Gripping the reins tightly in his hands, Erkenbrand lifted his head and gazed across the plundered land. Where it had once been a thriving, green land it was now a crushed, fire-ravaged plain. The flickering light of fires was visible to his eye, and curling waves of smoke lingered in the sky. Tiny figures scattered across the plain, some mounted and some on foot, and the echoes of screams and howls was carried on the wind. He felt his heart ache at the sight that lay before him.
Those of his company who were still alive rode slowly to join him. They were too few; and when he scoured the flat ground below the hill he realized how many men lay unmoving upon the grass. He stared at the bodies littered across the ground, and his heart wrenched every time he recognised one of them. So much death and not a sign of it ending any time soon.
He sighed and nudged his horse into a light canter. Heading for the nearest battle- only one of many raging around him- he painfully stretched his arm. The days were filled with fighting and riding, and moving onto the next battle, helping those who needed it. Nights offered only slight comfort, for his dreams were riddled with men dying and blood and screaming.
He approached the battle in an exhausted stupor, but when he was close enough to see one of his comrades slain by an Orc blade the fire within him raged again and he let out an anguished cry. His sword hilt was back in his hand and he raised it above his head, vaguely noticing those behind him follow his example. A sharp pain sliced through his shoulder but he pushed the agony away. There were nearly a hundred orcs, but his company brought the number of men up to one and fifty. His horse leapt into the fray and once more his sword swung in a death arc to any Orc he came by.
Erkenbrand commanded the Westfold, and he felt the bitter failure at its fall.
After they were driven back over the Isen, Erkenbrand had been at a loss. Many had died during the first assault, and more followed when fresh forces attacked them after crossing the river. The men of Dunland had become traitors, and his fury had been no less toward them than it had been towards the Orcs. The Orcs were tortured, corrupted and soulless creatures; the men of Dunlendings were simply afraid.
The Shield-wall was broken and he realized retreat was the only chance his men had of survival. He had decided to withdraw to the walls of Helm's Deep, and sent Ceorl with a message for Éomer of his plans. Now he regretted the loss of such a good soldier and Ceorl's absence was useless, as Erkenbrand had changed his mind and decided to remain and protect the Gap of Rohan. Rohan would not fall because he had failed.
Erkenbrand slew another Orc and glanced about. The Rohirrim had been victorious, if the loss of fifty men could be called a victory. The corpses of the enemy were piled and burnt. He took a moment to retrieve his red shield, and he was glad it was coloured so. The blood of his kin was hidden by the paint, yet the black blood of the Orcs was clearly splashed across it as a sign of warning for others who may see him. As he knelt in the dust and lifted his shield from the ground he heard a horse whinny, and the familiar sound drove him to his feet.
He had heard the sound before, from a horse he felt unworthy to look upon, let alone touch. It carried far on the wind, sounding strident even to his ears, despite coming from thousands of strides away. That sound belonged to Shadowfax, the King's untamed steed and Lord of horses, and Erkenbrand felt his heart soar as the steed and his rider charged across the fields of the Westfold.
Finally, the Valar looked down on him with compassion. Help had been sent, and he had never been so glad of the Grey Rider's presence. He quickly mounted and prodded his horse into a fierce sprint through the Gap of Rohan toward the noble white steed. The riders behind him followed his example and soon a company of ninety or so raced to meet the lone rider.
Shadowfax slowed to a walk, took a few skittish steps, and then stood still. Erkenbrand pulled back on the reins and called out.
"Welcome, Gandalf Greyhame, to the Westfold," he said, bowing his head in respect. But even as he welcomed Gandalf he knew something has changed in the old man. He seemed more regal than ragged, and his eyes spoke of wisdom unseen in Middle-earth. His grey cloak seemed to disguise something more powerful beneath, and he noticed a pale radiance slipped out from the foot of the shroud. Erkenbrand was taken aback by the change, but he gathered himself quickly. "Pray you bring us good news."
"I'm afraid I cannot, Lord Erkenbrand," Gandalf replied. "Your King needs you. Can you ride to him?"
What trouble had befallen Edoras that could possible incur the King to call away all that was left to defend the western region of Rohan? For many years he had ignored the goings on at Edoras, preferring the familiarity of his position in the Westfold. He felt a stubborn urge to refuse the summons, wanting nothing less than to leave his home vulnerable.
"And leave my land undefended against the malice and ruin of Orcs?" He returned, and felt humiliated that he failed to keep his disbelief and resentment out of his voice.
"Saruman has ordered all his servants to march again your King, and the Westfold will be overlooked. Your King is now cornered in Helm's Deep and soon undertakes a battle the likes of which will not be seen again in Rohan. Have faith in a wizard, Erkenbrand, and ride with me to Theoden King."
