Dark Horizons: 14. Blood and Tears

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14. Blood and Tears

Pippin was bored. Not only that, but he was tired, uncomfortable, hungry, and thoroughly disgruntled. He was seated upon a rough wooden stool placed against the far wall of the hall leading to the rooms the company had been given for the duration of their stay. From this vantage point, he could see anyone nearing the quarters, while remaining fairly inconspicuous himself.

Several hours had passed since Frodo, Sam, and Merry had left for the wall, and Pippin guessed that it was shortly after midnight. For the first couple of hours, he had been too wrapped up in anger, self-pity, and worry, to become bored. He had ranted and raved about the unfairness of his situation until he was hoarse, despite the fact that no one had been around to hear him.

He hated the fact that he could not stand beside his companions in facing whatever danger would come this night. It was not that he was particularly fearful for them. He knew that Gandalf and Faramir would not allow any harm to come to Merry, Sam, and Frodo. Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli were well capable of handling themselves in battle, and though he had never seen Arwen fight before, he guessed that if she handled herself in the same manner she did with everything else, than she too would be fine. It was not really fear that troubled him, but more the fact that he felt as if he should be with them, facing the same danger. Instead, he was left sitting here looking like one of the figures carved from stone that the old Gaffer loved to put in his gardens.

His righteous indignation had completely consumed him, building and growing until he could think of nothing else. He had even tried out some of the more nasty dwarven curses he had heard Gimli use earlier. All in all, he had worked himself up into a pretty impressive rage.

Yet as the hours had dragged by, his anger had slowly faded, replaced instead by a sort of resigned melancholy. Given time to think about it, he had come to the conclusion that the reason he had been the one left behind was simply that Aragorn and Gandalf had not wanted him to participate in the battle. They did not believe him capable of holding his own in the fight, and thought that he would only get in the way. So, despite the fact that he was officially a warrior of Gondor, they had placed him here, so they would not have to worry about him.

A part of him whispered that he was overreacting, that Gandalf’s reasons for setting him as guard were perfectly legitimate, and Pippin had just been his unlucky choice. Yet in the dark hallway, with nothing but his discomfort and hunger to keep him company, Pippin found it much easier to think gloomily.

Now, however, he found weariness and boredom his most troublesome companions. He caught himself continually glancing toward the door that led to the room he was sharing with Merry, and the soft bed just beyond. He figured that he would be just as useful sleeping as sitting. However, he was determined to prove himself to Aragorn and Gandalf. He would show them that he was capable of finishing any task they set him, no matter how useless. He would sit here until the sky turned green if that was how long they wanted him to, and he would not complain about weariness or hunger, either.

He stifled a yawn, shifting on the hard stool and peering up and down the long corridor. His eyes drifted down, studying the large stones that made up the floor of the hall. He had counted them three times and knew that there was exactly one hundred and two in this particular hallway. He groaned and stopped his eyes in the middle of counting them a fourth time. “This is just great, Pip,” he said to himself. “Next, you’ll start naming them all and holding conversations with them.”

He rose, stretching stiff muscles, then began pacing up and down the hall, counting how many steps it took from one end to the other. Every time he reached the cross hallway, he would stop, glance both directions to make sure no one was coming, then whirl, and pace back to his stool. He was actually getting quite into the game, humming a little counting tune that Sam had taught him ages ago and trying to figure out different ways to walk that would change the number of steps it took from one end to the other. He decided that it was a step better than sitting on his stool and moaning about his condition, and at least he did not have to worry about falling asleep.

Pippin cleared all outside thought from his mind and concentrated solely on figuring out a way to make it from one end of the hall to the other, skipping only two stones at a time, in only 22 steps instead of the 26 he had continually come up with. He pursed his lips and studied the layout of the stones leading up to the base of his stool, hands on his hips and brow wrinkled in thought.

After several seconds of silent contemplation, he thought he had found a course that would get him to the other end with the desired number of steps. He lifted his foot and was about to start forward when a voice spoke up from behind him.

“What are you doing?”

