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"Battle Harp", by Himring

Author: Himring
Title: Battle Harp
Rating: PG (for canonical violence)
Theme: Art's Desire (February Challenge)
Prompt: Rohan Icons created by Oshun for the July 2012 Art Challenge: Miniature.
Author's Notes: Oshun comments on the icons: "It is part of my own personal, perhaps AU, canon to imagine that the Rohan as an oral culture made use of harps, including battle harps." The icons, which depict riders and a harp, are here: http://www.lotrgfic.com/viewstory.php?sid=2184&chapter=1
Summary: An early encounter between Gleowine the minstrel and the battle harp--and  also between Gleowine and his future king, Theoden, son of Thengel.
Word Count: c.630 words

The battle harp was smaller than an ordinary harp. The frame was carved in a way that allowed the rider to wedge it securely between neck and  shoulder. The sound of its strings was piercing rather than mellow and resonant. Playing it inside was discouraged.

Young Gleowine, in the first year of his apprenticeship, was only just beginning to try it out. He sat astride a low wall in Edoras, before the doors of Meduseld, and tentatively plucked a few notes, trying to gauge the right strength and volume. But already his gaze was far off in the distance; in his mind, he was a rider grown, following his chosen lord valiantly into a skirmish in the Eastemnet.

He was brought back to the present with a jolt by the awareness that he had acquired listeners--and from among King Thengel's children, no less! Erkenhild, Thengel's eldest daughter, stood to his left, with her younger brother Theoden beside her. She listened to the sound of the battle harp, frowning, chewing her lower lip, while Theoden merely looked curious and interested.

Erkenhild's clothing was a mixture of the styles of Gondor and Rohan--a reminder that it was not so long ago that the family had arrived from Lossarnach. They spoke the speech of the Rohirrim fluently, but with a strong accent that was only just beginning to fade, although Theoden was losing his quicker than Erkenhild.

Maybe that was because he was younger, mused Gleowine.

'You play this instrument in battle?' Erkenhild asked. By 'you', she clearly meant the Rohirrim as a whole, Gleowine recognized, not just Gleowine or rather Gleowine and his master, Uncle Gleomund. 'You sing as you ride in battle, not merely on the march or in a ceremony beforehand?'

The idea was clearly very strange to her. He guessed they would never do such a thing in Lossarnach--perhaps not in the whole of Gondor.

'We do,' he answered her politely. 'It strengthens our spirits--and it helps keep the riders together, to coordinate the troop.'

Erkenhild looked sceptical. Gleowine was sure that she could tell he was quoting his uncle and had never been near a battle. And, of course he was inexperienced, a mere beginner, he could not deny that--but was that itself enough reason to disbelieve him and show it so clearly?

He felt disconcerted and looked at Theoden, hoping for a friendlier reception, a less critical ear. And Theoden did not disappoint him. He leant in closer, inspecting the harp.

'Could you play some more?' he asked.

The wind swept up from the plain to where they stood, up high, unfurling the royal banner above them and ruffling Theoden's golden hair.

'This one is a Rohir,' thought Gleowine, gratefully. 'Maybe his sister is too Gondorian to fit in or maybe she is just being superior because she is older, and a girl. But Theoden is already a true Rohir.'


All the host of Rohan burst into song, and they sang as they slew, and the sound of their singing that was fair and terrible came even to the City as they overran well nigh all the northern half of the Pelennor.

Gleowine faithfully followed his Lord southward in the charge, playing as they sang. But at the last, as they reached the road from the Gate to the River and Theoden, in white fury, rushed headlong at the Black Serpent, Gleowine tore the harp from his neck and hurled it before him, straight into the onset of the Haradrim, and rode after, by no means the least of the knights of the royal household in the great clash of that meeting.

And they clove through the Southrons like a fire-bolt in a forest.

A/N: The final passage is of course adapted from Chapters V and VI of Book V of LotR. Oshun quotes some of the earlier part together with her icons.


Feb. 21st, 2017 10:45 am (UTC)
Oh, I love this brief glimpse of a young Gleowine at the beginning of his career, whom we only see at the end in the book. Seeing a young Theoden, already a "true Rohir" in spite of his beginnings is also delightful.

I am sure that Erkenhild's response was because she was older; it must have been hard for the family to return after their long sojourn in Gondor!

I also like the idea that the Battle Harp could also be a weapon.
Feb. 22nd, 2017 11:09 pm (UTC)
Thank you very much, Dreamflower!

I'm glad you liked this glimpse of their youth! I think Gleowine's use of the harp as a weapon might be just a bit unorthodox--but after all it was the great battle of their time, a moment of crisis!

Erkenhild, sadly, finds it much harder to adjust after the move to Rohan than Theoden. I wrote a separate ficlet trying to explain her point of view for a different challenge over at SWG.


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