Éowyn and Legolas kept up a good pace and their horses had relished the race across the grasslands, being great steeds of the Rohirrim. They overtook the Rohirrim at Minrimmon and Éowyn had vowed, not to Théoden as she knew he would forbid it but to herself, that she would return as soon as she was able and ride with the King's éored.
They had explained to Théoden and Éomer their quest to rescue the halflings and had replenished their supplies. Éomer especially was apprehensive at his sister's perilous adventure and bade them to take care as there were many enemies up ahead. The scouts of the Rohirrim had reported gathering troops of orcs and men allied to Sauron that the pair would need to pass to reach their goal.
Although it was dangerous Éowyn determined to follow the Great West Road all the way through to Minas Morgul. It would serve to show them the way and there would be a crossing of the Anduin on the road.
The pair rounded Druadan Forest and journeyed past Amon Din and the Grey Wood and then through the wall of the Pellenor and the Rammas. The guards there let them by when they had determined their identity and Éowyn showed a seal from King Théoden.
But it became apparent they would either have to be more stealthy in their approach once they crossed Anduin at Osgiliath into Ithilien or be forced to fight their way through hoards of the enemy's forces which seemed to consist of bands of orcs and ruffians at the moment.
"If we are to continue on this road, we must have care." Legolas called to his companion. "Perhaps we should slow and adopt a less warrior-like approach." He suggested.
Éowyn pulled up and slowed to a walk. "Pray what should we do, Master Elf?" She smiled "Must we abandon our mounts and walk like refugees? It will be a long trek, especially back, with the halflings to carry."
"No, we cannot do that," Legolas did not always notice sarcasm, "but we could endeavour to contrive some kind of disguise, perhaps as husband and wife."
"An interesting idea," Éowyn looked with her head tilted at her companion who was now trotting alongside. "An elf and a mortal."
"It is not unheard of," Legolas assured her.
"But not very likely," she pointed out.
"I'm sure you could make it look convincing." Legolas was smiling at her now in a most disarming way that made her unsure of whether or not he was joking or in deadly earnest. "What immortal elf would not want to be wed to one such as you?"
It was Éowyn's turn to be enigmatic "I suppose if I were with child it may convince anyone we meet."
Legolas was a little shocked when he saw she was not smiling. "Oh but…"
Her face suddenly lit up with mischief as she pulled a handful of clothes from her bag and plumped them across her belly. "Don't worry, there would hardly be time for the real thing, now would there?"
So they opted for stealth. Éowyn changed her mail armour for lighter garments and let her hair fly loose. She wore Legolas's eleven cloak to hide her breeches and padded her belly to appear pregnant. They loaded all their supplies, plumped up to look more, onto Windfola and both rode upon Arod.
They had just completed this arrangement when they saw ahead a heavily armed band of brigands. Legolas kept his arms around Éowyn sitting before him side-saddle and they rode slowly passed the men, their eyes on the road ahead.
"Halt!" The leader, a swarthy man with one eye, was not going to let them pass without challenge. "What is your business?"
"We are refugees from Gondor, making our way to South Ithilien before the wings of the war. We do not wish to be caught up in fighting." Legolas patted Éowyn's belly, "My wife is with child and we need to reach our destination before she is in labour."
"You are an elf," One Eye stated keeping his hand on the horse to stop them moving on. Arod snorted and threw his head up in protest and the man dropped his hold, but continued to bar the way. "What are you doing with a mortal female?"
"She is my life partner," Legolas drew himself up to look indignant. "Even elves may wed where they choose."
"I've never heard of such a thing." One Eye's men were starting to gather round now, looking ominous and threatening. "Why would you marry a mortal?"
"It is not so strange…aaiiiiee! Merry! Pippin! My little ones!" Legolas suddenly cried out with a gasp of horror as the dreadful vision of Shelob sloughed over Merry and about to sink her blood-sucking fangs into the hobbit reverberated into his mind. Éowyn felt his hands tighten around her in a tense grip that was quite painful, his breathing was ragged and quick in her ear.
"Please let us by," she anxiously implored the man, "my husband is having a seizure, he is ill and I have to get him to a healer. She whispered to Legolas, "What's wrong? What happened?"
"Merry… he is in terrible danger…" Legolas broke off as his eyes focussed on far away.
The man did not seem convinced or inclined to let them pass, "Wait there!" he demanded. "I will search your pack horse."
"Please do not, I have to hurry." Éowyn knew now that Legolas's communication with the halflings was obviously urgent. She thought frantically of some way to get past this fool. "It must be obvious that we mean no harm and that my husband is very ill."
"Perhaps we can help." The man did not sound as if he wanted to be very helpful. "Here let me take a look at your husband." He reached up to seize Éowyn around the waist to lift her down from the horse.
