The Dragon and the Fox

by Varda

Chapter 61: The King of Horses

‘Courage, Merry! Courage for our friends!’

Meriadoc of the Shire did not need his slow-kindled hobbit courage to be roused, for King Théoden, alone, had spurred his snow-white charger out in front of the army and without looking back he galloped like a whirlwind towards the ranks of Mordor. As if in salute to his courage the rising sun just then broke free of the clouds streaming across the sky from Mordor and cast a watery light on the king’s shield, flashing on the emblems of horse’s head and rising sun wrought on it in brass and gold.

With a roar the Rohirrim sprang forward after their king. Merry shouted too, holding out his sword of the North, his heart in his mouth as he wondered would they catch Théoden before he reached the enemy lines, so swiftly did Snowmane gallop away from the army. From both sides and from behind Merry came a sound he would never forget; the thunder of hooves over the dry grassy plain, the fierce war cries of Rohan and the wild blowing of their war horns. Windfola’s mane whipped his face but he did not feel the sting and in his ears rang Dernhelm’s voice raw and ragged from shouting. Now far away seemed the Shire, and even his dear friend Pippin, walled up in the great burning city beyond the battle.

Down the short grassy slope Théoden flew at the gallop, no longer the kindly old man who had taken a lonely young hobbit as his esquire, but a great king leading a fell people into war. His bodyguard, their green gold-embroidered cloaks flying out behind them raced to close the gap and surround their lord, above the black crests of their helmets the white horse banner of the House of Eorl leading the army. On the right the black boar of Grimbold flew and to his left, had Merry dared to look away from Théoden, he would have seen Éomer following the King’s banner down the centre of the field, his long red lance held in rest, hungry for revenge.

Before dawn Gothmog had almost held the city of Minas Tirith in his misshapen grasp. Now the wails of fear from the orcs made him turn and with his one good eye he saw a great dark wave tipped with glittering spears sweeping down onto the Pelennor; the army of Rohan! The Rohirrim had kept their word and come to the aid of Gondor after all….

But Gothmog was not as common orcs are; once an Elf, he feared only Sauron himself. Around him stood his guard of Uruk-hai, grim and fearless, their eyes gleaming under their black helms; they would never retreat. The rest of the orc army, however, was another matter….Gothmog shouted at the ranks;
‘Stand your ground! Archers to the front! Pikes to the rear! Await my command!’

In a frenzy of haste orcs armed with long-bladed glaives planted the butts in the ground and awaited the onslaught of the horsemen. Orc archers lined up behind them and nocked black-feathered arrows to their short wickedly curved bows. Gothmog smiled.
‘You should have stayed in your feast-hall, old King…’

From the Dyke the army of Mordor had seemed close, but as the Rohirrim charged down the slope towards them the plain opened out, rolling stretches of ground separating the two armies. Merry felt suddenly as if the orc ranks were growing further away not closer.

The household guard had almost drawn level with the King, but still a wide space lay between them and the orcs. Flecks of foam from Windfola’s bit dappled his grey flanks and all around was the snorting and blowing of racing steeds. Nearer, nearer…but now Merry saw a dark shadow pass across the sun. A sound reached him like that of an angry swarm of wasps. Men cried out in warning and then there came to the hobbit other sounds, cracking and whining and thumping; the orc archers had found their range…

Merry did not feel afraid; a strange exhilaration filled him so that even when the arrows began to strike among the men and horses he did not fear that he would be hit. He only prayed he would reach the enemy before he was….

Men and horses began to fall, and others to be brought down by the fallen, or impeded by bolting mounts of slain warriors. The war cries still rang out, now more grim and furious, and men unhorsed leaped to their feet and dodging the charging horses they seized hold of the stirrip leathers and clung on as the horses bore them into battle.

Éowyn stopped shouting; she was out of breath, and feared more than ever for her father, such a target did he present to the enemy out in front on his white horse. But the king flung his gilded shield before him and the arrows broke on it and still he led his army on…..

Again and again Éowyn felt Windfola swerve and stumble to avoid dying men and her heart lurched in her breast;
‘This is what you wanted, shieldmaiden!’ she thought to herself.
‘Glorious death in battle! To show Aragorn you know how to die. What else is left for those who never lived…?’

Callanach even from so far away saw the enemy archers raise their bows and loose their killing hail of arrows. He felt horribly vulnerable, unable to evade the missiles or shield himself. All around him men were shouting their blood-thirsty war cries, but Callanach felt cold inside; no passion for slaughter burned in him. In his mind instead was the sweet memory of Lothlórien, where he had been brought back to life. He looked to the side and caught the eye of Líofa, galloping on his right in Tiarna’s éored. To his surprise, the Elf gave him a bright smile and Callanach saw his lips move. He read the words…
‘I will be at your side, Storm, this day and always….’

In those few moments between the ceasing of the hail of arrows and the clash of the armies there was a strange silence. The Rohirrim stopped their war cries, and the orcs stood suddenly still, too late to flee, frozen in fear.. The only sound was the thunder of hooves and the whinny of horses…

Then, with a rolling crash like thunder or a wave on rocks, the horsemen of Rohan smote the ranks of Mordor and broke their line. Spears pierced armour, axes clove helmets and the hooves of the horses, warrior-like, struck out and smote down the orcs even as they sought to spear them or their riders.

In later years Merry could not recall what happened after the initial clash of armies. A red mist descended on everything; he knew only that he was borne into the very heart of the battle, striking to left and right, seeking always to support and defend Éowyn. Thick around them pressed the enemy, but the tall horses of the Mark gave such an advantage the orcs began to throw down their weapons and flee. Soon whole squadrons were running away, and as if by some spell the throng opened up around Éowyn and Merry and they could see the wide plain of the Pelennor, right up to the burned and broken walls of the White City. Merry looked round and saw Éomer rallying his men with shouted commands. Beside the King his guard, with Callanach and Líofa, was almost at full number; apart from those who had fallen to the orc arrows few had been lost in the battle, for the orcs had quailed before the Rohirrim, and fled.

‘Make safe the city!’ shouted Théoden, and his heart sang. This was what he had dreamed of; to redress his shame in war. In glorious battle to wipe out all memory of Wormtongue and his weakness….

When Gothmog saw the orcs falling back in confusion he withdrew, surrounded by his Uruk-hai. He swept the battlefield with his good eye, taking in the havoc being wrought on Sauron’s army by this fierce cavalry. Then he summoned Brocach to him. He handed to the creature a piece of black silk smeared with red dye.
‘This is the token for the Haradrim to advance. Let loose the Mumakil!’

The wretch turned and leaped on the back of a warg which bounded off in the direction of the river, hidden in the smoke of battle. Gothmog looked at the Rohirrim, mustering for their last assault on those besieging the city. He smiled and said;

‘Let the mighty battle-beasts of the Haradrim crush this King of Horses….’