Companies of Rohirric cavalry rode through the frenzy on the field, their spears swift and steady in their dance, darting in and out at the Orcs, creatures, and human enemy.
This macabre dance was no formal dance, no structured or choreographed waltz, and no impassioned tango. It reminded me more of old jazz. No rhyme, rhythm, or reason.
It was chaos.
Nothing in my world could have prepared me for this battle. No battle my people’s military had seen in ages could have equaled it. And no Hollywood imagining could have done it justice.
There was no overriding command and leadership that moved companies of men about the fields like chess pieces on the board. There was no inspiring music score to tug at the heart and swell emotions of a moviegoer.
There was only blood, death, and dying. And the prayer that you were only on the delivering end of those things.
It was like nothing I could have imagined on that field. Men and creatures fought and died all around me, blood soaking the ground until the dried grass had wilted with the slickness of that viscous fluid.
There were no formations to fight in, at least not for those of us on foot. The Rohirrim on horseback rode back together several times at the sounding of horns from their captains, but those of us on foot continued as we were, pushing forward through the mass of Orcs as we could. Sometimes two soldiers on foot would come together to fight side-by-side, but invariably, one would fall leaving the other to continue fighting alone.
The ground suddenly shuddered behind me as I heard something strike the ground. I tuned to see a snowy white horse splayed out on the ground, his feet kicking impotently against his death pangs.
A great winged creature suddenly descended near the fallen horse, reaching down to clamp wicked teeth around it. The great winged beast of the Nazgûl. I thought darkly to myself that the creature seemed more like a throwback to some ancient line of Stone Age creatures, a missing link surely. And atop the creature was the previously vanished Lord of the Nazgûl, once more returned to the battle.
I fumbled back and away from the creature and his rider, finally realizing that it was Théoden beneath the white horse. In a daze, I watched as Éowyn stepped forward to fight the Black Rider, and Merry so valiantly fighting with her.
My body again quaked as I fought the dark menace that surrounded and shadowed the Lord of the Nazgûl, darker and more terrifying than nearly anything I’d ever before felt my mind immersed in, second only to the terror I’d felt when my mind had been awash with Sauron’s evil will.
My muscles continued to shake as I struggled with the task of pushing that menace away, watching Éowyn’s battle almost absently. When her shield rose to fend the Black Rider’s mace, it shattered, the pain in her now broken shield-arm driving Éowyn to her knees.
She was turned partially towards me as she gazed about in shock, her eyes landing almost unerringly on my face. I saw the pleading in her eyes as she recognized me, but there was nothing I could do to help her. The dark menace of the Ringwraith prevented me from taking even a step towards her to offer assistance. A woman and a hobbit would slay the Witch-king, but I knew this woman would be of no aid.
I closed my eyes, feeling a lone tear of regret roll down and slip from my eyelashes, falling heavily upon my chest. But I did not turn back towards Éowyn. Instead, I turned and walked away, throwing myself once more into the fray, desperate to drown my regret in blood, and amazed that even the Orcs had not strayed into such close quarters with the Witch-king and his winged creature.
My heart pounded heavily at leaving Éowyn behind to face the Nazgûl, but I reminded myself that she would defeat the Witch-king, and she would survive his dark breath. In the end, she would even find a worthy man to give her heart to. Yet in those moments as I walked away with heavy feet, it was no consolation in my heart to leave her behind. My mind recalled again and again the look of pleading and desperation in her young eyes.
I fought through the mass of Orcs, no conscious thought to any particular direction, simply pushing ever forward and slaying any Orc or Southron in my path.
The mûmakil I did avoid, those creatures greater and more terrifying than any elephant of their likeness. I was spent of arrows that would have done only little good against them anyway, so I continually veered from their path and kept my quarry smaller and more manageable to my blade.
I realized I had pushed far across the Pelennor when I heard the disheartened cries of men calling for retreat to the city at the sight of the black sails easing closer on the waters of the Anduin. And though a little ways off, I heard Éomer’s reckless and determined call for the Rohirrim to form a wall to face the Corsairs on those ships.
