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The Return of the King

The Return of the King

by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Return of the King Book 5, Chapter 9 Summary

The Last Debate

  • The morning after the Battle of Pelennor Fields, Legolas and Gimli ask to be allowed to go into the City and see their old buds Merry and Pippin.
  • Legolas bows to Imrahil, because he sees that there is elven blood in his veins, and Imrahil confirms that the stories of his country say that's true, though Imrahil has never seen an elf in Amroth. 
  • Then Legolas passes on a message to Imrahil to meet Aragorn in his tents, along with Gandalf and Éomer.
  • A guide brings Gimli and Legolas to the Houses of Healing, where they laugh and chat it up with Merry and Pippin. 
  • All four of them sit together on the battlements and look out over Gondor to the south.
  • When Legolas hears the crying of the gulls, it awakens something in him, and he worries that he shall never stop longing for the Sea. (And for Elves, that means a longing to sail west and leave Middle-earth—for good.)
  • Legolas's words remind us of Galadriel's warning via Gandalf: "Beware of the Sea!/ if thou hearest the cry of the gull on the shore,/ Thy heart shall then rest in the forest no more" (The Two Towers 3.4.142).
  • But Gimli says there are lots of things left to see in Middle-earth.
  • Then Pippin asks what happened on their journey with Aragorn through the Paths of the Dead.
  • A rather bashful Gimli is afraid even to speak of the Paths of the Dead, so Legolas picks up the story from when Aragorn parted from Éowyn.
  • He quickly tells them about everything that happened underground, up until they reach the Stone of Erech.
  • Then, they rode on for three days to Linhir, at the mouth of Gilrain (a river to the south, near the mouth of the River Anduin at the Bay of Belfalas).
  • They found the men of Lamedon (one of Gondor's lands; again, we highly recommend consulting a map to keep all these places straight), who were fighting off the evil people of Umbar and Harad. 
  • When the troops of the Dead (the Grey Host) arrived, almost all of the Lamedon soldiers scattered.
  • All except Angbor, Lord of Lamedon, who stood his ground.
  • Aragorn told him to bring his men behind the Grey Host. Then, Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, the Grey Company, and the Grey Host crossed the River Gilrain, driving the allies of Mordor in front of them. 
  • After the battle, Aragorn worried that Minas Tirith would fall before they could arrive to help.
  • So they pressed on to the Mouths of Anduin at Pelargir, where they found the main fleet of Umbar.
  • When they arrived and saw the huge forces of the Southrons, Aragorn stood and said, "Now come! By the Black Stone I call you!" (5.9.28). Well, that's pretty brave.
  • That's when the Grey Host, a.k.a. the Shadow Host, came forward. 
  • They drew their ghostly swords and sounded their ghostly horns, and, what do you know, the Southrons went nuts with fear as the ghosts flew right over them. 
  • They all jumped into the ocean or ran away south. Anything to get away from the ghosts. 
  • By the time the sun set, the whole fleet had either disappeared or died. Well done Aragorn.
  • So the workings of Mordor have been overthrown by its own weapons: "wraiths of fear and darkness" (5.9.40). 
  • Aragorn choses the biggest of the enemy ships for his own, while the Dead all gathered on the shore, watching Aragorn with red eyes shining in the light of the burning ships.
  • In a fit of nobility, Aragorn told them, "Your oath is fulfilled. Go back and trouble not the valleys ever again! Depart and be at rest" (5.9.44).
  • The King of the Dead broke his spear and threw it down.
  • With a bow to Aragorn, he turned away, and then he and his troops vanished into thin air, like mist. 
  • They rested that night, freeing the slaves who had been working on the ships and waiting for men from Lebennin and Ethir to join them now that the Dead had gone.
  • Then Angbor of Lamedon arrived with all of his troops. Everyone, it seemed, was flocking to the rumor of Aragorn's name. Return of the King indeed. 
  • The next day, they sailed slowly up the Anduin, and Aragorn worried that they wouldn't arrive in time. 
  • Finally, there was a change in the wind, and it filled their sails. They arrived in Minas Tirith at dawn, as Merry and Pippin well know. 
  • No matter what happens after this, it will always be a great moment to remember the unfurling of Aragorn's banner at the banks of the River Anduin.
  • And so ends Legolas's story.
  • They fall into silence as they wait for Aragorn, Imrahil, et al. to finish conferencing.
  • Meanwhile, back at the council, Gandalf levels with Aragorn and Imrahil: Sauron's forces are too strong for them to triumph over.
  • But they shouldn't despair, because there's still the matter of the Ring of Power.
  • If Sauron gets it, he will certainly triumph. But if it's destroyed, Sauron will be finished. Forever.
  • Sauron knows this, and he also knows that his Ring has been found again.
  • But he's worried that someone on the Good Side will try to use it against him. He doesn't know about the Fellowship's plan. 
  • Gandalf guesses that Aragorn showed himself to Sauron using the palantír of Orthanc, and Aragorn agrees.
  • That was ten days after Frodo left with Sam at the Falls of Rauros (see The Fellowship of the Ring Book 2, Chapter 10). 
  • Éomer asks why Sauron keeps attacking if he thinks the good side has the Ring? But Sauron is not totally positive that they have it, and he is afraid to wait. He doesn't want to give them the chance. 
  • His Eye is fixed on Minas Tirith now, and he is ignoring everything else. Hey, that might be a good thing.
  • It is now their job to keep Sauron's Eye here, so that he won't look inward at Mordor, where they hope Frodo and Sam are moving closer to chucking the ring into Mount Doom.
  • Since they can't beat Sauron in a battle, all they can do is draw Sauron's attention to them so the Ring-bearer can do his job.
  • Aragorn agrees with Gandalf's strategy, and Elrohir, Éomer, and Imrahil all chime in that they will help.
  • All they need is a large enough force to present a convincing challenge to Sauron. They can leave the rest of their army in Minas Tirith to defend Gondor.
  • Here's the plan: Aragorn will bring 2,000 of those he mustered in the South, Imrahil will bring 3,500 of those from the Outlands of Gondor, Éomer will bring 500 on foot and 500 on horseback, while Elladan and Elrohir will lead another 500 on horseback, with the Rangers and the swan-knights of Dol Amroth. It's not the hugest force ever, but it will have to do.
  • Meanwhile, most of the Rohirrim (3,000 on horseback) will ride under the command of Elfhelm to stop the Enemy marching in from Anórien to the west. 
  • Aragorn draws Andúril and swears that it will not be sheathed until the end of the war.
  • This is it: the final battle with Sauron.

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