Pippin whirled, his heart nearly jumping through his throat, his hand flying to the hilt of the short sword he wore at his side.  He fiercely berated himself for becoming so distracted that he failed to notice anyone approaching.

A young boy stood in the cross way directly before Pippin, eyeing the hobbit with undisguised curiosity.  Pippin recognized the boy from the meeting earlier, and he tried to recall the name Legolas had used while steadying his breathing and calming his heart.

"I didn't mean to scare you," the boy said in way of an apology, shrugging his thin shoulders and glancing to where Pippin's hand still rested upon the hilt of his sword.

"You did not scare me," Pippin said quickly, removing his hand from the hilt of his blade.  "You just startled me, that's all," he added, his tone defensive.  He studied the boy intently for a few seconds, recalling that Legolas had called him Dar.

For his part, the boy stared back at Pippin just as intently, his head cocked slightly to one side, the curious expression never leaving his small face.

Pippin frowned, crossing his arms over his chest.  "You should be careful about sneaking up on people," he stated firmly, attempting to look down at the boy despite the fact that they were almost the same height.  "Especially Knights of Gondor.  I could have lobbed your head from your shoulders before I realized it was you!"

Dar's eyes grew wide, and Pippin regretted his harsh words, thinking that he had frightened the boy.  Dar's next words, however, allayed his fear.

"You're a Knight of Gondor?" the boy whispered softly, his wide eyes filled with awe and excitement.

Pippin merely nodded, feeling a surge of pride run through him at the boy's obvious admiration.  He straightened to his full height, throwing his shoulders back proudly.

"I saw you riding with the king," Dar stated, still staring at Pippin with excitement.  Suddenly, he frowned, doubt flickering across his small face.  "Aren't you a little short to be a knight?" he questioned boldly, looking Pippin's small frame up and down.  "And a little young?" he added almost as an afterthought.

"I'm probably as old as your father," Pippin stated, ignoring the boy's incredulous look. "And as for being short, I'm a hobbit.  All hobbits are short."  He placed his hands on his hips and gave Dar a serious look.  "However," he continued, "Do not underestimate us just because we are small.  Even the mighty Sauron knew of hobbits and was wary of us."  It was true, Pippin decided, even if it was for reasons other than what he was insinuating.

Dar nodded slowly, some of the awe returning to his face, though he was still not completely convinced.  "If you are a Knight of Gondor, why aren't you out on the wall with the others?" he asked curiously, a hint of doubt still lingering in his voice.

"I am on a secret mission," Pippin replied without hesitation, nodding his head firmly.

"A secret mission?" The excitement was back in Dar's voice and eyes, and he leaned forward eagerly.  "What secret mission?" he asked enthusiastically.

"It wouldn't be a secret if I told you, now would it," Pippin replied mysteriously, winking at the young boy.

"Please tell me," Dar begged.  "I promise I won't tell a soul!  Not even my dad."

"I don't know," Pippin said, shaking his head doubtfully.

"Please," Dar continued to beg, practically bouncing up and down on his toes in his eagerness.

"What if someone captures you and tortures you," Pippin asked seriously.

Dar's eyes grew even wider if that were possible, but he shook his head wildly.  "I still wouldn't tell them!" he stated bravely.

"Well," Pippin said, pretending to wrestle with indecision.  "I suppose I could tell you as long as you swear to remain silent."

"I do!  I swear!"  Dar cried out, nearly exploding from his curiosity.

Pippin reached forward and gripped the boy's shoulder, lowering his voice to a conspiratorial whisper.  "Did you know that a wizard travels with the king?" he asked softly, his voice secretive.

Dar nodded.  "I saw him," he said.  "He wears a really funny pointed hat and has a lot of white hair."

"That's him," Pippin nodded, and then looked Dar squarely in the eyes.  "Did you know that he is the most powerful wizard in all of Middle Earth?”

The child’s eyes practically glowed with wonder.  “Really?” he asked.

“Yep,” Pippin answered.  “My mission is to guard some very powerful objects the wizard has brought with him.  The orcs know of these objects and will attempt to steal them.  I am the last defense if the orcs manage to break through.”

