Dawn was breaking over Helm's Deep when Legolas and his subdued companion appeared in the hall from the passageway into the caverns. There were few to witness their arrival but Legolas spoke quietly to a servant and ushered the boy up to his own chambers.
"Well, Little Shadow, first we had better get you fed and cleaned up before we take you before the King and decide what is to become of you." The boy reacted with terror to the Elf's announcement and tried to run but Legolas was too fast and too strong.
"Easy! You are quite safe here. I promise you no one will harm you," he soothed the struggling youth. "Peace. Settle down, all will be well." He held the boy gently but firmly until the fight left him. "Look at me, Little Shadow. I assure you that you are quite safe. Do you believe me?" The boy finally met his gaze and nodded his head once.
While the boy ate his breakfast, with the will and energy of only of the young and the hungry, servants stoked the fire and carried in a large wooden bathtub. Many journeys with buckets of hot water were required before the bath was filled. A servant left towels and soap and fresh clothes for the captive. At Legolas' urging the boy stripped off his ragged and filthy clothes and settled quickly into the tub. He wasn't self conscious of his nakedness but he was ashamed of his grime ingrained skin and filthy matted hair. He scrubbed himself with soap and sponge until his skin glowed red and only the stubbornly engrained grime around his nails remained as a testament to his long months of hardship. He allowed Legolas to attempt to deal with his hair but the only way to remove the matted tangles was to cut them out. By the time his hair was clean and tangle free the once shoulder-length locks had been shorn to a cap of short blond curls.
The boy was just dressing when a loud knock heralded the arrival of the Dwarf.
"Well Legolas, I hear you have captured yourself our mysterious phantom!" the Dwarf boomed. The boy tried to hide behind his protector. Gimli could not hide his shock. "But he is only a child!" he exclaimed, "surely this cannot be the phantom who has evaded a whole garrison for many months."
"Good morning, Gimli. Come and say hello to my new friend." Legolas put his arm around the frightened boy's shoulder. "I would introduce you but I'm afraid he hasn't yet gifted me with his name."
"Well, youngling, you have led us all a very merry dance," Gimli said kindly. "Keep hold of him, Legolas, Aragorn and Gamling are waiting to see him and Aragorn asked me to remind you that he and the Hobbits and the rest of the company plan to leave today after all have broken their fast, if you still plan to travel with them."
"Yes, that is still my intention, for I gave you my word that I would travel with you and show you the wonders of Fangorn as you shared the mysteries of the Glittering Caves with me. But first we must settle this ones future. "Come, Little Shadow, it is time to go and see the King!"
They escorted the boy between them but despite their frequent and heartfelt reassurances they could feel the boy's fear.
King Elessar was relaxing in a chair by the fire when they were bidden to enter. Dressed in leggings and a plain linen tunic, the King had dispensed with the outer trappings of Royalty; both he and Gamling had heard from the servant that Legolas' captive was a youth but even with prior warning they were shocked went confronted by the reality that he was little more than a child.
The King questioned the boy gently but he could get no word from him; he answered some questions with a nod or a shake of the head but to other questions he kept his eyes to the floor and gave no response. Aragorn turned to Legolas. "Has he any injuries?" he enquired.
"No, old scars only but he is too thin and too pale even to my eyes," the Elf replied. As healer Aragorn ran his fingers over the boy's deformed cheekbone where the bones had healed out of alignment. "Does this pain you?" he questioned the boy and at the nodded reply he sighed before explaining. "It was clearly a serious injury, it would not be unexpected to have pain or headaches as a consequence, I have seen it many times when the head is injured. You do not have to deal with this alone any longer and I will leave some powders with Gamling for you to take should you need it," he assured he boy.
After a few minutes of whispered discussion between them, King Elessar came back to the hearth where the object of their discussions was gazing intently into the flames, though they could all see the tension in him. Taking his seat the King drew the boy to stand before him.
"You are a citizen of Rohan and as such I do not feel it is my place to cast any judgement upon you nor to make any decisions about your future; your fate must be decided by Èomer King. I have asked Gamling to take responsibility for you until such time as you can be escorted to Edoras. As I will be returning this way shortly and must return to Gondor via Edoras I will take you with me. I do not want to have you locked up until that time so I want you to give me your word that you will remain here under Gamling's care and authority until I return. Will you give me your word, young one?" The boy looked into the King's eyes and suddenly realised that this noble man was very kingly indeed and he nodded, holding out his hand to the King to cement the agreement.
