8. Dawn and Dusk
Dawn came to the sky, spilling light over the land, but Boromir was lost to himself and to the world. He walked absently, his feet taking him somewhere not of his conscious direction, but he found he could not care. His fate had become unimportant to him through a sickness of guilt, despair, and anger. The forest was thick, and he had long since lost interest in his path. Vaguely he realized he was heading east, away from Isengard, and was treading upon the boundaries of Fangorn. It should have meant something to him, this road he was restlessly traveling. Something inside drove him. When he took leave of his depression to contemplate, he knew why he was retracing the steps he had previously made in greed. He was searching for the Fellowship. If he could find them, somehow he knew he could make amends. It seemed so simple.
Yet he harbored cold doubts that would not be warded away by the golden sunlight falling upon him. In a daze he had run from Isengard, crushing flower, grass, and leaf under the thunder of his heavy feet. The memory of Legolas cold glare and the bite of his last venomous words stung him still, and bitter tears rolled down dirty cheeks like rain as he trudged. Feeling the shame repeatedly was his penance, and no matter how he fought to ignore the pain that stabbed him inside, his conscience would not allow his escape. The only relief came from shallow promises. He would not rest until he found his friends. He did not know how he would manage, but he would convince Aragorn to trust him again. He felt a vile wretch when he remembered the shattered looks of betrayal upon the Hobbits faces, especially Merry and Pippin. Now he prayed with every ounce of his weakened soul that they were safe. One way or another, he would win back their friendship, even if he was undeserving of it.
Moreover, he knew not the means by which he would find the strength to face Frodo again when he still could not even admit to himself that what he had done had not been the fault of any other. Sadly his own thoughts were little solace, but as he marched alone they were his only companionship. Desperately he wondered what was to become of him. No longer fit to be a steward or a king, no more worthy to even be a man, he was but a ghoul, a pitiful creature of sorrow and spite, both hating and loving the Ring, and through that hating and loving himself. He thought of Gollum, and was unable to deny his similarity to the sad creature no matter how the idea turned his stomach. It was like a poison, this desire for the Ring, that even now clouded his mind and sped his heart. Quite often he thought he might collapse and turn back to the call of evil for the sake of his sanity. Only the painful reminder of Legolas soft tears as he had been pulled into Isengard kept him in line. Only the laughter he had once shared wrestling with Merry and Pippin stayed the madness. These things he kept close to his heart, a sword and shield of honor and light against the despicable darkness gurgling like swamp mud inside him and forever encroaching upon his spirit.
He had long lost track of the days that had passed, but that was to be expected, he supposed. This morning was not unlike any other, save for the parting of the gray cloak of the clouds to allow the sun to shine. For a long time he had lingered in a daze of agony and hurt, sobbing wretchedly in a huddle mass outside the destruction surrounding Isengard. When he had finally regained strength enough to travel, his feet had led him backwards along the tracks the army of Uruk-hai had made. Though his mind faltered and moaned, his feet seemed sure. From this he would not diverge. Demon now, he was once a proud man. For the dignity of his father and his race, he would not shun from facing the others!
Stopping then, he leaned against a tree and took a breath. The forest was gratefully thinning, the trees fading into the rolling grasslands of Rohan. The rays from the sun came down, warm and clean, and he basked in them, looking up the clear skies. A cool wisp of wind brushed past him, and with it he gladly went, swept into memory. He thought of the White City and its great tower. Oh, for the many mornings he had stood below, wondrously gazing upon it! It was a beautiful thing lit golden and pearl by the dawn, proud and ancient. Never did it waver, this tower of men. Never did it sway. And when the fresh wind came, it caressed heart and flag alike. It was strength for the weak, redemption for the disgraced. Hope for the fallen. A conversation not long passed filled his head with such vividness he heard it anew. My father is a noble man, but his rule is failing. And now our people lose faith. He looks to me to make things right, and I would do it. I would see the glory of Gondor restored. Have you ever seen it, Aragorn? The White Tower of Ecthelion, glimmering like a spike of burned silver, its banners caught high on the morning breeze? Have you ever been called home by the clear ringing of silver trumpets?
