A far green country stretched before Aragorn, its beauty not yet tainted by what was to come. Not yet, but soon, for an army of five thousand strong marched its way toward Helm’s Deep, and the lush grass his horse galloped through would soon be trampled and ruined, as was all touched by the foulness of orcs.
He found himself for once thankful that the bond between a horse and its rider would never reach so deep, for had his own weariness carried over to his horse then they would have never made it to their destination, which was still some distance away. An hour, perhaps, by his reckoning.
Or perhaps more, for as he and his horse reached the peak of yet another hill, he spotted that which he could not leave alone, no matter if it delayed him in his journey. It was a figure on a horse, black as the rider’s own cloak. And they made their way slowly to the hill which upon Aragorn and his horse stood.
Aragorn rode down to meet the rider, not willing to waste time.
“Rider before me!” he yelled as his horse neared. “Turn back now and ride swiftly away, for only death awaits you beyond these hills!”
He eased his horse from a gallop to a trot and then to a stop when he reached the rider. And it was to his surprise to find that the rider was not a man as he had expected, but a woman. This was very strange indeed, for what woman rode alone in these parts? What woman rode alone in any parts?
She raised her head to see him, as her hood had hid her eyes from his heightened position on the hill. Green eyes were set upon him, and how very green and fair they were. How very fair all of her was.
Black was her hair, as dark as her cloak and horse, and Aragorn wondered briefly if it was wise to approach someone cloaked in all black in these fell times. He was weary, very much so, and depending on her skill he was not so sure if he could properly defend himself from even a woman.
“Did you not hear me, my lady?” he said when she did nothing but observe him as though he were a finely crafted statue.
“I heard,” she said, her voice light and melodious, though if Aragorn hadn’t been so exhausted he might’ve believed there was also power in it, a dark kind of edge. “I heard you quite well. Death and only death awaits me beyond those hills, you say?”
Aragorn nodded grimly. “Aye. You must ride, ride away or with me to Helm’s Deep if you have no place to go. An army of five thousand orcs marches.”
“Oh, really?” the woman said idly, looking to the hill he had come from, and though he knew her to have heard, her tone suggested that she hadn’t paid any attention at all to what he had just said.
A breathy, disbelieving laugh escaped him. “Yes, really . Do you not fear orcs?”
Her gaze returned to him. “Not particularly, no.”
“You jest, surely!”
The woman shrugged. “How long until they reach us?”
Aragorn stared for a moment, unsure of what to think. “Two hours, perhaps three if they rest, though I do not believe they will. It is plenty time for you to ride! They are five thousand strong, my lady, do not underestimate them.”
“Again with the my lady,” the woman said, half-amused and half-absently. “One of those places, is it? My name is Evelyn Potter. Tell me, Aragorn son of Arathorn, do these orcs carry magic amongst themselves? Do wizards or witches walk in their midst? And, if I may ask, for I wish not to delve any deeper into your mind than I already have, what is Helm’s Deep and why is it you ride there?”
She said this all without giving pause for him to answer. Though, Aragorn was sure he wouldn’t have been able to answer anyway. Her questions brought fear down upon him. She had known his name, had freely admitted to looking into his mind, wore all black, and spoke of orcs and magic as though they were meant to be found together.
Had he come upon a user of dark sorcery, sent up ahead as a scout for the army? Was Saruman amongst them? And what else had she already learned from his mind?
What of the Ring?
“What Ring?” said Evelyn, blinking up at him.
He breathed heavily, pulling his horse away from her and readying himself to draw his sword.
Evelyn raised her eyebrows. “I can assure you I am not part of any army. But I am indeed a wielder of magic, as has become obvious by now.” What little comfort was given by these words was quickly dashed by her next words: “And I suppose I am a user of dark sorcery... though not very often, not when I can help it. Only in the most dire of times, really. Otherwise Hermione gets mad.”
Then she spurred her horse on — not at Aragorn, as he thought for a split second, but uphill, and Aragorn still remained unsure of what to do or think. Skilled swordsman though he was, magic was beyond him, and a sorceress could likely very easily kill him as he was now. He let her ride up, trailing slowly behind her.
