15. Chapter 15
'Take back your sword, Éomer, sister-son!' said the king. 'Go, Háma, and seek my own sword! Gríma has it in his keeping. Bring him to me also. Now, Gandalf, you said that you had counsel to give, if I would hear it. What is your counsel?'
'You have yourself already taken it,' answered Gandalf. 'To put your trust in Éomer, rather than in a man of crooked mind. To cast aside regret and fear. To do the deed at hand. Every man that can ride should be sent west at once, as Éomer counselled you: we must first destroy the threat of Saruman, while we have time. If we fail, we fall. If we succeed – then we will face the next task. Meanwhile your people that are left, the women and the children and the old, should stay to the refuges that you have in the mountains. Were they not prepared against just such an evil day as this? Let them take provision, but delay not, nor burden themselves with treasures, great or small. It is their lives that are at stake.'
The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien.
March 2nd 3019 Sunset
The pale globe of the westering sun was already kissing the tops of the White Mountains by the time Théoden and Gandalf led the host over the Snowbourn and onto the road that led to the Westfold. Riding behind his king, Éomer felt none of the elation that had earlier gripped him at the thought of his decisions being vindicated, and his counsel heeded. Their land was in too much peril to rejoice in any personal triumph, even that of his uncle declaring him heir to the throne. The image of his sister still filled his mind: his last sight of her as an upright column of shining mail, with the sun glinting on the heavy sword of her office. A sword she would much rather be wielding in battle, so she had muttered to him before he’d left. But however skilled he knew Éowyn to be, his heart could not but be glad that she would be seeking shelter in Dunharrow.
“What are the chances of your forces holding the Fords of Isen against Saruman’s Uruks, Éomer?” Aragorn broke into his reverie.
He turned, meeting the ranger’s shrewd eyes. No point in making it sound better than it was. “If anyone can stave them off then it is Elfhelm. But the reports say he is totally outnumbered, and I fear it will all be over by the time we get there. I am afraid we are likely to meet our foes beating their way to Edoras. They fear the thrash of our hooves, and we will have the advantage on the open plain, but there are not enough of us.”
“Just make sure you set me down, Marshal, before you start any shenanigans from the back of this great beast. He’ll probably toss me off like an irritating fly.”
Éomer laughed at Gimli’s words, as a heavy body jolted awkwardly against him. The dwarf was bouncing around like a sack of turnips. “Fear not, Master Dwarf, I will set you on firm ground with enough room to swing that axe of yours.”
“I for one will stay on Arod,” Legolas said. “He and I will ride to battle together, and the open plains will suit us well.”
“Let us trust it is not the last battle,” Éomer said to Aragorn. “I would not like for Elendil’s heir to give his life in defending the Riddermark, and never get to Gondor.”
But Aragorn shook his head. “Did you not hear what Gandalf said? It is East, not West that our doom lies. We need to defeat Saruman before we can tackle the one who tweaks the strings.”
Always Éomer had respected Gandalf, heeded him when others had called him a herald of woe. If they had listened to the grey wizard when he’d warned about Saruman’s treachery, Théodred might still be alive. Éomer wanted no more of his kinsmen to die under the iron-shod hoof of Isengard, but again he met the confident eyes of the Dúnadan by his side, and hope swelled.
“Then let us ride to that purpose, and soon steel will clash against steel and our swords be drawn together.” Impatient now to ride to the relief of Erkenbrand and Elfhelm, Éomer urged Firefoot nearer to the horses in front, eager to push on the pace.
But however urgent the mission, men and horses could not travel league up league without rest. For five hours they rode, the dark gathering around them, until at last, not long before midnight, they set their bed-rolls in a great circle under the star-filled sky. Risking no fires, and using only the light of the waxing moon, they ate their food cold in the uneasy peace. But scouts reported nothing moving except sheep on the plains around them.
March 3rd 3019 Dawn
They came in the grey of the morning, smart scarlet tunics brash against the dull leather jerkins of the mercenaries that followed them. Black braided hair swinging, the Haradrim marched in an orderly line, but the hired rabble strode haphazardly up the road with ill-kempt, mangy locks blowing across their bearded faces. Watching from the high walls, Lothíriel shuddered: Umar must have dredged every torrid seaport of the south to find such ill-looking men. Whilst the Haradrim stood quietly in ordered ranks, their captains assessing the closed gates and high walls, the others clustered together on the road, keeping a fair distance. Lothíriel leant over the parapet to see better, but immediately she showed her face, obscenities issued from those paid to fight.
