Written for Purimgifts 2018.


Éowyn meant to go riding with two of her friends, but a sudden summer rainstorm prevented them. They stood gloomily in the shelter of the doorway, watching as the rain turned the grass into a sodden mess while thunder rolled overhead. "We can't ride in this weather," Éowyn said finally. "Not unless we rode ducks instead of horses! Let's go back inside."

They returned to Éowyn's chamber, where they pulled up stools and sat together. They could hear the rain pattering on the roof.

Hild glanced upward. "What should we do until the rain stops?"

"We could tell stories," Léofrun said.

Hild clapped her hands. "Yes," she said. "Éowyn, you start."

Éowyn thought for a moment. "I will tell you a story that my grandmother Morwen told me. She learned it in Mundburg in the South. It is the tale of Haleth."

"Which Haleth is this?" Hild asked eagerly. "Was he a great hero?"

"She was, but this Haleth was a woman."

Léofrun frowned. "But Haleth is a man's name."

"This Haleth was a woman, and a shield-maiden. And if you listen, I will tell you!" They settled themselves to listen, and Éowyn sprang to her feet and cried "Hark!" as she had heard the king's minstrel Gléowine do in the great hall to begin a story.

"Silence I bid from the sons of Eorl,
renowned in war and wise in council,
while I recount to King and thane
the deeds of heroes in days of old.

"Haleth daughter of Haldad was a shield-maiden, and she dwelt in a land called Thargelion, Overbourne in our tongue, with her father and her twin brother."

"What about her mother?" Léofrun asked.

Éowyn hesitated. Her grandmother hadn't mentioned her in the story. "Her mother was dead," she decided. Like her own mother, and her cousin Théodred's. She continued, telling of the attack by Orcs, how Haleth's people were trapped in the stockade, and how it was defended by Haleth, her father and her brother. Éowyn told the tale half in verse, half in ordinary speech, chanting lines of poetry when they came into her mind. She was imagining her own father and brother at her side, all of them defending a fortress surrounded by enemies. She had few memories of her father, but she was certain he was brave.

Hild and Léofrun leaned forward eagerly as she described the battle against the Orcs. They all knew well what Orcs were, though they had never seen one; how they killed and burned and stole horses. Théodred rode out to fight them when the king commanded. Hild's father rode with him, and Léofrun's older brother; Éomer would go too when he was old enough.

Éowyn told then of the deaths of Haleth's brother and father. "Then the people were near despair, but Haleth rallied them. She stood at the top of the wall, with her sword drawn. The Orcs mocked her, but Haleth cried:

"'Haldar's slayer and Haldad's bane
find nothing here but Haleth's sword!
Stand undaunted, though death may come!
We hold the walls, our will unyielding.'

"She led the defense of the stockade and they held it against the Orcs for five days, though surrounded and outnumbered."

Hild's eyes were shining. "Did she have a glorious death?"

"Haleth did not die. For they heard the sound of horns, and the Prince of the Elves came riding down from the North with his éored. He was an enchanter with strange bright eyes, and he led an army of Elvish folk. The Elves hated Orcs and fell upon them fiercely. When Haleth saw this, she gathered those of her folk who were still hale enough to fight and led a charge from the wall. Caught between Haleth's boldness and the enchanted swords of the Elves, the Orcs wailed and tried to flee; but not one of them escaped.

"After the battle, the Prince of the Elves approached Haleth. He was impressed by her steadfastness and courage. He wished her to become his sword-thane and ride north with him to defend his burg, and he offered his protection to her folk who were left."

"Did she go with him?" Léofrun asked.

Éowyn continued, "Haleth stood before him, weary and wounded but undaunted. 'I will not go with you,' she said, 'and my people will not serve yours. We have always lived by our own laws, without king or prince. We wish only to leave this place and seek out other lands where we may ride freely and raise our horses.' The Elf-lord regretted losing her, but he reluctantly let her go. Haleth raised a mound for her father and brother together with her folk. They sang the deeds of the fallen and honored their courage. Then Haleth called them together to ask who they wished to lead them. With one voice the people called, 'We will follow none but Haleth.' So she became their chieftain, for she was fearless and high-hearted.

"She led her people on a long journey, and they passed through many dark places of great peril. But at last they settled in the forest of Brethil, which is the Beechwood. Haleth led them until the day of her death. When at last she died, her people raised a mound for her, covered with simbelmynë. It is said that no Orc ever dared to approach her grave-mound, and so she protected her people even in death.

"Her slain brother's son became chieftain after her, but her people never forgot her. So greatly did they honor her that they named themselves after her, and her folk were called the People of Haleth forever after.

"You have heard the deeds of Haleth the bold.
Fell and fearless she faced the din-horde;
as chieftain should she sheltered her folk.
In mighty Mundburg they remember her glory."

Éowyn fell silent. The rain tapped more softly now on the roof, and they sat thinking of the deeds of the woman who had lived so long ago.


Notes:

Haleth's story is from the Silmarillion, in the chapter "Of the Coming of Men Into the West," though there may be some slight differences as Éowyn tells it.

Mundburg: The Rohirrim's name for Minas Tirith.