LOTR 2: Caran Annún: Red Sunset

Talt Nín: Falling Tear

"Caran Annún" (Red Sunset)

Chapter Two

Talt Nín (Falling Tear)

It was a cold morning, darkened by some strange shadow, and the land all around lay grey. The great host of Rohan stood silent and grim upon their steeds. Before them stretched the plains before Minas Tirith. Fires leapt up here and there, and a terrible blackness writhed and moved in a large crescent; surely the enemy could not have gathered an army so large? It seemed then that Minas Tirith had already fallen, and Théoden sat as a man without hope, believing that they had come too late to Gondor's aid.

Merry peered out, sitting before Dernhelm on the soldier's horse, and his heart fell. The city was overtaken. Had Pippin been there when it happened? Was Pippin alive, or dead?

A rider suddenly pulled his horse beside them, and Merry recognized it as the grey clad rider he had seen when they had first left for Gondor. The dark horse pranced with pent-up energy, and the rider's dark eyes gleamed out from the helm that covered his face. Again he felt a sense of familiarity wash over him as those eyes found and held him in their gaze, and he thought that they were trying to tell him something. Then the rider's head snapped up as a great boom rolled out across the plain from the black host, and Merry turned. There was a sudden change; wind blew in his face, and light glimmered as the clouds broke and morning came, and the city glittered and shone a brilliant and blinding white, a beacon of light in the darkness.

Théoden turned to his company, straight and tall, the shadow gone from his eyes and replaced by a blazing fire. Before them he spurred his horse, riding down the lines, his voice carrying to every riders' ear:

Arise, arise, Riders of Théoden!

Fell deeds awake: fire and slaughter!

Spear shall be shaken, shield be splintered,

a sword-day, a red day, ere the sun rises!

Ride now, ride now! Ride to Gondor!

Then Théoden blew a great blast from his horn, and all the horns of Rohan answered it in a resounding, echoing call that carried across the plain. As one the company moved, led by their king, and poured down upon the black host, singing as they went, and their charge and their song struck terror into the hearts of the enemy. They wailed, and some tried to defend themselves, and others fled, but it was to no avail. The riders of Rohan cut them down and scattered them, and none were fiercer than Théoden the king.

Upon Dernhelm's horse, Merry held the reins, guiding them as Dernhelm cut down their foes on either side, staying always with the king. Then suddenly a darkness obscured the sun, and cast a great shadow across the brave company, and Merry heard a terrible cry of warning. Turning he saw the grey rider forcing his steed through the chaos, and his black eyes were wild with a great fear. Then he tore off his helmet, and long dark hair fell about the fair face. It was Mary, and she cried out again to Théoden, trying desperately to reach him.

Great wings beat above them with a foul smelling wind, and terrible claws caught up Snowmane, Théoden's horse, and threw it into the air. Snowmane crashed to the ground with a sickening sound, and Théoden was trapped beneath, crushed by the weight of the horse.

Merry looked up from where he had fallen, for Dernhelm's horse had reared and thrown his riders from his back. Before him was a creature that froze the blood in his veins, and he could not move. It was large and like a bird, its skin naked and like leather, a terrible evil that smelled of stink and rot. From its throat came a chilling cry, causing all to scatter in fear. Upon its back sat a black robed rider with a crown upon his head, yet where his face should have been there was nothing but blackness, and two glowing eyes of fire.

A voice cut through Merry's haze of terror: "Begone, foul dwimmerlaik, lord of carrion! Leave the dead in peace!"

The Lord of the Nazgûl answered her in a cold voice. "Come not between the Nazgûl and his prey!"

There was the sound of a sword being drawn, and Dernhelm spoke yet again. "Do what you will; but I will hinder it, if I may."

"Hinder me? Thou fool. No living man may hinder me!"

With that the great creature gave another cry and rose into the air, and then it dove, mouth open to tear the soldier apart. Yet the soldier's aim was true, and his arm strong, and he cut the head from the creature's neck, bounding back as the great body crashed to the earth.