"You have to guard them all by yourself?" Dar asked, still excited.  "What happens if a lot of orcs come here?"

Pippin shrugged.  "That is why they had to put a warrior of Gondor as guard.  Any orcs that try to get past me will find themselves impaled upon my trusty sword."

Dar was left speechless with awe, and then he suddenly burst out.  "Can I help you?"  He pulled a short knife from his tunic pocket, the blade no longer than three inches, and held it up for Pippin's scrutiny.   "See," he said proudly. “I can fight really good, just ask my dad.  I’ve helped him guard the merchant’s goods since I was six.”

“I don’t know,” Pippin said seriously.  “This job is pretty dangerous.”

“Please,” Dar begged once more.  “I really can fight.  I’m really good with a bow and arrow too.  Even Legolas said so.”

Pippin pretended to think about it for a while, then nodded.  “I suppose you can help.  Why don’t you go down to the other end of the hall and let out a whistle if you see anyone coming.”

Dar hesitated, and Pippin looked at him expectantly.    The lad looked somewhat embarrassed as he looked at Pippin.  At last he murmured, “I don’t know how to whistle.”

“Oh,” Pippin said, somewhat at a loss.  “Just let out a little shout then.”

“Alright!” the boy yelled, and then took off at a run toward the other end of the crossway.

“Hey!” Pippin yelled after him.  “Weren’t you ever taught not to run with a knife in your hand?”

Dar slowed his pace, waving back at Pippin over his shoulder before positioning himself at the end of the hall.

Pippin shook his head and began his slow march up and down his own section of the hallway.  Entertaining the boy had helped take his mind off his own troubles.  He actually let himself pretend that what he told the boy was the truth, and that he was the last defense of a great and powerful object.  Who really knew what the wizard kept hidden within his belongings.

Long minutes passed in silence while Pippin patrolled his hall with shoulders back and head held high, eyes perusing every shadow for a hidden danger.  He was getting quite into the game, and was once again startled when Dar’s small shout came from down the hall.

He glanced toward the lad, and found Dar racing down the hall towards him, his face flushed with excitement.  “Someone is coming,” the boy panted breathlessly when he reached Pippin.

Pippin nodded and boldly placed his hand upon his sword.  “Be ready, Dar.  If this is a spy of the enemy, we will have to dispatch him quietly and quickly before he can warn the others!”

Dar nodded, still clutching his small knife in his hand.

A few seconds later, the object of their discussion appeared around the corner.  He was peering behind him, as if afraid of being followed, and his steps were slow and cautious.  When the man turned and spotted Pippin and Dar, he stopped cold, his face registering frustration before it quickly went blank.

Pippin’s eyes narrowed as he recognized one of Merton’s advisors, and his hand tightened unconsciously on his sword. 

The man hesitated, looking almost as if he was about to turn around and go back the way he had come. At last, he seemed to make up his mind, and continued forward toward Pippin and Dar.

Pippin watched him approach, suspicion and mistrust flaring to life within him.  He remembered Gandalf’s warning to watch out for Merton or one of his men snooping around, and he had never seen anyone look more like they had been caught somewhere that they shouldn’t be.

When the advisor reached them, he looked the two up and down, arching a smooth eyebrow at Pippin’s hand upon his sword hilt. Pippin looked calmly back at him and didn’t remove his hand.  “Isn’t it past your bedtime,” the man said in an oily sweet voice with a hint of mockery.  “Everyone else is either out upon the wall or already retired.”

“Obviously not everyone,” Pippin responded dryly, pointedly staring at the man.

The advisor gave him a sickly grin that looked more like a grimace.  “I often walk the halls at night when I find that I cannot sleep,” he said innocently.

Pippin grunted, running his eyes over the man’s fully robed form.  “Perhaps in the future, you should try more comfortable bed clothes,” he answered boldly.

The advisor’s smile faltered, and his eyes narrowed.  “I am first advisor to the lord of this house,” he grated out through clenched teeth.  “I have every right to go where I please, when I please.  Who are you, small one, to question my actions?”

