"We will place the reserves along the wall,"
said Aragorn, looking up at the battlements. "They can support
the archers from above the gate."
Legolas followed his friend through the milling crowd. "Aragorn,"
he pleaded, "you must rest. You are no use to us half-alive..."
"My lord!" A woman's voice emerged from the general
To the elf's surprise, Aragorn immediately turned back to speak
to her. And, although Legolas tried to busy himself helping Gimli
direct the stream of villagers to the safety of the caves, he
could not help his elven ears overhearing their conversation.
"I am to be sent with the women into the caves," said
"That is an honourable charge."
"To mind the children," she said, desperately, "to
find food and bedding when the men return. What renown is there
"My lady," said Aragorn, gently, "a time may come
for valour without renown. Who then will your people look to in
the last defence?"
"Let me stand at your side."
"It is not in my power to command it."
"You do not command the others to stay!" she cried,
passionately, "They fight beside you because they would not
be parted from you. Because they love you."
There, thought Legolas. She has said it. And he
waited, his heart frozen in his chest, for Aragorn's reply, but
it never came.
"I am sorry," said the woman. She pushed past Aragorn
and stumbled into the crowd, and Legolas caught herone hand
on her lower back, the other on her armand steadied her,
and, for a split second, their eyeshers full of tearsmet.
Ai, hiril velui, he thought, and squeezed her arm, gently,
but anger flared in her eyes, and she straightened her arm and
held it rigid, silently ordering him to let her go.
And, the moment he released her, she ran away, with the women
and children, into the caves.
"I have no time to rest, Legolas."
"That is not what I was going to say. I was going to say:
you must decide."
"Decide?" Aragorn was on the move again, checking the
fortifications. Legolas followed him.
"She deserves better than this. They both deserve better
Aragorn stopped walking. "What do you mean?"
"You cannot have both, mellon nín. You must
"I have never encouraged Eowyn."
"She is lonelyvulnerableAragorn. The smallest
gesture from you raises her hopes."
"Must I be cruel to her?"
"You must be honest with her. Even if Arwen has left
Middle Earth, your heart will never be free to love Eowyn. Not
as she deserves. She needs"
Aragorn's eyes widened. "You..." he said. "You
are in love with her." Legolas looked away. "She is
"Do you think I do not know that? But so are you. And you
are betrothed to an eldar."
"Arwen has a choicealthough I do not wish it for her,
she can choose to be mortal. You cannot."
Legolas glanced towards the caves. "No. But I do have a
choice," he said. "A different one."
"Farmers, farriers, stable boys," said Aragorn, quietly.
"These are no soldiers."
"Most have seen too many winters," Gimli agreed.
"Or too few," said Legolas. "Look at them. They
are frightened; I can see it in their eyes." In his anguish
he slipped naturally into his own language. "Boe a hyn:
neled herain... dan caer menig!"
"Si beriathar hýn ammaeg nâ ned Edoras,"
Legolas shook his head, beset by images of what the orcs would
do to the womento the Shieldmaidenif the warriors
"Aragorn," he said, "nedin dagor hen ú-'erir
ortheri. Natha daged dhaer."
But Aragorn mistook his fear. "Then I shall die as
one of them!" he said, angrily, and walked away.
Legolas, unused to conflict with humans, went to follow. But
Gimli, who was more experienced in such matters, caught his arm.
"Let him go, lad," he said. "Let him be. It will
soon blow over."
Sensing her presence in the armoury, Legolas raised his eyes.
"Lady Eowyn," he said, "what are you doing here?"
"Is Lord Aragorn...?" She looked around the chamber.
"He has just popped out for a moment, lass," said Gimli.
"Good," said Eowyn. "I mean..." She cleared
her throat. "I need swordsas many as I can get."
She opened a chest bearing the royal crest, took out a broadsword,
evidently made for her, and strapped it around her waist. Then
she looked up at Legolas. "There are at least ten women in
the caves who have been trained to fight. If the orcs should break
through the door..."
"I understand, my lady," said Legolas.
"You will help me?"
"They must be light, and... And I will need help carrying
them," she admitted.
Legolas turned to the dwarf. "Gimli?"
"Aye," said the dwarf, investing the word with a whole
gamut of meaning. Legolas smiled at him gratefully.
"We will both help, Lady Eowyn," said Legolas.
Gimli set the weapons chest on the cave floor and straightened
up, rubbing his back. He patted Eowyn's arm. "Good luck lass.
We had better be getting back, lad," he said to Legolas.
"Aragorn will have calmed down by now. He will be looking
"I will join you in a moment, Gimli," said Leoglas.
The dwarf gave him a searching glance. Then, with a brief bow
to Eowyn, he left the cave.
"Thank you," said Eowyn. She smiled up at him. "And
I am sorry."
"For my behaviour earlier, on the wall. I was angry with
someone else and you bore the brunt of it."
Legolas shook his head. "It was nothing híril
nín; I had forgotten it."
Their eyes met.
Legolas drew her closerthere was something he needed to
say: "If they break through the door, yours will be the heaviest
burden of all. If they break through, you must..."