Then the Lord of the Nazgûl rose from the wreck of his steed and he came at Dernhelm, mace swinging through the air with a cry of hatred. Dernhelm's shield shattered and broke, and he gave a cry as his arm also broke.

Watching as the brave young soldier fell to his knees, cradling his arm, Merry felt a terrible urgency, and sought for his sword– which he had dropped when he had fallen.

"Merry!"

Suddenly it appeared beside him, thrust out by Mary whose eyes were large and wild. The hobbit took it, and crawled forward as the Nazgûl bore down on Dernhelm.

"No living man may hinder me!" it hissed yet again.

Then Dernhelm reached up and pulled away his helm, and it was not Dernhelm, but Éowyn, her golden hair falling free about her shoulders. "But no living man am I! You look upon a woman."

Then the Lord of the Nazgûl faltered, and he seemed to suddenly doubt. In that moment Merry gave a great yell, and thrust forward with his little sword, cutting through the dark folds of the cloak and into the shriveled and sinewy flesh behind the knee, and the Lord of the Nazgûl gave a terrible screech that cut through the heart of all who heard it.

"Éowyn!" Merry cried. "Éowyn!"

Then Éowyn gathered all her strength, and stood, and drove her sword between the crown and the cloak, and there was a terrible shrieking. The crown fell away and rolled in the dirt, and the cloak and mantle crumpled to the ground, empty.

Éowyn dropped her sword as though it pained her, and she fell to her knees. Yet she still had strength enough to crawl to her uncle's side.

Théoden lay still beneath his white horse, blood upon his mouth. As Éowyn reached his side and reached out to stroke the side of his face his eyes opened, faltering, then they found her face, and he smiled. "I know your face…" He said wonderingly, gazing at her as though for the first time. "Éowyn…"

She smiled, though tears ran down her face.

Théoden touched her hair, then his smile became shadowed. "My eyes darken."

Fear and grief put out the light that had started to show in her grey eyes. "No!" Éowyn declared. She took his hand in hers, and her voice dropped to a whisper. "No. I am going to save you."

Théoden smiled gently. "You already did." He answered. Then his fingers squeezed hers. "Éowyn, my body is broken. You have to let me go."

Tears rose and spilled from her eyes onto her cheeks, and she wept.

"I go to my fathers," he whispered. "In whose mighty company I shall not now feel ashamed." His eyes suddenly sought hers, and his breath caught in his chest. "Éowyn…"

She clutched his hand, trying to hold him to her, but she could not stop the final breath from leaving him, and she could not hold the light that left his eyes as they gazed on her face. A great pain welled up within her, and she laid herself on his body, and wept hard and brokenly, until at last her wounds claimed her and she fell into darkness.

Merry watched in shock, his body strangely cold and numb. He could not understand what had happened, and his mind could not comprehend what his eyes showed him to be true.

Behind, on her knees with her dark hair blowing tangled about her face, Mary pressed her hands to the torn ground and bowed her head, fighting the tightness of her chest, tears falling to the earth.

Then reinforcements came to aid the enemy, and it seemed to all that hope had at last abandoned them. The men of Rohan fought with fire and ferocity, and Éomer the fiercest among them, to avenge the death of their king and of Éowyn, who had been found laying beside. Mary also fought, her face grim, yet in her eyes grew a storm of fury. She swung her sword about her, cutting the throats and bellies of several orcs, and then drove it forward into another who attacked with a raised ax.

Shadow once more covered the plain, and the Rohirrim gathered around their captain, Éomer, and prepared for a final stand. Mary stood beside, her sword black with orc blood and held ready, yet her eyes kept straying to the river. Soon a cry went up that ships with black sails had arrived, and the riders of Rohan felt sure that death would come to them all. Yet then they saw that the sails were not all black, and that the standard upon the foremost ship was that of a great white tree in full bloom, and a crown above it, and seven stars all around that flamed in the sunlight. It was Aragorn, come with a host to aid the Rohirrim and drive away the enemy.

