“Lass, we’re here.”
I jerked and looked down at the pressure squeezing on my toes. My gaze cleared and focused as I registered Gimli standing on the ground, his rough hands reaching up to tug on my foot as he vied for my attention.
Turning slowly in the saddle, I realized we’d somehow made it to Helm’s Deep. Like driving home on autopilot, I’d somehow managed to ride along with the rest of the Rohirrim, all the while my mind shutting down in delicious numbness.
Gimli’s comforting hand on my foot and his soft words brought me back to reality. To the awareness that we had arrived. And highlighting who hadn’t.
I think I preferred numbness.
Aragorn came closer, already dismounted and leading his horse. “Come Lane. I’ll take your horse and you can get some rest.”
What will it matter? It won’t change anything. “Okay,” I softly replied, sliding from the saddle and feeling my legs nearly go to jelly beneath me.
Gimli’s strong calloused hands steadied me until I’d regained my balance.
“Come lass,” he said, still speaking in those soft deep tones. “We’ll find ya a quiet spot to rest.”
I shrugged. “Okay.”
My body slowly and painfully shuffled along, following where Gimli’s guiding hand at my back pointed me. The aches and pains that had disappeared with the adrenaline of battle had returned ten-fold. Made worse either from overexertion or perhaps from riding a horse for the first time in so many years.
Or perhaps my body knew what my heart and soul did and had merely given up too.
My mind was exhausted and couldn’t keep the minds of the humans around me out. I felt them pressing all around me. Weighing me down and surrounding me until I felt claustrophobic.
“Shut up! Everyone just shut up!” I screamed, pressing my fingers to my aching temples.
Gimli and the Rohirrim near me looked at me in cautious and worried glances, but Gimli finally pressed harder on my back, pushing me silently along.
“I can’t keep their thoughts out,” I whispered to my dwarven escort.
“We’ll find you somewhere quiet, lass.”
“Okay,” I whispered, still rubbing my temples.
I heard Gimli speaking with several soldiers and servants as we passed, clearly asking them something, but I didn’t bother trying to listen to the spoken words when I was still overwhelmed by strange thoughts.
My eyes focused resolutely on my feet. Watching each footfall with detachment as Gimli steered me along. Until, Gimli was no longer pushing me along.
I looked up to see we were standing in a small storage room. Or perhaps it had meant to be a bedroom of sorts at one time. There was still a straw stuffed mattress on a box foundation along one wall, but the rest of the room was filled with woven baskets filled with food stores, and extra clothing and bedding.
“Why don’t you lie down and rest, lass,” Gimli kindly advised, once again steering me towards the bed.
“Okay,” I again told him, feeling like the embodiment of inertia. Everyone wanted me to keep moving, to go forward—and if they pushed or pulled me along, I’d go. But when they stopped, my body returned to rest—the state it wanted to be in. If I wasn’t moving forward, I wouldn’t have to face the eventualities. Everything could just stand still.
Gimli pushed me back towards the bed, and my pliable body sank downwards towards the mattress.
But before I was seated, something caught and jerked my body to a stop. I blindly reached down, trying to brush away whatever was stopping me from sitting as Gimli wanted, but it wouldn’t budge.
I looked down to investigate what was poking my side.
“I can’t get this stupid thing—” I trailed off as I struggled with the culprit. My sword was wedged against the box supporting the mattress and jammed into my ribs as I tried to lower myself. I yanked at the sword, trying to free it so I could sit.
“I can’t do this,” I said, my voice quailing as I stood. Helplessness suddenly washed over me. I stood and covered my face with trembling hands, startled to find the skin they met slick with tears.
My body suddenly shuddered with the sobs I tried to restrain. Yet, my grief was stronger, and soon I felt the trembling of my body as I wrapped my arms about myself trying to contain the sight of my weakness.
“Lass, lass, it’ll be a’right,” Gimli shushed. I felt his arms, about me as he unbuckled my sword belt and pushed me gently backwards.
I fell gracelessly against the bed, my hands still covering my shameful reaction as I lost control.
My arms were tugged away from my face one at a time as I felt Gimli remove my bow and quiver, but as soon as he released each hand, I yanked them back to hide myself. To shut away the pain and grief. To hide from the world.
Several moments passed as I silently pleaded Gimli would leave and take his pitying sympathy with him. I just needed time alone to force my emotions away. Time to rebuild my hardened shell.