"Must what, my lord?"
"You must kill your charges before you let them be taken."
There was a moment of silencea silence so profound that
Legolas could hear it, filling his ears
"I know," she said, gravely. "All the women
know it. It is why we need the swords."
Dear Valar. "I have underestimated you my lady,"
"You are not alone in that, my lord," she said. "Men
are so arrogantkeeping able women from battle, but
condemning them to far worse horrors here below. Valour without
renown! Let them kill their own children!"
"Oh, my lady," cried Legolas, "I pray it will
not come to that!"
Another long moment passed between them. Then, "Lord Gimli
is waiting," she said, softly. "And Aragorn will be
looking for you."
"The fortress is taken," said Theoden, in despair.
"It is over."
Aragorn dropped the bench he and Legolas were carrying and rounded
on the king.
"You said this fortress would never fall while your men
defended it. They still defend it," he said. "They have
died defending it!" He looked from Theoden to Gamling
and back. "Is there no other way for the women and children
to get out of the caves?"
Behind him, Legolas, still helping build the barricade, seized
a tableletting crockery and silverware slide to the floorand
rushed back to the door with it.
"There is one passage," said Gamling. "It leads
into the mountains. But they will not get far. The Uruk Hai are
"Send word for the women and children to make for the mountain
pass," said Aragorn, decisively. "And barricade the
Gamling acknowledged the order with a brief nod.
"So much death," muttered Theoden. "What can men
do against such reckless hate?"
"Ride out with me," said Aragorn. "Ride out and
"For death and glory..."
"For Rohan. For your people."
"Yes," said Theoden, his spirit rising once more. "Yes!
The Horn of Helm Hammerhand shall sound in the Deep one last time."
"The doors! The doors!" cried several voices.
"They are breaking through!"
Children were crying, women sobbingone distraught woman
grabbed Eowyn and held her tight. The Shieldmaiden extricated
herself gently, handing the woman to one of her friends.
"There is a passage into the mountains," she said to
a fellow warrior, "do you know where it starts?"
"Take everyone down to the entrance, and start sending the
women and children through. Tell the others"she meant
the other Shieldmaidens"to prepare themselves for the
worst, but to do nothing until I give the signal."
"What are you going to do, my lady?"
"Defend the door."
Eowyn squeezed her arm. "Go!" Then she drew her sword
and advanced towards the cave mouth, flitting from rock to column,
keeping to the shadows.
Are they already inside? she wondered. Can I sense
them? Or is it merely fear that is making my heart pound?
As she neared the cave mouth, she heard the wooden door splinter,
but a grotesque shadow, splashed across the wall ahead, told her
that at least one orc had already entered.
"May the gods aid me," she whispered. "And may
the elf's prayer be granted..."
Sword raised, she placed her back to a column of stone and lay
in wait. She knew that she must be swift and silent; she knew
that she must find her enemy's weakness and strike without mercythat
much her training had drilled into her.
But how she would stand up when the moment came, she did not
know. In the conscious part of her mind she was chanting, over
and over, Orc, orc, orc, Aragorn, Aragorn, and then, because
'Aragorn' was too long for a battle cry, Elf, elf, elf...
Suddenly the dull sheen of black armoura filthy breast
plateappeared before her eyes; she spotted its weakness
(at the neck), brought up her sword, and struck: "ELF!"
The orc's yellow teeth snarled, his black blood spurted; Eowyn
thrust again and he fell, almost taking her with him. Shoulders
screaming with the strain, she twisted her sword, pulled it out,
and raised it to deal with the next orc.
"ELF!" She slashed his throat and watched him fall, clasping
his wound, his last breath bursting through the ragged cut in
spurts, like fiendish laughter.
Eowyn swallowed hard. Her belly had turned to water.
Orcs and Uruk Hai were swarming in nowfive, perhaps six
of them, were closing in on herand there were more behind.
They must not pass.
She waited until the first orc was almost in striking distance
then, with her sword slightly loweredand not needing to
feign the fear in her eyesshe began to retreat, drawing
them deeper into the cave, where she knew the passage narrowed,
and the walls would help her.
The leading orc was so confident he did not even raise his sword
until it was too late.
ELF! She struck when instinct told her it was time, watching
her enemy's bloodlust turn to fear as she sliced through his throat,
almost severing his spine.
And then her entire world contracted to a patchwork of glaring
eyes, snarling teeth, chinks in armour and spurting blood.
"ELF," she shouted, "ELF, Yaaargh—ELF!"
"We are too late! They have already broken in!"
At last, a familiar voice pierced her battle-trance.
"Here," she cried. "Over here! Help me!"
Moments later, the soldiers had cut their way to her and, for
the first time in her life, the Shieldmaiden was fighting side-by-side
The rohirrim rode into Helm's Deep, victorious.
Legolas watched Aragorn swing from his saddle, saw the Shieldmaidensplashed
with Orcs' bloodthrow herself into his arms, saw Aragorn's
expression as he held her.
You cannot have them both, Aragorn, he thought.
And you are not being fair to her.
But he turned his back on them and went to find Gimli.