12. The Battle of the Pelennor Fields
Warnings for this chapter and the next ones: AU. Character death. m/m
As always, thanks to Anarithilien for her superb betaing and pointing out the crunches! A beta makes such a difference and for very little reward, but the reviews belong as much to her as me.
This is for Imber, who is ready for it!
Chapter 12: Battle of the Pelennor Fields
It was midnight and there were no stars. Instead, the huge clouds towered up from the East into great thunderheads but there was no rain. Gimli Gloinsson stood near the prow of the ship. He held one hand on the balustrade that bounded the quarterdeck and fixed his gaze on the horizon, where a fiery red glowed along the edge of the grim clouds that boiled and swelled. There was still no wind and the great oars dipped and rose, straining. He had already taken a turn at rowing and the muscles in his arms ached in a mildly satisfying way. Gimli turned instinctively to see Legolas leaping up the steep wooden steps from below and emerging on deck.
The Dwarf raised his hand in greeting and called out but the Elf ignored him, his face furious and set. Effortlessly it seemed, he leapt up and caught the ropes that swung down from the topmast. Gimli tutted and strode towards the main mast where Legolas was climbing swiftly to what Anor called the yardarm and fiddling with the stays or whatever it was that Anor called the ropes. He craned his neck to watch the Elf, wondering what in Mahal's name was up with him. Lifting his hands to cup over his mouth, Gimli was just about to call when there was a sudden burst of excitement from the sailors aboard ship; they lifted their hands and pointed away west.
A sudden gust of wind rippled along the dark river surface, fingered the loose ropes and teased the Dwarf's silky beard. Gimli looked about in sudden elation. Wind! The wind was getting up. That was what had excited the sailors and the still, sullen ship was suddenly bustling with activity.
There was a flutter of canvas and he looked up to see that Legolas had released the sails from their bonds. They hung emptily at first, then suddenly they were billowing in the gusts of wind that came scudding along the river out of the west. Men ran to catch the stays, and others swarmed into the ratlines.
He expected the oars to be put up but instead, they rowed with renewed vigour and the ship plunged and lurched forwards, and then seemed to settle itself. Ever the craftsman, Gimli noticed how suddenly the ship seemed to come alive, like a swan that had waddled clumsily on land but which now sped gracefully, cutting through the heavy turgid river with ease and it seemed suddenly elegant, racing across the water. He glanced up to see the sails full and curved voluptuously against the grey sky, black sails it was true, but beautifully crafted nonetheless. Perfectly formed.
Around him, he could hear the excited cries of the Men on other ships as they too suddenly sped forward, and the exhausted oarsmen cheered.
He looked across to Aragorn's ship and saw the Man standing alone on the upper deck. Anor had called it the poop deck but Gimli thought that a ridiculous word. Gimli caught Aragorn's eye and he waved and grinned excitedly. Aragorn lifted his hand and grinned back until Gimli remembered he was angry with the Man and looked away upwards to where Legolas clung to the topmast, his long flaxen hair streamed in the wind and his gaze was fixed determinedly to the West. Gulls wheeled and cried around him. Gimli chewed his lip first, then sought the ends of his chestnut beard. He did not think it was merely the wind that had sent the Elf flying up there. His face was set in that Wood-Elf mask and his eyes did not meet Gimli's. He recognised that way the Elf held himself, taut as his own bowstring, and Gimli wondered what had gone on below.
Aragorn turned away from Gimli's ship and stared ahead. His own great black ship plunged and soared on the wind but he could smell there was rain coming, up from the West. Rainclouds scudded along the distant horizon from the Sea as if they too were ships sailing into battle against the great bruised clouds that spewed from the East. But they made good speed now and Aragorn felt a surge of exhilaration.
By daybreak, he could see even more clearly the red glow in the sky above the White City though it was still dark above the ships. The red glow was not from the dawn but from fire. Minas Tirith burned.
But the wind that blew from the West seemed to wrestle the heavy, boiling clouds and thrust them back towards the East, soaking the earth with blessed rain.
Aragorn turned his face upwards to the rain and suddenly, between the ragged edges of clouds a bright star gleamed in the lightening sky. He felt a sudden surge of much-needed hope and watched the gulls that flew with his fleet of ships. They soared and wheeled above one ship more than the others, and streamed away in the wind behind.
