Legolas did not falter.
Behind him, elven arrows were singinghis warriors were with him. Kill if you have to, he shouted, but follow me! And he grasped one of the great metal hinges, and started to climb.
The creature stretched out a finger and, tentatively, prodded her.
Eowyn swung back and forth in her bonds.
Gruntingas though its question had been answeredthe creature cupped one hand around her and, supporting her body, pulled on the leather cords until they snapped.
Eowyns arms, suddenly released, screamed with pain, and fire pierced her chest
Legolas? She twisted in the creatures fist Yes! Yes! He was there, standing on top of the gates, looking so small, so brave. Between love and hope, her heart was torn in shreds. She tried to shout, but the pain was too much to bearso she wagged her fingers in a feeble wave.
The beast reared on its hind legs and, holding Eowyn in one hand, beat its chest with the otherand Legolas blood ran cold, for its roar spoke to some primitive part of him, and he recognised it for what it was: a challenge, male against male, with the female as the prize.
Then the thing turned, and bounded into the trees.
No, shouted Legolas, NO! COME BACK!
It was too far to jump. He scrambled part wayaware that every second countedthen, in his anxiety, he half leapt, half fell the rest of the way, landing awkwardly on the stone platform below. He took a moment to catch his breathtelling himself that he must be more careful, that if he were to injure himself Eowyn might be lost foreverthen he ran down the broad steps and followed the beast into the forest.
Immediately, he felt Strange.
The trees did not speak to him, but crowded in as he sprinted between their misshapen trunks, smothering him with the dull green creepers that hung from their twisted boughs like fleece from a thorn.
Legolas had never been so ill at ease, so at odds, with nature.
And, when he paused to track the creatures spoor, he noticed other disturbing signsbranches snapped like twigs, strips of bark torn by massive claws, footprints as broad and as deep as a boat, mountainous piles of dung
He ran through a narrow gorgeslowing slightly, and raising his bow, aware that the creature might be waiting in ambushthen emerged into a broad, grassy plain, and came to an abrupt halt.
His quarry was still in view, and stillThank the Valar!carrying Eowyn, though already several miles ahead; but between him and them stretched a vast herd of animals.
Legolas growled in frustration. The creatures, twice the size of mûmakil, were nervousthey tamped the ground, and swung their tiny heads from side to side, as though waiting for the sign to take flight.
And then he saw the reason for their fear: a pack of lizardsterrible lizardsrunning upright, like an elf or a manstreaming from the north. A great trumpet of alarm went up from the herd; some began to flee, blundering past their fellows, spreading panic; and Legolas had just time to see one of the predators leap up, and sink its teeth into a long, arched neck, before he himself was forced to turn and run back through the funnel.
At first he managed to stay ahead of the stampede. But then some of the swifter beasts overtook him, and he ran between their legs, dodging this way and that to avoid their massive feet. And then he sensed something else, something quicker and more agile, coming up behind him, and he heard the snap of a predators jaws, leapt forwards, and heard the monster fall, squealing as the herd trampled it underfoot.
Haldir and the others! Above him!
Legolas veered left, slipping between a pair of galloping beasts, found the wall, followed itSweet Eru!discovered a shallow chimney, plunged into it, and began to climb.
Lying still, face down on the ground, Eowyn listened intently.
She heard the snap of wood splitting, and thena muffled crunching, like the sound of a horse chewing grass. She risked raising her head.
The creature was sitting on its haunches, like a child, its back towards her, calmly stripping branches from a nearby bush, eating the leaves and throwing away the wood.
Keeping close to the ground, Eowyn crawled a few feet, stopped, and cautiously looked back.
The animal, reaching for another branch, seemed oblivious.
Eowyn carried on.
Six more tortuous feet brought her to a bend in the trail. She crawled around the corner, dragged herself to her feet and, surprised by her own unsteadiness, staggered towards a gap in the rocks. She had seen the stampede drive Legolas back towards the sun, and she could see the sun now, already approaching the horizon. She would head westwards and find himor die trying.
Moving more easily now, she jogged out onto the plain
And yelped as a huge black shape flew down from the rocks and landed in front of her. It whirled around and, standing on all fours, loomed over her, trying to frighten her into submission.
