Disclaimer: I do not own Lord of the Rings

Summary: See Previous Chapters

Chapter Eighteen

Mairi was in the caves, passing the time by demonstrating and describing some of the formation moves that had made the Ancient Empires so effective - there were benefits to being in a household where at least half of the members had made an in-depth study of military history - and waiting for the next attack.

She couldn't believe that she was actually looking forward to it, but the SCAdian Lady had always done best when she had something productive to focus on, and it was better than running through the many ways that she was going to say 'I told you so' when she caught up to Suzi-Maria again. The Rohirrim women seemed to feel much the same way, and were taking to the basic maneuvers like dropping and bracing into a spear wall with surprising skill.

If it kept up, Eowyn might even get her dream of being able to train a new generation of Shieldmaidens, if the glean in the eyes of some of the girls was any indication.

She only hoped that the rest of her companions were faring so well.

Boromir was in his element. He had always been at his best when he was leading men in battle, and near-impossible odds were hardly a new thing with him. Aragon and Theoden were giving the orders, finally acting as the king he was supposed to be. It was about time; Boromir had started to think it would take a dramatic deathbed wish to make the Heir-turned-Ranger step up.

Eomer and most of his riders had left to prepare a flanking maneuver, knowing where they would be of best use. Of course the archers were getting all the action right now, but that would change soon enough. Orcs had little head for strategy, but with such vast numbers, they could simply throw themselves at the walls until the bodies piled high enough to form a bridge. That had been how they had taken Osgilieth the first time, and Boromir's reinforcements had only succeeded in helping Faramir re-take it because Faramir and his rangers had taken such a toll on their numbers that the Orcs did not have the strength to hold it.

Try telling Denethor that, though.

But now was not the time to wonder how his brother was faring without him, or make comparisons about rulers who didn't always listen. Boromir did not relish being Eomer or Theoden once the battle was over and Lady Eowyn had the chance to speak with them about the decision to allow untrained boys into battle, but not a qualified Shieldmaiden. He wondered how Mairi was managing, stuck in the caves with the Lady of Rohan, who was doubtless prowling like a caged animal.

But now ladders were rising against the Deeping Wall, and the elves and men who were skilled with most skilled with the bow were falling back, providing cover for those who were best suited to close combat.

There was a collective flinch from everyone who saw Gimli chop an Uruk directly between the legs as it prepared to leap over the wall, and Boromir would swear he saw several nearby Uruks pause for a moment, even in the midst of their crazed bloodlust.

Legolas knew that he was going to hear about the last few months from Tauriel.

Not just the last few months, but also about Gimli. After giving her such a hard time about Kili, over sixty years ago, Legolas knew that his oldest friend was only restraining herself from calling Gimli a deformed Orc because she was still waiting for a moment to cause minimum diplomatic difficulties and maximum awkwardness for the prince.

And Tauriel would be nothing compared to what his father was going to say about it.

Still, it felt good to be commanding his own people again, even in such a dire situation. Even if they did insist on treating him with the honours that usually only came out on formal occasions or when other races were around - Legolas had a feeling that they were indulging in a bit of quiet one-up-manship of the haughty Lothlorien elves - his people had answered the call to arms, and there was no longer faint muttering about the Eldar leaving when the going got tough. The elves of the Greenwood were living up to their reputation as superb archers and being the 'more dangerous' of the realms.

Ladders began to rise from the Uruk-Hai army, and Legolas called for those with a slower draw to switch to swords or knives. He was not the only elf capable of archery in close quarters, but his father was not the only one to prefer melee weapons in a pitched battle. He glanced swiftly around to see

Sam, oddly enough, was not going for the Uruk-Hai themselves. Instead, he was attacking the ladders that they were using to scale the walls, hacking at the rungs high enough to be seen over the wall. After the third time he narrowly missed being beheaded, Rowan finally shouted in frustration. "Will you pay attention? What are you even doing?"

An Uruk-Hai grabbed for one of the rungs, which snapped under his grip, sending him plummeting back down. Sam looked triumphant and grabbed the side of the ladder, using all his weight to drag it to the side. "If we take out the ladders, they have to find another way to get up! Help me!"

Rowan stabbed another Uruk-Hai, pushing it off the wall, then helped Sam pull. If it didn't work, at least Sam would get back to actually fighting!

But it did work, and they only had to get so far before the ladder started to fall of its own accord, taking three more down as it went, all smashed beyond convenient or safe repair. Rowan blinked. "OK, I admit that worked, but can we get back to actual fighting now? Let the other areas take care of their ladders, and focus on staying alive!"

Since her arrival, Suzi-Maria had dreamed of being surrounded by men praising her for her skill at arms, or for saving their lives in battle when all seemed lost. Three days after her arrival, she discovered that such a thing would be very unlikely, especially if she wanted to enjoy the praise without getting dragged away for a severe lecture from Mairi. This, however, was more likely to see Mairi keeled over laughing than scolding.