He looked away in bitterness. Such a glorious vision was no longer appropriate for him. He wondered what his wise father would think of his past actions, but he could not say, nor did he want to, for the very idea of his fathers scorn injured him. He had taken the Ring with the best intentions, but it had turned into the most crazy of corruptions. What he would not give to undo his vile deeds! He imagined Faramir then, the other son of Denethor, and hoped his brother would protect Gondor now when he could not. He knew he had failed them both. Sadly he wondered if ever again the beauty of Minas Tirith would greet his weary gaze.
Darkly his thoughts tuned to Aragorn. A great maelstrom of ambiguous emotion swirled within him, shaking him to his core. He had grown to respect the ranger, though for abandoning his blood for the sake of selfish dreams Boromir would never forgive him. But surely during the great trials they had faced together he had grown to accept the heir of Isildur. At Lórien, the spite and jealousy of his heart had settled, and words of brotherly affection had found their way from his lips. One day our paths will lead us there and the tower guard shall take up the call, for the Lords of Gondor have returned! He had meant this when he had said it, feeling nothing but fierce loyalty and love for Aragorn. Now he did not know how he considered the ranger. The noble heir surely would not share again his heart with him! Boromir could not deny his jealousy; so simply had Aragorn claimed the title that he himself had long sought. And this the ranger did not even desire!
Boromir clenched his fists in anger and began to walk once more, his steps long and powerful. The contention between the would-be king and the steward of Gondor had long been deep. At the council of Elrond they had argued, and Legolas had been quick to defend Aragorn. It angered Boromir that the Elf held the weak ranger in such high regard, when he himself could barely hope to grace the young princes esteems. Legolas and Aragorn had such a quiet but fierce loyalty to each other that it angered Boromir, for he could not help but envy them. During the Fellowships trials and travels, the archer and the ranger held an unquestionable confidence that was forbidden to others, and Boromir did not like being a third wheel. To Gimli it mattered not, for Dwarves were tough, solitary creatures that openly cared little for the relationships of others. But the son of Denethor had been covetous and resentful of their bond. Sadly, even though he wished deeply to deny the truth, he knew that he would never now gain the acceptance he had sought before.
He would have to try, though.
As he walked, he drew once forgotten lembas from the small packet at his belt and munched. The pure taste felt wrong upon his tongue, as though he was too tainted to enjoy them as he once had. The flavor reminded him of Lórien and inevitably of Rivendell. So long ago it was, but the Rings first sight to him was still starkly vibrant. He had doubted before Elronds council that it truly had existed, for its existence was so deeply lodged in lore and tightly wrapped in doubt. True enough, though, it did appear, placed upon a pedestal of stone in the center of the courtyard for all to see, glimmering in the sunlight arrogantly, as if professing its remarkable and powerful being. Instantly he had fallen in love with its elegant, gold curves. It seemed a tiny thing, a precious thing, an innocent thing. He had not seen this thought for folly then, and he still wondered if it really was so silly to be enamored by its glowing intimacy and promises. To him it was a Ring of Power, but only power and nothing more. Power could not be evil of itself; if a heart wielded it for malevolent intentions, it become malevolent, and if a heart wielded it for benevolent ambitions, good was the result. Power was the ability to fight, the ability to change, and such a force could never be blindly wicked.
He knew this to be a naïve falsehood. The Ring had driven him to evil, and he had sought to do right with it. But this was the only means to rationalize what he had done, and he did not have the strength to denounce it.
These were his darks thoughts as he walked, and they raced about his mind, slamming to and fro inside his skull like caged beasts, driving him mad. For days they had plagued him, and for days still they would persist. He would never be rid of the dark stain upon his soul.
Boromir came to a wide, flat land and he stopped upon a hill overlooking it, surprised at what he saw. In this his fears and guilt fled him, leaving attention free to concentrate on his senses. There before him was an army of men, glistening in dented and damaged mail, bearing broken and chipped swords and shields. Some were mounted upon weary steeds. Many were wounded, lagging and walking with a limp. They appeared beaten and disheartened, lethargically marching across the trampled fields to the east.
He watched dumbfounded a moment when a banner flapped conspicuously in the morning sun. The crest he recognized immediately as that of the kingdom of Rohan. Long had these horse-breeders been friends of the House of Denethor. Yet he was perplexed. The army appeared thin now, but undoubtedly it had been great before. The only conclusion that seemed logical was that they had faced Sarumans Uruk-hai. Could that have happened without his noticing as he had wandered? Surely it was possible, for he had spent much time dazed and deep in thought. He winced as he beheld them. Many had clearly died.
