I’m a big fan of the scenes in the book around the Witch King and Eowyn’s battle, so forgive me for using the odd bit verbatim. Definitely can’t help myself.
In the dead of night, Theoden gave the word. The army of the Rohirrim moved off silently on the last stage of its journey to Minas Tirith. The king was anxious; he had not slept, so concerned was he that he and his men arrive in time to help the people of Gondor.
They left the Grey Wood and returned to the road. Their enemies were no longer barring the way, Eowyn knew, but Eomer’s scouts had still brought sobering news: Hirgon, the rider from Gondor who had brought Theoden the Red Arrow only a week earlier, had been found dead by the roadside with his companion. They had been unable to return to the city before it was attacked, and had clearly been pursued northward, back up the road, to their deaths.
The people of the city, therefore, did not know that help was coming. Would they have kept up a seemingly hopeless fight? Or would the Rohirrim arrive to find that the battle was already lost?
Eowyn bit her lip at this thought, as her company rounded a sharp bend in the road – the last before Minas Tirith. The city was now straight ahead of them on the plain, down a gentle slope and backed by the mighty white-capped peak of Mindolluin, a little less than 20 miles away. But it was dark, and all they could vaguely see – both mountain and city – was lit with a red light: Minas Tirith was aflame.
The far-seeing compatriots of Ghan-buri-Ghan, the chief of the Wild Men, had also brought news before retreating to their wooded hills: there was a breach in the wall of the Pelennor, surrounding the city – a breach to the north which would allow the army to ride straight in without hindrance, and be almost on top of their enemies before they were aware of it.
Theoden led his men to the right of the road, into the tall, tough, grasses that covered much of the ground north of the city. Hidden by the darkness and grass on the open plain, and with their target clear before them, they quickened their pace.
Elfhelm’s eored was right behind that of the king and his knights on this last lap. As they rode, Eowyn pressed Windfola ahead until she and Merry had joined the rear of the king’s company.
As they approached the wall of the Pelennor, Theoden called a halt. He sat tall and straight in the saddle, his eyes gleaming at the thought of battle.
“Now is the time, Riders of Rohan!” he called to those who were near. “We are a long way from home, but we have come to fulfil our oaths to Gondor, and the glory we win today will be ours forever.” Eowyn heart swelled with pride as he said this, and most of the Riders nearby clashed their spears on shields in response.
Ordering the battle position of his captains – Eomer behind his banner, Elfhelm to the right, Grimbold from Westfold to the left – Eowyn was touched to hear Theoden refer to Eomer as his son. At least now, with a battle at hand from which perhaps few of them would return, there could be no more misunderstandings created by the poisonous words of Wormtongue. The uncle knew his nephew’s worth, and could finally express the love and confidence he had in him.
Eowyn was happy – truly happy – as she sat in the saddle, spear in her right hand and shield in her left, waiting for the order to charge. Soon it came: “Forth now, and fear no darkness!” her uncle cried.
Dawn was yet to break through the brown haze that still enveloped them, but the Riders rode swiftly despite the lingering dark. They surprised a small group of scavenging, lazy orcs when they came to the outer wall, slew them in virtual silence, and rode on.
As they approached the city itself, the extent of the carnage already wrought by the enemy was clear. Eowyn was shocked and sickened by the mutilated bodies of men and beasts, the smell of death and burning and the filthy wreckage the enemy had made of homesteads in the once-green Pelennor fields. Without a word, the Riders stopped, horror-struck. Were they too late?
Then suddenly, a breeze from the sea ruffled their hair. Pure daylight was growing, a cock was crowing and as it did so a flash of orange light lit up the face of the city, followed by a heavy, booming crash as the enemies of Gondor splintered the main gate.
Now was the time. Theoden took the horn of Guthlaf, who bore his banner, and blew upon it – a horn-call strong and clear. He cried aloud to his men, set his spear towards the enemy, and charged. And with a mighty roar of voices and horns, the Rohirrim followed.
Eowyn’s heart was full as she raced towards the battle behind the king. He seemed to grow younger with each stride, a fierce joy on his face, and she rejoiced herself in being here to share the day with her kinsmen and her people.
And then the greatest joy of all occurred. The sun rose – a real dawn of pink and gold, heralding their arrival. At the same time the riders crashed into their enemies, singing as they thrust with their spears and stabbed or swept off heads with their swords.
The enemy was taken completely by surprise. Elfhelm and his eored fought their way to the siege engines and set about putting them out of action. Grimbold attacked the Easterlings, and Eomer cut a swathe through an unprepared host of orcs. The king rode where he would, and Eowyn followed him.
Merry sat forward in the saddle, clutching Windfola’s neck to give Eowyn room to move. Her mind and her hands worked automatically, defending and attacking, hewing and stabbing. Years of sword practice and horsemanship blended in this single moment of certainty: this was where she should be. She had been born for this battle, for this hour.
Suddenly the sun disappeared. The morning grew dark again, and Eowyn’s blood ran cold in her veins. She turned and saw, to her horror, a Nazgul atop a dreadful, hairless beast, flying low in the sky to attack the king.
At the same moment Windfola bucked in terror, throwing her and Merry to the ground. She fell heavily, and before she could raise her eyes she heard a voice calling for her. “Where are you?” it cried. Eowyn was shaken. He was here – somewhere in the city – weak and desperate, and seeking for her. But it was too late. There was no time.
“To me, to me!” she heard the king cry. “Up Eorlingas! Fear no darkness!” As Eowyn looked up, shaken and bewildered, she saw Snowmane fall to the ground, crushing the king beneath him. With a cry of anguish she raced up the slope towards him, as the beast landed on Snowmane and dug its claws into the horse’s twisted body.
So this was her destiny. This was what she had come here to face. So be it, she thought, and looked up without hope, but without fear, into the red and burning eyes of the Lord of the Nazgul.