Chapter 44: Live Bravely
Aragorn's army moved across the plains of Gondor and followed the Anduin for three more days after the eventful night of Legolas' capture, when the king and elves had devised their plan to bring down the dragon.
The days were hot, the nights cold, and each morning damp as the soldiers rose from sleeping in their camps along the great river. The men of Gondor were quickly becoming accustomed to seeing the elves well awake as the soldiers were just rising, and some wondered if the elves ever slept at all. Take that elf captain Eledhel, for instance; he was ever-watching, ever-vigilant, and he seemed to the men particularly protective of the she-elf and Prince Legolas. The prince, they had learned, had been dealt some nasty wounds from orcs, and the men whispered amongst themselves that it was a wonder he had survived at all. Some said elves were more resilient, could heal faster, but it was clear that Legolas, whom many of the men admired as a warrior and their king's closest friend, struggled. Doubt clouding their eyes, the men watched him now, shaking their heads at the stiffness of his movements, and marveled at his determination to continue on.
Dawn sped quickly across the horizon now, streaking the sky bright with color and the grass wet with dew, and watching it, Legolas knew the day, this day, had been hurtling toward him ever since leaving Lothlorien, like an arrow with deadly aim. And now, watching the sun rise, the reality of what must happen pierced his heart with fatal accuracy. The dragon, the orcs. All those people waiting at the fort in Calenfen. As with any battle, Legolas knew the price. Blood from both sides would spill before that same sun set over the horizon. He only hoped that the plan which he, Eledhel, and Aragorn concocted would be enough to take down the dragon. It must be enough.
He gingerly loaded his weaponry and checked among the many green and gold ones in his quiver for the single mithril arrow, their one shot at salvation. He strung his bow and rolled his shoulders to relieve the tension bunching his muscles tight.
"My prince, it is time," Miredhel said, her long legs taking up the ground as she strode toward him. She had pulled her hair back from her face with some loose strip of fabric. She too carried her bow and quiver and a grim expression on her face.
She was frightened. He could tell. "Miredhel," Legolas began softly, cupping her face in his hands.
"Legolas, there isn't any time for this, for us," she protested, but did not shy away.
"It seems odd to me to worry about time now, when I never concerned myself with it before," Legolas said wistfully and settling his weapons on the ground, swiftly pulled her into his arms and brushed his lips against her own. Fear and desire curled together in his belly; that he might lose her when he wanted her so much, and he recklessly deepened their kiss, bracing her slim body against his, not caring who walked by or saw them there.
His emotions felt like they were tumbling out of control inside of him. He wanted her so incredibly badly, and he did not care who knew it. Legolas had taken her to his bed in Minas Tirith, thinking he knew much about love and the elven heart only to realize later that he knew nothing of either. That night he had offered her everything, all that he was, and in the process, lost his heart to her. And apparently, so had she. Their joining that night had surpassed the physical; the result, a deep emotional bond not easily broken. He had so many things he wanted to say to Miredhel, needed to say to her, for her to hear before they went to battle. And she was right… he was running out of time. He roughly pulled away from her and then falteringly ran a nervous hand through his hair. Legolas' eyes blazed with a sense of urgency as he touched his forehead to hers and whispered her name again.
"Don't make this about good-bye," she warned him, desperately trying to hide her fear.
His lips curled up in a sad sort of smile, and he lifted her chin with his thumb, then kissed her cheeks. "It was brave what you did, Miredhel—volunteering to fight, to lead out the dragon from battle—and I won't cheapen your commitment by asking you to reconsider…" His voice trailed off as he looked at her squarely. "Please, just be careful." His eyes were deep, so blue, and earnest, and his battered appearance from his night at the orcs' camp could not lessen their radiance or beauty for her.
He was all that she had ever wanted or hoped for, and so much more. Just to be near him and his quiet strength made her feel more courageous than she was. Even with his injuries, and she was sure he must be feeling exhausted, he still exuded an ease and confidence that comforted her.
"Legolas, thank you." she said, sliding her fingers down one sleek braid in his hair. "I will be careful." She took his hands in hers and gently squeezed them and turned to mount her horse.
"Wait," he said and caught her hand, pulling her back to face him. He peered at her and then oddly glanced around them for a second. "I never planned on doing this—I mean I intended to, but not now, not like this. But I figure, now… now is all we have…" he rambled and looked down, while a very curious pink tinged the tips of his ears.
"Marry me," he said simply, resting his eyes on her without hesitation.
Miredhel's lips parted and her breath hung in her throat.
Legolas slid his family ring from his pocket and glanced down at it. "I tried to give this to you once before, back in Mirkwood, and you wouldn't have it. Do you remember?" he said, whimsy plying his voice.
"Yes, I remember." She smiled softly to herself. Mirkwood. So much had happened. Legolas had put flowers in her hair, prince's love. After the bonfire and dancing, Miredhel had met and killed her first orc. Legolas had learned of the orcs marching on Gondor and relinquished his title during the King Thranduil's council. She and the prince had shared their first real kiss, one bound by mutual longing, and not a bet, and Miredhel knew even then that she was in serious danger of falling in love.