Turning back to squint into the lightening East, he thought he saw, far off, a spike of white light, like lightning had sprung from the earth beneath the city. For a searing second, it stood dazzling, far off in black and white; its topmost tower like a glittering needle; and then as the darkness closed again, he heard a sound, rolling over the fields and downriver, a great boom* as if a roll of thunder struck the beleaguered gates of the city.
Aragorn strode to the prow of his ship and leaned forwards, and distantly he thought he could hear the faint echo of great horns, the horns of the Rohirrim riding to battle. His heart surged. All was not lost. Rain drenched his face and skin, and over the burning city now, he could see where the rain was extinguishing the fires of Mordor, and a grey mist lay.
'Halbarad!' he called, 'It is time to give hope to Gondor for they are sorely pressed. Unfurl the banner of Elessar so that they will see it and know that we are come to aid them.'
Halbarad strode forward to stand with his kinsman and the wind caught the banner so it snapped and flew in the wind. There flowered the White Tree of Gondor and the Seven Stars were about it and the high crown above it; the signs of Elendil that no lord had borne for years beyond count. And the stars flamed in their own light for they were wrought of gems by Arwen, daughter of Elrond; and the crown was bright for it was wrought of mithril and gold.* The banner streamed out in the wind as they approached the smoking ruin of Harlond.
Ahead of them acrid smoke and fog billowed over the water and though they could see little, they heard the sound of fighting, the clash of steel and the terrible din of battle. Great battle-towers rose up through the fog, and spears and pikes of steel glinted in the firelight from the burning town. Through the mist came the huge, echoing bellow of Mumakil, and ever the rolling boom, boom as the gates of the city were battered.
It seemed far away that the bells of Minas Tirith rang out in alarm for the Guard of the Tower had seen the black ships and despair fell upon them. Aragorn gritted his teeth for there was naught he could do but hasten towards the harbour and alight to join the fray. His heart pounded with the need for battle and he paced the deck anxiously, the wind pulling through his hair and a burst of rain drenching his face.
As the black ships slid in closer to the quay and the hordes of Mordor spotted the black sails there came a triumphant howling and yammering. On the wooden jetties that stuck out into the black viscous water, Orcs raised their shields and clashed their swords on them, cheering. A Mumakil trumpeted somewhere in the fog. Mist hung low over the battlefield. Aragorn smiled grimly and unsheathed Anduril. As the thin line of daybreak scored the sky in the East, Anduril caught in the firelight and suddenly seemed to flare brightly and the forest of swords, spears and arrows glittered.
Even though the upcoming battle occupied his thoughts, Elladan never ceased to be aware of the Sea, rolling, restless, the hugeness of shifting grey-green under a grey sky. And the clanking masts and soughing sails…seabirds called…He was aware that Legolas too was caught up in the cuivëar and that they both suffered as Elrohir did not. Now Elladan forced himself to turn and gaze over the churned water to the other ship where Aragorn stood at the prow. A glint of flames from the burning town on his sword seemed suddenly to catch it alight and he remembered its new name, Anduril, Flame of the West. An unbearable pride and sorrow flooded his heart as he looked upon his foster brother and saw the king he would become, and knew that Estel was lost to him now, that funny, serious child he had loved, with the always-scraped knees, whose childish tears he had wiped away, no longer belonged to him but to Gondor. And he would lose Arwen in the same way. It suddenly seemed a high price.
He closed his eyes briefly and turned away, and as he did so warmth at his arm made him look. Gimli the Dwarf stood nearby and with him, Legolas. Elladan felt a sudden surge of something in his stomach and his loins at the closeness of the other Elf and sought to catch his gaze, to share a grin and a promise after the battle. But Legolas almost deliberately, Elladan thought, turned away and showed his back to Elladan. Elladan frowned but he had no time to think on that now and he glanced across to his brother who stood on the other side of Anor and some of the sailors clustered on deck. The wind pulled back Elrohir's long black hair from his proud, stern face and his grey cloak fluttered behind him. The torches that were lit along the sides of the ship sputtered in the wind and cast a red glow so his elven armour glinted and the runes and swirls etched onto the breastplate seemed molten. Elladan thought he looked like some First Age warrior and was unaware that to others, he looked the same, his grey eyes stern and unwavering.
Orcs lined the harbour, pouring onto wooden jetties that stuck out into the water, cheering. Elladan quirked an eyebrow. 'The Orcs are cheering us,' he observed, 'I do not think this is their usual greeting somehow.'
And then Gimli turned and bared his teeth. 'They think we are Corsairs,' he growled quietly, 'come to aid them in besieging the city… well let them think on it, for I would taste their blood with my axe before they see we are their foes!' He jabbed Legolas in the ribs.