“Bring her down, and we’ll have some fun before the Prince gets here!”
Lothíriel pulled back quickly as the man rushed forward and followed his words with a revolting gesture she couldn’t fail to understand. Uncouth in looks and behaviour! Someone else thought so too, for an arrow, loosed from the top of the battlements, took the mercenary cleanly in the chest. He fell screaming, but soon became silent, his body twitching in death. Immediately his compatriots raised their fists, shouting out curses on all Gondorians, provoking another arrow to wing its way toward them.
Bile rose in Lothíriel’s throat as a second man fell. Death! More death because of her. When would it stop! Unable to move, she stared at the two inert bodies left lying on the road in seeping puddles of blood, until her arm was grasped by strong fingers. Dimly she heard Sergion shouting at the unknown archer to cease shooting. “Come away, Lothíriel. You must keep out of sight. Seeing you, or any woman, will provoke them to such lewd actions.”
Shaking slightly, she leaned against him, seeking reassurance. “But what are they hoping to achieve, Sergion? As you said, they cannot storm the city with so meagre a force. And our ships cannot be taken because Oríon has disabled the windlasses, so they can’t lower the chains to get them out. They can fire them, but then the harbour will be no use to either side, and they can sack the houses in the port, but with warning of their coming there is nothing valuable left.”
Sergion ran his hand over her head, smoothing her hair. “I have a suspicion of their purpose, but no doubt time will tell…”
“Lord!” A voice interrupted him. “The Haradrim captain wants to talk.”
“Sooner, rather than later, we will know,” he said quietly to her, before answering the guard. “Very well, I will come.” Holding her by the shoulders Sergion looked intently into her face. “Lothíriel, stay out of the way. Do not show yourself.” He limped away, heading to the battlements above the gate.
“What’s happening? Why are they here?” Meren had run up the steps to the top of the wall, and took her arm. Lothíriel gratefully pulled her down onto one of the stone seats below the level of the parapet. “I don’t know, but nothing Umar does will surprise me. You would have thought he would have needed all his forces to attack Minas Tirith. Why waste them here? But Sergion is talking with their commander, so we shall soon find out.”
The two princesses huddled together in the morning chill, fielding questions from the growing number of onlookers crowding the square below. With the port emptied, the city was overflowing with those who had had to flee their homes. Just when they had almost given up, Sergion came back, his expression grim. Lothíriel jumped up, but he motioned her to sit back down. “I am afraid it is as I feared. They know they cannot overrun the city, although they are not sure of our numbers. But that is not their aim; they seek only to prevent us – you – from escaping. And suspecting we have an exit from the caves they have left forces along the beach. They will hold us here until the war is won, and then that snake, Umar, intends to come back and…”
“Claim his prize,” Lothíriel finished for him. Beside her Meren gasped, putting her arm around her in comfort.
“Yes, that about sums it up.”
Lothíriel’s stomach heaved, but when she looked at Sergion she knew that was not all. “Sergion, there is something else – I see it in your eyes.”
“I will not keep it from you, Lothíriel; it is your right to know.” His mouth twisted in disgust. “They offer to let everyone make their escape if you surrender yourself to them.”
In spite of the cold, Lothíriel felt sweat break out on her forehead. She shouldn’t have to cope with this, not with her father and brothers away. What would they do if they were in her position? Always they put their people first. She looked up at Sergion, but her lips were trembling so much she couldn’t speak.
But he grabbed her shoulder. “No, Lothíriel! Don’t even think it! Who knows what will happen. The West has not fallen yet, and we must not despair.”
March 3rd 3019 – Sunset
All day they had seen no one: the rumour of battle and war scouring the plain, pushing the inhabitants high into the rocky valleys of the White Mountains. A great storm had been following their tracks. Moving up out of the East and swallowing the light, it rolled to meet the darkness that crept down from Isengard. The Wizard’s Vale shadowed by a murk that defeated even Legolas’s keen eyes, allowing him only a glimpse of tall shapes moving to and fro on the bank of the river.
