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Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli travel through the night, across the wastes of Emyn Muil.
As they travel, they see signs of dead orcs along the way, and wonder if the orcs could have been killed by the Rohirrim, the Riders of Rohan.
Aragorn thinks not—the Rohirrim don't come this far from Minas Tirith. Instead, he thinks, the orcs are fighting and killing each other. These are not exactly levelheaded creatures.
Aragorn finds tracks leading northwest, which means the orcs are headed away from Gondor.
When the three travelers reach a cliff face called the East Wall of Rohan, Legolas points at the sky.
He spots the same black eagle that he saw flying over Sarn Gebir in The Fellowship of the RingBook 2, Chapter 9.
But there is something closer at hand: a large company of men on the plain, about twelve leagues (or 36 miles) away.
Near the main trail, Aragorn finds a hobbit footprint. He also finds the brooch of one of the cloaks of Lothlórien. He totally believes Pippin must have dropped it intentionally, as a sign.
When night falls, they debate over whether they should stop or go on.
The orcs won't stop traveling at night, so they should probably keep going. But they run the risk of losing the trail in the dark.
So Aragorn decides that they have to stop. He and Gimli sleep, while Legolas keeps watch.
When Aragorn wakes just before dawn, Legolas tells him that the orcs are too far away now for him to sense them. Uh oh.
Aragorn throws himself to the ground and listens to the earth. This dude has serious skills.
He can't hear anyone walking, but he can hear the hoof beats of many horses.
After three nights and days of traveling, they have traveled far across the plains of Rohan.
Legolas fears that the orcs have already reached the Forest of Fangorn.
Aragorn wonders why they can't seem to catch up. Honestly, it feels as though something is slowing them down and speeding up the orcs.
Legolas thinks it just might be the power of Saruman, so the Three Hunters hurry along with renewed urgency.
They find a place where the orcs must have stopped to rest, but Aragorn is sure that was at least 36 hours ago.
They press on towards the Entwash River at the borders of the Forest of Fangorn.
The next day (the fourth day of their pursuit of the orcs), Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli see that company of riders up close and personal.
Aragorn does not believe that the Riders of Rohan have gone over to Sauron, because they hate orcs, too. So he announces himself once the company has almost ridden past: "What news from the North, Riders of Rohan?" (3.2.107).
The Riders wheel around, and the leader advances on Aragorn with his sword drawn. Not good.
Aragorn introduces himself as Strider; he also introduces Legolas and Gimli.
He explains their elvish clothing as the gifts of the Lady of Lothlórien.
Like Boromir, this leader of the Rohirrim (Éomer son of Éomund, Third Marshal of the Riddermark) appears suspicious of the Lady.
Gimli immediately gets angry in Galadriel's name, and things almost come to blows right then and there. Sometimes we really wish Gimli would just cool his jets.
Levelheaded Aragorn jumps in and soothes everyone's temper. He decides to use his true name: "I am Aragorn son of Arathorn, and am called Elessar, the Elfstone Dúnadan, the heir of Isildur Elendil's son of Gondor" (3.2.126).
Éomer is, naturally, stunned to have this figure from legend appear out of nowhere in the middle of the plains of Rohan.
Aragorn tells Éomer that Rohan can no longer stay neutral. The time has come for Théoden King to declare himself with Sauron or against him.
Aragorn wants news of the orcs they are hunting, and Éomer assures him that the orcs have been destroyed.
Awesome. Except—Aragorn asks if there was any sign of his little hobbit friends.
No dice, all Éomer and his riders found were orcs.
Aragorn explains that they set out from Rivendell in the company of Boromir of Gondor and Gandalf the Grey.
Éomer knows Gandalf, and warns Aragorn that he is not very popular in Rohan. Apparently the folks around these parts believe that he is a bringer of evil.
Théoden is also angry about Gandalf's theft of Shadowfax, his best horse.
This prompts Aragorn to tell him that Gandalf has died.
Éomer, at least, is sad, though he says a lot of people in Rohan won't be.
And Aragorn adds that Boromir has also died.
Éomer is amazed that all of Aragorn's news is so bad, and then he confirms that Rohan is not and shall never be allied with Sauron.
Their real trouble, frankly, is Saruman, who is much nearer to Rohan than Sauron. In fact, Saruman sometimes likes to walk about in the guise of an old man with a hood, which freaks everyone out (needless to say).
Éomer wants Aragorn to come to the king's house and help. He offers Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli spare horses if they would come to Meduseld, the hall of Théoden.
But Aragorn doesn't want to abandon his quest for Merry and Pippin.
Regretfully, Éomer explains that it's his job to arrest strangers wandering through these lands.
Aragorn replies that he is not a stranger. He has ridden with the Riders of Rohan before, though under another name. He even knew Éomer's father Éomund back in the day.
And he knows that those men would not have stopped Aragorn from going on a rescue mission.
So Éomer lets them go, but he asks that, once Aragorn has finished his errand, he come to Théoden to lend a hand.
Éomer, who turns out to be a pretty nice guy, gives Aragorn and Legolas horses to ride. Gimli rides behind Legolas, because he's not a big fan of the four-legged creatures.
They part with promises that the Three Hunters will come to Meduseld.
Then, Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli travel to the Forest of Fangorn, but they can't find any traces of Merry or Pippin.
Gimli is now totally sure that they are dead.
They camp on the edges of the Fangorn for the night.
Gimli gathers chips of wood left from the great orc bonfire set by the Rohirrim the day before.
Legolas looks up at the trees and thinks they (the trees) are glad of the fire.
The Three Hunters start chatting about Fangorn. Apparently, it is as old as the Old Forest of the Barrow-downs and much bigger. In other words, it's ancient, and huge. There are stories of the Onodrim, also called Ents, which dwelt in Fangorn long ago, and the Old Forest and Fangorn are the last strongholds of the forests of the Elder Days.
Gimli, who takes first watch, sees an old, bent man. Startled, his noisemaking wakes Legolas and Aragorn, who offers the man a place by their fire.
But the old man disappears. Strange.
The moon has gone down, and it is very dark.
Legolas realizes that the horses have bolted. This cannot be good.
Gimli believes that the old man was Saruman, just like Éomer said: an old man with a hood.
So levelheaded Aragorn intervenes once again to point out that this old man was wearing a hat, not a hood. Gimli, you doof.
Aragorn takes next watch, and neither the old man nor the horses come back. Phew.