He made sense of the situation quickly, observing the men wearily and despondently trudge. If Aragorn had his wits about him, the ranger would have followed the army of Saruman to Isengard. With a force of men this great patrolling the plains, it was unlikely the Fellowship had not come upon them. And if that was the case, then these allies could lead him to his companions. Boromir drew a deep breath to ward away his anguish. Forward he resolutely stepped, descending the hill to meet the soldiers. Now he would again be a man amongst men, and his crimes he would hide.
Quickly King Théodens forces moved westward. They had left Edoras upon the dawn, and though the march was long and arduous, they were making great distance relatively quickly. Aragorn was unsure whether or not their speed pleased him, for though thoughts of the upcoming fight left him restless, it did not encourage him that they were blindly entering territory close to Isengard, ignorant of what dangers lay in wait.
They traveled silently. A thick air of excitement and fear lay over the men, one not easily punctuated by silly palaver. The enormity of what they faced seemed too powerful. The men were anxious, as it had been many years since they last had a so clearly defined enemy upon which to make war. Even greater was the knowledge that in this battle they must succeed. To make a move against Saruman and then falter would surely lead to the destruction of Rohan. The tension was palpable, nearly tangible upon the gentle breeze and louder than the fall of feet and hoof and the clanking of armor against itself.
Aragorn glanced to Haldir beside him. The archers keen eyes were trained forever skyward, scanning for threat or foe, his long face tight in concentration. The horse the Riders had given him, a white stallion by the name of Arod, trotted nervously. The animal seemed as agitated as the troops, his steps fidgety. As well he did not seem pleased with those deemed fit to ride him, and no amount of calm words or gentle pets by Haldir could comfort the riled beast. Behind Haldir, his face dark and indignant, sat Gimli. The Dwarf looked uncomfortable; Aragorn supposed the position he had assumed, in which the stout warrior was using all the strength of his legs to maintain his balance while minimally latching upon Haldir for support, would ache the body. In spite of himself the ranger chuckled quietly. He had never met a creature so fiercely proud as Gimli. It had taken the wretched trek through Moria, Gandalfs death, and the Lady Galadriel for the Dwarf to finally accept Legolas as a friend. It seemed such stupidity for the two great races of Dwarves and Elves to so blindly hate one another. Aragorn idly wondered what would have to befall them for Gimli to learn to trust Haldir.
On his other side rode Théoden. The aging king seemed to have regained vigor in the night since they had spoke, and he sat erect and powerful atop his most precious prize, Shadowfax. The horses aura mimicked that of its master, courageous and leading. Aragorn was relieved and surprised at the kings transformation. Only the night before he was a sloth, content to please himself with wine and wealth. Now once more a guide and commander of men, Théoden appeared resolute, and for that Aragorn was glad. It would do them no good to hesitate now.
Behind him, seated upon a brown pony, were Merry and Pippin. The Hobbits had insisted that they accompany them into battle much to Aragorns chagrin. He could not abandon them in Edoras, though the thought pleased him. They had as much a right to involve themselves in this struggle as any other. Frodos sudden departure had troubled them, but Aragorn bade them not to worry. He explained to them that Frodo had appeared adamant, and if nothing else he was brave and dependable. They did not seem entirely heartened by the rangers reassuring words, but had dropped the matter for more pressing concerns. Aragorn heard them chatter quietly every once in a while, a constant reminder that he would have to protect them.
His own mount, Hasufel, walked tall and proud, his stride great. Never before had he had the occasion to respect a horse as he did this one, for Hasufel was a magnificent animal. His coat could be likened to silk, glistening richly in the morning sun. The horse pulsed with elegant power as he stepped, each muscle flexing in delicate deliberation. Aragorn felt awed by him. He had known the inhabitants of Rohan to be exceptional breeders of horses, but never had he imagined they were so greatly skilled as to create such a glorious beast. Immediately he had grown attached to Hasufel and in the still places of his heart where his worries could not invade he was infinitely grateful for the mounts silent strength.
