I sat up at the sound of boots thumping against the cold stone floor. Scuttling over to my mother, I took refuge in her arms, burying my face in the folds of her cloak.
“There, there,” she whispered into my hair. “It will be all right.”
Reassured, I snuggled into her warm embrace.
The footsteps came closer, and a man appeared. Smiling broadly, he confirmed what we all hoped for: we had won!
Soon, more men began to come down to the caves. From the safety of my mother’s lap, I watched as the blood-covered soldiers hugged their wives, children, mothers; smiling, laughing, and crying.
“Why are they crying, Mama?” I asked.
“Because they are happy,” she replied softly.
I did not notice it, but she was searching each face hopefully, each time her face hopeful but as each person came into clearer sight, her face fell.
After several more minutes had passed, she stood up, and gathering our belongings, she held out her hand and said, “Come.”
Taking her hand, we walked through the caves to the entrance, where the sun was shining so brightly that I had to cover my eyes. “Look, the sun is celebrating our victory,” I told her, running ahead and twirling my cloak in the air.
She smiled faintly, but her eyes seemed sad. I spotted a flower growing bravely in the long grass, despite of the muddy Uruk-hai footprints crushing the others around it. Plucking it from the ground, I held it out to her. She smiled a real smile this time and tucked it into her hair. Knowing that I had pleased her, I skipped happily up the causeway and into the Keep.
But once we were inside, instead of going to the corner where we had put our bedrolls for safekeeping, she started toward the outer walls. “Where are you going?” I called, running to catch up to her.
“Go back, Kaelyn. Wait for me. The walls are no place for a little girl like you.”
“I want to come too. Besides, I climbed on the walls last week as well,” I pointed out.
Now, I wonder why she let me go with her, but she thought for awhile, then picked me up and without another word, we headed for the walls together.
I was not prepared for the sight that would greet me. A sight that I will never forget for the rest of my life, a sight much too terrible for my young eyes.
Twisted, mangled Uruk bodies lay everywhere, mixed with the bodies of our own Rohirrim soldiers. I spotted old men, young boys, and everyone in between, all splattered with blood, all cold and lifeless, none deserving this horrible fate.
“Why are they here, Mama?” I asked, unable to tear my eyes away.
“They died fighting for our freedom,” she replied, but barely took a glance at most of the bodies.
She turned some of them over to look at their faces, but none of them were the one she was searching for. Each time, I felt her tense up, then let out a sigh and go on to the next one.
After what seemed like hours, I was getting impatient and about to ask when we could go back to the Hornburg when she turned over yet another body. I waited for the sigh that followed each , but this time, it did not come.
“Mama?” I asked timidly, sliding out of her arms. She seemed to collapse, kneeling on the cold flagstones of the wall, motionless, just staring.
I steeled myself, and looked as well. Letting out a tiny squeak, I froze, gazing at the face of my beloved father, now lying amidst the hundreds of bodies, still, cold, and lifeless.
I knew without being told, the fate of my father. Slowly, thoughts began to penetrate my wool-filled mind. Memories.
Never again would he toss me into the air, nuzzling my face with his bristling blonde beard. Never again would take me for a ride on his shiny brown horse. Never again would he hug me and tell me that he loved me.
He was gone. He was lifeless. He was dead.
The overpowering stench of death suddenly hit me in full force. I think I threw up after that. I know I began to cry.
My mother, now my only parent and only safe thing in the world, took me into her arms again, just as she had done in the caves under Helm’s Deep. “Quiet now,” she whispered. “It will be all right.”
But I caught sight of the tear glistening on her cheek before she wiped it away, and I knew that it was not.
“Why are you crying, Mama?” I asked.
“Because I am sad,” she managed to get out before breaking down in a flood of tears.
I wept with her, holding onto her tightly for a long time.
Finally, when there were no more tears to weep, she slowly stood up, and held out her hand. I grabbed hold of it, like it was an anchor.
Just before we left, I looked at him again, and saw that the flower that I had picked for my mother was lying on his chest. A sign that life still went on.
But the next moment, the breeze blew it away, and I was not so sure.