1. Into the Storm
I shake my head, trying to clear it of such thoughts. You will live, I tell myself firmly, gripping the hilt of my sword, but my fingers are sweaty on the metal and I can feel my legs shaking under me. I glance over at the man next to me, a man whom I do not know. He is old, too old to fight; his hair is white with many winters, the skin of his cheeks beginning to droop, his eyes swallowed up in leathery folds. The mail corslet that was hastily thrust into his hands in the armory fits him ill; it is far too large for him and clanks clumsily when he shifts his weight. Yet I can see by his broad shoulders, and the ease with which he holds his sword, that in the peak of his youth he was a warrior. Now his time has come and gone, and yet here he stands, ready to die on the wall of the Hornburg. His face is set, jaw clenched in determination. I can almost read his thoughts. Better to die here, in the battle that I love, better to collapse on top of a pile of my fallen enemies, than to huddle useless in the caves.
And yet, though my cheeks burn at the thought, I wish that I might do exactly that. I try to remember Freya smiling, with her curls gleaming gold in the afternoon sunlight, but instead all that I can see are the tears that shone in her eyes when I drew her to me the last time. It is an honorable thing for a man to die defending his wife; I have no doubt that the man beside me would tell me so, gruffly, and grip the hilt of his blade ever tighter. But if the end must come, can I not meet it in her arms? I stare in a trance over the worn stone wall before me, my arm resting in the slight groove designed for the use of the archers, at the seemingly endless ranks of the advancing Uruks, and I realize that it is more like than not that I shall perish tonight. Perhaps my head shall be swept off by a viciously curved orc scimitar. Perhaps I shall be impaled on a spear. Or cut mercilessly to pieces by those who bear the armor of the White Hand.
I do not want to die. The old man beside me does not fear death. But I do. Am I cowardly, or selfish, because I love the way that the sun catches the yellow-green grasses and sets the fields on fire at midday? Because I love running my fingers through a horse's silky mane, love feeling the smooth motion of the animal under me, the wind in my hair, as we gallop under a blue sky? Because I love the little things, like Freya's musky scent when we nestle naked together on our cot after a long day of tending to the crops. Because I love to imagine the laughter of the children that we will someday have. I do not want to die. How could I? How could I bear to leave all of this behind?
The thunder booms overhead. The stone beneath my feet shakes, though whether it is from the elements, or from the marching of the army that all the while presses closer about us, I cannot tell. And then a searing silver flash of lightening--and I can see them clearly for the first time. A great mass of black, sweeping toward us in file, a terrible and inescapable shadow to crush us beneath its dark weight. Ten thousand spears strong, at least. So many, that the orange blazes of their torches seem to outnumber the stars overhead.
"Valar," I swear softly. I raise my head, careful of my awkward, precarious helm--like the mail of the man beside me, far too large--to squint up at the sky. I have always watched the stars. In the gloomiest of nights, they shine down upon us as beacons of hope, reminding us that there is another world, a world not meant for us, nay, for that world is too high, too beautiful, too remote, but another world all the same. As the white fires twinkle and wink down at me, I know that the Valar watch over us, and that is some comfort. But tonight my guardians above are shrouded, invisible. The Star of Earendil, the biggest and brightest of all, is swallowed up in blackness. We are foresaken, left utterly alone to face our fate.
I swallow. My saliva tastes acrid, bitter. The taste of fear. My heart is beating wildly now. All along the wall, the quiet, uneasy murmuring of the men suddenly stops. Even the clanking as soldiers adjust their weapons is stilled, and deadly silence falls. The orc-host has halted, only a hundred yards from the gate. They too stand motionless, and we are locked in a horrible stalemate, a dramatic hush, a quiet prelude, before the world explodes into the cacophony of battle and we are plunged into a chaotic hell. In a few moments, I think wryly, you might scream all you want. The man beside you will not hear. No one will hear. Perhaps you shall topple limp and lifeless off the wall before you can even open your mouth. My whole body is tensed, ready.
The mysterious Ranger, the one whom they call Aragorn, is shouting orders now, and I feel, rather than hear, with that odd sixth sense that only battle can yield, the Elven archers raising their bows to their shoulders, gracefully pulling arrows from their intricately carved quivers and nocking them, faster than mortal eyes can track. Elves! To think that I have seen Elves, Elves in all their glory, their faces fair and noble and fey as they ready to meet the storm. The orcs still have made no move, waiting for some signal that I cannot foretell.
Valar, if it must begin, then let it! Suddenly, a stray, lone arrow whistles through the night to find its mark in one of the black figures below. I hear a hideous groan and the shadow tumbles into an unceremonious pile, leaving a hole in the front line. No one dares to breath.
And then the orcs roar with rage and the force of their harsh, gutteral cries and the blaring of their horns threatens to knock me to my knees. The rain slices down in buckets and within seconds I am drenched to the bone. Spears of wet pound down upon my back, clinking on the mail. Yellow, jagged stripes of lightening cut across my vision. . . and they are upon us. . .
