The Return of the King
How we cite our quotes:
"Here do I swear fealty and service to Gondor, and to the Lord and Steward of the realm, to speak and to be silent, to do and to let be, to come and to go, in need or plenty, in peace or war, in living or dying, from this hour henceforth, until my lord release me, or death take me, or the world end. So say I, Peregrin son of Paladin of the Shire of the Halflings."
"And this do I hear, Denethor son of Ecthelion, Lord of Gondor, Steward of the high King, and I will not forget it, nor fail to reward that which is given: fealty with love, valour with honour, oath-breaking with vengeance." Then Pippin received his sword back and put it in its sheath. (5.1.71-2)
This oath of fealty sounds a lot like a marriage vow to us. In sickness and in health, as long as they both shall live, Denethor and Pippin are now bound by their respective roles as lord and liegeman. It sounds nice and fancy, but it has immediate consequences that are easy to forget when you hear the high falutin' language. In a city at war, Pippin just might have to lay down his life for Denethor sooner rather than later. But hey, at least, as a lord, Denethor has a personal responsibility to the men who vow to fight with him. Whatever Pippin's sacrifice might come to be, Denethor owes him. In theory.
"And yet"—[Beregond] paused and stood up, and looked round, north, east, and south—"the doings at Isengard should warn us that we are caught now in a great net and strategy. This is no longer a bickering at the fords, raiding from Ithilien and from Anórien, ambushing and pillaging. This is a great war long-planned, and we are but one piece in it, whatever pride may say. Things move in the far East beyond the Inland Sea, it is reported; and north in Mirkwood and beyond; and south in Harad. And now all realms shall be put to the test, to stand, or fall—under the Shadow." [...]
[Pippin] looked at the great walls, and the towers and brave banners, and the sun in the high sky, and then at the gathering gloom in the East; and he thought of the long fingers of that Shadow: of the orcs in the woods and the mountains, the treason of Isengard, the birds of evil eye, and the Black Riders even in the lanes of the Shire—and of the winged terror, the Nazgûl. (5.1.143)
We can tell that we are approaching the end of the The Lord of the Rings series because Tolkien is pulling back and giving us the big-picture perspective. Up until now, we have seen the individual members of the Fellowship of the Ring fighting with "orcs in the woods and the mountains," struggling with those crebain from Dunland—the "birds of evil eye"—and of course, there were the Nazgûl "even in the lanes of the Shire." But those have mostly been individual battles, powered by the personal courage of a handful of men, dwarves, elves, and hobbits. Now, Tolkien is reminding us that these smaller skirmishes have all been part of "a great war long-planned," a war that is being fought on multiple fronts but that will end soon. It's not just the great war with Sauron that has been long planned; Tolkien's own enormous narrative structure is looking towards its conclusion.
"Tell me, Théoden, you ride now to Dunharrow, how long will it be ere you come there?"
"It is now a full hour past noon," said Éomer. "Before the night of the third day from now we should come to the Hold. The Moon will then be one night past his full, and the muster that the king commanded [in Edoras] will be held the day after. More speed we cannot make, if the strength of Rohan is to be gathered."
Aragorn was silent for a moment. "Three days," he murmured, "and the muster of Rohan will only be begun. But I see that it cannot now be hastened." (5.2.58-60)
Aragorn, as the leader of the Good Side, is between a rock and a hard place. See, the thing about war is that you can't exactly plan it, let alone predict it. Aragorn knows they don't have much time, so Rohan will have to do the best they can to muster all the troops they can in the time they have. Then, no matter what, it's time for a fight. Being in tough spots like these means making tough calls, like going to the City of the Dead to bolster their ranks.