Legolas gave the Dwarf a sidelong glance and a ghost of smile flit across his face as he reached back and drew three arrows from his quiver. Nearby the torches flickered and sputtered and Legolas stooped to dip the ends of the arrows in a barrel of pitch. Then he flicked them lightly over a burning torch. Instantly, the ends flared up and caught on the pitch, firelight gilding his hair and face. Swifter than a glance, he had fitted the arrows to his bow and sent them soaring, thin ribbons of fire, over the gathered hordes on the quayside, into the billowing smoke beyond. He drew three more and sent those also soaring into barrels on the wooden jetty closest where they caught light and flames leaped up. Barrels of tar, thought Elladan, and he delighted in the other Elf's ingenuity.
There was a moment of silence. Orcs looked at each other stupidly, and then suddenly there was chaos.
A terrified trumpeting bellow went up. Rumbling thunder and suddenly from the smoke lumbered a huge tusked creature that Elladan knew was a Mumakil, scattering Orcs everywhere and plunging many into the churning black water. It raised its enormous trunk and trumpeted so the whole deck shook and the terrified sailors covered their ears. Then it thundered off into the smoke again and there was screaming as the wooden pier on which so many of the enemy had stood, collapsed and slid slowly into the black depths, whilst those standing on the burning jetty, leaped of their own volition into the water to escape the flames.
Legolas turned to the astounded Dwarf and grinned.
'Shall we join them?' he invited, pointedly ignoring Elladan once again.
Elladan wondered what had happened to change Legolas so completely, he tried not to think of the warm body pressed close against him, hard muscles bunched beneath suede and on warm skin the swirling, painted runes and abstracts that seemed to mesmerise…and squashed the hurt that pierced him. Instead, he looked across at the hordes of Mordor that still awaited him on the harbour wall, clashing their swords and yammering for blood and vengeance.
Arrows suddenly rained down upon the deck, like hailstones. One flaming brand thunked into the deck at the Dwarf's feet and he jumped to one side. Elladan was glad they had evacuated all the injured to one ship that stood well offshore and away from battle, for he did not like to think that Nestor would be trapped in the burning hulk. But now that the ships had drawn up and were no longer any use to them, it did not matter that they burned.
The ship's hull knocked against the stone of the quay. Arrows streaked back towards them as the Orcs recovered themselves and returned fire.
The black sails rushed down from their mast and the ship slid in along the quayside. Gimli pushed his way to the prow, his great war axe held across his chest in readiness and his eyes gleamed in the fiery torches that were lit both ends of the ship. His teeth were bared and he glanced at his tall companions. 'Plenty for both of us!' he grinned and Legolas grinned back, showing his white teeth.
Ahead of them, the Dwarf saw that Aragorn leaped from the greatest ship, followed by Halbarad who had raised the black standard high and the White Tree glowed in its own light. Suddenly Aragorn's crew were pouring over the sides and into the waiting Orcs and instantly there was the terrible clash of steel and cries of war.
He dug Legolas in the ribs again and shouted above the sudden roar. 'You have yet to best me, my friend. The Dwarves are still ahead and before this day is out, I will show you and all the sons of Elrond what a Dwarf warrior is about.'
'I have naught to do with the sons of Elrond.'
Gimli wanted to ask him what he meant but Legolas had not waited for the ship to dock; he was already leaping into the waiting Orcs, his bow drawn as he leaped and flaming arrows hailed down with him. Gimli grunted and followed, his feet hitting the stone quay with a heavy thud. He stumbled and felt a hand on his elbow steady him. He glanced up into the grey eyes of one of the Sons of Elrond, whose sword glinted in the red light that lit the sky with flames of war. Elvish armour gleamed, mithril runes swirled on his breastplate and greaves.
Muscles aching after the hours of fighting, Elladan kept his gaze wide, and realised Aragorn's small forces had moved steadily closer to the city during the long morning of the battle. Ahead of him, the main battle was being fought, and he heard the pounding of many horses and something heavier, larger thundering ahead. Dust and smoke and fog rose up around him and obscured the fighting. A huge Orc suddenly loomed up out of the mist, unaware of him and started as it caught sight of a fell Elven warrior in the midst of these Men.
