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Thread: Not Lightly Do the Leaves of Lórien Fall

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You create suspense beautifully, sepdet. I am enjoying this story immensely!
No such luck I'm afraid. Yes, this is Kiwi Tolkien, but I'm postponing the Arwen Problem for a while.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

And yet all efforts were vain. Gimli and Aragorn had slain dozens before the gates were sealed. Legolas had hauled them to safety over the battlements, but that safety was short-lived. Uruk-hai filled the Deep, they covered the wall, and ladders and grappling hooks were thudding against the ramparts. Some overshot their mark and fell into the bailey, crashing down like the toss-stones of mountain giants, while others slammed into men and boys, striking them from the parapet with deadly force. Legolas, having gleaned damp arrows from the quiver of a slain archer, stood over the gate adding his share to the dwindling rain of bolts and spears. He managed to sever a cable that was being used to pull up one of the orc-laden siege-towers. But there were three others still coming when that one crashed full-length across the enemy host below, and in spite of the ragged cheer from the men on the ramparts, he might just have well have tried to harvest a field with a fishhook. Scant minutes later, the causeway gate had burst asunder, orcs were pouring over the battlements, and the last living defenders were racing for the doors to the inner keep. Legolas spent the dead man’s arrows covering their retreat.

So elves and men were bottled up in six-foot walls of stone. There was no way out of the inner keep and tower save through the caves, and from them only a few narrow tunnels wormed their way back into the hills. Such routes afforded scant hope, for there was little chance the orcs would not follow any who fled, once the doors of the Hornburg had given way. Th’oden’s warriors set spears and swords aside and did their best to brace this final barrier. Elven archers stood behind them with bows trained between their shoulders, watching for any crack in the straining wood. Again and again, the doors that Aragorn had struggled to push open on his return now shuddered and boomed with the heavy blows of unseen enemies. The one ray of hope left was that the stairs and inner ring wall of the bailey made the use of a battering ram more difficult in its narrow confines. Yet such contrivances of men could only delay, not deny the siege’s outcome. Helm’s Deep had been built as stoutly as the mountain on which it stood, but even the land could not hold back the sea when the seas rose.

At such an hour men despaired, and even the hearts of elves were grim and cold. Aragorn and Th’oden and what few of the king’s household remained stood at the back of the darkened hall taking counsel, but there was little to debate. The king’s mind was already half with his son. He had come this far on love for his people, and now he could no longer pretend that he could defend them.

’Ride out with me,’ Aragorn was urging, his voice clear and certain even over the din of the assault. ’Ride out to meet them! Now is the hour for the Eorlingas to come forth behind the banner of their king. What was it you told me? ’At least we shall make such an end as may be worth a song, if any are left to sing of it.’’ His gaze shifted to the gray light filtering down through high narrow window-slits over the doors. Dawn was coming on.

Legolas straightened, the fierce resistance of his bowstring suddenly nothing in his hands. It was not his friend he heard speaking, but a lord of men. No, not only a leader, but an archer, with the whole of the Hornburg suddenly become for him a bow. Would Th’oden let himself be pushed by the D’nadan this time?

’If any are left,’ Th’oden echoed under his breath, quietly enough that perhaps only elves could hear it.

Somewhere beneath their feet were caves of breathtaking beauty, Gimli had said, glittering with hundreds of torches that played across silver-flecked stone pillars and wide pools of water. Those pools had been mirror-still since the world began, but they must have trembled often during the long night, when even the bones of the Hornburg shook. Whether or not their king rode forth, hundreds of women and children down there would soon die, even those with swords like ’owyn, listening to every thud and groan above them with grim helplessness. Outside the bodies of their kin and loved ones, many old or far too young, were piled among the corpses of enemies. The orcs would be hacking the bodies of the elves they hated. A few riders flying in the face of a storm would be worth little to any of these victims.

Legolas kept his eyes on the doors. The men had braced and buttressed them with long wooden benches and tables from the feast-hall, but between the gaps of makeshift beams, he could see cracks getting longer and wider. Soon his arrows would have a mark. There was a scrape at his elbow and the dwarf’s hoarse breathing; Gimli had returned from sharpening his axe.

’He’s right, my lord,’ the dwarf said stoutly. ’Better to meet them head-on than to be trapped in our own tomb.’

’Will you join the last ride of the Eorlingas, Master Dwarf?’ the king asked. His men exchanged glances, shifted their feet.

There was a comfortingly familiar clink as Gimli patted his favored weapon. ’No, but leave me a few orcs for sport, if you’ve any to spare. I will follow on foot, where I have room to swing my axe.’

Th’oden raised his chin, following Aragorn’s gaze towards the high window. ’Nay, Gimli son of Gl’in,’ the king said softly. ’I have a different task for you.’

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The doors broke and fell. Guttural cries of pent-up rage muffled the death-rattle of tortured wood and stone. The orcs burst into the king’s hall. At the far end waited Th’oden, Aragorn, Legolas, Gamling and the chiefs of Edoras, all of them mounted on horses that fretted and stamped.

Forth Eorlingas!

Straight through the mass of astonished orcs they galloped, out into the bailey where the black banners of Saruman flapped over walls that no other foe had passed, down the wide stairs to the splintered gate and out, and into the column of orcs streaming up the causeway. The riders swept aside those in their path, slew and slew, although their swords made barely a dent in the much-thinned but still vast sea of orcs. Down the causeway they rode, seeking nothing save deaths well-earned. As Th’oden led the charge, high above in the top of the tower, the ancient horn of Helm Hammerhand boomed out in a growing swell of thunder. Gimli was making the mountains sing a somber dirge for the last ride of the Rohirrim. Some of the orc-companies actually gave ground, not just before the ire of cornered prey suddenly turning upon its attacker, but fearing the horn itself. Helm! Helm is arisen! called the Rohirrim inside and outside of the keep. High overhead, the peaks of the mountains were cutting through the last wisps of cloud from the previous night’s storm.

Yet the banner of the king did not founder, and few deaths came to those who followed it. The causeway and the Deeping Coomb lay in gray shadow, but high above on the mountain’s limb a white rider was silhouetted against the pale golden dawn. Gandalf had returned. With him were ’omer and Erkenbrand and all the mounted warriors of the Third Mark and the Westfold. With an answering shout they poured down like a river unleashed, sweeping upon the black host. Orcs cowered in the blinding light of the Grey Pilgrim, grey no longer. Caught between the vice of Th’oden and Gandalf, ’omer and Aragorn, those orcs who were not slain by sword and spear were trampled flat.

Helm’s Deep had held.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

In the light of a day few hoped to see, the survivors searched for those who had not. ’omer’s men were relieving the sentries. The night’s garrison had retired to the keep to sleep, bind wounds, or die in the arms of loved ones in the caves below. The old king slept in the Hornburg, his dreams less troubled than they had been in years, despite the blood of his people on the stones outside. Aragorn and even Gimli had gone down to well-earned rest.

Legolas was walking on the ruined battlements, gathering arrows and looking for elves. Most of the work of clearing away the wreckage was being done by the women of Rohan. He saw few who wept openly as they bore the dead away one by one. He crossed the garth slowly, picking his way around rubble, discarded weapons and missiles, and hideous twisted forms of orcs. Few but fair among them were strewn his own folk, foresters who but for last night might have lived all the ages of the world. Many had been mangled, hacked, half-eaten in the brief time that orcs had gained this ground. The grievous sight of them lodged itself somewhere in Legolas’ heart and spread out within him, cool sorrow becoming a part of his bones.

The living Galadhrim were here also, somberly gathering up their comrades. Some of the women were helping, although they gave their guests silent and fearful glances. The women bore away weapons, armor, what orcs they could move, and any men that had fallen from the keep’s walls high above. They labored to make room for the elves but were careful not to touch them. Legolas favored those he passed with a kind glance.

He began to sing quietly when he reached the small company of elves searching the ruins of the Deeping Wall. Humans in the garth below halted where they were, dazed, and cast about for the source. Legolas’ folk nodded to him as he came among them, some taking up the lament. Song born in starlight before the rising of the sun now rose from the Deep, and the Hornburg shivered with a music very different from that of horns.

