A Bit of Rope: 33. The Fall of the Hornburg

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33. The Fall of the Hornburg

The Fall of the Hornburg

            Gimli gazed out on a hideous scene he already knew well, in waking musings and in fitful dreams. It was the image he had seen in the Lady's Mirror: a stone rampart wedged in a narrow mountain vale, manned thinly against a vast encircling army. When the lightning struck, the flashes of too-brilliant light revealed uncountable besiegers. He had underestimated them in the Mirror. They were outnumbered not twenty, but fifty to one--perhaps more.

            Despite the reinforcements that had come with Legolas—how odd, the swell of relief he'd felt when the fair-haired, green-clad Elf appeared—and with the brief soaring of the spirits of the Rohirrhim at the return of the sister-son of the King, the night could hardly look more bleak. So far, the walls of Helm's Deep withstood the assault of ladders and grappling hooks. As yet, the citadel behind those stout walls was untouched. But the Deeping Dike had been overrun, and the fields of the rich valley of the Coomb were teeming with foes. Nothing he could imagine would stop their enemy's unrelenting approach. There were simply too many of them. It was but a matter of time.

           He tried and failed to evade his doubts: that Aragorn could return in time; that even if he did, enough men remained in the Mark to counter such forces; that anything was left for them but to die, one by one, in desperate corners of the fortress and the rocky vale behind it; that the rest of the scenes he had glimpsed in the waters of Galadriel's basin would ever come to pass.

            He glanced up. Beside him stood a tall grey-cloaked man with a long sword, exactly as he had seen in the Lady's Mirror. But it was Halbarad, not Aragorn, who fought at his side. The man's back he had vowed to watch was nowhere in sight, who knew how many miles away, in Mahal only knew what sort of peril. The Mirror had seemingly tricked him once, and could well have more false impressions waiting for him.

            Cold rain drummed down on the stones of Helm's fortress, washing away the comingled blood of men and Orc. He'd not yet shed anything but sweat, and through brief glimpses of the Elf and Half-Elves standing together, a few feet to his right, he thought they were unscathed as well. Not for long....

            He cursed himself under his breath. Such black thoughts were worse than useless. They would only hamper what time would be granted to him. He leapt forward, his axe singing, as another snarling beast appeared above the parapet. Swoop.Thunk. His blade dug through the thick leather collar of the latest Orc to show its ugly head. Hot black blood spurted in a hideous fountain. He grunted, tugged the axe loose and swung again.

            Legolas had been horrified on learning that Aragorn was not among the defenders of this grim fortress of men. The Elf-Prince had angrily pushed the Dwarf for an explanation. How could you have allowed him do such a thing? Gimli had responded hotly. Don't you think I tried? What sort of a fool do you take me for? They had nearly come to blows, their fists clenched, their two so different faces twisted in similar scowls.

            And then they had looked one another in the eye. As if the absent friend to both of them stood by to shake his head in disappointment at their childishness, the fight between them died, as quickly as it had begun. Gimli was first to reach forward and grip the other's wrist. I'm as worried for him as you. But he said he would come, and if it can be done, you know he will... The Elf had pressed the Dwarf's thick hand on his arm briefly, and nodded. They took their places on the wall and stood facing the swarm of foes.

            Legolas caught the ruddy blur of Gimli's beard out of the corner of his eye. The Dwarf just missed a drenching by yet another gush of the dark blood of yet another Orc he'd just relieved of its ugly head. The Elf smiled slightly. He could not explain it, but he was glad the Dwarf was near. He'd felt a surge of relief at the sight of the ungainly, bandy-legged figure standing amidst the tall dour men of the North. He had chosen, in the commotion of his arrival with Eomer's men, to join his bow and knife to those of the sons of Elrond, feeling most akin to them. But queerly enough, now that the harsh words between them were over and done, the nearness of the Dwarf of Erebor was a comfort to him. Gimli was, after all, a member of the Fellowship. He was the only one of all those gathered here in this terrible place who understood… well, who understood everything.