Long the battle had been, and many had died, yet Gondor and Rohan had emerged victorious. Legolas made his way down the street and to the Houses of Healing, where Aragorn had been hard at work healing Merry and Faramir and Éowyn. Gimli walked beside the elf, and glanced up continuously at him, his dark eyes narrowed. Finally Legolas stopped walking and turned to him. "What is it, Master Dwarf?"

"Be still, Master Elf, and curb your worry." Gimli said with a huff. "She was not amongst the dead, so be at peace."

"Yet she may be amongst the wounded." Legolas answered, and started to stride forward once more. Gimli gave a shake of his head and hurried to keep up, trying to match the elf's long stride.

They met Aragorn in the hall, speaking with Gandalf. He looked tired as he turned to them, his eyes ringed with weariness, yet he still smiled. "My friends. It is good to see you."

"Mae govannen, Aragorn." Legolas greeted him. Well met, Aragorn.

"So, how fares the young hobbit?" Gimli asked. "He looked grey about the face when he was brought to this house."

"He is well, and Pippin is with him." Gandalf answered with a satisfied smile. "And Faramir and Éowyn shall heal also, I think."

"That is good news!" Gimli rumbled.

Legolas turned to Aragorn. "What of the lady Mary?" he asked quietly. "Has she been seen?"

Aragorn shook his head. "Not by me. Though I do not believe she is among the wounded here, unless by some foul chance she has not yet been brought in."

Legolas' mouth became a thin line, and he glanced away.

Aragorn noticed, and set a hand to the elf's shoulder. "Ask the Warden of the Houses of Healing. If any can tell you, it is he."

"Hmm?" Gandalf turned to them from his talk with Gimli. "And what is it you would ask the Warden of this house?"

"The lady Mary." Legolas replied.

"Oh! Well, then be comforted, young prince." Gandalf said, smiling with a twinkle in his eye. "For she is unharmed, and has gone to speak with Éowyn. She was met by Pippin and myself as we sought Merry's room."

A look of relief washed then over Legolas' face, so intense and sudden that Aragorn and Gimli stared. "Thank you, Mithrandir." He said, tipping his head. Then he turned and left them.

Mary stood in the doorway, staring at the still, pale form on the bed. Presently Éowyn turned her face, sensing the presence of another, and opened her eyes. When they lit upon Mary they grew hard. "Lady Mary."

"My lady." Mary tipped her head, her eyes uncertain. Her step was slow and hesitant as she approached. "How do you fare?"

"Better than others. Better than most." Hard, grey eyes held her. "But then you know that already, do you not? As you knew the fate of my uncle!"

Mary's lips pressed together, and she turned her head. When she spoke, her voice was tight. "I am so sorry, Éowyn." She whispered, and turned back to the fair lady. "I am so, so sorry. If I could have done anything…"

"You could have!" Éowyn snapped back. "You knew it would happen, that the foul servant of the dark lord would attack him. You knew of his death, and you did nothing!"

"I spent the four days of our ride here trying to think of a way to save him!" Mary exclaimed, her voice hurt and at the same time tinged with a hint of anger. "I thought of everything! How could I protect him against that creature the Nazgûl rode?"

"You know the arts of healing!" the lady of Rohan pushed herself up in the bed, her eyes blazing. "Yet you left him there, crushed and bleeding, to die!"

"His injuries were too severe." Mary said, her voice tight. "I could have done nothing. As you said, he was crushed; there was no time to save him."

"You left him to die, and yet you sought to give me false hope when last we met!" Éowyn continued as though she did not hear. "You could have spoken to me of what was to pass, to warn me so that I might do something, but no! You have this gift, the gift of foresight, yet what have you done with it? Have you told us of what is to come so that we might prepare? Have you interfered that good men who died before their time would live? No! You hoard the knowledge to yourself and leave us to suffer, watching as we are overtaken by darkness! You claim to give us hope, yet all your words are but riddles and rhymes designed to keep us from knowing the truth! Do you not remember your last words to me? 'A time will come when your sword-arm will feel the bite of black teeth, and a wyrm shall seek to devour a golden heart.' You hold your tongue and say nothing, and when you do speak you twist your words so that we do not understand! You are not deserving of your gift!"

