A Thread Of Courage - A Tale From Helm's Deep
Four days at the fortress of Helm's Deep and young, vibrant, and newly-wedded Felice of Edoras had not had a moment's peace. She was a plain healer whose work was plain, but being one of two healers in the fortress, her name had begun to sound worn-out with so many people calling it. This voice, however, was one she longed to hear. Eomil, her husband, a simple cobbler, stood with his arms open to her. They had only been married two months and the greatest test of faithfulness was soon to fall upon them. This journey alone had worn away at every inch of Felice's patience. Her husband's arms were a haven of peace for the moment.
She pressed her head to his chest, listening to the deep throb of his heart. Eomil smoothed her hair and gently caressed her forehead.
"You are so weary," he said.
"You would be also," she replied, "These people need to travel more often, so they would not be so susceptible to the strains of journeys. I have tended to everything: from the dying to the sore, illnesses, broken bones, and blisters. I cannot take much more!" Eomil did not appear to be listening. He kept his arms about her, as though he were trying to protect her, and pressed himself against the fortress wall.
"What is wrong?" Felice asked. Eomil looked skyward.
"Crebain from Dunland," Eomil whispered. Felice looked up at what appeared to be only a flock of crows.
"They are watching us," Eomil continued, "They have the whole fortress under their eyes. They will return to Saruman. We are not safe here."
"You sound paranoid," Felice commented.
"I am paranoid," Eomil turned his face to her. She instantly saw the haggardness of his eyes and the paleness of his face.
"You are not safe," Eomil whispered, tenderly.
"But there is no place to go," Felice said, "This is the safest place for miles. Even if we are attacked, they cannot break these walls. No one can, not even Saruman. He would need an army of over ten thousand if he thinks he can get us, and no such army exists. Why don't you go get rest?"
"I cannot rest while they are about," Eomil said, indicating the flock of crebain. Felice took Eomil's face in her hands, kissing his cheek.
"My darling, they're only birds!" she exclaimed, "Don't go on so about death and all that! It can't be good for you." Eomil smiled at Felice. What was it about her that had him so enslaved to her? Her cold, loving grey eyes? Her ivory skin under locks of perfect gold hair? He could never make up his mind. And what had made an angel such as her love a poor man such as him? He had only love and a home to offer her, while there were greater men who had also longed for her hand. Why had she chosen him? But dashing all his doubts once again, Felice gently and tenderly kissed him, but had to shoo him off, for she was being called for again.
Once Eomil had gone off, Felice paused a moment herself to watch him from a distance. She would never quite understand how she had won him. He was tall and silent, with a beautiful mop of golden curls and blue eyes. Silently adored by many other women, Eomil somehow chose Felice out of all his other admirers. She had had no dowry, no father, and no mother. And he was such a man of honor, what could she ever do for him?
"Coming!" Back to reality, back to life, back to work....there was no time for such giddiness in those times.
Afternoon hours were sweeping in with terror on their wings. An army of orcs had been seen miles away, making their way to Helm's Deep. And not just any army of orcs; an army of some ten-thousand strong Uruk-hai, belonging to Saruman, bred only for one thing: to destroy the world of men. Such reckless hate was upon them! And there were not enough of them to hold it back!
Theoden King counseled with Gandalf the White Wizard and Lord Aragorn. With Lord Aragorn there was a dwarf called Gimli and an Elf of Mirkwood called Legolas. Felice didn't hear much of these cousils, but it's outcome took a terrible blow to the people of Rohan.
It was later afternoon when messengers came around the camps of each family. Felice could not understand what they were doing, until they reached her small camp where she and her husband rested and ate.
"By order of Theoden King, it is decreed that all men able to fight join the ranks of the army of Rohan. Every hand is needed, every male must be spared."
Felice stared at the messenger in shock and looked at Eomil. He was but a simple cobbler with hardly the knowledge or comprehension of battle! How could they expect him to take up arms and fight?! She could not imagine her silent, passive husband wielding a sword and killing orcs.
