Miriel: Princess of Rohan - 5. FATE'S ARROW


A/N: In case you missed it!
Chapter One: A QUIET EVENING
http://www.theonering.com/docs/18584.html
Chapter Two: RED SUNSET
http://www.theonering.com/docs/18601.html
Chapter Three: THE GLITTERING CAVES OF AGLAROND
http://www.theonering.com/docs/18627.html
Chapter Four: THE BATTLE OF HELM'S DEEP
http://www.theonering.com/docs/18662.html

FATE'S ARROW

Miriel's eyes flew open and she couldn't seem to draw breath. Gasping wildly, she slapped the ground again and again with her bare hands until at last air rushed into her tortured lungs.

Miriel was shocked to be alive. Her ribcage felt too small and her sides were in agony. She was chilled to the bone and she didn't know how long she had been unconscious. She groaned. The full memory of the blast came back to her, and she pounded her fist in anger.

"Saruman!" Miriel growled. She crammed the ring back onto her finger... and froze.

Suddenly Miriel realized that she had delayed the best Elf archer, Legolas, from reaching the Orc with the torch in time to save the wall. Fury rose in her chest as the full meaning of this crashed down on her. She punched the cold stone again.

"Miriel!" she roared at herself. She crawled to her knees, still fighting to breathe. She peered over the broken edge of the wall, and through the thick clouds of smoke she beheld a sight that nearly stopped her heart.

Orcs poured like rats through the gaping hole in the wall. Aragorn lay unmoving face down in the mud. A few others were strewn near him. Miriel stared in horror. Her blood ran cold as she realized that Helm's Deep was rapidly falling because of her mistake.

Before Miriel had time to kick herself for straying from the caves, she heard a hoarse shout behind her. Turning, she saw Gimli also looking down on Aragorn. Orcs were running straight toward the fallen warrior, and in a moment they would be upon him.

That was too much for the Dwarf. With a cry of "Khazad!" Gimli leapt from the wall into a thicket of spears.

"Gimli!" screamed Miriel. For a terrible instant she could see nothing. Then there was another shout and two Orcs went flying. Gimli appeared boldly swinging his axe and making a great dent in the ranks of the invaders. A score of Elves ran forward to assist him.

Elves!

Suddenly Miriel remembered Legolas. Turning from the wall, she glanced about wildly, shouting his name.

All at once she saw him. He was lying not far away. His great bow had fallen from his cold limp hand, and his gray cloak lay tattered and crumpled over his motionless body.

"Legolas! No!" Her shrill, desperate cry burst forth and was abruptly cut short.

Miriel's hands flew to her throat. She sank down, choking and sobbing, and she fell to her knees.

"Oh no," Miriel whispered brokenly. "Oh no. This is all my fault. Oh Legolas, you... you can't be dead!"

Miriel collapsed and wept. Time stopped and rain poured mercilessly from the sky and mingled with Miriel's tears. The sounds of the battle seemed far away. Darkness closed over her torn heart as all hope faded. Aragorn and Legolas were dead. The wall was being overrun. Helm's Deep was about to fall.

The end would come swiftly now, all because of her.

Abruptly Miriel felt the rain lessen. A few last drops fell soft against her cheek. Miriel stopped crying and looked up at the sky.

The dark clouds parted briefly, and a single star came into view. Its brilliant rays shore aside the night like a flash of lightning. Miriel shielded her eyes from the blinding light. Then the clouds covered over the star and the vision was gone. The rain began afresh. Miriel looked sorrowfully at the Elf lying on the stones.

Suddenly Legolas moved! His head whipped around. With a quick jump he was on his feet. Miriel shrieked and clung to a piece of broken wall, afraid to take her eyes from him. Legolas seemed dazed but otherwise unhurt.

As he stooped to retrieve his fallen bow, Miriel felt her senses returning. She took several deep breaths and swallowed hard to still her pounding heart, and then she hastily climbed to her feet. Miriel grabbed a fistful of arrows and rushed at the Elf.