Silence held the room, hanging in a heavy cloud. Mary glanced down, swallowing, her eyes blinking against the wetness that filled them. When she looked up again there was no light in her eyes, and a deadness in her face. "Forgive me for causing you so much pain, lady of Rohan." She whispered.

Legolas slowed as he reached the door to Éowyn's room, the raised voice and angry words marking a frown upon his face. Outside the door he paused a moment to listen, and his frown deepened at the hatred in the words that he heard, their anger rising into a final declaration.

"… You are not deserving of your gift!"

There was silence then. Legolas became aware of the tightness of his fist, held at his side. It tightened further when he heard the quiet whisper that finally spoke.

"Forgive me for causing you so much pain, lady of Rohan."

A moment later the door opened abruptly, and Mary flew from the room, colliding into him and twisting away to run from the House. Turning narrowed and seething eyes into the room Legolas saw Éowyn sitting in her bed, her skin pale from her outburst, and her face grew even paler under the fury of his gaze. Turning Legolas left, intent on chasing after the grey maiden, when Aragorn, Gandalf and Gimli suddenly arrived.

"What is this shouting?" the wizard demanded.

"Ask the lady within," Legolas hissed. "For it seems she believes Mary to be the cause of her uncle's death."

"I heard." Aragorn said quietly. His brow was dark. "Go to her, Legolas. I will deal with what is here."

Aragorn entered the still room, and approached the bed. The lady there quaked under the fury of his gaze, yet still she raised a defiant chin. "My lord."

"What have you said?" Aragorn demanded, his voice dangerously low.

Her lips grew tight, and her grey eyes shadowed. "Nothing that did not warrant being said." She answered. At his frown she exclaimed: "Surely you cannot side with her! She is a concealer, one who deceives us and does nothing to save the dead–"

"The dead cannot be saved!" Aragorn's voice was loud and sharp, silencing her. "The lady Mary bears a heavy burden," he rebuked. "She knows what is to happen, yes, and who will win this war, and so she must be careful in her actions and her words less she destroy that future. Many things she wishes to change, and yet she cannot! She must watch those around her die, helpless to save them, and so she bears a grief we cannot know! She deserves your sympathy, not your malice!"

Éowyn looked away, tears filling her eyes.

"Éowyn," Aragorn said, his voice once more low. The lady looked at him. "She could not have saved your uncle. His injuries were mortal. You know this."

Her breath caught. "She could have warned me." She insisted, her voice thick.

"What good would that have served?" Aragorn asked. "It would have driven you to despair. You would have been lost to us before ever you rode out."

Éowyn put her hands to her face, and started to weep.

"The weight of the dead is a heavy burden." Aragorn whispered. "And Mary must bear it. You have served only to increase that weight by adding to it the blame and guilt for it all."

Legolas sped through the city, ignoring the stares of the people as the tall elf rushed passed, his grey cloak and golden hair streaming out behind him. He followed her in her flight to a section of the wall, which was now empty, and it was there he caught up with her, as she bent over gasping, tears on her face. As he neared her she heard his steps, and straightened to walk away.

Legolas followed. "Mary…"

"Leave me!" her tone was sharp and bitter.

"Mary…"

"Leave me!" her voice rose with anger and grief, harsh and thick. "I am not worthy of your care."

"Baw! Mary!" He drew closer, gaining on her. No! Mary!

"No!" her steps quickened.

His jaw clenched, a muscle working in it. Legolas matched her speed, even as she began to run again, fleeing from him. Chasing after her along the top of the wall he caught her hand, pulling her to an abrupt stop even as she cried out against him, the momentum swinging her around and into him. At first Legolas stumbled back in shock at finding her in his arms, yet when she began to struggle against him, yelling at him in elvish, he threw thoughts of propriety from his head and wrapped his arms around her, enfolding her within his embrace. She struggled all the harder, hitting his shoulders furiously with heartbroken shouts, yet still he held her tightly, saying words to her in a quick and desperate tone. Suddenly her arms were about his neck, and her face pressed to the collar of his shirt and cloak. A terrible weeping took her, her shoulders shaking with sobs. Legolas held her gently yet tightly, whispering streams of elvish nonsense into her ear, unaware of what he was saying, the words falling from his lips quickly.