The dawn wore on to noon, and without rest they continued. The men neither tarried nor complained, as if the newfound leadership of their king demanded a higher level of obedience and resilience. Ahead Éomer sent scouts but they returned without sign or word of the missing troops of Erkenbrand. As time slipped by, hope began to fade and exhaustion crept into weary hearts. Though worry clung to the soldiers, Théoden was steadfast and that gave them strength. Still the tension grew and eyes were darting about with apprehension. A grotesque sense of foreboding clenched them in a vice, and with each empty mile traversed it grew tighter. Something surely awaited them, something dark and vicious. Inevitably they were drawing close to it, and that was infuriating. To walk openly into peril seemed foolish, but pride and duty would not be denied, and closer yet they marched to Isengard.
By the mark of late afternoon, when the sun was just beginning to disappear behind a wall of growing gray clouds, they reached Helms Deep. It was a ravine of sorts, named for a hero of legend, Helm Hammerband, who had once defended it. Securely nestled in the gorge was Hornburg, the ancient, dilapidated fort wearied by time and weather. Whatever awe struck Aragorn at beholding such a famous place of the past was dwarfed by disgust and then fear, for as the army came to stop upon a precipice overlooking the site, a grisly scene of battle and death spread out before them.
Éomer blanched visibly as the wind picked up, blowing the stench of rotting flesh and burning hair to them. Strewn about the blackened fields were corpses, littered carelessly. Arrows, broken and split, haphazardly covered the ground, some sticking sickly from the necks and chests of the dead. Orc and man alike slept in a final, ugly rest; on the battlefield good and evil became much the same when laid to ruin. The smell of charred wood was pungent. This cannot be, moaned Éomer in disbelief.
A great rumor went through the army, which the commanders, so taken with the ghastly destruction, did nothing to quell. Théoden outwardly seemed unfazed by this black sight, but his eyes spoke what his face did not. A foul passing! Anger clenched his tone.
Aragorn shook his head sadly. There was naught you could do, he declared quietly.
Then came a cry and the gallop of horses. All eyes shot to the left as two Riders on swift steeds sped across the blood-soaked field. One, a young man with wide, childish eyes, shouted, his voice carrying on the wind, Prince Éomer! Prince Éomer, sir! Enemy scouts!
A cold chill wracked Aragorn, jolting him, and Hasufel reared. Hold your men, my Lord! the ranger cried. Théoden turned to him quickly, perplexed and unnerved, but Aragorn was already driving his mount forward. Haldir! he cried, bidding the Elf to join him.
Gimli opened his mouth to protest but all that escaped was an irritated curse as the archer spurred Arod into a gallop, tearing down the hill after Aragorn. The ranger did not look back as he thundered towards Hornburg, but he heard the fire of Éomers orders as he, too, charged across the field. Desperation and panic beat in Aragorns blood as his quick eyes scanned the rushing grasses. Hasufels hooves struck the earth with a crushing power, yet he ran on light feet, avoiding many a rut and obstacle and flying like the wind across the burnt plain. There, ahead! A small company of Orcs, these lesser than the demons they had faced at Amon Hen, scavenged among the corpses, greedily picking through the bodies undoubtedly for usable arrows or food. The ranger grit his teeth. They could not allow these to escape and spread the word of their approach to the others!
He dropped Hasufels reigns thoughtlessly, trusting the horse to lead him closer. Quickly his drew his black bow and nocked an arrow. Behind him, the cracking of Arods feet against the dry ground resounded, and a shot whizzed by him. It met its mark, slamming into the head of a grimy Orc. The creature shrieked and fell. Now, though, its companions became aware of their attackers, lifting their heads from their searching. Another died from Aragorns own arrow before they could move. Then a squeal of Dark Speech filled the air, and they turned and fled.
Aragorn cursed inwardly and urged Hasufel to run faster. Arrows whizzed by him from Haldirs quick bow, and Arod charged up beside him, snorting. Ahead the company of Orcs split, naturally attempting to distract their attackers. The ranger offered a quick glance to Haldir, but disregarding the outraged cry from Gimli, the Elf had already directed Arod after one of the retreating groups, diverging from Hasufel. Aragorn wasted not a moment more before launching arrow after arrow upon what remained of the Orcs, instinct and years of practice guiding quick hands and eyes. When he ceased his volley, few remained alive, and those that still struggled were slain by the shining sword of Éomer.