"Legolas!" she cried, at his side in an instant. "Come quick!" Miriel jammed the arrows into his quiver and dragged him to the stone stairway. "Aragorn and Gimli are down there. Go! Hurry!"

Legolas instantly sized up the situation with a single glance. Moving like lightning, he seized a cast-off Orc shield, stepped onto it and used it to surf down the stone steps, firing arrows as he went. Reaching the bottom, Legolas gave a swift kick and sent the shield into the throat of one Orc, and then he drove an arrow into the neck of another with his bare hands.

Miriel picked up her fallen sword and ran along the wall. She had to get far, far away from Legolas, and the Elves defending the wall needed her help. Seemingly endless supplies of ladders were being raised, and Orcs surged over the wall in great numbers. Every spare sword was needed to keep it from being overrun.

Miriel charged in with a fierce yell and fought bravely. Several times Orc weapons glanced off her chain mail, narrowly missing her. A lucky slice caught her in the shoulder, but Miriel would not back down. One after another the Orcs fell beneath her cold fury and sharp blade. The Elves shouted encouragement and constantly warned her of any threats unseen behind her, and Miriel did the same for them. They forged an instant bond and fought as one. Together they cut down the black forests and kept the storm at bay.

But Miriel's strength was fading. She could not battle Orcs all night at that mad pace. As her fatigue grew, her feet and her reflexes slowed. And then she made an awful discovery: Her traitorous ring was once again missing! Fear clutched at her throat. At any moment an Orc bigger and stronger than she could pounce on her without warning and kill her.

Suddenly an Elf gave a shout, and Miriel turned and beheld a gigantic Orc with a great sword nearly upon her. She raised her own sword and they clashed, but her weapon bounced harmlessly off that of her enemy's like an ocean wave shattering against a rock. Grimly Miriel tried again, but with the same result. Terror shot through Miriel and froze her backbone, and a numbness gripped her mind as she realized she could not overpower this Orc.

Miriel cried out with the last of her strength and swung, but her foe roared and met her sword in midair with a mighty ring. He gave a vicious strike and threw the sword from Miriel's quavering grasp. She heard it clatter on the stones a long way from where she stood.

Certain now of victory, the Orc moved in for the kill and sliced downward on the unarmed maiden, but Miriel ducked out of the way and leapt aside. The black Orc aimed a stroke for her neck. Miriel leaned backward to avoid being decapitated and stumbled over a fallen shield. She shrieked and fought to remain on her feet, but she slipped on the rain-slickened stones and fell hard to the ground, moaning in pain.

Her enemy rose up and loomed over her, terrible and leering, his hideous claws dug deep into the hilt of his sword. He raised his weapon for the final blow.

This was it. This was the moment Miriel had known would come when she left the caves. Miriel steeled herself for the end, staring at her doom with cold gray eyes hard and fell, but crystal tears glistened on her cheeks. Now that the moment had come at last, Miriel found that she didn't want to die. Even though she was helpless to do anything but bravely accept her fate, every fiber of Miriel's being cried out:

No. I want to live.

The Orc cackled harshly and stood over Miriel, like a giant panther gloating over a trapped young gazelle. Then his sword came crashing down upon her.

But the evil laugh abruptly changed to a roar. The sword stroke went wide and the Orc himself slammed down on Miriel. Cold and unmoving was her enemy now.

Miriel gasped. She was shocked to be alive and unhurt, but she was pinned to the ground under a mountain of heavy armor. As she tried to wriggle free, a fair Elven face appeared over the body of the Orc, and then Miriel felt the black weight being lifted away. The Elf pulled Miriel to her feet.

"Are you hurt?" he asked courteously, glancing over her gashed arms and bloody face. Miriel numbly shook her head. She was dazed and shaking all over, but after a moment she began to recover her composure.

"Yes, yes, I'm all right now, thank you," she managed.

"Haldir! Haldir!" someone shouted, and the Elf ran back to the wall. Miriel realized that this Haldir had just saved her life.