On top of the hill, their figures were framed against the blue sky. The woman gazed into the distance. Aragorn knew she wouldn’t see anything; it would take a few more hours for them to reach this point. Evelyn glanced back at him, and he stilled his horse and himself. A stick was in her hand, and she gave it a little wave, a loose circle of movement.
And out from its tip sprang magic like he had never seen nor felt before; white-blue, in the shape of what looked like an eagle but with longer tail feathers. But its appearance was the least of it. For when it came into existence, Aragorn felt his heart lighten, his spirits rise, and he knew no evil could conjure such a wonderful magic. She was like Gandalf!
His courage was also strengthened by the magic, and he removed himself from his horse and approached the woman, who had also dismounted.
“Your magic,” Aragorn said in awe, “I’ve seen nothing like it, and I’ve seen much in my days.”
Evelyn spared him a glance. “You don’t look a day above forty, yet your mind seems older. Just how many days have you had, exactly?”
“Twice that, my lady,” said Aragorn respectfully, making sure not to upset a possibly powerful and potential ally.
“Ah, age slower, do we?” said Evelyn. “Yes, you could say I’m not quite my age either.”
“Then you are like Gandalf!” said Aragorn, taking in her features. “An Istar! He is hundreds — perhaps thousands — of years old, yet takes on the form of an elderly man.”
Evelyn continued staring off into the horizon. “Oh, I’m not that old. I’m half as old as you, though I look less than half as old as you appear.” At this, she seemed to remember her spell, her silvery animal, and she let it fade into nothing. “Perks of being me, I suppose.”
“Indeed,” said Aragorn, his hopes rising; they were having a civil conversation, and if she were evil she would have surely killed him already. “And you, Lady Evelyn? You are of his kin and like?”
“Not quite,” said Evelyn. “Not likely.” She turned her gaze to him, her eyes blazing in the sunlight. “Now I’m afraid I have some questions of my own, if I’m to help you.”
Relief poured over Aragorn. “And I shall answer to the best of my capabilities, but perhaps we should ride as you ask, for your powers, whatever they may be, will serve us best at Helm’s Deep, with the others.”
“Is that where your people wait?”
“They do not know yet of the coming danger,” said Aragorn, remembering that just now. “This is why we must ride in haste! By the falling of the sun they shall be upon Helm’s Deep, and the battle, shall they not kill us all, will last til daybreak — and even then,” he added wearily, “I am unsure if we will win... five thousand orcs...”
“These orcs,” said Evelyn, “what are they like?”
“Pardon?” said Aragorn.
“I’ve met orcs before, but they might not be like the orcs you speak of, so I ask: what do they look like? How tall are they? Do they have magic? Will a simple sword kill them?”
“Aye, a simple sword will fell them.” Aragorn frowned. “They are near Men’s height, mostly; no magic, or so I’ve never seen...”
“So like five thousand men,” said Evelyn, her small staff wiggling in her fingers.
“Fouler,” spat Aragorn. “Orcs are vile, born and bred for evil purposes.”
“And so are often Men,” said Evelyn. “All beside the point. If you wish to ride and alert your people, do so. But you will worry them for nothing. The orcs will not pass this hill, Aragorn, this I can promise you.”
“You wish to fight them?” Aragorn said, wide-eyed. “ Alone ?”
“Not quite alone. I’ll have my wand with me” — she held up her stick — “but yes, I plan to be the cause of their complete destruction. If they’re truly evil as you say.” As with everything before, she said this as though she had merely suggested that they would go for a walk, one free of orcs and battle and death. Evelyn’s lips twitched and she said to herself, “I do enjoy talking like this; feel a bit like Dumbledore.”
Aragorn stared at her in disbelief, sure that this woman was insane and criticizing himself for not seeing it sooner and wasting his time — but no, he had seen her magic; but then again, wasn’t Gandalf himself a bit mad? But he couldn’t stand alone against hundreds of orcs, nevermind thousands.
Then she pointed her wand at a nearby boulder, and again Aragorn was witness to incredible magic that he had never seen the likes of before. First he thought she was levitating it, for it began to rise, but then he saw it break apart and push itself up . It had no head, but the torso and the rest of its limbs were perfectly distinguishable. Its stones grinded against each other as it shifted and moved, stepping out of its crater, its previous home, and coming to stand on the hill with them. The stone giant towered over them, nearly twice even Aragorn’s height, and Aragorn was descended from the tall Númenóreans.
