This installment of “Re-telling Tales of Middle-Earth” summarizes the story of Book Five of The Lord of The Rings, which is the first half of The Return of the King. Book Five follows the efforts of Gandalf, Aragorn, and the rest of the Company to defend Gondor from the armies of Sauron. In this summary, I endeavor to put as many of the cards from Magic: the Gathering’s Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-Earth in narrative order as possible, incorporating both the main and commander sets, so that the enjoyment of both the cards and the story may be as full as possible for everyone. As with any summary, I’ve made certain omissions – much from the story and many cards – for the sake of brevity.

Check out Book One, Book Two, Book Three, Book Four, and Book Six!

Chapter One: Minas Tirith

Detail from Call for Aid by Nino Is

As they ride to Minas Tirith, Gandalf and Pippin see the beacons lit, calling for aid. As they come to the White City, they are admitted to the Tower of the Steward. Denethor has already received word of Boromir’s death, but expresses interest in the rest of Pippin’s tale of his journey. In gratitude for Boromir’s sacrifice, Pippin offers his service to Denethor, who accepts Pippin into the Citadel Guard.

Later, Pippin meets Beregond, learns of the mustering threat at Minas Morgul to the east and Umbar to the South. Many companies begin to arrive in the city, including Prince Imrahil the Fair and the Knights of Dol Amroth. Night falls, and Gandalf tells Pippin that the Shadow of the Enemy has descended, and will blot out the light of dawn.

Chapter Two: The Passing of the Grey Company

Detail from Paths of the Dead by Logan Feliciano

Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli discuss the path forward with Éomer, Théoden, and Merry. As they ride forth, Dúnedain Rangers overtake them, joining Aragorn and bringing words of ancient prophecy: “If thou art in haste, remember the Paths of the Dead.” The Dúnedain also bring a gift from Arwen – a standard, – which Aragorn bids them keep furled for now. Merry swears fealty to Théoden, and becomes his squire.

That night, Aragorn ascends the tower of Helm’s Deep and uses the Palantir of Orthanc to reveal himself and his blade to Sauron, hoping to intimidate the Dark Lord. In the morning, he reveals his plans to travel through Paths of the Dead, as the prophecy brought by the Dúnedain said.

Aragorn and his company pass through Edoras, where Éowyn greets them and voices her frustration at being excluded from war and battle. On the morning of the next day, the company passes through the Paths of the Dead, and Aragorn exhorts them to attend him at the Stone of Erech. There, he calls the Dead to fulfill their ancient promises by following him to Pelargir and cleansing the land of Sauron’s forces. The dead give no audible answer, but follow as he rides toward the port town.

Chapter Three:  The Muster of Rohan

Battlefield Forge by Victor Harmatiuk

Meanwhile, Rohan is gathering its forces. As Merry and the Rohirrim ride toward Edoras, Éowyn rides out to meet them, as does an Errand-Rider of Gondor, who begs them to ride to Minas Tirith with haste.

The next morning, Merry is armed for battle, but Théoden means to leave him behind. A young helmeted Rider, calling themselves Dernhelm, agrees to take Merry on their horse, and they all ride for Gondor.

Chapter Four: The Siege of Gondor

Bastion Protector by Sean Vo

Meanwhile, at Minas Tirith, the same day Frodo and Sam behold the Statue at the Cross-roads, Pippin and Beregond are talking at the wall when they see the Nazgûl in the air and on the plain, pursuing Faramir as he rides for the city. Gandalf speeds from the gates upon Shadowfax, and with a spell of white light, drives the Black Riders away. He and Faramir head to the Tower of the Steward. Denethor greets his son coolly, seemingly disappointed in Faramir’s account of meeting Frodo, but not bringing him to Minas Tirith.

During the next day’s discussion of battle strategy, Denethor orders Faramir to guard the river and Pelennor, but orders no reinforcements to Cair Andros. Faramir departs to his post. The following day brings news that Faramir and his forces have already been pushed back from the river to the Pelennor, and the next day after that tidings that Faramir is again being forced to retreat to Minas Tirith. Cair Andros has fallen, as well. Once more Gandalf rides out to meet the retreating force, this time with a sortie that includes Prince Imrahil. Faramir arrives, but he’s been struck by a dart, and is unconscious.

Now Minas Tirith is besieged on all sides, and the soldiers begin to despair that their calls to Rohan have gone unheeded. Mordor Trebuchets begin launching fiery missiles over the walls, and Denethor resigns himself to losing the city. Denethor’s refusal to lead forces Gandalf to take charge. Deep in his despondency, Denethor supposes Faramir dead, and has a pyre made, so that he may burn himself and his son with him. Pippin is aware of this, and rushes off to find Gandalf, sending Beregond to delay Denethor if he can.

At the gate, Gandalf contends with Mordor’s armies, who have brought the siege-engine Grond, the Gatebreaker. As the gate is shattered, the Witch-King rides into the city. As Gandalf faces off with the Lord of the Nine, a cock crows, signaling the dawn. As it does, the Horn of the Mark rings out. “Rohan had come at last.”

Chapter Five: The Ride of the Rohirrim

Ghân-buri-Ghân, as depicted on Weathered Wayfarer, by Javier Charro

Days earlier, the Rohirrim pass through the Druadan forest with the aid of the Wose, the wild folk of the wood. All roads to Minas Tirith had been blocked by the forces of Mordor, but with the aid of the Wose Pathfinders, led by Ghân-buri-Ghân, the army arrives in Minas Tirith. Dernhelm, with Merry in tow, breaks ranks to ride closer to Théoden.