Miriel found that she was indeed hurt all over. A glint of silver caught her eye. She scowled, but she pushed herself up and laid hold of that rebellious ring which seemed to be causing her more trouble than good and slipped it into place on her finger. Then she sat up and granted herself a moment of rest to recover her breath and survey the situation at hand.

She could be of little use with a sword in her present condition; she was exhausted and sore and more dead than alive. But she realized that she could still help the Elves fight the Orcs with their unerring bows. One Elf had just saved her life, and she would do her best to return the favor.

Crawling now on her hands and knees, Miriel sought good arrows, even those of the enemy, and shoved them into the quiver of the nearest Elf. Back and forth she ran, ducking arrows that whistled back over the wall, shouting encouragement, and refilling the Elven quivers with fistfuls of good arrows. A fresh hail of darts rained down upon the Orcs, and the Isengarders were forced to fall back and regroup. Miriel observed the results of her work and smiled grimly. Off she ran to continue her quest.

On her third trip, someone slammed hard into her side and threw her to the ground, and at the same moment, her ring dropped from her slick, clammy finger and rolled mischievously away and disappeared with a wink of silver beneath a scuffle of soldier's feet and iron-shod Orcs.

Suddenly something exploded in her left elbow. Miriel was thrown forward and fell headlong with a shrill cry, writhing in helpless agony on the wet stone and clutching at her elbow. She grabbed blindly at it and felt the solid shaft of a cruel iron Orc arrow embedded in the joint. For a long time she lay screaming as blood poured from the wound.

Through her tears and a thick haze Miriel could see streams of Orcs scrambling up the ladders and onto the wall, and sooner or later one of them was bound to come upon Miriel and finish her. Pain paralyzed her limbs, but wild panic seared through her mind and forced her into motion. She pushed her right arm out in front of her and used it to drag her body slowly, inch by inch, across the waterlogged stones.

The fight was nearly upon her, and an Elf fell to the ground a short distance from where she labored across the wall. His sea-green eyes were wide and staring, brimming with horror and agony. His wandering gaze roved across the darkened stormy skies and locked on Miriel, and his pale lips parted, but no sound came out. Miriel lay beside him, poised as if to move on, but his transfixing gaze paralyzed her. Suddenly the Elf stiffened and reached toward her, but his hand fell before it stretched beyond half the distance between them and he lay back with a shudder, breathing his last.

Miriel screamed in terror and redoubled her efforts. She had to get away from there, fast.

Someone stumbled over her calves in the darkness. She twisted away to avoid being crushed by a falling Orc. The sleeve of her dress tore apart on the rocky ground and shredded away, leaving her unprotected forearm to rub raw on the stones until it was skinned and bloody. All she could see in her mind's eye was that last haunting image of the dying Elf reaching for her, and her overworked imagination twisted that moment so that the Elf was grabbing her arm and taking her with him...

Miriel gave a low cry and resisted and pulled away from him. At last she managed to crawl out of the way, sobbing bitterly. Miriel pulled herself under a small ledge that afforded a little shelter from the battle and the ceaseless torrents of rain. There she lay, gasping like a fish flung onto the shore.

A thick black fog threatened to take her mind, and Miriel longed to slip from this dreadful reality into the comforting unconsciousness and escape. Every excruciating moment was filled with an hour of thought.

What use was there now to remain alive? It was only a matter of time before the Orcs took Helm's Deep. The battle merely delayed inevitable doom. For Miriel, only pain and death awaited her. Her family had met the same fate. Wearily she leaned her head back and mentally prepared to follow them.

But Miriel could still see the black shapes of the Elves through half-closed, tear-filled eyes. They were bravely fighting against the stormy skies, firing arrows and wielding swords, and a thought came to Miriel that she couldn't lay aside. These Elves could have abandoned Middle-earth and Helm's Deep to its fate and sailed into the West, to the Undying Lands, where all wars ceased and only peace remained. Why had they chosen to fight and die for another race that had been long sundered?

She thought of Haldir, the Elf who had saved her life, and suddenly she wondered if it was right to abandon them all, Men and Elves both, when there was still a small chance that she could make a difference.