Erkenbrand was silent, thinking. He saw the evil stain on his land, smelt the stifling stench of death. Could he leave these fields unwatched and defenceless? He was Lord of these lands, a title he had honoured and meant to honour until he died defending it. It would be folly to leave these lands to the corrupting power of an Orc's blind violence.
"What of the King's men who accompany him?" he asked, feeling the heavy gaze of Gandalf rest on him.
"They stand with him still," answered Gandalf. "Yet they are not enough."
"Not enough?" He wondered what force could be assailing Helm's Deep. The enemy must be in the high hundreds-
"Ten thousand strong stands the army of Saruman."
Erkenbrand felt his blood run cold. Ten thousand? Ten thousand Orcs would tear the unassailable walls of Helm's Deep to the ground. All the women and children of the Westfold would be caught like cornered birds in a cage, and they wouldn't receive mercy from the damned mockery of elves. They would be slaughtered without thought or hesitation- just like his soldiers had been killed on the banks of the Ford of Isen.
He was afraid; not for himself but for the boy who must don a soldier's face, and bear another's sword. He feared for the old man who would spend the last moment of his life parrying with a monster, instead of lying contentedly in a bed with his wife. He feared for the woman who would wait for their husband and son to return, and give up hope when they do not. He feared for the young girl who would never grow into a woman and feel the bliss of love, nor bear forth the children of the man she loves.
Theoden's army could not triumph or escape.
What good could he do trying to regain the Westfold, if Theoden King and the people of Rohan fell in its place? His loyalty was for his King and not for the lands he was bequeathed to protect. He and his men could save the lives of their people instead of vainly attempting to retake these lands. His obligation as Lord was to defend this land, but his foremost duty was to his King.
Erkenbrand took hold of his sword's hilt and gripped his shield tighter. He swung his horse around to face his men and stood in the stirrups.
"We ride to the aid of Theoden King!" he cried out, and a loud roar of approval was the only reply.
He turned back to Gandalf.
"Gather those you can, Erkenbrand of the Westfold," Gandalf said. "-and head to Helm's Deep with the wind biting at your heels. There I shall find you."
Then Gandalf Greyhame spurred Shadowfax on, and like a streak of morning sunlight over the hills he fled out of sight.
Erkenbrand took one last, desperate, lingering gaze at the Westfold, then raised his horn to his lips and blew. The low, rumbling boom echoed across the plains, stirring the hearts of all men, women and children who heard it. It was a call of arms, and even as his company set off towards Helm's Deep riders appeared on the horizon, heading toward them.
He rode on, his heart aching for the abandonment of his homeland, but soaring for the prospect of aiding his King in battle. As his horse's hooves thundered beneath him, he was reminded of the day he was granted leave to defend the Westfold. Only a boy at the time, he had never known what it meant to defend one's land. He had never known the fulfilment a man could feel from belonging, or the glory in being recognized for his deeds and named successor for the title of 'Lord'. He had been a young man, on the verge of being one of the greatest leaders the Westfold has seen.
He knew that he lived for only two things- to serve his King, and to defend his land. And now he rode to do both. Once he served his King his land would be saved, and Erkenbrand felt the pain in his shoulder fade away, felt the air become clearer, felt his vigour return and…
And he felt hope.
If they reached the King in time they could destroy Saruman's army and release Rohan from his malevolent grasp. For too long Rohan had been left to grow wild and unwatched. Strange creatures passed overs the borders uncontested and evil laced itself into every tree, rock and blade of grass. He knew it was time to end the reign of wickedness and restore Rohan to its former glory. The Rohirrim would purge their lands of evil.
They rested sparingly; too far they had to ride, and not enough time to do it. The sun sank and still they went on, pushing their horses to the limits. More riders came every hour and soon he had lost count of those that followed him. They drove away weariness and fear and filled their minds with courage and determination. And finally, the ridge of Helm's Deep appeared on the horizon.
He urged them on faster, and to their left a great host of riders came to join them. Gandalf, now the White Rider, led them on, and the two hosts merged and become one. As the sun rose they reached the crest of Helm's Deep, and saw the great army of Saruman.
Hailed by the beams of the rising sun they descended the steep hill behind Gandalf, and Erkenbrand lifted his horn to his lips and blew again, and his horn sounded across the Deep and reached the ears of Theoden King. Orcs fled in terror at the sound, but the spirits of the Rohirrim were lifted and a great roar erupted from behind him.
"Erkenbrand!" the riders shouted. "Erkenbrand!"
Erkenbrand, Lord of the Westfold, smiled softly as he lifted his red shield. He leapt from the hills and the golden sun climbed into the sky, flooding the land of Rohan with light and banishing the shadows.
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.