Rohan seemed empty. Nothing but empty grasslands and empty fields and empty…well, emptiness. Khamul was beginning to feel lonely.
"Isn't there a single person alive here?" she asked, her voice sounding strange in the silence.
Khamul had taken a long, hard look at her priorities after the encounter with Gandalf. She wasn't ready to make any major decision regarding Sauron, but she knew he loathed Saruman almost as much as he needed him to crush Rohan. Shouldn't be too mad then, when Saruman's invincible army got destroyed.
After all, just how many orcs could Saruman rally? There wasn't an inexhaustible supply of them. You couldn't just make more. Hang on… Could you? Could you make more orcs?
"You can't do that," Khamul muttered. Morgoth could do that, sure, but that was it. And that was in the beginning of days. You could get away with a lot then.
But maybe you could though. Khamul had seen some of Saruman's industries. He was a busy little bee if nothing else. And if anyone could figure out a way to make more orcs, it would be Saruman.
"This isn't good." Khamul spurred her horse in the direction of Isengard, but was forced to stop not even an hour later when the ground began to shake.
It wasn't just shaking. It was trembling. The ground reverberated like an organ under the tread of thousands of feet.
Cautiously approaching a hill, Khamul peered down at what looked like the biggest, and longest, snake the world had ever seen. It wounds its way through the land, stretching on and on and on.
Except it wasn't a snake. It was an army. An army made of the monster-orcs.
It was Saruman's army.
Khamul's jaw dropped. There were more than ten thousand orcs here. And that wasn't counting the Dunlendings she could see bringing up the rear, far, far in the distance.
Ten thousand against what? Maybe two thousand? Maybe? And that was stretching it. Rohan would be hard-pressed to rally many men at this late hour. Saruman had perfect timing.
"This is…this is," Khamul stammered. She couldn't believe it. She just couldn't believe it. Her mind was in a whirl. First Gandalf and now this.
Well, hope was gone as soon as it'd come. Nothing could even begin to stand against this.
With a heavy heart, Khamul started for Minas Tirith. The south was far more cut-and-dried than the north. Too much ambiguity. Too many conflicting emotions. If she was lucky, Aragorn wouldn't make it out of wherever he was now (she had the unpleasant feeling that he was about to meet up with the monstrous army) and she'd never have to think about him again.
What about Rohan though? a voice inside Khamul demanded. It sounded disturbingly like Eorl. What about Morgoth, huh? What happens if he gets the Ring? You're sure going to need an ace, and you won't have one if Rohan's gone. That's the only thing he's ever feared. You need to make sure they're still alive, even if they are crippled. You never know when they're going to come in handy.
With a sigh, Khamul turned her horse around. What could she do? She couldn't actively fight against Saruman, for that would be fighting against Sauron as well. She had to help them in some other way…
The answer came seconds later when a Rider crested a hill and rode down to her. "Madam!" he called. "Forgive me, but we are rather badly lost."
"Lost?" Khamul asked.
"Yes, madam. My friends and I," The Rider indicated a large number of Riders who were following him, "escaped last night from orcs at the Fords of Isen. My name is Elfhelm, and I was wondering if you had seen our compatriots, Grimbold and his Riders."
"I haven't," Khamul said. "I thought you said you were lost."
"We are." Elfhelm took off his helmet and ran a hand through his yellow hair. "We don't actually know where we are," he said. "We were rather hoping that you might be able to help us with that, but seeing as you're…" He gestured hopelessly.
"That I'm what?" Khamul asked.
"You're…not from around here."
"Where do you want to go?"
"Well…Saruman is massing an attack on Edoras, so we had better head there."
Khamul remembered the army. She also vaguely remembered where the city on the hill was from there. They'd been heading toward it, yes, but they'd been going toward the mountains as well. "Is there a fortress between the Fords and Edoras?" she asked.
"Yes, Helm's Deep. The Hornburg. But they wouldn't attack there."
"Well…the king wouldn't be there."
"Is it easier to defend than Edoras?"
"Yes, but –"
"Then why wouldn't he be there?"
Elfhelm opened and then closed his mouth. "You have a point," he said. "But Saruman's treachery runs deep. He may be attacking both Helm's Deep and Edoras."