As the sun sank, great thunderclouds rose like peaks. Silver edged, they towered above the host bringing the day to an early close. But in the last red shafts of light the men at the front of the column saw a lone horseman coming towards them. As he got nearer he wearily slid from his horse, breathing with great gasps.
“Do you know him?” Aragorn asked.
Éomer eased Firefoot to the left, as Théoden and his guard were blocking his view. The man had his head down and Éomer could see a great dent across the top of his helm and the shield he carried was rent almost in two. Gathering himself, the man looked up searching the group of horsemen. “Is Éomer here?” But before Éomer could answer, Théoden kicked his horse forward.
Recognising the man now, Éomer turned back to Aragorn. “It’s Ceorl. He is …was…one of Théodred’s riders. It looks like we are going to hear the worst.”
“But better to know what we are facing,” Aragorn said.
“True,” Éomer agreed. “Often the thought of a deed is worse than the doing of it. But I have a feeling that we face a fearsome enemy.”
Worse than he even thought – Isengard had emptied; Dunlendings and wild hill-men had joined Saruman’s Uruks; their own forces scattered with the onslaught of so many. His shield-wall broken, Erkenbrand was retreating to Helm’s Deep. The report went on, and Éomer’s spirits sank. They should have mustered more men. Should have sent their full strength west weeks ago. Was Isengard already marching on Edoras? But a shout from Gandalf, who had been quietly staring into the distance, convinced him they weren’t.
“Ride, Théoden! Ride straight to Helm’s Deep. Await me there.” With a few more words he was gone, Shadowfax a silver arrow passing over the grass, leaving only a murmur of where he had been.
“Helm’s Deep?” Éomer said. “Why would they attack our greatest fortress when the courts of Edoras are much less defended? Does the White Wizard already know that Théoden King rides out?”
“Gríma could not have got there yet,” Aragorn replied. “But you do not doubt that Gandalf is right?”
“No never,” Éomer said. “And however large Saruman’s army, we have a chance there. Never has the Hornburg fallen when there have been good men to defend it.”
“Then maybe,” said Aragorn, “Saruman will have cause to regret his choice of battlefield.”
Éomer stared out west, past his king to where a lingering shaft of light glanced off the glistening coat of Shadowfax as he sped into the advancing gloom. “Who knows how the night will end.”
“Be sure it will end with my axe buried in an orc’s head,” Gimli muttered from behind.
Éomer laughed. “I hope it does, Master Dwarf. And I hope Legolas here will pierce them full of holes.”
Winking at him from the back of Arod, Legolas fingered the great bow of the Galadhrim he carried. “One hole is all that is needed.”
Riding on into the dark night the host turned away from the road and headed up the Westfold Vale. Soon they heard horn blasts and the scouts came riding back. Now they heard reports of scattered men all over the valley trying to reach the fortress; wolf Riders and groups of skirmishing orcs ahead. “But behind us,” one scout shouted, “coming from the fords, a great army marches for Helm’s Deep.”
“And Erkenbrand?” Éomer asked.
“None have seen him, lord.”
“Then let us fight through the foes that lie before us and make our stand at the Hornburg,” Théoden King said.
Looking for action, Éomer and Aragorn led the men forward at a faster pace soon coming upon a roving bands of orcs. But swords were returned to scabbards as Saruman’s spawn fled before such a force. Slowly the king’s men climbed the coomb, higher and higher into the arms of the mountain. While behind them came the sound of harsh singing, staining the air with its echo of evil. Looking back they saw the valley filled with flickering lights. Every now and again one would flare and flames whoosh up into the sky.
“Damn them!” Éomer spat. “They burn as they come.”
“Homes can be rebuilt,” Théoden said. “Pray all the folk of the Westfold have sought shelter in the Hornburg. For they come to destroy us, man, woman and child.”
“Then why are we fleeing before them?” Gimli grumbled. “Put me down and let them feel the bite of my axe.”
“Aye,” said Aragorn. It grieves me to run from a fight.”
“Soon we will stand and give battle, Éomer answered. “And our resolve will be swelled by such stout companions. Three maybe the number, but the count added to our strength will be a hundredfold.”
