The trebuchets were set. The soldiers were organized and armed. All the kings were in agreement. But Karina was still biting her lip anxiously, her eyes darting repeatedly forward to where Thranduil was mounted on a black war horse, his armor repaired and polished. He was grimfaced and determined as he spoke to Amroth. The two princes mounted at the heads of their armies made an impressive sight.
"Are you well, my lady?" Dagnir asked from her right, eyes still forward.
"That is a difficult to question to answer," she murmured back. "I have never fought from horseback before and I find my nerves as frayed as my first battle."
Dagnir was silent, leaving Karina to continue her troubling thoughts. Gil-galad had devised a new strategy for taking on the Morannon. It worried her, but it was-in her opinion-a much more pointed battle plan than his previous one, so she welcomed the change. Lines of trebuchets, armed with rocks from Emyn Muil, would attack the towers beside the gate. The King hoped that the resulting rubble falling into the valley would force the entrenched forces to leave the protected gorge in front of the Morannon, leaving them vulnerable to attacks from three sides. Mounted troops were to be used to combat the inevitable release of the wargs. The ultimate goal was to surround these troops and force Sauron to bring forth more. But in the resulting slaughter of his troops, Gil-galad hoped to capture an enemy captain for questioning. With intelligence from behind the enemy lines, they may find a weakness.
"Dagnir," Karina said softly as she watched the foot soldiers march into position, archers just behind them with bows at the ready.
"Yes, my lady?"
"Since I failed to ask earlier, what distinguishing marks indicate an orc of high rank?"
"That really depends on the orc," Dagnir said in his monotone voice. "Generally they will ornament themselves with some prize that gives them away. But I cannot say for certain. Look for ones giving orders. Orcs are cowardly, in general, and leaders will tend to hang back while their minions get slaughtered."
Karina nodded her understanding, tightening her grip on the reins. She had practiced some with this new horse when she learned she was to be part of Thranduil's mounted company, but it had been several years since she had last ridden, and this war horse seemed a bit skittish.
"He is just eager for battle," Dagnir assured her, seeming to sense where her thoughts went. "A calm word is all he needs." To prove his point, Dagnir leaned over and muttered soothingly to the grey gelding, and almost immediately the horse stopped trotting in place.
"I do not know how long I will stay in the saddle," Karina admitted, her anxiety only mildly lessened.
"We will protect you nonetheless," Dagnir assured her. With Beriosid and Tarlanc injured, her guard was down to six. And of the six, Dagnir was the only one riding without injuries. Karina hoped none of them were simply putting on a brave face. She did not want their deaths on her hands should their sense of duty to her get in the way of their own survival. Karina's own injury was mending well, but it was still sensitive, and she could feel the irritation against it from riding. She did not think it would matter much once the battle began, so she ignored it.
A horn echoed across the battlefield. It was time.
The first assault was solely the siege equipment, sending barrage after barrage of stone into the heavily fortified towers beside the Black Gate. Karina was impressed with the distance the trebuchets covered. Some fell short, but others hit their mark, cutting huge chunks out of the towers and the mountainside around them. And as soon as the rocks began falling on the armies of Mordor, the first wave was unleashed.
The infantry was to take the brunt of the first attack, composed primarily of orcs, the least heavily armed and those on foot. This made up the bulk of Gil-galad's forces, and he would lead them as they formed an arc across the Dagorlad, a barrier against the tide. From the south, an army of mounted Noldor led by Lord Elrond and mounted soldiers of Elendil would charge in to take on the ranks behind at the same time the Silvan forces led by Thranduil and Amroth did the same in the north. Ranks of dwarves and men would stand firm behind the cavalry, holding against any that might break through the lines of horses. It would be a fierce battle on all fronts.
Another horn sounded and Karina watched the mass of elven swordsmen spread out, making a perfect semicircle around the entrance to the Morannon. She watched them brace their shields against the onslaught that was coming. Black met gold and the battle began, the line undulating back and forth as the armies fought. Her eyes flickering towards the gate, she saw the next line of black moving forward. Here were the wargs. And behind them, massive trolls. She swallowed nervously. She was not prepared for this.
The sound of a third horn broke through her thoughts, and as one the mass of horses surged forward. She held on tightly, unsheathing her sword with the rest of them as they charged toward the northern lines, the snarling of wargs audible over the crashing of stone upon metal and stone upon stone. She was right. They were fast.
She watched in fear as the first warg launched itself at Thranduil. But he quickly dispatched it, his sword slicing through its throat as his horse dodged the beast. She did not have long to think about it, however, as she too found herself face to face with the giant wolves.
