"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 hubbub. "Aragorn!"

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 Eowyn.

"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 in that?"

"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 her—one hand on her lower back, the other on her arm—and steadied her, and, for a split second, their eyes—hers full of tears—met.

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 than this."

Aragorn stopped walking. "What do you mean?"

"You cannot have both, mellon nín. You must choose."

"I have never encouraged Eowyn."

"She is lonely—vulnerable—Aragorn. 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 mortal, Legolas."

"Do you think I do not know that? But so are you. And you are betrothed to an eldar."

"Arwen has a choice—although 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," replied Aragorn.

Legolas shook his head, beset by images of what the orcs would do to the women—to the Shieldmaiden—if the warriors fell.

"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 swords—as 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?"

"Of course."

"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 for us."

"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 what?"

"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."

"Thank you."

Their eyes met.

Legolas drew her closer—there 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..." He faltered.

"Must what, my lord?"

"You must kill your charges before you let them be taken."

There was a moment of silence—a 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," he said.

"You are not alone in that, my lord," she said. "Men are so arrogant—keeping 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 table—letting crockery and silverware slide to the floor—and 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 too many."

"Send word for the women and children to make for the mountain pass," said Aragorn, decisively. "And barricade the entrance!"

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 meet them."

"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 sobbing—one 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."

"Be careful."

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 mercy—that 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...

She waited.

Suddenly the dull sheen of black armour—a filthy breast plate—appeared 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 now—five, perhaps six of them, were closing in on her—and there were more behind.

They must not pass.

She waited until the first orc was almost in striking distance then, with her sword slightly lowered—and not needing to feign the fear in her eyes—she 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 with men.

The rohirrim rode into Helm's Deep, victorious.

Legolas watched Aragorn swing from his saddle, saw the Shieldmaiden—splashed with Orcs' blood—throw 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.


He saw Aragorn's expression




Contents page

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Back to Chapter 1

Chapter 1

Ai, hiril velui … 'Oh, sweet lady'.
I'm sure you already know all the subtitles by heart:
Boe a hyn: neled herain dan caer menig! … And they should be: 300 against 10.000!
Si beriathar hýn ammaeg nâ ned Edoras … They have a better chance defending themselves here than in Edoras.
Nedin dagor hen ú-'erir ortheri … They cannot win this fight.
Natha daged dhaer … They are all going to die.