Back to Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli. Remember, our favorite trio is still out there, hunting for Merry and Pippin (who are too busy fomenting rebellion to be found at the moment).
The next morning, Aragorn examines their camp to see if he can find any sign of the old man that mysteriously appeared the night before.
But there isn't even a boot print. Weird.
Aragorn is also wondering what really happened to their horses. He, for one, thinks the horses weren't frightened away; they sounded like animals filled with sudden joy. Things are getting seriously strange.
They are all baffled by the mystery, but they have to put that aside for the time being, because it's time to continue searching the forest for their buds.
Aragorn sees a mallorn-leaf of Lórien with a few crumbs of lembas bread. A sign.
There is also a broken knife that they might have used to cut their bonds. A really good sign.
He is sure that the hobbits must have stopped to eat here at some point recently. Maybe the orcs carried Merry and Pippin there?
It was probably night, and they would have been covered in their elven-cloaks, so the Riders would not have seen them.
Aragorn speculates that, "the Orcs had been commanded to capture hobbits, alive, at all costs" (3.5.17). That's totally promising, because it means that Merry and Pip are alive, somewhere in this deep, dark forest.
As they pass into the Fangorn, Legolas says the forest isn't evil; it's just watchful and angry (and rightfully so, we might add).
Gimli, though, is not at all comfortable with the Forest. Gimli, aren't we always telling you to cool your jets?
They track Merry and Pippin's footprints until they leave the Entwash behind. That's when Aragorn finds some very strange marks he has never seen before.
Uh oh. There doesn't seem to be anywhere further to go.
Legolas spots an old man passing from tree to tree. He approaches them soundlessly.
Gimli wants Legolas to shoot him ASAP, before Saruman has a chance to put a spell on them, but Legolas and Aragorn both think that's a bad idea. This is a majorly tense moment, folks.
The old man joins them, saying, "Well met!" (3.5.59)
He already knows that they are tracking hobbits, which stuns Aragorn.
Gimli, curmudgeon that he is, commands "Saruman" to reveal himself.
So the old man throws off his cloak and rags.
He is revealed all in shining white: Gandalf! For real, folks: Gandalf is back from the dead, so to speak.
What's goin' on with you guys? Gandalf asks, though in more regal words.
He has been getting news from Gwaihir the Windlord, the eagle who rescued him from Orthanc—Merry and Pippin were captured by the orcs, sure, but they're safe now. Oh, and he knows that the Ring has passed beyond the help of the Company.
Gandalf is pleased to hear that Sam seems to have gone with Frodo. At least he has one ally left.
When Aragorn tells Gandalf of Boromir's death, Gandalf is majorly bummed.
Now it's time to get the scoop from G-man.
He says that it has not even occurred to Sauron that they will try to destroy the Ring, so at least they've got that fact on their side.
So then why is Sauron being so bellicose? Apparently, Sauron is hastening into war because he thinks war is already upon him.
This is lucky for the Good side. It means that Sauron isn't concentrating on guarding Mordor or looking for Frodo and the Ring.
Instead, he's busy sending all of his forces out into Middle-earth instead, leaving himself relatively unprotected.
Plus, there's Saruman. Sure, he's totally evil. But he's also a traitor, to both the Good side, and to Sauron. Saruman wants the Ring for himself, after all. That's why Merry and Pippin were kept alive, and were able to make their escape.
(We already know this, of course, but Gandalf is clarifying for Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli. And hey, we're not complaining about the refresher.)
All Sauron knows is that two hobbits are being carried to Isengard. He doesn't know that all the orcs have already been killed. So now he has to worry about Isengard and Minas Tirith.
He doesn't know that all the orcs have already been killed.
So now he's worried about Isengard as well as Minas Tirith.
There's a lot that Saruman doesn't know, too. He hasn't found out that the Nazgûl have taken winged steeds, and that there was a Nazgûl (a.k.a. a Winged Messenger) waiting on the riverbank when his orcs squabbled with the Mordor orcs. Saruman also doesn't know that his orcs found hobbits and then lost them again. Let's be honest: none of this bodes well for Saruman.
Gimli asks if it was Gandalf or Saruman who they saw walking in the woods last night. It wasn't Gandalf, so it must have been Saruman. Did you feel that shiver down your spine?
Gandalf concludes: Merry and Pippin are with the Ents of Fangorn. And they're totally safe. Excellent.
Even Legolas is surprised to hear that the Ents are more than a memory. Not only are they still present, Gandalf tells them, but also the Ents are angry. At last, they have rallied to defend themselves.
But Gandalf, Legolas, Aragorn, and Gimli have bigger fish to fry than go hunting for hobbits among the Ents. They have got to hightail it to Rohan, where they are desperately needed in the city of Edoras. It's time for a chat with Théoden.
And finally, Gandalf tells his friends about how he survived in the Mines of Moria. (See The Fellowship of the Ring, Book 2, Chapter 5.)
Gandalf and the Balrog fell for a long time, fighting all the while. When they hit the bottom of the abyss, the Balrog's fire was put out, but it kept on fighting. We guess those Balrogs really mean business.
Finally, the Balrog tried to flee, but Gandalf caught its heel and used it to lead him back up to the secret ways of Khazad-dûm.
They reached the Endless Stair, which goes right up to Durin's Tower, the pinnacle of the Silvertine.
The Silvertine is the mountain Celebdil, one of the three Mountains of Moria (along with Caradhras and Fanuidhol). On this peak, the Balrog and Gandalf began their last battle.
And it was a doozy. The Balrog fell at last, but he crushed the side of the peak in his fall, dropping Gandalf into darkness. Uh oh.
Gwaihir told Gandalf that he was now as light as "a swan's feather in my claw" (3.5.139). Aw, you're making him blush.
After Gwaihir carried Gandalf to Lothlórien, everyone's favorite wizard caught up with Galadriel and found out that he just missed the Company. Boo.
Galadriel then sent a warning to Aragorn: "Near is the hour when the Lost should come forth,/ And the Grey Company ride from the North/ But dark is the path appointed for thee:/ The dead watch the road that leads to the Sea" (3.5.142). Keep that one in your back pocket, folks.
To Legolas, she said, "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" (3.4.142).
And to Gimli (whom she calls "Lockbearer," because he has a strand of her hair), she said to be careful not to put his ax to the wrong tree. Well that's just good advice for anyone, really.
Gandalf finishes his story with a piercing whistle. Enter Shadowfax, his awesome, gorgeous horse. Two other horses appear: Hasufel and Arod. Those are the two horses that had disappeared the night before. They will bear Gandalf, Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli to Edoras, in Rohan.
And they're off! Through the Gap of Rohan, through which they can see the smoke rising from Isengard.