But Eowyn took a deep breath and, praying to the gods, ducked through its legs, and ran.
Thank you, said Legolas, as Valandil hauled him up to safety.
The other elf placed his hand upon his heart and bowed his head. Then he asked, gently, Lady Eowyn?
It has her, replied Legolas. I do not believe it intends to eat her, he called to Haldir, it seems to want her as a trophy. But we must hurry.
Perhaps you should see this first, said Haldir, beckoning him over.
Legolas followed the big elfs gaze, across the gorge, to the next peak, where a pile of bones, picked clean by scavengers, gleamed white in the sunlight. The skull, with its low forehead, frontal eye sockets, and flat muzzle was unmistakable.
Its mate, said Legolas.
Haldir nodded. I believe so. And, I think,he pointed to a cluster of smaller bones, cradled in the mothers long armsits child.
Eowyn ran as she had never run before, doubling back into the rocks, andknowing, now, that she had no chance out on the open plainheading northwards, towards the forest. The going was hard but she pushed herself, blundering through gaps, jumping over fissures, falling and scrambling back to her feet, scraping her arms and her legs, cutting her hands and her knees
She came to the end of a rock shelf and jumped, and her tired legs suddenly gave way, and for a few long moments, she sprawled upon the stones, panting.
Then something beside her moved, and she turned her head and watched,
fascinated, as a piece of rock opened like an eyelid, and revealed
Oh gods, an eye!
She watched the heada dragons headlift and turn, and the mouth, crammed with blade-like teeth, openand she leapt to her feet, and ran again, pushing herself even harder than before. But the monster was already following, gaining upon her
She had to get to the trees; surely she would be safe in the trees?
Then her legs gave way again and she stumbled and fell, rolling down and down, landing, winded, on her back. And she looked up and, powerless to do anything more, watched the monster lower its massive head and open its dripping jaws
Raaaaagh! With a furious roar, the creatureher creaturesprang from nowhere, wrestling the dragon off its feet and holding it, writhing and kicking, in a ferocious headlock. It dragged the monster down to the plain and threw it onto its back.
The dragon made one last frantic attempt to break free, but the creature, grasping its jaws, ripped them apart; and Eowyn heard the terrible sound of flesh tearing and joints bursting.
Then the struggling stopped.
The creature threw the carcase away, beating its chest in victory. Then it dropped to all fours and, almost diffidently, laid its hand, palm up, on the ground.
Eowyn could not run any furthercould not, she knew, survive in this place alonenot without armour, boots, or a sword. She looked up, for the first time, into the creatures face and saw somethingsomeonethat had protected her. Someone she might be able to trust.
She crawled into the creatures hand and let him carry herup the rocky slope, up the vertical cliff, higher and higher, until they reached the summit, a flat tabletop that overlooked the plain and the forest beyond, and thenso far away that, to Eowyn's human eyes, they seemed no more than a pale, pinkish hazethe trees of Eryn Carantaur.
He set her down upon the ground, and sat beside her. And, together, they watched the sun sink slowly towards the horizon, leaving the sky a blaze of red and gold.
Eowyn smiled. Is this your home? she asked. It is beautiful.
Is it wise? asked Haldir, handing Legolas an extra sheath of arrows.
They had tracked the creature to within a few hundred yards of its lair. Yes. The smaller elf shrugged the bag over his shoulder. By myself I can slip past without disturbing it. And when I have her You must be waiting here, in case it follows.
Haldir squeezed his arm. Bring her back.
Legolas gave him a faint smile. I shall. Then he set off, running silently, up through the rocks.
She looked so peaceful, lying in its hand, asleep.
Legolas ignored an unexpected pang of jealousythe beast was sleeping too: this was his chance.
He crept closer. Eowyn
She raised her head and staredconfused at first, for it was almost darkbut then she smileda breathtaking, radiant smileand Legolas, smiling back, held out his hands. Slowly, she climbed out of the beasts huge fist, pausing when the creature stirredand Legolas reached for his bowbut it did not wake and, after a moment, she dropped safely to the ground.
Legolas grasped her hand, drawing her towards the trail. Can you walk, melmenya, he whispered, or must I carry you?