            Yes, Elrond's sons were aware of the quest, and had heard all that had been spoken at their father's Council, so many months ago. The Twain—and Halbarad Dûnadan—knew Aragorn well. Yet no one but Gimli could claim the knowledge that only the Nine Walkers possessed. No one else had struggled up Caradhras… had fought the Wargs… had witnessed the horror of the Watcher, or the greater horror of the Balrog of Moria… None but the Dwarf had witnessed an Istar's exhaustion, or first glimpsed those terrible burns… No one else, but a member of the Fellowship, knew the Voice of that which the Bearer wore about his small but courageous neck—had heard It, and rejected It.

            The Elf steadied his mind and felt his heartbeat slow, despite the turmoil surrounding him. His hearing was more acute than any in that place, and his eyes could see more clearly in the blackness alternating with blinding white than any other—even, he mused, than the Peredhil. For their blood is mingled, and mine is not… So also, Gloin's son… We two alone have not a drop of the Youngest Race in our veins… His thoughts vanished as a pair of Orcs leapt over the parapet, and his long dagger flashed silver in the darkness.

* * *

            Finding himself suddenly his own Lord and Master had filled Muzluk with new and interesting ideas. He strutted proudly with the ease at which his armies had swept into this soft valley of men. They had crushed the thin line of defenders on the outer Dike, overwhelming them in no time. He looked back. Guttering torches flickered from one rocky prominence to the other, and continued even to the plains beyond. The entire Coomb was his. He turned toward his target and smiled. The smooth wall of the Straw-Heads' fortress gleamed in the rain. It would be a challenge, for a night or two... Or maybe less. For men were stupid, he knew, afraid of the most idiotic things: loneliness, darkness, thirst, vermin...

            He shouted for his guards to accompany him. Every fortress of men had a weak point, and that weakness usually sprang from men's fears. Their walls are as vulnerable as they are… He began walking, watching in the flashes of light, searching for a clue to the undoing of those tall stones. He would find it. And then he would find the next weakness, and the next… Until the spoils were his, to do with what he would.

* * *

            Halbarad had never been angrier in his life, and there was nothing he could do about it. For one thing, he had to give his entire attention to the placement of his feet on wet stones. That would be a less than noble end, to slip here and crack open your skull… Following swiftly behind Harmund, he seethed inside as he made his way in the darkness down a steep stair to the inner courtyard of Helm's Deep.

            The commander of Théodred's guard had sought out the lieutenant of the Rangers and begged his help.

            "The Prince will not listen to us," Harmund had said. "Would that Lord Aragorn were here… But Théodred must be stopped. Will you come, and speak to him? He has nothing but respect for all you Northern warriors…"

             Halbarad stared glumly at the man. What makes you think I will succeed with the Prince of Rohan when I failed utterly to convince my own Chieftain to see reason? But he had nodded and agreed to try. Gwador*, here is but another mark on the tally of what you owe me… When I see you again—in this world, or the next—you'll listen in silence until I'm good and done with the tongue-lashing I've got waiting for you…

            They dashed across the open space behind the great wall, dodging running men, rearing horses, and the occasional projectile that soared over the parapet from the besiegers. Tucked against the steepest wall of the ever-narrowing valley, the citadel of the Hornburg was carved from solid rock. A fortress in miniature, the inner tower was surrounded by another stout wall; its ramparts leaned out and were topped with bristling spikes. Its gate was forged of solid iron. Above the gate, a sharp spire of rock sprang up and out, and on it was fastened a great black horn, gleaming in the rain.

            They slipped quickly through the gate, ran to the inner keep and pounded. The door jerked open and torchlight streamed out.

            Théodred's thundering voice echoed.

            "You shall do as I say! I will ride, and now!"

            The Prince paced rapidly back and forth, his fists raised and his face red. His young squire, Bréga, held the bronze and silver breastplate, trying his best to catch his Master's arms and slide the armor onto him. Hama stood by, arms folded on his chest, his face stern. 