But as great shudders continued to silently wrack me, I suddenly felt the bed depress as Gimli sat beside me, wrapping his arms around my torso.
I tried to jerk away, but the powerful arms of the dwarf would not yield, clenching down like iron bands to hold me in place. Quietly shushing me and speaking in his native language. The words seemed harsh and stilted, yet it somehow fit the deep baritone of his voice.
Only one other being in this world or mine had ever seen me go to pieces like this. Only one other being had held me as my emotions tore down my barriers.
And that one being was gone.
Yet, here I was, safely ensconced in the comforting grip of Gimli’s arms. My tears fell, and he only held me tighter as the floodgates opened.
My body and limbs melted, sinking further into myself as I curled inward and wrapped my arms around Gimli’s torso.
My body tilted from side to side as the dwarf rocked my heaving, shuddering body.
His well-meaning comfort only served to fan the flame, my grief burning hotter and my tears falling faster.
No one had ever held and comforted me in this way. No one had ever granted me the kindness and congenial fatherly comfort I was now soaking into my soul. No one had rocked me in their arms and hummed comforting tunes. No one had held me in their arms with the silent promise to chase away the nightmares and ghosts.
And I reveled and despised that comforting embrace in turns. I delighted in his unexpected affection. But I loathed its sudden need.
“I may not understand what was between you and the elf, lass, but I do know the lad cared a great deal for you. He would have wanted nothing more than to know you were safe and well. He would be glad to know you are here safe. He would have been happy to give what he could to see you here safely,” Gimli whispered, his words rumbling under my ear.
I closed my eyes, unable to speak, and my breath coming out in shallow gasps. My knees slid up to my chest as Gimli continued rocking me.
Soon, my breathing evened out as I lost even the energy to cry, and delicious numbness and darkness found me once again.
My body was stiff when I opened my eyes again. I wiped at the crusted tears coating my lashes and pushed back the blanket that was tossed loosely over me. I was alone, and the room was mercifully quiet.
Then I stood and redonned the weapons Gimli had left on the floor nearby. Legolas’s empty quiver was also there, and on impulse, I slung it over my shoulder as well.
Sometime during my nap, cold resolve had found me again. I couldn’t stay here and let myself continue to wallow in grief. There would be a time for feelings and emotion later. Now wasn’t that time. Now was the time for battle—for war.
I understood fighting. I was familiar with it. I wasn’t familiar with feelings and emotions.
Leaving my quiet sanctuary, I walked out into the hustling masses of the Rohirric people.
Eventually, I would have to find Aragorn or Gimli to know where I should station myself, but for now, I climbed the stone staircase to the battlements.
Standing high above the people of Rohan behind me, I gazed across the land. Darkness was falling, making the landscape hard to distinguish. So instead, I turned around and watched the Rohirrim as they prepared.
Soldiers scurried about; trying to insure the stronghold of Helm’s Deep would be ready when the enemy came.
Men hugged their wives goodbye as they escorted them into the caves.
And mothers wept at the sight of mere boys being lead to the armory.
I struggled to breathe at the last sight.
I had been a soldier. I knew what it was to fight and die for your country, but these boys were children. They should still have been playing war, not going to die in one.
“They have hope for their people. For their families. And though young, they are taught and prepared for battle,” Aragorn said, walking to stand beside me.
I was startled until I realized I must have spoken my last thoughts.
I glanced again at him and then turned back to watch the boys being led away. I remembered the elflings I had played with in Lothlórien, and tried to imagine them being girded and sent off to war like these boys.
“It just seems wrong for boys to go to war. If they survive, they’ll never be boys again. It’s like robbing them of their childhood,” I told him. I shook my head. “Never mind. I know it’s necessary, but that doesn’t stop it from being heartbreaking. I’ve seen soldiers die, but those were men. Men who’d volunteered to fight for their country. These are kids fighting because they have no choice.”
“Given the choice, these boys will fight to protect their family and homes,” Aragorn gently reminded.
We lapsed into silence.
“You should be resting,” Aragorn commented.
“You have suffered a loss,” he softly responded. “It is understandable if you are not all right.”
“I’m fine,” I repeated. “We have more important things to worry about.”
I expected him to argue or tell me that I was supposed to grieve.
Instead, he placed his hand on my shoulder and squeezed.
“You are a strong, honorable woman. And a fine soldier.”
