Steward and the King, The
7. Attack of the White Hand
The orcs, they thought, would have been only near the riverside and so they hoped to avoid them. But deep in the forest they were discovered. Aragorn saw a movement. Legolas whispered he heard running feet; so the four traveled fast in the other direction, trying to confuse their path. They hoped the lone orc had long to go to make his report. As the ground began to slope down to the grasslands they were attacked. It was a company of orcs in strange livery.
The fighting was fast and furious and the orcs jumped away from Aragorn's wrath as soon as they could grab the hobbits. He stood over Legolas who had been felled trying to take Pippin back from the orc that grabbed him. Four against a hundred or more had been impossible odds. The fighting had only lasted as long as it had because the orcs had wanted to take the hobbits alive and unwounded. Aragorn had killed too many that none of the rest wanted to be the next orc to die when they finished him off, though the last attempt had left him wounded. They taunted him to charge, and when he didn't they laughed and went away, taking their prizes with them. He could only watch.
They ran west, they weren't from Mordor. The sign of a white hand on their shields must be for Saruman, and they were far from their home base. They ran in a tight formation. Legolas and he would not be orc food, he concluded grimly, unless there was another, hungrier band in the woods less concerned with speed. What Merry and Pippin faced was worse.
Saruman's forces were gathering for war against Rohan, as Gandalf had warned and Aragorn feared. It was he alone, and he had to warn Theoden. He prayed it was not already too late.
Warily -- expecting more orcs at any moment -- Aragorn bound up his and Legolas' wounds as best he could, one handed. He had been cut below the elbow on his shield arm. Legolas had received a slash on his arm and a deep gash below his ribs that would have been fatal even with a surgeon near by. Aragorn held up his shoulders that he could breathe easier. He softly called his name, saying the battle was done.
"They took the hobbits," Aragorn said to Legolas, his voice harsh and fragmented with guilt and worry. "I couldn't stop them. They took them alive for questioning. Torture. Hardly more than children, they will do it. Curse him, curse me. How can I -- "
"You can not," The elf said in a strained voice. "Theoden."
"I must try," he protested.
"Those foul yrch. From Saruman. There is that, at the least."
"Sauron or Saruman, it still will be torture."
"Less harm ... to Frodo. East won't know."
"They were under my protection."
"Think them ... dead. Hope they can contrive it before they ... taken questioners."
"Children would not think of suicide."
Legolas stiffened, hand on Aragorn's arm clenching strongly. "Then great harm ... may come of wh' they say. You must warn Rohan!"
The council he gave was hard but true; Aragorn's heart begged him not to agree, but he must. Wounded and weary he would not be able to catch them in any case, yet it would hurt beyond measure not to try. He sighed, taking the elf's hand in his. "As you will, Legolas. I will continue to the court, though it grieves me."
The elf sagged back. Aragorn feared he had died at that moment, but he breathed a time longer, weary, no longer fighting, nothing further to give, letting the life bleed out.
"I'm sorry," Aragorn said, speaking elvish. "I will remember. Would I could say 'adieu', but I will, for sorrow, not see you again. Our peoples are sundered."
"Namarie, I must leave this fair land." His breathing was low and softened. He no longer had to fight to speak, though the words were so faint Aragorn could barely understand. "There are many that have gone before me to the Halls, and glad will I be for that reunion. But I will not see you again, nor that dwarf." Sorrow and loss filled the words. "I will remember all. Greet them for me. Arwen … You must know," he made his voice stronger. "I must tell you this ... for comfort. If you live or die, she has already chosen ... You will see her again. Any elf that looks on her ... can see: she is sundered from us. I wish her whatever possible joy."
So she had said at their last parting, but with doubt. It may be that she could not see her own face to know. It was both comfort and guilt to have one who could see tell him. "I will give her your greeting."
"Stars -- " he said in wonder. It was still day, but his eyes had darkened. He was seeing memory. "Sing to me."
"Elbereth?" Aragorn asked.
"... yes ..."
In a tear-filled voice he chanted. "A Elbereth Gilthoniel, silivren penna miriel o menel aglar elenath -- " Before the song was finished the eyes had closed and last breath sighed out and the body slumped dead.
Aragorn laid him gently down to the ground, hands slick with their mingled blood. Gasping in pain and sorrow he redressed his left arm tight enough to stop the seeping.
He leaned his head back, gazing upwards. The thin forest ceiling, leaves rustled in the dwindling sunlight, showed no sign of the carnage below. He wanted to sleep; he could not. Let the time he spent sitting be his rest. He had to cross the grasslands to the mountains and find a village within two days at the most. Saruman might attack at any time, and his wound might give him fever if he did not soon find a clear stream to wash it in.
Dead orcs surrounded them. He dragged the closest away from the tree under which Legolas lay, and placed the elf's pack at his side. At the end he had to leave the body unburied. He used a blanket for a pillow and wrapped him as best he could in his cloak, and put the white knife on top for it to guard him. Most of his own pack he left behind, but he took the elf's broken bow as a token.
Aragorn walked alone, grieving, towards the mountains and the nearest Rohirrim hold. A sudden hope came to him and he wondered at it, cursing his failures, but then he saw the reason: There was a man on horseback, some distance away but riding in his direction. He walked quickly toward the pair until he was at the top of a gentle rise and knew his silhouette would be clear, dark against the sun-lit mountains. He waved his cape with his good arm, then stood still when the rider increased his speed.
His heart beat strongly and the road, once confused, lay bright and straight before him, and he welcomed it, unafraid of its end.
"Who are you, stranger?" demanded the scout, speaking accented Westron.
Aragorn answered in Rohhiric. "I am Thorongil returned, and I am here to give warning to your king of grave betrayal. You will bring me to him."
=== end chapter ===
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