But I ignored Éomer’s call and turned away from those black sails, grinning almost as gleefully as the soldiers of Mordor as I turned away from the Anduin to face them. I knew no enemy would stand at my back.
Éomer’s joyous laughter suddenly rang out over the battle sounds, reaching my ears even as I crossed blades with the wicked steel of a Haradrim blade and saw the arrogant glee flee the faces of every soldier of Mordor.
No Corsairs were aboard those ships, but a banner of White Tree and Seven Stars now fluttered at the fore of the lead ship. And though it was now mid-morning, and through the night and on I had fought, I was once more invigorated, my tired limbs regaining their snappy movements as I blocked, parried, thrust, and danced about the field.
It wasn’t long before several riders overtook me on the ground. I saw new battle-fresh horses on one side, and the battle-strained horses of the Rohirrim coming together from the other side, until both forces rode as one. Once joined together, the two forces stopped, Aragorn and Éomer gladly shaking hands as they happily greeted on the battlefield.
I jogged up behind them as Éomer gripped Aragorn’s hand, just catching the tail end of the new, young king’s words, “Nor indeed more timely. You come none too soon, my friend. Much loss and sorrow has befallen us.”
“Your coming was just as timely, Éomer,” I laughed as I stopped slightly behind them. As I paused to catch my breath, I lowered my head briefly to rest my hands on my knees before wiping the sweat from my brow and looking up again. When I met the lords’ eyes, it was to many shocked stares, and I nearly stumbled backwards with the laughter that surprised even me bubbling up from my throat.
“You’d think after all the surprising forces showing up this morning—first the Rohirrim and then Dúnedain manning Corsair boats—that you guys wouldn’t be surprised by one lone woman showing up,” I laughed.
Aragorn recovered swiftest and started to swing down to greet me, but I stepped forward with a pat on his leg, stopping his movement and reaching up to offer him my hand instead. “It is somehow surprising to find you here afield, Lane. Yet why it is surprising to me, I cannot say,” he chuckled as he grasped my forearm.
He quickly introduced me to his foster brothers Elladan and Elrohir, as well as several of his Dúnedain brethren from the North. And even Éomer recovered enough to offer a shell-shocked greeting.
I glanced around curiously as Aragorn introduced a few more of his Rangers, but stopped when I heard Aragorn’s laughter.
“The one you seek is here somewhere,” he laughed. “No doubt seeking you even as your eyes scan for him. They rode from the ships with us and hastened into the melee.”
I turned to face his grin, my own face deliberately blank. “Oh? I’m glad to hear Gimli’s all right then. I’d have been upset if something happened to that dwarf. I’ve become rather fond of him.”
Everyone else turned to one another in confusion, but Aragorn laughed with deep happy sounds rolling from his belly. “I fear a certain elf shall be quite disheartened to hear of your change in heart,” he got out between laughs.
With a theatrical sigh, I planted the tip of my sword into the earth as I leaned on the hilt before I wearily replied, “Well, can’t have a moping elf, no sight sadder than that. Have to keep those elves merry, and it’ll be a hardship, but I’ll tell Gimli that he’ll have to keep looking for that special dwarven lass.” I stroked my chin contemplatively with one hand. “Probably for the best, never was too excited about the prospect of trying to grow a beard.” Then I winked devilishly at Aragorn who was finding far too much enjoyment in the bewilderment of his men. “Besides, I like my men clean-shaven themselves, less irritation on all that sensitive skin.”
Many of Aragorn’s men, and even Éomer himself, looked perplexed by the innuendo, but I could tell by the deep blushes from Aragorn and some of his older men, and oddly enough, even the two elves, that they more than caught my veiled drift.
I let my head fall back in laughter as I enjoyed their discomfort and confusion. My humor was most likely considered completely improper in this world, but in my own, battlefield humor was known to be well beyond raunchy to far worse.
Wiping the back of my arm over my forehead again, I explained to them through my chuckles, “No need to get uncomfortable. In my land, soldiers often use lewd and improper humor to levitate the grave emotions from battle. And it’s been a long night and a long morning that’s far from done.”
