Oh gods, murmured Eowyn, thinking of
all the people aloftof Hobbie and little Cuthbert, of Master
Wystan and Thorkell bogsveigirall trapped, all at the mercy
of the flames. Lassui
Courage, melmenya. He gripped her hand.
Haldir was sending warriors up to the higher flets to maintain
control, even as he rushed to Legolas side.
Should we not be moving everyone, Lassui? asked Eowyn.
It might be kinder, agreed Haldir, quietly, to
keep them occupied.
No, said Legolas.
But, up on the flets, panic was spreading.
The red glow seemed to be growing brighter, and the dull crackle
of flames to be growing louder, and the sobs of fear were turning
to shouts of anger. And the warriors were forced to use threats,
and to brandish weapons, to hold the terrified people back from
They are trying to frighten us, said Legolas, to
drive us down from the trees so they can finish us off on the
ground. But fire is as much of a threat to them as it is
to us, so the flames cannot be as close as they seem
Haldir and Eowyn exchanged doubtful glances.
If I were they, he continued, thinking aloudand
he was not sure whether this was common sense or some lingering
connection with the gaurI would set fire to the camp
site… Yes… We must stay with our original plan. March Warden,
we have too many warriors aloft. Bring them down. The goer will
be coming for the prisoners.
He squeezed Eowyn’s hand. You, be careful. I will be as
quick as I can.
Where are you going?
To make certain that I am right. He glanced round
the lower flets. Osgarcome with me.
Mummeeeee… Cuthbert jiggled in his mummy’s
Hush, love… She pulled him close, cradling his head
and shielding him from the angry crowd, as she shouldered her
way to Grandpa Herewart, who was struggling with the tall, dark
man barring his way.
Sit down, Dad, she hissed.
But Grandpa did not sit down. Come on, girl, he cried.
Bring the little un. And he pushed the tall man, hard.
Mummy, Cuthbert shouted.
Then the tall man grasped Grandpa’s shoulder andquite gentlypushed
him back. You must stay here. You must all
stay here. It is the safest place.
There were lots of angry grunts, and people waved their arms
and pointed towards the fire, and another old man tried to push
past, but an elf-man held him back. This Forest is still
under the Lady’s protection, said the elfand Cuthbert
thought he must mean the lady who had asked to see Horsieso
there is nothing to fear.
Do as the elf says, said the tall man, loudly. Sit
down. All of you.
A woman started crying.
Grandpa Herewart shoved the tall man’s hand away and (though
Cuthbert could see that he did not want to) did as the man said,
and sat down. Then other people, though still angry, sat down
too, and the elf-man walked amongst them, talking, and Cuthbert
could see that he was trying to cheer them up.
Pray to your gods, whoever they are, muttered the
tall man, that the elves know what they’re doing…
Cuthbert tugged at his mummy’s shoulder, but she caught hold
of his hand.
Thank you, Master Thorkell, she said. Dad could
never have got down all those steps by himself. He’d have fallen…
She stepped closer, and whispered, You do believe
we’ll be all right up here?
The tall man shrugged, then rubbed his shoulder.
I’ve some apple brandy as would ease that, sir.
No, ma’am. Thank you
Oh, hush, pup. Im talking. He’s been like
this ever since we came up here.
What is it, little fellow? asked the tall man.
Horsie, wailed Cuthbert, at last, pointing
to where it had happened, Horsie fell down.
The two warriors halted at the edge of the Forest.
I was right, murmured Legolas.
On the plain, the camp site was in flames, its ring of wagons
transformed into a wall of fire, ten feet high. Wheels were crumpling,
planks falling, roofs collapsing; inside the circle, swathes of
canvas were burning loose, rising on the updraught, and fluttering
away, leaving the tents’ charred skeletons exposed.
Thank the Valar, breathed the elf, softly, that
Eowyn thought to set the horses free.
The wind is westerly, my Lord, said Osgar, so
it will push the flames down to the river, and the water will
put them out. The Forest is safe, so long as the wind does not
change. But our supplies are gone and, without the carts, we cannot
move the sick and elderly. We are trapped here, like sitting ducks…
That is their plan, agreed Legolas, but they
have underestimated us, mellon nín, and overlooked the
March Warden’s knowledge of Lothlórien. Come. We must get back.
We have goer to kill.
O Elbereth! Gilthoniel!
We still remember, we who dwell
In this far land beneath the trees,
Thy starlight on the Western Seas.
The elves on the upper flets had begun singing a sweet, uplifting
melody, and some of the humans seemed to be joining in, their
deeper voices adding a hushed chorus to the soaring verses.
Eowyn turned to Haldir. He should be back by now.
It has not been long.
You are worried, too.
You have seen how he keeps scratching at it.
Haldir shook his head. There is only one way
But Eowyn grasped his arm. What?
Down there. She pointed, through the foliage, towards
the prisoners. Something moved.
Haldir could see nothing. But he knew that Gimli had spotted
it, for the dwarf had brought his foot soldiers to attention;
and it seemed that the prisoners had sensed it, too, because the
changeling, who, since his transformation, had been in a state
of torpor, was now fully alert, and fighting his bonds.
The elf signalled to his archers, and they raised their bows.
Suddenly, two men broke cover and, keeping low, streaked towards
the prisoners, knives ready to cut the ropes.
Shoot! cried Haldir.
The silver-tipped arrows sliced down.
One of the men, pierced through forehead, dropped silently to
the ground and lay there, unmoving, but the second, hit twice
in the chest, let out a great roar, fell backwards, and writhedskin
splitting, bones bursting forthstriving to transform himself
before death claimed him.
That one, at least, thought Haldir, watching the death
throes, was a gaur. But where is the leader of the pack? He
must not be allowed to escape
Chaaaarge! yelled Gimli, doubtless thinking
the same thing, and he launched himself down the stair at the
head of his axemen, pursuedbefore Haldir could stop herby
The big elf cursed. He had no choice but join her on the ground.
DOWN! he bellowed at his archers. It is all
knife work from now on!
Standing on the Forest floor, Eowyn was already wondering whether
following Gimli had been a mistake, for the trees were shrouded
in deep shadow and, though the dwarf’s axemen were all around
her, noisily searching for the gaur, something about the darkness
made her feel vulnerable.
She drew her sword, and advanced slowly through a patch of moonlight,
peering into the blackness beyond. There was something lying on
the grounda small object that did not belong. She crouched
down beside it.
Horsie! she thought, wondering how the toy had come to
be there, and imagining how miserable little Cuthbert must be
Glancing round to make sure it was safe, she laid down her sword,
picked up the toy horse, and pushed it down the front of her cuirass
And the hair on the back of her neck stood on end.
Someone was standing behind her!
She heard a growlso deep and resonant, it seemed to penetrate
her vitalsand instinctively reached for her sword.
But it was too late.
As her fingers touched the hilt, a clawed foot lashed out, and
kicked it beyond her reach.