It swiftly changed its surprised expression to feral lust and dropped to a fighting crouch, its long sword and round shield held across itself defensively. Elladan mirrored its crouch and circled warily and then stepped back briefly, luring it into a lunge that ended with its throat cut and blood gurgling from the red slash across its neck. It dropped its sword and its huge paws came up to its throat but Elladan did not pause but moved relentlessly on to stab into the back of another Orc. It crashed to its knees but he barely glanced at it, for the weight of numbers was against them. Elladan followed in Aragorn's wake, guarding his back as he always had. He was aware of his twin brother nearby and they ever fought thus- one guarding the other's back and both watching for Aragorn.
Suddenly a black shadow fell across them and a thin wailing cry pierced the din of battle. Men covered their ears and it seemed to give new hope to the Orcs. They surged forwards, snarling, and the shrieking wail terrified the Gondorian warriors he fought with.
'Nazgul! Nazgul!' came a cry and he glanced around to see the Dwarf glaring upwards as if he would incinerate the accursed creature with his gaze alone.
'Shoot it, Legolas!'
Surely, thought Elladan, no one could bring down the winged creature that sped across the grey, rain-soaked sky. But as he watched, the shadow wheeled and turned and swooped low over the battlefield, shrieking as it came like a storm upon them. Suddenly a thin flame shot out from the seething mass of Orcs and Men. The flaming arrow merely glanced off the tail of the creature and it wheeled again suddenly, thrashing its singed tail.
This time, the creature approached more slowly, its flight undulating and its blunt head searching. The Nazgul screamed again and in the distance came answering calls, two more winged creatures were speeding to the aid of the first one.
Elladan gasped and seized a bow from the dead hand of a Rohirrim warrior. If they did not bring this one down and soon, there would be three Nazgul in the sky above him. He had no time to light the arrow and nothing to light it with so he merely aimed and let the arrow fly. From his left, more arrows flew but the three Nazgul now began to converge on one spot and he saw the golden-haired Elf stand tall, great bow bent back and flaming arrows fitted against the bowstring. He aimed upwards and waited. It seemed to Elladan watching that time slowed and he waited forever. The beat of the leathery wings sounded over the battle and the Nazgul screamed overheard, circling. The winged creature swooped low, the raking talons outstretched towards the bright warrior. Suddenly Legolas fired, straight into its belly. Elladan let his own arrows fly and shrieking horribly, the winged creature writhed and flapped away, jerking and lurching in the sky. Elladan watched it as it plunged down into a mass of Orcs, smoke billowed out from where it fell and a piercing, furious shrieking marked the Nazgul's landing.
Instantly he was aware of Legolas' danger now for the other two enraged Nazgul had arrived and swooped and harried him from overhead. In the talons of each of the creatures were many rocks and they let these fall now where Legolas stood below. Elladan saw the bright gold head duck and then the Elf was running for cover beside a dead Mumakil. Rocks showered around him and mud flew up as boulders pounded the ground. Elladan saw him hold his hands up over his head and then he fell.
His heart almost stopped and Elladan leaped over boulders and corpses to the huge carcass now half buried beneath rocks. Beneath a huge boulder, he saw stretched out a pale hand. With a cry, he scrabbled at the boulder and heaved. But he could not lift it. It was too heavy.
He heard again the leathery beat of wings and a cry, 'Nazgul- they are coming back!' Elladan scrambled for cover as a storm of rocks crashed around him. Orcs suddenly leaped over dead bodies towards him, sabres and pikes flashing. He was aware of Gimli sweeping his axe around and the clash of it against a sabre. An Orc snarled somewhere behind him but he could not look around for one was right before him, its fangs dripped red and its bright beady eyes fastened on him.
'You in't what we're lookin' for,' it grinned horribly, 'but you're an Elf an' you'll do for the minute.' And it launched itself at him.
Elladan swung his sword and met the Orc's blade, the juddering blow shook his arm for it was huge this Orc, an Uruk from the bowels of Mordor. Swiftly, it leapt back and swung round with far more grace than its bulk suggested. This time it caught a glancing blow off Elladan's armour, the blade slid off but he felt the blow knock him sideways and the ground came up to meet him. Light flashed on a sabre raised high and in the Orc's eyes was a horrible gleam. Elladan could see from the corner of his eyes that blood was spilling from somewhere and there was a burning sensation in his arm.
Not this way, he thought to himself in disappointment. Not like this.
The Orc licked its bloody lips, and then quite suddenly, its expression changed and it slowly toppled forwards. The blade glanced off his greaves and slid from the Uruk's grasp. Elladan felt a warm hand seize his own and he was pulled to his feet. His brother stood there, shock and worry in his grey eyes and relief in every line of his body.
