4. Battle of the Pelennor - The Aftermath...
Smoke still rose from the white city, but its fires had for the most part been contained and were fading. But the black smoke stains tarnished its white stone façade… where the stone was not damaged. And the air… death was in it. Every breath you smelled it. So many people were out in the fields in search of their loved ones. There were wives and mothers looking for their husbands and sons. Wounded soldiers looked for their missing comrades, and some of the Rohirrim grieving for their fallen horses. Yes, the smell of death... the crying of those who found whom they searched for, and the moans of those not yet dead from their wounds filled the air.
I am Hanasían, a Dúnedain Ranger from the northern lands of Eriador. I am weary from the days past, where the last decent sleep I, and my brethren had was in Dunharrow nearly a fortnight ago. Yet I sleep not, for I write now for the dead... those fallen in this great battle outside Minas Tirith be they man or woman of Gondor, Arnor, or the Rohirrim. We had defeated Sauron's armies on this field. But the cost was high and this war is not yet over. For he hides now behind his great iron gates of Mordor, gathering his remaining strength, while we ourselves attempt to regain ours.
It seem a lifetime ago when I, along with well over two-dozen of my brethren answered a summons by our Captain Halbarad. He said we needed to ride in haste to come to aid our Chieftain Aragorn away south in the land of Rohan. We, along with the Sons of Elrond did ride south with speed, meeting Lord Aragorn and the escort of King Theoden of Rohan not long after crossing the River Isen. As the Rohirrim mustered for war, the foresight of Aragorn led us to take the Paths of the Dead. Of that part of the journey I have much to say, for Aragorn proclaimed himself to the Dead... he proclaimed himself Isildur's Heir! And they were called to the Stone of Erech to fulfill their oath. But here now I write for the new dead, those who lay about me here, those who will not return to their homes and families.
To the mouth of the Anduin we came in haste, and there with the aid of the dead and some local men (of whom I also have much to say, but again, another day) we fought and defeated the Corsairs of Umbar, the ancient brethren who had fallen into darkness and become enemies of Gondor. With their oath of old to Isildur fulfilled, Aragorn gave the dead their leave, and we took the corsair ships up the river. To Minas Tirith we came, arriving with the city engulfed in smoke and flame. Battle raged in and around the city walls, and elsewhere inside the Rammas Echor.
Swords rang, bows twanged, and engines thundered their deadly projectiles as the ships came ashore. The worst fighting I saw were where it was men fighting men… Easterlings battled Gondorians near the broken gates of the city; Variags fought we Dunedain; Southrons and their mumakil against the Rohirrim and their horses. The beasts of Harad rampaging and the horses of the Rohirrim storming in terror.... So much death... We engaged the enemy almost immediately, but not before our surprise was complete.
A wound I had taken near my left eye, a lasting memory of the Variags of Khand. He came at me from behind in a ravenous yell, leaping down from the body of a slain mumakil. I had just turned an axe of his brethren and I turned, but I could not react in time. Pain I felt as I fell backward, the warmth of my blood rushing down my face. His knife would have claimed me but for the sure sword of Halbarad taking off his arm. But still we fought, for he tried to take my sword with his remaining hand. We wrestled and fell to the ground, and I killed him with a knife I found. It was his knife, still in the grip of his severed limb. He was dead but there was no time to think, for another came at me. As soon as one was dispatched another would jump at you, or you would stop another from the blind side of your brethren. Their attacks were fierce, but our defense was even more so. As a group we pressed on from the shores of the river toward the city. But chaos of a stampeding oliphaunt caused many of us to scatter. It was then I saw Halladan go down with a blow from a screaming Southron falling from the beast, but I could not tend him. Easterlings, ruthless in their attacks, came upon us. My blade rang and my foe's axe shattered, blood flew everywhere when darkness closed around me....