"Please, my lord!" Felice found her voice to protest before the messenger left, "He is only a cobbler and we have only just married. Spare him, he cannot fight! It's not in his nature." Eomil made no argument to this, but stood rather sullen off to the side.
"My orders come from Theoden King," the messenger said, "I will make no exceptions to his word. He must be at the armory on his own free-will or we will come for him." The messenger made ready to turn, but saw Felice's tears. He turned and spoke gently.
"This is for Rohan, miss, our soldiers cannot fight this battle alone," he said, "If I make an exception for your husband, the mothers of these young lads will won't exceptions as well. That cannot happen. We need them, all of them. If they do not join, Rohan will cease to exist as we know it." Felice looked around at the other recruits, realizing that a great number of them were boys just over twelve years of age. They were so young and so full of hope for a better life, and yet so full of fear and doubt. They were too young to see death, too young to see pain, and yet they were being made to see it like full-grown veteran warriors. Attempts to look valiant was etched upon many of the older lads' faces, though Felice could see through all of them. They were terrified, they knew they would not last the night, and yet their thread of courage that kept the seams of their emotions from bursting was taking such a strain, Felice marveled that none of them had yet broken down and sobbed. She herself felt tears stinging her eyes as the messenger turned to leave.
Felice turned to Eomil and held him close to her, holding back the tears that threatened to fall. Eomil held her to him tightly, as though he feared her knees would buckle.
"I am not afraid," he whispered, "I knew it would come to this. I will go for the glory of Rohan and for the hope that our children might not have to see such terrible hours."
"If you die this night, we will have no children," Felice mumbled, though she was sure Eomil did not hear. He only pulled her from his embrace and laid a single kiss upon her lips. It lasted only a moment, and Eomil pulled away and ran the back of his hand along her cheekbone. It was in that moment that a daring, absurd, and some would call valiant idea came to Felice's mind. She pulled her husband to her and whispered quietly in his ear:
"Let me come with you."
"Wha-?!" but Felice pressed a hand over Eomil's mouth before he could make an outburst.
"Please consider this for a moment," she whispered, fervently, "I told you long ago that I would follow you to the end of the world, and if this be the end of the world for men, then I should have every reason to go with you."
"This is not some lover's game, Felice," Eomil chastised, "This is open war against an horde of monsters. I will not have you following me to death."
"Then you would have me stay behind in life and in misery!" Felice protested, "I tell you, I would rather die at your side then wait for old age as a widow."
"You would have a chance for a better life!" Eomil said, frowning.
"A better life as a widow? You create a paradox with your words," Felice said.
"There are others who can offer you a better life than I," Eomil explained, his eyes beginning to shine with tears.
"I will have no others!" Felice declared, valiantly, "You know that very well."
Eomil smiled at Felice, quite happy to hear her say this. He kissed her forehead.
"No, Felice," he said, in a quiet, yet stubborn tone, "Not this time." Felice felt at a loss for words as Eomil kissed her again, then turned and left, leaving her among a great mass of crying women, longing for their husbands and sons.
Felice sat among their belongings, telling herself over and over again not to cry. There was hope, as long as the world of men still survived. Love always conquered all, wasn't that right? There was a way to survive, there had to be. She would find a way.
Staring hopelessly about their belongings, Felice's eyes fell upon the bundle containing Eomil's tunics. There was a way! Praise the halls of their forefathers, there was a way!
Quick as lightning, Felice knelt by the bag and yanked out a tunic and trousers. If it was males they wanted, it was a male she would have to be. While no one was looking, Felice slipped behind a rock formation and changed into her husband's clothes. They were dreadfully too large for her, but she would make them work. Then grabbing a small dagger that she used for her work, she cut off about six inches from her long hair. She dipped her hands in the small river draining out of the fortress and mused her wet hands through her hair, making herself look a bit more rugged and greasy. If she kept her hair in her face, maybe, just maybe she would slip by.
She returned her clothes to her campsite and followed her husband.