Three remained though, and this trio charged across the fields on surprisingly fast legs. They managed to dodge each of Aragorns arrows, ducking and side-stepping almost intuitively, frustrating the ranger. They had traversed most of the plain, and ahead gray forests beckoned. If these demons should reach the woods, surely he would lose them!
He rode harder. These Orcs were wiry creatures, slick, cunning, and quick to escape. Hasufel drove faster, pounding over the field, as Aragorn depleted his quiver. One arrow struck a fleeing monster in the back, sending him tumbling into the trampled grasses. Two still ran. Angrily the ranger stowed his bow and drew Andúril, the blade gleaming in the sunlight as he raised it overhead. One Orc stumbled and he charged to it, his blade swooping down to cleave its wretched head from its shoulders. But the other ran on, uncaring of the demise of his comrades, sprinting into the woods and disappearing in the throng of trees.
Aragorn bit his lower lip, having neither time to think nor to breathe, as Hasufel charged into the dense forest. And then he stopped, drawing back on the reigns, his careful eyes glancing around rapidly. The few seconds he had taken to kill the other Orc had been costly indeed, for all that met his gaze now was a wall of trunk and leaf. The forest was still. The last enemy was gone.
He cursed softly, narrowing his eyes, and damned himself for allowing this to occur. Hasufel, as if sensing his anger, snorted and stepped back and forth restlessly. The ranger continued to look about, unwilling to truly admit that the last Orc had escaped. Éomer approached from behind, pulling his horse to a stop, winded. The man glanced about the scene. There was an unspoken anger and understanding. Let us go back, son of Arathorn, the prince declared after a moment.
Aragorn felt a black worry squeeze him tightly. This would undoubtedly complicate things. Casting one last hateful glance, he turned and followed Éomer back to the others.
The prince and the ranger returned to find Théoden and his men had moved into the dark, dank protection of Hornburg. The King of the Mark was dismayed by Éomers news. A black tiding indeed! Choices grew slim, and time would not wait. This mistake, though horrid and grievous, could not be undone.
Aragorn folded his arms across his chest. The army had descended to the field and was now milling about idly while its leaders spoke in private. He watched the men from atop the high wall of Hornburg. He sighed, the stench upon the air leaving him sick to his stomach. As much as loathed the choice before him, it seemed the only viable option. I suggest, my Lord, that if we are to make a stand, we do so here, offered the ranger, turning to meet the gaze of Théoden.
The king seemed dubious. A great battle was lost here, son of Arathorn, he commented dryly. It seems as though this land was not kind to Lord Erkenbrand.
Éomer quietly declared, I conjecture that he is not lost, my liege. My men roughly counted the dead. It is not enough to account for all of the noble lords forces.
You suggest that he was forced into retreat, sister-son? Théoden questioned.
Perhaps, my Lord, Éomer answered. The prince then turned and gazed sadly over the battlefield. Some of the soldiers were laboring to pile the bodies of the Orcs and burn them, great billows of black, acrid smoke pouring into the sky. I respectfully submit the fact that the battle that occurred here ended as a stalemate. Our fallen are neither greater nor smaller than theirs. There was likely no clear victor.
Théoden grunted and folded arms across his chest. The breeze picked up his hair, blowing it across his aged and wrinkled face. Then that is all the more reason why we should not linger in this dungeon, he announced. It will be a waste to skirmish where the land does not favor us. We do not know the extent of Sarumans power. If it is great, he will corner and swarm us. Trapped here, we will be crushed.
Aragorn winced. The kings words were true enough, and the familiar guilt prickled his heart. My Lord, he implored, forcing calm and steadiness into his voice, though Haldirs shot was true, mine missed its mark and word of our position has spread to the enemy. This ground is good. If we can protect our flank, we will hold the high land. They will charge from thence, Aragorn declared, spreading his fingers to the west where the sun was slowly descending, burning the sky, and be hindered by the wide open field. Though a hundred of Mirkwoods finest archers would greatly benefit us here, our own will be sufficient enough to weaken their charge with a piercing rain of arrows. Those that survive will swiftly meet their end. The ranger glanced below to the grassy grounds where soldiers worked and the horses grazed. We shall form a line stretching from north to south to guard the flank and rear. Your men are talented, strong, and numerous. This they will be able to hold.
