8. Stars of the Pellenor
As Aragorn’s ship progressed up the Anduin to the aid of Minas Tirith, Elrohir took a moment to draw breath. After riding hard from the Stone of Erech and fighting to win the port of the Pelargir, it was a relief to stay in the ship’s hold for a time. He stood amongst the horses loaded into the hold, waiting to soothe any that showed signs of fear. This relative peace was his first chance since the battle at Pelargir to collect his private thoughts.
The ship listed and swayed to one side. Weapons and shields stacked against the wall of the hold slid, clattering across the floor. Elrohir moved them away from the horses, stacking up arms for twenty men, pleased at the count. This battle would be far better than skulking amongst the brush, as he and Elladan had done for centuries, using every canny trick to kill orcs or other folk given over to evil. On that errantry, with no other company save each other, the twins and brothers had become lovers. Elrohir valued that secret bond more than the brightest sword. Nonetheless, his warrior’s heart was glad to be riding to open battle at last. It had been half his lifetime since he had known the raw joy of riding with a company of men at arms, all as fired with anger against evil as he was.
He picked up a halberd he had seen Elladan carrying, and replaced it in the heap of weapons with a sigh. Though Elladan had ridden by his side after the Stone of Erech, they had spoken little. Elrohir had sensed his twin’s strange bond with the Dead who followed, sensed it and been troubled. As they raced along, Elrohir felt as if the right moment to speak to Elladan about breaking the distance between them had slipped away. Or perhaps there had been no right moment at all. Riding with the Dúnedain, it had been awkward enough to say even veiled words to his twin about the concealed love between them. Joining hundreds of mortals of southern Gondor had taken away any privacy they might have had. He sank down by the weapons and rested his head on his knees for a moment.
Beneath the dry wooden deck where the horses stood, there was another hold to the ship, where those who had once been thralls drove the ship forward with oars. Elrohir heard them chanting the time of their strokes, occasionally breaking out into crude banter and the laughter of free men.
The ladder coming down from the deck above rattled. Elrohir jumped to stand, for it was his brother Elladan who swung down. Elladan still had the same fell, bright expression he had gained on the Paths of the Dead, with a smile for Elrohir. “Well met. Where is the trap-door to go below? Aragorn has given me words for the freed bondsmen of the Corsairs about the coming battle.”
“Over here,” said Elrohir, and helped him heave up the wooden slab. He stood nigh as Elladan swung himself down lightly, curious as to how his brother would deal with the goodly but rough ex-thralls.
“The elf, the elf-lord!” Elrohir heard them shout. Unusually, touchy Elladan did not correct them, and his brother warmed at that. If it heartened the ex-thralls to think of the sons of the Halfelven as elves, let them.
Elladan hailed them in Westron, and answered their questions. Next, he said, “I bring you word from the Lord Aragorn. He says none of you need join in battle on the field unless you wish it. There is honour enough in guarding these boats.”
Ten voices shouted at once. “We fight! We fight! We want revenge!”
Elladan asked, “Who here is hardened to battle?”
“I am!” said one.
“No you’re not, you stupid bastard,” said another, “You and I were both wet behind the ears when we got taken as slaves by the Corsairs.” Roars of amusement followed, and he picked out the music of Elladan’s laughter.
Elladan’s voice rose above the din. “It matters not. Listen! This is the counsel of Aragorn for battle, for those who will fight. The men of Gondor and Rohan are our allies. Those in the black and silver, and those who ride beneath horse-banners, aid them with all your might. If you fight orcs, strike to kill, and give them no quarter.” The ex-thralls roared again in approbation.
Elladan continued. “When you fight the humans who serve Sauron, be they men of the South or the Corsairs who joined Sauron’s forces for this battle, if they surrender, take them prisoner with honour. Do not abuse them, even for your vengeance.” The men groaned and muttered. “It is Aragorn’s word; would you deny him?” At their saviour’s name, the muttering ceased. “But when you fight them, you must comport yourself so that you fill them with fear. The field of battle is a field of signs. You will see that your foemen fight on desperate as long as their banner stands. When it falls, they flee, craven on a sudden. We must seek to make them craven!”
Elrohir listened in surprise. It seemed Elladan had found his silver tongue again. Very timely, he thought.
Someone in the hold asked a question. Elrohir could not hear the words, but Elladan’s reply was clear. “We may well perish on the field. If so, we die with honour! Look at it as the last act of your vengeance, if you fill them with terror as you run brave to your destruction, if you blunt their blades with your own blood.”
