The Ride of the Rohirrim
The last chapter ended with the Rohirrim arriving, despite a blocked road. How did they manage it?
We begin with Merry finding the journey hard:
“There seemed to be some understanding between Dernhelm and Elfhelm, the Marshal who commanded the eored in which they were riding.[A] He and all his men ignored Merry and pretended not to hear if he spoke. He might have been just another bag that Dernhelm was carrying. Dernhelm was no comfort: he never spoke to anyone. Merry felt small, unwanted, and lonely.”
And they know the road is blocked:
“The host was in peril. They were less than a day’s ride from the out-walls of Minas Tirith that encircled the townlands. Scouts had been sent ahead. Some had not returned. Others hastening back had reported that the road was held in force against them. A host of the enemy was encamped upon it, … Orcs were roving in the hills and woods along the roadside.
But he is the told that there is an unexpected ally:
“You hear the Woses, the Wild Men of the Woods: thus they talk together from afar… Remnants of an older time they be, living few and secretly, wild and wary as the beasts. They go not to war with Gondor or the Mark; but now they are troubled by the darkness and the coming of the orcs: they fear lest the Dark Years be returning, as seems likely enough. Let us be thankful that they are not hunting us: for they use poisoned arrows, it is said, and they are woodcrafty beyond compare. But they have offered their services to Theoden. Even now one of their headmen is being taken to the king.”
Merry overhears the debate:
“There was a silence as Merry crept nearer, and then the Wild Man began to speak, in answer to some question, it seemed. His voice was deep and guttural, yet to Merry’s surprise he spoke the Common Speech, though in a halting fashion, and uncouth words were mingled with it.
“‘No, father of Horse-men,’ he said, ‘we fight not. Hunt only. Kill gorgun in woods, hate orc-folk. You hate gorgun too. We help as we can. Wild Men have long ears and long eyes; know all paths. Wild Men live here before Stone-houses; before Tall Men come up out of Water.’”
This is a nice example of how to use English to give speech that is alien and yet easy enough to understand.
Theoden needs their help:
“‘Our scouts say that they have cast trenches and stakes across the road. We cannot sweep them away in sudden onset.’ …
“‘Let Ghan-buri-Ghan finish!’ said the Wild Man. ‘More than one road he knows. He will lead you by road where no pits are, no gorgun walk, only Wild Men and beasts. Many paths were made when Stonehouse-folk were stronger… Road is forgotten, but not by Wild Men… Wild Men will show you that road. Then you will kill gorgon and drive away bad dark with bright iron, and Wild Men can go back to sleep in the wild woods.’
“Eomer and the king spoke together in their own tongue. At length Theoden turned to the Wild Man. ‘We will receive your offer,’ he said. ‘For though we leave a host of foes behind, what matter? If the Stone-city falls, then we shall have no returning. If it is saved, then the orc-host itself will be cut off. If you are faithful, Ghan-buri-Ghan, then we will give you rich reward, and you shall have the friendship of the Mark for ever.’
“‘Dead men are not friends to living men, and give them no gifts,’ said the Wild Man. ‘But if you live after the Darkness, then leave Wild Men alone in the woods and do not hunt them like beasts any more. Ghan-buri-Ghan will not lead you into trap. He will go himself with father of Horse-men, and if he leads you wrong, you will kill him.’
And this works
“‘Good tidings!’ cried Eomer. ‘Even in this gloom hope gleams again. Our Enemy’s devices oft serve us in his despite. The accursed darkness itself has been a cloak to us. And now, lusting to destroy Gondor and throw it down stone from stone, his orcs have taken away my greatest fear. The out-wall could have been held long against us. Now we can sweep through – if once we win so far.’”
The Woses have done their part – but have one more piece of good news:
“Ghan-buri-Ghan squatted down and touched the earth with his horny brow in token of farewell. Then he got up as if to depart. But suddenly he stood looking up like some startled woodland animal snuffling a strange air. A light came in his eyes.
“‘Wind is changing!’ he cried, and with that, in a twinkling as it seemed, he and his fellows had vanished into the glooms, never to be seen by any Rider of Rohan again.