A pain I felt in my head, wondering if it was still upon my shoulders. I remember thinking that I should move my hand, and the feeling that came over me was pain. My eyes cleared the foggy grey that crept into the dark, and blurry figures moved about before me. Somehow I stood, my sword still in my hand. I shook my head in a shudder to either shake off the webs that filled it, or see if it would fall to the ground. And just as suddenly, an Easterling jumped before me swinging his axe. My arm moved and deflected his blow, and the Variag knife I still gripped in my other hand buried into his neck. I now fought, I was not thinking or seeing. Rage drove me on, slaying and swinging. I nearly had the head of a fair armored Gondorian soldier, his helm long missing and his face dark with dirt and blood. He too moved against me, and our swords coming together rang out a song that awakened us both from our blindness. Looking around, pockets of battle still raged, but the west was having the day. Without thought, I, and the young Gondorian stood back-to-back, taking down those orcs who still pressed their masters will. But soon fatigue had taken us, and we sat and leaned against each other, fatigue claiming us.
In the aftermath people searched, With Halladan finding me sitting against a smashed siege tower. I was surprised to see him, for I had seen him fall. He was missing a part of his scalp, but was in good cheer to find me. I looked around for the young Gondorian soldier I had fought with, for I wished to know him. But there was no sign of his presence, and I would never know who he was. Halladan walked me towards the gates of the city where tents were being used to treat the wounded.
In ones and twos and threes we Dunedain brethren of the north came again together. Most, like me, had minor wounds of one sort or another, and as we gathered outside the smashed gates of the city, we looked about. Who had we lost? Aragorn himself came to us. He looked each in the face, the strain of battle on us all He seemed evermore relieved as his eyes met each of ours in turn. We all had lived with some of us having wounds to show. His look of relief suddenly become strained as he looked swiftly back over us, and he asked solemnly… where was Halbarad?
His hand was needed, for inside the city the house of healing was filled and overflowing with soldier and citizen alike. Those who could not be brought inside were laid in the streets, tended as best as could be. Out in the fields the tents of the wounded filled likewise, and the remaining were laid nearby where there was room. I had some healing experience, and so once my eye was tended and I could see straight, I did what I could for those wounded still in the field. All the while I looked for Halbarad, and my heart would tighten with each man I tended that I knew by their wound they would be dead by days end. What do you say to them? It is hard... so many dead and dying. A man of the Rohirrim, a young man he was. He was I would guess we just saw his twentieth winter. He talked in his native Rohirric tongue to his comrade next to him. He asked me to see to his friend, in good Westron like all was well. He knew he would die soon, but his concern was for his comrade who sat next to him. His friend didn't seem wounded but for a drying stream of blood that had run down his temple. But his mind was gone and he would stare only at a clover he pulled from the grass. The dying man told me he had taken a hard blow from the ground when his horse was slain in full gallop and fell from under him. The dying man told me his name, and only wanted me to promise his friend would get home ok, even while the last of his blood flowed out of him and he faded to death. I held his hand for a moment before his fried took it from me. I nodded and moved on.
The day was darkening, and I helped my brethren Kayan to our camp. His leg was badly mangled, and though he would live, he would suffer a severe limp. As we made our way, a halfling, dressed in the soiled and bloodied attire of the Palace Guard, wandered forlornly about, looking at the dead and dying. Others from the city searched still too, but most were now grieving while others prepared funeral pyres. As the night closed about us, the sons of Elrond joined us. We were for the most part together again, but still Aragorn's question remained....
Where was Halbarad?
We all asked ourselves this as we rested into the night. No sign of him had been seen since our moment of scattering. Kaldil had seen him last, standing upon the body of a slain mumakil, hewing the Southrons that had not the fear and sense to leave him be. But another mumakil stormed by and the dust was raised, and afterward, those who looked saw him there no more. We searched the place and found many a corpse, but not a sign of Halbarad.
The darkness of night claimed the lands as we rested and wept. Those of us who were able, readied themselves for the day to come, and those whose wounds were ill were set to rest and heal. Word had been carried from the city that the King had indeed come, but here where we encamped, our Chieftain joined us. It was not yet time.
Aragorn's face showed weariness that I had not seen before, and the edges of his hair and beard seemed to have a silvery aura to them. The firelight detailed the lines of care that shrouded him, but I saw not the tired Ranger Chieftain that fought hard a day's battle, but a man wizened. Wizened by the depth of his burden, and the knowing gut feeling that our friend and lieutenant would not see the light of another day. It was what we all felt inside really, though nobody spoke of it. Instead we spoke of the days to come, and what they held. Words of days in the north when our burden was to watch over the lands of the Shire we shared. Of times good and the weddings aplenty, of sons and daughters born in the quiet of the homes and the Midsummer's eve celebrations past. A feeling of cheer and laughter came out amongst some of us, pushing aside this day but for a time. But this too passed, and with a final chuckle of a memory long gone, silence again overtook the Rangers.