I covered his hand in return and squeezed.
We heard a commotion and turned towards the gate. They opened as a lone rider came through.
“Is that—” Aragorn trailed off as his hand fell away from my shoulder.
He turned and started down the staircase.
“Legolas,” I whispered.
My feet stayed rooted in place as I passively watched Gimli and then Aragorn fondly embrace the elf after he had slipped from Arod’s back.
He spoke quietly to them, and then Aragorn turned and pointed to where I still stood.
I watched as Legolas quickly mounted the steps, coming towards me.
My body was still immobile as he stopped in front of me and pulled me into a tight embrace. He whispered words in Sindarin, and then said in Westron, “Elaina. I am relieved you are well. All I could think of these past hours was making certain you were here and safe.”
I pushed away from him. “I—have your quiver,” I informed him, and then broke into peals of inappropriate laughter at my absurd declaration.
He smiled and cupped my cheek. “Indeed you do,” he laughed.
My hands swiped at the tears running down my face, and then I cautiously laid a hand on his chest. “Are you really here? Are you really alive?”
He covered my hand with his, and I felt the beating of his heart under my palm.
“I am well,” he kindly told me.
“I’m not crazy again?” I asked, hardly daring to hope. It had made more sense before to believe I wasn’t crazy, after all, my mind didn’t usually choose to make up the horrible things. In my hole in that prison, I had believed that I wasn’t alone or that I had escaped when I hadn’t. My mind didn’t make up bad things to believe, it usually fabricated the things too good to be true. But now? Him being here and alive was the kind of thing my mind would make up when it wasn’t true.
“I am truly here,” he replied.
My hands carefully moved over his chest, examining the dirt and creases in his clothes. “What happened? What happened to you?”
He sighed and looked away. I tried to place the look. Was it—embarrassment?
“What?” I pressed.
“I fear I was not as focused on the battle as I should have been,” he admitted, still not meeting my eyes.
I tugged on his shirt. “What? What do you mean?”
He finally met my gaze. “I was knocked from my horse by a passing warg rider and fell over the embankment into the river. It was swift and swept me downriver some miles before I was able to swim from the water and begin my journey back. Fortune graced me when I found Arod waiting for me to carry me here more quickly.”
“Yeah, but how’d you get knocked from your horse?” I asked in amazement.
He glanced away again, but then steadfastly met my eyes. “I was concerned about you and fear I was watching you instead of focusing on the battle around me.”
“Legolas,” I sighed. “I can fight. You don’t need to watch over me. It isn’t safe. Shit like this happens,” I said, gesturing to him.
“Yes. You can fight. You fight very well. It was truly enjoyable to watch,” he answered, smiling in appreciation. “Your swordsmanship is yet crude,” he laughed, “but it was beautiful to watch you move—even seated upon a horse.”
I laughed along with him. “Excuse me. We didn’t use swords in my world. I’ve only been using one for a few months,” I said, still laughing.
“God,” I suddenly choked, my laughter stopping dead and my breath catching until I hardly felt I could breathe. “You’re really here—you’re alive—you’re real—you’re here—” I said haltingly, tears blurring my vision.
He pulled me into his arms and I clutched him tightly in my own. He didn’t speak, didn’t offer any useless words that would do nothing to change what had already happened.
When my breathing had finally calmed, I sighed in contentment. “Thank you for not dying.”
He chuckled at me, likely laughing at the absurdity of my gratitude.
“I love you,” I whispered. “I do.”
He stiffened in my arms. “You do not have to say this when your emotions are so chaotic,” he whispered to the top of my head.
I took a deep breath and pulled back to look up at him. “I don’t do emotions and feelings well. I act and try not to dwell on it. But when you died—when I thought you died—all I wanted was for you to be back so I could tell you that I loved you. So I’m telling you. No thinking about it, I’m just telling you.”
He searched my eyes, and I held his gaze resolutely, letting him see my sincerity.
“What? What do you mean, ‘no?'” I repeated incredulously.
“I shall wait. This is not how I wish to hear you say those words. I will wait for you to say them when they come from your heart. When you truly mean them,” he insisted.
“But I do mean them,” I maintained.
“I want more,” he whispered.
I waited, not knowing what else I could say. But somehow, I understood wanting more.
“You don’t want to settle,” I whispered. “I don’t know if I have more to give right now. I don’t know if I’m ready.”
