the gaur and eowyn

“Oh gods,” murmured Eowyn, thinking of all the people aloft—of Hobbie and little Cuthbert, of Master Wystan and Thorkell bogsveigir—all 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 the stairs.

“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 aloud—and he was not sure whether this was common sense or some lingering connection with the gaur—“I 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. “Osgar—come with me.”

Mummeeeee…” Cuthbert jiggled in his mummy’s arms.

“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 and—quite gently—pushed 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 elf—and Cuthbert thought he must mean the lady who had asked to see Horsie—“so 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. I’m 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 writhed—skin splitting, bones bursting forth—striving 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, pursued—before Haldir could stop her—by Eowyn.

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 ground—a 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 without it.

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 growl—so deep and resonant, it seemed to penetrate her vitals—and 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.



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