Anger flashed in Pippin’s eyes, but before he could answer the man, Dar spoke up from behind him.  “He is a Knight of Gondor!”

The man seemed startled at the boy’s outburst, and he glanced behind Pippin at Dar.  Then he began to laugh, great gusts of false mirth.  He looked back at Pippin, still roaring with laughter.  “You, a Knight of Gondor?” he gasped between wild chuckles.

Pippin looked back at him and said nothing, his face completely blank.

“Do you even know how to use that blade at your side, small one,” the man asked, finally controlling his laughter and looking down at Pippin with a malicious grin.  “I am afraid I will have to tell the king that I have found one of his brave knights hiding within the house while he boldly awaits to do battle with ghosts.”

Pippin narrowed his eyes, his fist clenching tightly around the hilt of his sword. He was angry at the man’s mocking tone and insults, but surprisingly he found that he was mostly disgusted. “Only a fool speaks of something he knows nothing of,” he said quietly, his voice filled with loathing. “I have no stomach to tolerate your foolishness, so you will leave now, or I will have this boy teach you a lesson in courtesy.”

The man stared at Pippin in shock, his face turning an ugly shade of red. “How dare you…” he spluttered, unable to finish his sentence.

Pippin merely grunted and took a threatening step toward the man, drawing his sword from his sheath.

The advisor eyed the blade warily, raising his hands slightly. “You will regret speaking to me thus,” he hissed, before turning and striding swiftly down the hall.

Pippin watched him go, somewhat shocked at his own actions. He turned to Dar, but before he could say anything to the boy, bells began to toll throughout the city, the sound loud even within the house.

Pippin lowered his blade, his face suddenly pale. He knew what the bells signified. Outside, the battle had begun.

******

Merton was lying comfortably in his large bed, sipping an expensive wine that he always kept near at hand.  He was completely relaxed, his open window letting in the cool evening breeze. He sank back into his soft pillows closing his eyes and sighing contentedly.

A few seconds later, he jerked upright, the sound of tolling bells filling his room. His wine cup slipped from his nerveless fingers, spilling the expensive liquid down the front of his silk bedclothes. He stared unseeingly at the red stain, his entire body frozen in shock. Just as Pippin had heard and understood the meaning behind the bells, Merton also knew what they signified. His body began to tremble, and he fearfully slipped from his bed to lie huddled on the ground.

Merton tried to call out to someone, afraid of being alone, but his voice was not working.  Whimpering in fear, he crouched beside his bed, too frightened to even close his window and shut out the dreadful noise of battle.

******

Legolas stood silent and still upon the wall, watching the hordes of orcs rushing toward the city.  Behind him, the bells of the city began their frantic toll, warning the people to remain indoors and hidden.  Legolas was aware of his companions standing beside him, but his attention was mostly on the approaching army of vile creatures.

There were hundreds of them, fierce and intent only upon the death and destruction of everything that stood in their path.  They charged toward the wall with siege towers, crude ladders, grappling hooks, and battering ram; anything that would help them gain access to the city.  The orc horns had fallen silent, replaced by foul war cries and the low rumble of thousands of feet rushing forward over the uneven ground.

Legolas’s keen eyes scanned their dark ranks in search of any sign of Malek, even as his hand went to his quiver and freed an arrow.  He notched the arrow to his bow, pulling back and releasing in one smooth motion, sending the dart on a deadly course toward an overzealous orc who had pushed a little too far ahead of his companions.  Even before his first shot had landed, Legolas had released yet another arrow, then another, his movements smooth and continuous, dealing death to all he aimed at.

The orcs soon came into range of the rest of the archers upon the wall, and Legolas’s arrows were joined by a hail of other shafts, felling one orc after another.  Yet still they came on, their howls chilling the blood.  The wall seemed to shudder slightly, as the first wave of orcs crashed into it.  Legolas and the other archers continued to rain arrows down on the attackers, focusing on the orcs carrying the large battering ram.  However, for every orc that fell, two more took its place and with a mighty crash, the large beam slammed into the wood of the gate.

