good. Aragorn gets off his horse and hugs Halbarad.
Halbarad has gathered together all of the Rangers he could find quickly (about thirty) and ridden to help Aragorn. Oh, and he also brought along Elrond's two sons, Elladan and Elrohir.
Elrohir has a message for Aragorn from his father: "The days are short. If thou art in haste, remember the Paths of the Dead" (5.2.25).
Uh, that does not sound promising. Aragorn doesn't want to go that way, but he may have to.
Then, Halbarad delivers a gift from Arwen. It's a long black staff wrapped in some kind of cloth.
Though he knows exactly what it is, Aragorn tells Halbarad to keep it wrapped up for now.
Finally, they all arrive back at Helm's Deep.
Merry sleeps hard until Legolas and Gimli awaken him. Gimli wants to show Merry the Glittering Caves of Anglarond (see The Two Towers Book 3, Chapter 8), but Legolas tells them they don't have time. They have to set out again at noon.
Meanwhile, Aragorn and Halbarad are in the middle of deep counsels, so Legolas and Gimli pass the time by chatting about Halbarad and his companions.
Apparently, Galadriel is the one who called for them, after talking to Gandalf in The Two Towers.
Théoden calls Merry into the Hornburg. It's not every day a king invites you into his inner chamber.
There, Théoden offers to allow Merry to ride with him, on a hill pony of his own.
A delighted Merry happily accepts, and offers his sword to Théoden in service.
Théoden then names Merry "esquire of Rohan of the household of Meduseld" (5.2.50), and after this oath, Merry chows down with Théoden and Éomer. Now that's good company.
Éomer notes that it's almost time to go, but Aragorn hasn't eaten yet.
Théoden goes over to the great company of Riders who have been assembled to fight with Gondor. He'll be bringing about fifteen hundred men to Minas Tirith, which means he can only leave a few behind to protect Edoras.
Then Aragorn emerges with Halbarad, the Rangers, and Elladan and Elrohir after their secretive powwow.
He asks Théoden how long it will take to arrive in Dunharrow (which is a fortress in the White Mountains).
It will take three days, according to Théoden, and that's only the beginning of his process of raising troops in Rohan.
The muster that Théoden commanded in Edoras will happen four days from now, and they'll still need to get to Gondor from Rohan. This is all going to take far too long.
Aragorn sees now that he has to go a faster way: he will travel east, through the Paths of the Dead, which start at Dunharrow.
Um, bad idea, buddy. Both Éomer and Théoden think Aragorn is riding right to his doom.
Nevertheless, our stubborn Aragorn says farewell to Merry, who is completely bummed as he sets off with Théoden.
Aragorn, Halbarad, Legolas, and Gimli watch them go. Then it's time for some eats.
Over food, Aragorn tells Gimli and Legolas that he has looked into the palantír. After all, it belongs to the line of Elendil by right—right?
Still, he admits that he almost didn't have enough strength to use it.
But Sauron has looked upon Aragorn, and Aragorn hopes that the knowledge that the heir of Isildur walks Middle-earth has been a blow to him. Take that, Big Baddie.
Plus, Aragorn has been able to use to palantír to see things, like the danger coming to Minas Tirith from the south (that would be the black fleet of Umbar).
He knows: without help, Minas Tirith will fall in ten days.
Luckily, our man Aragorn has a plan.
He'll find some help waiting for him at the Stone of Erech in barren hills of that land.
And just who will this help be? Well, it's a group of people called "the dead," and here's the scoop:
The dead are oathbreakers who betrayed Aragorn's ancestor, Isildur.
The King of the Mountains (not to be confused with the King Under the Mountain, who is the king of the dwarves of the Lonely Mountain in The Hobbit) swore an oath to Gondor at the beginning of the kingdom to help in the war against Sauron.
But when Sauron rose again, and Isildur called on the King to help, he refused. Not cool, dude. In fact, his people had come to worship Sauron in these dark days.