Somehow, Suzi-Maria's imagination had never covered a scenario where the 'Men' were actually 'boys of the race of Men', whose ideas of 'skill at arms' were vastly different than that of seasoned warriors.

Besides, this battle was one where even Mairi wouldn't complain about changing a few things so that more people came out alive.

A few of the boys had bows, and even untrained, were probably better at using them than she was. She raised her voice. "Aim for the ropes on the rising ladders! If you can't hit them, aim for the Uruks near the top or the ones operating the engines!"

That was a lesson learned the hard way by nearly everyone. There will be a set number of people capable of operating something. If those people are absent for whatever reason, that something won't work. It was a great motivation to learn how to make your own damn coffee in the morning, but could easily be applied to siege engines, too.

Uruk-hai were smarter than Orcs, and had sent two or three of their number to scout for another way in. Thanks to few well-aimed arrows, an opening too small for more than one armoured Uruk-Hai to pass at once, and a close encounter with Eowyn's sword, Saruman's army would be waiting a long time for the scouts to report.

That had cheered Eowyn up quite a bit, as she had been feeling more than a bit useless, and therefore quite angry. Actively protecting her people, which had been her main motivation for becoming a Shieldmaiden in the first place, was much better.

Taking precautions had been a wise move.

Helms Deep was living up to its reputation of impenetrability, and Saruman's army was starting to get desperate. Under Aragorn's orders, a combined group of Gondorian Scouts and Rohirrim had pulled off a sneak attack on their Supply line, meaning that they no longer had enough food to hold a long siege, and much of that food was now in the Caves, boosting the resources of Helm's Deep. Finding another way in was the only real option.

Even as the great Horn of Helm Hammerhand resonated through the mountains, and the Rohirrim made their final charge as Gamling organized the woman and children to make for the mountain pass, some of the sheer overwhelming number of Uruk-Hai closed ranks behind the few dozen riders that remained, charging through the keep in search of less well-armed people to kill.

They were met with a nasty shock.

The caves that served as a refuge also served as a place to store weapons and equipment that there was no room for in the in the main keep. Eowyn took up her guard at the first sound of footsteps as Mairi organised the women onto a semi-cohesive defense. It actually wasn't that different to organising a kitchen for an Event, and while she didn't have much experience at that, either, she had helped out enough times to know the theory.

Grandmothers and the injured, too old or infirm to be of help, led the way further into the caves. Mothers passed their infants and young children into the arms of older daughters and took up what weaponry they could. Yet despite their willingness to take arms, most looked uncertain, even fearful, of the weapons in their hands.

Inspiring speeches to rally warriors was something that Mairi had always left to the Heralds, who were good for far more than horrible puns, even if they didn't always seem like it. Giving comfort, however, was a field in which she had much practice. "Back home, I have a good friend. His wife hates the very idea of fighting, and was reluctant to even hold a weapon. One day, those under her care were threatened, and she killed the perpertrator with a single shot."

Des the Potter's wife had hated learning to shoot, but when a fox had crept through the bush scrub to kill her chickens, it hadn't even made it to within sight of the coop. Those details, however, were best left vague. Mairi laid a hand on the shaking arm of a woman not much older than Suzi-Maria, absently noticing that others were listening in. "Men fight until one of them falls, but women end the threat, and lack of aggression should not be confused with unwillingness to inflict violence. You have family to protect, and that counts for quite a lot."

As the women moved back to their preparations, Eowyn came over, keeping her voice low. "That was well-said, though I think that I would have spoken differently."

A Shieldmaiden who had fought hard to be allowed even that training, the fire in her soul suppressed under the long years of Wormtongue holding the ear of her King, Eowyn would have advocated a more passionate defence, rather than quiet reassurance. But most of these women were from outlying villages, and most or all had never aspired to more than to love and raise a family. Mairi shrugged, "To most of them, war is the providence of men. Protecting their family, on the other hand, stirs an instinct older than Tradition or common custom."

The Shieldmaiden smiled grimly. "An instinct that they may be forced to use far too often, in the coming days." She abruptly changed the subject, "Your companion fights among the men, does she not?"

Trying not to cringe, Mairi nodded. "I often wish otherise, but yes. With Suzi-Maria, I must pick my battles, and there are times that I cannot restrain her. Much as I may wish otherwise, this is one of those occasions." Her smile turned pensive and a touch bitter, "It is strange. Only months ago I would not have minded if she fell over a cliff; now I find myself praying that she makes it through the battle unscathed."

Mairi organized the archers (a surprising number of women had learned archery in order to hunt or to defend their homes while the men were at war) and built up a small barricade of arrow-riddled Uruk-Hai, meaning that their fellows had to climb over them, or waste time pushing them out of the way, before they could attack.