Evelyn flicked her wand again, though Aragorn could see no visible effect from whatever spell she had cast.
“Unbreakable Charms,” she said, finding the question in his eyes, which were still wide and awed. “They’d be fine soldiers without them, of course, but better to make sure no sword can chip away at them. They’ll be utterly unbreakable, unless countered with magic.”
Aragorn laughed. It must’ve been touched with a bit of hysteria, but he hadn’t laughed this delightfully in ages and so he welcomed it. “Never before have I seen such magic! This creation will aid us, then? If their swords cannot hurt it, then given enough time...” He beamed at it. “You may give us hope yet, Lady Evelyn the Black!”
“I’m not quite done yet, Aragorn, so perhaps we should let you sit before you collapse from excitement.” She waved her wand again, and behind him was conjured a chair — a cushioned chair, looking downright bizarre and out of place in these empty hills. He sat down anyway, sinking into it and nearly letting out a noise of pleasure at how comfortable it was.
Evelyn turned back to her work. She pointed her wand at all the nearby boulders, and one by one they began to come to life, and Aragorn could do nothing but watch in wonder as they lined up in front of them. In mere minutes, there were dozens of them, these stone giants, some as big as trolls, the smallest still being larger than him.
On each one she placed her “Unbreakable Charms,” as she called them. Some she gave stone weapons, crudely made but surely effective. He looked on with greater fascination, wondering if one of the Valar themselves had come from the West. Or if they could take these stone creations and march upon Mordor with them, bringing Sauron down at last.
But no, perhaps not. Evelyn had said they could only be countered with magic, and Sauron had much magic within him still. So long as he stayed within his Dark Tower in Mordor, however, Evelyn’s magic might clear the lands of evil...
“It’s rude to think so loudly of how useful a woman is,” said Evelyn as she walked back toward him.
“It is rude to read a man’s private thoughts,” countered Aragorn, though there was no heat in his words. If these golems could indeed destroy Saruman’s army, then she could read his mind however much she wanted.
Evelyn smiled, probably having read that thought too. “Indeed.” She looked toward the horizon, and his eyes followed. There, at the very edge of the land they could see, a shadow gathered.
“That is them, I believe,” he said.
“So it seems,” said Evelyn, and she disappeared in a small flurry of robes.
Aragorn blinked, then looked around wildly. One moment she had been right there, and the next — gone! More of her magic? Did she have one of the Great Rings? Before he could calm himself, she reappeared right where she had left.
“Yes, that is certainly them,” she said, as though nothing had happened, and looked over to him. “Ah, my apologies, Aragorn. I wished to confirm it was indeed the orcs, and so I transported myself closer, onto that mountain you see.”
Aragorn did see it. All he could do was stare at it, then her, then back at the mountain.
“You were a bit off on your numbers, though,” she said, bringing his attention back to her again. “I’d say it was more ten thousand orcs, rather than five.”
This would have been deeply grave news, but Evelyn’s calm demeanor stayed his rising panic. “And you will still face them?”
“And defeat them,” she said. “Those numbers always sound big, but when you put them all together you realize that all you have to do is throw a mountain on them.”
“And...” said Aragorn hesitantly, “you can throw a mountain?”
Evelyn shrugged. “I’ve never tried.”
Aragorn was beginning to understand how the War of Wrath had brought down an entire continent beneath the ocean. He decided he wouldn’t want to see a mountain fall from the sky anyway. “Do we simply wait, then?” he asked.
“Do you have anything else to be doing at the moment?” Evelyn asked, conjuring a chair near his and settling down in it. Her horse trotted off behind them, where it promptly turned into a rock.
“Perhaps a nap,” said Aragorn, staring at it. “I am weary, and injured, for my fall was long and my journey here longer. I think I am hallucinating.”
Evelyn glanced at him. “Then nap. Or we may eat while we wait. But before that allow me to look over you and heal you of your wounds.” She frowned. “You should have told me sooner.”
“None are life-threatening,” said Aragorn. “They are only bruises, and all underneath my garments.”
Evelyn raised an eyebrow. “Yet they pain you still. I can see it.”
Aragorn grimaced. “Are my thoughts still so loud?”
“No, the pain is in your eyes.” She stood. “Swallow your pride, please, and allow me to take a look at you.”