In the armory, she was outfitted in a hood of chainmail and a breastplate. She was given a sword and a shield, along with a bow and quiver of arrows. Then she was sent to the ramparts with the rest of the recruits. The waiting began.
It was dreadful waiting. It was the same feeling one might get when they're waiting for a hungry animal to pounce on them. Everyone around Felice couldn't have looked more doleful if they had been digging their own grave, which was very close to what they were doing. Waiting for death; that's what they were doing. Waiting for the moment when their strength would give out and their courage cut loose, and then all would come to darkness. No one spoke, just the old ones. Felice didn't want to listen to them, though, for they spoke of death and pain and other things that made her queasy. She wasn't there for death or pain; she was there to find hope. But where was it? Where had it gone? Had it forsaken them? Were they past hope now? It brought back a poem that she had heard long ago, in the language of the Rohirrim:
"Where now the horse and the rider? Where is the horn that was blowing?
Where is the helm and the hauberk, and the bright hair flowing?
Where is the hand on the harpstring, and the red fire glowing?
Where is the spring and the harvest and the tall corn growing?
They have passed like rain on the mountain, like a wind in the meadows;
The days have gone down in the West behind the hills into shadow.
Who shall gather the smoke of the dead wood burning,
Or behold the flowing years from the Sea returning?"
It was a sad poem, but it was part of her heritage, so it should not be forgotten. It spoke of Eorl the Young, so it was still sung often. Felice hummed it now, trying to console herself. Many years had passed since Eorl the Young, and their land still lived on. They could defeat this foe, and someday people would sing of Theoden King. There was hope as long as they drew breath. There was hope as long as there was a thread of courage left.
Darkness fell on the battlements of Helm's Deep and the rain began to fall. Felice had not seen Eomil anywhere and wondered where he was. She had got glimpses of the king, the Elf, the dwarf, and Lord Aragorn. They were high upon the battlements, talking at length about the things to come. Naturally, Felice couldn't hear them, though she wished she could.
Lightning lit up the sky and then Felice saw it: the torchlight of thousands upon thousands of Uruk-hai. What little talking that had gone on ceased in this moment as everyone turned and poised themselves for battle. Felice's fingertips toyed with the hilt of her sword, with anticipation flowing in her veins. What now...? What happens now...?
All it took was one arrow from the Hornburg battlements and the orcs were upon the walls, shooting arrows and throwing javelins. The archers of Rohan returned these shots in a volley of arrows, none aimed at random. But while row after row of orcs fell at the points of the arrows, more kept coming, as if there was no end to them. More, more, more....there was no end it seemed. They could not quench them; there were too many!
The Uruks were pulling up ladders to take siege on the battlements. Felice was rooted to where she stood. The ferocity and malice of the unfeeling beings was too much for her to comprehend. They were so terribly ugly, too, and so hateful. So unbelievably hateful!
She looked up and saw one of the ladders had come to her section. A giant, grisly orc stuck his head over the ladder and snarled in Felice's face, raising his sword. Unable to control herself in her moment of escalated terror, Felice let out a scream for help.
Eomil was only thirty yards from where Felice was stationed, fighting back the Uruks that had come over a ladder near where he was. The scream met his ears above all the other sounds of battle, and with it came an unumberable amount of questions:
I thought she was staying behind? Where is she? Why is she screaming? Is she all right? Will she be alive when I reach her? Why is she here? Why didn't I see her before?
There was no time for answers, let alone asking questions. In a matter of seconds, Eomil spotted his wife. He darted towards her, racing against time and a stream of other recruits. Why didn't she move if she had been so intent on fighting? Why did she just stand there? He reached her in time to artfully decapitate the Uruk and throw his wife against the wall. He shoved at the ladder, letting it fall to the ground below.
"Didn't I tell you to stay back?" he turned to Felice, who looked up at him, then stood on her own.
"I'm stubborn, too, you know," she said.
"I should think so!" Eomil cried, "Get back inside!"
"It's a little late for anything of that sort, don't you think?" Felice exclaimed.
