9. 9 - Ready To Fall
- Chapter 9 / Ready To Fall -
The heavy gates closed with a snap as the last of the refugees crossed the threshold of the Hornburg. Soon the courtyard emptied, and only soldiers patrolled the small space. They looked weary and fearful, and I understood their worry all too well. For the thunder of thousands of footsteps echoed down the valley, growing louder as the hours passed; the very stones of the fortress seemed to shake, the ground moaned in pain beneath that army. And if we could not see our enemy yet, we knew that it came unnumbered.
These were not starved, angry men. These were not filthy Dunlendings; they came not for our lands or our crops. The army that would soon mass beneath our walls existed for one purpose: destroy the land of Rohan completely, wipe out every man, woman and child of our blood, so that there would be no-one left to pick up a weapon in the years to come.
I could hear one of the royal guards calling for the women and children, instructing them to take shelter in the Glittering Caves; but I lingered on the ramparts. Pulling the shawl tighter around my shoulders, I looked once again to the end of the valley. There, before the setting sun, rose a cloud of dust. Death walks swiftly, I mused.
"They will be here by nightfall."
I jumped at Legolas' voice beside me, and turned towards him. He paid no attention to my surprise; his eyes were fixed on the horizon, his hands resting on the stone rampart. To an onlooker he would have seemed relaxed, as though our conversation was casual and friendly.
"Ten thousand are coming," he said quietly. "At least." He turned to look at me. "Our hope is gone, Morwrei."
I could see that he was telling the truth, as I had asked him to; but to hear him speak of our doom with such certainty was terrifying. Yet there was no fear in his eyes, only a quiet impatience that death should leave him waiting a few hours more, like an unpleasant task he had to achieve and would rather be over with.
And I did not question how he knew it; but to stand beside him in silence made me feel uneasy.
"I am sorry… For your friend," I muttered, and immediately regretted it – for even though Aragorn's death saddened me, I remembered all too well how these condolences always sounded false from the lips of those who didn't know the fallen.
Legolas turned away and closed his eyes for a few seconds. "It was not his time," he whispered through his teeth, his calm façade cracking. "Not his land, not his people… Not his quest." His pale hands gripped the stone rampart.
I was not offended by his words: after all, we owed too much to him and his friends to demand that they took any form of pride from their help. They had already done enough for Rohan; they could have left us to fight our own battles. But here he was, an elf from a distant kingdom, ready to die for a lost cause. My heart constricted in empathy with his pain, echoing my own grief, and I wondered at his courage and determination. Legolas would have had centuries ahead of him… Did thousands of years of living make the idea of death more acceptable? Or was there really such a thing as a higher ideal, a cause worth sacrificing one's future for? I could not tell; my cause was my own survival, and it had been long since I had looked beyond that only goal. But the idea of dying for something worthy suddenly seemed strangely appealing, almost romantic.
I bit back a bitter smile as I forced my mind back to the harsh reality. From what I had witnessed, there was little glory or beauty in death.
"I had hoped to die in my forest," Legolas muttered. "To see it one last time before my eyes closed."
"I had hoped to die in a bed, of old age, all shrivelled up and completely senile," I retorted.
His face lit up as he smiled briefly, still facing the horizon. "Ai, no matter how long I could have lived I am certain I would never see your mind so dulled. Even old and shrivelled up you would remain as cunning as ever."
"And turn into one of those manipulative old creatures who terrify everyone with their plotting and gossiping?" I shook my head, thinking over that unattractive – and now unattainable – future. "Maybe it is better this way," I added softly.
Legolas' smile vanished as he turned to look at me. "Yet there is still a chance for you," he said quietly. "I heard there is a passage through the mountain, to safety. I want you to take it."
"We will not go far," I shrugged. Somehow, his indifference seemed to have seeped into me. I felt strangely calm and detached, almost at peace for the very first time since long.
"But you will have a chance," he insisted. His eyes flashed with a feverish hope. "Yes, you should have a chance. We will defend the hold to our last breath. This should give you enough time…"
I smiled sadly, shaking my head at his sudden surge of optimism. "And where will I go?" I said. "When you fall, when Rohan falls, I will be left with no home or family."
Legolas scoffed. "From the little I know about you, Morwrei, I doubt not that you will survive." He sobered as I cocked a cynical eyebrow. "Please."