This left them open for several women with spears to make things even harder for the attackers, and all of them had taken Mairi's words about efficiently ending the threat seriously. When the Uruk-Hai gained enough ground that spears became unwieldy, the women did not stand their ground, but parted and let them through, some attacking from behind and others reforming to bar the exit.

When the forces of Saruman paused in confusion, far more used to facing men who refused to give way, Eowyn and the few women who could use a sword moved in, taking their own turn to wreak devestation while the archers and spearwomen picked off those who tried to escape.

Eomer and his command had hit Saruman's army like the wave that had drowned Numenor, trapping them between their charge and the sheer cliff on the opposite side of the valley. The Uruk-Hai had nowhere to go but back when Theoden led a charge out from Helm's Deep.

Flushed with the taste of near-certain Victory, Rowan, Sam and Suzi-Maria joined the other Defenders in pursuing the last of the Uruk-Hai as they fled away from Helm's Deep. They came to a halt in front of a forest that Rowan was sure hadn't been there when they arrived, and all of them were very glad that they could not see what happened when several trees further in started shaking, as though they danced to a chorus of terrified Uruk-Hai screams.

Shaken, they were happy to be among those leading the way back to the fortress, but far less happy to see the first of a group of Uruk-Hai appearing from an open door that led to the caves.

Legolas brought down the first, but more were pouring out.

The group of Uruk-Hai instantly turned and retreated, only seconds ahead of Eomer, who had guessed the location of his sister and ran down the passage with an anguished cry. Rowan paused only seconds longer to glance at the other members of the Fellowship. "Mairi!"

The sound of shouting and metal on metal could be heard well before they even made it inside the cavern.

"Drop and brace!"

Lady Eowyn's voice rang clearly just as the men made it into the cavern and skidded to a halt, dumbstruck.

As one, a line of ten women dropped to one knee, bracing their hunting spears too late for the Uruk-Hai to stop. The first rank impaled themselves, causing mass confusion as the second and third ranks tried to turn around, colliding with those behind them. A second rank of ten stepped around them, repeating the same action in a move designed to push the attacking force back.

Two lines of archers stood behind the spear women, taking aim at the confused Uruks. "First rank, shoot! Reload! Second rank, shoot! Reload! First rank"

The first line released their arrows, then knelt as they reloaded, giving the second line a clear shot. They knelt as the first line rose again, repeating the maneuver twice more before they parted, taking up flanking positions as the spear women ran around the conflict to reform on the other side, trapping the Uruk-Hai between a line of spears and ten women wielding an assortment of blades, headed by Eowyn and Mairi.

Two of the women had fallen injured when the quick but bloody skirmish ended with the last Uruk beheaded by Eowyn. Rowan tried not to laugh as he looked to Aragorn. "I presume this means we can tell the children and elders that it is safe to return?"

Eowyn stifled a laugh at her brother's expression, giving a signal for the other women to lower their weapons. "They are further into the caves. Come, Mairi, you can tell me more of your people as we go." She raised her voice. "Find medicine and bandages! There are wounded to treat. Freida, tell those guarding the exit that it is safe to return."

It was Rowan's turn to stifle a snicker. He clapped Eomer on the shoulder, stopping himself just in time to avoid doing the same thing to the Lord of the Riddermark. "Sounds like Mairi has been entertaining them with tales of SCAdian ladies. I wish you the very best of luck, my Lord."

Eomer had seen Mairi take down an Uruk-Hai in the skirmish where Merry and Pippin escaped into Fangorn, and while he did not like the thought of his sister in battle, he had resigned himself to the fact that Eowyn had, on occasion, knocked him flat when she convinced him to match swords with her. Theoden had been under Grima's thrall for most of Eowyn's development, however, and had yet to see Mairi in action. "Your pardon, Master Rowan?"

The memory of the past minute would mark Rowan's dreams for some time, so he was not as tactful as he could have been. "Between a quarter and a half of our women take arms beside the men. The rest are like Mairi: they take arms only when forced, but are utterly vicious, and have a thousand other ways of making life a misery outside the battlefield, when angered."

One of the Mirkwood elves actually smiled. "If she were not of the race of Men, I would ask her father's permission to visit and come to know her better. We Greenwood elves find such qualities desirable in a lady."

Tauriel smirked, then inclined her head toward Legolas. "By your leave, your Highness, we will start aiding the wounded."

Several elves darted back up the passageway to retrieve supplies as Boromir and Eomer signalled for the battlefield medics to follow suit.





A/N: Yes, I know it's been way too long, but that chapter - specifically the battle scene - has been givong me hell to write, luckily, a four-hour layover and trans-Pacific flight gave me plenty of time with nothing to do but work on it.

For those reading Not What You Expected, that has also been updated.