'Do not do that to me, brother!' Elrohir was saying when Elladan could make out his words. He brushed his fingers lightly against Elladan's cheek and then turned back into the battle.
'Wait!' Elladan caught his arm, 'Legolas fell here.' A strange expression flickered over Elrohir's face for a moment.
'Quickly then, I do not know if they will be coming back. If we are fortunate, they will believe they have hit their target.' said Elrohir but he turned and began searching amongst the rubble. He heard a gruff voice on the other side of the dead Mumakil and realised it was Gimli.
Sitting on the muddy ground was the Dwarf and beside him, mud-spattered but unharmed and already reaching for his bow, was Legolas.
'Legolas!' Elladan scrambled down from the rocks and squatted before the Woodelf. There was blood on his face, from a cut above his eye. Elladan lifted his hand to the other's face to find it batted away furiously.
'Leave me be. I do not need your charity,' Legolas almost snarled. Elladan started at the venom in his eyes, the look of utter contempt, he would say hatred but he could not think why that would be.
'It is not charity,' he replied quietly.' It is concern. Are you injured?'
Legolas pushed himself to his feet and stood, swaying slightly. He put his hand to his brow and when he brought it away, he stared uncomprehending at the blood on his fingers. He shook his head slightly and then stared at Elladan. Still dazed he glanced up and caught sight of Elrohir standing a little way off, sword still drawn and on guard, watching the sky for the Nazgul's return.
'I need not your concern either!' This time it was a snarl. 'I would not grieve for either of your deaths so give me none of your pity. Contempt has been enough until now.'
Elladan heard Gimli say something but Legolas ignored them both and strode away between the debris and jetsam of battle, stooping to pick up his knives which had been torn from his grip by the assault of the Nazgul. Elladan was not the only one to see how stiffly, how painfully the Elf straightened up and knew he was injured. He could only watch as the Dwarf went after him. Elladan felt a bitter pain in his heart then and looked back to Elrohir for explanation. What he saw was Elrohir watching the Mirkwood Elf, but whereas before he had stared like he was starving, there was a different sort of hunger there now. Elladan looked away, and wondered if he had not the same hunger in his own eyes.
It was one of those moments in battle when there is a lull and Elladan was able to look across the battle field and take stock. The sun had finally broken through and was high overhead now and the rainclouds had parted to give comfort to all the hearts of Gondor. But the storm had left the Pelennor churned to mud, great tracks had torn up the turf as engines of war had been dragged towards the city gates which stood blasted open. Flames poured still from one tower of the city and great boulders, rocks were still being launched into the air to batter away the crumbling walls. A steady thump, thump echoed across the valley beneath the rain-washed sky and the air was filled, not with the clean smell of earth after rain, but the copper smell of blood and the salt smell of meat, for there were carcasses everywhere.
On a small hill, he caught sight of the green banner that was Rohan's and beside it was Aragorn's own black banner with the White Tree. He made his way towards it, hoping to find Aragorn.
As he weaved between the groups of fighting Men and Orcs, of Haradrim and Southrons, dodged trolls and Uruks and horses, he saw Corbarad struggling with a Haradrim warrior and clearly outmatched. Swiftly, Elladan ran towards the two Men and clashed blades with the Haradrim. The Haradrim's carved and embellished armour caught in the brief sun and it reminded him of the flash of the knives in Legolas' hand. But he turned with elven speed and slashed across the Man's chest, opening a terrible red wound.
An arrow whizzed by his ear and he glanced over his shoulder to see Legolas fitting another arrow to his Lorien bow. Ahead of him a huge Uruk stumbled and fell, the arrow sticking out of its throat, open-mouthed and gargling it clutched at the arrow and fell thrashing upon the ground. Elladan pulled Corbarad from beneath the Uruk and the Man wiped away the black blood that spurted from the wound. He nodded his thanks to Elladan and struggled to his feet, ignoring the Uruk still clutching its throat and gasping horribly.
Suddenly the ground seemed to shake and tip sideways. A trumpeting bellow shattered the air around them and through the fog, a Mumakil appeared. On its back was a tent loaded with archers who now shot deadly darts amongst the fighting crowds, indiscriminate they seemed but one thin red shaft pierced Corbarad and his mouth opened wordlessly as he rose to his feet.