But before he could lay a hand on her, a wicked looking dagger appeared in her hand and pointed directly at the man's throat. "You lay one hand on me and I will slice it off and feed it to the crows," she threatened. "Now stand aside and let us pass."
One Eye looked ready to call his men into action, but Éowyn was one step ahead, in spite of keeping the dagger trained on the man with one hand and holding Legolas steady behind her with the other. "You can call your men, but I promise, ere the words leave your throat I will slice it in two. Now stand aside."
The moment was tense. Although the man withdrew his hands, he made no sign of giving way. Legolas leaned into Éowyn's shoulder and muttered "…the flame… use the flame!"
Éowyn glanced quickly around, still keeping a wary contact with the man in front of her. Over the ridge she could see smoke and flames rising, probably from a beacon of Minas Tirith. "See over there," she indicated with her head, "our party is camped and probably looking for us even now. I suggest you hinder us no further, or you will regret your actions."
One Eye followed her glance and turned back with a sneering laugh. "That is naught but the beacons of Minas Tirith, I do not fear…"
He broke off mid-sentence, both he and Éowyn equally surprised. Silently and completely the band of brigands had been surrounded by cloaked and hooded men, each well armed, they stood threateningly in the half-light, waiting for their leader to give them a command, a signal to attack.
A clear voice rang out. "I am Captain Faramir of Minas Tirith, lay down your arms and surrender."
Smagnu was on his feet again. He had had the benefit of a whole day's rest as the company waited for the return of the commander, but once nightfall came again, the lieutenant who was number two, realised that, for one reason or another, One Ear would probably not be coming back so he took command himself. Smagnu could only hope something really bad had happened to his enemy.
"Whadda yer suppose happened to the little Pips" Grutfley was really thinking out loud as he brought Smagnu some rations once more. He had used to do this out of fear of the great Uruk, but since little Pip had woven his magic about the orc he had started to fend for both of them out of a sense of comradeship. "D'yer think that bastard took 'em to the Tower?"
"Reckon 's he would've." Smagnu took the meagre supply of bread and bacon and nodded his thanks and then indicated past Grutfley at the battalion. "…'s not much we can do 'bout it, though if'n we gets half a chance let's see if we can get away from this lot. Don't fancy gettin' me head cut off for no good reason."
Grutfley nodded in agreement. He knew that Smagnu was very worried about the little imps by his gruff voice and the set to his jaw, but he would not openly admit it. For pity's sake, he was worried himself, now that had to be some kind of enchantment they'd put on him.
But Grutfley and Smagnu knew the score once an orc got caught up or drafted into a war battalion. There would be no deserting, no escape, although several orcs tried, even as the company rested, but the fleeing ones had either been shot with arrows or quickly hunted down and dragged back and beaten half to death.
However, their situation was slightly improved with the non-return of One Ear. The new commander had no particular grudge against Smagnu and he and Grutfley soon blended in with the rest of the forced soldiery. They even managed to liberate some weapons from fallen deserters, Smagnu a short sword and a bow, for which he was now assiduously stealing arrows one at a time from other orcs and dead bodies and Grutfley got hold of a long and deadly dagger. If they were going into battle they might as well be prepared.
As Faramir's men closed in on the surprised group, several of the brigands turned to give fight. One man drew back his bow and fired, but the shot went wide and another clashed swords with the nearest hooded man, but he was quickly disarmed and a blade held to his throat.
"All right, all right!" The leader had enough wit to see that his bunch of marauders could not take on this well trained battalion. "We're just peaceful travellers, we don't want a fight."
"If that is the case then lay down your arms and assemble over there." Captain Faramir indicated a spot underneath a rocky outcrop.
The brigands conformed quickly and soon there was a scattering of swords and knives around Éowyn and Legolas as the bandits moved away.
"…and you Milady, do you yield?"
"I do not see the need." Éowyn retorted. "I would imagine we serve the same cause."
"Which is?" Faramir moved closer to the couple and noted with surprise that although she was human, an incredibly beautiful woman in fact, her companion was an elf. She also appeared to be pregnant and the elf seemed to be distracted or in some kind of trance.
"The cause of justice and right." Éowyn slipped down from the horse's back and reached up to help Legolas, turning her head slightly to the Captain as she did. "Could you help my friend? He is a little unwell."
Faramir quickly stepped forward at the request and caught Legolas before he fell on top of Éowyn. He was not unconscious but disorientated and distant. He muttered a few words as though in a dream. "…Let Pip fight it!"
Faramir and Éowyn between them sat the elf on the ground and the Rohirrim maid knelt behind him rubbing his shoulders soothingly. "The halflings – they are in trouble?" She whispered.
Faramir's ears perked up at the mention of the word halflings. "You know of halflings?" He asked.
