Although Aragorn finds tracks that show Frodo headed downhill, he decides to go to the Seeing Seat rather than follow. Before he can see anything significant, he hears Boromir's horn and the sound of orcs. Aragorn finds Boromir dying from the wounds of many orc-arrows. Boromir confesses that he tried to take the Ring from Frodo and that Merry and Pippin have been captured by the orcs. Legolas and Gimli help Aragorn array Boromir in a boat for a funeral, and they discover that the orcs come from both Sauron and Saruman. Aragorn decides to let the Ringbearer go, while the remaining three members of the Fellowship will pursue Merry and Pippin's captors. Taking only essential equipment, they begin running after the orcs.
Soon the Three Hunters find several dead orcs, victims of an argument won by Saruman's servants. Later, they find hobbit tracks and an elven brooch. Heartened by this, in four days, they run 135 miles until they encounter a troop of the horsemen of Rohan, led by Éomer. Tensions run high, because both the riders and the hunters are wary of the Enemy. Learning the identity of Aragorn, the heir of Isildur, as well as the hobbits, Éomer expresses amazement that creatures of legend have come to walk the earth. Satisfied that the companions are not a threat, he tells them that the Rohirrim destroyed the orcs but found no signs of the hobbits. He lends them two horses, and Aragorn and his friends continue to Fangorn Forest, where they find the remains of the orcs. Fangorn has a similar reputation to the Old Forest, but it is much larger and more dangerous. As they camp on the edge of the trees, an old man appears and scares off their horses, then vanishes.
After their capture, Merry and Pippin are first carried by the orcs and then forced to run. Although some of the orcs want to kill them, the leader, Uglúk, insists on taking them unharmed to Saruman in Isengard. A fight breaks out which the larger Isengarders win. Pippin takes advantage of a moment of confusion to run away from the main trail and drop his brooch, hoping to leave clear prints for Aragorn to follow. They are forced to run across the plains, but soon the orcs are harassed by armed horsemen who occasionally shoot stragglers. Just before the orcs reach the forest, the riders surround them and cut off escape. In the night, the leader of the Mordor orcs carries the hobbits away from the main group of orcs to search for the Ring, but he is killed by a horseman's spear. When the battle begins, the hobbits hide in the forest.
Wandering in the forest, the hobbits climb a small hill to get a better view of the area. There they meet Treebeard, a walking and talking stumpy oak tree. He is in fact an Ent, and he finds the hobbits puzzling, because he does not recognize their race. He asks for news of Gandalf and reveals that he dislikes Saruman's recent activities. When the hobbits ask what side he is on, Treebeard replies that he does not take sides, because no one takes his side, the side of nature. He takes Merry and Pippin to his home and feeds them Ent-draught, a drink that makes them grow like young trees. Treebeard explains Saruman to the hobbits, indicating that while he once was wise and learned, he has turned away from the natural world toward machines, even creating an unnatural crossbreed between orcs and men: the Uruk-hai. Treebeard calls an Entmoot to deal with Saruman, and after careful deliberation, the Ents march to war.
Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli follow hobbit tracks into Fangorn. They find the hill on which the hobbits met Treebeard, where they encounter an old man. Fearing he is Saruman, they attack him but he foils their attempts. It is not Saruman, however, but Gandalf returned and robed in white. He reassures them that Merry and Pippin are safe, and informs them that the four of them must go to Edoras, the capital of Rohan. He briefly recounts his struggle with the Balrog, which nearly killed him before he destroyed it. He has returned to lead the fight against Mordor. Summoning his own horse, Shadowfax, as well as their lost mounts, Gandalf leads them over the plains toward Edoras.
The guards of Edoras receive them suspiciously, having been warned by King Théoden's counselor, Wormtongue. At the doors of the king's hall, the wardens insist on taking their weapons. Théoden is an old man, attended by his beautiful niece Éowyn and Wormtongue, and he dislikes Gandalf. Undeterred, Gandalf reveals himself as Gandalf the White, and urges the king to throw off his weariness and take up his sword again. Éomer, who had been imprisoned, is released, and Wormtongue is sent back to his true master, Saruman. Realizing he has allowed events to pass him by, Théoden summons his army and rides to war, leaving Éowyn to rule.
The Ents may be Tolkien's most original creation. A common story tells that the young Tolkien was horribly disappointed when Birnham Wood in Macbeth moved only metaphorically, and the striding, powerful trees of Fangorn Forest were his correction. Treebeard adds both a touch of humor to a largely dark book and a powerful embodiment of Tolkien's environmental vision. His slow and deliberate speech, much like a pedantic professor, contrasts sharply with the urgency of the battle preparations outside the forest, but this slowness comes from careful deliberation, not unwillingness to act. When the Ents attack Isengard, they are nature itself aroused to fight back against the industrial ravages of Saruman, and their vengeance proves both swift and decisive — although we must wait several chapters to see its results.
Although the Council of Elrond considered political concerns, Rohan and its capital Edoras provide the first demonstration of the complex political situation in Middle-earth. Reference to the maps can be helpful here, because they show that Rohan is located between Saruman's fortress at Isengard and Sauron's Mordor, on the north border of Gondor. Théoden's weakness, which manifests as a refusal to mobilize his armies to either defend against or attack the forces of the Enemy, is a tactical disaster for the forces of the West. Gandalf has to bring the king to act, so that Gondor will not be attacked from two directions. While there is some talk of evil spells, Gandalf rouses Théoden with words rather than magic. In Middle-earth, words have immense power: Remember the effect of the Black Speech on the elves in Rivendell. It is the call to arms and glory, not a pass of a magic wand, that restores Théoden's strength.
This section also gives the first glimpse of Éowyn, the shieldmaiden of Rohan, in the halls of Edoras. She chafes against the restrictions of her sex, which demand that she remain at home tending her uncle rather than fight to defend her homeland. Critics are divided as to whether Tolkien portrays Éowyn too simplistically, as a woman who wants to be a man, or if he captures the frustration of femininity in a warrior culture, where brave deeds and a death in battle are valued far more than tending the home.
cairn a heap of stones, intended as a marker.
carrion dead meat or flesh.
Eorlingas the warriors of Rohan.
flaxen pale yellow, similar to flax.
huorn a partially awake tree.
the Mark another term for the country of Rohan.
Mearas the horses of Rohan, an especially intelligent breed.
moot an assembly convened for discussion and decision making.
rowan an ash tree.
Uruk-hai name of the orcs of Saruman; they have human blood, are especially large, and can endure daylight.