In her mind, Miriel saw the face of that helpless child she had rescued and returned to the loving arms of his mother. She remembered her steely resolve when she had left the caves in the beginning: That if she was going to die in the end, then she would die fighting.

But she was tired... so, so tired; the kind of tired that she felt no amount of sleep could cure. The horrible pain and darkness at last overcame her. Miriel collapsed and fell into oblivion. She dropped down, down, down into an endless black void. Pain did not exist there anymore. She felt her spirit winging away from her, almost joyfully. It seemed glad to be leaving the world of the living and falling away into the smooth dark depths, into an unrippled crystal sea of the unknown.

Suddenly Miriel saw the golden Elven woods as if it was descending upon her from afar, and she wondered if she was dead. Miriel beheld the graceful Elves floating through it and singing under the light of the great star, as they had done since the beginning of time. Above the lovely chorus of songs came one clear voice, and it was speaking directly to her. Miriel could not understand the language in her mind, but her heart seemed to know the musical words well.

Brono, bara gwend,
No thalion, annui maethor!
Tolo dan na ngalad,
Na en rammas! Na en dagor!

It was a gentle urging and a command at the same time. Miriel felt that the voice was telling her not to give in. Without knowing quite how it happened, her tongue was loosed and Miriel found herself also saying something in Elvish. A desperate cry issued forth from within the deepest part of her soul.

A Elbereth Gilthoniel!
Mornada i venel a andelu i ven.
Le nallon, sî di-nguruthos!
Lasto beth nin a thau nin!

Abruptly Miriel stopped chanting. What was she saying? What did it mean? How did she suddenly know how to speak this strange language? She wasn't even certain that it was the Elven tongue.

As these questions raced through her mind, the star turned its brilliant rays onto Miriel's face. The light was clear as diamond glass, and yet shimmering white. Peace flooded through her heart, and with the sparkling light came strength and a measure of courage. Gentle winds breathed softly in her face and hair.

Then the star released her. The Elves and their bright forest faded into the dark, stormy night. Miriel opened her eyes and found herself once again cowering beneath a stone ledge on the broken wall of Helm's Deep, nursing her wounded elbow. Screams and shouts of men rent the air, and the crash of ringing steel echoed in her ears. The Elven warriors were still fighting off the Orcs that climbed over the wall.

Somehow the intense agony began to lessen. Moving as little as she could, Miriel reached down and tore a long strip from the hem of her dress. She sat up, tears running down her face, and managed to bind the wound tightly. She grimaced in pain, but she gritted her teeth against it. She had to fight to the bitter end if they had any chance of saving Helm's Deep.

Miriel clenched her jaw and pushed herself to her knees, trying in vain to keep her elbow motionless. With a final effort Miriel was on her feet. She swayed drunkenly and caught herself with her good arm as she nearly fell. Unconsciousness was very near, but she fought the darkness. She staggered determinedly out into the rain.

Her left arm was rendered useless and utterly painful, but Miriel dropped to the ground and gathered arrows as best she could with her right hand. She bit down hard on her lip and tears streamed down her face as she struggled on.

Suddenly she heard a shout from the King.

"Aragorn! Fall back to the Keep! Get your men out of there!"

Miriel's eyes widened in shock. She didn't dare believe her ears. Aragorn, alive?

She spun and looked over the wall in disbelief. Aragorn lived! He was covered in mud and blood, and his matted hair hung limply over his forehead, but his eyes were bright, his spirit was undaunted, and his sword flashed like lightning in a black storm of Orcs. Miriel shook her head. This Aragorn led a charmed life.

Aragorn stopped abruptly and shouted in Elven tongue to Haldir.

"Am Marad! Am Marad! Haldir, am Marad!"

Haldir nodded and issued the order to fall back, and then turned to fight a large Orc. The deadly sword fell on Haldir. Miriel saw Haldir shudder even as he struck the enemy down, and she realized with a shock that the Elf was mortally wounded.