“I know. I know you are not ready yet. This has happened quickly for you and I know you are not ready. I can wait. It shall mean more to me when the words are heartfelt.”
His head lowered until his forehead pressed to mine, our eyes closing at the shared contact. “I shall not likely be able to convince you to go with the other women and children to the caves and to safety, shall I?”
I opened my eyes. “You’re the one that almost died, here. Maybe you should go to the caves where you’re safe,” I argued.
His own eyes opened slowly, laughter twinkling in their blue depths. “I thought not.”
A throat cleared nearby. Legolas and I broke apart to see Aragorn and Gimli had come closer.
“What news have you of the ground you covered on your journey here?” Aragorn asked, throwing an apologetic look my way.
“Armies of Isengard are descending on this stronghold, I fear they shall be here ere long,” Legolas replied even as a rumble of shouts sounded in the distance.
“We should inform the king,” Aragorn said, again in that apologetic way of his.
I smiled faintly. “It’s okay. War never waits.” I turned to Legolas and pulled his empty quiver over my head. “Here. It’s empty, but you can probably find more arrows somewhere,” I told him. “You guys go talk with the king.”
I started to turn away, but Legolas grabbed my forearm. “You shall not accompany us?”
“No,” I answered, shaking my head. “I’ll go find my own place on the parapets.” He looked startled, so I continued. “We’ve can’t fight beside each other. We’ll be too worried about one another. This’ll be safer.”
His jaw clenched, but then he nodded.
I stepped closer. “The military in my country didn’t allow family or even people from the same areas and hometowns to serve in the same companies. It was so if a unit got into a bad situation in battle, a city or family wouldn’t lose all their young men. I knew that, but I never really understood or agreed with it. I thought if families and old friends were allowed to fight alongside each other, they would fight better trying to protect each other and pushing each other. They’d have each other to fight for. But I get it now. It’s too distracting. I’m terrified of letting you out of my sight, but it would be worse if we were constantly looking over our shoulders for each other.” And perhaps if I wasn’t there, I wouldn’t alter the outcome of the battle to come for my friends. If I wasn’t here, maybe it would play out as written.
He nodded and pulled me into his arms, wrapping me in a crushing embrace. I squeezed him back with all my strength and laid my head on his chest.
“I do love you,” I whispered into his chest. “Please don’t die.”
He tilted my head up to look down into my eyes. “I shall fight with all the strength within me. I shall fight to hear you say those words without fear in your voice. Only joy.”
I reached up, pulling his head down as I stretched onto my toes and carefully kissed him. His eyes slid closed, and I allowed my own to follow suit as I savored the softness and warmth of his lips moving against mine. I dropped back onto my heels, ending our kiss.
It had been soft—chaste even—but a fire bloomed throughout me, chasing away any of my leftover aches and pains and easing the remaining ache in my heart.
I smiled as I stepped back from him. “I like that you aren’t easy,” I told him. “I like that you demand more. That you want more. I may not be there yet, but I’ll get there. I’ll get there. Just don’t die again.”
“I expect you to live through this as well,” he returned intensely, and then he turned and walked away, Aragorn and Gimli trailing after him.
Gimli turned back one last time.
“Watch him,” I whispered to him. “And thank you.”
His ears heard me, even at the distance, and his eyes softened as he nodded. Then he too turned and was gone.
I leaned against the built up stone fortifications of the parapet. Rohirric soldiers stretched out along either side of me along the parapet, bows at the ready as they nervously waited. I had removed my cloak and hidden my pack in preparation for the upcoming battle, wanting nothing to slow me down or hinder me. In exchange for them, I had taken out my helmet, struggling to get used to its weight and the limit to my peripheral vision.
Commotion built as pained screams and war cries rang out. I could hear the garbled language of the Orcs as they screamed and the pained cries of men as they retreated from the Dike and through the gates of the Deep.
An old, gray-haired soldier hobbled as quickly as he could to pass behind us along the parapet.
I stepped back towards him. “What’s going on?”
He looked startled at my presence, no doubt startled by my gender, but then he glanced over the parapet and shrugged. “The armies of the White Tower have come and driven back the men of the Westfold still holding the Dike. Archers are to hold their fire until the Orcs are within range. We cannot waste even a single arrow,” he explained in a gruff and accented voice.