The king mused upon Aragorns words a moment, rubbing his chin, his eyes distant. So you say, he finally said, ending a quiet anxiety, yet I cannot help but fear. You spoke of a great army that felled your Elf comrade. Even if that alone protects Saruman, how can we be sure we have the force to contend with it? Their numbers may dwarf our own, and we will have no reinforcement!
Sir, said Aragorn, this I considered as well. This army of Orcs that Saruman has bred has already clashed with Lord Erkenbrands troops and suffered losses. It may be much larger than we can face, but this I must doubt, for even Saruman does not wield such a fantastic power as to rejuvenate a tattered army without the passage of many days of healing. If that is so, then no work of own will prevent our destruction!
They were silent a moment, wrought with the weight of the situation. So much uncertainty faced them all, and pondering produced more questions and few answers. Finally, Haldir, who had silently stood beside Gimli and watched the men debate, took it upon himself to speak. King Théoden, he began clearly, drawing their attention, if I may simplify matters. This land we know enough to mount a sturdy defense. The Elfs eyes glinted. The enemy knows of our presence, and they will attack, and attack hard. I suggest that there are but two options: retreat to Edoras, thus abandoning Erkenbrand, wherever he may be, and effectively postpone this confrontation, or fight here and now at a place we can at least defend.
Aragorn was at that moment extremely grateful for Haldirs plain, albeit a bit arrogant, logic. Éomer glanced between the Elf, the ranger, and the king. Haldir speaks eloquently and rightly, oh Lord. I would not myself venture to offer an opinion as to which course of action we should take.
Venture it, sister-son, for I value your insight.
Éomer clenched his jaw and narrowed his eyes. The plan proposed by Aragorn is a good one. It is a far better thing to valiantly face the enemy here where we hold an advantage than to be ambushed.
After Éomer spoke, it became still once more. Aragorn turned and looked to the sunset. The blaring ball of light was bleeding into the sky, and the hours were slipping away much faster than he would have liked. Still, it was not his place to make this decision. Though he was heir to the kingdom of Gondor, the kingdom of Rohan was governed by different men of different mindsets. Thus he waited, outwardly patient, for Théoden to pass judgment upon the alternatives set before him. Inside he was screaming.
Finally, Théoden closed his eyes tiredly and released a slow breath that ruffled his thick facial whiskers. May it be then that we make our stand here, entrenched in this fort upon Helms Deep. I pray her old walls can still withstand the blows of many dark arrows. He turned suddenly. Send word to the troops! Gather all the provisions to be had, and make preparations for battle! We form a line to guard our flank! One soldier bowed quickly and then jogged away, jumping down the crumbling stairs to spread his lords wishes. To another, Théoden snapped, Summon our best archers. They will hold watch here upon this vantage.
Orders were dispatched, and the camp of the Army of the Mark was alive with activity. Hours quickly fled into dusk, and much was done. A stressful air descended upon them all that stank of death and ominous ruin, yet morale would not be crushed. As twilight came and work was completed, eyes turned westward to the line of forest, intently watching the trees for any sign of Orcs. It was a prolonged torture, a torment of the worst kind, and the men anxiously waited for their fate to be revealed to them.
A hushed and tenuous silence had come to them. Atop the wall, where a clear view of the entire battlefield was the advantage, Aragorn stood. Beside him was Haldir, the blonde Elf calmly looking to the sky and trees and listening to the wind, having completed the repair of the arrows he had collected from the destruction below. Gimli rested at his other side, adorned in the bright and strong mail and chain of his race. His axe he carried over his shoulder, and the blade shone sharply in the last light of the sun. How long has it been now, son of Arathorn? the Dwarf questioned.
Aragorn closed his eyes a moment and tried to settle his riled nerves. This wait did infuriate and alarm him! Then he looked to his companion. Five or six hours since we came to this place, he announced sadly. The fall of night will not aid us.