So it begins. . .
Cries, screams. . . the whistling of arrows, the clash of metal upon metal as swords meet. . . the enraged roars of the orcs. . . someone yells "Elendil!", perhaps it is the Ranger. . . a clank, and just as I clumsily pull my sword from its sheath, the black top of a wooden ladder appears against the wall, and already an orc face, marked with the White Hand, leers level with mine. . . a hooked blade descending. . . it will be the last thing that I ever see. . . parry, for Valar's sake, parry!. . . my entire body quivers with a sudden impact. . . I barely dare to look, but, somehow, my blade has crossed his. . . for the moment, I have kept death at bay. . . the tip of my sword meeting something solid. . . my stomach tightening as the sharp point of the weapon in my hand drives into the belly of my enemy. . . warm blood spattering upon my face. . . everything spinning dizzy, the wall seeming to move under my unsteady feet. . . lightening once again splitting open the sky overhead, bright enough for me to see the body plunging down to the muddy, blood-soaked ground below, already littered with corpses, fair folk, men of Rohan, lying mangled and limp beside the carcasses of their foes. . . but lo! there is another orc to take the first one's place, and I barely have the impression of slitty red-yellow eyes glaring greedily into mine before I am locked once more in a desperate gamble for my life. . . a blade slicing through the air. . . so close to my cheek. . . my chest aching bitterly with the force of my own ragged breathing. . . thrust. . . dodge. . . parry. . . block, block the blow!
"The ladder!" someone behind me shouts hoarsely. In a blissful flash of understanding, I duck the curved weapon of a third orc, and heave at the rough wood of the ladder with all my might, trying to hurl it down to the ground below. I am accounted a strong man--but the Uruk Hai on the ladder are too many, and all the while they slash at me from above. . . pain, horrible pain, as something sharp finds its mark in my back. . . warm blood trickling down. . . a red haze obscurring my vision. . . a buzzing in my ears, the sounds of the battle growing alternately unbearably loud, and then nearly inaudible. . . my feet sliding on the slippery, wet stone. . . my legs are crumpling to nothing under me, and still my fist helplessly grips at the ladder, for I know not what else to do. . . my face is wet, and I realize, though the thought is slow in coming, that my cheeks glisten not only with raindrops, but with salt tears. . . every agonized breath seems to be the last, every desperate gasp of air rubs my throat raw. . . all this time I have been screaming, and I did not even know it. . . a sudden weight and two orcs are on top of me now. . . my fist still clenched about the top of the ladder. . . the fingers of my other hand curled limp and powerless about the hilt of the sword that I scarce even knew how to use. . .
"Die, man of Rohan," whispers a horrible voice in my ear. I shudder at that rancid breath, so close to my face, filling my nostrils with a stench of rot and evil. That voice will be the last thing that I ever hear, it shall ring in my consciousness for an unbearable eternity in the Halls of Mandos. . . and the knowledge that I have failed. . . because I was a coward. . . because I loved better the soft touch of Freya's lips and the hum of the insects in the fields. . . I had not the strength. . . the ladder still stands, and I have slain but two, and now it is my turn. . . the blade descending to finish me, glowing a bright, gleaming silver. . . the thunder booms, though the dramatic clap is lost, unheeded, in the din of battle. . . only I hear it, as time seems to stand still. . . and then. . . what. . . where?. . . the sword, the scaly, grinning face is gone. . . someone above me is breathing hard, there is a grunt of effort. . . orcs screeching. . . a hand on my arm and my fist is prised from the sodden wood of the ladder, my fingers stuck full of splinters. . . but I shall not need my fingers soon. . . I don't even have the strength to uncurl my fist. . . the ladder is gone. . .! my head in someone's arms. . . the helm is drawn from my head, and I feel the chill wind ruffling my hair. . . everything is blurred, dancing dizzy, but with a last desperate effort, I force myself to focus on the visage of my savior, the hero who toppled the ladder, who did what I tried and could not.
It is the old man. For a fleeting instant, our eyes meet. . . and then his face is dissolving until it is nothing more than a pink, uncertain blur. . . every breath I take weaker, more insubstantial. . . the cacophony of the apocalypse about me fading now, fading into nothingness. . . even the pain of the gash left by the sword that cut through my back, that sliced easily through my mail rings, is numbed. . . the world vanishing into red. . . please, Valar, let the old man live. . . and them, with the fleeting, unexplainable foresight that comes before death, I see everything engulfed in piercing white light.
The sun rises above the valley. The orcs cry and shield their eyes in terror. I hear the neighing of horses, and a familiar singing that is fey and yet fair swells to a glorious crescendo. Songs of victory, of pride, of love. Shadow cannot triumph. Day has come at last.
Freya. Freya will live to see the dawn.
As I draw a final breath, there is a smile upon my lips.
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.