Aragorn’s grimace deepened. “It is improper.”
Evelyn gave him a hard stare. “You think of me as one of your Istar, one of your Valar, and though I am not, I know of their kind. I have warred with such beings, Aragorn, so spare me the modesty and propriety as you would them. It is beneath me.”
“Of course...” Aragorn took a deep breath, and began to remove his clothing slowly, wincing whenever a muscle pulled beneath a particularly bruised spot. It was mostly his upper body that had taken the hard hits, and so he kept his trousers on.
Evelyn was likely similar to Gandalf, a higher power taking the form of a lesser body. There was no reason to be embarrassed in front of such a being. He should feel honored if anything, he thought, to be healed by the hands of such a powerful entity.
Evelyn’s wand traced over his body, passing over a bruise only once — and only once was all it needed: his purple and yellow bruises healed immediately, the pain disappearing and a healthy color returning to his skin. He was once again amazed; not even Elrond could heal so swiftly.
When she was done, she flicked her wand from his clothes to him, and they flew at him, covering his torso. He grabbed at them, to pull them back on, but found to his surprise and amusement that they had somehow found themselves back on his body properly.
“Gandalf is a very dear friend to me,” he said, tugging at his clothing to make sure it was all secured, “but I have to say, Lady Evelyn, I would have much preferred your magic over his on our long journey thus far. How practical it is.” He looked up at her, and found she was sitting back down, a table with food having been apparently conjured in between their chairs.
He sank slowly back into his own seat. It was as though she wished him to be in a constant state of surprise! He hadn’t eaten since the day prior, and he gladly accepted the plate she offered him.
“Take whatever you wish,” she said, and he did. Bread, cheese, fruits and meats, water and wine, and all sorts of other things he had never seen nor tasted before. “Chocolate,” she said when he held it up and examined it.
“How sweet,” he said when he took a bite. “It tastes as though it will rot my teeth.”
Evelyn huffed a laugh as she leaned back in her chair with an apple. “Eat enough and it may.”
Aragorn set the chocolate down.
After he had his fill, but before Evelyn finished her apple, the orc army was visible in its entirety. The very back could now be seen. And Evelyn had been right; it did seem more like ten thousand, and yet ten thousand no longer seemed so large, not if her golems could truly withstand any non-magical blow. It would only be a matter of time before they were obliterated.
For what felt like the fifth time that day, he let out a disbelieving laugh.
“Something funny?” asked Evelyn, taking her last bite of the apple.
Aragorn shook his head. “I am still not sure if this is all a dream. Perhaps I sleep still on my horse — but if so, and you are only a figment of my imagination, then I hope the army is too, for Helm’s Deep cannot withstand such an assault.”
Evelyn swallowed the bite. “I hope it’s not a dream too. It’s been a while since I’ve had such an easy foe.”
Aragorn laughed again. “Ten thousand orcs — easy?”
“The easiest battles are when you just have to sit there and watch the carnage.”
“Easiest for those sitting, perhaps, but not for those fighting.”
“Ah,” said Evelyn, “but there won’t be that dilemma now, will there? My creations won’t be harmed, and if they are — well, they were only born today.”
“Do they truly feel and think, then?”
Evelyn shrugged. “They’ll certainly convince you that they do. I suppose it’s debatable, whether these kinds of creations of magic are truly sentient. Perhaps they are, or perhaps their intelligence is fueled by magic and only appears as though real. Perhaps there’s no difference.”
“This seems a conversation more suited for Gandalf, not the likes of rangers.”
“I thought you’d seen much in your days, Aragorn?”
He smiled. “Indeed, but not so much in the realm of magic. Understanding of your own understanding eludes me.” Though there was something about her creating some kind of intelligence that nagged at his mind, something familiar, something that said it was a much bigger deal than she was making it out to be. “Yes, you should speak to Gandalf. He would be most fascinated, I should like to think.”
“Maybe,” said Evelyn, a bit uneasily. “I don’t plan to stay long, truth be told.”
It was as though an arrow had shot through his hope, deflating it nearly completely. “You’re to leave?” he said, aghast. “So soon? Lady Evelyn —”
“Not yet,” she said. “I’ll help you here, then I’ll explore this world a bit, make sure to memorize all I can for later Pensieve use...”