Up on the wall, the defenders could feel the stone shudder, and Aragorn exchanged a worried glance with Gimli.  The gate had been reinforced with large beams of wood, but they both knew it couldn’t take too much more of the heavy abuse.  They were not given long to ponder this, for even as the ram continued to slam into the gate, other orcs began attempting to scale the wall using grappling hooks and ladders.

Aragorn, Gimli, and Arwen joined the rest of the defenders in cutting down the hooks and pushing away ladders as Legolas continued to fire deadly arrows into the orcs at the gate.  He was swiftly running out of arrows, and he knew he would soon have to give up his bow for the sword at his side.  It was not his first choice of weapon, but his knives would not hold up against an orc scimitar.

Pulling the last two arrows from his quiver, Legolas took a step to his side and thrust the tips into the nearest fire pit.  The arrows immediately burst into flame, and without hesitation he shot them both at once into the large wooden ram beneath him.  He then grabbed the metal fire grill in both hands, ignoring his burning palms, and poured its contents after his arrows.  The orcs below him let out a howl, dropping the ram and jumping away from the fire raining down upon them.  They quickly regrouped, but Legolas’s plan had worked, and the great wooden trunk began to burn, the fire growing and spreading rapidly.  The orcs tried to beat out the flames, but the archers continued to rain arrows down on them, impeding their progress.

Legolas smiled grimly, swinging his bow onto his back and pulling his sword from its sheath.  He glanced about him then, taking in the extent of the battle.  Despite the defenders best efforts, several orcs had managed to gain the upper wall and were fiercely doing battle.  A siege tower full of orcs had made it to the wall, with a second close behind it.  Orcs poured from the towers onto the wall, crashing into the line of defenders that raced to confront them.  Aragorn, Gimli, and Arwen were already caught up in the fighting, pressing the orcs back, their blades blackened by dark blood.

Legolas stepped forward, intending to join his friends, but a movement from the corner of his eye caught his attention.  He turned, just as an orc head appeared over the edge of the wall, sneaking up a ladder that had been missed by the busy soldiers.  Legolas swung around, kicking out fiercely, his boot landing between the ugly creature’s eyes.  The orc howled, toppling from the wall, and Legolas threw his weight against the crude ladder, pushing it back away from the wall.

He turned once more, glancing in the direction he had last seen his friends, but they were hidden from view by the battling forms of man and beast.  Several orcs had broken through the line of defenders, and at the sight of the elf standing before them, they let out a cry and raced forward.  Legolas lifted his sword and moved to meet them.

******

The fire of battle burned strong and true though Gimli’s veins as he hacked left and right with his axe.  Orcs shied away before his wrath, and those not swift enough quickly fell beneath his blade.  Yet more and more orcs were gaining the wall, and the defenders were caught up in the struggle around them.

Gimli yanked his axe free from the chest of an orc and was given a brief reprieve to catch his breath and glance around him for his companions.  Aragorn and Arwen fought side by side only a few paces away, and Gimli allowed himself a moment to watch their graceful movements.  The two seemed as perfect a pair in battle as anywhere else, their movements precise and complimentary to each other.  Aragorn ducked an orc scimitar just as Arwen swung her sword above him, taking off the unlucky creature’s head.

Gimli turned from watching them to search for Legolas.  He had not seen the elf in quite some time, and he worried that they had somehow allowed themselves to become separated.

An orc rushed toward him, and Gimli sloppily swung his axe, cutting through the creature’s armor and into flesh beneath.  He did not bother watching the orc fall, but continued running his eyes frantically through the melee in search of his friend.  “Legolas!” he shouted, but this merely managed to draw the orcs attention to him, and he was soon desperately fighting off several large brutes.

One of the creatures swung a blood soaked sword at the dwarf’s head.  Gimli easily ducked the blade, but he was not expecting the gauntleted fist that smashed into the side of his helm.  He stumbled back, barely managing to duck the second swing from the creature.  This move threw him off balance, and he fell to his knees, blindly throwing his axe up to protect against the blow he knew would be coming.