The old man turned and continued his running hobble, so I stepped back up to the low wall, leaning to look around the taller upright. As I watched, I saw the glittering of spearheads shimmering in the darkness. It gave the illusion of a morbid rippling pond, but ever-moving and coming closer.
The soldier to my right began repeating something over and over in Rohirric. The litany caught my voice, and I realized from the high cracking pitch of the payer, that he was just a boy. Shorter and smaller even than I was at five-eight.
I placed a comforting hand on his shoulder, smiling when he jumped at the contact. “It’s alright to be frightened,” I told him, hoping he understood Westron.
He jerked and looked up into my face at my words. “You are a woman,” he gasped in a thick accent.
“Yup, but I’m here now, fighting with you and your brave people.”
The boy looked away. “I am not brave. I am frightened.”
“Like I said, it’s alright to be afraid.”
He looked up and down the line at the other soldiers. “They are not afraid. You are a woman and you are not afraid. You stand here along with them waiting for the battle to come. I want very much to run and hide again in my mother’s skirts along with my younger sisters,” he said, shame coloring his cheeks.
“Fear is good. And I can guarantee you that every soldier here is afraid. Me included. I’ve been a soldier for my people for many years, and I was always afraid. And I’m afraid now.” I turned him bodily, forcing him to look up into my eyes. “Fear is good. It means you’ve got something to lose. It means you’ve got something to fight for. And I’ve never been more afraid in battle than I am right now.”
“You stay even though you fear?” he whispered.
“Yes. I stay because I still have hope. Hope for the future, and hope for your people. Hope that boys like you will see the morning light as men.”
The angry shouts of the Orcs came closer, the sounds of the human Dunderlings with them now becoming apparent.
The soldiers around us strung their bows, waiting for the enemy to come closer.
I held the boy’s shoulders, not yet turning to face battle. “What’s your name?”
He pressed a fist to his chest and bowed slightly at his waist. “I am named Gárwine, son of Gárulf.”
I released his shoulders, returning the gesture. “I am called Lane. And I’m honored to fight beside you, Gárwine.”
Together, we turned and faced the coming tide, drawing arrows. I nocked my arrow, but realized Gárwine beside me hadn’t. I relaxed my arms and glanced at him.
“I am not a strong archer, and Gamling said we were not to waste a single arrow,” he quietly admitted.
Before I could answer, several arrows struck the parapets around us. I heard the low thwacks of soldiers releasing their arrows on either side of me. I glanced up as arrows struck the walls too high above us and fell to the stone floor of the parapet.
I pulled my arrow back again and released it, aiming for the weakness in the armor of the Orcs at the base of their neck. Silently, I gave thanks as it flew straight and true. Aiming a bow wasn’t the same as aiming a sniper rifle, but I had learned to accommodate for the differences. And I’d certainly fired both a rifle and now a bow for longer than Gárwine had.
Nocking another arrow, I threw over my shoulder, “Set your quiver beside me, Gárwine, and gather the discarded arrows that those Orcs fire.”
He nodded eagerly, and ran to start gathering arrows as I continued firing.
Soon, the battle became heated, and I couldn’t stop to watch Gárwine, but I heard his startled gasps as arrows landed near him.
“Keep your head down, Gárwine,” I shouted at him, now reaching into his quiver as I had fired my last arrow.
Hours later, my body was still vibrating with the thrum and excitement of battle.
“What are they doing?” Gárwine asked, leaning to look over the edge of the parapet.
I paused, leaning to look over too. “Get back!” I yelled, grabbing Gárwine’s shoulder and yanking him away just as a grappling hook was launched over the edge and struck the wall of the Deep behind us. I swung my bow over my back and grabbed the knife in my belt. Pushing at Gárwine, I gestured for him to take his knife out as well.
“Cut the ropes,” I ordered, pointing to the other grappling hooks being thrown over the parapets.
Gárwine and I passed each other many times, running along the wall, cutting the ropes of grappling hooks as swiftly as we could. But then, Gárwine’s pained cry caught my attention. I turned to see him holding his bleeding forearm as he struggled to regain his feet. I quickly sliced through the thick rope of the grappling hook that had struck him, knocking him down and just beginning to pull tight against him and trapping him against the outer wall of the battlement.
But as I knelt over him, trying to help the boy to his feet, another heavy grappling hook was launched over the edge near us, glancing off my helmet and the echo of it ringing in my ears.