One by one L’rien’s fallen were found and borne away on the cloaks of their comrades. Haldir was discovered last of all, and only when a great orc-banner and a few shields had been flung down from the wall. He lay full-length along the groove behind the parapet, with eyes closed and hands folded over his sword; a cloak from one of his fallen neighbors had been cast over him. Nothing marred him but the wounds that had killed him. Timdaur, the grim elf who now led them in Haldir’s place, questioned everyone closely, but no one knew who had done this. Aragorn had barely fled in time, as Legolas well knew, and he and his two friends had been the last to reach the keep alive.

It was a grievous moment, for R’mil Haldir’s younger brother had come with them, and knelt a long time beside his sibling. The whisper of Haldir’s name and then a hush spread out across the Deep, when the Galadhrim raised their leader and began to descend the stairs. R’mil led them. Legolas and Timdaur walked behind. But as they stepped around an orc with one of his own arrows buried in the shoulder-joint, Legolas remembered something. Number thirty-five, his last L’rien-arrow.

’Timdaur,’ he whispered. ’Aphadathon’ nad nu hen.

The other elf paused and glanced down at the massive Uruk sprawled face-first in the act of coming over the parapet. He nodded to Legolas silently and left him there.

(I’ll follow’ something’s under this.)
No problem Nessa, I'm always happy to help. Wink Smilie
I really enjoyed (thanks !!!!! Peredhil) this >>>>more more more please ;-)
A another bit of the tale wonderfully told. Yet it saddens my heart even more to learn that the number of Elven warriors going to their doom in that forthcoming battle was one thousand elves rather than just the two hundred that I surmised from seeing the movie but once. Would that PJ had kept them rightfully in defense of Lothl’rien and left the saving of Helm's Deep to Treebeard's Huorns. Oh the Elvenity. Orc Sad Smilie
I first wrote two hundred. Then I watched the movie twice more so I could write this well. I looked all along that vast wall, and the Deep behind it, filled with archers.

Too many. It was far more than two hundred. Sad Smilie

I could never find the faintest toehold or foothold on the vast mountain of Tolkien, and never dared touch it until Jackson chipped a few cracks in the wall. Oddly enough, PJ's bull in a china shop tendencies have helped me write. But I can't blame him for all of it.

May you forgive my Muse her tresspasses, and enjoy this at least half as much as I did writing it. I've got to tag along at PJ's heels for a few chapters before I can grab what I need and go, so please bear with me!

[Edited on 4/21/03 by sepdet]
Yes, an interesting piece, sepdet.

The only thing that I could not understand is the absence of Aragorn. In the movie, he had returned to Helm's Deep before Haldir arrived - remember the bit where he actually hugs the very surprised elf?

And if I might make a suggestion: Keep the whole thing from the point of view of Gimli. It will work even better, I think - it gives us an additional insight into the dwarf's perceptions that we don't get from the movie. I would be interested to read Gimli's response to the death of the elves.

Keep it up! Big Smile Smilie
Ach! I did not think of that! I did not have Gimli's response to it, being chiefly concerned with how Aragorn could reconcile having led Elves to doom. Hmm. Well, I suppose I did cover it a little. Maybe I can tweak that conversation; thank you. Smile Smilie

I've actually finished it up to the hunt across Lebennin, although there's always room for improvement. So it's too late for me to write it all from Gimli's perspective. I was using the old trick of having the main character not be the one who opens the play. This is a Legolas fanfic. But if one honors Tolkien at all, that essentially makes it a Gimli fanfic too, since they work as a unit.

Changing Aragorn's arrival was another "what if?" which, in retrospect, may not have been worth disconcerrting the reader. I felt the movie didn't address the awkward situation before Aragorn's arrival, when Gimli and Legolas were preparing to fight a battle not their own. While I was at it, I threw Haldir into the same predicament. Also I needed the OC in the back to see how Legolas deals with the death of friends.

There is good and bad in this story, I warn you: there are certain caveats on my "Writer's Checklist" that I have blatantly disregarded. I wrote this to entertain, but it's also a bit of venting (as so much writing is) since my life right now outside of Tolkien is not a happy one.

Hopefully the bad will be outweighed by the good. So far, in places where I've posted more of the story, readers seem to think I've managed it. Smile Smilie
... I warn you: there are certain caveats on my "Writer's Checklist" that I have blatantly disregarded.
Isn't that another mark of the good writer, as opposed to the hack, that they don't always follow the formula, but know when to bend the rules to maximum effect, while minimizing the number of these occasions so as not to appear slickery?

Of course I might not recognize great writing, but I can usually recognize tripe, as those are the books that I usually end up reading. Elf With a Big Grin Smilie
That remains to be seen. Some rules of thumb bite you in the butt if you kick them in the teeth.

Please stand by while I do a little more cosmetic surgery on Peter Jackson before bidding him adieu. He did it to Tolkien, so I feel no guilt whatsoever. Wink Smilie

* * * * * * * *

Night was falling, and through its murk the watchers could begin to make out a red glow on the horizon which had nothing to do with sunset. Rain was ringing on mail and helm when a lone rider came trailing up the arching span of the causeway. It was not an elf, and there was no bright mail; the horse was without gear or harness, and the rider looked as if he had bathed in a sump. But this time the clamor was heard clear back into the heart of the citadel, where Th’oden was conferring with his captains. Legolas followed the shouting to the outer keep. For once the dwarf had beaten him, since Gimli had gone to hunt for armor while the elf sought a place for them among his people on the battlements. The elf paused on the lip of the ring-wall, tasting one of those rare mortal moments between now and now when the world could change utterly. He looked down. This time, Aragorn was there.
In spite of threats and chastisements, the dwarf seemed to be doing the man no worse harm than he had already suffered that day, so Legolas did not come down. There was little time for reunion. Aragorn strode for the citadel with Gimli trudging after. It showed something of the Ranger’s condition that he failed to notice the resolute elf planted before the doors to the inner keep, until Legolas blocked his way with a stern, ’Le abdollen.’ The elf held out his hand.
Aragorn broke into a ragged grin as he clasped it. He glanced down. The Evenstar glittered in a palm that was not fair but gnarled, filthy, and stained with dried blood. And that was where it belonged.
The man’s fingers closed tightly over it. ’Le hannon.
Only then did the elf smile, and Aragorn raised his eyes to meet the fierce affection in the gaze of a friend, one who knew the greatest treasure in Rohan now lay in Aragorn’s hand.
The world settled back into its proper place along with the jewel. Legolas fell into step beside him as if he had been there all along.
’Aragorn?’ said the elf quietly.
The man glanced at him.
Legolas shook his head. ’You look terrible.’
’Comely elf,’ Aragorn muttered under his breath, drawing a snort from Gimli. ’Next time, you can kiss my horse.’

* * * * * * * *

The doors of the king’s hall yielded to Aragorn’s shove and swung open with a ponderous groan. Th’oden, awaiting them with his captains, stood in full armor. Old Gamling was poised at his liege’s side with a mailed glove resting on his sword-hilt. A whisper passed around the stout-walled chamber: Aragorn. Their faces loosened with amazement as much as if their bedraggled visitor had come with the light of the Elendilmir shining from his brow, and the fair elf and sturdy dwarf that stationed themselves on either side of the portal were an everyday occurrence.
’What sorcery is this?’ the king marvelled, in the silence between the Ranger’s slow footfalls.
Aragorn crossed the length of the hall and bowed his head. ’Th’oden King. I arrive ahead of the host of Saruman, but they are hard on my heels. How are the defenses?’
Th’oden looked at him, dazed. ’I dreamed they were shouting the name of Th’odred. And when I realized my ears did not deceive me, I knew it was only the frayed hopes of my men, giving voice to a dream.’
’I am sorry.’ Aragorn raised his chin. ’Your son’s horse, Brego, found me, raised me, and bore me here needing no guidance. I owe him my life, and through him Th’odred. It was not my intent to come so honored.’
The eyes of the king hardened, taking in the sorry state of the Ranger’s attire, the layer of grime that could not be scoured away by river or rain, and his torn and bloody shoulder. He hardly cut a regal figure just now. ’If my son’s horse has a mind to bear you anywhere in Rohan,’ Th’oden said finally, ’who am I to oppose him? Also, your debt is paid.’
Aragorn turned at the flash of gold, as one other came into the king’s hall. This time it was his turn to gape. The bright elven-mail, sweeping mahogany bow spiralled with gold, and the gleaming swan feathers of the arrows nodding at the elf’s shoulder seemed unreal set against drab walls of rough-hewn stone. The one who bore them made the men of Th’oden’s household look like mere hobbits by comparison. The elf strode towards him with a glad expression, although his speech was grave. ’Our kinsman said you might not be coming. I am pleased he was mistaken.’
Mae govannen, mellon n’n... man angol hen?’ Aragorn forgot all decorum and embraced the elven captain, who suffered it good-naturedly.
Haldir answered in level tones. ’I come at Elrond’s bidding and Galadriel’s. We have not forgotten the Heir of Elendil or the Last Alliance, whose work is incomplete until our Enemy is vanquished for all time. The elves are with you, Aragorn.’
King Th’oden clapped a broad hand on the Ranger’s back. ’You’ve brought us that luck of yours on which the dwarf keeps harping, Lord Aragorn. Our defenses are strong indeed! Let them come.’

