Legolas paused in the midst of the fighting that raged around him, setting an arrow to the string as he watched the great ladders slowly rising, monoliths, compared to the smaller ladders with which the orcs had laid siege to the deeping wall. They were thick and wide, levered up to the outer wall by heavy iron missiles with multi-hooked heads, shot to the top of the wall by massive ballistae, giant cross-bows, huge machines of war, the inventions of Saruman’s warmongering mind.
Two of these great ladders, wide enough to allow two orcs at a time to ascend, had already been clamped firmly against the outer curve of the wall, and a third was slowly being levered upward, rising as the others had, only with the help of thick cables looped through a metal ring affixed to the end of the great hooked missile that had jammed itself immovably within a broken wedged on the wall. The ladder had been levered nearly vertical now, the thick rope that pulled it upward drawn as tight as a bowstring against the unimaginable weight of wood as well as armored orcs eagerly impatient to be the first to the parapet. Drawing his string back to his cheek, he sighted down the shaft of his arrow, his eye fixed burningly upon the taut cable, and released. An instant later, his arrow clipped through the rope and it fell slack, like a dead snake, flipping from the hard iron ring. The ladder, perfectly vertical now, wavered, then slowly tipped backward, gaining speed as it plummeted heavily, laden with uruks and their heavy armor, to the ground in a deafening crash crushing many dozens of orcs beneath it.
But now, he had another worry. Aragorn and Gimli were without the wall, fighting alone upon the causeway in an effort to give the king and his men time to shore up the door, shattered inward by the repeated hammerings of the battering ram.
He could see them now as he caught up a length of heavy rope, and rushed toward the edge of the wall. Man and Dwarf stood back to back, hacking away at the uruks, while within the wall, Théoden and his men worked desperately to wedge great stout beams against the door.
“Gimli! Aragorn!” Legolas heard Théoden’s voice cry out, “Get out of there!”
But in the moments the words were spoken, a great snorting uruk lunged from behind, wrapping its thick arms around both Gimli’s and Aragorn’s necks. Legolas’ heart nearly choked him as the creature whipped around toward its fellow orcs as they came scrambling near to kill the two.
“Aragorn!” He shouted, as he leaped to the balustrade, flinging the thick rope over the side. Aragorn managed to elbow the uruk hard in the side, and it fell to the stone of the causeway, winded, giving the Man and Dwarf a chance to scramble toward the rope, Gimli not before he brought his axe with a vindictive chop, down upon the fallen orc.
With all the strength he possessed, Legolas wrenched the rope, creaking with the weight of both Man and Dwarf, upward over the hard stone edge of the balustrade.
Why did that stout little Dwarf have to eat so much? He wondered, slowly wrenching them upward as the muscles in his arms and back burned from the fierce effort, though Men came behind him to assist him. Any moment, he feared, an orc arrow would find the two, hanging exposed over the wall, like dead carrion above so many hungry wargs. At long last, Aragorn’s hand, tightened in a fist around the thick rope appeared over the edge of the stone barrier. Eagerly, Legolas grabbed it, grasping onto Aragorn’s shoulder and hauling the Dwarf and Man unceremoniously over the balustrade.
“Pull everybody back.” He heard Théoden order, his voice full of bitter anger. “Pull them back!”
“Fall back!” Shouted the voice of Gamling, his voice echoing the angry and tragic command of the king. “Fall back!”
Legolas felt sickened at the order, though he understood it. The wall was lost. It would be foolish and stay to die for something that was as good as taken already.
As if to add to the king’s order, the great oaken doors beneath them shuddered, cracked once, and then flew inward beneath the uruk’s pounding.
“They have broken through!” Théoden’s voice cried above the escalated din of battle as the crack of the doors echoed ominously through the stone. “The castle is breached. Retreat! Retreat!”
Beneath the parapet, dark armored orcs, white paint splattering their armor in the shapes of Saruman’s hand, streamed through, thick, swarming beetles, they seemed.
Disgust rising like bile in his throat, Legolas released several more arrows into the invading horde even as Aragorn cried, “Hurry! Inside! Get them inside!” And the surviving defenders of the wall at last abandoned their posts and fled across the stone span leading into the deeper fortifications of the Keep.
“I will leave you at the western borders of the forest.” Treebeard’s voice rumbled below her, but Lalaith, in her somber mood, did not pay any heed to his words as he added slowly, “You can make your way north to your own homelands from there.”
Lalaith glanced at Merry who sat on a branch below her and to her right, and the two traded a despondent glance.
Why had she not been able to convince the Ents that their help was so desperately needed? Her mother had said that they would. What had she not said that the Ents needed to hear? Lalaith glanced down at her booted toes, her legs curled near to her where she sat within a crook of Treebeard’s branches. Dark clouds of self doubt boiled in her mind. And sorrow as well. Thick sorrow that weighed her down, as dark and as heavy a grief as she felt as when she thought of Boromir, knowing that he was dead. But the grief was not for Boromir, nor was it for her failure in convincing the Ents. It was separate, a thing of its own, a new grief for someone else, someone as dear as Boromir had been to her. The feeling haunted her, distant, insubstantial. A premonition of something, though what, she did not know.
“Wait! Stop!” Pippin’s voice interrupted her troubled thoughts, and she glanced up at him where he sat above her, in the very tips of the old Ent’s branches.
“Stop!” He repeated, and the booming rhythm of Treebeard’s steps grew silent.