“And then I’ll return after,” she continued, not answering him. “I’ll help here and there, where I can, but I’ve already wasted too much time sitting here and talking to you. But really, I don’t mind a bit of rest, and Hermione’s always nagging at me to take a break from dimension traveling —”
Aragorn took a breath. “Lady Evelyn, I do not know of what you speak, for it seems beyond me, but already your help will be of great value, and so I will thank you for no matter how much you give.”
Evelyn looked to be contemplating something, and a moment went by before she gave herself a little jerk of her head and said, “Well, what Hermione doesn’t know won’t hurt her, I suppose.”
Nearly an hour later, the orcs were at last upon them. Evelyn stood up, still appearing as though this was nothing but a walk in the park. The sound of the orcs marching now easily reached their ears, and though Aragorn now trusted Evelyn’s magic, he could still not stay simply seated. No, indeed, he would stand and watch the carnage.
It almost seemed too easy to him as well, and he wanted to see everything, and to be ready should all go wrong. And in these days it seemed everything that could go wrong would go wrong. He said so to Evelyn.
“We call that Murphy’s law,” she said. “Though I doubt you have to worry about that here. Look, I don’t think they even realize what’s waiting for them.”
“Likely they think these are just stones and nothing more,” said Aragorn, gesturing to the stone golems. “Perhaps just statues.”
An odd look came upon Evelyn’s face then. It was hesitation. “I’d like to keep it that way for the moment,” she said. “I’m going to talk to them first.”
“What?” said Aragorn, yet again surprised by Evelyn’s behavior. “But why? Let loose your stone giants and let them —”
“I’d like to give even orcs a chance to turn away. I don’t take joy in so easily dishing out death. Besides, Hermione would be terribly disappointed if I didn’t at least check if they’d surrender first.”
Aragorn’s insides twisted. What if they killed her? They probably couldn’t, but nonetheless... “Then I shall come with,” he said.
“If you want.” And then she was off, walking down the hill to what would be certain death to all but apparently her. Aragorn followed swiftly behind, thinking of this Hermione. Evelyn talked as though Hermione had control over her, and he wondered if an even greater power than Evelyn would join them soon.
It took only a few moments for the orcs to see them, and when they did the entire army came to a halt. They seemed unsure of what to do. It was likely no one had ever so brazenly approached them like he and Evelyn were now. He himself could hardly believe it.
“Hello!” said Evelyn as they neared. “I’d like to speak to the —”
An arrow was loosed immediately, and it shot toward Evelyn like a falcon intent on catching its prey. It never reached her. With a dull clang , it hit an invisible wall right in front of her and fell to the ground.
“Well, that was rude,” she said, staring down at it.
“What do you two maggots want?” said an orc, slightly larger than the rest.
“Maggots?” said Evelyn. “I’m starting to regret not just killing you all immediately.”
The orc squinted his eyes. “What’s that? Are you threatening us? The two of you threatening us, the fighting Uruk-hai?”
Out flashed a green light from Evelyn’s wand, as swift as an arrow, striking the orc in the chest. He fell down instantly, his eyes unseeing. There was a moment of silence, and then another orc charged at her. Evelyn pointed her wand again at him, but no light came from it this time; instead she said, “ Imperio ,” and the orc stopped in his tracks. And then turned around, his axe clutched firmly in his hands, and charged at his own army in a rage.
Before Aragorn could see what would happen, Evelyn grasped his arm, and he was pulled suddenly from where he stood to elsewhere — the sky? — an impossibly small hole — it was nauseating — and then he was back on his feet, though he nearly fell to the ground. Hands on his knees, he bent over, heaving.
“Sorry about that,” said Evelyn. “Didn’t feel like walking back. And it’ll leave them a little more convinced of my power.” She put her wand to her throat then. “ Sonorus .”
Aragorn looked up and around. They were back on the hill, having instantly transported back to it.
“I will give only one warning,” said Evelyn, and her voice was magnified as she addressed the army, louder than he had ever heard someone speak before. He had to step back, lest his ears bleed. “You have seen my magic,” she continued. “But you have not seen a fraction of its full power. If you wish to live, then leave. No doubt some of you have been deceived into service. If you wish to die, however, then you may die.”