Before Éowyn could answer Legolas suddenly gave a small cry as if in pain and clutched at his foot.
"Legolas? Legolas? Merry, Pippin – what happened?"
"He's alive." Legolas looked up at Éowyn for a moment, coming out of the mind link briefly. "Pippin's alive." Then he was back to his rapt staring once more.
"Milady!" Faramir held his hand up to keep his men back from the couple. "I do not wish to intrude unduly, but may I help your companion? What is it that is ailing him?"
"It is difficult to explain, and probably even more so to believe." Éowyn moved in front of Legolas now and took his hands in hers.
"I have heard many strange tales of late." Faramir persisted. "Not least, from the mouths of halflings."
"You have met halflings?" Now Faramir had sparked Éowyn's interest. "Do you recall their names and which way they were headed?"
"I recall both those things, but to whom would I be revealing this intelligence?" Faramir at last saw a way to find out the identity of the strange and beautiful woman.
"My name is Éowyn, Lady of Rohan." She stood now to proudly face Faramir. "I am the sister-daughter of Théoden, King of Rohan."
"Then we are indeed allies." Faramir bowed slightly. "I am Faramir, son of Denethor, Steward of Gondor."
Just then Legolas began to whisper again. "Pippin's right, Merry…"
Éowyn knelt down and took Legolas's hands again.
"May I also ask on what quest you are bound?" Faramir saw a momentary flash in the blue eyes, "merely so that I can be of assistance of course."
"You are full of courtesy, Sir." She smiled at last. "It is not easy to know who to trust, but I believe I may trust you. My companion and I ride to Cirith Ungol on a mission to rendezvous with two halflings who were stolen away into Mordor. They have battled their way through many hardships and are now on the final leg of their journey."
"It would seem there are many halflings stepping suddenly forth from the legends of old." Faramir returned the smile. "Unless you go to meet the same two that I encountered several days ago."
"I would venture a guess that you met with Frodo and his servant Samwise." Éowyn knew a little of the Ringbearer and his quest from Legolas.
"You are indeed well informed Milady," Faramir watched with approval as several of his men started to collect the discarded weapons, "Is it those two that you seek?"
"No, but two of their kin," Éowyn turned back to Legolas who had suddenly started hyperventilating. She stroked his shoulders in an attempt to sooth him.
"Frodo and Sam will be glad of the news that their kin are still alive." Faramir remembered the halfling's concern for the others of his Fellowship. "Were these the two that journeyed with my brother, Boromir?"
"Indeed, as was my companion, Legolas." Éowyn indicated the elf as she spoke, looking steadfastly into Faramir's surprised gaze.
"What ails the elf, Milady?" Faramir asked again.
"It is nothing here." Éowyn thought this courteous soldier deserved some explanation. "He feels whatever the halflings, Frodo's kin, are feeling, if they are distressed he is too. I would think they have encountered some dire trouble."
Legolas's distress carried on for some time, with Éowyn trying to sooth and calm his shaking body, while Faramir waited patiently beside her. The elf muttered again, "Merry burn Her now – quickly!" Then his breathing started to slow and as he calmed so his eyes eventually opened and he looked around.
"We still have company I see." Legolas looked questioningly at Éowyn, "It has changed from a while ago."
"This is Captain Faramir." Éowyn indicated the soldier. "He is son of Denethor, Steward of Gondor. This is Legolas Greenleaf, son of Thranduil, the King of the Elves of Mirkwood."
"I am glad to be acquainted with one who travelled with my brother, Boromir." Faramir said with great sincerity.
"A most valiant warrior," Legolas bowed his head in respect. "I am sorry that he fell, but it was as a true soldier and at a cost of many orcs."
"Legolas what of the halflings? How fare they?" Éowyn asked urgently.
"They met with a dire foe." Legolas took a deep breath as if recovering his senses. "A most terrible monster of a spider that towered over them 20 times their size. I thought they might both perish. However, they bravely overcame it. I can hardly comprehend how valiant the halflings were to fight such a thing, but now Pippin is badly hurt. They lie now in the creature's lair surrounded by stinking corpses and death. We have to help them."
"Then we must make haste!" Éowyn stood again. "Do you know where they are?"
"Surely Milady you are in no condition to give chase." Faramir looked at his feet in embarrassment. "Should you not have regard for your unborn?"
"Oh that!" Éowyn had forgotten about her false pregnancy. "I think it is time to deliver the babe."
"I beg your pardon!" Faramir looked shocked.
"It's not real." Éowyn laughed. "A subterfuge to help us gain passage past these brigands." She nodded towards the now rounded up and subdued men.
"Very well." Faramir looked a little perplexed all the same. "May I offer assistance in some way?"
"I am not sure." Legolas made no attempt to get up. "What do you know about mending a broken foot?"