“Dammit,” I growled, pulling Gárwine and myself further behind a taller portion of the parapets. I looked around us. Up and down the line of the wall, the bodies of fallen Rohirric soldiers littered the walkway. Most pierced by Orc arrows, some struck as Gárwine had been by the grappling hooks.
“There’s too many of them,” I told Gárwine as I watched more and more hooks sail over the edge. “And not enough of us,” I whispered to myself. “We’ve got to pull back,” I told him in a louder voice.
He nodded, and I stood, pulling him up behind me and keeping a hand on his shoulder as I pulled him along behind me.
At the top of the stairs leading to the ground near the gate, I paused, taking in the sight of the splintered wood and Orcs beginning to push through.
Unsheathing my sword, I turned to Gárwine. “How are you with a sword?”
He smiled grimly. The harsh horrors of battle aging him already. “I am best with a spear,” he admitted, “but my father taught me well to use a sword.”
I nodded. “Stay close behind me. We’ve got to make it down these stairs and past those Orcs to safer ground.” I didn’t wait for his response. Merely gripped my sword tighter and sprinted down the open staircase.
Several Orcs turned and started up the staircase towards me, several more waiting at the base. I had the advantage of the height, but maneuvering would be difficult on stairs. As Legolas pointed out, my sword work was rudimentary at best. Where I excelled was being able to outmaneuver someone with the use of swordsmanship and martial arts combined.
Without slowing my steps or my thoughts, I launched over the side of the open staircase, bypassing the Orcs and the last fifteen feet of the staircase. I landed on the ground, absorbing the hit with my legs, allowing them to bend as I dropped my shoulder and rolled, slowing enough to pop out of the roll and to my feet again.
Miraculously, I had kept my sword, and I ran at the startled Orcs, cutting through them as they watched me in shock. I met Gárwine at the bottom of the staircase, grinning as he dispatched the last several Orcs that had been advancing upwards between us.
He grinned as he met my gaze. “That was reckless!” he called over the din of clashing swords and armor.
I threw back my head and laughed. “Yeah, I guess it was. Come on,” I told him, gesturing back towards the Keep.
More Orcs stood between us, but Gárwine and I began cutting through them, pushing forward foot by foot.
I hacked through the Orc in front of me, my arms growing tired and my movements sluggish and choppy, but looked up at the gruff voice I recognized calling my name.
Gimli stood in the small opening of a rock wall fifteen or twenty feet away, gesturing frantically with his hands for me to come to him.
“Gárwine! You still with me?” I yelled out, looking around for the boy—no—the young man.
“I am here, Lane,” he called to my left, his voice sounding as tired as I did, but still managing to cut through the onslaught of Orcs with more grace than I managed.
I spun and blocked the sword of an Orc as I jerked my head towards Gimli. “Come on, we’ve got to make for the safety of the cave.”
He nodded and pushed closer to me, joining me as together, we pushed towards the dwarf. Gimli and several Rohirric soldiers, including the old man I’d spoken to on the parapet, pushed out from the narrow opening, fighting back the Orcs and creating an opening for Gárwine and I to run through.
Safely inside the narrow passage of the dark cave, I finally allowed myself to double over, bracing my hands on my knees as I lowered my head and tried to catch my breath.
Gimli joined me, leaving two of the Rohirrim to guard the narrow entrance of the cave.
“I’m glad to see you alive and well, lass,” he boomed, clapping me on the back.
I winced at his echoing voice and heavy hand, but then grinned at the reminder. I was alive. Hurt just meant I was still alive.
“Yeah, I’m alive,” I whispered to him.
The old man stopped in front of me as I straightened to lean back against the jagged rock wall.
“Never was I more shocked than in the moment I saw you cutting your way through the hordes of Isengard. A woman,” the old man marveled. “Never did I think that I woman would last but mere moments in the heat of battle.”
I grinned and held out my hand. “And never have I been more shocked to see an old man, bent, and grizzled with age, ‘last but mere moments in the heat of battle.'”
For a moment, he stared in shock at me, no doubt shocked by my audacity, but then he chuckled and grasped my outstretched forearm, gripping it tightly with his free hand as well. “You have the form of a woman, but the mouth of a soldier,” he laughed.
I grinned, glad that he hadn’t taken offense.
He shook my arm once, and then released it. “I am Gamling.”
I nodded respectfully. “I’m Lane. And I’ve got the mouth of a soldier in more ways than one. I’d kill for a beer, or ale, or hell, even some mead.”
