The Uruks were coming through. Novarwen and the others had been holding the door for a whole age, it seemed, and she could feel the wood weakening, bending, cracking under the onslaught of the Uruk-hai army. Her thoughts flashed to Éowyn and the women in the Glittering Caves, waiting in helpless fear for the end, and she almost felt glad that she was here, waiting to be killed by a nameless Uruk, and not there, waiting and unable to do anything about it. Aragorn and Gimli had gone out long ago to try to hold the Uruk-hai away from the door, but they had had to retreat.
A section of the door smashed in. Novarwen could see a leering Uruk’s face, and she bent down, scooped up her knife, and stabbed him in the eye. The Uruk fell back, and Novarwen kept her knife ready for the next one stupid enough to get in her way. But she knew it was a lost cause. It had been lost from the start, and all they were doing was holding off the inevitable. The door creaked, shuddered, and with a last groaning protest, fell in. Novarwen leaped back and thrust her knife into the nearest Uruk, then pulled it out and embedded it in another one. She could barely see – everything in front of her eyes was blurred.
Theryn grabbed her wrist and pulled her back. She tried to resist, to dig her heels into the floor and stay to fight, but she did not have the strength to. She let herself be pulled away from the army, away from the door, and into a more secure room deeper within the fortress. Retreat, Novarwen thought dazedly. We are retreating. She bit the inside of her cheek and tasted blood.
Theryn and the Rohirrim slammed the door to the inner room shut and instantly pressed themselves against it in a vain attempt to hold it shut. Novarwen flinched at the act. Hope was almost fled from her.
“You said this fortress would never fall while your men defended it!” cried Aragorn’s clear voice into the grim silence. Théoden turned around to look at him. “They still defend it!” he went on. “They have died defending it!”
Novarwen’s words flew out of her mouth. “Is there no other way for the women and children to get out of the caves?” She was met by silence. “Is there no other way?” she repeated, more urgently.
“There is one,” said Théoden’s second, Gamling. “But they will not get far; the Uruk-hai are too many!” Novarwen wanted to slap him for his refusal to think that some at least might escape.
Aragorn cut in before she could say anything rash to Gamling. “Send word for the women and children to make for the mountain pass, and hurry!” One of the Rohirrim left the door to obey Aragorn. Novarwen quickly looked at Theryn. His eyes were shadowed and hopeless.
“So much death,” Théoden murmured. “What can Men do against such reckless hate?” he asked bitterly.
Aragorn faced him. “Ride out with me,” he said, his voice strong. “Ride out and meet them!”
A hint of a smile played in Théoden’s eyes. “For death and glory,” he said, the bitterness draining from his voice.
“For Rohan,” Aragorn replied. “For your people.”
Now Théoden was really smiling. “The horn of Helm Hammerhand shall sound in the Deep,” he said, more to himself than to them, “one last time.” Novarwen was reminded of how he had been when Gandalf had revived him. He was alive again, ready to face and fight the unbeatable odds. She found herself smiling too. Théoden turned to Aragorn, gripping his shoulder. “Let this be the hour when we draw swords together!” In the king’s eyes, Novarwen could see the plea for forgiveness for making the decisions that had led them here, and in Aragorn’s, she saw that it was forgiven.
The horses were brought into the room from the stable nearby as Gimli climbed up to the top of the fortress and blew, loud and strong, the horn of Helm. Novarwen stroked Brethil’s nose. “We didn’t know it was going to end here when we left Mirkwood, boy,” she whispered, her voice choked, “but let’s make it end well.” She set her foot in the stirrup and swung onto Brethil’s back.
Theryn had gotten a horse from among the ones that had been brought for the Rohirrim. He mounted and rode next to Novarwen, and they locked eyes. I will never see him again, Novarwen thought, and suddenly the nearness of death was driven home to her. She gasped softly and reached out for Theryn’s hand. He was just as quick to seek hers. “Kiss me a last time,” she whispered. Theryn leaned over and kissed her, the tears of longing mingling on their faces. “I love you,” Novarwen whispered as they broke apart.
