Terms used to refer to the Oathbreakers were:
oathbreakers, the forgotten people, the Dead, the Sleepless Dead, the
Dead Men out of the Dark Years, and the Shadow Host. While alive they
were called the Men of the Mountains, and their leader was the King of
the Mountains. This article is titled "Oathbreakers" because that is
the word that Aragorn used when addressing them directly.
The Oath-breakers were the ghosts of oath-breaking
awaiting the time of their redemption, which came when they were called
on by Aragorn
II to fulfill their oath in a
The gate, Dunharrow, to the Paths of the Dead was in
valley of Harrowdale in the Haunted Mountain, also known as the black
Dwimorberg of Rohan, and it was said that no living man could pass it.
gate at the root of the mountain, they had to pass the black
in which lay a dread. They passed between ancient stones to the
with black trees of such gloom that even Legolas, the wood elf, could
long endure. But past it was the hollow place, with a warning stone
mighty in the path, which was covered with fir-needles. The
would not pass the stone until their riders got off and led them around
deep into the glen. A sheer wall of rock held the wide-arched
Door, the signs and figures carved above it too dim to read. Fear
from the door. The horses had to be led through the door. The Dunedain
went for love of their masters. Arod, horse of Rohan, had to be worked
elven abilities before he would enter.
Aragorn would not have chosen that path except that
had looked in the Stone of Orthanc, the palantir, taking it back from
as rightful owner. It was Aragorn's hope that by revealing himself he
cause Sauron to make an over-hasty stroke. Then Aragorn learned many
He saw a great force coming from the South unlooked for, the Corsairs
of Umbar, that would
off much strength from the defense of Gondor, which could cause it to
lost in ten days if not stopped. Only one way would bring Aragorn and
Rangers to stop them in time and that was through the Paths of the
Elrond had sent him a reminder of that path with his sons. The message
reminded him to heed the words of the
Malbeth, in the days of the Last-King Arvedui of Fornost:
Over the land there lies a long shadow,
Aragorn said that the oath they broke was to fight
Sauron. On the Hill of Erech stood a black stone that had been brought
Numenor by Isildur and set upon a hill "at his landing". There the King
of the Mountains
allegiance to Isildur in the beginning of the realm of Gondor. But when
called on them for aid against Sauron, they would not come, for they
worshipped Sauron in the Dark Years. Then Isildur told them that that
be their last king, and if the West proved mightier than their Black
then those people would be cursed to never rest until they were
again before the end. So the people fled from Isildur, not daring to
on Sauron's side, hiding themselves in the barren hills from other men
and dwindled away. The terror of the Sleepless Dead
where they had lived.
westward reaching winds of darkness.
The Tower trembles; to the tombs of the kings
doom approaches. The Dead awaken;
for the hour is come for the oathbreakers:
at the Stone of Erech they shall stand again
and hear there a horn in the hills ringing.
Whose shall the horn be? Who shall call them
from the grey twilight, the forgotten people?
The heir of him to whom the oath they swore.
From the North shall he come, need shall drive him:
he shall pass the Door to the Paths of the Dead.
-The words of Malbeth the Seer, "The Passing of the Grey Company", Return
of the King
As the Grey Company, with Legolas, Gimli, Elladan,
Elrohir were led by Aragorn through the Path, the ghosts collected and
behind them. They found the long-dead skeleton of a mighty, mailed man
beaten at a locked, stony door unavailingly (Baldor, son of King
Brego). At this point, Aragorn
the ghosts to come to the Stone of Erech. Their continous
whispering ceased and they answered only with a chill blast of air that
put out the torches, which could not be rekindled. Yet they followed
with the shadow-sound of many feet still emitting their dread, which
may have been a part of their presence.
The exit was high-arched and broad, and a rill ran
out beside them. A rill is a very small stream and may form a narrow
channel also called a rill. The road was very steeply sloped down,
between sheer cliffs forming a very deep and narrow chasm, so that
night seemed to come early, although it was two hours to sunset. There
everyone remounted and went in single file; even the Dead rode.
Once out the other side in grey light, they traveled
along along the chill river
known as Blackroot to men, and that flowed to the sea by Dol Amroth. It
was then that Legolas described the Dead who followed
summons to Gimli. They were the shapes of spear-carrying men and
banners like shreds of clouds.
Grass covered the steep slopes of the mountainsides
and continued into the Morthond Vale, a rich green valley with many
homes of Men. On the mountain-fields, they could ride fast. Aragorn led
the company at speed like hunters, to
the Stone before midnight. They reached a bridge over the increasing
torrent of the river and took the road, terrifying the village through
passed and they called Aragorn the King of the Dead.
All were tired, the horses stumbling with weariness,
when they reached the Hill in extreme darkness just before midnight,
apparently the time Aragorn was trying to beat. At the hill's top stood
the Stone of Erech, black, tall as a man, black, and round as a globe
but half-buried in the earth. Residents would not go near the hill nor
dwell nearby, for the Dead gathered sometimes at the Stone, whispering,
when it was a time of fear. Perhaps the Dead hoped the Heir of Isildur
would come at such times.
On the Hill of Erech,
gave Aragorn a silver horn which he blew, fulfilling Malbeth's
Ghostly horns answered back. Only then did Aragorn dismount and
spoke to the oathbreakers. He had the ghosts state why they had come.
"To fulfill our oath and have peace." Then
he told them that if they went with him to Pelargir upon Anduin and
the land of the servants of Sauron, the oath would be held as fulfilled
they could have peace and depart forever. He then had Halbarad
unfurl the great standard of the King for the first time, that Arwen
had made and sent with the Grey Company. The oathbreakers silenced.
Camping by the Stone was a needed rest, but nerve-wracking inside the
dread of the ghosts.
They left at dawn, Aragorn leading them on the long
ride to the Pelargir to go against the Corsairs. No humans save the
Dunedain could have made that trip, harder than any other than Aragorn
himself had attempted, and only his will kept them going. The two
half-elves, Sinda elf, and dwarf found it the roughest trip they had
ever been on as far as haste and weariness. They passed Tarlang's Neck
and came into Lamedon. Sundown found them at Calemdon upon Ciril, with
Pennath Gelen in the west behind them. But the township and fords of
Ciril were deserted, as the men had gone to war and those left had fled
to the hills at the rumour of the coming of the King of the Dead. The
next day never truly dawned, for no light came through the Shadow now
coming out of Mordor.
The Corsairs of Umbar were defeated as their fear of
them leap overboard, except the slaves chained to the oars. The Dead
never struck a physical blow. Many
and slaves were freed. Thus the Dead at last fulfilled their oath.
Aragorn released them, and the lands were no
Men of Lebennin and the Ethir, and the horsemen
Angbor of Lamedon came to the Heir of Isildur who had accomplished this
feat. Aragorn then used the ships of the Corsairs with free men at the
go to Gondor.
Thus was the danger that would have come on Gondor
References: Return of the King: "The Passing of the Grey
Company", "The Muster of Rohan" for Baldor's story, "The Battle of
Pelennor Fields", "The Last Debate"
Yes, the movie version is different.