Return of the King Book 5, Chapter 3
Theoden follows a stream with his riders trailing behind him. The beauty of Rohan's fields amazes Merry with its sweeping plains and towering mountains. He is beginning to tire of the constant travel. He rides with Theoden and tells him all about the Shire and his people. The men of Rohan begin to sing their enchanting songs. Merry feels lonely and misses the other hobbits. He thinks of Sam and Frodo and how much rides on their shoulders. Eomer calls the company to halt and Theoden is happy for the moment's rest. He worries about the coming ride into Gondor, but he refuses to let anyone else lead his army. They begin to ride again and as they pass through towns, men cry out in happiness to see their king. Gandalf rode through the town and told them to prepare for war. A Nazgul flew over them in the night.
Theoden follows the road across the valley and Merry wonders at the great number of men preparing for war and joining them. Where the road curves, great carved stones of portly men sit. They were placed there by an ancient race of men. Soon they come to Dunharrow. The standing stones are weather-beaten and cracked, but they remain nevertheless. Eowyn comes out to meet them and Merry notices that she seems upset. She tells them that Aragorn has already come and gone. Theoden senses that she is hurt as she tells them that Aragorn did in fact ride into the Paths of the Dead. Eomer responds: "'He is lost, we must ride without him, and our hope dwindles.'" Book 5, Chapter 3, pg. 75. Theoden enters a tent where he is to meet with his captains. Merry looks over the men raising their own tents and mutters about Aragorn. He cannot believe that he has come this far in the world to be alone.
Theoden sits at a table with his nephew and niece and asks for Merry to give him a tale to lighten his heart. Merry asks about the Paths of the Dead and Theoden tells him that no one dares to venture into the tunnels. Once a man entered and never returned. The dead army lingers within and suffers no one to pass. Merry asks why Aragorn would choose to go into it knowing this but Eomer does not know. Theoden says that his heart tells him that he will never lay eyes on Aragorn again. He tells Merry that long ago a ghostly figure told their ancestors never to enter. The figure told them that it was not the time for the dead to rise. Theoden suspects that it may be time for Aragorn to raise them.
There is a noise outside and a stranger enters the tent, clad as Boromir had been. In his hand he holds a single arrow with a red tip. The messenger says that the steward of Gondor requests the help of Rohan. The red arrow is an ancient treaty between Gondor and Rohan. Whoever would send the arrow to the other would be able to expect help as quickly as possible. The messenger tells him that he should ride for Minas Tirith as soon as possible because their armies will be better used within the walls than without. Theoden says that his men fight on horseback, not on walls, but they will make haste. Still, the messenger thinks it may be too late if they cannot arrive in seven days. He warns them that armies are gathering in the south and the east. Theoden says he will bring as great an army as possible but since he has lost men and must provide for the defenses of his city, the number will only be around six thousand.
They split up to their separate tents to go to sleep. Merry is woken before dawn because the king calls for him. The sun begins to rise as he makes his way through the waking men. There is a shadow coming from the east and the messenger from Gondor tells Theoden that the shadow began to rise in Mordor the day before. Theoden says he will ride faster and he tells Eomer to send heralds and gather all the riders at Edoras. Eomer sounds the trumpets. Theoden turns to Merry and tells him that he is going to war but he will not require him to follow. Merry protests. Theoden tells him that he cannot ride or fight from a horse. Merry protests and tells him that he will run all the way to Gondor if necessary. Theoden tells him that he may ride on his horse with him all the way to Edoras. Eowyn presents him with a shield and helmet decorated with the standards of Rohan.
Merry readies as if he were, in fact, going to war. They prepare for two hours until there is a trumpet blast and the procession begins to gather in ranks. Eomer and Theoden look over the arrayed army with Merry at their side. Merry notices a man who looks smaller and thinner than all the others but nonetheless he looks hard and cruel. They pass down the road raising cries as they ride. It gets darker as they come to Edoras. Merry begs Theoden to let him come but the king tells him that he must stay and help Eowyn. He puts him down and begins to ride off. A quiet rider comes by and whispers that he will bear Merry on his horse underneath his cloak if he wishes to go to war so badly. The riders tells him to call him Dernhelm. The horse can bear the weight of both of them because Dernhelm is unusually thin for a man. They ride quickly with the large host behind and in front of them.