“The Dark Lord has Nine. But we have One, mightier than they: the White Rider. He has passed through the fire and the abyss, and they shall fear him.”
Meanwhile, Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas suffer from freezing weather on the trail of Merry and Pippin. They fear that the hobbits may have perished in the fierce battle between the Riders of Rohan and the Orcs. Gimli and Aragorn find the knife and the cut ropes that bound the hands of Pippin, giving them hope that the two hobbits are still alive somewhere in the forest. They find Hobbit tracks and follow them up to the river where the hobbits bathed.
Debating what to do next, Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas are suddenly surprised by an old man in a cloak and wide-brimmed hat in the forest. Taking him for the evil Saruman, they are about to shoot him when Aragorn advises them to address him first, to be sure who he is. The stranger speaks to them familiarly, as though he knows them all. Gimli implores the old man to tell them where their friends are. Rather than answer, the old man jumps on a tall rock and throws off his gray clothes, revealing white garments beneath. Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas are stunned to recognize their former companion Gandalf the Grey, reborn as Gandalf the White. Gandalf mysteriously says that he has “passed through fire and deep water” since his plunge into the chasm with the Balrog in the Mines of Moria (as recounted in The Fellowship of the Ring).
Gandalf explains Saruman’s evil intention to seize the Ring for his own use. Sauron, the great Enemy, had asked for Saruman’s help, but Saruman betrayed Sauron by dividing the Isengarders against Rohan, thereby aiding Gandalf’s forces. Gandalf notes that Sauron’s mistake is in concentrating his forces abroad in search of the Ring-bearing Frodo, rather than guarding the entrance to Mordor so that Frodo’s entry might be blocked. It has apparently not occurred to Sauron that Frodo might be trying to return the Ring to Mordor to destroy it. Gandalf also predicts that the Ents, now fully roused to action, will be powerful in a way no one can foresee. Aragorn is confident that Gandalf will be a superb leader of their forces, and he hails Gandalf as the White Rider. Gandalf mounts his horse, Shadowfax, and they all make their way toward Isengard.
The Company, led once again by Gandalf, marches toward Isengard, camping at night. The next morning, Legolas glimpses a golden building far in the distance, which Gandalf identifies as Edoras, the court of Théoden, King of Rohan. Gandalf cautions them to ride carefully, as war is afoot and the Riders of Rohan are always on the watch.
As Gandalf and the group arrive at the court of Edoras, guards ask them to identify themselves, addressing them in the local language of Rohan rather than in the Common Tongue. The guards declare that no one is welcome in Edoras in times of war, explaining that someone named Wormtongue has issued these orders. Hearing the name Wormtongue, Gandalf becomes angry and demands to speak to Théoden himself. Gandalf and his companions are allowed entry, although they are forced to leave their weapons with the doorman, Háma, despite Aragorn’s protests. When Gandalf refuses to leave his staff at the door, Háma is suspicious, but allows the wizard to keep the staff with him.
Entering the royal hall, Gandalf’s group meets the aged King Théoden, his wily counselor Gríma Wormtongue, and Theoden’s niece, Éowyn. Wormtongue immediately issues a verbal attack on Gandalf, accusing the wizard of always seeking favors and never offering aid. Gandalf erupts in a rage, using his staff to bring down a powerful thunder that sends Wormtongue to the floor. Gandalf denounces Wormtongue, explaining to Théoden that his counselor had given advice that allowed the Isengarders to become stronger. Gandalf calls upon Théoden to recover his rightful strength as king and to fight off Saruman. Gandalf asks Théoden whether the king is holding Éomer prisoner. Théoden admits that it is so, and that he did so on the advice of the deceitful Wormtongue. Gandalf asks Théoden to release Éomer and to array forces against Isengard.