It was four days before Karina saw Thranduil again. She spent her time healing some of the worst injuries brought to the healer's camp, and Thranduil was leading his people in another attack on the Morannon. As she promised, Karina laid low, spending most of her time with the Noldor healers to avoid the gossip in the Silvan ranks. Not that she could blame them for their interest. Anything to get conversation off the mounting death toll was undoubtedly a relief to the embattled armies.
But she could not ever escape completely. She caught the interested looks she was given by the Silvan soldiers brought into the camp, and the looks of the soldiers who tended them. She chose to ignore them for the most part, which was surprisingly easy since her focus was so intensely needed on healing the wounded.
The days were hard, and Karina could feel the fight leave her body as the dead and dying were paraded steadily passed her day after day. Several days in, she even managed to avoid exploding at one curious soldier who asked her about her roots. He had seemed genuinely interested, so she had calmly related her story to him quickly before moving on to a more critically wounded patient.
The hardest part was when Tirfin finally woke.
"What is it?" she said glancing up at Sircil as the elleth ran towards the spot where Karina was kneeling, focusing on cleaning away the rotting flesh from a soldier that had been infected by some poison from an orc blade. This was not the first nor the last time she would see such an injury. But this elf was lucky. He had been treated quickly and only a small patch of skin on his left arm had been affected. Others were not so fortunate. More than one elf had lost a limb to poison or infection.
"Our patient is awake."
"Is he stable then?" she asked, eyes still on her work to avoid taking more skin than absolutely necessary.
"No. He has worsened. He is in severe pain and probably will not last much longer." This made Karina pause and look up at her fellow healer. She knew what she had to do. It could not be avoided.
"Will you finish this for me?" she asked, standing slowly and holding out the knife she had been using. "I cannot let him die yet."
"What are you going to do?" Sircil asked, taking the knife and assuming the position Karina had abandoned beside the injured soldier. He was looking between the two curiously, but remained silent.
"I have to find that elleth again." With no further explanation, Karina started jogging through the mass of injured elves, careful to avoid any healers moving busily back and forth. She muttered to herself as she ran, trying to remember exactly where she had first seen and spoken to the elleth. If her injuries had been minor, she might already be back in the fight. Or if they were severe enough, she might have been sent back to Duross.
There was some amount of luck on her side. The elleth from before was sleeping peacefully on her blanket, bandages still wrapped tightly around her ear and arm. Karina paused several feet away, unsure if she could bring herself to do what she knew needed to be done. Taking a deep breath, she closed the gap and gently put a hand on the elleth's arm.
"Pardon me, my lady, I did not mean to disturb you as you slept," Karina whispered as the soldier looked up at her groggily. "You wished to see Tirfin when he woke and I have just been informed he is conscious." The elleth stood up so fast that Karina was unable to stop her from using her injured arm. But despite the wince of pain, the elleth seemed uninterested in anything but hearing about Tirfin.
"Where is he?" she demanded. "Please, take me to him. I must see him." Obediently, Karina led the elleth through the camp, keeping an eye on her to make sure she was able to keep up. But her injuries did not seem to extend to her legs, and Karina's long strides were easily matched by the injured soldier.
When Tirfin's struggling form came into view, Karina's companion rushed passed her, falling to her knees beside the dying elf. Karina stopped where she was, giving them space to speak, probably for the last time. Sircil had been right. Even from this distance, Karina could see the gray color of the elf's skin, the life leaving his form as he struggled to smile up at the elleth beside him.
"Edenin," he managed to cough out, blood dripping from the corner of his mouth. Edenin wiped the drop from his face, softly caressing his bruised cheek as she looked down at him with tears in her eyes.
"I'm here, Tirfin."
"I-" he began before he was overcome with a coughing fit, his body contorting in pain. As the blanket fell off of his shoulders and chest as he struggled to get his coughing under control, the extent of the injuries to his upper body were clearly visible. Deep knife wounds cut across his chest, dark bruises indicating where he had been beaten repeatedly. Rope burns still marred the flesh on his neck, and his left arm was tightly bound to his chest. Karina knew it had been shattered in several places, and would likely never heal properly. The only reason it had probably not been amputated was because his healers were waiting for him to stabilize further before conducting any major surgeries. Even if it was quickly cauterized, the blood loss alone could kill him after what he had already suffered.