“We’ll take ‘em with us! Yarrrrr!” The hold rang with more excited shouts. Elrohir turned away from the hold’s trapdoor, stricken. So, he thought, Elladan was glad because they might perish. Elrohir felt sick and empty. But perhaps that was the most fitting end for them, to fall in battle. They might end their strange tale with some honour, with the secret of their incest unrevealed.
Elladan climbed back up through the trapdoor, slid the door’s slab back in place, then held the stained lower hem of his cloak away from him. “Ai! They sit above the very bilges, and the bilge-water reeks worse than an orc’s den. No wonder they had to force thralls in chains to row down there. Did you hear? Did it go well enough?”
Elrohir looked on his brother, disturbed that he was cheerful in that hour, and spoke with his own seriousness. “Very well. I liked what you said about vengeance. It reminded me of our vow to our mother’s honour, long ago. I want you to know, that…I am with you in battle,” Elrohir said. “To the very end.”
Elladan nodded. “Fair spoken. For that is our fate.”
“If you say it is so,” said Elrohir, “then it must be so.” He bowed his head.
Elladan peered about the dim hold quickly. “Elrohir,” he said, softly, “We have had so little –"
A cry came from the ship’s deck above. “The White City! Minas Tirith! Prepare, prepare!”
Someone blew a horn above; the ex-thralls shouted in the bilges below; and Elladan sighed. “So little time alone all this journey, and now we have none. I should tell Aragorn that I have done his errand.”
“And I must ready these horses,” said Elrohir. They separated for their labours once more.
They disembarked in chaos, the ex-thralls leaping from the rigging to clear the quays of their foemen. The Dúnedain and Aragorn’s companions stared marvelling from the deck at the White City amidst the marred fields, the burned sward of the Pellenor swamped with swathes of dark troops and bright cavalry. With the livery and the banners and the strange engines of war, Elrohir saw that it was as Elladan had spoken, a field of signs easy to read. Even at the quays of the Harlond, the reek of the burning and the dead hit them, and the horses flared their nostrils and neighed for war. Once all the horses were disembarked, and Halbarad carried the banner of Elendil at Aragorn’s side, the Grey Company thundered forth again.
At first, none stood before them. The orcs ran craven in the sunlight, and it seemed that the troops of Men bound to Sauron did the same. “The flag of Eómer! To Eómer!” Aragorn cried, and their company turned that way, to succour their ally, isolated on a hill amidst their foes. Elrohir felt himself slide into the heightened awareness of battle, hearing every sound, seeing every movement, at one with the skilled war-mare he rode. The shadow he bore in his heart transformed into a dark joy, and the shame that had haunted him for weeks was lessened. Elladan had been right. If they would fall, it would be as their finest selves, with honour to their sacrifice. He saw Aragorn at the head of their group, sword flashing, darting on ahead, and lifted his silver horn in salute, keeping his spear in his left hand.
Before he could place the silver to his lips, Elrohir’s ears were blasted by a sound like the deepest horn. All turned to see what company or engine rode against their smoke-clouded southern flank.
A small company of Haradrim were there, shouting and banging their brass shields, and of a sudden they parted into an aisle. The earth rumbled. Up between their lines, through the smoke, charged the terror of the field, a great war-mûmak, bawling peering about. Small for a war-elephant, it still towered three times the height of a man, strong and grey as stone. Warriors clung to the platform on its back, one at the front, the mahout, guiding the elephant’s fury. One tusk was broken short. It lifted its snaking nose and opened its blunt maw to trumpet its power, and the horses of the Grey Company neighed in fear and stumbled.
With a shout, Elrohir broke away from the company, shame and despair urging him to an act of courage. “Ride on!” he cried, “Ride on to Aragorn and Eómer, and I will draw the horror away!” The Grey Company had no time to reply before their terrified horses shot forward, for the mûmak was horror to them. Elrohir’s steed, Forty-Three, shook with fear beneath him, but she would endure near any terror for her rider, and cantered forth. No other horse would have borne him hence.
Other troops fled the mûmak’s coming, and he who rode before it seemed a madman. Even the Haradrim scrambled back, not wanting to be in the way of the war-elephant’s wrath at this challenge. When he was face to face with the mûmak, Elrohir lifted his spear and shouted, voice lost amidst the din, and Forty-Three added a piercing whinny of fear.