"Very well, from this time until Èomer King should resolve the matter, Gamling is appointed as your guardian with all the responsibilities of a foster father. Heed him well and when I return we will travel together to Edoras."
Legolas then addressed the boy. "Well, Little Shadow, I cannot promise to return when King Elessar does as I have other journeys to fulfil but I will look out for you whenever I travel through Rohan. . .which I suspect will be often. If you need anything leave word at Meduseld and I will do what I can." Legolas hugged the boy goodbye and for the first time saw tears upon his cheeks. "Be brave, Little Shadow, all will be well."
This final admonition struck the boy like a blow, though it was kindly meant. He was not brave; he was a coward of the worst kind, a murdering coward. His distress quickly became a maelstrom and he fought against the hands of the shocked adults trying to sooth and restrain him. They none of them understood the cause of his outburst but Legolas finally managed to restrain his thrashing limbs leaving Aragorn to cup his hands to the boys cheeks and overpower his panic with the power of his healing gifts. The boy sagged in Legolas' arms as sleep sent him to peaceful oblivion.
"Is it safe to leave him here, Sire? We have no healers within the Garrison," the Lieutenant asked as Legolas carried the slumbering boy to the chamber next to Gamling's.
"He is mentally and physically exhausted and whatever led him to his life of exile haunts him still. He needs stability and understanding, plentiful food and a warm bed; only when he feels secure will he begin to heal. Do you still feel up to the task, Gamling?"
"Yes, Sire. My own son was taken from me at the Fords of Isen. I will do my best for the boy. . .perhaps he will begin by giving us his name," the old Rider commented.
"It would be a promising start, my friend. Before we leave I will ask Lord Elrond if he can offer any other insights that will help us to help him."
With the departure of the King's entourage the Hornburg was once again home for only Gamling's small garrison. While the boy was still sleeping he gathered the Riders together and explained to them what had been discovered and about the plans for the boy's immediate future.
Gamling kept the boy with him as he went about his duties in the Keep and when he had to go out on patrol one of the younger men was given responsibility for keeping a watch over him. It was soon obvious that the boy was not used to being around horses but his initial fear of the great steeds soon gave way to interest as he was shown how to care for them. The boy was generally obedient and biddable and over-eager to please and he soon realised that he had no need to hoard scraps of food. He helped out in the kitchens and happily displayed the sewing skills he had learned at his mother's insistence by darning socks and affecting other small repairs to the Riders gear. But he never spoke and only communicated with a nod or a shake of his head.
One night about a week after the King's departure Gamling was woken in the night by the sounds of distress from the boy's room and he entered to find the boy in the grip of a nightmare. Even when he managed to wake him, the boy continued to cry out and pull at his hair in obvious pain and distress, finally vomiting over himself and his bedding. Only with great patience was Gamling able to get him to swallow the medicine the King had left for just such an eventuality. With the pain under control they got him cleaned up and settled back into bed but the episode seemed to set back the boy's fragile composure.
When King Elessar returned Gamling felt he had made little progress with his new ward; the boy was still mute and he had learned almost nothing of his history except that he had once been a shepherd and that he was now an orphan. He explained to the King about the nightmare and his shouting out in his sleep. Gamling was surprised that the Healer King seemed heartened by the news, until it was explained to him that it suggested that the boy's mutism was a reaction to something terrible in his past rather than a physical consequence of his injury and was therefore more likely to be temporary.
The boy rode with Gamling on the journey to Edoras and on the first night in the city Gamling kept him away from the noise and bustle of the main hall, instead taking him to the stables and allowing his ward to help care for the horses. After supper Aragorn took the opportunity of discussing the boy's situation with Èomer, Èowyn and Arwen and between them they agreed a plan of action.
After break of fast Gamling escorted the boy through the Great Hall and into a small ante-chamber beyond. King Elessar opened the door and ushered the apprehensive lad into the room before dismissing Gamling with his thanks. With an arm around the boy's shoulder he led him to stand before the most beautiful being he had ever beheld.