Haldir spun away, dazed and unheeding, as another Orc materialized and raised his sword to strike a deathblow. Miriel screamed into the darkness as Haldir fell under the black blade.

Roaring with grief and anger mixed into an unbearable emotion, Miriel groped for a sword and rose up. Half running, half stumbling, Miriel charged with a hoarse yell and plunged her blade into the back of Haldir's murderer. Blinded by rain and tears, Miriel made her way to Haldir's side. Aragorn was already there, bent with sadness over his friend. Miriel stood by helplessly as Aragorn touched his heart and placed his hand over the cold, still chest of the Elf.

Suddenly Aragorn rose up with dreadful fury and slammed his bare fist into an iron Orc helm. Then he grabbed a siege ladder and leapt from the wall into the terrible swarm of Orcs below.

"Aragorn!" shouted Miriel, even as an Elf running past her gripped her right arm and pulled her away. Reluctantly Miriel left Aragorn and ran alongside the Elf. She joined the soldiers as they burst into the Keep. Other defenders were already there, bravely fighting to keep the gate together. Miriel seized a heavy table and laboriously dragged it to the door. A dozen hands took it from her just as the King came running in with Gamling at his side.

"Brace the gate!" cried King Theoden. He brandished his sword and dashed to the front of the door with Gamling right behind him.

Miriel found some spears and tossed them to another soldier. The great door was splintering and breaking, and it seemed to Miriel that it was only the sheer will of the men that kept it together. Miriel felt helpless, for she could only pass on bits of wood and other materials she managed to find.

Yet it was only a matter of time before the gate fell. Miriel clenched her jaw. If they were only prolonging the inevitable, then prolong it they would. She lugged a pair of heavy battle-axes to the door and gave them to the determined soldiers.

Just then Gamling emerged from the boiling turmoil of men, pulling the King away from the gate. King Theoden seemed to be wounded, but he leaned heavily on a wall, refusing to be taken farther away from his soldiers. He stood and bravely issued commands and encouragement.

Suddenly Aragorn burst into the Keep with Gimli and Legolas behind him. All three were cut and spattered with mud. They looked terrible, but their eyes blazed as they grabbed more wood to shore up the door. Miriel turned and pried a loose beam from the wall. Screams from the women in the caves echoed as if from far away. Theoden King and Aragorn were trading words and shouting orders, but Miriel paid no attention until the gate was temporarily secured. At last she turned her gaze upon the grim faces of her King and the Lord Aragorn.

"So much death," murmured the King softly. He seemed resigned to his fate, much as Miriel had been not so long ago. His voice was devoid of hope; his aged features pale and drawn. "What can Men do against such reckless hate?"

Miriel sighed audibly. The King had a point.

But Aragorn stood tall. His blazing eyes did not falter. As she gazed upon Aragorn, Miriel was surprised at the great power she saw, or sensed, in him. A white jewel gleamed like a star on a silver chain around his neck. Miriel knew without knowing that this Aragorn was a lord equal to King Theoden. His courage and determination to defend Rohan at all costs surpassed even that of Rohan's own king. Aragorn took a step toward King Theoden.

"Ride out with me," Aragorn said, his voice rising. "Ride out and meet them!"

The King stared doubtfully at Aragorn as the pounding of the Orcs raged on outside.

"For death and glory?" he asked quietly, almost sarcastic in the face of the impossible odds.

"For Rohan! For your people!" returned Aragorn hotly.

The air grew deathly still as the two lords stared at one another.

"The sun is rising," remarked Gimli, breaking the tense silence.

All those present turned toward the window as white light poured freely into the dark Keep. The rays pierced Miriel's heart and filled her with sudden hope.

Whether from the coming of the dawn or Aragorn's undying and contagious courage, or both together, the face of the King hardened once more.

"Yes, yes!" declared Theoden King as all trace of doubt vanished with the departing evening. "The horn of Helm Hammerhand shall sound in the Deep," he said. He turned and faced his men as his voice rose, hard and fell.

"One last time."