Eventually Mary's sobs subsided, and she wept quietly. Then even that grew silent. Her body began to sag in his arms with weariness, spent from the outpour of grief, and her hands loosed their clutch on his cloak. Legolas shifted to free one arm, and with that hand he touched her face so that she lifted it, her tears warm on his fingers, rivers of salt dried on her cheeks. Her eyes were black pools staring up at him, their brown the color of ash, and full of despair.

"I should have done something." She whispered.

Legolas shook his head, his voice a whisper. "No."

"Yes." She pressed the back of her hand to her nose and rubbed. "I should have. I could have thought of something, anything… and now he's dead." Tears filled her eyes again, her face twisting, and she pressed her hands to her face.

"Mary, there was nothing you could have done." Legolas insisted. Taking a chance he gently hooked her chin on his finger. "She was wrong to say such things to you. They were words of anger and grief, not truth."

Something between a laugh and a sob escaped her. "You know the worst thing?" she asked. "Of all things, this was the one things I could change without affecting the outcome of the war. It would have been okay. And of all things this was the one thing I couldn't change! No matter how hard I tried!" Tears ran down her cheeks as she gave a bitter smile. "How cruel is that?"

Legolas could only gaze at her, his eyes a deeper shade of blue with pain and sympathy.

Pulling from his arms Mary slid against the wall to the stone floor, and drew her knees up, curling in on herself. "I don't know what I'm doing." She whispered. "I don't know if I'm handling this right." She looked up as Legolas sat down beside her, one knee drawn up as he leaned back against the wall. "Mana osán-le, Legolas?" She asked, resting her head back against the stone as she looked at him. What think you, Legolas?

Legolas looked at his hands atop his knee. "Im avo sinte." he said quietly. "Im avo gar-en ant apacen-o." I don't know. I don't have the gift of foresight.

"Nán tó na-ha!" But that is it! Mary exclaimed, exasperated. ""I don't have the 'gift of foresight.' I read a book! That's it! I can't see the future, I don't have visions, I just read a story! And yet people look to me like I'm this 'person,' like I have some special power. But I don't! I don't!"

"Ai, Mary," Legolas tipped his head back. "Gohen-nin." he turned his head against the wall to look at her. "Im gost-mín gar-ilya mauy-le na col-nad tó úye-an le na bróg." Forgive me. I fear we have all force(d) you to carry (a) thing that is not for you to bear.

"O daur ha." Mary chastised, waving a hand at him. "Le a cín mellons gar-úqua na cerí-as ha, ennas-an avo le ye eden." Oh stop it. You and your friends have nothing to do with it, there-for don't you even begin (again).

"Mín gar-thír na le na dain vín her-nienor a na on-ammen harthad." We have looked to you to silence our own sorrow and to give us hope.

"A im thír an úqua tare." Mary said, looking up at him. "Le nin mellons. Ye ai im her-ú e 'ant,' min dain cín nienor a on-le harthad." And I look for nothing more. You (are) my friends. Even if I possessed not the 'gift,' I (would) silence your sorrow and give you hope.

Legolas smiled.

"Le n-ú e tyár-o nin dimb." Mary said. "Ha-na tuín im tur-ú beri." You be not the cause of my grief. It is those I cannot help.

Legolas nodded. "Le sinte le n-ú e tyár an mana cirith." You know you be not the cause for what passed.

Mary nodded. Her face had relaxed, and the crippling grief that had been there before was gone, replaced with a deep tiredness. "Im sinte. Mal im lothron ú enyal." I know. But I may not remember.

"Sie im lothron vorima ha." Legolas promised, looking at her with a small smile. "A al le-uva ú last-na nin, im-uva peni Gimli en tas." So I may repeat it. And if you will not listen to me, I will set Gimli the task.

Mary laughed quietly. "Im estel le-uva." she whispered. I trust you will.

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