"This is Arwen, my wife and Queen," Aragorn explained to the awe struck youngster.
"Hello. It is lovely to meet you. I understand you are a friend of my dear friend Legolas." Her voice was like the tinkling of a thousand silver bells and her eyes sparkled with the light of a million stars. The boy was mesmerised. She gently guided him to sit beside her, angling them both so that they faced one another, his hands clasped firmly between her cool and elegant fingers. Across the room, Aragorn settled into a chair out of the boy's line of sight not wanting to break the spell his clever and beautiful wife was weaving as she worked her Elven charm upon him.
For a while Arwen spoke to him quietly, accepting his silent communication and forging the first tentative tendrils of trust from him. Soon she leaned forward and whispered something that Aragorn couldn't hear and a moment later the boy leaned towards her and appeared to whisper something to her in return.
"That is a noble and honourable name," she smiled in encouragement to her new friend and flashed a quick wink to her husband. "Now that we have been properly introduced, I would be honoured if you would tell me about yourself, so that I may know you better," she prompted. The boy flinched and tried to retreat but she held his hands and his gaze with her calm compassion and he felt calmed and compelled to speak.
Haltingly, at first, he told her of his home and his family, his voice scratchy and quiet with long silence. She urged him on with soft questions and prompts, not attempting to stall his tears when he told of how the Wildmen had come and torched his village, killing and destroying all in their path. He told of his father's end and of his mother's sacrifice and how he had fled, leaving them both to their dreadful fate. Arwen held him as they wept together for his loss and for a long time he finally allowed the full measure of his grief to flow. And when he had calmed enough to continue he told her of his experiences from his arrival at the Deep and the preparations for the battle until he was felled by the boot of an Orc. As he talked the Royal couple could both sense his remembered terror as he relived that terrible night but as she looked into his eyes instinct told her that there was something more, something he was still hiding deep inside. Aragorn sensed it too and he wondered what could be even more terrible than they had already heard.
"What else?" the softly spoken question hung between them and the tension in the room rose at the inevitable exposure of this deepest, darkest, most shameful secret.
"NO! No more!" the boy howled with the desperation of a cornered animal.
"Come now, whatever it is, you are safe to tell me," Arwen soothed but he snatched his hands away and pushed himself as far from her on the settle as he could get. Aragorn came forward and knelt behind the cowering boy and placed a reassuring hand upon his shoulder.
"NO. Don't touch me! Don't. . . I do not deserve. . .it is too terrible. Please. . .don't. Please. Do not make me say it!" the boy sobbed. "Please don't make me say it. Please don't make it. . .Real!"
Arwen and Aragorn shared a moment of silent communication and then both moved. Arwen pulled the sobbing boy into her arms, pressing his head to her shoulder as he struggled. He fought her embrace until Aragorn pressed against his back, his arms going around the boy and his wife in a circle of comfort. The boy's cries were heartrending and he continued to struggle against them but they did not yield. He was no match for the strength of their compassion; as the fight finally left him he grasped onto Aragorn's arms as they circled behind Arwen's back.
"Tell us now," Aragorn whispered the order against his ear with stern compassion. "Tell us. Say it aloud!"
For the longest time they thought he would refuse but eventually the fateful words burst from him. "I killed him!" the boy sobbed. "He was trying to save me and I murdered him!"
"Who did you kill?" Arwen asked.
"Althred. . .I killed Althred!" he wept and he would not be consoled.
"Tell us what happened, for I am sure you did not intend for this to happen."
"We were on the battlement. We had been there all night and then. . .and then they blew a hole in the Deeping Wall and before our ears stopped ringing from the explosion the Orcs were upon us. . .and I was too tired to lift my sword and too scared to fight. I was hiding against the wall. Althred had been fighting beside me all night and then we heard the King's call to retreat. Someone grabbed my arm and dragged me to my feet and I thought it was an Orc and that I was going to die. . .I swung my blade round and buried it in his belly. . .but it wasn't an Orc it was Althred and he fell on top of me and he was dead and I killed him".
Aragorn let out a sad sigh and released his hold on the boy, sitting back and pulling him his feet to stand before him. When the lad tried to evade his eye he placed a hand under his chin and forced him to meet his gaze.