(Well met, my friend... What sorcery is this?)

Such simple moments belonged to another world.
Lightning clawed the sky, but it was a frozen tableau compared to the seething battle below. The sea of orcs stretched off into the night, a river of torches unquenched by the sparse hard drops of rain. Sheets of arrows arced overhead from the elves standing in the garth behind the wall. Up top all was a flurry of bodies, blood, weapons, snarling orcs hurtling down from ladders as fast as ladders and grappling hooks were hurled up, elves flashing with an economy of deadly motion, slicing through their most hated foes. And there was one formidable dwarf.
’Four!’ roared Gimli only yards away, slamming his axe through another orc-helm.
’I have twenty-three,’ Legolas sang out. Nothing touched the forest elf as he spun and danced on the narrow lip of stone, living in a different world from the slow-moving bodies of the orcs heaving around him. His knife spun and plunged into another chest, pulled out in a smooth arc, and alighted briefly in the scabbard tucked against his quiver, as he plucked another arrow and laid it to string. Two more orcs tumbled from the nearest scaling ladder, arrow-pierced. Knives and shafts flew in a complex rhythm as their owner cut his way through mortal danger with the fearlessness of his race. This was life. This was death. Two ends of the same blade.

Good, Sepdet. This section flows well, and is very readable.

I agree with Grondy about 'bending' the rules, just don't bend them too far! I think that your story may require an explanitary introduction, something like "This is how I think the movie should have read".

The only thing I had a real problem with was the word 'sump' as in "... and the rider looked as if he had bathed in a sump ...". The word seems out of place in a world where sumps are not yet invented. Maybe substitute "tar-pit" or "orc-pool" or even "midden" (sewage).

Otherwise, I am keen to read the rest of this passage. Big Smile Smilie
Sepdet, I just finished reading that piece you referred to in your journal.

For what it is worth, I think that your writing shows at least as much potential and skill.

But again, that is just my opinion, and I am hardly an expert. My comments were only meant as suggestions - please don't get discouraged on my account!

[Edited on 24/4/2003 by Allyssa]
Hey sepdet, i can say to you only this: It wounderfull at all in one way and in the other it isnt really nice *g*
Dont get me wrong, i like your writing style (I think I dont must repeat what Allyssa was saying) and I think you managed good to write this *new things from Jackson, its really good.
The thing what I dont like ? It is only the thema, I mean that it isnt really real, it cant be , but it is not important for your writing skill okay? And I can only say I am not very good at critic, in this way dont get me wrong, i engoit (sh... how I write this word?) to read it OKAY Bey then
Hmm. "Not really real" in that it's not following Tolkien, you mean.

It's an odd thing to do. Normally my fanfic (in other places) fills in parts that the writer alluded to but never wrote out. As I've probably said somewhere, I define fanfic as 1) setting an original story in someone else's universe or 2) casting their story in a new light.

I usually do 1 not 2, but here I start with 2 so I can get to 1. And specifically I'm using several of Jackson's #2s -- what if Elves played a larger role, for example.

Alyssa, I'm discouraged on my own account, because I've never seen anyone write a story like this which wasn't abysmal.I am trying to explore a few themes in Tolkien, but this could so easily fall flat if I'm not careful!

[Edited on 4/24/03 by sepdet]

