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Theoden and the Rohirrim, camped out along the route, get an urgent message to hurry to Minas Tirith because it's under siege. They commit to sending almost all of their forces as quickly as possible, and leave the next morning. Theoden, however, tells Merry to stay behind because he will be of no use in an actual battle. Merry is, of course, very unhappy about the idea, but luckily one of the Rohirrim, Dernhelm, takes pity on him and carries him along on his horse. (Dernhelm is suspiciously small and lithe and speaks very seldom and then in a rather softer voice than one would expect of a warrior. Who could he be?)
Aragorn succeeds in traveling the Paths of the Dead, though they're pretty much scary as all-get-out, and earning the allegiance and obedience of the vast hordes of ghosts that live there. He'll be bringing them along to battle at some point, though we don't know when.
At Minas Tirith, Sauron's dark forces are arriving to attack the outskirts of Gondor. Faramir returns, and Denethor, really ticked off that Faramir let Frodo and the Ring escape, sends him out on a suicidal mission to defend the river crossing outside of Minas Tirith. Faramir is wounded gravely and Denethor, maddened by his own grief and folly, gives up command to weep at his side and rave, eventually planning to burn them both alive. Merry, hearing his plans, runs to find Gandalf's help. Gandalf, meanwhile, takes over command of the forces of Gondor to try to hold off the orcs and sundry other evil forces attacking the city. In so doing, he comes face to face with the Witch King of Angmar, one of the Black Riders and a former king of men, who breaks open the gates.
Simultaneous to Gandalf's confrontation, the forces of Rohan arrive. They come by way of a secret path that one of the Wild Men showed them in return for a promise of future peace, and arrive just in time to attack Sauron's forces from behind, drawing away the attention of the Witch-King.
The best part of this bit is Theoden's arrival at Minas Tirith, which, frankly, is stirring and beautiful. Tolkien does a lovely job of making Theoden into a mythically inspiring figure, conferring on him the attributes almost of a god or legend, so that when he rides out in front of his riders, he is a shining, thundering warrior whose heart goes before his army, leading them onward. It's good stuff, guys, it really is.
"Behind him his banner blew in the wind, white horse upon a field of green, but he outpaced it...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 Oromë 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."Denethor's kind of interesting, too, in that he's a nice trope of the old man blinded by power, but he gets a little dimension when he realizes that he's responsible for Faramir's downfall. He's definitely a bit mad, but I like that his repentance only drives him to the even greater folly of despair, rather than causing him to suddenly turn it all around and be a good leader. That would be obnoxious and unrealistic, and I'm glad it didn't go that way.
Now that the preparations for battle are over and the battle has actually started, things ought to be a bit more exciting, I think.