If he closed his eyes, he could still hear the sound of his father's dying scream.
With every breath, he could feel the tears of his mother streaming down his own cheeks as she held her son close, grieving for the death of her husband. Her despair sounded in her wails of anguish and in her grip on his arm. Every fiber of her being cried out. But all he could feel was confusion. All he could do was let her hold him close.
Théoden king said that his father had died honorably. It was noble that he died protecting the people of Rohan. That his death gave the women and children time to escape from the wolves of Isengard. Without his warning, the cost of lives would have been great. The king thanked the family of Hama personally.
Haleth, son of Háma, could not bring himself to accept the thanks of his king. Thanks would not bring back his father. Thanks would not dry the eyes of his mother and sister, now left alone in this world without a protector. Haleth understood that his grieving family needed him more than ever. But that need would soon be impossible to fulfill.
The people of Rohan had been fortunate to reach the santuary of Helms Deep. There were whispers that a great war was about to descend upon Rohan. There were whispers that the war meant more than they could anticipate. Rumors of monsters sporting the white hand of Saruman sent chills down their spines; if Saruman had truly betrayed them, all hope would be lost.
Haleth sat with his mother in the depths of the limestone caves that would serve as a hellish home during their stay in the fortress. Moisture dripped from the stone of the walls, hitting the ground with a smack that seemed to echo throughout the vast cavern in the silence. The spattered silence was eerie. Even the children understood that something was about to happen. The women and children looked to their brothers, their fathers, and their grandfathers with a feeling of trepidation. It wouldn't be long now.
And then, the soldiers came sweeping through the caves of Helms Deep, summoning every able-bodied man to the armory. Boys younger than his own fourteen summers. Men so old that they could barely walk, let alone wield a sword. The draft seemed to go on endlessly. Mothers and wives were parted from their men. Sobs and moans sounded in a chorus of grief; they knew the chances of their loved ones returning to them alive. The young ones could only offer a frightened embrace to calm their mothers. They had no understanding of what was happening. War was not a burden that they were meant to bear.
When the soldier approached his family, Haleth did not so much as wait for the man to speak. He pulled his mother close, whispering a few words of comfort. The words sounded hollow, even to his own heart; he was no soldier. She cried bitter tears, but he gently pulled her arms from around his shoulders and nodded to the soldier. The lump in his throat made it painful to speak.
A heavy heart was all that accompanied him as he strode toward the armoury, putting on a brave face for the sake of the children who had been drafted to fight. But his outward face was a lie. Terror slid an icy hand around his throat as he walked. The hand began to squeeze, and he felt the air being crushed from his lungs. His insides twisted as he watched the other boys being fitted for helmets that were far too large for their tiny heads. Bile rose in his throat as his own helmet was placed on his head and strapped tight. He swallowed furiously, hating himself for the fear that he felt.
If his father had been able to die for Rohan, it only made sense that his son would do the same.
"It is hopeless."
He tried desperately to shut out the words of the soldiers. He knew how they all looked, for they bore the appearance of who they were: children. They were no warriors. He doubted if many of the younger boys would even be able to lift a sword.
"To put our fate in the hands of children is beyond folly. It is madness."
But the times bore the unmistakable mark of madness. What choice did they have? None. They must protect the others.
"It is all for naught. We will not live out the night."
The words only served to tighten the grip of the hand around his throat. His breath began to come in short gasps. There was no hope of shutting out the words now.
"Better for these boys to die in battle with some smack of honor, and not be cut down with the rest of the women and children."
To be cut down defending the ones that they loved.
"How can you say that? Do you care nothing for their lives?"
"They will be men of Rohan, whether by their death or their coming of age."
Is it the lot of a man of Rohan to die for his land? To die in the service of the king? He could only pray that this was not so. He must escape the stench of the armoury, for the stench of fear had begun to overwhelm his already shaking limbs. He was unaware of how a long, silver blade appeared in his hand. Nor did he care. He ran, dragging the heavy sword on the ground behind him in his haste. A more experienced warrior shouted for him not to treat his blade in such a fashion, and he hastily heaved it towards his body, hugging it to his chest. The fact that the blade was dull only increased his anxiety.
Finally, he stopped outside, gasping for breath. The black sky stretched out overhead; any hope of seeing the stars was destroyed by the clouds that laced the sky. He breathed relief at the darkness, for that meant that he would not have to endure the red of the sunset. Red was the last color he wished to see in the relative calm before the battle.
The sword swung wildly towards the head of the Uruk. The monster gave a furious growl; his weapon came up in an expert block, stopping the sword with a resounding clang. Haleth pulled his sword back, just in time to block a long, silver knife as another Uruk aimed for his head. The knife was thrown aside as the second attacker roared in indignation. Haleth cried out as he dropped to the ground, rolling between the legs of yet another attacker. There was no end to them.