The Mumakil moved relentlessly onwards, its long, slow strides crushing anything, everything in its path. Its thick grey hide was already peppered with arrows that did not seem to bother it, and Elladan leaped to the side to try to get out of its way. As he leaped, his foot caught on the arrow protruding from the still-thrashing Uruk and he fell sprawling in the path of the huge beast.
Time seemed to slow and he heard Elrohir shouting his name, became aware that his brother was leaping over fallen bodies towards him, aware that it would take Elrohir straight into the path of the Mumakil and they both would be crushed…and then suddenly the great beast shook its head furiously, its great tusks raking along the ground, and it veered off left and miraculously away from both. It seemed to stumble onto one knee, and then hauling itself up, it righted itself. But the lurching and stumbling tipped Haradrim archers from its tent and they fell crashing to the ground and were crushed. The Mumakil bellowed in pain and its head thrashed from side to side, its great trunk curled up to its eye and then Elladan saw a green-fletched arrow in its eye before it disappeared back into the fog and smoke once more.
Suddenly the earth shook tremendously and a great cloud of dust rose up even above the smoke and fog already lying across the battlefield. For a moment, all was quiet, and then it seemed the noise of battle surged back once more. He stumbled to his feet and grasped Elrohir's arm briefly.
He had lost sight of Aragorn briefly and now searched for him. The Man was pulling his great sword from the twitching carcass of a huge Southron half-Man half Orc. Barely had he done this when he whirled his blade round him, and sliced an Orc's face in half, the pointed blackened teeth exposed in its cheek. Spattered with blood, both red and black, Aragorn was terrible to behold. It seemed the Elessar, the great green jewel he had pinned on his breast, glowed and Elladan thought such had Elendil looked at the Last Alliance.
Aragorn wiped sweat from his brow and scraped his knuckle on the star of Elendil that Halbarad had insisted he wear. He felt slightly self-conscious but admitted to himself it had made many an enemy pause and stare and had certainly filled the Men of Gondor with new courage. He lifted Anduril and swept it round, slicing through the scalp of a Haradrim warrior. He supposed he would have to get used to it if he were victorious this day… an arrow whizzed past his ear and drove deep into the heart of a great Southron half-Man Half troll and he drove his sword into its trembling corpse to make sure it did not rise. He was tired. But he lifted Anduril once more and charged into the fray.
Ahead of him, he glimpsed a familiar figure, bright copper-gold hair, fighting beneath a standard of the White Horse of Rohan. He grinned to himself and fought his way to the Man. Around him the fighting seemed to die away briefly, tangled knots of Men were around him but as is so often in battle, there was a moment of calm.
He strode forwards, lifting his helm from his head and holding out his hand in greeting. Eomer stared and then laughed a loud, delighted sound that was incongruous in the midst of battle.
'Thus we meet again, though all the hordes of Mordor lie between us,' said Aragon, clasping Eomer's' hand. 'Did I not say so at the Hornburg?'
'So you spoke,' Eomer grinned at him with shining eyes, 'but hope oft deceives and I knew not then you were a man foresighted! Yet twice blessed is help unlooked for, and never was meeting of friends more joyful'* He looked beyond Aragorn over the Dúnadan's shoulder as if searching for someone. 'Are all our friends well?' Eomer asked. 'Gimli? I have yet to learn manners at the tender knee of that one.' He laughed and then, looking at Aragorn intently, asked, 'And Legolas? He too is unharmed?'
'Gimli was behind me a moment ago,' Aragorn rubbed his hand over his nose, feeling the mud and blood on his face, in his hair. He glanced behind him at the struggling masses below him, searching for the Dwarf. He would have to go on soon he knew. 'Legolas …' He felt a sudden pang of guilt and Eomer froze when he saw Aragorn's hesitation.
'He is not…?'
'No. He is alive. He was injured at Pelargir but he is healed,' Aragorn said evasively.
Suddenly a huge Uruk lumbered towards them and he was saved of any further explanation because Eomer levelled his spear at the Orc and lunged forwards, impaling the beast on its sharp blade. The Uruk bellowed in pain and squirmed on the blade but only cut its innards more deeply. Eomer held fast and Aragorn ran to hold it with him. Together they drove it deep and plunged it in further so the Orc gasped and then fell still.