As they come to Minas Tirith, they see a great flash of light from the besieged city, and the Théoden takes heart, and commands his Riders into battle with a great cry “more clear than any there had ever heard a mortal man achieve.”

Chapter Six:· The Battle of the Pelennor Fields 

Battle of Pelennor Fields, panorama by Tyler Jacobson

The Riders of Rohan tear through the ranks of the Haradrim and the Mordor orcs. As he feels the tide of battle turning, the Black Captain, the Lord of the Nine, departs from the gates of Minas Tirith to enter the fray upon his fell-beast. His aura of terror causes the horses to rear, and Théoden’s horse falls over, crushing him beneath its weight.

The only knights of Rohan left to defend Théoden are Merry and Dernhelm, who are now staring down the Witch-King of Angmar.

The Lord of the Nazgûl taunts Dernhelm, “Thou fool! No living man may hinder me!”

Just then, Dernhelm casts aside their helmet, revealing Éowyn, her golden hair shining in the light of day. “But no living man am I!” She calls back.

The Voracious Fell-Beast falls upon Éowyn, but she brings her sword down upon its neck, severing its head in one swift motion. As the corpse of the beast tumbles to the ground, the Witch-King rises from the wreck, and brings his great mace down across Éowyn’s shield, splintering it and breaking her arm. As he raises the final blow, he stumbles – Merry thrusts his Barrow-Blade through the Witch-King’s knee, weakening his magical protections. As the Black Captain pitches forward, Éowyn runs her sword into the darkness between his crown and mantle, and the wraith dissipates with a foul hissing shriek. Éowyn’s sword shatters, and the force of the blow renders her unconscious.

Éomer arrives, and riders bear Théoden, who has perished, and Éowyn, who yet lives, into the city.

In the wake of the Witch-King’s defeat, Gothmog, Morgul Lieutenant sends evermore Easterlings into the fray, and from the river come ships with black sails, which the soldiers all fear are the Corsairs of Umbar. The fears turn to hope, however, as on the sails can be seen the standard of the White Tree. Aragorn has arrived, his banner unfurled. Rallying with Éomer and Imrahil, they join forces to destroy the Morgul army.

Chapter Seven: The Pyre of Denethor 

Denethor, Stone Seer by Bruno Biazotto

In his madness, Denethor attempts to burn Faramir alive. Gandalf rescues Faramir, and discovers that the Steward’s madness is due to his use of the palantir. Clutching the palantir, Denethor then sets fire to himself, and burns to death. Faramir is brought to the houses of healing.

Chapter Eight: The Houses of Healing

Ioreth of the Healing House by Wei Guan

Merry enters the city and reunites with Pippin, who takes him to the Houses of Healing. Faramir, Éowyn, and Meriadoc are tended by Ioreth, but she cannot seem to cure what ails them. She laments that Gondor has no king, for “the hands of the king are the hands of a healer.

Gandalf sends for Aragorn, who arrives to the houses of healing and immediately sends for athelas, which he had also used to treat Frodo’s wound on Weathertop. The power of the plant revives those afflicted by the black breath. After healing others, Aragorn slips out of the city to his tent outside the gates.

Chapter Nine: The Last Debate

Aragorn the Uniter by Javier Charro

Gimli and Legolas meet Merry and Pippin again, and tell them of their journey with the army of the dead, and how it swept through Pelargir and destroyed the forces of Umbar. The commanders of the armies – Aragorn, Imrahil, Gandalf, and Éomer – plan their next move. Gandalf counsels keeping Mordor occupied in order to buy Frodo time. The captains agree to ride against Mordor with a small force of 7,000 warriors.

Chapter 10: The Black Gate Opens

March from the Black Gate by Victor Harmatiuk

Aragorn’s army, with Gandalf, Aragorn, Gimli, Legolas and Pippin (but not Merry) rides through Osgiliath and around to the Black Gate. The heralds call out Aragorn’s challenge, and the Mouth of Sauron comes out to discuss terms. The Mouth of Sauron taunts them with tokens which had belonged to Frodo – his mithril mail and his elven cloak. With a show of his wizardly might, Gandalf seizes the tokens and rejects the Mouth’s terms.

The Black Gate swings back wide, and from all around, the armies of Sauron descend upon the armies of the West. Beregond falls at Pippin’s side, knocked down by a troll. Pippin, summoning his courage, stabs his blade upward into the troll as it goes in to finish Beregond, and slays it. The troll tumbles over on top of Pippin. As the courageous hobbit loses consciousness, he hears someone say that the eagles have arrived.

…to the Cracks of Doom and Beyond

So concludes Book Five of The Lord of the Rings. In this book, we saw Aragorn stepping into his birthright, living into the image of the prophesied king: he allows the oathbreakers to make amends, intervenes on the field of battle, inspires hope, and brings healing to the afflicted. The strong contrast between hope and despair is still evident, and the archetypes and tropes of Norse, Arthurian, and Christian mythologies (those with which Tolkien is most familiar) are brought strongly to the fore. In the final book, which I’ll summarize next week, we’ll learn how the quest concludes, and what happens in the days after, as Middle-earth reckons with its aftermath. Until next time, “the road goes ever, ever on…”

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