Before the Battle

by NorthStar
This goes with Theoden's Dream and She Would Not be Left Behind. - NS

The parade of soldiers was never quite silent, but they were unusually quiet. The long Rohirric tradition of singing both during and on the way to battle was unobserved this day. “Small wonder,” thought Theoden grimly. “Never before have we ridden to a fight we had no hope of winning.”

He no longer rode at the head of the column, relinquishing that position to Eomer. Instead he allowed Snowman to drop back through the ranks of armed men, taking the time to truly observe his soldiers, memorizing each face. It pained him to think that the next time he looked upon these faces might be in death, their youth and vitality lost.
He hoped that the soldiers looking upon him in return saw a warrior that had led them well and truly; not an old man lost to a wizard’s spell, spent and defeated. He was still King of Rohan, and he would lead them on – to whatever end.

Near the tail end of the company, Eowyn rode with her eyes cast down, hunched within her armor, lest someone recognize her. So lost in thought was she that she had almost forgotten the hobbit that rode with her. At the final moment of leave taking, she had noticed the forlorn squire who stood alone, his hand on the hilt of his small sword. Her heart had tugged at her – if she defied dictate and tradition to fight for those she loved and for a just cause, why should he not as well? Without more thought, she had reached for him and scooped him up into her saddle, whispering to him to stay quiet and ride with her. She was sure that Merry knew her true identity; but she also knew he would die before he would betray her.

Eomer’s expression was stony, and he spoke little. Instead, he paced the muster, ever on the lookout for the enemy. Orcs had come this way; he could tell- the grass was beaten down and stained with tracks of grease and grime. Every once in a while he fancied he could smell their stench on the wind. He did not wend his way through the men, for he had no wish to come to the end and spy what he knew to be true. He could feel her, like a shadow over his soul. Why had she not listened to him, this one last time? He had not told Theoden of their conversation, for he had no wish to lay more concerns on his uncle’s mind; and after all, the deed was done. He could not send her back to Edoras. She would not go. In spite of his fears, he felt a small smile touch his lips. Stubborn, proud girl; a true daughter of kings.

The horse’s rolling gallop was almost soothing, but the fear roiling in Merry’s mind negated any other effect. The weight of the armor felt alien against his skin, and even his elven cloak offered him no comfort. He thought of Pippin, in Minas Tirith, already under attack by Sauron’s forces. He thought of Sam and Frodo, alone in the wilds, struggling to reach Orodurin with their terrible burden. He could close his eyes and see again the wrath of the Ents as they tore down the machinery of Saruman. So much destruction. So much pain. And to what end? If the hordes of Sauron could even be stemmed, all would come to naught if the Ring was not destroyed in the fires of the dark mountain.
In his mind, unbidden, rose a vision of Brandybuck Manor in flames, his family screaming and struggling under orc chains. A sound escaped him, and the arm around him tightened. “Courage, Merry.”

The muster pressed on, the pace quickening as they passed the borders of Gondor, the horse’s hooves sending the earth flying underfoot. They reached the crest of the land which descended onto the plain before Minas Tirith, and came to a sudden stop, the ranks closing in, bucking and rearing.

Theoden was transfixed with horror at the sight before him; seemingly unending masses of black forms manning catapults, battering rams and other machines of war. He remembered the army of Uruk-Hai at Helms Deep, and how they had fallen to the might of the Rohirrim. So again would it be this day.

Eomer felt rage rise in him, and his hand tightened on his spear, aching to loose it on the nearest monstrosity. Eureous felt his master tense and neighed, tossing his head in defiance of danger. He was rewarded with a whisper in his ear, and horse and master awaited the order of their king.

Eowyn breathed deeply and fought down her fear. This was what she had waited for her entire life; the clash of shield against sword, the bite of metal in flesh… a chance to unleash the warrior within herself. She would not give in to fear. She would ride forth under the banner of the king and fight for love, for right and for Rohan.

Merry waited. He had shut his mind to panic, shut his mind to all but what lay before him. He would wield his sword for himself, his friends and the hope that somehow the world would one day again be made safe. He would walk the roads of Buckland once again, drink a toast at the Green Dragon and sleep, knowing that no black shapes roamed his lands.

Theoden rode out and turned to face his men; behind him the orcs massed, forming a line that seemed impenetrable. His face showed no fear, only grim determination…