1. Deep Black
War came to Rohan, and we abandoned our croft. My father rode off on our best horse to join Erkenbrand, and we followed with the mare and her foal, my mother and my sister and me. We went to Helm's Deep. No enemy had ever taken Helm's Deep, the fortress was safe and we knew we could weather out the storm there.
It seemed that all of the Westfold had gathered. The men old enough to ride were out hunting orcs. The rest of us, the boys and the grandfathers, sharpened old swords and spears and practised in the keep.
News came, occasionally. Bad news, from the Fords of Isen, when Théodred fell. I wept that day, hiding myself away so that the other lads did not see. But when I came out of my hiding place, I saw several of them with red-rimmed eyes.
Sometimes wounded men came back from skirmishes or worse, and told us how things were going. Ill, it seemed. We went to the caves behind the Deep and spread blankets on the stone, but you cannot get comfortable when there is fear all around.
And then, the horns sounded in the Dike and we heard that the King had come. We looked at each other, astonished, and some of us rushed out to see. The last we had heard of the King was bad news; that he was ailing, old and weak. Now here he was, glorious in armour, with a host behind him. We saw Éomer there, and cheered. But also there were strangers - a dark-haired man, riding close to Éomer; a tall, slim figure on his other side; and a stout, short one mounted behind Éomer, clutching an axe. Soon the rumours were running round the fortress. The man was no ordinary man, but the heir to the throne of Gondor. Nobody has claimed that title for hundreds of years, longer even than we have lived in the Riddermark.
"And he's a great warrior!" my companion Wulfric said, his eyes shining. "His sword was Elendil's."
I did not know whether to believe Wulf. I had seen the man - Aragorn, they called him - and to me he did not look like a king. Not like Théoden, golden and great. I was more interested in the other strangers, a Dwarf and an Elf. An Elf! Straight out of legend they seemed, utterly foreign to us and to each other, yet they were inseparable. I watched the Elf examine the fortress with his eyes, while the Dwarf tapped the walls with his axe, and wondered what they thought of it. I did not dare to go and ask them.
As evening fell, they gave us swords, and helms. The younger lads were sent back to the caves, but those of us who had been playing at being men were taken to the Deeping Wall. We stood there, games forgotten, and waited.
It was dark, and the rain began to fall. It clattered on mail and armour. The archers tucked their bowstrings under tunics and helms to keep them dry, but that was all that could be done. We stood there, wet to the skin, our hands cold as they gripped swords. I stood next to Wulfric, and we waited, and the men of the Westfold retreated from the Dike to join us.
Slowly, the cleft filled. The noise drowned out even the rain, and their torches lit up the night sky. I had never seen an Orc before then, and I was terrified. Arrows came over our heads, hitting armour and stone. I think Wulf whimpered in fright. And we waited, and we waited; no sign or order had been given. If I looked to my right I could just see Éomer, and the man called Aragorn. Looking at them gave me some courage.
The Orcs and the Dunlendings began to raise siege ladders, and finally our chance came. Our archers strung their bows, and sent a hail of arrows into the enemy. The rest of us threw stones, doing anything we could to halt them.
They kept coming. A booming, hammering thud sounded amid the din of the battle and the flight of the arrows and the thunder; the gate was under attack.
I looked down, and saw a small group of men running to the defence of the gate. Two swords were drawn, and even in the noise we heard the cries. It was Éomer and Aragorn, and I joined in the shouting.
"The Blade that was Broken shines again!" I cried, and was happy.
But the battle was not won. They retreated, and soon after that the Orcs gained the wall.
I try not to remember those dreadful minutes, or hours, as the hordes of Saruman attacked. I soon forgot about the training I had had with sword and spear, and simply threw myself at whatever enemy was in front of me. I hacked, and slashed, and screamed, and cried, but we were pressed backwards. There was nothing we could do. They were too many. I know I heard the retreat call, but it was minutes before I registered it. Someone took my arm, and hauled me with them, and we ran into the Deep.
In the darkness of the caves I sat on the stone floor and trembled, my sword notched and bloody, while the Dwarf set about blocking the entrance. I could not see anyone I knew. Wulfric had disappeared at some point in the battle.
It was dark, and silent. Water was handed around, and men whispered and wondered what was happening outside. I heard Éomer, moving to speak softly to people; and I heard the gruff voice of the Dwarf as he stamped around. He was the only one of us who seemed content to be trapped in there.
I suppose I slept, then, for it seemed just a short while before my shoulder was shaken.
"Wake up, lad, wake up." I opened my eyes, and saw daylight coming through the entrance. One of the old soldiers was leaning over me, a gash crossing his cheek. "Battle's over, lad. You can go and find your folk."
"We won?" I sat up, blinking, and the old man grinned at me.
"Aye, we won, so the scout said. Gandalf Greyhame and Erkenbrand, turned up in the nick of time."
"My father's with Erkenbrand," I said, and he nodded.
"Then get up and go and find him."
It was bright outside, bright and fair, and Erkenbrand had come. He was with the King, and there was an old man in shining white. The Dwarf and Éomer and the captains went to greet them, but I went to find my father.
His arm was in a sling, but he was alive and well. I went to him, and he held me and the tears ran down both our cheeks. But we were lucky. Many were not; many died. Wulf died, struck by a Dunlending. I mourned my friend, and I mourned the other men and lads who had lost their lives at the Deep.
I did not want to be a warrior after that battle. I no longer envied Éomer, and later I wondered why the lady Éowyn rode off to Mundburg. I used to think that battle would be a glorious thing, a great thing, but I found it is not.
My son told me yesterday that he wants to make saddles when he grows up, like me. And I was more glad than I could say.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.