“Turn around.” Pippin chirped. “Turn around. Take us south.”
“South?” Treebeard wondered. “But that would-,” he drew in a deep breath, “lead you past Isengard!”
Lalaith traded a questioning look with Merry at these words. Had the youngest Hobbit gone completely mad?
“Yes. Exactly.” Pippin added in a calm, smiling voice. “If we go south, we can slip past Saruman unnoticed. The closer we are to danger, the farther we are from harm.” There was a smile in Pippin’s voice as he finished, “It’s the last thing he’ll expect.”
Lalaith shook her head in utter dismay. Now she knew Pippin was mad! They would all be caught!
Treebeard seemed to agree as he mumbled in concern, and muttered, “That doesn’t make sense to me. But then-,” his wooden head nodded slowly, “you are all somewhat small. Perhaps you’re right.”
He sighed slowly, as the rocking motion of his branches resumed, and his slow steps began again to boom over the forest floor.
“South it is then.” He breathed, as he turned his steps to his left, and started marching toward the misty haze beneath the trees that wound southward. “Hold on, little Shirelings, and my young Valië. I always like going south. Somehow,” he breathed, “it feels like going downhill.”
“Pippin, what on in Arda, are you doing?” Lalaith demanded, glancing upward at Pippin’s lightly smiling face.
“Are you mad?” Merry added. “We’ll be caught!”
“No we won’t.” Pippin smiled gently. “Not this time. Trust me.” With a grin at Lalaith, he finished, “You gave me an idea, Lalaith. I think it will help us.”
“What idea?” She demanded.
“Just wait and see.” Pippin added in a near whisper, and grinned, leaving Lalaith to wonder what he could possibly mean.
“And those little family of field mice-,” Lalaith smiled as she listened to Treebeard’s narration of a few of his many little woodland visitors from where she sat, curled drowsily on his branch, twirling the end of her golden braid absently between her fingers. “-that climb up sometimes, and they tickle me awfully!”
His low rumbling voice sounded rather cheerful, bringing up Lalaith’s spirits a little, and helping her to forget, at least for the moment, that he would be leaving them once they arrived at the edge of the forest. “They’re always trying to get somewhere where they-,”
Without warning, Treebeard’s steps suddenly stopped. A mournful groan came from deep within his throat, bringing Lalaith’s head up, questions filling her mind, that were suddenly yet sadly answered by the view that met her gaze.
Dead tree trunks littered the empty ground, giving them a clear view of the distant river, the Entwash as it flowed out and away from the forest of Fangorn. Yet Lalaith’s attention was down the slope toward Isengard, a great ring round a flat circle of land, the black tower of Orthanc set within the center. Black clouds of smoke every billowed up from ragged chasms cut down into the earth. Here and there, a tree that had been roughly severed from its roots, lay sprawled upon the ground, as disturbing for Lalaith to see, as if it were the corpse of an animal, slain cruelly and slowly, and not even for its meat, but simply for the pleasure of killing something, and then left to rot.
“Many of these trees were my friends.” Treebeard mourned, as Lalaith glanced upward at Pippin’s face, his little countenance both triumphant and sad. At his glance down into her face, she understood now, what he had done. “Creatures I had known from nut and acorn.”
“I’m sorry, Treebeard.” Pippin murmured consolingly.
Treebeard, Lalaith realized, was grieving as greatly now, as if she had wandered into Imladris, only to find it smoking in a ruined heap. These trees were not simple, senseless creatures to Treebeard. They were his companions, his friends. His surprise and his pain seemed a palpable thing as he gazed over the hacked and ruined trunks.
“They had voices of their own.” He continued, his eyes sweeping over the ruin, stopping at last on the distant scene of Isengard, smoke billowing ever upward.
“Saruman.” He growled, low. “A wizard should know better!”
Lalaith had to grasp a branch to steady herself. For the Ent, she realized, was actually beginning to shake from the rage and the pain that were building inside of his wooden heart. And at last, the great old Ent, lifted up his head, drew in a deep throated breath, and released a great howl, wild and enduring, that did not doubt reached all the edges of the forest, echoing long and away through the deeps of the trees before it faded at last, in the far distance.
“There is no curse in Elvish, Entish, or the tongues of Men, for this treachery.” Treebeard growled fiercely. “My business is with Isengard tonight-,” he breathed roughly, “with rock and stone.”
Behind her, Lalaith heard a great creaking echo approaching, the creaking sound of wood slowly rumbling into motion. And she glanced over her shoulder as Merry did, and Pippin, a moment later.
Ents, some she recognized from the Entmoot, and others, many others, who were entirely knew to her, came tromping slowly, yet steadily from the trees into the ruined graveyard before them. Their wise golden eyes scanned the prostrate forms of the trunks rotting about them, and in their wooden faces, Lalaith saw the horror and anger that shivered now through Treebeard.
“Yes.” Merry muttered, in a muted, though jubilant tone.
“Come my friends.” Treebeard rumbled. “The Ents are going to war.” Slowly, he began to march forward, his feet striking again in resonant booms. “It is likely that we go to our doom.” He breathed in a low, rumbling breath. “Last march of the Ents.”
In spite of his doomful words, Lalaith allowed herself a tentative smile. Pippin had thought of what she had not, but had taken an idea she had given to him. And so, with the young Hobbit’s help, she had indeed succeeded.
The Ents had been roused.