Theodén lay where he’d fallen, under the dead weight of his horse. His eyes were closed; unlike so many of the dead, he could have been asleep. Tears came unbidden to his eyes as Aragorn knelt beside the former King of Rohan, noticing as he did the positioning of his hands, wrapped almost ceremoniously around the hilt of his blade. It was too neat to be accidental. Someone had stopped, in the midst of battle, to give their King some dignity in death. From his vantage point near the ground, Aragorn surveyed the wreckage.
There. There was something dark in the bloody grass, glinting maliciously at them. Aragorn stood, resting his hand on his sword, back in its scabbard on his belt. He gestured to the other two, both of whom had been staring at Theodén, his white face aged in death.
The companions stood in the twilight, no clouds to obscure the moonlight illuminating the object in front of them.
It was a helmet. A huge, black helmet that oozed darkness. It was certainly not of elvish make, nor did its metalwork stem from dwarven furnaces.
“Is that - ?” Gimli started, his voice strangled, seemingly unable to speak of the evil in front of them.
Aragorn nodded. “The Lord of the Nazgûl, the Witch-King of Angmar, Ringwraith – he had many names.”
Gimli shuddered. Even Legolas wasn’t unaffected. His face was pale, his usually bright features dull. He looked vaguely sick.
“It takes a lot to kill a creature such as this. Who managed such a feat?” he wondered out loud, studying the helmet intently. Even in death, they could still feel the dark presence emanating from the cursed object, reminding them of the danger they still faced.
Aragorn stared at the empty eye sockets, feeling the shadows calling to him. Surrender, they whispered. You cannot win. Let go. It would be so easy…you are nothing. Seductive and enticing, the shadows called. But Aragorn had lived for centuries. He was no weak-minded man; captain of the Dûnedain, Ranger of the North, heir of Isildur – he was anything but weak. The pitch-blackness had no hold on him.
It was Gimli who found the blades. Or what was left of them. One, only the hilt was left, lying in the grass behind the helmet; the other, broken about half-way up the sword, to the left. He recognised the gold bands twisting along the hilt of the first blade and gave a cry.
Aragorn shook his head, grasping Arwen’s necklace to ground himself as he moved away from the helmet. He picked up the hilt, turning it around in his hands.
“A blade of Westernesse,” he said softly. “Wielded by our small friends. There was a power beyond mere metal within this dagger, able to break the spell that held the Ringwraith’s body together. But where is its bearer?”
He could hear Legolas inhale deeply next to him. “You do not think the hobbits’ escaped, do you?”
Aragorn shook his head.
“Is there no hope?” Legolas continued. “They survived the orcs, helped the Ents take Isengard – their bravery knows no bounds. They could have found some way to – “ He trailed off, acutely aware of how desperate he sounded.
Neither of his friends replied. They each had grown fond of the hobbits, their mischievous nature hiding a deep seated sense of duty and courage. But, as Legolas searched the battlefield for any signs of life, he knew it was in vain.
Before they continued their search, Aragorn picked up the second broken blade. “A sword of Rohan,” he muttered. “It was this that dealt the final blow to the Witch-King.”
“How can you tell?” Gimli liked to think that, as a dwarf, he was quite an expert on weaponry, and yet, he knew little compared to the age-old ranger.
“The evil has marked the blade.”
Sure enough, tendrils of pure darkness crept up the metal from its ragged, broken edge, creating patterns that swirled and changed as they watched.
Not far from the body of Rohan’s fallen leader, another hulking Mûmak corpse lay on its side, casting shadows on fallen warriors as the moonlight shone down, unfeeling, on the end of one of the bloodiest days of the War of the Ring so far. It was in this shadow that Legolas found the bearer of the Rohirrim blade.
Éowyn lay on her back, her blonde hair covering her face, an orc blade embedded in her torso. Blood stained the Rohan armour she wore, the tips of her long hair dyed red. One arm was bent at an unnatural angle, her shirt sleeve pushed back to reveal dark, raised lines encircling her flesh. Legolas beckoned Aragorn over.