The mûmak rumbled still at that, shaking its huge blocky head; something in the piercing note pained it. From above, Elrohir heard the great beast’s mahout cursing, trying to urge it forward to trample him. But the war-elephant rolled its huge head to peer at him sidelong. He saw its tiny eye, like a stone in the muddy folds of its skin, and readied his spear. As he tried to pick a point to strike, the mûmak did the last thing he expected.
For the beast ignored the mahout, curling its odd long nose over him, taking its time. Sniffing. Elrohir remembered a tale of a halfling who had bewildered a dragon with his unknown scent. It seemed he was enough of an elf to smell new to the towering beast. Forty-Three shuddered beneath him, and he patted her, saying a brief elvish charm for soothing beasts, one he used often as a horseman.
The mûmak paused at the sound, lifting its huge ear-flaps and swaying. Every man around waited in fear. It did not charge. Instead, it lifted its nose upwards with a peculiar, sad noise. Elrohir saw the stone of its eye again, gleaming wet, and its sound seemed a cry of mourning, as if the elvish scent had made it think of the green lands of its freedom. They were still before each other for a moment; the beast of the South and the elf-kin of the North, equally out of place on the field of Gondor.
Then the instant of peace was broken by a harsh, cracking sound and a cruel shout. The mûmak bawled and reared, crashing down to one side, and Forty-Three trembled back. Elrohir looked about and saw that between him and the mûmak rode a black-armored knight, yelling in anger. In one hand he bore a scourge full twelve ells long, a bullwhip tipped with a spike of metal, with which he goaded the mûmak; in the other he bore a banner of the Corsairs, the Black Númenoreans.
“Traitor!” Elrohir cried, “Betrayer of Gondor!” He could hate this foe without reserve. He levelled his spear, ready to charge.
Elrohir saw pale eyes gleam behind the black helm, and heard a cold laugh. The rider of the Corsairs spoke not, but whirled and cast the bullwhip direct at him. The lash wrapped beneath Elrohir’s shoulder and arm, its tip snaring his neck. There was a foul power to it, enough to drag him from his panicked horse to fall half-stunned in the Pellenor’s mire. Forty-Three stood by her downed rider, but the mounted Corsair struck again at her dappled grey flanks with the lash. Without her master, pain and terror overwhelmed her, and she fled, bleeding. Even as Elrohir went to stand the whip whirled and snapped at him once more. Its blow stunned his vambraced sword-arm like a whack from a spear-butt. A third swift strike cast the fell cable around his neck again, and when he drew his sword to slash at it, the whip’s metal-weighed leather resisted him. The rider laughed again and yanked it throttling tight.
The Corsair looked to the Haradrim drawing in about him and cried out, first in a harsh tongue of the East, then in Westron, “Back! Back I bid you! The Northman is --"
“Mine!” cried a different voice, and the whip-cable jerked back, casting Elrohir free. He drew breath and staggered up, bewildered at what he saw. The alley of passage the Haradrim left for the mûmak had let one of the Haradrim’s foes through, none other than Elladan, having abandoned horse. He was trying to jerk the Corsair down with a hooked halberd. Elrohir was glad amidst his despair; he had thought aright, and they would fall together. He retrieved his fallen spear.
When the cursing Corsair swung the whip at him, Elladan blocked it with the halberd’s length. The leather curled around it like an evil snake. Better grounded than the riding Corsair, he pulled the cruel lash away, then slashed the halberd’s hooked double blade at the Corsair’s stallion. Now this horse screamed. As the stallion reared in pain, Elladan swung the halberd a third time, hooking the Corsair’s banner. Their foeman shouted, pulling back. The halberd’s blade had snagged the banner’s pole.
In the moments this had taken, Elrohir had gained his feet again, shaking out his stunned arm. Elrohir spared a second’s glance for the field about them, lest they be taken from behind. There were few near, and he saw why. The mûmak was still wheeling and shaking, trying to loose the war-tower from its back in its madness and sorrow. He lifted his spear in both hands and ran at the corrupt Númenorean with a shout, voicing the battle-cry that was second nature to him: Celebrían!
“To me, Elrohir!” yelled Elladan, not looking around. The Corsair did look, and let go the banner’s pole with a spitting curse, exactly when Elladan gave a mighty pull to the halberd. Without that resistance, Elladan reeled back, falling to one knee, his weapon tangled in the downed banner of black and blue. The Corsair grinned behind his helm to see that Elrohir sprang from attacking him to defence before the fallen, sacrificing a swift victory.