"You're going to get yourself killed!" Eomil protested.
"And you won't?" Felice asked.
"Felice, this is not the time nor the place!" Eomil said, "Do as I ask or we shall both regret the result!"
"Let me stay, Eomil, that is all I ask!" Felice pleaded, staring up at him with shining eyes.
"Do you think I want to be a widower anymore than you want to be a widow?" Eomil asked, "Go! Now!"
"Do you mind, woman, we're in the middle of a battle?!" Eomil turned his back to his wife, concentrating his arrows on a number of orcs at the base of the wall. His words stung, but Felice knew a wife must be in submission to her husband. Before turning to leave, she pointed at the ramp towards the Keep.
"I'd keep my fire on that lot, if I were you," she told Eomil. Eomil turned his eyes towards the Keep. A great mass of orcs with their shields over their heads were marching up to the doors with a battering ram. In that moment, the general of their station called out to shift fire to the ramp. Felice, in the blink of an eye, turned her fire to the orcs as the base of the wall, shooting down offenders that dare try to take down her husband.
"Don't you see?" Felice protested, "You can't get on without me!"
Eomil shouted something back, but what reached Felice's ears was the voice of Lord Aragorn, shouting something to the Elf in Elvish. There was panic in the air, though she couldn't place the source. What was going on?
Then, without any warning other than Lord Aragorn's words of Elvish, the entire section of the wall where Eomil had been stationed before exploded in a cloud of rubble and debris. The impact sent Felice sailing through mid-air, down the ground below. With a thud and a crash of armor, she hit the ground, stunned. What had just happened? Why was she on the ground?
Eomil's face came swimming into view, but he kept shifting positions, it made Felice's head ache. He seemed to be trying to tell her something, but she couldn't hear him right. Finally, he bent down and kissed her.
"Can you move at all?" he asked, his mouth down near her ear. Felice sat and leaned against the rubble of the wall.
"I'll be all right," she assured him, then stood, expecting him to tell her to return indoors. Instead he took her hand in his and continued to speak in her ear.
"There is no going back now," he told her, "Let this be the hour when man and wife draw swords together in battle. I expect not even Eorl the Young did that!"
"Then, may generations to come sing of us!" Felice cried, drawing her sword, then kissing Eomil. Eomil drew his sword and kissed her, then there came a sharp battle cry from the soldiers. Lord Aragorn led the charge of the ones who had fallen from the walls, and now they pitted against the invading orcs.
It was sheer luck that kept Felice from falling at the mercy of the orcs. She and her husband gave a cry of "Theoden King!" and rushed at the orcs, slicing down invaders as they went, as if their swords were sickles and the orcs were mere heads of wheat.
How long they fought, Felice did not know, but it couldn't have been more than fifteen minutes. Fifteen minutes of fierce battle and then Lord Aragorn was crying, "Pull back! Pull back to the Keep!"
Eomil sheathed his sword and took Felice by the hand, leading her indoors, dodging a shower of enemy arrows as they went. They had made it this far, he might as well keep pushing their luck.
He led her into the halls of Hornburg and down to the Keep, where the mass of orcs had come to the gate and were beginning to shove them down. There was word that the King was coming himself to fight now, which everyone should be thankful for.
"You are going to tell me to return now, aren't you?" Felice asked Eomil. Eomil turned to look at her.
"Has it been an hour already?" he asked, "I did not think that time could pass so quickly." Felice smiled, knowing that he was jesting.
"No, Felice," he said, "Stay with me. I need your sharp eyes."
"Is that all?" Felice asked. Eomil paused to turn to her.
"If this be for Rohan, then it's people should fight for it," he said, "I do not think the King would allow me to keep back some one as sharp as you. I have hope as long as you are with me." Felice fought back tears and smiled no more.
"Then let us fight for the King and for Rohan," she said, "There will be no red dawn for us as long as we have hope. May our forefathers keep our thread of courage in one piece! We must not linger here!"
