3. Hope Rekindled -- Marta
"My lord, are you there?" This time I recognised that high-pitched, merry voice; I had only heard him speak a few words at the lord's council the previous day, but the timbre was rare enough that I remembered it.
"Peregrin?" I asked, peering through the mist.
Suddenly I heard the sound of horses' hooves beating against the stone road, faster than any I had ever seen. The beast broke through the haze, his coat a richer silver than the mithril of the Tower Guards' helms, and his eyes blazed with fury. When the horses were that scared, the wise man took notice.
Yet this noble beast was not the only one frightened. The halfling's eyes were as wide as I had ever seen them. And Gandalf himself -- he held his small companion tightly to his chest with one arm and looked around wildly, his breathing ragged. This was one who had braved Dol Guldur? Aye, and he was wise beyond my reckoning. Even without his steed's panic, I should have guessed all was not well.
"Whither now, Mithrandir?" I asked, my puzzlement showing in my grey eyes. "The Rohirrim are calling us; I can smell the blood they have spilt, but even Eorl's noble sons cannot last forever without aid. Would you then abandon them?"
"They will need every man you can muster," Gandalf replied, his voice harsh.
"But what of you? Would you desert the White City?"
"I am called elsewhere," the wizard said. "I will be needed here before the end, but I am needed more elsewhere."
"Our enemies lie beyond the gates --" I began.
"I fear there is an enemy within," he said. "Imrahil, we have no time. The City's defences must hold." He pulled young Peregrin more closely to him, cried "Noro lim, Shadowfax!" And they were gone, careening up the streets with a speed I had never before seen.
An enemy in the Citadel; that would prove ill indeed. We could scarce stand against the enemies that pressed against the City's walls. But I would trust in Mithrandir. "Wizard's pupil," my brother-in-law often called his son, and he did not mean it as a complement, but today I was glad that my nephew's tutor was rushing to their aid. It would avail us little to survive the current onslaught but die in the Dark Lands because our City fell.
So we rode out. I nearly gagged at the smell. Black blood flowed across the field, seeping deep into the soil. I knew no plants would grow there again until it was cleansed.
I called to the men behind me, and my heart broke once more at the sight of them. I had not thought that possible.
Tradesmen and stableboys, the last defence of the city, stood before me, their faces ashen and their shoulders quavering. I laid my hand to the hilt of my sword and drew it out in a last defiant gesture, trying not to betray my own fear.
I had memorised many great speeches by kings and stewards as a boy, and I remembered them to that day. Somehow, though, they all seemed hollow. "Gondor shall not fall, if we do not fail her," I said, the words sailing past my lips like so many clanging swords, and I saw that they were as empty on my men's ears as they had seemed in my heart.
Yet, where words fail, example must suffice. My sons led their men forward to what I knew would be bitter if glorious ends. I led my own company toward the Southrons not a hundred yards away.
To this day I do not know how many fell by my sword. We men of Dol Amroth do not number our kills nor delight in our enemies' death. Five maybe, or ten, felt my blade's bite, before the Haradrim turned and ran from us.
A shriek like none I had ever heard penetrated me to the heart, driving away all thought of pursuit. A chill ran down my spine, and my horse nearly reared in fright. I mastered him but could not rule my own terror. My very soul seemed frozen, and I could not move.
"Nazgûl!" I heard someone call, both near and far away, and I resisted the urge to bury my face in my horse's neck. Forcing my head up, I turned to face the men behind me. "Form the lines!"
As they gathered behind me the terrible cry passed away. My heart dared to hope, and I guessed from the expressions on my men's tired faces that I was not the only one who felt refreshed. A wind rose in the south, blowing away the last of that scream -- and with it, some of the clouds. The sun shone down on my face, and I looked for new foes.
I did not have to look far. Orcs charged across the field, and I fell back to the gates. There we fought off any who dared approach.
And then I saw them: tall Riders of the Mark. Their hair, flaxen-pale, flowed under their light helms. They walked nobly through the mayhem, and none dared to hinder them.
I dismounted and made my way over as quickly as I could. So Théoden had fallen. That was evil news, but not entirely unexpected. Yet who was this maiden?
Her golden hair fell around her pale face, and her sword arm lay crumpled against her chest. For such innocence to suffer so seemed more grievous than anything I had seen so far. I kissed my hand gently and lowered it to her lips.
Then I pulled back. Her faint breath ruffled through my fingers, and her chest rose and fell. So slight was the motion that I might have missed it, but it was undeniable: the maiden of Rohan lived.
As did my hope.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.