Disclaimer: not mine. They belong to the Tolkien Estate. Acknowledgements also to New Line Cinema.

"They are all going to die!" Legolas said, back there amid the noise and stench of the Rohirrim preparing for battle. Speaking Sindarin, thinking they would not understand.

I knew they had understood. There is much that can be communicated with a look, a tone of voice - that I learnt all those years ago when I first arrived in these lands with only a line of greeting in their tongue. As many of the Rohirrim understood Legolas and his bright Elvish anger as understood my reply to him, though I used Westron.

He shot me a look and disappeared, and I turned the other way and pushed my way out of there, looking to find some solitude for a moment. All around me men hurry from side to side, trying out weapons and armour and going from position to position. I take out the knife Celeborn gave me and glance at the edge of the blade, at the gleaming letters, and slide it back into its scabbard.

"A beautiful weapon, that."

I look up. It is Théoden's doorward, Háma, a man I like. "Aye, it is," I agree. Háma hovers, and I wave a hand. "Please, sit."

He perches on the step next to me. "The Elf thinks we are doomed, I gather," he says. "Unless I guess wrong."

"You guess right," I reply, turning Barahir's ring on my finger. If I pull it a little there is a clean white band where no sun or grime has reached. The ring itself has mud, or blood, or both, ingrained in the detail. But there is nothing that can be done about that now, and it has doubtless seen worse in its time. I return my attention to Háma. "Legolas has seen many battles in his time, but none like this."

"Are there any who can remember a threat like this?" Háma says, meeting my eyes.

"A few I have met," I tell him. "The Lord Elrond of Imladris, far in the North, saw the downfall of Sauron, when Elendil and Gil-galad fell, and there are some of his household who survive also. But for men alone there has seldom been a threat of this size. Legolas is right; many shall die."

"To the loss of the burg?" asks Háma.

I look down at the ancient stonework beneath my feet. Already there is a slight tremble as Saruman's forces come closer. Can this fortress hold? I did not spend much time here when I rode with the Riders before. I knew its fame - who did not? No enemy has ever taken the Hornburg. The walls are strong, and high, and thick, but the men defending them are weakened by lack of food, and do not know how to fight on foot. There again, Legolas was right. Many of them do not know how to fight at all.


Háma picks at his fingernails, staring out towards the top of the wall. "Some of the men are saying that we would not be here if Gandalf had not arrived, and if you had not come and incited Théoden to war. They're saying that you should just go on to Gondor, and leave Rohan."

"Go to Gondor?"

"Aye, my lord. They hope Saruman will leave us be."

I trace the engraved leather of Boromir's vambrace on my arm and remember my promise to a dying man. But I remember too a more recent promise, to Gandalf. I assured him that the defences of Helm's Deep would hold. I cannot now turn, with the forces of Saruman bearing down on Rohan, and vanish into the mountains.

"Saruman wants Rohan, Háma. It is Rohan he has on his doorstep. And I shall not leave Rohan until her safety is assured. Those Orcs are coming here, but they will find us prepared, and ready."

"So you meant what you said to the Elf?" Háma asks. "If we die, you die with us?"

"I meant what I said," I tell him, and I do mean it.

A smile breaks across his face, and he clasps my hand in his. "Then I go happier to the fight," he says in Rohirric. "Elf or no Elf." He stands and bows his head, and then turns and disappears, a spring in his step once again.

I feel the cool metal of Arwen's jewel against my skin, and find myself smiling too. I could die here. Somehow, I have a feeling I will not. I look up and see a boy hefting a heavy, ancient blade, and call to him, and the day seems a little brighter.