"Shhh, it is alright," Edenin said softly, stroking his knotted hair as his coughing died away, blood splattered across the blanket in front of him. A broken rib had probably punctured his lung, Karina thought sadly, unable to look away.
"I know I promised…" Tirfin choked out, coughing several times as he spoke slowly. "I promised that I would marry you when this was over." I tear fell onto the blanket as Edenin looked down at him with a trembling lip and tears dripping steadily down her face. "I am sorry I cannot keep that promise."
"Do not say that, you have lasted this long. You've fought so hard already, do not give up now."
"The healers told me what would happen if I lived," he said hoarsely. "I would lose my arm and probably my leg below my knee. I cannot live like that, Edenin."
"I will take care of you, my love. I will do whatever I have to if you will only hold on."
"It is too late, limimaer," he said, reaching out for her hand but failing to take it in his. The broken fingers grazed the back of her hand uselessly, so Edenin looked down and gently took the ruined digits in her own thin hand. "Will you stay with me until I go?"
"Of course I will," Edenin said, her voice cracking through her tears. She bent over Tirfin and kissed him gently on his cracked and bruised lips.
Karina could not watch anymore. With tears in her own eyes, she turned and walked slowly away with no destination in mind. She surprised herself when she ended up on the hill where the dead were being burned en masse. It was some distance from the rest of the camp, but that did not prevent the smell of death and burning flesh from floating over the Dagorlad whenever the wind shifted. Now, as she stood amidst the burning pyres, the smell overwhelmed her. But she stayed anyway, finding a pyre burning down away from the ones currently being built. She sat down in the solitary, macabre space, watching the last of the flames burn down as tears slowly made tracks down her dirty cheeks. Tears for Tirfin and Edenin, for Oropher and Amdir, and for all the elves suffering physically and emotionally in the ghastly war that they were being forced to fight.
"I hope all of you were loved as much as Tirfin," she said to the flickering flames. "And that you did not suffer as much as he has before you passed. But I cannot imagine the pain others will suffer at your loss. To live so long with the memories, no solace in their own deaths." She paused for a moment, unseeing eyes staring at a faintly burning ember in the nearest pyre. Sighing, she continued.
"They say that I will probably die soon, once my purpose is fulfilled. I just hope it is a quick death. But I am mortal, and death is inevitable for me. What must it be like for you, unconcerned with growing old and dying, taking your time to live only to have all your plans cut short by this damn war. Supposedly you all go to the Halls of Mandos when you die. I hope your souls are content there, away from this suffering. I know that many who live will suffer greatly in the coming years. I do not know whether or not you are better off, to have died before the worst of it. I thought I had seen some terrible things in my mortal life, but nothing compares to this slaughter. And I know it will only get worse. I wish I could do more, to save more lives and to ease the suffering. But there are far more years of death ahead before peace can reign. And even then, the suffering will not end. I do hope that serenity can be found in death or on the distant shores of Valinor. Because I do not think it will ever be found here."
Pulling her knees up to her chest, Karina buried her face in her arms, letting the tears flow freely, the smell of death surrounding her as she cried alone.
Several hours later, Karina's mourning was interrupted by the sounds of screaming to the north. She stood quickly, brushing her tears away as she started back towards the camp, trying to see the commotion through the thick, acrid smoke that was simultaneously choking and blinding her.
"What is happening?" Karina asked a passing elf urgently, coughing harshly to get the ash out of her lungs.
"The enemy has come around from the northwest. They have flanked the remains of King Amdir's forces, under Commander Thalion."
"How many are attacking?" Karina asked, running along behind him, listening to the clashing swords though she could not see them through the haze.
"Too many. We will not hold if reinforcements do not arrive soon."
Karina had heard enough. She veered off to her left, dodging the elves now streaming towards the northern edge of the camp, most of them partially injured. With the Noldor armies engaged in the east, it seemed the only option was to send in those that were confined to the medical camp. And Karina was not about to be left behind.
Grabbing her sword from her makeshift tent, ignoring the armor sitting beside it, Karina dashed back out into the chaos, heading straight for the worst of the melee. As she approached, she could see the mass of black coursing over the hills at the thin line of defenders. Wishing she was a better archer, Karina entered the fray with just her sword, weaving in between the lines of elves trying desperately to hold off the attackers. She cursed herself, thinking bitterly that she should have seen this coming. They needed a better defense on this side of the forward camp. But it was too late, and now she and the other elves were battling for their lives in the flood of orcs and goblins crashing into them from above.