The spell on the air was broken. Miriel dashed away from the door and sprang for the horses. The soldiers were right behind her. Suddenly Legolas was sprinting lightly at her side, but Aragorn passed them both. They burst into the stable and threw saddles onto the great horses of Rohan with all speed.

The bold steeds caught the excitement that caused the very atmosphere to crackle with electricity. They snorted and reared with impatience. They pawed at stone and wood and roared like thunder, setting the rafters ringing with their cries.

Miriel could not calm the horse she had chosen, a tall, well-built gray. She wished Kaspir were not so worn from the long journey, for she did not trust this new horse. The gray stallion plunged into the air, breathing like fire. Miriel spoke softly and pulled at his bridle, but to no avail. She felt fear rising in her chest, fear of riding this huge, unpredictable beast into battle. Her voice rose high and shrill as she tried to get the saddle into place.

"Stay! Stay!" she cried desperately. She tugged on the reins with her good hand, but she could not hold him and put on the saddle at the same time with only one free arm. She gave the leather straps on his head another sharp jerk. "Horse... stay! Stay down!"

But the gray stallion paid her no mind; he reared and slammed Miriel hard to the floor. Miriel shrieked as the arrow in her elbow jolted her with fresh pain. Sharp agony pierced through her and tears clouded her eyes.

Miriel gave up. What was the use of trying anymore? She was a detriment to the battle when she was fully healthy; riding out in her current condition was certain death. Death was the only thing that awaited her now. It was a mere question of how she would meet her end. She pulled her knees into her chest and curled up in a corner, crying in anguish of body and spirit.

Suddenly someone else was there. Miriel looked up through her gray shroud of tears as a hand fell lightly on the stallion's forehead.

"Tiro nin, Thor; sidh, naur-mellon," spoke Legolas softly, breaking into a stream of Elvish too soft and musical for Miriel to rightly hear. But the sound of his voice blew away her tears as if with a fresh breeze, and the gray horse stood watching the Elf, seemingly mesmorized, with his ears pricked as he listened intently. The fire yet burned in his dark eyes and his great shoulders trembled, but his fury was under control.

Miriel marveled. It was as if Legolas had placed a spell over the massive stallion. He stood quietly - not wholly docile, but quiet, and his bold eye followed the Elf's every move.

At last Legolas's chant ended. He sang softly while he quickly saddled the horse, and the stallion craned around to watch Legolas's movements with an earnest curiosity. His ears flicked and he whuffled softly when he saw the Woodland Elf tightening the familiar leather contraptions and straps over his back, and the horse did not object.

And then Legolas went to Miriel. With surprising strength he lifted the girl swiftly to her feet. She looked down at his hand on her arm and noticed, to her amazement, a silver ring on his finger that was curved in the shape of a star. It looked just like the one she had lost on the wall. It was an odd thing to consider under such dire circumstances, and Miriel looked up at Legolas, who had not let go of her waist.

Legolas paused, and his piercing blue eyes met Miriel's gaze and held it.

"You should stay here, my lady," murmured the Elf quietly, looking sympathetically at Miriel's tear-streaked face and torn, dirty dress. He perceived also that she was in pain, although he could not tell where the wound lie. He didn't notice the arrow in her arm. "This battleground is no place for a maiden."

Not long ago, perhaps even only a moment before, Miriel would have agreed. But when Legolas mentioned that the fight was not hers simply because she was a girl, something stirred in her heart. Her resolve came flooding back and hardened to iron.

"Neither are the caves," retorted Miriel. Then, seeing a protest rising from the Elf, Miriel drew herself up, forcing him to release her, and she stared Legolas down sternly. "I will not remain here while you men go out and fight. We are greatly outnumbered. It is likely that we are doomed, and if that is the case, then I would rather die in battle than cowering helplessly in a corner."

"Lady..." he began.

Miriel interrupted him sharply. "I'll not stay here and die!"

Legolas sighed. He saw that he could not prevail on her, and he did not have time to argue with her further. Taking her by the waist, he lifted her and set her on her horse.