On up they went, and the sides of the coombe closed in, funnelling the riders up to the Dike. But with the brewing storm hiding moon and stars, only high towering black shadows could be seen. Suddenly a rampart loomed in front of them, and a sentry’s challenge rang out.
“The Lord of the Mark rides to Helm’s Deep,” Éomer answered. That set up a tumult of joyfulness in those who held the Dike: greetings ringing out with voices gladdened by hope.
“We have a thousand armed men here,” Gamling, an old warrior, told them as he led them over the causeway to the Outer Court. “Your coming has made it possible to defend the Hornburg, although even now the spread will be thin, and we could do with more. Many have fled from the fords, but we watch for Erkenbrand, our lord. So far he has not come.”
“Nor will he now,” said Éomer. “For behind us the vale fills with Saruman’s filth.”
“That is hard on all of us,” Gamling replied. “But most for Lady Winfrith. She and Welwyn, their daughter, are settling the women and children into the caves. Although, Welwyn would prefer stalking the Deeping Wall with her bow, or defending the Keep, to dispensing food and blankets.”
Éomer smiled to himself, he remembered Welwyn as another Éowyn. In fact on one of Erkenbrand’s visits to Edoras the two girls had spent most of the time sparring. And Welwyn had held her own against his taller sister.
“Yes, lord.” He answered swiftly. Théoden had let his horse be led inside, and was gathering his guard around him.
“I will make my stand here, in the keep. But the Deeping Wall and outer defenses need to be manned, that will be your charge.”
Éomer handed over Firefoot and called to Aragorn. “Come, let us position our forces as well as we can. The Wall is long, but it is smooth and high. The enemy will have ladders, but they will find no purchase with good men on the battlements.”
Later, when he could do no more, Éomer stood with Aragorn and Éothain on the middle rampart. Arrayed to his right and left were the Mark’s best warriors. But spread too thinly, and not enough bowmen. Where was Erkenbrand, and Elfhelm and Déor? Had they survived? However much he wanted it Éomer knew he could look for no help from them. Even if they lived they could not fight their way through. No, those who had made it to the fortress would have to face the might of Isengard with not much more than courage to aid them.
Beside him, deep in their own thoughts, his companions gazed out down the vale, mostly silent. Until Éothain hissed in his ear, “What’s the dwarf doing?”
Éomer looked to his left, nudging Aragorn in the ribs. All three of them stared to where Gimli and Legolas had staked their place. Gimli was jumping up and down and stamping his foot, as if testing the hardness of the stone. Then he peered, or tried to peer over the parapet. But the height defeated him, so he stomped back, pretending he’d just been easing a stiff neck, and mumbling what sounded like curses into his beard. All this time the elf said nothing, just caressed his bow, looking down on his companion with the inscrutable expression that characterized his fair face.
“He is eager to use his axe,” Aragorn said. “Give him some orc necks to hew and he will be happy.”
“He won’t have long to wait,” cried Éothain. “Look!”
Éomer involuntary drew in his breath, letting it out between his teeth in a long, low whistle – line after line of torches wound their way towards the wall. A vibrant flash of forked lightning rent the sky, and in the eerie light it seemed that the whole floor of the vale heaved upwards. Again heaven’s fire seared the clouds, and the watchers saw a moving black mass that gradually separated into individual, discernable shapes. Hideous they looked: twisted and distorted beings carrying great pikes and spiked shields, the White Hand of Isengard splattered across their high helms. Sickened to his core, Éomer locked his gaze to Aragorn. “Evil moves this way, but the men of the Mark will destroy it.” He hoped he sounded confident, his Riders needed to believe they could win.
Aragorn nodded, “We will destroy it, and then we will destroy that which comes from the East.”
“So be it!” Éomer raised his hand and shouted. “Let them come close! Do not release arrows until my command. Pass the word!”