[Edited on 4/24/03 by sepdet]
engoit (sh... how I write this word?)
You mean enjoyed? Smile Smilie
In the thick of melee, Legolas was abstractly aware of his own people about him, burning with an inner fire like the stars for which they were named, existing in a different plane almost from the races he had come to know in the Fellowship. He had learned respect for mortals whose courage was honed by fear. Their fighting was more akin to orc than elf: broad movements, finesse without grace, battle without beauty, seizing openings with economy however they came to hand. On so dark a night as this, their courage and skill would be sore tested, for without the eyesight of elves, they faced a nightmare struggle against shadows they could barely see. But the men of Rohan had the defense of the keep and the bailey behind the gate; on the Deeping Wall, Legolas was surrounded only by his own kind. His heart was leaping with the flash of the elven-blades beside him, the music of the bows of L’rien undaunted by the lashing rain, and the voices of his fair kindred raised in defiance not song. It awakened in him something that had slept since Rivendell, or perhaps even since the Battle of the Five Armies almost eighty years ago.
Yet Uruk snarls drowned out fair voices, and swift as they were, elves could not dodge arrows, nor did every orc-blade miss its mark. Another defender took the place of the last to fall. Legolas would not have noticed this one more than the rest, but the fighter was small, solidly built, more like one of the sons of men pressed into the desperate siege. He moved swiftly yet unhurriedly, using movement and space itself as if his sword were only an extension of that space. That was an elven trick. He had some knack for turning the treacherous footing, rain-slicked stones that made skidding easier than stopping, to his own advantage. Yet there was something wrong with him, for the force of his blows was weak, and his swordsmanship was more like Gimli’s hewing strokes than the controlled arcs of elven blade-work. The fighter’s face was familiar. But all this came to Legolas in a moment: his world was balanced between the twang of his bow and the edges of his blades.
Finally there was a lull as he cut through the last orc from the most recent attempt on the walls. The cries of men and orcs, the thud of more ladders hitting the ramparts, and the tumult and confusion of battle were suddenly more dissonant and jarring, now that the play of movement for the elf had briefly come to a standstill. The reek of torches, metal and oil, the living and the dying smote upon his senses. He took a breath through clenched teeth and nocked another arrow. At the same time he spared a concerned glance for the smaller fighter, to learn whether his neighbor was wounded, or whether the host of the Galadhrim had admitted inexperienced striplings into its ranks.
It was not a he, and Legolas had seen those intent blue eyes somewhere before. She looked up, fierce delight in the grin she flashed towards him before turning to meet another ladder bearing down on them. The leading orc was carved open between his knives and her sword, before its boots ever reached the flagstones.
’Lord Thranduilion,’ she said with a duck of her chin as she twisted her blade back, around, and down into the the face-grill of the next orc-head that popped over the wall. There was no time for a reply. Aragorn was shouting for Legolas, and a moment later the strange fighter was forgotten as the elf bent his bow to the D’nadan’s will. One shaft punched through the oncoming foe racing towards the foot of the wall below him, carrying a huge sputtering torch that shone with ominous light.
’Bring him down, Legolas!’ Aragorn cried. ’Dago hon!’
Two more arrows found their mark, but the dying creature refused to fall.
Elven hearts are not easily moved to frustration, so it was with detached resignation that Legolas watched his quarry stagger from view into a low culvert in the wall beneath their feet. He did not know what the burning brand portended, but he braced himself. The Deeping Wall exploded. With a shattering roar, huge slabs flew in all directions, and the parapet vanished almost to where he stood. Off to his right, Legolas saw the Ranger fall and strike hard on the stony yard far below.
’Aragorn!’ Gimli’s anguished shout on the opposite side of the breach spoke for both of them.
The dwarf simply hurled himself down from the battlements, even as the ruins of the wall came thundering back to earth along with broken men, bits of orc, armor, stone, wood and flame. The unleashed stream concealed both dwarf and man from Legolas’ eyes. Through it he could see the dark heaving shapes of orcs flinging themselves against the current, most falling and being carried away, but the strongest beginning to pour through the wall. Then Legolas spotted the swing of Gimli’s axe. The dwarf was all but submerged, wading in water and foes surging around him, keeping them back from the spot where the man had fallen. Aragorn’s luck still held; dazed but alive he was staggering to his knees.
An orc-shield skittered past Legolas’ feet towards the head of the stairway plunging down to the breach. He leapt and rode it down, sending arrows into the tumult around his friends. Living orcs were beaten back by the bodies of his victims, and at the bottom he kicked the shield into the throat of one more. To his right, Aragorn flung himself onto higher ground and turned to face the onslaught. Elf-arrows whistled around him, finding many marks in the postThreadIDe of orcs spilling through the wall. But Gimli had not followed him, and Legolas had his hands full with Uruk-hai at the foot of the stairs. The Ranger mustered the elves behind him for a counter-charge and met the influx of enemies head on, fighting his way to the side of the hard-pressed dwarf. Elves and Uruks clashed together in the rain, amidst the churning stream, on the ruins of the wall that was already lost. There was blood in the water. Bodies were falling down from above. This only spurred the elves to greater fury, battling with the cold swift precision of the first-born. But they were being pushed back, foot by foot, and every instant they were more outnumbered. Horns from the citadel sounded the retreat.
Gimli and Aragorn hewed a route towards the keep, making an opening for the Galadrim. Legolas, retreating in their wake, picked off what targets he could from the line of orcs swarming the stairs of the broken wall. He was running out of arrows. Aragorn was calling urgently up to Haldir, who was covering for his own people and had not yet left the battlements. ’Nan barad! Haldir, nan barad!’ Some of the elves were fighting their way down to the garth. Others, hemmed in, simply jumped from the heights to the Deep where the Uruk-hai were now pouring in. Out of the corner of his eye Legolas saw Haldir stagger, pull a cruel-looking knife out of his arm, and swerve towards the stairs just as an orc rose behind him to sink a sword into his back.
It was a sight the Mirkwood elf would later have time to mourn.
Unfortunately, Aragorn had also seen it and turned back with a cry. He dove through the ranks of orcs and gained the stairs, hacking and shoving foes over the side as he struggled to reach the captain of the Galadrim.
Gimli cursed at Legolas’ elbow; they had already reached the foot of the broad stairway leading up to the keep. The last of the elves were sprinting past them, some turning to shower arrows as they headed for the upper level and the defenses of the Hornburg. By now the ground between Gimli and Legolas and the wall was a mass of Uruk-hai.
’I know.’ The elf nocked an arrow and held it, covering Aragorn with disciplined concentration; there was no room for error. He had three shafts left. Gimli planted himself at the elf’s knees on the step below and added a few more orcs to his own score. For the moment, most of the Uruk-hai before them were dispatching the gravely wounded or scaling the wall to clear the few remaining defenders.
Aragorn had reached the dying captain. He stooped and pulled Haldir across his knees, oblivious to Th’oden shouting down to him from the bailey. Gimli was roaring out numbers while he slew. There now were none left alive in the garth save enemies, and these were beginning to converge upon the unlikely pair at the foot of the keep’s stairs, seeing new sport. For Legolas, however, none of this mattered. His mind and instincts were committed solely to the space around Aragorn, its radius defined by the length of one orc arm plus one sword. An Uruk-hai bounding over the uppermost three steps dropped with an arrow through its neck, and another coming over the parapet fell from sight with a gurgling cry. Legolas nocked his last arrow.
There were two or three elves left upon the wall, the small one among them, selling their lives as dearly as they could. But it would take a score of archers with full quivers to gain them any chance of escape, and there was nothing he could do for them. Enemies were pouring through the breach, up the stairs, over the parapet from ladders and siege towers. Gimli was still keeping them at bay’ he was not shouting his count any longer’ but any moment they would be overwhelmed. So would Aragorn. Legolas patiently held the feathers against his lips, waiting until the last instant to select his target from among far too many.
Aragorn, Tolo dad. I gaim aran ’-nestathar chery bain...
(Aragorn, come down. The hands of a king will not heal all wounds.)
Aragorn looked over the edge, seized the top of a ladder, and rode it down with a frenzied cry, crushing orcs below him as he came down. Legolas loosed his final arrow into the fray above, then unsheathed knives and joined Gimli in clearing a path for him. The three with the dwarf last of all raced for the Hornburg, up the long stairs, along the narrow parapet clinging to the cliff at the base of the tower, and into the bailey. Doors and portcullis slammed down behind them, sealing the outer ring-wall.
The three hunters exchanged grim glances.
’Not lightly do the leaves of L’rien fall,’ Legolas murmured, echoing something the Ranger had said during their long travels together.
There was a crash of breaking wood below them, and the stones beneath their feet shuddered. The causeway-gate was giving way. Aragorn gave a shout and charged down to the lower level, the courtyard behind the gate, where Th’oden’s spearmen were doing all within their power to fend off the orcs from the splintered beams.
Gimli grumbled under his breath. ’Curse his luck; you rabbits nearly left me behind back there.’
’The key is breathing,’ Legolas told him.
The dwarf snorted and headed after Aragorn.
When the elf heard the D’nadan’s offer to take a stand before the gate until men could brace it, Legolas turned back to join the other defenders on the parapet overlooking the causeway. His friends would need a means back inside unless they meant to stand before the doors until they were slain. And if that was their intent, he would need a way down to them.
While searching for a stout rope, Legolas finally remembered where he had last glimpsed the woman on the wall.
It had been the Fellowship’s first night in the hidden heart of L’rien. She had been perched in the graceful spiral of a hanging staircase that was cradled in the branches of a mallorn tree on the far side of the glade. Her knees were tucked against herself, arms and elven-cloak draped loosely around them; her face was in shadow. Every line of her body seemed to melt into the curve of the railings and the tree behind her, and if she’d had more height and grace, he might have mistaken her for one of the austere figures carved in wood that were suspended here and there in the forest. She had been leaning forward, listening to the lament for Mithrandir as if she were breathing it, utterly engrossed in the haunting echoes of the singing trees. While he was taking note of her, she had suddenly glanced down as if searching for something, and he’d caught the glint of blue eyes. At the time he had taken her for an elf-maid. Now he had strange doubts.
They did not matter any longer.
Aragorn and Gimli were fighting for their lives some twenty feet below him, and his quiver was spent. Orcs were falling off the causeway on every side, and even the fighting Uruk-hai, monstrous giants compared to the goblins they had dealt with in the past, were loathe to close with the enraged dwarf and grim-handed son of kings. Down in the Coomb itself, Legolas could see heavy machines being wheeled forward, ballistas carrying giant iron hooks instead of bolts, and behind them the orcs were assembling siege-towers on the ground. The screams of enemies and the dying hammered the walls like great fists. Yet some men still lived to defend the Hornburg, and his task was keeping it that way.
He needed more arrows.

Keep going Sepdet. It really reads well. I'm fascinated to know who Legolas has recognised.
I have a suspicion the mysterious woman is Arwen Big Smile Smilie .

I hope it is not Mary-Sue! Wink Smilie

Once again, it flows well, Sepdet. You step into Legolas' point of view excellently.
It's like one of those serials I used to watch on the TV as a kid... You just get to really good bit, and then it says, "continued next week." Keep it coming Sepdet.
I have rewritten this chapter and the next so many times, trying to atone for certain sins, that I fear the eraser marks are beginning to show.

I'll be gone through Monday, so I thought I'd better just slap it up and be done. Smile Smilie


Legolas twisted the arrow free and stood beside the wall, pondering the Uruk-hai where it lay sprawled over the battlement. He studied it with the dispassionate eye of a hunter sizing up a carcass to be butchered. A goblin he could throw one-handed, but the creatures of Saruman were of a different order from the vermin of the mountains. Foreboding told him he dared not simply roll it aside.

Crouching low, he began to work his hands underneath the stinking bulk, seeking leverage. One of the women clearing the wall-walk hurried over to aid him, although she could do little but support some of the weight until he wedged a knee under the brute’s chest and heaved upwards. It tipped over the parapet with a rattle of armor, striking the base of the wall below with a crash that echoed the din of the previous night’s battle. The sound also muffled the gasp of his impromptu helper, staring down in dismay at the forlorn figure which had lain pinned beneath it.