           "Théodred, my Prince…  My friend… If you would stop for one minute and listen…"

            "I've listened enough: listened to the howling voices of the Orcs that besiege us; listened to the screams of men as they die on the wall of the Deep! What use am I here? Would you have me wait until they come to the Hornburg itself, only to die within these walls like a coney in a snare, my blade untested, my men all slaughtered before me?"

            "Of course not, sire, but this is not the time…"

            "Then when? When will be the time?" Theodred brushed the wide-eyed squire aside again and strode toward his father's Door-Warden, his closest friend from childhood, the man in the realm he relied upon most for advice. He leaned to within a few inches of Hama's face.

            "Hama, I will not have it be said that I died a coward!"

            Hama did not blink. "Such a thing is impossible, Prince—no one thinks you a coward. But to ride beyond these walls now is to throw away all reason!"

             Halbarad stood a pace behind Harmund, waiting and watching the scene. The Prince of Rohan was brave, undoubtedly—brave and rash. If he takes to the field now, they will be crushed, and this out of the way adventure will have been nothing but a wretched waste…  The lieutenant of the Rangers of the North shoved his dark thoughts aside and stepped forward.

           "There is yet hope, my Lord," he said calmly.

            Théodred turned, his face full of eagerness. "Then Aragorn has come…!"

            "Nay, not yet. But doubt him not, sire." Halbarad's features were steady, though within his own heart he heard a bitter voice. You're a fine one to lecture him. Your doubts have bordered on treason this night… He looked the Prince in the eye. "Hama is right, my Lord. There will be a time to ride forth, whether to victory or in a final push before the end. But that time has not…"


            At that moment the floor on which they stood trembled, and the citadel shook as a tremendous roar came from the direction of the wall of the Deep. In the next instant they heard a low rumbling, as though the mountains above them were falling, and in the midst of that noise were the triumphant yells of Orcs—and the screams of men.

            They turned as one and ran to the citadel doorway, through the courtyard to the gate of the Hornburg. Beyond, they peered in awe at the tulmult below.

            The wall of Helm's Deep had collapsed in a tumbled pile of stones, at the point where the Deeping Stream had once flowed through a low arched tunnel. Water bubbled and steamed through a huge, smoldering gap. The bodies of men were mingled with broken rock. Through the rough opening came a stream of Orcs.  A line of defenders held them off. But in the few seconds they watched, the defense was pushed back, and again.

            "The time is now, or never!" Théodred cried, as he sped from the gate. "Bréga! My horse! We ride, now—the Deep is breached!"

             There was no stopping the Prince of Rohan. Hama, Harmund and Halbarad ran beside him, their swords already drawn, to the stables of the Hornburg and into the storm.

* * *

          At least for the moment, the rain had ceased. A small thing to be thankful for, the Dwarf thought, as he kicked the latest Orc-carcass away. Thirty-eight …  He glanced to the side. Legolas had moved down the wall some fifty feet. In the constant motion of battle Gimli's position had shifted, and he now stood between the Peredhil. The closest one was too busy taking aim with his great bow to notice the wiry mountain goblin that crept behind him. Gimli hefted his axe-handle, leaned back, and tossed. The goblin crumpled. Thirty-nine…

         He hurried toward the latest body, weaving around fallen foes and defenders, taking care not to slip on the blood-smeared stonework. He halted and bent, retrieving his weapon. Then he straightened, scowling.

         Gimli knew rock, and could feel through the soles of his boots when something was amiss with it. His heart thudded as he felt a deep tremble. In the Blue Mountains, such trembles were usually followed in seconds by dreadful calamities. This wall is going to crumble…! With wide eyes he began to sprint, and slammed headlong into a tall Half-Elf.

         "Manwe's b…"

          The Peredhel's curse was broken off by a cataclysmic roar, and Half-Elf and Dwarf found themselves tumbling through the air. Gimli's ears rang and he closed his eyes tightly against the whirling all about him.