The orc howled in glee, believing he had managed to defeat the dwarf, but before he could land his final blow, a knife blossomed in his throat.  The creature barely had time to look surprised, dark blood flowing from the wound, before he toppled over backwards.

Gimli grunted, lowering his axe from over his head just as his friend appeared before him.  Legolas quickly dispatched another orc who had thought to take advantage of the fallen dwarf, then turned and looked down at him.  “Now is not the time to be laying around, my friend," Legolas said, his eyes twinkling mischievously.  "If you need, I shall fetch a basin of water to pour over your head and revive your senses."

Gimli glared up at him, saying nothing and holding out his hand.  Legolas clasped his arm and pulled him to his feet, his eyes turning serious as he looked Gimli up and down.  "Are you hurt?" he asked softly.

Gimli shook his head.  "Nay, and you?"

Legolas also shook his head, the mischievous light returning to his eyes.  He glanced about him at the battle still raging fiercely around them.  "You had better get busy, Gimli, if you wish to catch up to me."

Gimli gave Legolas a questioning look, so the elf explained himself.

"I slew many of the enemy before they reached the gate, and my number has grown in the last few minutes.  You will have to work hard indeed if you wish to match my number."

The light of understanding dawned in Gimli's eyes, and with it a look of challenge.  He slashed at an orc who drifted too close, threatening to interrupt their conversation, before he turned back to Legolas who was still looking at him expectantly.

"So," Gimli said lightly, "You wish to continue our little game?"

"Only if you feel up to the task," Legolas replied immediately, grinning wildly at Gimli.

Gimli snorted loudly, looking the elf up and down.  "You might want to stop talking and start fighting if you wish to sport a chance of winning against me!" he retorted boldly, returning the elf's crazy grin.

Legolas bowed to him dramatically, then spun, neatly swinging his sword to end the life of an orc who had been attempting to sneak up on him.  The elf did not hesitate, but scooped to retrieve his knife from the orcs throat and press forward into battle once more.

"Show off," Gimli grunted, charging into a knot of approaching orcs.

******

Aragorn glanced around him, sweat and blood soaking his tunic, his breath coming in hard gasps.  A pile of dead orcs lay before him, staining the stone of the wall with their dark blood.  He was aware of screams and shouts all about him, but at the moment, no orcs were near at hand.  Glancing around, he realized that most of the foul creatures had been driven from the wall, and those that had not been were slowly being overwhelmed by the city’s defenders.

Distant horns were blaring a retreat, and the remaining orcs still on the ground began a hasty withdrawal back towards the mountains.  Aragorn frowned.  He had seen no sign of Malek, and this fact slightly unsettled him.  He had expected the dark creature to make an appearance, and an odd sense of foreboding settled upon him.  This battle seemed to have ended just a little too easily.

He saw Gimli and Legolas only a couple of paces away, fighting side by side with several other soldiers against one of the few remaining groups of orcs still upon the wall.  They seemed to have the battle well in hand, and the number of orcs were quickly dwindling.

Shaking his head and trying to push away his feelings of unease, Aragorn turned to Arwen.   His eyes carefully scanned the elf princess up and down, searching for any sign of injury to her slight frame.

Feeling his intense gaze upon her, Arwen looked up and met his eyes.  She smiled and took a step toward him.  “I am fine, my love,” she said softly, reaching out and gently touching his arm.

Aragorn nodded, but did not stop his perusal.  Arwen’s light armor was stained with the blood of the orcs she had slain, her drawn blade covered in their gore.  Her hair, which she had placed in a tight braid before the battle began, was now coming loose, tendrils poking out everywhere.  Aragorn could not keep his eyes from her, wondering how she could look so disheveled and still so beautiful.

"The battle seems to have gone in our favor tonight," Arwen said cheerfully, squeezing his arm lightly to assure him that she was fine.

"Yes," Aragorn nodded.  "Perhaps a little too easily.  I hope that Gandalf, Faramir, and the hobbits fared as well as we did.  I do not like the fact that Malek has not shown himself, and I only hope that they did not run into the foul creature."