He chuckled again and lightly grabbed my shoulder, pulling me further into the depths of the cave where torches intermittently lit the dark interior.
“You ne’er said there was drink,” Gimli groused, following along. “A drop of ale would do wonders for this dwarf after such axe work.”
I grabbed Gárwine as we passed. “Come, you’ve more than earned a drink as well.”
Gamling handed me a leather skin with liquid, and for once, I was thankful for the “protocol” that said ladies drank first. I sighed appreciatively at the surprisingly cool ale that washed down my dry throat, and then passed it along to Gimli.
Glancing again at the dwarf, I asked, “How was Legolas?”
He glanced away. “He was fine, last I saw, but we were separated.”
I nodded. “He’ll be fine. Come morning, you’ll see. He’ll be fine,” I assured us both.
As the others drank, I looked around the interior of the cave at the soldiers gathered here. Most stayed near the front, sitting along the walls of the cave, their faces drawn and tight.
I felt my spirits darken as their feelings of futileness encroached on my subconscious. In the heat of battle, my adrenaline allowed me to easily push their minds away, but now that the adrenaline was subsiding, it took real effort to keep their thoughts out again. Not for the first time, I wished their minds were soft and gentle like Elvish minds.
I looked up to see the gaze of Éomer watching me from near the opening of the cave. I’d missed him when we’d entered. Walking closer, I stopped to lean against the wall across from him, only a few feet separating us.
“I must admit,” he told me, “I too was surprised to see you pushing through that sea of creatures. I would not have thought a woman to stand when so many have fallen.”
I heard the sadness for his people in his words, and glanced again at the entrance. But I couldn’t see past the two men guarding it.
He looked that direction as well as he continued speaking. “It matters not. We can only hold this cave for so long before they push through even so narrow an opening.”
“All isn’t lost,” I told him. “I wouldn’t feel things were so futile if I were you. It’s a narrow opening. And we only have to hold it long enough.”
He looked at me curiously, but I turned back to Gárwine who had followed to stand beside me. I understood his need to remain close. We’d fought side by side for hours. A closeness forms in that camaraderie and those shared horrors that no words can accurately fit.
The cut on his forearm was mostly dried with blood, but some still dripped lazily down his arms and fingertips.
“Gamling,” I called, turning to the old man. “Do you have bandages and perhaps something to stitch a wound in this cave?”
He nodded. “I saw to the supplies in these caves myself,” he explained carefully examining Gárwine’s wound before he hobbled off.
He came back with an armful of bandages and even a bowl of water. “The wound can be cleaned and wrapped, but stitches shall have to wait for healers if we yet live through the night,” he explained.
I looked through the cloth bundle and saw that he had indeed brought needle and thread for the wound, despite his words.
“That’s okay, I can stitch a wound just fine,” I told him, dipping a cloth in the water and gently wiping Gárwine’s arm.
Like the man he had become sometime during the night, Gárwine bit his lip and stoically bared the pain as I closed the wound.
Wrapping it tightly with cloth afterwards, I squeezed his shoulder and proudly told him, “You’re a fine man, Gárwine. Your father will be proud.”
He looked down as a blush colored his cheeks. “My father fell defending the Westfold from the Dunderlings,” he admitted.
“Won’t stop him from being proud,” I replied.
He looked up at my words, confidence infusing him as his shoulders rolled back.
“You’re the man of your family now in every way,” I said, forcing a smile and hoping he didn’t see the sadness I felt at that. It couldn’t be changed, and he deserved to feel proud.
As the ambient light began to increase in the cave, I knew the sky outside must be turning to gray with the dawn.
I bumped Gárwine with my shoulder from where we sat and then stood. “Come on,” I told him as he struggled tiredly to his feet. “You’ll loosen up once the fighting starts again. Get ready,” I told him, rolling my head and shoulders as I stretched.
Gimli stood on my other side and copied my motions and drawing his axe. “What will we find with the dawn, lass?” he whispered to me.
I smiled down at him. “Dawn always brings hope, Gimli. Never forget that. There’s always hope.”
As I spoke, the great horn sounded through the Deep, its echoes ringing even within the ground of our cave, rattling the rocks.
The guards at the entrance of the cave gave excited shouts and Éomer sounded the order for attack as we pushed out into the brilliant light of dawn.