The fighter was pressed face-first against the joint of the wall and the walkway, left arm flung over her head, huddled like a mouse cowering under a root when the hawk flies past. Her sword, barely longer than his knives and less ornate, lay under her right elbow. Matted hair spilled out from under the rim of her helm and covered her ears. Although she was mostly hidden beneath her stained gray cloak, it was plain to him that she was mortal pewter, not elvish silver, as the saying went. She had the same sturdy frame as the hardy women of Rohan, although more compact in build, and her features were a little too broad, too rounded to be called ’elven’ even by humans who did not know the true meaning of the term. Yet the one helping him was fooled, at least until she knelt to turn the stranger over.

The Westfold-woman suddenly halted, hands hovering above the elven-mail blackened by the orc’s blood. She turned to Legolas in bewilderment, clearly in doubt whether this was some son of Rohan fallen from the bailey-wall above, or one of L’rien’s own. Only when he nodded permission did she resume her work, carefully easing the stranger onto her side, taking pains to touch the elven-mail as little as she might. There again the woman paused, taken aback by a face not so different from her own. The opaque glance she levelled in the elf’s direction was clearly accusatory. With gentle efficiency she began to gather the fallen fighter’s cloak around her. Legolas sighed and laid his hand against a begrimed cheek.

’Wait,’ he said quietly.

Startled, the woman yanked her hands away and shifted to make room for him. She watched warily as the elf probed for tangible signs of injury, cradling the smaller woman’s head and rocking it gently from side to side, searching his way down her spine, testing ribs with his fingers as best he could through scale mail. Her face was cool, but no as cold as the stones on which she lay. Legolas frowned. This seemed a small matter for Aragorn, but he did not wish to disturb his friend after so many toils. Hearing shallow breaths change from faint to certain, he realized there might be no need. He gestured to the waterskin the other woman carried, making signs for her to tend the stranger.

The woman nodded nervously and complied. She laved the stranger’s face and throat while Legolas seated himself on the parapet to wait. Meanwhile he set his quiver beside him to take an inventory of his mismatched arrows, keeping his mind off the grim signs of his people’s loss all around him. Prompted by a hunch, he cast his mind back to a ballad of Beleriand still sung by the Wood-elves on the northern border of his father’s realm.

Ir geil thinner F’riel tirn-ed: **
I fuin thind gwannol.
I aurlinn, aew goll, palan-
Nallant gaun lim a maeg.
Gelaidh dhuir, minuial vaidh,
In emlin gliriel.
Suith ring athrant, lain gwaew
Tr’ laiss dhyll reniol.

When stars faded, Firiel looked out:
the grey night was departing.
The dawn-singer, golden bird, from afar
crowed clear and shrill.
Trees were dark, dawn was pale,
the yellowhammers were cheeping.
a cool draught passed, a thread of air
through dusky leaves straying.

Na chenneth tirn i ’l’n ’alol
An i l’ i galad s’lol
Bo talf a lass; bo th’r ennas
I v’dh vith hilivren.
Or phain tail th’n fain athranner
A dad bendrath tinner;
Revianner cabel tr’ th’r
I g’r i v’dh beliol.

At the window she watched the gleam growing
Until the time of the light shining
on land and leaf; on grass there
the grey dew was glimmering.
Over floorboards her white feet crossed,
and down stairs they twinkled;
They wandered, leaping, through grass
that bore the spreading dew.

l 'l’n hammad th’n g’r viriath;
Norn e dad i h’r.
Be dulu garel delch dathren
A tirn i nen thinnol.
Heledir dannant dad be harn
Vi aglar thl’n dannol...

The hem of her gown held jewels;
She ran down to the river,
Holding as a prop a willow-wand,
and she watched the water glinting.
A kingfisher plunged down like a stone
in a blue flash falling...

He stopped. The stranger’s breathing had quickened at the sound of his voice. Now her eyes were squeezed shut, no longer simply closed. She gave a quiet sigh when he fell silent.

’Mandos,’ she muttered. ’Well, at least the music’s good.’

The woman tending her stirred at the sound of her voice, dazed.

Legolas chuckled in spite of the sober reminder. ’You are somewhat astray, Lady. That king’s hall lies many leagues away.’

There was a glitter behind her eyelashes; she was peering at the elf as if trying to make out a falcon’s silhouette against the sun. When the one tending her started to slip an arm around her, the girl shook her head emphatically.

’Can you move?’ he asked, voicing the other woman’s concern.

H’r Haldir?’ the stranger countered in a hoarse whisper. ’Gwaith n’n?

Bemused by her choice of words, Legolas replied, ’’Your people’ have taken him down to the citadel. He was defiled by no hands, thanks to yours.’

’Mortal as they are.’ It was just as well he had elven-hearing, for her voice was nearly as faint as her breath. Yet Legolas had the sense that this was due more to habit than hurt. And there was something disconcertingly familiar about her phrasing.

Im ’-charnannen,’ she added, answering his query belatedly.

’She is unhurt,’ Legolas repeated, translating for the woman who was observing this exchange with nervous fascination. The Westfolder paused, eying him doubtfully, then inclined her head with an ironic smile that was barely more intelligible than the awkward curtsey she dropped in his direction before slipping away. Evidently she had taken his courteous nod for a dismissal. Soon there was an animated, whispered conversation at the foot of the stairs, as some of the other women gathered around to pepper her with questions.

The young swordswoman, meanwhile, had braced an elbow against the stones and pushed herself to a sitting position, squinting and shielding her eyes with a fist. She scanned the blood-spattered parapet where Haldir had fallen. Nearby was a heap of chipped swords, helms, quivers and torn cloaks, gilded bows whose graceful horns were twisted or snapped, and the bronze leaves of elven-mail that lay scattered like the shed scales of dragons, glittering in the sun. The girl’s shoulders drooped. Her face was quiet, but it was the calm of a soul struggling to keep pain at arm’s length.

Legolas stepped down and retrieved the waterskin, holding it out to her.

The stranger glanced up and favored him with a startled smile. ’Why, I should hide under orcs more often.’ She took it shyly and drank by measured sips, as if conserving water for a journey. Her gaze drifted out over the wreckage of battle, across the Coomb and back to the Deep, up to the tower shining like a spur of flint in the pale sun. Nothing down here was unmarred by the debris from the explosion and the bodies and weapons of the fallen, but above all the mountains sparkled, massive and snow-capped and untroubled by the goings-on at their feet.

’So,’ she said, tucking a knee against herself, ’What was the final count?’

Legolas regarded her gravely. ’Helm’s Deep stands. But we lost’’

She drew a sharp breath and held up her hands as if to fend off a blow. ’Too many, I know. I wasn’t speaking of that.’

The elf tilted his head. ’What, then?’

Giving him a shrewd look, she mimed with a finger the soaring flight of an arrow coming up from below and sailing past her shoulder, towards the spot where the Uruk-hai had lain. ’I trust the prince bested the dwarf.’

’Forty-one and forty-two,’ he replied, amused. ’I lost.’

Blue eyes flew open at the elf’s admission. ’Strange wizardry! Ah, but he is Gimli Lockbearer, isn’t he? Gulaur daur vin ent Galadriel.

(Great is the virtue in the gifts of Galadriel.)

Legolas shrugged, retrieving his quiver and throwing it over his shoulder. ’My bow is also a gift of the Lady.’

The small woman pursed her lips. ’Then, Master,’ she insisted, ’I should not gainsay my betters, yet I fear you have miscounted.’ With that, she set a hand upon the wall and hauled herself to her feet. ’But I am sure King Thranduil’s son has matters of greater import than answering the questions of a f’riel who overslept. Thank you, caun fael, for fetching me the sun.’

He raised an eyebrow. ’It was no trouble. But as for answers, is that really your name?’

She reddened. ’Oh! No, it’s Haleth. But I wasn’t mocking your singing, my lord. So they call me.’

He studied her thoughtfully. ’I see. Well, Haleth, I am going down to join them, if you care to follow.’