They soon feel it too:
“‘Do you remember the Wild Man’s words, lord?’ said another. ‘I live upon the open Wold in days of peace; … and to me also the air brings messages. Already the wind is turning. There comes a breath out of the South; there is a sea-tang in it, faint though it be. The morning will bring new things. Above the reek it will be dawn when you pass the wall.’
This will disperse the dark cloud. Sauron’s Orcs can stand the sun, but do not like it.
Theoden then rallies his men:
“‘Now is the hour come, Riders of the Mark, sons of Eorl! Foes and fire are before you, and your homes far behind. Yet, though you fight upon an alien field, the glory that you reap there shall be your own for ever. Oaths ye have taken: now fulfil them all, to lord and land and league of friendship!’
“Men clashed spear upon shield.”
When they actually see besieged Gondor, things look very bad:
“After a while the king led his men away somewhat eastward, to come between the fires of the siege and the outer fields. Still they were unchallenged, and still Theoden gave no signal. At last he halted once again. The City was now nearer. A smell of burning was in the air and a very shadow of death. The horses were uneasy. But the king sat upon Snowmane, motionless, gazing upon the agony of Minas Tirith, as if stricken suddenly by anguish, or by dread. He seemed to shrink down, cowed by age. Merry himself felt as if a great weight of horror and doubt had settled on him. His heart beat slowly. Time seemed poised in uncertainty. They were too late! Too late was worse than never! Perhaps Theoden would quail, bow his old head, turn, slink away to hide in the hills.”
But Fate is on their side. The weather can still disobey Sauron, as promised:
“Then suddenly Merry felt it at last, beyond doubt: a change. Wind was in his face! Light was glimmering. Far, far away, in the South the clouds could be dimly seen as remote grey shapes, rolling up, drifting: morning lay beyond them.
“But at that same moment there was a flash, as if lightning had sprung from the earth beneath the City. For a searing second it stood dazzling far off in black and white, its topmost tower like a glittering needle: and then as the darkness closed again there came rolling over the fields a great boom.
“At that sound the bent shape of the king sprang suddenly erect. Tall and proud he seemed again; and rising in his stirrups he cried in a loud voice, more clear than any there had ever heard a mortal man achieve before:
“Arise, arise, Riders of Theoden!
“Fell deeds awake: fire and slaughter!
“spear shall be shaken, shield be splintered,
“a sword-day, a red day, ere the sun rises!
“Ride now, ride now! Ride to Gondor!
“With that he seized a great horn from Guthlaf his banner-bearer, and he blew such a blast upon it that it burst asunder. And straightway all the horns in the host were lifted up in music, and the blowing of the horns of Rohan in that hour was like a storm upon the plain and a thunder in the mountains.
“Ride now, ride now! Ride to Gondor!
“Suddenly the king cried to Snowmane and the horse sprang away. Behind him his banner blew in the wind, white horse upon a field of green, but he outpaced it. After him thundered the knights of his house, but he was ever before them. Eomer rode there, the white horsetail on his helm floating in his speed, and the front of the first eored roared like a breaker foaming to the shore, but Theoden could not be overtaken. Fey he seemed, or the battle-fury of his fathers ran like new fire in his veins, and he was borne up on Snowmane like a god of old, even as Orome the Great in the battle of the Valar when the world was young. His golden shield was uncovered, and lo! it shone like an image of the Sun, and the grass flamed into green about the white feet of his steed. For morning came, morning and a wind from the sea; and the darkness was removed, and the hosts of Mordor wailed, and terror took them, and they fled, and died, and the hoofs of wrath rode over them. And then all the host of Rohan burst into song, and they sang as they slew, for the joy of battle was on them, and the sound of their singing that was fair and terrible came even to the City.”
And with that, we are at the same moment where we left Pippin in Minas Tirith in the last chapter. And have heard nothing more of Aragorn since he led out his host of ghosts, but we can hope.
[A] Properly éored. But I do not use accents or other diacritical marks. In the past, I have all too often seen computer software turn them into something meaningless.
As to why this flaw exists, see https://gwydionmadawc.com/030-human-dynamics/ascii-an-unhappy-legacy-for-computers/.