The fire crackled and the flicker of its light made the shadows dance. Around the fields there were other fires. The Rohirrim staked a large camp out farther from the city gate, and there kept their horses in check. Aragorn looked up and the stood, and all of us who could stand did so to look at the shadowy horse approaching.
'Hail Dúnedain! Is this the camp of the Rangers?'
Aragorn said as he stepped forward to have his back to the firelight. I too stepped forward at his left, and Kaldil did so at his right. The rider dismounted his horse and stood for a second. Our eyes seeing now in the darkness, we could tell he was of the Rohirrim. His helm was gone and the side of his face was covered in dried blood. We could see also that the horse was still burdened. The rider approached and spoke,
'I am Brytta of Dunharrow, and I bring bad tidings...'
Kaldil and I did not wait for Brytta's words, but went to the horse who stirred slightly from our approach. Aragorn's brow was crinkled as he cut the man's speech off...
'You bring us Halbarad.'
We lifted the bloodied body from the horse and carried him near the fire where Kallam prepared a place for him in Aragorn's tent. Aragorn looked at the wounds and his eyes grew wet with tears. Halbarad still breathed, but it was labored and slow, the sounds ill. His last strength lifted his hand to Aragorn's, and we knelt beside as Brytta stepped away to allow us a last moment with our comrade. Short burst of whispered, gurgling speech came forth from Halbarad as his eyes opened.
'My... my king! Your hour has come! But ere its passing I will join my fathers...'
'Quiet my friend and rest, for my hands will heal ...'
'Nay my lord. Not even the hands of a king can repair these wounds of arrow, sword, and knife. See now! Varda opens her cloak of twilight to light your way, and to carry me home. Speak well of me to my son and daughter...'
It was beyond Aragorn to say he would heal, but while he breathed there still was hope. Each of us came and sat for a time with Halbarad, mostly in silence as he rested. I could not speak, for I could not feel his strength. With a squeeze of his hand, I departed. Aragorn soon re-joined him, and he closed the tent to rest with Halbarad. Aragorn lay beside him, their hands bound together as a rough sleep overcame him.
We too took rest in tent or outside. Brytta stayed with us for a time, telling of the deeds of Halbarad that he saw. Apparently he had jumped from the dead beast where we had last seen him, and battled there the remaining Southrons that still stood. The thunder of the mumakil had scattered many of the Rohirrim, and Brytta rode headlong toward a wayward band of orcs that sought to slay the dour-handed Ranger standing alone. Brytta slew a couple while Halbarad slew more, and then he was pulled atop the horse and they turned about. The retreat was chaos as Easterling, Southron and orc ran this way and that, and the fight was drained from most. Halbarad was bleeding from a knife wound that was poisoned, and turned swords had cut his arms and legs. But the death knell of Halbarad was when a band of orc bowmen fired upon then in unison. Brytta's horse reared, taking an arrow and spilling he and Halbarad to the ground. Brytta split his head on rock debris, while Halbarad quickly regained his footing. The orcs were slinging arrows and fired as Brytta, stood dazed. Halbarad jumped to push him out of the way of the volley, but one late arrow caught him in the side, piercing his lung.
I noted this account in detail, and Brytta finished this telling and excused himself after his head was cleaned and bandaged. We rested as best we could, sleeping from exhaustion of nothing else, but were soon awake with the coming of daylight. The westward winds pushed back the darkness of Mordor, and the skies cleared with light clouds. Halbarad was lying in state in a field of honor of the fallen. King Theoden was there as well as many captain and soldier, of great renown or unknown, for many had fallen that day. Yes, Halbarad, the sullen Ranger and our friend had passed to his fathers in the night. His son and daughter will only have memory of him from before he rode south. His wife widowed at her prime. So it is with war, and now Aragorn gathered in council with Mithrander, Éomer, Prince Imrahil, and Elrond's sons Elladan and Elrohir.