’I’’ she paused, looking over her shoulder. Her voice trailed off as her gaze fell upon the castoffs of L’rien, waiting to be carted away like common refuse. ’I think I shall glean arrows for my company, unless our orders are to march soon.’

’Not that I have heard.’ Legolas observed that in spite of the lightness of her speech, there were tears at war with her eyes, and that she was in danger of losing the battle. Having come to know some of the peculiarities of mortal pride, the elf simply gestured a polite farewell and headed for the stairs.

As he descended, he saw her turn and pace slowly towards the jumbled pile. The young woman stooped, took up a long arrow whose swan-feathers gleamed like the snow on the mountains, and turned it slowly in her fingers, head bowed. Just as he dropped below the level of the parapet, a soft elvish prayer drifted down to him, jerking his memory back to the eaves of Fangorn and that moment when it seemed that he and his companions had doubly failed, first losing Boromir, and then the hobbits they had chased halfway across Rohan to save.

Hiro hyn h’dh vi Valannor.

(May they find peace in Valinor)

With those words, at last, the elf realized what it was about the young woman’s speech that had been nagging at him. Her voice matched her face: it was the plain, broad accent of Rhovanion, spoken daily in the open-air markets of Dale and the feast-halls of the Beornings. The rhythm of her phrasing, however, was markedly elvish, and it spilled over even into the common tongue. It was not Mirkwood’s passionate beat nor the rolling eloquence of Imladris. Like yarn from a spinning wheel, her words unfolded at the stately pace of L’rien, whose inhabitants lived and spoke in a different world. It was like the stalking of a kitten, unconsciously imitating the measured footfalls of a lion.

** See [url=]"The Last Ship" ~ I have adjusted the wording so that the meter in Elvish might plausibly be sung.

A few hours later, Legolas sat upon a stack of shields in the armory, somberly reporting to Aragorn all that he had noted in the battle and after. Timdaur was there too, standing mutely by the door with arms folded. The new captain was a very different sort of elf from Haldir, grim and wary like Legolas’ own father, but his hair was silver and his features were sharp and lean as the prow of a ship. Gimli, meanwhile, was quite unaware how much irritation he was causing their guest, sitting propped in a corner fine-tuning his axe with a whetstone. Aragorn leaned against a rack of spears, facing his friends.

’... and I guess they have some two thousands all told, including ’omer’s men,’ Legolas concluded.

Gimli whistled. ’Gandalf came none too soon,’ he observed, glancing soberly towards the elven captain.

Aragorn took a long draw from his pipe as he digested Legolas’ account and Timdaur’s even more painful news: a fifth of the Galadhrim remained. He had spoken little since he and Gimli had gone down to pay their respects to the fallen. ’Some must stay. Rohan’s folk still need a garrison.’

Legolas was silent, although he suspected that any garrison they could muster would not be enough to defend the Hornburg against another attack.

Gimli looked up from his axe. ’Do you think Rohan will ride to Gondor’s aid?’

Aragorn raised his head like a horse straining at the chalk-line before a race. They knew he yearned to be in Minas Tirith already, to prove or fail all the hopes that had been invested in him. ’Th’oden will ride,’ he said. ’The muster at Edoras has already begun. But it will take many days for the Riddermark to set out in force.’

’They say Gondor is not yet besieged,’ the dwarf pointed out gruffly.

Aragorn smiled. ’I cannot see the White City from here, Gimli. But the beacon-fires are not yet lit. There is hope.’ He turned to Timdaur, expression sobering again. ’So that is how we stand, my lord. You now know the mettle of Men, and we know beyond all dread what sacrifice the Wood has given to secure the muster of Rohan. It may well prove the arrow that finds the chink in Sauron’s strategies. When you return home and look to L’rien’s defenses, you will go with our deepest gratitude. I wish I could do or say more.’

Timdaur shook his head, face grave as one of the carved faces of the Argonath. ’Nay, Lord Aragorn; the Alliance’s obligation is not dissolved by a single skirmish. Sauron must be defeated for all Ages, and it is for you to lead this struggle. You need weapons that will not break. Haldir understood this, as do I.’

Gimli let out a quiet huff of respect.

Aragorn bowed his head, necessity warring with regret. ’Very well. Do any more elf-hosts come from the Wood or Rivendell?’

’Lord Elrond and the Lady were taking thought to that when we marched,’ stated Timdaur, ’but I do not know the issue of their counsel.’

The Ranger rubbed a finger over the white tree embossed upon the vambrace he had kept as a memento of Boromir. ’I do not think horses can be found for all of you, although I know the Riddermark will provide you with every one they have.’

The elf nodded. ’Then we will take what horses the Rohirrim can spare, and the rest under R’mil will bear our wounded back to L’rien ere the lands are closed against us.’

Aragorn sought his eyes. ’For what little it is worth, his brother’s name is the first among Elves to be woven into the songs of this land, and he will be remembered as long as Rohan stands. Please tell him this.’

Timdaur bowed.

When he had departed, Aragorn turned back to his friends. ’Gandalf means to pay a visit to Saruman before we take the road east.’

’Is that wise?’ Gimli asked, astonished. ’Does he think Isengard emptied of every orc? And will Sauron wait while we toss pebbles at the walls of Orthanc?’

Legolas said nothing, but the dwarf clearly echoed the elf’s thought. He fixed keen eyes upon the man.

’Gandalf has some errand there, and bade me bring the king. I am sure there is good reason.’ Aragorn closed his fist tightly over his sword-hilt.

’There are the hobbits,’ Legolas observed quietly.

’Gandalf said they were safe,’ said Gimli doubtfully, ’although he did not say how or where.’

’That is an answer I would like before we leave this land,’ the elf murmured.

’And I,’ said Aragorn. ’but for them we dare not tarry. Still, Gandalf is right: we should know what strength Isengard has left, before we abandon Rohan to its fate. Th’oden must order his realm as best he can ere he departs. And it is better that we ride east in firm knowledge, at least, of the dangers at one end of the road.’

[Edited on 5/1/03 by sepdet]
Oho sepdet, I think I must be hungry, my tommy fells not good!! How in all the world can you write so fantastic??? It was so good a really really fantastic story and it really speacks to me>>> I think I go an erase my one story> thats only bullshit against yours!!!!!!!!
The part with the dead-elven-bodies, it is so sad..........*a tear dropes down to earth* (It must be the wind!)

Bey then
They found the answer to this and much else in Isengard, but as Gimli had said they could not tarry long. The parley with Saruman had gone as well as could be hoped. The Three Hunters had finally overtaken their quarry; the hobbits had weathered their ordeal with the orcs better than humans might in such circumstances. King Th’oden had also learned of allies he did not know existed: the ancient guardians of the forest, roused to wrath against Isengard’s furnaces. The ents, left out of all his designs, had proved to be Saruman’s undoing. They had torn through his outer defenses like the sea through a sandcastle, flooding the ring of Isengard with the river it was named for, and slaying every orc. They would have slain him too, but the tower of Orthanc had withstood even their rootlike fingers and toes, which could crack ordinary stone in minutes. All the surround was reduced to rubble, steaming and bubbling under lingering waters; ents kept patient vigil on the tower that was Saruman’s self-chosen prison. Th’oden could ride to Gondor with assurance that no threat was left from that quarter.

First, however, he and his company were returning to the Hornburg. They had camped briefly in the foothills south of Isengard, but near midnight their slumber was broken by the evil voices of wraiths skimming the treetops, flying towards Orthanc. Doubtless they were seeking postThreadIDings of Rohan’s defeat. Very soon, the Dark Lord would realize that one of his claws had snapped. Gandalf had gone immediately and in haste, taking one of the hobbits with him; as so often the wizard was racing towards peril on the wings of the storm. Th’oden would follow him east as soon as Rohan’s strength could be mustered, accompanied by Aragorn and the elves of L’rien.

The postThreadIDes of the world were converging upon the White City. Those who knew Minas Tirith could not help but remember its perilous position, a spur of defiance at the far end of the mountains from Helm’s Deep, separated from Mordor’s towering gray crags by a river and fifteen leagues, or a few miles at most if the enemy gained the opposite shore.

’Now,’ Aragorn confided to his friends as they jogged near the king, ’I wish I were truly Thorongil, as they used to call me.’