I can walk, Lassui. But she squeezed his fingers, stopping him in his tracks.
What? he mouthed.
Thank you, she whispered. For coming for me.
I love you.
Le annon veleth nín, muttered Legolas. But you must come now, Eowyn nín.
They rejoined the others without incident, and carried on down the hillside, and Legolas began to think that they might even cross the plain, and reach the gates, before the creature awoke and found Eowyn missing. But she will slow us down, he thought, watching her struggle bravely to keep pace with him. Melmenya, he said, firmly, I must carry you now. And, before she could begin to protest, he lifted her into his arms.
They descended onto the plain, and Legolas broke into a run, with Haldir and Valandil flanking him right and left, and the others bringing up the rear, all with arrows nocked and ready. The herd had returned to its territory, and was grazing peacefully along the northern marginA good sign, thought Legolas. They will alert us should the predators
His elven senses warned him a split-second before he heard the roar, and he dropped to his knees, and shielded Eowyn with his body as the furious animal tumbled over his head and landed in front of him, pounding its chest.
In perfect formation, his warriors raised their bows.
"No!" cried Eowyn, scrambling to her feet. No! Do not hurt him. Please! She threw herself between the elves and the creature, protecting it with outstretched arms. He saved me, she said, he risked his life for me. Let him go.
The creature snarled at the elves and, dropping down on all fours, caged Eowyn in its forelegs.
Legolas approached, cautiously. It will not go, melmenya Not without you. Come away. He slowly reached out to her. Come to me
The creature roared, and swung its arm, threatening to bat the elf away; Legolas dodged; the elven warriors drew their bows; and Eowyn ran to Legolas, throwing her arms around him. No! she cried, No! No!
The creature watched her intently.
You cannot kill him Lassui, said Eowyn. It was you who said that we should leave this world as we found it. Make them lower their bows, Lassui, please.
Legolas looked from Eowyn to the beast and back again. Can you make it go back, melmenya? Can you convince it to let you go free?
I can try. Give me a chance.
Legolas signalled the elves to lower their bows. Go on, then, he said, gently, trying not to think of what he would have to door of how they would live with the consequencesif she were to fail. Then, Wait, he cried, suddenly. Let me come with you.
Hand-in-hand, they approached the creature.
The animal backed away, growling, but Legolas, remembering his encounter with its smaller cousin in Far Harad, spoke quietly. Heniach nin?
The creature looked sadly at Eowyn.
Eowyn i eneth dîn said Legolas. Man eneth lín?
The creature grunted a reply.
He says that men call him Kong, said Legolas. Say his name, melmenya.
Smiling nervously, Eowyn said, Kong.
The creature frowned in surprise.
Legolas continued, in Elvish, She cares for you; a moment ago she saved your life
Kong growled, shaking his head from side to side.
You know that we are not like the men of the cityyou know that, even with these small weapons, he swept his hand to indicate the elven warriors standing behind him, we will find a way to hurt you if we have to.
Legolas? Eowyn understood enough of Elvish to recognise the threat.
We are two princes, Eowyn nín, negotiating terms. He continued, We do not want to harm you; it is not our way. He glanced at Eowyn. She does not want us to harm you. But I cannot let you
No, said Eowyn, catching Legolas arm. Stop. She gave him a reassuring squeeze. Then she walked up to Kongs right hand and waited. It took the creature a moment to understand; but then he turned his hand over, and unclenched his fist, and Eowyn climbed onto his palm.
He lifted her up to his face.
He is only threatening you to protect me, she said, because I am his wife and he loves me. Will you let me go with him? She could not tell whether he understood her human speech, but she persisted. Will you let me go, Kong?
For a few long moments the creature was silent. Then he spoke; and, to Eowyns astonishment, though her ears heard nothing but grunts, her mindor, perhaps, her spiritinstantly knew his meaning.
Yes, she said, I do. With all my heart. For ever.
Slowly, Kong lowered his hand and set her down beside Legolas.
When they reached the western edge of the plain, just before they entered the narrow pass that would take them, through the rocks, to the forest and thence to the great wall of the city, Eowyn looked back and, for a few moments, watched the small, solitary figure crossing the empty grassland, making his way home.