"You are very brave, my lady," he said gently, grasping her hand. "Thor is a good horse, as swift and fearless as his namesake, the eagle. Ride behind me, and I will do my best to protect you. Fight hard!"

Miriel swallowed and nodded, and the tall Elf vanished. His words awakened new courage from a reserve buried somewhere inside of her, and she and Thor moved forward to find themselves in the midst of a great company of green-cloaked riders. She grasped the hilt of a sword grimly in her good right hand and kept a ginger hold on Thor's reins with her injured left as she took her place behind Legolas, who was riding on a white horse.

The Elf looked back at her, and Miriel nodded in return. She stiffened and prepared herself for the battle, which would soon be at hand.

The sound of the Orcs pounding mercilessly at the door made Miriel's heartbeat quicken with mingled fear and hate. Light poured unhindered through the window into the dismal grayness of the Keep and fell on King Theoden and Aragorn, who stood together at the head of the riders. Then Miriel was aware that the King was speaking.

"Fell deeds awake," Theoden King growled, drawing forth his sword, which sparkled like fire in the sunlight. "Now for wrath! Now for ruin! And the red dawn!"

Suddenly the Orcs burst through the door, an evil black flood of Uruk-hai that had only time to stop short when they saw the mounted warriors waiting for them.

"Forth Eorlingas!" cried the King, springing forward upon the enemy with Aragorn at his side as the great and terrible horn of Helm's Deep blasted the air. Out swept the defenders of Rohan into the brightening sunlight, slaying Orcs off the causeway like a swift west wind. Miriel shouted with them and wielded her long blade. Ahead of her the other riders cleaved a great path through the dark tide.

Suddenly Miriel heard a wild whinny, and turning she beheld a white rider on a great rearing horse. So bright were the newcomer's garments that it seemed as if he were clothed with the rising sun. Even though the white rider was alone, his coming brought a strange spell over air and land. Miriel halted Thor against her will, and she found she could hardly move, but she was not afraid. A murmur of excitement rippled through the bold defenders of Helm's Deep, and the Orcs stopped, struck with a sudden fear.

"Gandalf," Aragorn whispered in awe.

All at once the lone rider was joined by a massive company of soldiers on horseback that swept down the hills toward the black masses of Orcs.

"To the King!" they cried.

Most of the Orcs turned to face this new threat and pointed a hedge of spears at the oncoming riders led by the White Wizard. But as the riders neared the Orcs, the sun blazed out suddenly over the hills and shone in the eyes of the enemy. Terror seized the Isengarders as the light blinded them. Some fell on their faces, others cast aside both sword and spear, and a great stampede of Orcs streamed away from Helm's Deep as the riders came upon them, slaying left and right.

A few remaining Orcs roared fiercely at the King and made one last desperate charge. With a shout Theoden King and Aragorn met them with their swords.

Miriel gloried in the fight and sent Thor blazing fearlessly among the enemy. Her foes fell one by one. Exhilaration filled Miriel's chest, and the joy of battle was upon her. Her wounds and weariness were forgotten as her sword rose and fell. She beat down Orcs as one might lay a field of blackened wheat low beneath the scythe. The sun glittered off her bright blade as if it were encrusted with diamonds, and her dark hair escaped from its bonds and flew about her face as if it had a life of its own.

Thor galloped madly beneath her and bore her from the bridge and into the hills. Together they burst free of the fighting, and Miriel found they were running alone. She laid a firm hand on the neck of the brave stallion and pulled him up. As she stood alone on a ridge with the new sun breaking behind her, Miriel looked out upon Helm's Deep.

The Orcs were fleeing in a great terror and madness in all directions, driven away in dark swarms by the Rohirrim. Miriel turned and looked back the way they had come. The King and Aragorn and all the green-clad riders were racing to join the White Wizard, and together with Eomer's men they rode to finish the battle. One rider alone cantered toward her. It was Legolas.