I flinched when I felt his hand touch mine; his skin was warm, a strong contrast against the rising cold of the evening. "Please, go. Save yourself." His eyes bore into mine with heart-stopping intensity. "I want you to live."
My hand was trapped in his strong yet gentle grasp; I couldn't have pulled away, even if I had wanted to. I felt light-headed, like after a run or a strong wine. All my thoughts were focused on the sensation of his hand on mine.
"I want you to live… So that you remember what happened to me."
The cool touch of metal on my skin made me look down. There, on my middle finger was a heavy golden signet ring, engraved with a delicate leaf.
I brutally pulled my fingers from his grasp. "What is this?" I frowned, confused, and started to pull the ring off. "I cannot…"
"You can, and you will." Legolas captured my hands in his and looked into my face. His jaw was set, his eyes flashing. "I am sorry if I offended you, but you must understand." He squeezed my hands in urgency, his strength transpiring in the gesture, and I refrained from wincing in pain as the edge of the ring bit into my skin. "Keep it as something to help you remember me by," he whispered. His voice wavered as he drew back, his hands covering mine for an instant longer before he pulled them away. "As a proof. When this is over, I need you to find my father. Seek King Thranduil of Mirkwood. Give him this ring… Tell him that I died with honour."
A gift so magnificent would have delighted me if not forced by desperation. I would have refused – let another serve as the messenger of a son's doom; but I could not utter a word, and so the ring remained on my finger, heavy and ill-boding. I realized that I was witnessing a rare moment, a crack in Legolas' strong, confident façade; but I hardly felt privileged. No, seeing him so vulnerable scared me much more than his certainty about our upcoming death.
I opened my mouth to speak, but as a cry rose from the gates, Legolas turned away abruptly. As he ran down the stairs to disappear beneath the ramparts, I scowled, suspecting that he had caught this excuse to disappear before I could protest at the role he had laid on my shoulders. Of all people, why had he chosen me?
I shook my head to clear my thoughts, but in vain. I was confused and embarrassed, as though I had witnessed something that I should not have; and I dreaded what the future would bring, should Legolas fall. Of course, I could always keep the ring and not say a word; no promise had been made, no witnesses had heard his request. No-one would know… But that idea weighed heavier on my conscience than I had imagined. Legolas was ready to die to protect us – to protect me. I owed him this, and the thought made me uncomfortable. It had been too long since I had depended on someone, or been trusted in turn. Legolas knew about my betrayals and acts of cowardice, and still he had entrusted me with his last wish. Many in his place would have thought twice about it, but not he. In a way, it was a honour and a comfort, to be seen as worthy of trust once again.
I turned the ring toward my palm and clenched my fist. So be it. Mirkwood was as good a destination as any other place, for a person who belonged nowhere.
Trudging down the stairs, I almost ran into the crowd that was gathering again around the entrance. I looked up, and gaped in shock as Legolas scooped a weary-looking Aragorn into a crushing embrace. This could not be…! Instinctively, I searched the crowd for Éowyn, and indeed there she was, her face shining with incredulous joy, and hope renewed in her eyes. And she was not the only one changed by Aragorn's return. Legolas grinned as he pulled away, playfully patting his friend on the shoulder. Where was the solemn, desperate elf who had all but begged me to take his remains to his father? Where was the resigned warrior? My fingers clenched on the ring. Elves! Strange, fleeting creatures were they indeed, and it was one of them who had called me inconstant! Well, he could keep his tricks and tokens. I would not play these confusing games; they were beyond my wit or understanding.
As though Legolas had heard me think he looked up, and for a second his smile lost some of its brightness, his eyes flickered back into seriousness; and all my doubts about his sincerity faded. He nodded, and hurried to follow Aragorn into the hold, leaving me standing there in confusion once again.
I turned around to see a guard watching me hesitantly. "My Lady, you should go into the Caves now."
I looked around; indeed, the courtyard was empty save for the few men who stood guard on the ramparts. So I followed him, casting one last look towards the sunlight and the freedom before the sound of lamentations and worried whispers echoing off the walls of the immense cavern hit me. It was as though I had stepped into another world, one of chaos and despair. All around me were weeping women and terrified children, wailing with all the might of their little lungs. Where was the reassurance of the hiding place? Where was the sense of safety? All I saw was fear; the air was thick with it. And as the heavy doors closed on me, I understood that the hardest part was the ignorance and the wait. It would be a long, painful night, and no matter what dawn would bring, those locked inside with me were already defeated.
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.