"They will be fine," Arwen assured him lightly.  "Now should we go and collect Legolas and Gimli?"

Aragorn nodded, taking her hand in his and making his way toward the dwarf and elf.  Even as they approached, Gimli dispatched the last of the orcs with a quick swing of his axe.

"Hah," the dwarf shouted triumphantly, stepping away from the falling orc.  "Thirty-two!  Beat that, elf!"

Aragorn wondered for a second what Gimli was talking about, but Legolas's response to the dwarf's outburst answered his unspoken question.

"You will have to do better than that, master dwarf." Legolas responded gaily.  "That," he pointed to an orc that lay near his feet, "was number thirty-seven."

Aragorn and Arwen reached the two, but neither seemed aware of their presence.  Gimli glared at Legolas, shaking his head vehemently.  "Are you sure," he asked skeptically.

"I do not know about dwarfs," Legolas responded arrogantly, "but elves are taught how to count from an early age."

"And then they need thousands of years to perfect the skill," Gimli retorted.  "I still think you made an error somewhere!"

Legolas opened his mouth to respond to this, but Arwen interrupted.  "If you two are arguing about the number of orcs you have slain, I am afraid I have beaten you both!  I felled at least forty of the ugly creatures."

Legolas and Gimli turned and stared at her, at last becoming aware of the presence of the others.  Legolas saw a familiar mischievous light in the elf princess's eyes, and he slowly shook his head.  Gimli muttered something else about the elve’s ability to count, and Arwen sent him a devilish grin.  Legolas was about to ask her if she was serious, but once more he was interrupted before he could say anything.

"I am not sure our battle is yet over," Aragorn said softly.  "Look!"  Three sets of eyes followed his pointing finger.

The orcs had retreated about two hundred yards before stopping and regrouping.  Their black forms were nearly lost within the nighttime darkness, as they stood silent and still facing the city, appearing to be waiting for something.  Once more, Aragorn felt a shiver of foreboding run down his spine.

"What are they waiting for?" Gimli muttered.  "Surely they do not intend to attack once more."

"I do not know," Legolas began, "but..." The elf cut off abruptly, his body stiffening.  On the other side of Aragorn, Arwen let out a soft gasp of dismay.

Aragorn turned to them, only to find that both of their faces had turned a deathly white. Obviously, their far seeing eyes saw something that the others were yet unable to. Aragorn followed their gaze, trying vainly to peer into the darkness at the base of the Ered Nimrais.

“What is it?” Gimli asked Legolas softly, but the elf did not seem to hear him and did not answer.

Aragorn tensed, straining his eyes even more, believing he had seen movement within the dark shadows beneath the mountains. He stepped forward, gripping the edge of the wall and leaning as far forward as he could without fear of falling. He was now certain that he had seen movement, and a lot of it. The darkness seemed to be shifting and swirling, as if alive, and he could not help the shudder that ran down his spine.

The defenders upon the wall watched in horror as the nighttime shadows transformed into thousands of orcs, moving quickly and quietly towards the city. They were too numerous to even begin to count, pouring from the mountain like ants from an anthill and joining the small force already upon the battlefield. They did not shout or blow horns as the previous group had, yet somehow their silence was even more ominous. They formed rank after rank upon the field before the city, the flickering light from the fires upon the wall reflected dully off their armor and drawn weapons.

“So many!” Gimli whispered hoarsely, his voice seeming loud in the shocked silence that covered the wall.

Aragorn did not answer, his heart sinking lower with each line of orcs that formed upon the field. He tore his gaze from the horrendous sight, looking about him at the defenders lining the walls. Their faces showed their shocked disbelief and fear, doubt heavy in their eyes. They began to shift restlessly, many crying out in hopeless despair.

“How will we fight them?” a soldier standing nearby suddenly cried out. “We will be overcome for sure, for they are too many.”

Aragorn looked at the frightened man’s face and then firmly shook his head. “We WILL fight them,” he said loudly, his firm voice carrying to many of the soldiers nearby. “And we will endure,” he continued. “Hold fast to your courage, men of Gondor! Remember the innocent women and children you protect. We must not allow the enemy to pass!”