And on her last word, the stone giants moved. No longer were they still like statues and deceiving in that way. Now they marched down on the orcs, who had not anticipated this and were in a panic. Though none left yet. And why should they? From their perspective, Aragorn thought, there weren’t even a hundred foes.
Yet, as the first golem came down upon them, they must’ve realized they were incorrect in their assumptions. Down came their stone fists, and blood and gore splattered about. Those with weapons swung them at will, the great hammers pulverizing orcs. The screaming was quick to start. Aragorn was left in between awe and disgust.
He felt no regret, for these were the very same orcs who had raided and pillaged across Rohan. They deserved death. This was war, and Evelyn’s creations were still more merciful than they might be themselves.
But there was still something that twisted his stomach when he saw just how easily they were being destroyed. Perhaps it was some sense of honor in him, something about how they truly stood no chance at all. The golems were relentless in their attacks, and no matter how many swords clanged against them, they did not so much as flinch.
“Not quite as amusing as you thought it would be, is it?” said Evelyn, and there was a distaste in her face as well.
“No,” said Aragorn grimly. “But I do not regret it.”
“I don’t either. I looked into their hearts, and not a single one held any good.”
“Thus is the way of orcs,” said Aragorn.
"Look." Evelyn gestured to the distance. "They fleeing already."
And indeed they were. A third of their army had already been slain, and not a single stone giant had fallen. Evelyn’s creations were almost methodical in their attacks. They did not stop to catch breath as men might. They swung, and they stepped, never faltering. Aragorn couldn’t imagine if Saruman or Sauron could create such things. Only Gandalf could stop them, and even then perhaps not them all.
No, not only Gandalf, for now there was Evelyn as well. Perhaps Frodo need not even destroy the Ring.
“What is this Ring?” said Evelyn.
Aragorn grimaced. “I had hoped you would forget of it.”
“I can keep a secret.”
“I do not doubt it,” said Aragorn, “but it is dangerous... Though, perhaps...”
“Perhaps what?” said Evelyn, completely ignoring the slaughter going on below them.
“How far may you — er —”
“Transport myself as you saw?”
“It’s called Apparition,” said Evelyn. “And rather far.”
“And you may take another with you, as you did me?” said Aragorn.
“Yes, though even more if need be.”
And so Aragorn’s mind was made, and he told her fully of the Ring, and their plan regarding it. Evelyn listened patiently, only interrupting here and there to ask questions. By the time they were done, half an hour later, there were no living orcs left in sight. The field ahead was drenched with blood, and the golems had fallen back into the earth again.
Ten thousand, so easily dealt with.
And now it was up to Evelyn to decide whether she would help with the Ring, if she would find Frodo and take him to Mordor and help destroy it. It was here that Aragorn saw the first doubt in Evelyn’s eyes. He had described to her as well as he could about Sauron, and it seemed she was now wary. It was odd in and of itself that she did not know who Sauron was, which tossed out any idea of her being one of the Valar.
“So he’s like a demi-god,” she muttered to herself. “You ask much of me, Aragorn. Too many have underestimated me for me to underestimate others, and this Sauron sounds powerful.”
“He is a mighty foe indeed,” said Aragorn. “It is likely you will never come across him, should you help Frodo.”
“And if I do?” said Evelyn, looking up at him. “Do you believe me capable of battling him?”
“I believe your golems could hold him for a time.”
Evelyn flashed her wand and lightning sprung out, zapping into a large boulder and exploding it into many little pieces.
“And now?” she said.
Aragorn watched the rocks fall, not yet used to such extravagant displays of power. “Yes... perhaps... though Sauron will not be mighty in strength alone, but in mind. Thousands of years old he is, Lady Evelyn, and his will cannot be matched. He may defeat you before you may even wield your wand.”
“Maybe,” said Evelyn, and they both let a silence hang in the air for a while. The sun was nearing the horizon, reddening the bloodstained fields even more. Evelyn took a deep breath, and spoke. “I’ll Apparate you and your horse to Helm’s Deep. I won’t stay. I’ll be gone again before you can catch your breath. I have no wish to explain myself to those already there.”
“Where will you go?” said Aragorn, and it seemed all hope hung on her next words.
She looked into his eyes. “To the Mountains of Shadow, where I hope I will find your Frodo and Sam, and then into Mordor.” She sighed. “Hermione’s going to strangle me.”