“Éowyn,” he breathed, a look of anguish darkening his face. “No. Why didn’t you stay at Edoras?”
"What do you fear, my lady?”
She looked at him with hard eyes. “A cage. To stay behind bars until use and old age accept them and all chance of valour has gone beyond recall or desire.”
He smiled inwardly at her strength and will. “You are a daughter of kings, a shield maiden of Rohan. I do not think that will be your fate.”
“I didn’t mean for this, Éowyn. You were meant to lead your people, to live a long life worthy of a king.” He gently moved her hair out of her face. Her eyes, so bright and hopeful in life, were empty, glassy and staring. Aragorn leant down to kiss her forehead, closing those dead eyes as he did. He held her stiff, cold body close, wishing she had been slightly less stubborn. In his grief, he hardly noticed the unusual wounds on her arm. It was only when he went to place her hands on her chest, clasped around the hilt of her blade that he realised. The hard line of his mouth softened slightly, the smile not quite reaching his dark, cold eyes.
“Lady Éowyn, you continue to surprise me, even in death.”
She remained still and silent.
“Glorfindel’s prophecy told that not by the hand of man he will fall. And yet, the Witch-King is dead. Éowyn of Rohan shall hereby be named Lady of the Shield-Arm, in recognition of her triumph over the Witch-King, and her immense bravery in the face of danger.”
Aragorn stated it like he was addressing a royal court, even though there were only two to hear it. Legolas bowed his head, a new respect for the Rohirrim woman burning in him. Aragorn stood, the stiffness of his limbs the only sign of the tiredness he was feeling. Tired of the destruction, the death. Tired of losing friends. A tiredness that spanned centuries.
It was hard to leave her there, surrounded by fallen enemies, but they had no choice. Later, much later, they would bury their friends. But not yet. There was still a lot of ground to cover here.
They hadn’t gone far when Legolas spotted the sandy hair common in the House of Eorl. Éomer was slumped against the grey hide of the Mûmak. His sword was buried in the chest of one of the Haradrim soldiers that lay scattered about. Congealed blood ran down the side of his face and several arrows pierced his armour. He was missing several fingers from his right hand. Aragorn once again knelt down, beside Éowyn’s brother. He drew two fingers across the fallen warrior’s forehead and murmured what sounded like a prayer in some version of Elvish that Legolas didn’t quite understand.
“The last of the House of Eorl,” he said to the other two.
“What will become of Rohan now?” Legolas asked.
Aragorn gave no answer; he had no answer. He was the heir of Isildur, rightful King of Gondor, not Rohan. He was not hopeful that there would be subjects for him to rule over, let alone a kingdom. Not after this battle. Gondor may have fallen, but Rohan deserved better.
Leaving the Rohan royal family behind, they continued with apprehension. Legolas did not want to think of how far Merry could have gotten without his dagger. He was sure it was Merry’s blade that they had found; Pippin was with Gandalf, who would not have let the hobbit leave the walls of the city. Éowyn had disobeyed Theodén’s order to stay behind, and Legolas had no doubt that the desire to prove himself would have led the brave hobbit to do the same. He kept a careful watch on the bodies they passed, searching for a smaller figure in amongst the men and orcs.
They had spread out, systematically searching the battlefield. The logistics blocked out the emotions that they strained so hard to keep in check. Just one lapse in concentration could prove to be their downfall.
“Sauron’s armies may have won here, but the loss of the Witch-King will lie heavily upon him. This battle represents only a fraction of the Enemy’s forces; we must be vigilante. We may be Frodo’s last chance,” Aragorn said to the other two. He knew all too well that Frodo was very unlikely to succeed, but he would fight ‘til the last breath to help the brave little hobbit.
Legolas and Gimli could see the hope fading from Aragorn’s stance as they neared the city. So many dead. Even if Frodo and Sam somehow made it to Mount Doom, they had no more friends to call upon. No more armies with which to defeat the forces of Mordor. Middle Earth would almost certainly fall.