          He landed with a grunt onto a pile of broken stones. All was dark. He shook his head and groaned. Despite his lack of sight, the earth seemed to tilt and spin. His gut churned and he rolled sideways, vomiting what little he had eaten since they'd arrived at Helm's Deep. As he turned, his hand came down on something softer than stone.

          He opened his eyes again, and this time his sight had returned. Slumped beside him lay the Peredhel who'd only a moment ago been ready to curse the Dwarf's clumsiness. Gimli wiped the sickness from his mouth and leaned forward. The Half-Elf's face was ashen-pale; dark eyes were closed, and a stream of red poured from his brow. Gimli reached out and shook his shoulder; he groaned, but did not waken.

          Not dead yet… Which one is this, I wonder… I suppose it doesn't matter…

          He glanced up, and as if he suddenly returned to the land of sight and sound, he was aware of the battle raging nearby. He and the Peredhel had landed at the edge of whatever had torn a great hole in the wall of Helm's Deep. Orcs screeched and clamored as they entered through the gap. Dozens of wounded and dead lay scattered. Most wore green and gold; a few were garbed in grey.

          One of the latter lay nearby. Gimli judged by the sparseness of his beard—what remained of it—that this one was young. But the left side of the man's otherwise smooth-skinned face glistened with oozing blood. Gimli frowned as he noticed the rayed star pinned at the young man's shoulder. Just a boy-Ranger… The Dwarf reached forward to feel for the pulsation in his neck and confirm what seemed all too obvious.

           Gimli's stomach churned again. The half of his head that was coated in blood shifted and gave way. A sticky mass of bone, hair and grey matter was revealed in the dim light. The Dwarf pulled his hand back; it was red. No use… Too late…

          He looked up. By fortune they had landed a ways out of the main thrust of the invaders—but this place was by no means safe. Orcs climbed in over the rubble in a steady stream.  He recalled the men of Rohan mentioning something about a cave at the back of this fortified cleft. Of course a cave might be a place of shelter—or a deadly trap. But he had no choice. Time to move…

          He tapped the axe at his belt. Mahal, protect me... He looked down at the companion near him. Protect us…  As he rose to one knee, his left leg was seized with sharp pain. Wrenched it, I suppose, in the fall…Shifting with a grimace, he placed his weight on his right leg, then gingerly tested his left. Pain shot from knee to ankle. He winced and grit his teeth. Nothing for it but to go on… Can't stay here… He cast a wary glance backward toward the Orcs three dozen feet away. They had veered to the right, toward the inner wall of the Citadel, and seemed not to have noticed him. Now's the chance…

          The hardy Dwarf of Erebor sucked in his breath and reached. As gently as he could—which was hardly gentle at all, given the circumstances—he grabbed the Peredhel's arm and dragged it over his broad shoulders. With short grunts and tugs, he soon had the tall Half-Elf draped across his back. Turning to the left, Gimli began to limp along the inside of wall of the Deep, toward what he hoped would be some semblance of safety—for now.

* * *

          Legolas caught the sight of Gimli's axe landing with a thwack in the exact center of a grimy little creature's ugly skull—a goblin that had been sneaking up on Elrohir. The Orc's yellow eyes bulged out and his red mouth twisted in a scream that never came, and he fell before the Peredhel knew he was there. The Wood-Elf smiled grimly as he swung forward toward the parapet again. They were coming more quickly now; he had not a moment to spare to acknowledge the Dwarf's skill.

         Ffft. Ffft. Ffft. Three arrows flew from his bow, and as many invaders fell. He ran lightly between the bodies. Elladan had moved too far away; they should not separate so much. Legolas's sight swung back and forth from the parapet to the expanse of wall between him and Elrond's son. The Peredhel's sword swooped. Another Orc tripped and did not rise.

         Then Legolas saw a flash of light followed immediately by a rumbling roar. In the same instant he smelled something sharp, akin to fireworks—that cannot be, Mithrandir is hundreds of leagues from here—and felt a jolt. His feet seemed to slip to one side. Time slowed. His gaze widened as he watched Elladan's arm, his hand still gripping his sword, fling outward and propel him sideways. Then the stones on which Legolas stood crumbled, and he was riding their fragments to the ground.