’What’s that?’ Gimli grumbled, bouncing along behind the elf with a stout grip on the back of the saddle. ’You pick up nicknames and elf-trinkets like a raven lining his nest.’

The elf spoke clearly over the swish of wind. ’The Eagle of the Star. What need have you for him?’

’That I might have friendship with eagles.’ Dim shapes of the world rushed past them, and all was bounding movement as they tore across the Gap, but the man’s eyes remained still and fixed on the unbroken silhouette of mountain peaks stretching eastward. ’Alas, only Gandalf can call the wind-lords at need.’

’There is time,’ Legolas reassured him, ’or Mithrandir would not have risked dabbling his toes in the puddles of Isengard.’

Merry was riding before Aragorn, and had been listening eagerly to Gimli’s tales of their adventures in Rohan, at least until he nodded off in the saddle. Aragorn had a hand on his shoulder to keep him from slipping. Now the hobbit stirred awake as his friends’ voices floated around him. ’How far is it to Minas Tirith?’ he asked anxiously.

The man sighed. ’Over a week’s ride, although Gandalf and Pippin may reach it sooner on Shadowfax.’

Meanwhile, Th’oden had been deep in conversation with ’omer since they had crossed the Fords of Isen in the coldest hour of the night. Ten days ago, many men of Rohan had perished there in battle, while their king sat withered and witless in Edoras under the insidious leechcraft of a mole in the pay of Saruman. It was that battle which had cost the king’s son his life. So when the Rohirrim passed the circle of spears and the mound of Th’odred’s fallen warriors, although their need for haste was great, the king had halted in the darkness with his riders gathered around him. ’And yet Saruman lives,’ Th’oden had said finally, rousing himself. Afterwards he had spoken little, pressing forward with a pace that was grueling even for younger men.

Listening to his captains tell him of the battle at the fords, Th’oden had been too preoccupied to notice his guests for some while. But abruptly he broke in upon the conversation between Aragorn and his companions.

’Thorongil.’ The king turned his head, regarding the the ranger warily. ’There was a foreigner by that name in Rohan when I was a boy, and he served my father for a while. Then he disappeared. Afterwards rumor came that he had won great renown away south in Gondor, beating back the pirates of Umbar.’

’I have heard those rumors, my lord.’ Aragorn’s teeth flashed in a crooked grin. However, just as abruptly, his smile vanished. ’Legolas, what is it?’

The elf was sitting straight and tall in the saddle, keen eyes scanning the mountains ahead of them as if searching for eagles.

’Dreaming with his eyes open again,’ the dwarf muttered at the elf’s shoulder.

’I do not know,’ replied Legolas thoughtfully. ’It is like smoke, but it does not rise, and it fills the Deeping Coomb.’

’What?’ The king laid a hand on his sword-hilt, and ’omer on his right rose in the stirrups, straining in vain to make out a hint of whatever Legolas had seen.

Even as the elf spoke, from afar came a sound more felt than heard, a low thrum that beat on their ears like air through a bird’s wings. It was so faint that, had the sound not been seared forever into their memories by that fateful dawn two days ago, few would have recognized the horn of Helm Hammerhand rippling across the wide plains of Rohan. The Rohirrim cried out in dismay.

Aragorn nudged Brego a few paces forward and turned into the king’s path. ’Wait, my lord. I do not think it is the fume of battle.’

The riders muttered to one another, not all of them looking south. It was the third time that the ragged stranger had implicitly challenged their king, and although he had proved his worth in more than arms at Helm’s Deep, even ’omer was looking at him somewhat askance.

’No,’ Legolas declared, oblivious to the jostlings of men. His eyes shone. ’It is a gray fog, as if the mist of the forests were spilling out into the world. There are shapes moving within it, and they are tall.’

’Ents!’ exclaimed Merry. ’That’s the Huorns, Strider, just as I was telling you! They are the wild woods that Treebeard warned us about.’

Th’oden’s hands relaxed upon his reins, and he gazed out across the gray lands before them. Aragorn dropped back to his former position on the king’s left side, opposite ’omer.

’More sorcery,’ the old king muttered. ’And why? Did Gandalf not say the tree-shepherds take little interest in the affairs of men?’

’Little,’ Aragorn concurred, resting his fingers in Merry’s hair, ’but I think their eyes have been opened by others. They are watching your northern borders now, Th’oden, not just for the sake of the trees. In this case, however, it is not your affairs they are minding, but those of the Golden Wood.’

Th’oden followed the ranger’s gaze to the aloof elven captain riding in the second rank. Timdaur had come with them to witness the parley with their enemy on behalf of L’rien, but had not said a word during the journey. Nor did he speak now. His eyes, however, were fixed upon the same patch of darkness that the Mirkwood elf could see.

The living shadow grew more distinct as night’s gloom began to recede. ’omer counselled that they should go a little out of their way to avoid it, but Th’oden was in no mood to move aside for anything, certainly not trees within his own borders. Beside the mouth of the Deeping Coomb they drew even with it, and the rushing of wind in branches, the indistinct tramp of huge feet, the groaning and swaying of great trunks were like creaking ships moored in a rising sea. The riders of Th’oden reined close together, afraid and awed, as the shrouded host passed them only a few yards away on their left. There were twinkles of light within it, and occasionally a glint of metal, yet it seemed as if an enchantment had fogged their eyes. At most they could make out indistinct forms of broad trunks and striding figures, some giant-sized, others no taller than men.

But Timdaur leapt down and strode to the very edge of the gloom, calling out in a loud voice. ’Suilad, Onodrim a Galadhrim! Man siniath?’

To the wonder of most of the observers, the rushing darkness slowed nearly to a standstill at his hail. Stepping out from the shadows came a mail-clad figure, followed by a slender ent whose white bark gleamed like the moon in the light of the lantern the elf carried. It was R’mil. He inclined his head to the riders and the king, then turned to address his kinsman in a low voice.

’omer came forward, face grave. ’R’mil of L’rien. We bid you safe journey, or what safety you can find in our troubled lands. Is there anything you need?’

Timdaur spoke in the younger elf’s ear, translating, then conveyed the curt reply. ’Nothing save speed, horsemaster.’

’omer raised his mailed glove in salute and withdrew. Timdaur laid both hands on the fair elf’s shoulders in farewell. Then R’mil stepped back into the shadows with the ent and was lost from sight as the last of the column passed by.

Legolas was watching the trees raptly, and in fact only Gimli’s growl kept him from riding headlong into the sweeping shadows.

’omer gave Gimli a wry look. ’Few mortals escape her nets, as I told you, Master Dwarf. Nay, do not reach for your axe! I begin to see why sometimes it is not so ill to be one of the fishes.’

(Timdaur's words: "Greetings, Ents and Folk of the Wood! What postThreadIDings?")

The sun was in the sky, but not yet upon the land when they came back into the vale of the Deeping Coomb. Some of the men cried out and pointed as they drew near the fortress. The wall was being repaired, but its hastily-hewn blocks were the least of the changes that met their astonished eyes.

There was a thin ribbon of silver on the gray cliff behind the Hornburg. Trickles of melting snow were what gave the Deeping Stream its voice, but there had not been a waterfall tumbling down to meet it before, nor a small round lake further back in the Deep on the lefthand side, nor a forest of slender white birches clustered in a wide ring on one of the lower slopes above the lake. When the riders halted with their king a league out from the causeway, they could hear a music of falling water and the untroubled voice of the Deeping Stream, its bed now as clean and clear as if orc feet had never fouled it.

All traces of foes, their armor, their weapons, and their machines of war had vanished from the gravel-flats before the walls. By the foot of the causeway, there was a great mound topped by the spears and banners of Rohan standing like sentinels in the gray dawn. The riders did not sing, as they often did upon returning, nor murmur the names of those who lay beneath the fresh green turves. In silence they rode up the causeway, and the hooves of the horses rang loudly in the stillness. But horns sounded on the battlements, and Th’oden entered the fortress amidst great rejoicing, for only now did his people have leisure to celebrate their king’s deliverance from the turncoat wizard’s curse.