Had it not been for the Valar's gifts, she would have died quickly. Even with her wonderful mount, moving swiftly through the chaos of his own accord, she would not have been able to dodge attacks indefinitely. Her sword slashed through flesh and bone as wargs came upon her, trying to unseat her. Smarter ones would go for her horse, but with her long sword and the helpful archery of a number of the Silvan soldiers, she was able to dispatch them before serious damage was done. Her mount kicked and stamped, heavy hooves doing additional damage to anything that got within reach. Clearly, it was not his first battle. He handled himself well, saving Karina several times from wargs that attempted to attack her unprotected flanks.
Dagnir proved just as capable on horseback as on foot, staying close to her side and wielding a long polearm deftly. His longer reach kept any wargs from threatening his own mount. The other guards were equally dangerous. Wielding swords and bows, they stayed close, eyes on both their enemy and her.
But their good fortune did not last. They fought off wargs admirably for some time, but the enemy numbers were large and once the trolls reached the front, the lines of horsemen were quickly broken. Archers shot dozens of arrows into the heavily armored trolls, doing little damage. It took a soldier with a pike to bring down the first, but they had trouble fighting the rest. Slowly, they were driven back by the front lines of horses, two more falling to well placed spears in between the armored plates. But even with the trolls held off for the moment, the wargs still were thick around them.
The prediction Karina made before the battle proved true. She was fighting off a savage warg, its face already bloodied from numerous injuries, when it got a grip on her sword with its teeth. She was pulled bodily from her saddle, falling heavily across the corpses of the dead. When she fell, her sword sliced through part of the warg's jaw, and the bloodied white teeth had let go of the blade as the beast snarled in pain as a gash appeared from its jaw back almost to its ear.
Despite the lightness of her armor, it was not so light to allow her free movement. The warg was enraged and in pain, so it came at her as she fought to stand, determined to finish off the thing that had injured it. Its teeth pierced the steel of her chest plate as it clamped its jaws down on her torso. She felt the sharp pain in her ribs from the fangs that dug deepest, ripping through her flesh. A scream burst from her lips at the pain, and her sword slid from her grasp.
Thalanor saw she was in trouble. Recklessly, he leapt from his own saddle onto the back of the warg, stabbing his sword into the back of its neck, severing its spine. The beast's jaws released Karina, and she landed in a heap as the warg fell. She scrambled to her feet, clutching at her sword with one hand as she held her bloodied side with the other.
"My lady, are you—"
Thalanor never finished his sentence. Neither elf noticed as a warg slipped through the ranks and launched itself at him. Karina could only watch in horror as the wolf snapped its jaws around his head, snapping his neck as they both fell to the ground. In the next instant, Karina screamed in rage, launching herself at the warg, slicing its head clean off as it turned to face her, bloody flesh in its teeth.
It was too late to do anything for Thalanor, but Karina was too angry to care. It was her fault Thalanor lay unmoving on the grim battlefield. It was her fault the warg and killed him. She turned her guilt into rage. She stood over his body, defending it from anything that came within reach. Orcs had begun seeping through the sides, and she fought them off with a wild look on her face, screaming and shouting with every stroke she took with her sword. She forgot that they needed prisoners. She forgot to look for signs of rank. She murdered ever last one of them that tried to come near the broken body of her guard.
Dimly, she heard the call to fall back. She did not know how long she had been fighting over Thalanor's body, but there were great heaps of enemies lying scattered around her. Yet the battle had been a short one. She could see the remains of Sauron's forces fleeing back towards the safety of the gate, choosing the possibility of being crushed over being overrun by the Alliance. Even that threat ended as the barrage against the towers ceased. And although she noticed all of this, none of it registered. As soon as the attacks stopped coming, she was kneeling on the ground over Thalanor, hands shaking as she stared at his ruined face. There was little left. Only blood, mangled flesh, and white bone visible through the mess. Any distinguishing features were gone. She wanted to do something for him. She was a healer, she was supposed to be able to help. But there was nothing to be done for the loyal elf. All she could do was take comfort in the fact that his death had been quick.
It had been a short offensive, but a bloody one. In the few hours that they had fought, the gory battlefield had been refreshed with a slick new layer of black and red blood. Rotting corpses were joined by new ones, the putrefying smell almost overpowered by metallic scent of blood. It was a grisly sight. But Karina noticed none of this. She just kept staring at Thalanor, wanting to put him back together again.