         He tumbled head over heels as the rubble bounced. He landed on two feet with a splash into churning water. Smoke and Orcs were everywhere—he lunged out, slashing with his dagger, his battle instincts fully engaged. The Elf Prince gave himself over to it. Three… six… nine… a dozen fell to his blade, a silver flash in the red fire of the torches. They fell back howling from him.

         When Legolas came back to himself he saw that he had climbed up and back onto a pile of stones, halfway to the top of the broken rampart. His chest heaved and every nerve ending was alert. Someone shouted above him; he looked up. A rope dangled, the end knotted into a loop. He placed his foot into the loop and hung on. The rope jerked upward.

         As he rose, his thoughts began to settle. In his right hand he still gripped his bloody dagger. He sheathed it at his belt, and felt behind his shoulder. His bow was gone. He muttered a low curse. There would be no replacing the Lady's gift. His own, smaller bow was dismantled and tucked carefully into the deepest corner of his pack. Had it survived the fall without splintering? I'll know soon enough… His throat was suddenly dry. Survived the fall…!

          Legolas leaned out from the rope and gazed intently downward. Where was Elladan? He searched the ground at the base of the broken wall. Bodies lay piled atop one another, layer on layer, and beneath them, a heap of blackened stones and a choked, bubbling stream. Ignoring the Orcs, he tried to study each man-like one—was there a raven-haired head among them? A fairer, unbearded  face? A grey cloak—a taller frame?

          His heart sank. It was impossible—there were too many, their faces were too torn… He had nearly reached the top of the wall.

         "Take my hand…" a voice cried in accented Sindarin. Ranger… Legolas thought. He wrenched his gaze from his search and turned. He reached up, grasped the outstretched hand, and in one graceful leap was on the wall.

         "Indor," the dark-haired, bearded man said with a tap on his chest. "One of Aragorn's men…"

          The Elf bowed his head. "Legolas Greenleaf…"

          "I know who you are," Indor grinned. "That was some mightly dagger-work, down there…"

          Legolas peered down with a frown. "My bow… It is gone, I fear… At least, my better bow is gone…" He swung his pack from his shoulders and dug. He grinned as he looked up.

         "But this will do--very nicely," he said, as he withdrew the two halves of the bow he had shaped and fashioned himself, and had used for centuries longer than the man nodding and smiling at him had been alive. In a moment the bow of Mirkwood was assembled and strung. Legolas reached around and quickly counted the remaining arrows in his quiver. Fourteen… Too few. Time to gather more. But first…

         "Indor, did you happen to see the Peredhel, Elladan? He was not far from me when the wall came down…"

         Indor's face was grim. "He was right in the center of it… of whatever devilry they used to take the wall. I saw him fly up in the midst of the blasting fire, and come straight down into…" His voice was low. "I can't imagine anyone—even an Elf--could come out of that. I am sorry."

         The Elf Prince glanced through the gap in the wall. On the ground, crawling over stones and bodies alike, a stream of Orcs poured into Helm's Fortress. He peered again toward the pile of crumpled men. When this is done, if I live, I promise I will find you… But for now, there was too much work to do. He reached back and withdrew a dart, leaned forward, took aim and released it.

*            *            *

            Halbarad knew the advantage a mounted warrior had over troops on foot, but still, he disliked this style of fighting. Too big a target, and not enough room to swing properly… The Rohirrhim beside him all carried shields, and were skilled a using them to fend off the rain of darts. But he found himself dodging all too many black-shafted arrows that flitted all too closely to him. Would that I could fight on my own feet, with Rangers at my side… He swung again, and another huge half-man, half-Orc with a White Hand emblazoned on his livery screamed and fell.

          He twisted in his saddle and swung again. The long sword, forged in Annúminas of old and passed through the generations, shone red in the fiery light of torches. Forodring… Hammer of the North. So his father had named the gleaming weapon, and his before him. Swoosh, thud.  Again and again the blade of lost Arnor felled its foes. But more came, and more. Where are you, my sworn brother… kinsman… Commander… King? Only in his worst nightmares had Halbarad thought he might die without Aragorn at his side.