The two Men stood for a moment holding the lance with its heavy weight dead and their eyes met briefly and glanced away, both remembering a similar sight that was of a battle far away beneath the leaves of the great forest in the north.**
'You come none too soon, my friend,' Eomer said. 'Much loss and sorrow has befallen us.'*
Much sorrow has befallen us all, thought Aragorn. He silently cursed the Dead who had so clouded his thoughts that he had not seen what was happening, the conflict that had erupted between Legolas and Elrohir, and that had brought tension between his beloved brothers, and between himself and Gimli…Strangely it seemed so much easier during the days of the Fellowship. And he had yet to face Denethor…
'Then let us avenge it, ere we speak of it,'* he said softly. Eomer met his gaze and to Aragorn, he looked older, as if a great sorrow clung to him.
Through the fog and mist that followed the rain and fire, Gimli saw Aragorn stride forwards to greet Eomer and clasp his arm. But fighting Men, Gondor and Haradrim came between him and Aragorn. The Haradrim were fierce and gave no quarter and expected none. Gimli saw a Gondorian warrior pulled from his horse and his throat cut, blood bubbled from the gash in his throat as his horse shied away. Gimli did not pause however. He had seen worse and it was what one expected in war. Kill or be killed. He stooped and grasped a pike from the dead hands of an Easterling, or it was close enough to a pike for a Dwarf to use it as such.
A rider galloped alone between the great Mumakil, his horse terrified and its eyes rolling. It tossed its head and screamed in fear as the great trunk swooped down but it was a Rohan steed and loved its rider. Gimli cheered aloud as the rider's sword gutted the great beast from below and a hot spill of entrails spewed from the monster's belly.
Gimli barely paused before he too was assailed on both sides by the fell Easterlings. He had already observed their deadly skill with their curved swords and knew their courage. Briefly he regretted that they fought on opposite sides for he thought he could respect these warriors. Circling he swung his axe and let out a mighty bellow as he swept the air… air? He looked about puzzled to see both Men lying with an arrow in their throat. He looked around furiously.
'Legolas! They were mine! I am counting them!' He could not see the Elf but that meant nothing. He did not have to wait long however, for as he had said before, there were plenty for both of them.
'Gimli, look out!' a shout behind made him whirl round in time to step beyond the reach of one red-clad warrior, his face masked against the smoke and dust. Gimli grunted and swung his axe beneath the warrior's defence and the slash opened his chest. He looked up to thank the one who had warned him and saw it was Halbarad and his blade dripped black blood. He raised his sword in brief salute to Gimli's nod of thanks. But even as he did, Halbarad's expression changed to one of astonished pain. He suddenly fell forwards onto his knees, and blood soaked his clothes. He held out one hand to Gimli who grasped it and catching the Man as he fell, stared round in horror. A black shaft stuck out of Halbarad's back and the horrible rattle in his throat told Gimli all he needed.
'Aragorn!' he bellowed. 'Aragorn! Come! I need you here!' But the dreadful noise of the riders, the siege engines and the ring of steel on steel drowned out his voice and it was lost in the din of war.
He looked down at the ashen face of the Man who slumped against him. He held his cold hand and pushed his hair out of his eyes. 'Now come,' he said gruffly, 'you cannot leave him now whom we both love. Not on the eve of his triumph.'
'He will triumph will he not?' Halbarad rasped, his eyes were glazed and he was no longer focused on Gimli but on some other sight over his shoulder.
A hand grasped Gimli's shoulder and he was aware of another's warmth. 'Yes. Look. Even now he is victorious. See, our enemies flee the field. The day is ours.'
Gimli looked up at the dark Elven warrior who leaned over him with tears in his eyes, his stern face gentle in grief. Halbarad's breath struggled once, twice and then no more. Gimli felt the Elven warrior's grip on his own shoulder tighten almost painfully.
There was a silence then and the sounds of battle seemed to fade for a moment. Elrond's son leaned over then and lightly brought his fingers to Halbarad's face, stroked his cheek once and then drew his eyes closed. Then he straightened slightly and turned his face away from Gimli.
'His was ever a noble heart,' he said softly. 'And it is hard to bear when the fighting is all but done.' He drew a deep sigh and then he glanced over his shoulder to where two others stood in sorrow and said, 'Take him to where the White Horse of Rohan flies. Aragorn is there.' Gimli felt the still warm body lifted from his arms and two Dúnedain took him hence and the Dwarf bowed his head in sorrow.
Legolas glimpsed the Dwarf kneeling in the mud, head bowed and his heart plummeted. With a cry he whirled and stabbed the Orc he tangled with. It grabbed at him as he fled away towards Gimli, his heart pounding as it had not even in the heat of battle, his blood surged in fear. Before he even reached the Dwarf however, one of the sons of Elrond stood over him and when the Half-Elf shifted slightly Legolas saw with blessed relief that Gimli held in his arms a Man's body and it was not Aragorn.