Haldir was eerily relaxed. It seemed strange to Aragorn that he could be so composed, but as he considered it a funny, little thought came to him. Legolas had always been much the same, stately and serene even in the face of the direst of perils. Never in battle did Aragorn see his friend falter. Perhaps he had just grown so accustomed to Legolas graces that he had unwittingly attributed the facet uniquely to the Elf prince. Elvish endurance and equanimity now served to amaze him anew as he beheld Haldir. Have patience, Dwarf, Haldir said. A black omen reeks in the air. They will come.
Gimli grunted hotly. Hide your fears if you wish, Elf, but it is naught but a façade. Haldir shot the enraged son of Gloón a cold, angry glance, but said nothing more, turning his attention back to the sky.
Merry piped up. Anybody want something to eat? he asked, reaching forward and offering a red fruit. He sat beside Pippin, their backs against the cold, stone wall.
The other Hobbit reached up and snatched the prize. Then he took a loud bite. Quit giving away all the food! he ordered around a mouthful of sweet flesh. We havent got much, you know! His tone was accusatory.
Merry took it back from his cousin and held it close, as though what he clenched to his breast was more valuable than a simple apple. Dont be such a hog, Pip! This belongs to everyone, not just you and your bottomless stomach!
Pippin opened his mouth to retort, but was interrupted by the wave of Haldirs thin hand and his harsh, commanding glare. Quiet! the Elf hissed before returning his attention ahead. His piercing gaze grew sharp and wary, and Aragorn followed his line of sight.
There, hidden by twilight, at the edge of the forest, black shapes moved. At first he could make little of them, shadow blending with form to create ambiguous apparitions. Aragorn strained his eyes, idly envying Haldir for his acute senses. But after a breath or so, the shapes grew numerous, and there was a squeal against the peace of the night. Cold surprise washed over the ranger. They are coming.
Théoden, my Lord! Éomer! Ready your guard, for they approach! he hollered into the breeze. In response below came a roar of both relief and excitement. The ranger grew satisfied as the clank of moving armor and the ring of drawing swords sang. Orders went up and down the line of the troops, each repetition of the words growing fainter as it traveled to the edges of the army.
Aragorn turned and drew Andúril. To Merry and Pippin, he ordered soundly, Stay close to Haldir. If the fortress becomes overrun, flee. Too shaken for once to argue, the Hobbits nodded, their pale faces glowing in the fading light. Haldir had already drawn his bow and stood rigid, his eyes searching for foe at which to aim. Then the ranger nodded to Gimli, who had brandished his large axe, before storming down the stairs to the ground below.
As Aragorn stepped to the grass, the men raised their weapons at the bellowed instructions of their commanders. He pushed to the front of the line where Théoden rode upon Shadowfax, the kings shining blade lifted to the sky. Éomer held his horse still beside his liege. There are many, he remarked gravely, and Aragorn looked ahead.
Like a horde of black spiders, the Orcs swarmed across the field. Deep drums beat behind them, their thunder growing louder as they approached. The force seemed infinite, and Aragorn felt panic begin to beat with him as endlessly they poured from the protection of the woods. Wave upon wave of attackers screamed across the field, squashing grasses, aggressively screaming their blood lust as if to scare away the men that opposed them. Thousands, it seemed, trampled the plains, each intent on murder, painted upon them all the vicious white hand of Saruman. So many more than he thought possible! He cursed himself for his deceitful logic, for it had become an error, a plight of ill advice!
This they could not face!
For a moment the shock was paralyzing, consuming, and he stood lost in the black of the setting sun. Then Aragorn felt himself again. His skin was tingling. His heart was thundering a painful denial. He clenched Andúril tightly, his palms sweaty and his knuckles white, and his knees felt weak. He had to remind himself to breathe.
Arrows began to whiz overhead, streaking through the darkened sky like lightning slicing through the air. The great shower fell upon the rapidly advancing menace, but it did little, barely thinning the ranks of the foremost lines. Still the shots continued, unyielding in their fortitude. The troops around the ranger howled a battle cry, horses and hands steady. Wills were adamant. This was the path they had chosen, and they could not turn back.
Gimli was tense beside him, rigid with violence and anger, for the moment of his long-awaited revenge had finally come to him. His axe gleamed viciously. In the clamor of approaching battle, he spoke. His words were soft, barely audible, but they shook Aragorn deeply. Out of them the ranger found his strength. For the bond of our hearts, Legolas, I will not fail.
Then the enemy came upon them, and they charged into the fray.
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.