Aragorn had finally regained his composure, and laughed a bit though his cheeks still showed his blush. “It is much the same among men at least, though I fear we are all as yet unaccustomed to such from a woman.” He grinned as he said it, telling me with the twinkle in his eyes how well he remembered that I didn’t like being referred to as a lady.
“It is to our friend’s boon,” Aragorn continued, “that he was so able to capture the heart of such a spirited woman. And to the detriment of many men I could name who would welcome the heart and spirit of a woman like you. If only you had not made your choice so swiftly, alas, I could have found several of my kinsmen for you to choose amongst. Many men with fire in their spirits to match yours.” He gestured with a wicked smile to his standard-bearer. “Halbarad himself is of an age to be wed now, yet I know he has not yet found a woman with enough adventure in her heart to match his restless spirit.”
I laughed although I blushed a bit with his words, looking over Halbarad and several of Aragorn’s Rangers, a handful of who actually did seem a bit interested. What they possibly saw in me I wasn’t sure of. How a sweat and blood covered woman could be the slightest bit attractive was beyond me.
But I bit back a naughty grin as I rejoined, “Naw, your men keep beards too, and you know how I feel about them.”
The Rangers seemed a bit more at ease this time and did chuckle at the joke, though a few stroked their beards in a reflective manner. I hoped I hadn’t started a craze of clean-shaven Rangers trying to impress their ladies. Or perhaps their ladies would thank me?
“How come you to be afoot, Lane?” Aragorn asked next. “Were you unhorsed?”
“Naw,” I shook my head. “He’s safe up in the Citadel. Didn’t have time to go get him after the gate was broken down. So I’ve been on foot.”
Aragorn seemed surprised by that news, so I briefly explained what had happened through the night.
“Your night has indeed been long,” Aragorn answered sadly as he looked back across the field of Mordor’s forces. They had scattered and fled when it was not Corsairs debarking from the ships, giving us all this time to rest for a moment, but they would soon be marshaled by their captains and again hurled at us. “This day I fear is far from over.”
“But it too will end. And another will begin,” I steadfastly replied.
“We shall meet the Enemy and deal them such blows as to avenge what they have dealt here, my lord,” Aragorn’s standard-bearer, Halbarad, added with firm resolution shinning in his eyes.
Aragorn gave the man a fond smile. “Then let us avenge it, ere we speak of it!” Aragorn replied, spurring his horse forward once more into battle.
I sighed at leaving our break from battle behind, but strode forward determinedly, once more meeting the Enemy with the swinging might of my blade.
Only a few minutes had passed before I’d caught up with the van of Aragorn’s Rangers and Éomer’s Rohirrim. Their charge had been stopped by a rallying group of Southrons led afoot by a determined captain. Yet Aragorn and his men as well as the Rohirrim were well handling the Southrons.
Still, for some unknown reason even to myself, I worked my way closer, feeling the need to stay at their backs and watch their flanks. I couldn’t pinpoint a reason for the feeling, after all, they were mounted men, and I was on foot.
But just as I reached the throng of men, I saw a horse go down amidst a shrill scream and striking hooves. In the rider’s hand was the standard that Arwen had herself fashioned for Aragorn. Sprinting forward, I reached Halbarad just as he was stooped and struggling to pull the standard from beneath his felled horse.
How the moment would happen turned torturously in my mind. I knew Aragorn’s standard-bearer and closest kinsmen was to die in this battle. He would carry the banner onto the field where he would perish. Yet Aragorn’s fondness as he had spoken to the man, as well as his gentle teasing told me that Aragorn was close to this man in more than just blood. There had been a fondness in his voice I’d only rarely before heard in his tone. Halbarad too seemed an honorable man. His care and devotion had been evident as he spoke to Aragorn, and his smile at his kinsman’s teasing honest and carefree.
I couldn’t save Boromir and risk changing so many things, but what would Halbarad’s death further? What would saving him hurt? Couldn’t help Éowyn, either. Boromir’s gone, but maybe I can make it up by saving this man.
The thoughts raced through my mind in only a matter of split seconds, and in another instant, I made my decision.
I covered the distance between us while scanning the area for threats. A Southron closed in behind Halbarad who was still struggling to pull the wooden pole of the standard free, his eyes not seeing the dark blade arching overhead to hew him from behind.
