The sun stood high in the sky, shining bright and warmly upon the heads of the small group of Riders that had departed from the capital Edoras three days ago. In front of them loomed up the tower of the Hornburg, the home of Lord Erkenbrand, Marshal of the Westmark. Elfwine, prince of the Mark and Marshal of Edoras, halted his horse to look upon it for a moment. He wiped some sweat, pouring down his face, off his brow with the back of his hand and took a deep breath.
There it was, in front of him. Helm's Deep. How different the valley lay before him now. A certain scent of fear, sorrow and violence hung in the air and a certain slyness too. He wondered what was going on. People were crowding outside Helms Deep and people were riding off and on.
His thoughts were disturbed by the sounds of hooves and soon Elfwine was tapped on his shoulder by one of his men. A group of Riders was coming towards them, carrying the banner of Erkenbrand. They were led by a tall young man who seemed to be some years older than Elfwine, broad and strong in figure, long blond hair flowing underneath his helmet and a heavy spear in his hand. His face was stern and grim.
The group of Riders halted in front of Elfwines company and the young man who was leading them saluted to the prince. "Hail, Lord Elfwine. I am Durranmund. My father Erkenbrand has sent me forth to greet you and lead you towards the Hornburg. He awaits you and is eager to speak with you." Elfwine nodded and looked at Helms Deep. "Let us not keep your father waiting then. I long to hear what is going on here."
Now the Riders joined as a group and rode on their steeds towards Helms Gate, just before the entrance of the Deep. At a rocky point stood heavy stone walls and inside it stood a tall tower: The Hornburg, stronghold of Erkenbrand. At the walls stood a solitary figure dressed in a white dress, which flowed freely in the wind. The soft breeze flowed through the long blond hair, made it move like a banner caught high in the air. The woman looked out over the valley and even from afar could be seen in her entire being that she was sad and worried. Elfwine looked up at her as he entered Helms Gate. He knew immediately who it was: Heruwyn, his plague.
In front of the doors that gave access to the Hornburg stood Erkenbrand, tall and strong. He was clad in the armour of a Marshal, armed and shielded. At his side hung a big black horn. He looked tired. Elfwine dismounted in front of him and led Wingfoot to the Marshal and Lord of the Westfold. "Hail, Erkenbrand. I have come." Erkenbrand only nodded and shook Elfwine's hand. "It is good you have come. Things have become worse. Nearly half of the settlements of the Westfold have now been burned down to ashes and half of the Westfolds populace now hides in Helm's Deep. In agreement with Lord Gimli, a large populace of the women and children are hiding in the Glittering Caves."
Elfwine listened carefully and looked around the Deep. "I think it is best we do not discuss this any further outside. My men will join yours at the walls and are able to scout, if you wish. Until further orders I will place them among the ťored of your son." Erkenbrand nodded and led Elfwine towards the tower. As he did so he ordered Durranmund to join them.
After a long climb the three men reached Erkenbrands office. It was high in the tower and at the walls hung shields and banners with the markings of Rohan and Westfold, but also paintings of Helm. Erkenbrand positioned himself in front of a window and sighed. Elfwine lowered himself in a chair and broke the silence. "Who is causing the Westmark so much trouble?"
Durranmund answered when his father remained silent. He settled himself near his fathers desk and took a deep breath. "Who exactly is responsible remains a mystery to us as of yet. But it started a few weeks ago when villagers became restless and started to riot. Ever since then it went quickly. Village after village was set afire and all we could do was to put the fires out. Rumours are growing that the Dunlendings are the cause of all this trouble, but we do not know for sure."
Elfwine frowned and rose from his chair. Dunlendings He knew many stories of the Dunlendings, as his father had told him. This was not good. The last time the Dunlendings had been roused to attack the Rohirrim was during the War of the Ring, but they were defeated then and peace was made. They had the promise to live peacefully in Rohan and now they were throwing it all away again? That was, if the rumours were true.
Suddenly the door to the office was thrown open and landed with a big bang against the stone wall behind it. Elfwine, Durranmund and Erkenbrand turned around as fast as they could and then they saw two people standing in the opening of the door: Heruwyn and her youngest brother Deorbrand. Their eyes were as wide as saucers and they were catching their breath from the long run up the stairs to the top of the tower.
Heruwyn was the first to find her voice and threw out between gasps: "Another group of people is arriving at the gate. Another village has been struck. They keep on coming and coming."
Immediately the three men responded and while Heruwyn filled them in, they walked downstairs again. As soon as they stepped out of the door, they saw what was happening. A large group of people was entering Helms Deep, mostly women and children. Some of them came towards Erkenbrand as soon as they noticed him. In front of them walked a woman with a little boy in her arms. She held him up in the sky and turned his face. "Look at him! Look at what they did to him! He is just a little boy, he did nothing to them!" There was a large gap in the boys cheek, which had been poorly bonded and the boy was crying. "They came suddenly, setting everything afire!! There was nothing we could do!"
Erkenbrand walked over to them and tried to calm them down as good as possible. "I can assure you, nothing will happen to you here. Helms Deep is well guarded and help has been sent from Edoras. We will find the ones who did this to you and your village and we will punish them for their deeds." "But you have to do it quickly, otherwise nothing will be left!!" "We are working as fast as we can. In the meanwhile you will be brought to Aglarond and there you will be taken care of. Do not worry anymore, you will be safe here."
Elfwine went to stand next to Erkenbrand and watched as the people walked by. As he did so, he spoke softly to the Lord of the Westfold. "I have seen enough. Tomorrow I will ride the Westfold and search for anything that deals with our attackers. I must see all the damage myself." Erkenbrand nodded. "Very well, I will send Deorbrand with you. He knows which villages have been attacked and which not yet."
Erkenbrand felt how someone tugged at his cloak and looked aside. "Father" Heruwyn stood beside him with pleading eyes. "Father, Deorbrand has duties to fulfil here at the Hornburg. He has his training and serves as squire. Please father, let me show Prince Elfwine where the attacks have been. I can ride just as well, know the Westfold just as well and if we go together it will not rouse more suspicion than when two in cavalry manner dressed men search the lands. Please."
Elfwine had to suppress a growl in the back of this throat. Heruwyn, the spawn of hell, wanted to accompany him? Certainly to be more of a pain in the ass for him and call him names.
Erkenbrand noticed that and he remembered that the relationship between his daughter and the prince was not well. He rolled with his eyes and thought about it. "No, Heruwyn, it is best you stay here. It is not safe out there in the fields and Id rather not bring you into danger."
"No buts, dotohr."
Heruwyn lowered her eyes and stared sadly at her feet. "Yes, father."