He recognised Halbarad and panted with relief and then shame at his relief that it was not Gimli wounded, that it was not Aragorn who lay dead, but another.
He did not pause for the Sons of Elrond were there and he still could not bear to look upon them. He drew his knife over the throat of an Easterling and let the Man drop at his feet. War was not honourable, there was no grace in slaughter or pleasure. It just had to be done.
Arrows in the hide of a fallen Orc were about as good as he was likely to get now and he took a chance in the lull of battle that seemed to have fallen, to replenish his empty quiver. Legolas did not wish to put his foot on the Orc's hide and grasp an arrow so he searched the ground for more easily gleaned arrows. Several had stuck into the mud but many were damaged and he threw them away in disgust.
Glancing around him, the Elf realised that the sun was setting and although the acrid smell of burning and smoke was still everywhere, the sound of fighting had lessened, almost ceased at least in the immediate area around him. Instead was the sound of the wounded and dying, the moaning and quiet weeping. Great sounds of creaking wheels or cracking wood drifted over the battle field from somewhere away to the East but he could not see what it was and he was still far from the walls of the city. He could only see the outline of the siege engines in the smoldering reek of war. All around him were bodies, corpses, Men, Orcs and horses. A huge Mumakil lay unmoving, like an enormous grey boulder. Of the Nazgul there was no sign now. He canted his head slightly to one side and listened for the sough of great leathery wings, and scanned the sky for any sign of the huge winged beasts that might signify the Nazgul's return… but it remained empty. He remembered the graze of the Nazgul against the edge of his mind… and it had known him, somehow… recognised that it had encountered him before. The thought was unnerving. But the open expanse of blue sky was empty.
For the first time, Legolas realised that the rain had stopped. The sun's last rays lit up the white towers of Ecthelion and Legolas was reminded of Boromir.
He threw down his knives and still empty quiver and sank onto the squelching mud-trampled ground. He stared at a track made by a siege engines, deeply gouged in the earth. Water that pooled in the track was red and gradually he realised it was blood. So much blood. Suddenly it was all too much and he wanted to bury his head in his arms for a moment but he knew better than to let his guard drop even now. Still, he felt his breath hitch in a slight sob. He was tired of the fighting. He wanted to be home amongst the trees, beneath the dappled sunlit leaves, to feel the soft moss and pine needles, to smell something other than blood and the rotting flesh of the slain.
Slowly he realised the dampness of the mud churned beneath his feet. His boots were wet and stained with mud and blood and his eyes felt gritty. He lifted his head to see that the fighting had all but ceased and there were only one or two small groups of riders skirmishing on the edges of the battle field. They seemed to be pursuing and harrying a small number of Haradrim warriors who ran before them on foot, but Legolas had no stomach for this relentless rout of Men. There were no Orcs left alive.
The sky was flooded with the red light of the setting sun and it seemed to Legolas that it was on fire, and filled with blood. Before him the field of the Pelennor stretched and the rain- soaked earth was red. A horse stood nearby, its head hanging low and snuffling at the hair of a dead Rohirrim.
He pushed himself up and stood looking away towards the river, away West. Under the great red globe of the setting sun, it seemed the water was red, a river of blood.* He felt it was a sign of the end and a great fall, but he was only a Woodelf and not one of the Wise; he knew it only in the same way he had known that the wind was changing long before it did.
Behind him, where Halbarad had struck it, the great banner of the White Tree flared and snapped in the wind alongside the White Horse of Rohan. Suddenly Legolas felt an unbearable loneliness. It was no different from other great battles he had fought in; fighting the Shadow in the southern forest, the Battle of the Five Armies at Erebor, Helm's Deep… He went to look for Gimli and Aragorn and to check that Nestor was unharmed, that Eomer had survived and to find the Hobbits. He needed to speak and listen to another voice, to hold someone, to feel warmth and know that he lived, that others lived and he was not alone in this strange land fighting alongside Men whilst in his own land, Elves were slain.
Next chapter: Many Meetings.
*Extracts from the ROTK
** This incident referred to is from Deeper than Breathing for those who have not read it – in Chapter 13 Saruman – Saruman shows Legolas a vision of Mirkwood under siege and Thranduil killed in a similar way to this Orc. Eomer and Aragorn are also there and see the vision.
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