As he straightened his back, he groaned. Somewhere during the course of the roll, he'd managed to lose his own sword. Haleth cursed, casting his eyes wildly on the ground around him in a desperate search for another weapon. He breathed a sigh of relief as his eyes settled upon a large, bloody axe that lay on the ground, presumably abandoned by a dying master.
Axe gripped in his white knuckles, he swung it at an Uruk, the metal colliding into the head with a sickening squish.
"Give me your sword."
The dull blade in his hands, Lord Aragorn spun it about, swinging it this way and that with practiced speed and precision. His grip was expert and his eyes focused on the silver. Haleth could only watch with a feeling of jealousy. If only all the soldiers were so capable.
He pulled the bloody axe from the brain of the Uruk with some difficulty as his hands shook uncontrollably. Screams filled the air all around him, filling his heart with terrible dread. Rain poured mercilessly on his back and his stiffening fingers felt like blocks of ice. The water dripped in his eyes, making it difficult to see. He pawed at his face, trying to get a clear view of the chaos.
"This is a good sword. Haleth, son of Háma."
Feeling somewhat confused, Haleth accepted his blade and made to turn away from the man. But a hand on his shoulder stopped him.
His hands granted his face a brief respite from the rain, and his eyes were able to capture the sight of a number of elves battling furiously on the top of the wall. The Uruks pressed their advantage, but the skilled warriors were slowly driving them back.
Haleth's attention was torn from the elves by another Uruk advancing on him. He gave a cry, drawn from his lungs by the terror of the situation, and he clumsily swung his axe. It was pure luck that landed his blow squarely in the face of his enemy. But not before the sword of the Uruk sliced into his exposed arm.
The crimson blood that spewed from the gash appeared black, like the blood of an Orc, in the half-light of the battle. He clutched at his arm, allowing the axe to drop. Pain shot through the wound, and he swallowed hard as realization flooded through his aching brain: such an injury made the chances of survival very slim.
What was it that the men had said in the armoury? "We will not live out the night. It is hopeless."
It didn't seem possible to deny it anymore. Haleth knew that they were right. He was about to die. Painfully. He didn't want to die.
"Fall back to the keep!"
The voice of the king barely sounded over the din of the battle. Haleth could see Lord Aragorn now. The man tore through the battle, slicing down enemies as he went. He shouted out in the language of the elves. Men and elves began to retreat. Hurriedly, Haleth grabbed for his sword and turned. Tears began to stream down his face as the battle began to hurtle through his mind.
He glanced up as Lord Aragorn shouted to one of the elves on the top of the wall. Lord Aragorn shouted to the one called Haldir, and Haldir nodded his understanding. Haldir shouted to the elves fighting around him, urging them to hurry to the keep. Then, the Uruk Haldir fought buried his sword in Haldir's gut. Haldir gasped in pain. His sword swung with deadly accuracy nonetheless, slaughtering the creature.
Haleth watched in horror as Lord Aragorn cried out in anguish at the sight of the attack. He saw the man hurry to the side of the elf. He felt such pain for the Ranger; he knew that there was no longer any hope.
The man pulled him close, so that he was forced to look into the eyes of Lord Aragorn. Haleth cocked his head in confusion.
"There is always hope."
But, for the split second that it took Lord Aragorn to bid farewell to his friend, there was no hope in the face of the Ranger. He bowed his head in anguish. Suddenly, Haleth realized that he was runnning. His feet did not run toward the keep with the others. They ran toward Lord Aragorn. For he had seen something. He had seen an Uruk running toward the grieving Ranger, his sword raised.
Then he was at the scene, raising his axe to meet the sword. The axe blocked the blow before it reached the head of the Ranger. Haleth sucked in his breath in astonishment as his spontaneous action appeared to have succeeded. The Uruk pulled his sword back, roaring furiously. Haleth could see Lord Aragorn out of the corner of his eye and he bit his lip. The man was now on his feet again, attacking the enemy with renewed strength. He was alive.
Haleth was able to breathe and turn about before the sword of the Uruk buried itself in his chest. He fell to his knees, gasping for breath as blood sprayed black droplets on the stone of the wall. Lord Aragorn was now far away, swallowed up by the battle.
Pain exploded in his chest as he pitched forward. Images of his mother, his father, and his sister sprang into his mind. He reached out and tried to stroke their faces, to tell them that it was all right. The noise from the battle was gone now, replaced by the silence of the dying. He smiled softly as the images of his loved ones began to dim. No one would ever know. They would never discover that he could have lived through the battle of Helms Deep, had he not gone to protect their leader. But he didn't care. As long as Lord Aragorn lived, Rohan would survive.