So, as punishment, Isildur told the king that he would be the last King of the Mountains, and that he and his men would be called upon again near the end of this war to fulfill their oath.
Until then, there would be no rest for these people, which is why they have come to be called the Sleepless Dead.
They are waiting to fulfill their oath to Gondor to fight Sauron, and Aragorn is about to give them the opportunity to redeem themselves by helping defend Minas Tirith.
When Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, and the Dúnedain arrive at the fortress of Dunharrow, Éowyn (Éomer's sister and Théoden's niece) is there waiting for them.
When she hears the news of the defense of Helm's Deep, her eyes shine.
To be fair, she is also looking particularly closely at Aragorn.
When Aragorn tells her that he plans to ride the Paths of the Dead, she panics and asks him to ride with Éomer instead, to bring hope to her people.
But Aragorn, stubborn as ever, just says this Paths of the Dead thing is a good idea, and he's set on going.
So they eat in silence. Awkward.
But after dinner, Éowyn follows Aragorn and begs him to reconsider. If he won't change his mind, Éowyn wants to come with him. This girl has got it bad.
Aragorn tells her that her duty is to stay in Rohan and guard her people, but Éowyn insists that she wants the opportunity to go to war and gain fame. No dice, says Aragorn.
The next day, Éowyn comes to drink with Aragorn and his men to wish them good luck.
Aragorn tells her to say hello to Éomer when he arrives.
One last time, Éowyn asks if Aragorn won't change his mind about going. Or at least let her tag along.
She's desperate for Pete's sake. She even falls on her knees and begs Aragorn to allow her to go.
He says no, jumps on his horse, and rides away. Way to have a mature, adult discussion.
Éowyn watches Aragorn approaching the Dwimorberg, the Haunted Mountain, in which is the Door of the Dead. She weeps and stumbles as she turns back into the fortress. Poor thing.
Her people are all too afraid to watch Aragorn set out on this journey.
When Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, and the Grey Company (the Rangers) arrive at the Dark Door to the Paths of the Dead, no one wants to go on, because this is one evil door.
Their horses are terrified, so they all have to dismount and lead them.
As they walk this dark pathway, Gimli grows more and more afraid. He notices that Aragorn, at least, seems immune to the terror.
Aragorn kneels with Elladan: they have found the body of a mighty warrior who seems to have despaired and died on this Path.
Aragorn stands and commands, "Keep your hoards and your secrets hidden in the Accursed Years! Speed only we ask. Let us pass, and then come! I summon you to the Stone of Erech!" (5.2.144)
Gimli hears the soft sound of many feet (yikes), and that crawling sense of fear grows stronger and stronger.
Finally, the company passes into a lighter part of the tunnel.
They mount their horses again and start riding out.
Unfortunately, that wasn't it. Legolas tells Gimli that the Dead are following them.
And Elladan agrees: "Yes, the Dead ride behind. They have been summoned" (5.2.149). Thanks a lot, Aragorn.
When they come out the other side of the Haunted Mountain, they find themselves in the Morthond Valley near the walls of Dol Amroth (Imrahil's citadel).
As they ride through the valley, the people who live there shout, "The King of the Dead! The King of the Dead is come upon us!" (5.2.154).
They shut themselves up in their homes and hide. That can't be a good sign.
No matter. Aragorn and the Company will keep on keepin' on until they reach the Stone of Erech.
Once they arrive, Elrohir hands Aragorn a silver horn, which Aragorn promptly blows.
He tells the Dead, "the hour is come at last" (5.2.161).
As the heir of Isildur of Gondor, he demands that they follow him until Gondor is free of Sauron.
Then he tells Halbarad to unfurl the banner that Arwen made for him, but no one can see what is on it, yet, because it's too dark in the valley.
Together, Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, and the Dúnedain march along with the Dead close behind.
The people whom they pass all hide from them in terror. Can you blame 'em?
In the darkness of the Shadow of Mordor, they are hidden from mortal sight. And quite a sight they must have been, don't you think?