When she reached the thick of the fighting, she dove head first into the fight, slashing at the black figures all around her. She wished once again that she had a gun, and perhaps a SWAT team. But she tried her best to focus on the movement around her, blocking the blows directed at her and slicing at the enemy when they gave her an opening. But despite the ferocity of her attacks and those of the elves around her, it was not enough. Slowly, the orcs were pushing them back towards the camp, gaining ground as the numbers of defenders dwindled.
"We cannot keep this up!" she shouted to an elf nearby. "Has anyone made it through to the kings?"
Before the elf could reply, a spear erupted from his chest as he was stabbed through the back by a large black orc covered in rusty chainmail. Looking down in shock and horror, Karina froze, her sword held out to her side uselessly. Thankfully, her instincts kicked in just in time for her to sidestep out of the way of a blow aimed at her from the orc who had just skewered her conversational partner. He began bearing down on Karina as she turned to face him, sword at the ready.
"Well don't yew look like eh tasty morsel," he said with a wicked grin, licking his sharp yellow teeth menacingly. He stepped over the body of his most recent victim, bearing down on Karina as she backed up slowly, trying not to stumble over the bodies or slip in the pools of blood covering the plain. She glared up at him, hiding her fear as she had been taught to do at the Academy. Trying to ignore the twitching of the elf dying in front of her, Karina focused on her enemy. Her hands were steady and her face set as she stared him down, waiting for him to make the first move. With another sinister smirk, the orc made his move. She swung her sword up to block his blow as he raised his blade to strike her down, but their swords never connected. As he reached the apex of his swing, three arrows thudded into his body, two in his chest and one through his wrist, causing his sword to fall to the ground, quickly joined by its dead owner, both lying prone beside the elf that was slowly bleeding out in a heap, his eyes glassy and void of life.
Sparing a quick glance to her left, she saw a company of archers had joined the battle, firing round after around into the oncoming swarm. Grateful for the new support, Karina turned back to continue her assault on the enemy.
"You just cannot stay out of trouble can you?"
"You happened to be preoccupied at the time, Aradae, so someone had to step in to defend the camp."
"I am impressed. Between you and Commander Thalion, the assault was thwarted before our camp suffered any damage."
"Perhaps," Karina replied, looking around at the bodies being carried either to the healers or the pyres, depending on their status. "But we lost a lot of elves."
"Far fewer than we would have if they had broken through into the camp itself. Or if they had managed to overrun us here and then attack the base camp."
"Has any progress been made at the Morannon?" she asked wearily, letting Aradae help her back to the medical camp. Unlike her previous foray into battle, she had not walked away from this one unscathed. A deep gash ran across her upper arm, and she had suffered a mild sprain to her ankle from being knocked backward by a powerful blow, her foot catching on the body of her last kill, the orc taking his final revenge.
"Very little. We cannot get close enough to even attempt anything on the gate itself, what with the archers above. We suffer heavy casualties every time we try."
"After this little incident," Karina said, wincing as she put a little too much weight on her ankle. "I am going to do some defensive and offensive strategizing. We cannot risk another attack like that, and it is useless to throw soldiers at the gate without a plan."
"I think Prince Thranduil would be much happier with you pouring over battle plans in camp than having another suicidal venture on the front lines. You have been lucky twice. The same might not be true for a third expedition."
"He is alright, then?" she said anxiously, looking up at Aradae as he helped her onto a blanket to await treatment. "He is unharmed?"
"I doubt anyone is still unharmed, but he is still fighting fiercely. He and his commanders managed to subdue a large contingent of orcs in the north earlier. This raid you just saw was probably a second attempt that got through."
"I am glad to hear it. You should probably be returning to the front now too. I will be fine. Thank you for your help."
"Let it never be said that I turned away from a damsel in distress," Aradae said with a crooked grin. "Until we meet again, probably during your next heroic and insane charge into battle." He bowed elegantly before turning and striding quickly back towards the east, where smoke was rising once more and the sounds of battle were thick in the air.
"What are the extent of your injuries?" asked a stern healer abruptly, cutting into Karina's thoughts as she watched her friend depart.
"A mild sprain to the ankle and a cut that will need stitches. Bring me linens and sewing supplies. I will treat myself. There are elves far worse off that need your attentions."