If the Southron had merely thrust his blade forward into Halbarad’s back, I wouldn’t have made it, but as it was, I barely managed to slip between the Ranger and the swarthy man to block the blow with my own turned blade. The force still pushed me back into Halbarad, but I stepped back with the force, and slid my blade down to the earth, bringing the Southron’s curved blade with it before I pulled the large knife from my belt and slid it upwards under the other man’s ribcage. His breath left him in a soft gasp as he mumbled something unintelligible to my ears, and then slumped backwards to the ground.
Spinning, I found Halbarad just yanking the standard from beneath his horse, but from the corner of my eye, caught the sight of a bow raised in our direction. The standard of any of the kings or the prince were of course prime targets for the Enemy to take down, and one standard-bearer afoot seemed too tempting.
Without thought, I took a step over to stand in front of Halbarad, catching the dark arrow high in my chest, and slightly to the left of my midline.
The impact forced me to stumble backwards into Halbarad before my legs lost their strength. He caught me with one hand as I heard him shouting for another rider to take the standard and ride to the Aragorn’s side, and then he lowered me until I was lying on the ground, leaning back against his chest.
His words came and went to my ears, sounding like a radio station going in and out of reception.
But then, I leaned forward and took a gasping breath. My oxygen-starved lungs burning as I finally began breathing in deep, chest-racking breaths. Halbarad sat astonished behind me as I leaned forward and gave a hard yank to pull the sinister arrow away.
He scrambled around to in squat in front of me, his hands knocking mine away as he pressed his palms to my chest.
And then he realized there was no blood.
“What—how—how are you not bleeding?” he stuttered as he slowly pulled his hands away.
My trembling fingers pulled the hole in my leather jerkin and my shirt away to reveal a similar hole in my chainmail. But as I pulled the layers away at my neck and looked down, I could see the bulletproof vest I’d donned underneath. The dent in the armor from when I’d been shot in that brothel directly beneath the hole in my chainmail.
My head fell backwards against my neck as I closed my eyes, saying a grateful prayer to whatever gods—and the makers of bulletproof vests—that I hadn’t just died over my antics. And another fervent prayer of thanks to Legolas for having saved this vest for so long.
“I can’t believe this thing held up to a bullet and now an arrow,” I whispered to the sky.
“Bull-it?” Halbarad repeated.
My head fell forward as I grinned at Halbarad. “Never mind,” I told him, clapping my hands on his shoulders. “You’re alive and so am I.”
Yet as I spoke, a resounding feeling reverberated within me, until a voice seemed to echo in my heart, This, too, you shall be called to one day account for. But I brushed the voice away.
“I do not understand it,” Halbarad was saying in a bewildered voice. “You pulled that arrow from your chest, yet not a drop of blood has fallen. Even your chainmail was pierced.” As he spoke, his fingers trailed over the hole in my clothes and fingered the pierced chainmail. But he glanced up at my eyes and seemed to realize what he was doing, snatching his hands back from my chest with a guilty expression.
I touched my chest briefly, feeling the familiar ache there that I knew would soon bruise, and thanking my lucky stars that it hadn’t been a bullet from point-blank range this time. I remembered too well how much that had hurt and ached.
I looked back at the man as I spoke, really marking his features for the first time. His hair was dark, almost black, though his well-trimmed beard was a few shades lighter. His nose might have seemed long for his square face, but the beard helped to hide it. And the tight lips surrounded by beard were thin, but I’d seen them curled up into an easy smile. Those large gray eyes stared at me with concern, yet I’d seen them twinkling with mirth at Aragorn’s teasing.
Yes, he was a handsome man, his look said late-twenties, but I knew his bloodline would put him even older. A handsome man with a quick smile and easy laughter, yes, I would have once found him attractive. At least for a night. But I doubted he would have held my interest beyond that. Men never understood me, and the frustration of it always drove me away quite quickly. But in a previous life, I’d have found one night’s enjoyment with a man like this.