"My lady, we must retreat," Dagnir said, grabbing her by the upper arm and pulling her forcefully to her feet. "Come."
"We cannot leave him here!" she shouted, struggling against his grip. But he refused to let go, dragging her towards his waiting horse.
"The others will bring him. You need to see a healer immediately."
"I am fine!" she thundered angrily, still fighting as her guard hauled her away forcefully.
"You are not. If you do not see a healer now, you will bleed out. I will incapacitate you if you keep struggling. You are only making the blood loss worse."
Finally hearing his words, Karina stopped struggling. But when she did, she felt a wave of nausea and dizziness wash over her. Her vision clouded and she felt her legs start to give way. Dully, she felt Dagnir pick her up and put her in the saddle of his horse, riding back towards camp to find her a healer.
She drifted in and out of consciousness as she lay on the lumpy ground, someone hovering over her and treating her wounds. She felt searing pain in her ribs as the wounds were cleaned, someone making the decision to cauterize them instead of sewing. A scream escaped her lips, but it was harsh and broken.
Some time later, she came to, feeling the ache of healing making her lethargic. She shifted on the ground, feeling like she was too heavy to move.
"My lady, are you awake? You are needed."
"Dagnir?" she asked hoarsely, seeing the outline of someone hovering over her, but not able to focus on his face. It sounded like Dagnir though, so she blinked, trying to see him through the haze.
"My lady, you are needed elsewhere. May I carry you?"
"Where? What is going on?" Karina said, her voice cracked and weak from screaming. She tried to sit up. But her abdomen and chest were heavily bandaged, and it hurt to rise more than an inch off the ground.
"Prince Thranduil needs you. He was severely injured."
Karina immediately sat up, trying to ignore the pain, though she let out a hiss, betraying her discomfort. Dagnir put a hand on her shoulder to keep her from standing.
"Please, my lady, let me carry you. You are in no state to walk on your own."
"Then get me to Thranduil quickly," she growled, gritting her teeth against the pain. Dagnir obeyed, sliding his arms under her knees and carefully behind her back to avoid the wounds healing there. He swiftly carried her through the camp, weaving between the injured and the healers. The whole way, Karina was fighting to regain full consciousness. Thranduil needed her. She could not give in to the sleep that was trying to overtake her.
"I brought her," Dagnir said solemnly, carrying her over to a cot surrounded by a half dozen healers. Lying on the cot was Thranduil, unconscious and torn to shreds. Claw marks ran from his collarbone to his hip, showing deep gouges in his flesh. His armor appeared to have done nothing to stop the beast that had ripped him apart.
"Good, set her down here," one of the healers said, moving aside to let Dagnir place Karina beside the cot. She could do little more than sit there, though, since she had not the strength to stand and heal him herself.
"Oh Thranduil," she murmured wearily, clutching at his hand. He still had a pulse, which was encouraging, but it was faint. "What happened to you? How did this happen?"
"My lady, I have to know," the healer said softly, leaning in carefully. "Are you bound to the Prince?"
Karina just shook her head, feeling the tears falling from her eyes cleaning deep trenches in the blood and grim on her face. The healer sighed behind her.
"Good. This will be much easier that way."
"What are you doing?" Karina asked, watching him put his hands over the first claw mark, his eyes focused on the wound. She did not understand why he was not immediately cauterizing or sewing the wounds.
"Healing him. I need to strengthen his body first. It will take all my strength to fix these. I cannot afford to heal you as well."
"What do you mean?" Karina asked, confused. She was feeling sluggish still, and though his comments about strengthening him before the healers began sewing him up seemed to make sense—Duross had done the same many times—she did not quite understand what he meant about healing her, too. But the healer was focused intently on his work now, and did not respond to her question. Instead, one of the assistant healers replied for him.
"If you were bound, he would be healing you as well through the bond. He would need a second healer to heal you so that his focus could go entirely to the Prince."
"Oh. Will he be alright?" Karina asked, still too dazed to do her own analysis of the situation.
"The wounds are deep but not untreatable. Only muscle appears to have been damaged. His odds are good, if Arnestad can stop some of the bleeding and give his body the strength to do more on its own. I will have to stitch the wounds quickly once he is done so they can begin mending."
"Can I help at all?" Karina asked, feeling quite useless sitting on the ground in a heap.
"If your hands are steady, you can help me sew him up. Otherwise, just your presence might help him heal faster. Give him comfort when he wakes."
Karina nodded her understanding. She would do the best she could in her weakened state. She only hoped it was enough to pull Thranduil out of his.