Time seemed to slow down, and Miriel realized that the fight was over. A throbbing hum built in Miriel's ears as the excitement faded, and the fire in her chest burned low. Legolas was shouting something as he came on, but Miriel could hear nothing but the pounding hooves of his white horse. She leaned forward, struggling to catch the Elf's words.

Suddenly Thor shuddered violently beneath her. Miriel was caught off guard and shrieked as she was tossed in the saddle like a rag doll, but she clutched desperately at the flying mane and tried to hold on. Roaring madly, Thor rose high in the air and plunged. Miriel lost her grip and was thrown clear as the powerful gray stallion crashed to the earth. Miriel hovered over the land for a long weightless moment, and then the arrow in her elbow slammed into the ground. Miriel screamed in agony; a long, horrible cry that sounded over the battlefield and echoed in the hills.

Blackness stole over her mind, and Miriel fell deep into a painful unconsciousness. She knew this was the end. Dimly she was aware of the voice of Legolas calling her as if from far away. She was being carried and borne gently onto the Elf's white horse. Then wind rushed over her, and they were riding fast.

"Hold on, my lady, hold on," Legolas was whispering desperately in her ear. Then the world ceased to turn, the running horse turned to stone, the bright morning sun was blotted out, and Miriel knew no more.

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There are some cliffhanger chapters coming up, and if you don't want to wait for me to get around to posting it all, then go to www.talesofmiddleearth.com and download the free ebook: Miriel: Princess of Rohan.

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ANSWERS TO REVIEWERS:

You guys are... amazing. Again, thank you all so much for your reviews. They are very encouraging. If other fanfiction writers discovered how nice the people at TolkienOnline are, they wouldn't waste their time with other websites. It makes that big of a difference. Thank you all very much.

I've been trying to post more often, but it takes about two weeks for TolkienOnline to publish submissions! I won't be able to post again until June, so the next chapter will be awhile. So I leave you with another cliffhanger in the meantime...

LadyLongCleeve: Thank you! I'm glad you liked the cover... That was funny! You went and visited the website just to see the cover! LOL! Thank you! I'll do my best to keep you stocked with fresh chapter material, even though I am busybusybusy...

GeekChick: Thanks! I tried to bring in a fresh point of view while incorporating enough of the movie to bring back the parts of the battle sequences to memory. I'm delighted that, at least in your eyes, I accomplished it to a degree.

GoldRider: Vivid? Hannon le! I know what you mean about opening TolkienOnline to find a tale you've been impatient for. I adore cliffhangers and the accompanying butterflies. Thank you very much for grouping me with the worth-waiting-fors.

Menelwen: The trouble with me is illustrated by this very story. See, Miriel was supposed to be a five-page short story, and then it grew, and grew, and grew... and viola, before I knew it, I had a thirty-chapter 100,000-word monster on my hands. If I ever sit down to write a novel, I'll be in real trouble...

Glorwen: It is indeed sad. It hurt to write this tale, and I knew what the final outcome would be. I'm glad you are enjoying this so much.

Lindale: Congratulations on being first! It felt kind of Monsters Inc-ish to have Miriel chasing that ridiculous ring around in the middle of a battle. It was as much fun to write as it was apparently for you to read.

Nawyn: Oh... my... gosh. Nawyn, thank you SO much for your review. I can't tell you how much it means to me to have someone recognize Miriel's individuality and lack of Sueishness. And let me tell you, this beginning of the story was the part that could be misconstrued as suspiciously Sueish; the rest only proves moreso that indeed Miriel isn't. Love at first sight happens in the real world! Miriel reminds me a lot of Eowyn, though maybe a bit toned down, and simpler, and definitely scared to death out there.

***************************************

A/N: In case you missed it!
Chapter One: A QUIET EVENING
http://www.theonering.com/docs/18584.html
Chapter Two: RED SUNSET
http://www.theonering.com/docs/18601.html
Chapter Three: THE GLITTERING CAVES OF AGLAROND
http://www.theonering.com/docs/18627.html
Chapter Four: THE BATTLE OF HELM'S DEEP
http://www.theonering.com/docs/18662.html

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