As they dismounted and retired to their quarters within the keep, his company heard whispers and rumors of a shadow that had come in the night and left the Deep changed. So Th’oden had one errand first, before he slept. With ’owyn his niece leading the way up a path that no other human feet had dared tread so far, he climbed to the green shoulder of the mountain where the young forest had sprung up overnight. In its midst was a long grassy mound sprinkled with countless white and yellow flowers. Saplings of birches were planted around and over the great barrow, their new green buds furled in promise of spring. There was no stone or marker to indicate who lay buried there or how many. There was no need. Harpers in the keep were already making songs for the elves as well as for the heroes of Rohan. Haudh in-Edhil, they were calling it, using a language few had known three days ago. Some were even calling the smaller mound before the causeway Haudh en-Firiath.

’Westu hal,’ Th’oden prayed, staring up at the snowdrops that winked in the first shafts of sunlight. ’Ferthu.’ And the king wept.

(Mound of the Elves, Mound of the Mortals)

Legolas was finally resting too, in the manner of his kind. He had scaled the slopes behind the tower for a closer look at the waterfall, and had found an old watch-post tucked against the cliff. It was little more than a ledge of hard-packed earth, damp now from the spray drifting up from the tiny cascade as it came tumbling down. There the elf could survey the keep and the tower, garth and battlements, the Coomb and the Deep, and yet stand alone and undisturbed. He stood in that high place with thought turned inward and outward wandering the paths of dream and open sky. Now and again he sang, and when his voice drifted down to the men in the bailey repairing the gates, their hands and faces would go slack, the weight of heavy timbers forgotten. They whispered to one another that Helm’s Deep was under a spell from the Golden Wood.

Legolas’ thoughts came back to waking, roused by a sound at his back. Brows furrowed, he turned swiftly and found a small figure seated on a rocky ledge not far below where he stood. It was Haleth. Cheek propped on one arm, which was wrapped around a small spur of rock, she seemed asleep. But he knew she had not been there long.

’That is no safe place to doze,’ he chided.

She stirred and looked up. ’I might say the same,’ she observed wryly. ’But not to an elf.’

He looked her over. She wore no mail now, only a fresh gray cloak and the garb of L’rien; he could not see whether she bore any wounds of note worse than a crushing bruise spanning the side of her face. Her hair was combed and gathered at the nape of her neck, still covering her ears; its color was the pale brown of fallen beech-leaves. Humans would call her rounded features ’earnest’, but the stubborn jaw and short nose made her ill-favored by elven standards. Yet there was something of elves in her eyes, which were clear and untroubled now.

’I heard you from below,’ she confessed. ’I wanted to be sure it was your voice this time, and not some Vala bidding me quit the world.’

’You were hurt,’ the elf stated, half a question.

’Well, I shall think twice again before using Uruk-hai as a blanket,’ she answered lightly. She stretched and straightened, as much as the precarious spot would allow. ’Somewhat scuffed around the edges, my lord. An elf would not feel these few scrapes and bruises at all.’

’You are not elf. And I thought you would be returning to L’rien with your company.’

Her eyes twinkled. ’My company are elves. Am I not one of them? You speak in riddles, Prince Thranduilion.’

’Legolas,’ he corrected her.

She raised an eyebrow but acquiesced, or at least attempted it. ’Laegelas? Surely you are not’’

He chuckled. ’No, Greenleaf, but as the Wood-elves say it.’

She looked even more perplexed, but also amused. ’Now how can I call you that? My masters are wroth with me whenever I use Silvan speech! ’Not so familiar, f’riel, or we shall test your woodcraft by tying you upside-down to the highest tree.’’

He searched her face closely, but if there was resentment behind her words he could not see it. ’You are the riddle.’

With a short laugh, she reached up and pulled herself with a hop onto the ledge beside him. ’No, my lord, I carry no blood of N’menor, no great hope of elves and men,’ she said lightly. The contrast between L’rien’s unhurried phrasing and the merriment in her manner was disconcerting. ’I am not like those heroes with whom you travel.’

’Then how do you come to be in the service of Lothl’rien?’ Legolas asked, crouching down on one knee to speak with her. ’I have not heard that the Galadhrim take Men for march-wardens.’

’Ask the Rohirrim,’ she replied with a snort. ’They call my queen a witch. ’Few mortals escape her nets’, they say, and shun the Golden Wood.’

Legolas fixed intent eyes on her and waited.

’That is either a long tale or a short one,’ she said at last, yielding to his unmoving gaze. ’The short is that my master Celeborn is just and kind beyond measure, and to him I swore the life he spared.’

’And the long?’ he pressed patiently.

’Nay, lord,’ she laughed. ’It is only the vagabond wanderings of Men, no tale of interest to your kind. As for what brought me there: I was born while Dol Guldur slept, and my heart was always in the north, in Greenwood my home, or in that glimmer of gold across the river, whose name was a whisper of wonder to all of us who hoarded your songs. I never stopped looking over my shoulder, when we fled south seeking kin. I never stopped dreaming of L’rien, when we found Ithilien abandoned by all save the scouts of Gondor. I never stopped wanting a glimpse of mellyrn before I died, when my brothers bade me cower under the branches of the dead White Tree like a mouse hiding in a dry well with the rains coming. In the end I found my way to Caras Galadhon. Among the Galadhrim I learned how to move, how to hide, and how to use what strength I have.’

Legolas listened to her doubtfully. It could not be all the tale, of course; how could she have set one foot beneath the eaves without meeting her end by swift elven arrows? And age sat very lightly indeed on one who did not bear the blood of N’menor. Yet Legolas read no deceit in her eyes. There was, after all, a power in L’rien elves knew but did not name, and he had seen for himself how it held the currents of the outside world at bay.

’You learned well, Lady,’ Legolas observed. ’But you do not sing.’

The young woman ducked her head: he had touched a nerve. ’I am mortal,’ she stammered. ’My voice betrays me. But I listen.’

’So I have seen.’

The chill wind gusting off the mountains had the space between them for a moment. The elf watched her steadily, and the human stared down at the reflection of the green mound cupped in the lake below. There was birch bark in her hair.

’I think,’ she whispered, letting her guard down for a moment, ’I was allowed to enter the wood. But only so far, and then I was hard pressed to give a good account of how I came there.’ She smiled obscurely. ’I passed the test.’

Legolas’ brow relaxed. ’Ah,’ he said. ’That answers half the riddle.’

She dropped her chin to her hand, watching him shyly out of the corners of her eyes. ’Legolas,’ she murmured. ’Have you ever seen the Golden Wood in spring?’

The elf shook his head. ’Long have my folk been sundered from our kin in Lothl’rien. Until now I had only seen it through the same songs you have heard.’

’Oh, but you must,’ she urged, face suddenly animated. ’The leaves above are gold, and the leaves on the ground are gold, and the trunks between are almost silver. The yellow blossoms on the boughs catch the clear light like tiny suns. Sometimes at dawn, with the new day shining through them, I catch a glimpse of Laurelin long gone. And when the new buds come’ elo, little green jewels! I can’t tell you of them, for I can’t sing.’

He smiled. ’You love the Golden Wood.’

’’How could I not?’ She blushed. ’If Valinor is fairer still, I know why Men may not go there. The joy would kill us.’

Legolas laughed. ’And there is the other half of the riddle. I think I see why Celeborn permitted you to stay.’

Her lips twitched with a flash of gratitude. ’A gift I try to honor.’

Legolas rose again and looked north and a little east, shielding his eyes. Far and dim beyond the murky green of Fangorn he could see a hint of fallow gold. ’I shall have to come there another spring to see your golden nest.’

She turned her face up towards him, yearning and only a small hint of envy in her eyes. ’Do you think it will fade, Master? Sometimes the elves sing of L’rien as if it were already a memory.’

’I cannot tell. But the world is changing, my lady.’

’The world always changes!’ Haleth said fiercely. ’No season is the same. But spring returns.’

Legolas smiled at her stubbornness. ’You may not carry the blood of N’menor, Haleth, but you carry hope. Do you ride to Gondor?’

’If any horse can be spared.’

Legolas nodded. ’Then come; let us find one for you.’ He set a hand on the lip of the rock and went down first. Unbroken she might be, but he had noticed the catch in her movements that two nights’ rest had not mended. This small leaf from L’rien would not fall while he was there.