“Come on,” I told Halbarad, struggling to my feet and chasing those thoughts away. “The riders have pushed the Southrons back for now, but we’ll be sitting ducks if we keep sitting around here like—well, sitting ducks.”
He looked unconvinced at first, but when I’d gotten to my feet well enough and picked up my dropped sword, he stood as well and retrieved his own blade.
“It seems we are now both afoot,” he commented with a dejected look in the direction of Aragorn and the Ranger now carrying the banner.
“You did your job while you could,” I told him as I forced my tired legs forward one step at a time. “Now it’s time to concentrate on using your blade for a while.”
We strode forward together, staying close by each other to form a more formidable force.
It was many more hours before I stopped my weary legs again. The sun was dipping behind the mountains and night was falling by the time the battle was finally over. I was a ways afield with Halbarad when I looked around to find no more standing Orcs or Southrons to fight. Only the dead and dying littered the field now. And those soldiers left who wandered about looking through the slain for men they had known and rode with.
There would be very few faces I might now to look for, but I walked slowly alongside Halbarad through the battlefield as he silently looked for those familiar to his eyes. As we walked, I could hear the calls of the dying, those whom had fought on both sides. I did not understand the calls and pleas of the Southrons, but at the pleas of those dying and in obvious pain, I stopped and quickly drove a merciful blade through them.
I had driven my blade through several dying Southrons before I had finally stopped to stare down at the last one. Halbarad had been using his own blade likewise and stepped beside me to see what held my attention.
“I can’t help but think that if we were still in my own land, something could be done for many of these men. Not all of them would have to die. Many of them yes, but not all of them,” I said in answer to his unasked question.
He shrugged. “They serve the Dark Lord. Quick death is mercy enough,” he answered unemotionally.
And perhaps in the heat of battle, I would have said and thought the same. But not here and now that my battle-lust had cooled.
I turned and pointed to where a leech was attending a dying man of Gondor. “And what makes that man different from this one? During the battle, they might have even exchanged the blows that left them both dying. But now the battle is over, and what’s the difference? They’re both men who were fighting with their countrymen for their own cause. And now they’re dying or dead. Death doesn’t know which side you fight on. It comes for you regardless. And when a man’s lying there dying, he isn’t thinking about what side he fought on or if his side won or lost, he’s thinking about the friends and family he’s leaving behind. There’s really no difference between them now.”
Halbarad looked back down at the dead Southron at our feet. His skin and hair were dark; his eyes too had stared pleadingly up at me with dark orbs. Slack in death, his features were softened, the angles sharper and more accentuated than the men of the West, but still touched with a bit of the softness of youth.
“He could barely have been a man,” Halbarad whispered, his own gaze softening as he stared down, looking at the Southron with new eyes.
“And no different than any of the others barely made into men before they lost their lives on this field,” I whispered back.
“You saved my life,” Halbarad whispered, his eyes still transfixed.
I didn’t turn to look at him as I answered either, but I turned my face to look up at the shadow of the White City. It was too hard to stare at the dead as I remembered how easily either one of us could have been lying there on the blood stained ground. “And you saved my life several times, too. My body had run out of even reserves of energy by the end. You killed many men and Orcs when my blade began to waver.”
“Still, I would not be here if not for your presence,” he maintained, finally looking up at my face.
I glanced back over at him beside me. “Then consider the debt more than repaid. You probably saved me several times over.”
“You fought well; this is a battle to be celebrated in song through the ages. Perhaps when we both have found rest, we can find some ale and recall our deeds on the field,” Halbarad hopefully offered.
But I shook my head in response. “Right now I want nothing more than to sleep and forget any and all parts of this battle.”
I turned before he could speak or answer again and began walking through the field back towards the city. I couldn’t explain or articulate to him the emotional letdown I felt after something like this. The emotional discharge that coursed through me after the adrenaline was gone and my strength had nearly all but fled.
When I had slept and returned to myself, I would probably be as willing as any other to sit and have a drink to old battle tales, but for now, all I could see were the faces of the dead and dying.