Aragorn’s words seemed to have a calming effect upon all that heard him, but fear and doubt still hung heavy in the air, almost tangible in its intensity.

Aragorn looked out once more at the ranks of orcs, trying to guess at their number while also trying desperately to think of a way to protect the city against them. The defenders were well outnumbered, and Aragorn doubted that the advantage afforded by the city wall would have much affect on the final outcome.

“Where did they all come from?” Legolas asked softly from behind him, his voice steady despite his still pale features.

Aragorn shook his head. “I do not know,” he answered just as quietly. “I did not think so many of their foul kind had survived the war with Sauron. I fear we have made the terrible mistake of underestimating Malek,” he finished, his voice a mere whisper.

The orcs seemed to have all arrived at last, but they merely stood before the city, an unnatural silence hanging heavy in the air as the soldiers tensed for what they knew would come next.

Suddenly, Legolas grasped Aragorn's arm, pointing towards the ranks of orcs. “Look!” he said, his voice low and strained.

Aragorn followed his friend’s outstretched arm, his eyes sweeping up and down the ranks of orcs in search of what had caught Legolas’s attention. It did not take him long to find it, and he felt his body stiffening once more. “Malek,” he whispered, the single word sounding like a curse.

A black shadow, seemingly darker than the night itself, hovered a short distance before the orc army, an intense feeling of malice and hatred radiating from it in waves. Even the orcs seemed loath to approach too near the shadow, and gave it a wide berth.

Aragorn shook his head. “I can not see through the darkness that surrounds him,” he admitted quietly.

Legolas nodded. “He wears the night like a cloak, and even my eyes cannot penetrate to what lies beneath.”

“What is he waiting for,” Gimli spoke up from beside them, his eyes also perusing the darkness that was Malek.

Aragorn continued to watch the orc army closely, and several long minutes passed before he answered the dwarf.

“He is toying with us,” he finally replied, his voice angry and bitter. “He can sense our fear and uncertainty, and he is playing with us!”

Legolas and Gimli had to agree, and their anger ignited as several more minutes of intense silence followed, the orc army merely standing and staring at the city. Aragorn found himself shifting as restlessly as his men, anxious for something to happen and yet dreading it at the same time.

Aragorn was unsure of how much time had passed since the orcs had first appeared, but each moment of inactivity seemed like hours. He wondered briefly if Malek intended on defeating the city by merely staring at it. It did not seem so impossible now, for with each passing second, the soldiers were losing courage.

The defenders all jumped as a single horn blast broke the silence of the night. Everyone tensed, and weapons were raised in preparation for the attack.

Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli also raised their weapons, but a second later lowered them in surprise.

“They are leaving,” Gimli said quietly, his voice filled with surprise and disbelief.

It was true, the orc army was breaking up, melting back into the shadows from whence they came, filing away as silently and quickly as they had come.

“It is nearing dawn,” Legolas replied simply.

“They are not going to attack,” Gimli murmured, his voice half statement, half question. “What kind of game is Malek playing?”

“A very dangerous game,” Aragorn replied softly, running his gaze over the retreating army. “And one in which he has struck us a hard blow.”

Legolas could only nod in agreement. Malek’s last action had been a calculated blow, attacking the courage of the defenders instead of their strength. All along the wall, the result of this attack could be plainly seen. Men stood ashen faced, weapons hanging limply from numb hands, faces showing shocked disbelief that they had been allowed to live yet another day. Several of the soldiers had even fallen to their knees, and the sound of weeping filled the air.

Legolas met Aragorn’s eye, seeing his own weariness mirrored in the man’s haggard face.

The sky opened up once more, pouring down rain without warning to mingle freely with the blood and tears of the defenders of Calembel.


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.

Story Information

Author: littlefish

Status: Reviewed

Completion: Complete

Era: 3rd Age - Post-Ring War

Genre: Action

Rating: General

Last Updated: 10/11/02

Original Post: 06/26/02

Go to Dark Horizons overview

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