“Im melin le, Novarwen,” Theryn echoed, his hand tightening on hers. She swallowed her tears. They would do her no good now. But how she wanted to cry, wanted to weep until there were no more tears left in her, to weep for all the beautiful things that could have been. She blinked fiercely to keep the tears back.
Théoden drew his sword. “Now for wrath,” he said, his voice getting stronger and more powerful with every word. “Now for ruin!” He raised his eyes to the door. “Forth Eorlingas!” he cried, and the horses charged at the door. They broke it down and rode into the midst of the Uruk-hai. Novarwen’s knife was out and it was flashing in the sunlight of the new day. She and the others carved a path for themselves through the seething mass of Uruk-hai, making for the far side that they would never reach.
Novarwen’s pouch began to vibrate and hum. She touched it and felt the Ainaglin moving below her fingers. Dread that another vision would seize her and leave her useless raced through her, but it was repelled by a gentle, cool calm that coursed into her body, along with the words, They are coming. You are saved. Novarwen took her hand off the Ainaglin, but the peace she had felt remained, as well as the message. No vision took hold. And as she raised her eyes to the top of the valley that Helm’s Deep sat in, she saw a sight that confirmed her newfound hopes. A white horse, a horse she knew, was standing on the crest of the hill, and riding him was Gandalf. Then, out of nowhere, came a figure she had seen before on horseback. Her Elven eyes told her it was Éomer. He drew his sword, raised it, and cried something, and the entire army that had surrounded the Fellowship on the plains of Rohan poured into the valley, following Éomer and Gandalf.
Novarwen’s lips parted, and a victorious cheer burst from her throat. New energy surged through her, and she lifted her voice and cried out the news to the others. They could see the company thundering down the slope now, and they fought fiercely to get to the safety the mounted riders promised. The Uruks, as one, turned and tried to flee, but there was nowhere to run. A laugh jumped from Novarwen’s mouth to the dawn air, and she fought on, until she had reached the Riders. The tide of battle was turned, and would not turn again today.
She pulled Brethil up beside Gandalf. He smiled at her. “You’re late,” she teased.
“I would say to you what I once said to Frodo Baggins,” he replied with the old smile she remembered from the days when he had been the Grey Pilgrim, “but we haven’t the time.” Novarwen’s face split into a smile, and she went back to business.
They made short work of the terrified Uruk-hai. Once they had either managed to flee or had been killed, all rode back inside Helm’s Deep. The horses were taken back to the stables. “Those stables will be rather overfull, don’t you think?” Theryn asked behind Novarwen. She turned and threw her arms around his neck and kissed him, smiling against his mouth. They only separated because the Riders began to hoot. They failed in making either Theryn or Novarwen blush, however.
“What happened to the women and children?” Éomer asked Aragorn and Théoden.
“Lord Aragorn sent them to take the mountain pass,” Théoden told his nephew.
“The word came too late,” announced a voice behind him, a familiar voice. Novarwen turned around. There was Éowyn, standing in the doorway with the women and children beside her. “We’d just heard we were to go when the ground started to shake,” Éowyn told Théoden. “Théodel looked outside and saw you all coming down the hill. So we decided to stay.” Éowyn finished her narrative by fiercely hugging Éomer. Her brother grinned and pushed her away when he couldn’t breathe. The men and women were all rushing toward each other now, searching for their families. Novarwen saw Aragorn and Éowyn embrace once, and she couldn’t help but wonder what the outcome of this would be.
Then Éowyn was running toward her. Novarwen raced to meet her friend. They nearly crashed into each other, and Novarwen warned, laughing, “Careful of the nose, it’s broken!”
“See!” Éowyn lectured, a huge grin on her face. “I told you that you should have taken the helmet!”