In silence they waited, just the odd cough and shuffle and the scrape of a weapon on the stone, coming from the watchers on the battlements. But the harsh stamp of heavy feet echoed through the very rock on which they stood. Then, at the sound of a mighty horn, wave upon wave of orcs charged towards the wall. Suddenly the sky cracked, and the thunder rolled. The clouds sundered and opened. But still Éomer stayed the archers, not moving as the rain poured over him, running down the front of his helm and dripping off the end of the nose piece. He stayed them until Aragorn, watching through a cleft in the stone, signaled the enemy was under the walls. Then his arm came down, and high the arrows went, finding a mark on unprotected backs. Heavy stones were hurled over the parapet that knocked shields from clawed hands. But still they came on, trampling the bodies of the fallen in a relentless surge that pounded against the stone.
Another flash lit the whole area from the wall to the causeway, and in that moment Éomer and Aragorn saw the danger to the gates. Great rams were being brought up, the wielders protected under a roof of mighty shields. Stones thrown from the ramparts above knocked off a few, but they were replaced by others. A constant supply of orcs to dance to Saruman’s tune.
“We need to stop them!” Aragorn shouted. “The gates will not stand that. Can we get out there?”
“The postern-gate!” Éomer yelled back. “It opens on the west of the Burg. There is a narrow path that runs to the gate.”
“Then let this be the time we draw swords together,” Aragorn cried, already starting to move.
Together they ran, calling Éothain and other swordsmen to their side. Along the wall, up the steps and across the Outer Court, until they reached the postern-gate. As one they leapt through, their men behind, swiftly running along the path and falling on the enemy with a flash of sharp steel. So great was the force of their attack that the shield-wall was driven apart. Orcs and tree trunks cast down into the water below. Other orcs stumbled and were hewn down, covering the causeway with their bodies.
The rams had gone, but more orcs and wild-men were pressing towards them. The immediate danger had been thwarted, but seeing the great hinges buckled, Éomer shouted. “We must get back inside and strengthen what we can!”
The group turned and dashed back to the postern, but suddenly Éomer, at the rear, was swept off his feet. Two stinking, heavy orcs landed on top of him. Pain exploded in his chest as his breath left his body. Not here! He thought. Not like this! But he heard a mighty cry, and the orc on top of him went limp, its head rolling onto the stone causeway and plopping into the stream below. Éomer pushed up the other orc and as he did so there was a hiss of wind and its head flew off, showering him with filthy, black blood.
Éomer, coughing painfully, was tugged to his feet by Aragorn, who had returned to help him. “What was that?” he asked between his coughs.
“Gimli came to watch our swordplay. Lucky he did, they played dead and tripped you.”
The assault on the gates had been stopped, but it only gave a moment of respite. The sky cleared, stars peeking between the clouds and the moon lighting the vale. But it brought no comfort to the men of the Mark: the enemy a vast horde that hurled itself against the Deeping Wall and swarmed over the causeway to batter the gates. Ladders they flung up, and for every one that crashed down another took its place. Time after time Éomer and Aragorn rallied their men, until all arrows were shot, every sword was notched, and shields fell in pieces around their feet.
March 3rd Midnight.
Only incarcerated for a day, and Lothíriel already felt the restrictions of the siege. Out of choice she sometimes didn’t leave the city for days, but with the influx of refugees from the port, and knowing she could not even go to the beach, she felt the walls closing in on her. That was probably why she could not sleep, and looking out at the sea brought little relief. The horizon blurred, she couldn’t tell where sea ended and sky started. The moon and stars veiled by low hanging clouds.
Unable to bear the confines of her bed-chamber any longer, she threw a dress over her shift and took a warm, dark cloak from her wardrobe. Quietly she slipped along the passage and down the main staircase, with only the busts of long dead princes to keep her company. But reaching the bottom she stopped: already smelling the fetid odour of people sleeping close. She could hear the sounds of heavy breathing, punctured by the odd cough and as she hesitated a baby started crying. Swiftly she turned around, hurrying back up the stairs. Whole families were sleeping in the hall and many would be awake. But having helped all day, just for this moment, she needed to be alone. She wanted to gaze out towards Minas Tirith, where somewhere along the road Amroth and her father would have made their second camp. And Elphir? He would be nearing the fords, eager to join up with Angbor and the men from Lamedon. Of Erchirion and Faramir she did not really want to think, only pray that they were still safe.