         But the Ranger lieutenant had no time to waste on regret and doubt. The task before him was unrelenting. He raised Forodring with both hands, blocking the curved scimitar that had appearerd at his side. He shoved and thrusted; the Uruk pitched backward.

           The remnant of Théodred's eored surrounded him, again protecting their Prince with their own flesh and blood. From the gate of the Hornburg they had galloped out, and at first the hordes of Isengard had fled from them. But their foes had counted their numbers and found their courage. The Riders were pushed back again and again. Hama had fallen, an Orc spear piercing through the gap in his mailshirt between neck and helm. Halbarad and Harmund were forced to restrain a screaming Théodred when the Uruks leapt on the Door Warden's corpse, hacking his body apart and displaying the pieces on their spearpoints.

            Then another flash of fire and a roar came, and the northern wall of the citadel collapsed. The Hornburg, that had stood unconquered since its raising long ago, fell to the device of Saruman and his Uruks . When Théodred saw the dust rise and heard the gutteral cheering of the Orcs, something in him seemed to collapse as well.

            "Fall back," he cried hoarsely. "To the caves… Fall back!"

* * *

            Muzluk didn't know whether to be pleased or angry. They had made much progress, though pockets of fierce resistance still held out—stupid fools. Let them fight on, until every last one of them was slaughtered. The two separated portions of the remains of the main wall and the forts behind them were still unconquered, and a knot of men on horseback were making mischief somewhere between the wall and the caves, he knew. But the prize was his—the Hornburg itself. And now that he was here, he was full of rage.

           He had fully expected to find the Straw-Head's King hiding in the Hornburg, and had looked forward to dispatching that one personally, and the feast that would follow. He had directed his lads to put fire to the last of Sharku's blasting devices right at the base of their gate, and take their puny little tower. He kicked the broken black horn aside as he strode into the inner courtyard of Helm Hammerhand's citadel.

            His second came out the broken door to the inner keep, dragging a skinny little thing by his yellow hair. He tossed the boy at Muzluk's feet.

            "He's the only one left," the Uruk snarled. "Not even a horse… They got out too quick." He nudged Bréga with one thick boot. The Prince's squire choked back a sob of terror.

            Muzluk leaned down and sneered viciously. "Look's like this is your lucky day, little Straw-Head!" The Uruk Chief turned to his troops with a laugh. "He's not much, but he's all yours, boys!"

* * *

            Indor reached up and caught the cloth-wrapped object deftly. He signaled with a wave to the man who had tossed it, standing on the other side of the gap in the wall of the Deep. Legolas leaned in to look over the man's shoulder as he unwound the cloth. Inside was a stone, and to it a folded parchment was tied. The Ranger studied it and nodded.

            "Eomer estimates he has four hundred men remaining," Indor said. "We've got fewer on this side… Perhaps three hundred…"

            "What does he know of the Citadel's fall? Or has he news of any who retreated within and might still live?" the Elf asked.

            "He doesn't say. I'd guess he doesn't know." Indor looked up. "I don't know either… Whether Aragorn comes or not now, I don't know if it matters anymore…" His voice fell off into a hoarse whisper as he shook his head.

            The invading Orcs seemed to have decided it was more effort than it was worth to scale the wall of the Deep when it was so easy to simply clamber through the gap. The defenders main task now was to turn back the few who tried climbing up the stairways on the inside of the wall. But most of their foes had lost interest in confronting the small but deadly forces that still held fast to the tops of the wall. They seemed content to wait—for once everything else was conquered, the Orcs would surely find a way to climb up and drag them down, one by one—or simply starve them out.