They rushed to the Keep to see what damage there was. Much of the door was in splinters and no one could patch it up with the number of orcs fighting to get through. Lord Aragorn and Gimli the Dwarf came and made their way the front of the Keep, fighting off orcs so the soldiers could board up the door. Felice was sent for wood from tables, chairs, benches, or anything that had wood. But the yawning hole in the wall where there had been the explosion was letting in hundreds of orcs. No matter how many the archers shot down, more came.
Soon there came a cry of "Retreat!" and all soldiers were ordered to pull back into the Fort. Where was hope now?
"You said that as long as your people fought that this fortress would not fall!"
Felice listened to the Lord Aragorn rave as the small handful of living soldiers attempted to strengthen the last set of doors.
"They have fought and they have died!" Felice was now only catching snippets of their conversation as she pounded at the door with a hammer and nail.
"Is there no other place for the women and children?"
Felice heard Hama tell Lord Aragorn of the mountain passage way, then Lord Aragorn ordered that the women and children be taken there. Felice stepped back from the door, mopping her brow as the King looked crestfallen at Lord Aragorn.
"So much death," he mumbled, "What can men do against such reckless hate?"
Another bash at the door and Felice rushed for more wood. Eomil was hard at work, hammering and pushing against the strain the old door was taking.
"Ride out with me," Lord Aragorn told the King.
"For death and glory?"
There will be no Rohan, Felice thought, there hardly is anymore. All was lost. There was no conquering this army. But the King placed a hand on the Lord Aragorn's shoulder, and he appeared to agree. If this was the end, then he would have them make such an end that they might be worthy of remembrance. They would not lose this battle like scared rabbits in their holes. They would face the enemy head on and go down like the sun in the West; in glory and majesty that people would sing of their bravery until the end of time. And their enemies would take to shuddering at their name, remembering the bloodshed that Rohan had caused, and the pain and the grief. There would be no real death as long as this hope remained. The merciless beings could kill their bodies, but their spirits would live on in truth and hope of a brighter dawn.
The door was forgotten and horses were provided for the remainder of the army. Eomil kissed his wife one last time as they mounted their horses and said one last prayer. The great horn of the Helm sounded once more.
"It cannot be all lost," he told her, "You are still living." Felice wasn't quite sure of what to make of this comment. She didn't smile, but merely whispered.
"I love you."
"I love you," Eomil returned, kissing her dirty, bleeding hand.
The door shuddered and more wood splintered. This was it.
"Now for wrath!" cried the King. Saddles were adjusted as the door shuddered again.
"Now for Rohan!" Swords were out as the door creaked.
"And the red dawn!"
There was a great clatter as the door collapsed onto the floor and orcs began rushing in. There was a great cry among the riders as they spurred their horses onward into the host of orcs. The red sun was rising in the East as the riders rode out of the Keep into the light of a new day, chopping down enemies as the rode into a certain doom.
Then, there came a white light from the East. Felice looked up and saw a white rider on the ridge, illuminated by an almost heavenly glow.
"The White Rider!" some cried. Felice understood. This was hope, this was where is had gone! For with Gandalf Greyhame were the Riders of the Riddermark, under the lead of Eomer, the king's nephew. There came a great cry from their host as they suddenly shone with a white light, Felice was nearly blinded. They raced down the ridge to meet the Uruk-hai, though half the army of orcs dropped their weapons and ran in terror. There was no fear in the ranks of Rohan now. The tables had been turned, the Uruks were outnumbered. There was a newfound courage in each of the riders as they realized that hope had not forsaken them, they only had not seen it. And though the strain of fear had been great enough to break a single thread of courage, when woven together as a nation, no number of orcs could break this simple courage of simple people.
Author's Sticky Note: Oh, yeah, and Felice and Eomil lived happily ever after and had five children, who all had curly blonde hair and grey eyes. Eomil still made shoes, except with a bit of trademark to them: on the side of each boot, he would imprint the head of a horse, as his bit to remember the battle of Helm's Deep. In case you're wondering, this is where our modern day logos come from.....