Battle-heightened, Elrohir heard a thin sound of metal, and knew the Corsair had drawn another weapon. A throwing-knife glittered bright in his hand, caught by the sun. Then the blade was dimmed by a monstrous shadow, and Elrohir shouted – for the mûmak’s dim eyes saw the glitter of metal amidst their fray, and was drawn to it.
The Corsair turned, and without his whip, his shoulders shrank in fear. Abandoning his foes, he whacked his heels to his wounded mount’s side, fleeing. The mûmak bellowed and stampeded after.
Elrohir spun about at a touch on his shoulder; it was Elladan, standing again. The lines of fighting were far from them, for every soldier had fled in fear of the mûmak. There was no knowing if they were victors or merely fortunate, if they had won or if their separation from the van of Aragorn would portend a hideous failure. One thing alone was sure. This was how it had been for them countless times, as they fought together in the wilds; the pair of them tight to each other, working as one.
Elrohir looked at the muddied banner, all they had downed despite their courage, and asked, “Where are the others?”
“I told them I rode to you. I don’t know,” said Elladan.
Elrohir knew that oddly calm tone; it meant that Elladan was collected despite the anger and fear of a fight. “If you rode, where’s your horse?”
“No idea. Starfoot would not come near the mûmakil. I had to run. Forty-Three?”
“Run scared. I don’t blame her. Aragorn?”
“I know not.” Elladan’s stunned calm broke. “Were you trying to perish like Húrin? We are here to aid Aragorn, not to be listed in the songs of the fallen. Do not forget!” Despite these hard words, Elladan reached out and cleaned the muddied star on the brow of Elrohir’s helm, rubbing it with his thumb. “Next time you choose to be a madman, hail me first, so I might guard you,” he added, gravely.
Elrohir grabbed his brother’s wrist, infuriated, incredulous, and blazing with hope. Though the touch was through glove and mail, he felt the arm he grasped welcoming his hand, not flinching away. “To say that – at a time like this –“ He began to laugh. “Ai, you are as maddening as ever. But it was worth the peril of the mûmak to have you come to me.”
Elladan looked at his brother, wryly. “Did you have to say that? You have called it back, the same one you challenged, by the broken tusk.”
The two whirled around. Not knowing where to run, they braced back to back, armed with spear and halberd. The war-elephant was charging at random. A red rag spangled with brass was speared on its blood-tipped tusk, telling the tale of its destruction among the Haradrim. High aboard the mûmak, they saw one figure clinging to the wreck of its tower, the fearless mahout. In silhouette, they saw the mahout stab a sword deep into the brain of the maddened beast. The creature dipped its head and bawled, a long failing note, the inside of its mouth red with blood, then fell to its knees with a thud that rocked the ground. The mahout leapt and rolled away as the mammoth beast was downed at last.
Elladan hefted the halberd, glaring at the mahout. “He would have slain you. If he stands again, he is mine!” Both watched as the mahout stood up beside the beast, still in reach of its twitching trunk. The mahout lifted off his broad helm and clasped it against his chest. He bowed to the mighty body, a strange salute. The twins heard him begin a wailing chant. By the note in his hoarse voice, they both realized the one who had mastered the war-elephant was weeping.
Elrohir touched Elladan’s arm, holding him back. “He would have slain me, yes. But the mûmak might have been to him as my steeds are to me. Let him be, unless he comes at us.”
Elladan looked at the spectacle before him, and mirrored his gesture, touching his brother’s arm in turn. “Horses first, instead?”
“If we can find them. Then to Aragorn,” Elrohir agreed. “And should we survive, maybe later – later, we can find that little time, of which you spoke.” They started off together. Each guarded the other as they sought their wayward steeds and Aragorn’s starred banner amidst the field of signs.
* Half a lifetime ago = A reference to the Battle of Fornost, 1975 Third Age; at this battle in the North, there were Elves led by Glorfindel. It’s not mentioned that Elladan and Elrohir rode with them, but I’m assuming they did, for the purposes of this story. Tale of Years, ROTK.
* The Northman = The Corsair can’t tell that Elladan’s mostly Elvish.
* Trying to perish like Húrin = Silmarillion reference, a mortal warrior who made a desperate stand to allow a host to escape.
* War-elephants were highly unpredictable. My elephant information sources were the book When Elephants Weep and the following war-elephant URLs.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.