Reaching the gallery, Lothíriel headed for the back stairs. Normally filled with chattering servants, now she passed through silent, empty spaces, with only a few lamps throwing flickering shadows onto the ancient stone. But neither housemaid’s giggling ghost, nor stalking, headless ancestor, caused her to fear. It was outside these walls that danger lay. Skirting the outer hall, with its imposing statue of Imrazor, she reached the side door. The heavy hinges creaked as she pulled it open, so the guard was ready for her.
“You be careful, Princess.” He told her when she said she was going on the wall. “Keep yourself covered, they might not all be asleep.”
Lothíriel nodded, and pulled up the hood on her cloak. She quickly crossed the courtyard to the Palace gate. Another guard to mollify – yes, thank you, she would take care – before she passed out into the cobbled square, soon realizing she should have changed her slippers for boots. Her feet were already cold. Shivering in the chill night air, she hurried up the stone steps that led to the ramparts. Normally torches were always kept burning, and in happier times couples would stroll in the evening after supper, but now, with the moon obscured, all was in shadow. She stopped for a moment to let her eyes adjust to the darkness, and then to her right she heard a cough – a watchman on duty. Lothíriel walked towards him, identifying herself as he swung around.
“You as well, Princess. Can none of you sleep?”
“Oh, who else is up?” Not Meren, surely.
“Lord Sergion is on the battlement over the gates, with his son.”
Thanking him, Lothíriel turned around and headed to the high point above the gates. She passed another guard, piles of rocks, huge stacks of spears and leather buckets full of arrows, all readied for their defense. But the Haradrim were not going to attack, were they? At least not until Minas Tirith fell, and there was no hope for any of them.
“Sergion,” she called softly as she reached the bottom of the steps to the upper battlement. “Are you there?”
A figure appeared, a dark shape towering above her. “Lothíriel, is that you?”
“Yes, I am coming up.”
“Well keep covered. They have sentries posted, and I don’t want you seen.”
A hand reached down and pulled her up the last high step. “I couldn’t sleep. I felt stifled indoors,” she said as she reached the top. “What about you two?”
“Just thinking,” said Oríon from behind his father. “Mostly if there is anything we can do to get rid of them.”
“And have you come up with anything?”
“Apart from poisoning the stream and telling them we have the plague, not really.”
Plague? That might not turn out to be a lie with the city so crowded. Her mind then went to what poison they could use, the stream that passed through the paddock fed the port. Luckily their water issued though the rocks. But Oríon hadn’t finished.
“But we would like to make them think there are more of us than there are.” He laughed, sticking out his chest and standing tall. “Father is going to rig me up as a warrior tomorrow.”
Grinning – and suddenly glad she was not up here alone – Lothíriel stood up on one of the stone blocks to look over the parapet. The Haradrim had set up camp out of arrow range, in the home paddock. She could see the dark shape of their tents, and dotted around, the glow from small fires stabbed red shards into the black of the night. If she couldn’t look out in the daytime she’d have to look out when they couldn’t tell she was a woman…of course, what a fool not to think of it. Slowly she turned around. Sergion was right behind her. “Sergion, I have an idea…”
“I know,” he said before she could voice it. “I’ve had the same one. We will dress as many woman up as possible, making them think we are much stronger. The longer we can hold out, the more chance there is of something happening to relieve us.”
March 4th 3019 Early Hours
Helm’s Deep – The Riddermark.
Great gashes appeared in the gates, but still they held, barricaded by stone and stout timbers. Éomer and Aragorn took a moment to rest, leaning on their swords as the noise of battle clamored around them. But the Hornburg stood fast – a rocky island, battered by a raging, tumultuous sea.
“You said it had never been taken,” said Aragorn.
“So the songs say.”
Aragon clapped him on the shoulder, “Then, Son of Éomund, let us defend it, and hope!”
But suddenly a dozen trumpets blared out. Then there was a great flash of flame and smoke. Rocks were hurled skyward and, hissing and foaming, the waters of the Deeping-stream gushed out through a gaping hole blasted in the wall. With shrieks of triumph, the rats of Isengard poured in.
“Devilry of Saruman!” Aragorn cried. “They have crept into the culvert, while we talked, and have lit the fire of Orthanc beneath our feet.” Shouting, “Elendil, Elendil!” he leaped down. Éomer followed, and with him went Éothain and Gamling. Gimli and Legolas behind them. Orcs were everywhere, already many Riders were being swept back into the caves.