“No one ever thinks about the death and devastation left behind after a battle. The sheer carnage of it,” I whispered to myself. “They all want to crow about the glory of battle. And movies always show the heroes valiantly triumphing over evil to stirring and moving music scores. But where’s the music now? Where’s the triumphant score to herald all the dead left on the field. Their bodies bloating and decaying in the aftermath.” I angrily shook my head at the absurdity of it all. I was a soldier, I knew the necessity of battle, but in this moment, it was hard to see past the death.
The ruin of the main gate was nearing when I heard someone calling my name. I briefly considered ignoring whoever it was in favor of continuing on my long path for the citadel and the promise of a bed.
But strong arms wrapped around me and pulled me into an embrace before my tardy mind realized the voice had been calling my full name instead of my nickname. And only one being ever called me “Elaina.”
“Legolas,” I whispered as I leaned into his chest, letting his warmth engulf me. He smelled of old Orc blood and the copperish tang of other blood. But underneath those scents were the smells of his sweat and sweet musk, now familiar scents to me.
I clung to him even as he silently held so firmly onto me. Both content at least in this moment to stand in silence and savor the simple happiness of our reunion.
“Are you unhurt?” Legolas eventually whispered against my hair as he rubbed his cheek ever so gently across the top of my head.
My eyes remained closed as I burrowed my cheek a bit closer to him and whispered back, “Some bruises. Mostly just exhausted.”
I finally pulled back to look up into Legolas’s face in the dim light. I couldn’t see much in the darkness, but I wiped at a dark splotch on one cheek, no doubt a bit of old blood. “And you? Are you okay?” I returned.
He smiled faintly. “I am well. More than that now that I hold you again and can ease the worried fears of my heart.”
“Good,” I answered with simple satisfaction.
His hands reached up behind his neck. “I have the token you bid me keep for you.”
I reached up and stilled his hands. “No. Keep it. At least for now. You can give it back to me when this war is really over. Just keep it safe for me a little longer.” At his narrowed look, I laughed and promised. “I will get it back from you. You’ll see.”
“But how are you, Elaina love?” he asked as he dropped his hands, his inflection telling me he meant more than just how I was physically.
I turned to stand beside him, looking across the field as his arm almost habitually slid to wrap around my lower back, his hand resting comfortably on my opposite hip. “I don’t know,” I answered honestly. How do I put any of this into coherent words?
He looked out across the littered field. “Yes,” he said, as though answering a question I hadn’t heard or agreeing to something I hadn’t voiced. “So many lives were lost this night. Valiant men of Gondor and Rohan, and beguiled men of the East and South. It is hard to know how one should feel after such bloodshed, even harder still to voice those thoughts.” He turned and looked down into my face. “I regret that you were afield in this battle. That you witnessed such death and destruction on so abhorrent a scale. I regret even more that you had to participate in dealing such death. Yet I know it is not in your nature to sit idly by while others do the hard fighting. I wish I could lift this burden from your heart and fëa, but it shall ease in time, and I shall help you bear the burden, for my heart too weeps for the blood shed here this day.”
I felt my resolve and emotions crumble in one as tears of relief sprang to my eyes. Legolas understood. He understood me and he understood what I was feeling. That I was burdened and weighed down by all those who had had to die this day.
Leaning heavily into Legolas’s side, I wrapped my arms tightly around him again. Tipping my face back to show him the absolute sincerity and honesty in my words, I told him, “You’ve become a better friend to me than I’ve ever known. You know me in way no one else ever has, Legolas. And I love you more than I ever believed it was possible to love.”
I looked out across the field, the night mostly hid the carnage now—at least to sight—but my heart conjured the image of the slain still there. My body could easily have been one of those, and Legolas’s could have been lost in that swift water in Rohan—or any number of times and places since. We both could have so easily died too many times. We only have here and now, I reminded myself. Only here and now.
My eyes locked hard with Legolas’s beaming expression as I spoke with all my heart and resolve. “Marry me.”
A/N: Well, Legolas is back!
Thanks so much for all the kind birthday wishes! You’ve all been great.
And I’m glad you’ve all been liking the action scenes, for me, the battle scenes are the most intimidating to write. And the next chapter’s already written, just need to edit it. And as they say, it’s gonna be good! 😉
As always, let me know what you thought!