Gandalf and Pippin have ridden to Minas Tirith, and Aragorn reveals to the rest of the company that this is to be his destination as well, though the road ahead he will take is dark and undetermined. En route to Edoras, the group encounters a group of thirty Rangers of the North, the Dúnedain, among them two sons of Elrond, Elladan and Elrohir. They bear a message requesting that they come to Aragorn’s aid, though Aragorn has sent no such request. Elrohir relates the message he was given from Elrond: “Bid Aragorn remember the words of the seer, and the Paths of the Dead.” The company continues on to Helm’s Deep, where they camp in relative safety. Théoden asks Merry to ride with him for the rest of the journey. This pretty much makes Merry’s day, as the Hobbit has been feeling useless and out of place in company with the Riders of Rohan. When suggested that he could be the king’s esquire, Merry offers Théoden his sword in service, and the king graciously accepts.
When Théoden prepares to resume the journey, everyone realizes Aragorn is missing, his horse riderless. When he reappears, he is exhausted and troubled. Aragorn knows that the Riders will not reach Minas Tirith in time, so he has decided to take the Dúnedain there via the Paths of the Dead. It is said no living man may take this road, but Aragorn is assured that the proper heir of Elendil may travel safely. The Riders are to take the slower, safer path east through the mountains.
To Legolas and Gimli, Aragorn reveals that he has used the palantír, confronting Sauron himself and successfully bending the stone’s power to his own will. Sauron is now aware of his existence as Isildur’s heir to Gondor’s throne. Gimli fears that Sauron will now release his armies quicker as a result of this information, but Aragorn hopes that such haste is a result of Sauron’s own fear and will weaken such an attack. In any case, the time for stealth is over, and Aragorn must embrace his destiny.
Referencing a legendary song from the words of Malbeth the Seer dating back over a thousand years, Aragorn explains the history of the Paths of the Dead, giving us some more of Tolkien’s quality world building. Isildur set a great black stone upon the hill of Erech. The King of the Mountains swore allegiance to Isildur upon that stone, but when Sauron waged war upon Gondor and Isildur called for their aid, the Men of the Mountains broke their oath, worshipping Sauron instead. Isildur condemned them to never rest until their oath was fulfilled. The words of Malbeth proclaim that the Oathbreakers will fulfill their oath to Isildur’s heir.
Aragorn and the Rangers reach Dunharrow ahead of Théoden, where Éowyn meets them. She begs Aragorn to avoid the Paths of the Dead, but Aragorn is set on this course. She would go with him, pleading her case, but Aragorn reminds her of her duty to her people, much to her frustration, and denies her request. The Paths run beneath the mountain, the entrance just outside of Dunharrow. The company enters the path only by the strength of Aragorn’s will. Gimli can hear the whispering voices of the unseen, and he is paralyzed with fear. Aragorn speaks to the Dead, summoning them to the Stone of Erech.
When the company finally emerges from the Paths, the Men, horses, and banners of the Dead follow behind. Locals flee the countryside in fear, naming Aragorn “King of the Dead.” Once they reach the Stone of Erech, the Oathbreakers announce their allegiance to Aragorn. Aragorn produces a black flag and pronounces himself Elessar, the rightful heir to the kingdom of Isildur. From here, the company rides on to the river Anduin and to Gondor.
The Tolkien Ensemble offers their interpretation of “Malbeth the Seer’s Words.” You can hear their rendition right here, featuring a somber musical interlude and the prophecy itself delivered by the great Sir Christopher Lee.