"I'd hedge my bet on the Hornburg."
Elfhelm nodded. "I should send some people to Edoras though," he said. "If I knew where it was."
Khamul, fortunately, knew where she'd come from. "Follow me," she said.
"Ah, thank you, madam. For your kindness, I won't ask why you're traveling in the Riddermark."
"Oh, is it a capital offense?"
"Why am I not surprised?" Khamul muttered under her breath, rolling her eyes. "Follow me!" she shouted to the Riders and kicked her horse. A few warriors glared and muttered insults at the ill treatment of what was obviously a very fine steed.
It wasn't long at all before they met up with another band of Riders.
"Elfhelm!" the Rider called, waving his arms.
"Grimbold!" Elfhelm shouted back. "You're alive!"
"Barely! We had to fight our way out! I'm afraid I lost part of my force in the confusion."
"Alas for so many brave souls."
"No, they're not dead. They just…got lost."
Khamul rolled her eyes. "How is it that you've managed to rule this land for countless generations when you have such poor directional sense?" she asked.
The two commanders ignored her. "We're heading to Helm's Deep and Edoras," Elfhelm said. "I'll send some men to Edoras to defend it against any attacks by Saruman while taking the majority of my riders to Helm's Deep."
"Why would you do that?" Grimbold asked. "The people are at Edoras."
"But if Theoden King had any knowledge of the attack, he would have moved to the Hornburg to better defend it."
"And the women and children?"
"Dunharrow, I suspect. A fine refuge, but too far. Besides, that would leave Edoras directly in the path of Saruman's army. Theoden King would want to avoid that."
"You know anyone called Eowyn?" Khamul asked.
Both commanders looked at her. "She is the King's niece," Elfhelm said. "Why?"
"Just wondering." Well, well, well. Theoden and Eowyn. Names heard 'round the world, at least, they will be. If that's the real future.
Elfhelm shrugged. "Will you join us?" he asked Grimbold.
"Of course! I wouldn't miss this for the world!"
"Touching," Khamul commented. "Can we leave now? If we do anymore talking, the only thing left of the Hornburg will be a pile of rocks."
"I think you overestimate Saruman's strength," Grimbold said.
"I don't think I do."
The other half of Grimbold's force found them two hours later. Night had fallen and the Riders were quite lost. Khamul thought they were the most hopeless people she had ever met in her life.
"You follow the stars, is that it?" Elfhelm asked.
"I would, if there were any stars. Seeing as there aren't, I'm relying upon good old common sense."
"Which would be…?"
"When the sun went down, we were heading toward the Hornburg. Therefore, if we keep heading in that direction, we'll still be heading toward the Hornburg."
Elfhelm nodded, at least, he probably did. It was quite hard to see, even for Khamul.
It was only, Khamul estimated, an hour or so until dawn that she got the feeling that there were too many riders at the vanguard of the army. It was an army now. There were a thousand of them, all armed to the teeth and hungry for blood.
"Elfhelm?" she asked.
"Yes, madam?" the stately Rider responded.
"Just making sure you were still there. Kind of dark around here. Grimbold?"
"There's somebody else here, too."
"Indeed," a low voice chuckled. "It took you long enough."
"Gandalf!" Elfhelm and Grimbold gasped as one.
"Got it in one," the White Wizard said. "I must confess myself surprised. I was looking forward to rounding up all the survivors of the Fords of Isen, but it seems Khamul has done it for me."
"I bet you know where the Hornburg is," Khamul said.
"Indeed I do. I do not know if you wish to become involved in this battle, Khamul, though I am grateful for–"
"Don't say anything," Khamul said. "I'm leaving," she said. "Good luck to you all. You're going to need it."
"Oh, we have more on our side than a thousand Riders, brave though they may be."
"I believe you have heard tales of Fangorn forest?"
"Stop by Isengard on your way to the south. I think you would find it enlightening."
"How do you know I'm going south?" Khamul asked. Gandalf didn't respond and Khamul sighed. First a cryptic mountain and now a cryptic wizard. Ah well, it was time to go home, for good or for ill. Most likely for ill.
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.