The Dragon and the Fox

by Varda

Chapter 37: If Wars Were Won By Songs

‘An Elf!’ said King Théoden in astonishment, and a murmur of surprise went round the company.

Líofa bowed and flung back his heavy cloak and the Rohan lords saw that he wore shining leaf-mail like that of the Galadhrim who fought at Helm’s Deep, and at his side was an Elven sword.
‘I am Líofa of Mirkwood, Lord Théoden, and I am harpist to King Thrandúil’

Callanach had sprung to his feet and was about to call out to Líofa but suddenly a strong arm pushed him back down into his seat and Tiarna whispered to him;
‘Be quiet, Callanach! Do not interrupt the King….’

On the other side of the King Merry stared at Líofa, thinking how much this Elf reminded him of Legolas, how fair of face and quick and graceful in his movements, and he found himself grieving again for the departure of Legolas and Gimli and Aragorn on their dark road, and Pippin on his journey to Minas Tirith...

The smile had faded from Théoden’s face. He acknowledged Líofa’s bow but for a moment did not speak. The wind buffeted the canvas walls of the tent and stirred the banner of the House of Eorl hung behind Théoden’s chair, making the white horse seem to come alive and paw as if eager for battle….

‘Now I regret my promise to grant you whatever you ask’ said the King sadly.
‘For the Elves came to the aid of Rohan in our time of need but at great cost to themselves. I do not want to see any more of your folk die in battle, even to bring help to Gondor or Rohan…..’

There was a rustle among the Rohirrim; it was unheard of for the king to refuse to honour a promise….Théoden heard the whispering and gazing sternly at Líofa he demanded;
‘You are a royal harpist, why do you want to go to war?’
‘Because all my comrades have gone to fight’ said Líofa desperately ‘and I was wounded and left behind. But I want to fight with them….’

‘Yes!’ thought Éowyn, her heart leaping up at the words ‘And so do I!’

Throughout Líofa’s song Éowyn had sat still as stone as the sweet notes made her sorrow even harder to bear. She found herself unable to think of anything but Aragorn and wanted to beg the harpist to stop….but now she turned to King Théoden, placed a hand on his arm and said;
‘My lord, let the Elf go with you!’

King Théoden turned to his niece with a look of exasperation but she hurried on;
‘You told me the Galadhrim were the greatest warriors you ever saw….our people will remember their courage when they see this Elf in their ranks, it will give them heart. Do not break your word, let him go with you….’

King Théoden was about to reply but stopped himself and taking Éowyn’s hand in his he said;
‘Sister-daughter, I will not break my word; the Elf can ride to battle with us. I only wished to keep his music safe away from the fires of war. But I see it is not possible…..’

Then he turned to Líofa and said;
‘Master Elf, if wars were won by songs your harp would be our shield-wall and your words a wind to blow away our foes. Your wish is granted, may King Thrandúil forgive me… only condition is that you ride in Grimbold’s éored, where you will be among the best of my warriors….’

Relief lightened Líofa’s face, and he bowed gratefully to the King and to Lady Éowyn. Then he said;
'I will thank you in the only way a harpist can, my lord; with your leave I will now sing your battle song, King Théoden....'

The company fell silent as Líofa took his seat again and drew his fine hands over the gleaming harpstrings. A melody less sweet and more stirring filled the tent as the Elf sang....

'Our King to fight the Shadow goes
And bravely shines his sword of steel
A golden helmet decks his brows
And silver spurs on either heel

His steed is whiter than the snow
And fleeter than the falling star
Amid the surging ranks he’ll go
And lead the Rohirrim to war….

When sword and spear are put to rest
When homeward from the war he comes
The fires shall light the mountain’s crest
And all the Mark shall sound with drums…'*

The notes died away and Líofa stilled the strings with his hand and smiled at the king. The lords roared their approval of the battle song and King Théoden beamed with pleasure and said;
‘Step forward, Líofa of Mirkwood….’

And the King of Rohan took a golden arm-ring from his right arm and turned it once or twice in his fingers, the yellow fire of the brazier reflecting on its engraved design of two dragons chasing each other. Then Théoden drew his sword, and placed the ring on the tip of the sword and held it out to the Elf.

Tiarna drew in his breath and whispered to Callanach;
‘This is the greatest honour a king of Rohan can bestow, and it is never given to any but the bravest of warriors and never before to a harpist, or to one not of Rohan…’

Callanach nodded slowly, and understood that Théoden was awarding the gift not only to Líofa but to all the Elves who had fought at Helm’s Deep…Then Líofa took the golden ring, bowed again and turned away and in an instant he had disappeared through the tent flap into darkness….

*Adapted from The Spinning Song
by John Francis O'Donnell (1837-74)