Since then she had learned what it was like to be loved by him. The days they shared had made them close, and the nights had made them closer. He was ardent, fiercely possessive, and an unwaveringly generous lover.
"Marry me, my Miredhel?" he asked tenderly and gently slid his ring onto her finger.
She found herself nodding and smiling before the words came. "Yes. Yes, my prince."
And then of course they kissed. Only after they heard multiple whistles and wolf-howls, did the two realize that about half the Gondorian army had witnessed the exchange. Miredhel ducked her face behind Legolas' shoulder, and the elf merely grinned and waved to the men.
"She said 'Yes!'" he merrily shouted out to them, and a cheer echoed in return.
A stern Aragorn cut through the ranks of soldiers and stopped at the two beaming elves. "Don't you two realize that I'm trying to prepare these men to leave? We have a battle to fight!" He tried glaring at Legolas, but the elf's smile was irresistible. "Congratulations, mellon. And you, Miredhel." He gestured to the soldiers. "You bring them hope."
"You bring me hope as well," joined in Eledhel, who came up behind the king. His smile was genuine, but his eyes were bright. He clasped Legolas on the shoulder and kissed his sister on the cheek. "I knew you wouldn't be able to wait long to ask her," he teased his friend.
"You knew?" Miredhel asked her brother.
"I suspected," he answered slyly, hugging her so that he lifted her off the ground. "But I still can hardly believe it. I'm overjoyed for you both," Eledhel said genuinely. "It's the happy ending I always secretly hoped for," he explained to Aragorn.
"The battle isn't won yet," Aragorn added wryly. "I hate to break this up, but we must be on our way."
"Of course," Legolas conceded and gingerly mounted Arod.
Aragorn raised an eyebrow. "Are you sure about this, Legolas?"
"I must, Aragorn." The elf was adamant.
The ranger's eyes grew soft, and he nodded in understanding. "Take care, Legolas." The king gave the signal to his captains, and the soldiers began to move out. Aragorn's eyes drifted from Legolas to Miredhel, and he smiled to himself as he joined the front of the lines to lead his men to war.
Miredhel mounted her horse and checked her weapons. Seeing the men move out like that was one more grim reminder that she was going to battle. Battle! She squashed her fear back with a smirk and yell to Legolas. "You do realize that if the dragon is killed, and we both survive, that I'm holding you to this proposal, right?"
He winked at her. "I'm counting on it!" He turned Arod so they could ride side by side, and Eledhel joined their flanks. Together the three elves hastened toward battle, not realizing that Adrendil rode darkly keeping watch behind them.Miles they rode, and the sun reached mid-sky, yet still they kept on. Aragorn's army kept pace with their king, every footstep bringing them closer to the enemy. They would surely reach Calenfen and the orcs by late afternoon. Dread knotted inside Miredhel's stomach, and she wondered if anyone else felt the same way. She looked for fear in the faces of the stoic men and found none. She snuck glances at Eledhel beside of her; he was placid, his typically unruffled self.
"What's wrong?" Eledhel asked, noticing that his sister was staring at him.
"You would not even begin to understand," Miredhel flatly told him.
"What, are you having second thoughts about marrying that fellow?" he asked pointing to Legolas on her other side. "It's not too late to back out," he teased.
She halfway smiled and shook her head. Quashing down her pride, she forced herself to admit out loud that she was losing her nerve. She braced herself for some brotherly ribbing, but Eledhel unexpectedly did nothing of the sort.
"It would be foolish not to be a little nervous," Eledhel said with a knowing look. "I'm a little nervous too, Miredhel."
"Really?" she asked dubiously.
"Sure I am," he answered honestly. "There's never any promise of safety in battle. Anything could happen—even to the best of warriors. I've seen many battles and know this to be true."
His sister did not seem comforted by these words though. Eledhel observed that many of the men had been listening to her words as well, and perhaps they wondered that if an elf's many years of experience gave him no surety, then there was little hope for them.
Eledhel sighed, and began to sing. His voice rang in time to the stamp of men's feet. Raw, and at the same time, achingly beautiful, the elf's voice held an edge that sliced at the hearts of all who heard it; for he sang of war:
Now grasp tight your sword hilts and string your bows,
Today we shall fight to vanquish our foes,
The evil lurking to make itself known,
Orcs and dragon that flay flesh to dry bone.
Death may take us, by one or by all,
Our souls may pass on, but time will recall
An army of men, elves, and Aragorn King
Who fought and shed blood in wild reckoning.
Live bravely, die bravely, and fight your best,
When the sun folds safely into the west,
When this day is done and the battle told,
We shall again see fields of green and gold.
And so the army passed into the wetlands along the Anduin on the northern edges of Gondor. The sun had already started to sink lower in the sky, and the elves could see the fort at Calenfen, smell the smoky fires of orcs, and hear their wild drums.
Aragorn stopped his men and divided the ranks. Fear tightened in Miredhel's throat as she watched Legolas tighten his bow and ready the mithril arrow. A sharp peal rang through the air as the king, her brother, and the host of men drew their swords high.
It was time for battle…