            Legolas looked over the broken edges of the parapet and toward the Deeping Coomb unfolding before them. Dawn was not far off. The darkest, coldest hour of night had come. He gazed out on the vast army, more than half of which had not yet been engaged. Their torches flickered in an endless sea, continuing onward, all the way to…

            He frowned and peered more intently northward. The torchlight had filled the entire Coomb the last time he'd bothered to look. But now, the flickering lights faded as the valley spilled down to the plains. Now, the lower half of the valley was dark—but a darkness unlike anything the Elf had ever seen. As if a fog formed of shadow gathers there… He rubbed his eyes to clear them, and looked again, more closely.

            He had been right the first time. It made no sense, but his Elven sight did not deceive. The darkness was moving up the valley, encroaching on the lines of torches. He chose a light near the edge of the darkness and stared at it. The flame flickered, then tossed wildy—then vanished. The nearest light began moving—quickly. Whoever was bearing that torch aloft was running. No, fleeing… It stopped, pitched back and forth, and was gone.

            Something was coming up the Deeping Coomb, something that was overtaking the Orcs of Isengard and engulfing them in shadow. Legolas swallowed hard. Nothing in his long experience told him that Darkness Impenetrable approaching could be anything but evil. Yet his heart told him otherwise. I sense a tremendous anger, and a great and ancient strength…but not directed at us… Whatever it was, he was suddenly certain, it was there for the Orcs.

            This Raging Darkness is aimed at our enemies… And the enemy of my enemy might just be my friend…

* * *

            Gimli shifted his leg again, trying to find a comfortable position. The Half-Elf beside him looked up.

            "Let me take another look…"

            The Dwarf watched as his companion opened the tear in his left breech-leg a bit more, reached within and loosened the strip of cloth that bound the makeshift splint. The effect was immediate, and he sighed with relief. The Peredhel nodded in satisfaction and sat back again.

            Gimli's boot had also been slit down the side—a maneuver he'd protested mightily, declaring that there was no bootmaker within five hundred miles that could possibly fit a Dwarvish foot. But his companion had insisted.

            "If you never wish to walk properly again, fine—save your boot," he'd said dryly. "If you'd like me to help you, then lie still and let me do my work."

            Gimli had grunted and sat back in resignation. How our roles have traded, back and forth, this night, he mused. He had carried the Peredhel from the broken wall to just inside the entrance to the Glittering Caves. Then he had collapsed. The last thing he noticed before he fainted was the Half-Elf's quiver, a few inches away as they both lay sprawled on the floor. Two golden fletches and one blue… Aha, this must be Elrohir…

            When he woke, Elrohir, wearing a bandage on his scraped brow, was kneeling near him, examining his leg. A torch flickered somewhere, and they had clearly been moved more deeply into the cave. Gimli could smell men and horses and fear all around him. The Half-Elf glanced at him briefly before returning to his task.

            "I have but two things to say to you, Gloin's son," he had said crisply. "One, your ankle is broken, and in a moment you will wish you had not awakened just yet. I need to straighten it before I splint it, and it's going to hurt. And second, thank you, for saving my life."

            Elrohir was certainly right, Gimli thought later; it had hurt fiercely, but only for a few seconds. Then the pain had lessened to a dull throb. As long as I don't try to walk on it, I suppose… For the moment there was no call for him to walk. They were waiting in a large cavern not from the cave's entrance. Gimli estimated at least two hundred Rohirrhim, four dozen of their horses, a Prince, and a handful of Rangers were gathered there. Deeper within, he'd been told, a great number of women, children and men too old or infirm to fight had fled from the Westfold to hide from the invaders. For the time being… 

           It wouldn't be long. The Orcs would soon reach the crevice in front of the entrance. The archers would soon run out of arrows. They'd have to choose: stay inside and be slaughtered underground or go out and be slaughtered above.

            I might be the only one who'd prefer to stay and die here, in these marvelous caverns… He let his head fall back to rest on the smooth, translucent stone. The light danced on swirling colors of pearl, coral, jade and amber, veined with glittering lines of gold and silver. Gimli had asked, and been told the name: The Caves of Aglarond. Who was Aglarond, he wondered? He vowed to return, if he lived, as a pilgrim to a sanctified place—to stand hushed, with no press of men and horses about him, to take as much time as he desired to gaze upon the flutes and columns of living stone…

            He heard a sound beside him and looked. The Dwarf frowned. His companion's face was twisted in a grimace; he had pressed his hand across his eyes.

