Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli are off to rescue Merry and Pippin – or at least that’s the plan.
Turning back they saw across the River the far hills kindled. Day leaped into the sky. The red rim of the sun rose over the shoulders of the dark land. Before them in the West the world lay still, formless and grey; but even as they looked, the shadows of night melted, the colours of the waking earth returned: green flowed over the wide meads of Rohan; the white mists shimmered in the water-vales; and far to the left, thirty leagues or more, blue and purple stood the White Mountains, rising into peaks of jet, tipped with glimmering snows, flushed with rose of morning.
‘Gondor! Gondor!’ cried Aragorn. ‘Would that I looked on you again in happier hour! Not yet does my road lie southward to your bright streams.’
Tolkien is fantastic at painting a landscape, and the movies almost managed to do him justice. Seriously, though, the Three Hunters sequence in the movie is a masterpiece.
There’s only one short verse of poetry this chapter, and while I didn’t find it particularly good, it does help distinguish Aragorn’s poetic voice. That’s one thing I’ve noticed – each of the characters have a distinct voice to their songs/poetry. Most of the poetry in the first book was courtesy of Bilbo, and while the hobbits in general have a sort of lightness to their poetry, I could kind of pick up a difference between Frodo’s verses and Bilbo’s (and certainly Sam’s), like they were markedly similar, but had a slightly different tone. Aragorn’s poetry doesn’t have prominent rhyming schemes, but it does have a lot of alliteration and strong rhythms.
As they’re tracking the Orcs, Aragorn discovers the distinct brooch of an elven-cloak.
‘Not idly do the leaves of Lórien fall,’ said Aragorn. ‘This did not drop by chance: it was cast away as a token to any that might follow. I think Pippin ran away from the trail for that purpose.’
‘Then he at least was alive,’ said Gimli. ‘And he had the use of his wits, and of his legs too. That is heartening. We do not pursue in vain.’
‘Let us hope that he did not pay too dearly for his boldness,’ said Legolas. ‘Come! Let us go on! The thought of those merry young folk driven like cattle burns my heart.’
Aragorn is still unsure of himself, at least as a leader. He does the best he can with the information he has, but he’s still constantly second-guessing his decisions. Gimli seems to be the most emotional of the three, quick to express whatever he feels, positive or negative. Legolas tends to be the voice of reason, perhaps because he’s the most aware of the three – his eyesight is keen, and he’s relatively untouched by physical weariness, not to mention that he’s more attuned to the spiritual. He sees clearly, except perhaps when it comes to Men.
They debate whether or not to rest in the night (after a full day of running after the Orcs), and the choice once again falls to Aragorn.
‘We will not walk in the dark,’ he said at length. ‘The peril of missing the trail or signs of other coming and going seems to me the greater. If the Moon gave enough light, we would use it, but alas! he sets early and is yet young and pale.’
‘And tonight he is shrouded anyway,’ Gimli murmured. ‘Would that the Lady had given us a light, such a gift as she gave to Frodo!’
‘It will be more needed where it is bestowed,’ said Aragorn. ‘With him lies the true Quest. Ours is but a small matter in the great deeds of this time. A vain pursuit from its beginning, maybe, which no choice of mine can mar or mend.’
After their night’s rest, they lose sight of the Orcs, and they don’t seem to gain any ground the next day.
Gimli ground his teeth. ‘This is a bitter end to our hope and to all our toil!’ he said.
‘To hope, maybe, but not to toil,’ said Aragorn. ‘We shall not turn back here. Yet I am weary. […] There is something strange at work in this land. I distrust the silence. I distrust even the pale Moon. The stars are faint; and I am weary as I have seldom been before, weary as no Ranger should be with a clear trail to follow. There is some will that lends speed to our foes and sets an unseen barrier before us: a weariness that is in the heart more than in the limb.’
‘Truly!’ said Legolas. ‘That I have known since first we came down from the Emyn Muil. For the will is not behind us but before us.’
Hope is a driving theme in this story. It’s inextricably linked to the idea of eucatasrophe, the good that perhaps seems too much to hope for. We must often toil without sight of hope, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there – only that we cannot see it.
And then they encounter the titular Riders.
In pairs they galloped by, and though every now and then one rose in his stirrups and gazed ahead and to either side, they appeared not to perceive the three strangers sitting silently and watching them. The host had almost passed when suddenly Aragorn stood up, and called in a loud voice:
‘What news from the North, Riders of Rohan?’
Things get off to a bit of a rough start when Aragorn (introducing himself as “Strider”) explains that they came through Lothlórien. The people of Rohan are evidently suspicious of the Golden Wood like Boromir was, which naturally puts Gimli in a confrontational mood, almost leading to a fight. Aragorn manages to keep things civil, though, and eventually reveals his real name(s).
Éomer stepped back and a look of awe was in his face. He cast down his proud eyes. ‘These are indeed strange days,’ he muttered. ‘Dreams and legends spring to life out of the grass.
‘Tell me, lord,’ he said, what brings you here? And what was the meaning of the dark words? Long has Boromir son of Denethor been gone seeking an answer, and the horse that we lent him came back riderless. What doom do you bring out of the North?’
‘The doom of choice,’ said Aragorn. ‘You may say this to Théoden son of Thengel: open war lies before him, with Sauron or against him. None may live now as they have lived, and few shall keep what they call their own.’
Éomer informs them that they just got back from slaying that company of Orcs they were tracking, and they found no sign of hobbits. Aragorn in turn tells him about the loss of Gandalf and Boromir. Although Éomer is disturbed by the fall of Gandalf, he actually seems more upset about Boromir – evidently he sensed a likeness between Boromir and the men of Rohan, and greatly admired him.
‘It is hard to be sure of anything among so many marvels. The world is all grown strange. Elf and Dwarf in company walk in our daily fields; and folk speak with the Lady of the Wood and yet live; and the Sword comes back to war that was broken in the long ages ere the fathers of our fathers rode into the Mark! How shall a man judge what to do in such times?’
‘As he ever has judged,’ said Aragorn. ‘Good and ill have not changed since yesteryear; nor are they one thing among Elves and Dwarves and another among Men. It is a man’s part to discern them, as much in the Golden Wood as in his own house.’
That’s both comforting and challenging, and it’s also kind of the reason why Lord of the Rings (and stories like it) are so resonant. No matter what strange settings they may have, good and evil are still good and evil, and there’s strength to be found in that.
Éomer lends them horses (just two, since Gimli is no rider and just rides double with Legolas), but orders them to come to their capital of Meduseld as soon as they’ve learned whatever there is to learn about Pippin and Merry’s fate.
‘We can do no more,’ said Gimli sadly. ‘We have been set many riddles since we came to Tol Brandir, but this is the hardest to unravel. I would guess that the burned bones of the hobbits are now mingled with the Orcs’. It will be hard news for Frodo, if he lives to hear it; and hard too for the old hobbit who waits in Rivendell. Elrond was against their coming.’
‘But Gandalf was not,’ said Legolas.
‘But Gandalf chose to come himself, and he was the first to be lost,’ answered Gimli. ‘His foresight failed him.’
‘The counsel of Gandalf was not founded on foreknowledge of safety, for himself or for others,’ said Aragorn. ‘There are some things it is better to begin than to refuse, even though the end may be dark.’
They spend the night on the edge of Fangorn Forest…and they get a visitor in the middle of the night: An old man. He shows up suddenly and vanishes just as quickly (and in case you forgot, this is the middle of nowhere). Also, their horses get loose and run off.
Next time, we finally hear Merry and Pippin’s side of the story…