They were too many. Thick and fast the orcs came, wielding heavy clubs and fearsome pikes. Éomer realised the escape route up to the Burg would soon be closed. He heard Aragorn shout for them all to retreat to the citadel, but the filth were fighting his Riders amongst the horses. With fear fuelling his arm, Éomer started to cut his way through: after the horses it would be the women and children. He wasn’t having that. No orc would touch another woman. Not while he lived! Éothain must have thought the same, because with a great yell he ran his sword through a huge Uruk that stood, legs apart, blocking his way. Éomer pushed another aside, slicing into its solid neck and stamping on its face as it fell. They were in the narrows now, but still there were orcs in front, and a great horde of them coming behind. He heard a clamour ahead, and suddenly he heard what sounded like a woman shouting. Rounding a rock he saw gleaming steel flash in an arc, and an orc fell at the swordsman’s feet. But three others crouched in a semicircle, waiting their chance. Not a man, but a woman! Welwyn! Eyes wary, her long blonde plait swinging from side to side, she swayed on agile feet, watching for her attackers’ first move. Probing and pushing, they closed in on her. She slashed at one, felling it, but another grabbed her. As she pulled away it caught her by her plait.
“Nooo….!” Éomer heard his own voice screaming. The scum wouldn’t have her hair! Whatever happened, not that! He was too far away! But anger launched him into a mighty leap and he fell on the back of the orc. As he wrestled it to the ground something charged past him – Éothain smashed the third into the rock face. No time to see if Welwyn was all right, because a great press of fighting men were being herded into the rock passage by the sheer numbers of orcs. In the middle of the skirmish he saw Gimli, his axe slicing into black flesh with unfailing success. Gradually they pushed back the first wave of orcs, who regrouped. They rushed at them again, others coming to join them in a constant stream. Éomer knew they could hold the narrows with only a few men. But those few men grew weary. When the orcs fell, there was fresh strength to replace them.
“How long?” How long can we hold on?” Gambling panted, stumbling as the orcs charged again.
Éomer heaved him up, pushing him out of the way. He didn’t know, and he didn’t know what was going on above. He only knew that there were women and children huddled somewhere deep in the caves and somehow they had to keep fighting, even though the defenders diminished. Gimli and Éothain still stood, but many of his Riders were injured, or dead. Then, as a huge Uruk bore down on him, a whooping cry came from behind. “Out of the way, Éomer! Let us through!” Sword raised, Welwyn came hurtling past. And behind her women of the Westfold. They had stuffed their hair under helms and in their hands they held the swords of the fallen warriors. Éomer stared astounded, as the Uruk who had targeted him fell under a battle-fury unrivalled by any warrior.
Startled into retreat the orcs fell back, grouping some yards away and arguing loudly together in their loathsome tongue. A lull only, already he could see they were making ready for another assault. “Welwyn, they are coming again. Get back!”
Welwyn turned to face him. Her breath coming in gasps, she wiped a bloodied hand across her forehead. “I’ll not let them near the children, Éomer. Not while I can still stand.”
Éomer smiled at her, knowing it would be impossible to stop her fighting for her people. Fair-faced, resolute and brave – the Pride of the Riddermark. With old men like Gamling and women like Welwyn, Saruman would never prevail. “Come then, stand by me.”
To be continued.
List of Original Characters mentioned or appearing in this chapter:
Umar - Prince of Harad. Device – the Black Serpent on Scarlet. Obsessed with Lothíriel.
Princess Meren - Elphir’s wife. Rescued by him from Corsairs to whom she refused to give away the hiding place of her brother’s children in spite of being assaulted.
Sergion - Friend of Prince Imrahil’s. Was a Commander of Swan Knights but now the Captain of Lothíriel’s Guard. Injured when an attempt was made to kidnap Lothíriel. Charged with the defence of Dol Amroth during the Ring-war.
Oríon- Friend to Prince Amrothos. Son to Sergion. Expert on ships and shipping.
Lady Winfrith - Wife to Lord Erkenbrand of the Westfold
Welwyn - The daughter of Winfrith and Erkenbrand
Déor- Friend of Éomer, brought up in Aldburg. Now a Rider in Elfhelm’s éored.