            "Elrohir?" Gimli said. "What is it? Are you… are you all right?"

            "Tóro-nim…" His voice was hoarse. "'Adan…"

            "Eh? What did you say?"

            "He is gone," he whispered. "My brother…"

            Gimli reached out and clasped the Peredhel's shoulder in silence. That a twin would know such a thing, an Elvish twin—even a Half-Elvish one—seemed entirely within reason. Elladan, Hama, that boy-Ranger… He fretted about the most likely identity of the youth he'd seen lying dead near the wall. Can't be sure… No sense to tell him now… He had kept silent when Halbarad had come to say a few words to them, ten minutes earlier. The price of this night had been high—and the night was not yet over.

            Harmund approached. "My Lords," he said with a bow. "The time has come."

            Elrohir's face was a grim mask of anguish as he stood and helped his companion rise. It had already been determined that they were to be given the use of a horse—one horse. Gimli hated the thought of it, knowing how useless he'd be. But useless or no, he was not about to be left behind. In a few minutes the Dwarf of Erebor found himself clinging to the waist of the Son of Elrond, astride a horse of Rohan. He patted his axe, thought of just how foolish it would be to swing it from on horseback, and cleared his throat.

            "Elrohir, have you a spare dagger for a friend to use?"

* * *

            The sky above the shoulder of Thrihyrne was pale when Legolas heard the first horn echo from within the vale behind him. In moments a shout went up from across the gap. The horn he knew to be Eomer's sounded, and then more eager music came from with the Deep. The Elf turned and saw a line of torches appear from the shadowed cleft. Orcs began to reverse their course. The men about him cheered loudly as a line of their foes stumbled through the chasm in the wall, retreating from Helm's Deep in advance of the forces that had suddenly appeared from the caves.

            Shouts were exchanged across the broken wall, and a new plan swiftly made. The defenders poured down to join the counter attack. A third chorus of horns came faintly, from high in the East. Legolas looked, and saw the silhouette of a great horse with a tall rider appear at the crest of the ridge, and in the next moment a line of Riders and foot soldiers streamed down into the Coomb. Dawn broke and the Sun poured into the valley.

            The Elf took in the remarkable sight even as he continued to slay Orcs, now fleeing before them. The troops of Isengard found themselves pinned, between the defenders of Helm's Deep now attacking with renewed ferocity, and the reinforcements led by a bright-eyed warrior astride a silver horse, bearing a terrible sword whose glitter was unbearable to behold. And to the north, blocking the entrance to the Coomb, a wall of dark trees had sprung up.

            They looked back and forth, wailing. When the head of their Chief, Muzluk, was hewn from his broad shoulders by the Prince of Rohan, the rest of the Orcs of Isengard turned toward the dreadful forest. Screaming as they ran, they vanished beneath the trees and not one was seen alive again.

 * Gwador: Sworn Brother

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.

Story Information

Author: Aiwendiel

Status: General

Completion: Complete

Era: 3rd Age - Ring War

Genre: Drama

Rating: General

Last Updated: 01/06/12

Original Post: 02/25/09

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WARNING! Comments may contain spoilers for a chapter or story. Read with caution.

A Bit of Rope

ziggy - 06 Nov 10 - 6:46 AM

Ch. 33: The Fall of the Hornburg

This chapter, I think, surpasses all others - and that is saying something. The detail does not clog the overall sense of the battle, but enhances it. The sense of being immersed in the slaughter, the confusion, the loss, is utterly compelling and convincing. This is wonderful writing that goes far beyond fanfiction

A Bit of Rope

Larner - 30 Jan 11 - 8:58 AM

Ch. 33: The Fall of the Hornburg

To know that one of Elrond's twin sons is now dead is a great grief indeed, but at least the enemy is now destroyed, even though so is the Hornburg.

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