The Passing of the Grey Company

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The Passing of the Grey Company
Chapter of The Return of the King
EventAragorn takes the Paths of the Dead.
Date6-8 March 3019
LocationDunharrow; Paths of the Dead; Erech
PerspectiveMerry and Gimli
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The Muster of Rohan  >

The Passing of the Grey Company is the second chapter of the first book in The Return of the King.

Summary[edit | edit source]

As Gandalf and Pippin rode toward Minas Tirith[1], Aragorn, Théoden, and the Riders of Rohan returned from Isengard. Aragorn cryptically explained to Gimli, Legolas, and Merry that he must proceed to Minas Tirith by a darker, as yet undetermined route. On the way to Rohan, the group encountered thirty Rangers of the North and friends of Aragorn, including Elrond’s two sons, Elladan and Elrohir. The Dúnedain were gruff but proud, clad almost entirely in gray. They had received a mysterious message requesting that they come to Aragorn's aid. Théoden welcomed the Dúnedain to his company, and Elrohir conveyed a message to Aragorn from Rivendell: "If thou art in haste, remember the Paths of the Dead." After a time, the group reached Helm's Deep, the refuge of the Riders of Rohan. Théoden asked Merry to ride with him for the rest of the journey. Merry was delighted, as he felt out of place among the Riders and wished to be useful. He offered Théoden his sword in service of Rohan, and the king gladly accepted.

As Théoden prepared the group to resume the journey, the group suddenly realized that Aragorn was missing. He reappeared exhausted and sorrowful. Aragorn knew that the Riders would not arrive at Minas Tirith in time. He had decided to take the Dúnedain with him to Minas Tirith via a terrifying road: the Paths of the Dead. It was said that no living man may travel the Paths, but Aragorn said that the proper heir of Elendil may safely pass. Meanwhile, Théoden and the Riders took a slower, safer path east through the mountains to Edoras.

Aragorn informed Legolas and Gimli that he had consulted the palantír, the Orthanc-stone that Saruman used to communicate with Sauron. Aragorn had confronted Sauron through the palantír and claimed he had successfully subdued the stone’s power to his own will. In doing so, however, Aragorn had alerted Sauron to his existence as Isildur’s heir to the throne of Gondor. Gimli guessed Sauron would now release his forces sooner because he knew Isildur's long-awaited heir existed. Aragorn, however, hoped such a hasty move would weaken the Enemy’s attack.

Aragorn explained the history of the Paths of the Dead, citing a legendary song. In the early days of Gondor, Isildur set a great black stone upon the hill of Erech. Upon this stone, the King of the Mountains had sworn allegiance to Isildur. When Sauron had returned and waged war on Gondor, Isildur called upon his allies for aid. The Men of the Mountains broke their oath, as they had begun to worship Sauron. Isildur condemned the Men never to rest until their oath was fulfilled. According to the verse, the Oathbreakers had to fulfill their oath to Isildur’s heir when he returned to call them from the Stone of Erech. Rallying the Rangers, Aragorn rode through the plains of Rohan and reached Dunharrow by morning. Théoden had not yet arrived, but his niece, Éowyn, begged Aragorn to avoid the Paths of the Dead. Aragorn refused.

Outside Dunharrow lay the entrance to the Paths of the Dead, which ran beneath the mountain. Spurred only by the strength of Aragorn’s will, the Company entered the dark path. Gimli was nearly paralysed with fear, as he could hear the whispering voices of an unseen host following the Company in the dark. At a clearing, Aragorn turned and spoke to the Dead, summoning them to follow him to the Stone of Erech.

After creeping in the darkness for what seemed like ages, the Company emerged from the Paths and rode quickly through the mountain fields with the Men, horses, and banners of the Dead following behind. The inhabitants of the surrounding countryside fled in fear, calling Aragorn the "King of the Dead". Arriving at the large, black Stone of Erech, the legion of the Dead Oathbreakers announced their allegiance to Aragorn. Aragorn unfurled a black flag and pronounced himself the heir of Isildur’s kingdom. The Company rode on to the Great River, Anduin.

Composition[edit | edit source]

Originally the events of this chapter were to be narrated by Aragorn, as a "flash back", in a later chapter, The Last Debate. When that chapter was reworked (September-October 1946) it was decided that the portion of the Paths of the Dead should be part of the story, and moved to an entirely new chapter.[2])