"I want you to listen carefully. I have been in many battles in my life and I can assure you that you are not the first to have had this misfortune. All battles are terrible and bloody and bad things happen. You did not murder Althred, he died in battle," Aragorn assured him gravely.
"But. . .!"
"No, this is important. He died in battle, a brave warrior defending his King and his homeland from a terrible foe. In battles many die who should not. Arrows and spears know not friend from foe, they are released and sometimes they find the wrong target."
"But it was my blade, delivered by my hand!"
"Did you mean to hurt him? Did you mean to take his life?"
"No. He died in battle when all appeared lost."
"So does his life not matter!" the boy demanded.
"Of course his life mattered. He spent his life fighting to keep Rohan safe. He will find honour in the Halls of your Long Father's for his diligence and bravery," Aragorn assured him.
"And what of me? What will happen to me?"
"No one will hold you to blame for what happened and you have suffered enough torment over these last few months when you hid yourself away in shame and self-loathing. You will not be punished for an accident that happened in the heat of battle. . .a battle you are too young to have been fighting."
"But how do I forget?"
"First you must learn to forgive yourself. It is not something you can forget but you can learn from the experience and work hard to be a better man for it. You have a foster father to guide your steps and you now count Kings and Elves amongst your friends. Live a good life and make us proud of you," Arwen counselled him.
"It is that easy!"
"No, not easy. It is a lifetime's endeavour but we have faith in you," she assured him.
"Will you help me to tell Gamling what I have remembered today?" the boy begged her. The gruff Rider had become the one point of stability in the chaos and uncertainty of the boy's recent experience and it was his acceptance and understanding that he sought even above that of the King.
"Come, let us get you tidied up and then we will tell Gamling and Èomer King together," Arwen affirmed as she ushered him towards the door.
"Stop! Before we go to Èomer King there is one thing you have yet to tell me," Aragorn called as he hurried after them. "I cannot introduce you, I still do not know your name!"
"My name is Háleth, Sire. Háleth, son of Háma. . . and we have met before!"
Èomer King listened gravely to Háleth's tale and he was greatly moved by the enormity of the boy's losses as his experiences were revealed. After hearing the boy's story both Aragorn and Gamling spoke at length until finally the King was ready to give his judgement.
"Háleth, son of Háma, you come before me, accused, by your own admission, of causing the death of Althred, Rider of Rohan. Having heard your testimony of the circumstances surrounding Althred's death, and the accounts of those who were present during the battle of Helm's Deep, I judge that there is no case to answer. Many died in battle that night and Althred's death, though tragic, was not murder, it was an accident, a terrible and tragic accident. I regret greatly that you have had to live alone with this anguish but no one blames you for that act of desperation. Circumstances placed you in a situation beyond your experience and maturity and by staying on the battlement for the duration of the battle you have proved yourself a worthy citizen of Rohan.
"I have given much thought to your future. If it is still agreeable to you both, I will confirm Lieutenant Gamling as your guardian, giving to him full parental responsibility for you until you come of age. Gamling has agreed to transfer back here to Edoras as we consider Helm's Deep too isolated and holding of too many bad memories for you. Here in Edoras, under Gamling's guidance and protection, you may move forward and put the past behind you."
"Lieutenant Gamling, will you take on this charge?"
"Háleth, do I have your consent?" The boy looked from the King to Gamling and saw the quiet reassurance in their eyes and he nodded, too full of emotion to speak.
"Sir," Gamling saluted and at the King's nod of dismissal he led the boy away.
"Are you sure Gamling realises the challenges he faces, do you think?" Arwen asked as the door closed behind the new family.
"Gamling is a good man and he raised a fine son. Háleth may prove to be a challenge as he tries to put the past behind him but Gamling will not let him go astray," Èomer assured than. "After all, he has mentored many youngsters from callow youth to maturity and many of our Riders learned all they know under his tutelage. . .me included. . .he can be a hard task-master, but he is fair."
"He sounds much like my mentors in Imladris," Aragorn grinned.
"Well, if he is half a successful with Háleth as Ada and Glorfindel and Erestor were with you then the boy cannot help but turn out well."
A/N Although this story is book verse I'm sure those who are familiar with TTT movie will recognise who my hero is. Thank you to everyone who was kind enough to leave feedback, it is much appreciated.
Shireling Jan 2009