I shielded my eyes with my sword-arm, the orange and pink rays of dawn, bright and blinding after our stay in the dim light of the cave. But the swords of Orcs soon slashed in my direction, forcing me to turn and dance out of their reach as I brought my arm down, swinging my sword to meet theirs as the macabre dance began again.
But hope now filled the air. For the first time since the battle began last night, victorious shouts and battle cries filled the air, the Rohirrim taking up the call one and all as their hope for not only surviving, but winning the battle surged.
On foot, I pushed along with all of the Rohirrim around me as we forced the remaining Orcs and Dunderlings from the Deep and back towards the walls and gate. As we pushed outward, new riders, led by Gandalf and Erkenbrand pushed inwards, cutting through the last of the enemy.
“We have won!” Gárwine shouted beside me. “Erkenbrand and Gandalf came,” he said in surprise.
I laughed and threw my arm around his shoulders, basking in the sight of the cheering Rohirrim and the conquering riders who had come in our hour of need.
“Yeah, we won,” I whispered to him.
Suddenly, strong arms pulled me away from Gárwine and engulfed me in a crushing embrace.
Even if I hadn’t guessed at whose arms were wrapped around me, the faint sweet musk of the chest against my nose and the gentle thoughts now flowing over my mind would have given him away.
“Legolas,” I whispered, my voice feeling almost weak with contentment.
“You are alive,” he whispered against my ear.
I pulled back, and he brushed the many stray and frizzy hairs sticking to my sweaty and grimy cheeks away, slicking them behind my ears. I was almost shocked he could stand to touch me, but as I looked at the sheen of sweat and spatters of dark blood coating his own cheek, I realized it didn’t matter. I wiped the streaks of black blood away from his cheek, and stretched onto my toes again to lightly kiss his cheek.
“You’re alive,” I whispered in return to him, a piece of my heart settling back into place. I hadn’t realized until this moment, with him again in my arms, how scared I’d been that my presence would once more mess things up. That he’d die this time and not come back.
His eyes had closed at my kiss, but they opened again as I dropped back to my heels. “Yes,” he answered simply, pressing a longer kiss to my forehead.
When he pulled away, I looked up to see him looking Gárwine over curiously.
The poor young man was rooted in place, shock, and awe written clearly in his expression at the sight of the elf.
I stepped closer to him, clasping him on the shoulder as I introduced him to Legolas. “This is Legolas, an elf from the woodland realm,” I said, remembering that Legolas did not flaunt nor even really seem to care for his father’s royalty. “And this is Gárwine,” I continued, “who fought long and hard by my side, all through the night.”
Legolas stepped closer and bowed his head respectfully to Gárwine as he wrapped an arm around my waist. “My thanks, dear boy, for fighting alongside my lady,” he told Gárwine.
I almost laughed at him calling me his lady, but ignored it and looked at Gárwine objectively; trying to see him with new eyes, as Legolas no doubt saw him. As I’d seen him last night.
I realized that for all the transformation I saw spring forth in him now, to the eye, Gárwine still looked like a boy, maybe no more than thirteen or fourteen years old.
Wrapping my own arm around Legolas’s waist, I gripped his opposite hip tightly in return. “Gárwine is a man, Legolas. He began the night as a boy, but with the new light, he has become a man,” I spoke softly, turning to look up into Legolas’s eyes.
Gárwine stood taller and proudly rolled back his shoulders at my words, but Legolas and I held our shared gaze, sharing the moment of mourning for the death of the boy that Gárwine had been, just last night.
A/N: Wow! I continue to be amazed by all of the kind reviews! You are all awesome, and you make my day and kick me in the butt to keep my motivation going and keep me writing.
I had intended to get this chapter out sooner, and sorry for the cliffhanger, but work and real life kept getting in the way. At least this time, I don’t leave you with a cliffhanger!
Next, we’ll move on to their journey to Isengard!
And also, I’ve been trying to figure out if or how to work the movies into this story, and I guess for the sake of ease, we’ll just pretend for Lane’s benefit that the movies never existed. At least Peter Jackson’s movies. I have used bits and pieces of them in place of book-verse, but we’ll just pretend for the sake of ease, that Jackson’s movies were never made in Lane’s world and so she wouldn’t know anything about them or any of the different plot-lines that emerge in the movies.
Thanks again so much for all of your reviews, and again, if you’re just joining the story, welcome!
You know what to do!