Gamling, moving carefully and respectfully, buckled on the King’s breastplate with its two horses’ heads inlaid in shining gold on a background the colour of dark blood. This armour he had worn often with honour in battle, but not now for a very long time. Darkness crept over his heart.
‘How did it come to this?’ he murmured, too low for Gamling to hear. Wormtongue. It was Wormtongue. But even as Théoden tasted the bitterness of the hated name a hollow feeling took hold of him; he could not blame Wormtongue for everything. Had he not been weak, he would not have listened, he would not have fallen for the lies….
Théoden turned wearily as one of his bodyguard ran breathlessly into the Hall. Had Saruman’s pitiless invaders reached his gates so soon? From somewhere deep in a father’s heart came the thought of his son, Théodred and he wished for battle with all his might.
Let the foemen come….
‘My Lord, there is something you must see…..’
The outer wall of the Hornburg enclosed the cashel, a long rocky slope divided by the Deeping stream and reaching up to the sheer mountainside. The battlements of the Wall were reached by three flights of steep stone steps and a ramp ran from the floor of the cashel up into the Keep. As lightning played on the sharp peaks of the mountains behind them the Black Company filed down this ramp and spread out across the bare stony space of the cashel. Here Théoden had ordered them to take their stand, and fire their arrows over the high wall into the approaching host of the enemy. On the ramparts, crowded with warriors, old men and boys, the Rangers would be impeded. But here they could draw their bows without hindrance and when all their arrows were spent, keep the enemy from reaching the caves and caverns under the mountain, where the greater part of the people of the Westfold had taken refuge.
Ruán walked along the line of his men then stopped and stood out in front of them, his Ranger’s cloak flapping against his sword sheath and his long black hair blown back from his pale face and hooded grey eyes. He looked up at the sky, lit by lightning and echoing with the rumble of thunder.
‘It’s a trap’ he thought to himself. ‘We’re caught in a trap….’
Scafa the tracker was sitting on his heels at the end of the line of Rangers, heedless of the thunder. He began to doze off.
‘Someone wake Scafa up’ joked one of the men. ‘He’ll miss the battle.’
The Black Company laughed, but as Ruán turned round he caught Seolta’s eye, and saw the resentment still smouldering in the man’s face.
‘Death’ thought Ruán bitterly ‘will cancel all debts.’
Up on the parapet of the Deeping Wall the boy Slíoc stared out across the dark valley and tears trickled down his face. It was the wind, he thought in annoyance, rubbing them away, but they came back. Up there on the wall it was almost freezing, and the icy feel of the steel hauberk and heavy unfamiliar helmet chilled him to the bone, but he dared not complain. Still he strained his eyes to see out across the darkling plain, to see this great enemy host all the men were talking about. But all he saw, becoming clearer and clearer, was a long column of cloaked and helmeted soldiers, appearing on the causeway as if out of the very air, flying banners of green and blue silk.
‘They must be Elves!’ he thought to himself as a horn sounded and a great cry went up from the garrison. And ever after when he tried to remember how they looked what he recalled were their midnight blue cloaks that merged into the moon-shadows, and their silver helmets, glittering like stars in a summer night...
Within the Keep the soldiers of Rohan opened the gates in feverish haste then stood back to gaze at the warriors of the Galadhrim as if at an army out of a legend, or a dream. Moving as one beneath their silken banners they filed into the Inner Keep and came to a halt. Under their helmets, wrought of some silver that gleamed even in this shadowy court, their grey eyes were bright and alive but their faces set like stone. As they halted, the Rohirrim saw their King, armed and ready for war, walk down the steps from the Great Hall and stop to stare in amazement at the Elves as if they were an army of phantoms. At last he spoke
‘How is this possible?’
A tall fair Elf with a regal bearing and wearing the red cloak of war leader stepped forward. His armour, shining like sunlight in the gloomy keep, was wrought of overlapping silver scales in the shape of leaves and he placed one hand on the hilt of his long Galadhrim sword, bowed solemnly and said to King Théoden;
‘I bring greetings from Lord Elrond of Rivendell and the Lady of The Golden Wood. An alliance once existed between Men and Elves. Once we fought and died together. We come to honour that alliance…’
And Haldir bowed again and straightened up and a smile softened his proud features. At last recovering from his surprise King Théoden, in the presence of his people, young and old, bowed to the leader of the Galadhrim.
As Théoden acknowledged the allegiance of the Elves there was the sound of footsteps and Aragorn ran down the steps from the Great Hall with Legolas behind him. Aragorn paused when he saw Haldir and the Elf’s face lit up with recognition. Almost forgetting the presence of the King Aragorn stepped up to greet Haldir then, overcome with relief, he set aside Elvish manners and embraced him, holding the surprised Elf tightly then standing back and saying in a hoarse voice;
‘You are most welcome!’
On the steps behind Aragorn, Legolas, clad in a leather corslet which was the only armour he could find to suit his slender frame, looked round at the ranks of the Galadhrim with a smile of joy and pride. Haldir glanced up at that moment and catching Legolas’s eye he remembered quite another meeting of theirs in Lórien when he had detained the son of King Thrandúil and his companions. He smiled and said;
'We are proud to fight alongside men once more.....'