The Battle Told
Chapter 45: The Battle Told
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.
There was a moment of silence that lingered, a great intake of breath. The air around them buzzed and tension heightened, though still in the distance one could hear the cadence of the orcs' savage drums. Miredhel's heart matched their pounding beat for beat.
Aragorn called for his riders and archers to break through the orcs' ranks. Next to the king, Eledhel whispered elvish to his fidgeting horse and gripped his bow. Then the men all shouted again and leaped forward in a cloud of dust and blur and were gone.
Miredhel glanced back at Legolas.
His eyes were cool, detached, even as he watched his friends plunge into battle, knowing that he must wait behind them. He reminded himself that this was one battle he was not meant to fight. His role was one of patience and skill; for if their plan succeeded, and the dragon made himself known, he had only one shot with the mithril arrow to bring the beast down. That arrow was the only remainder of the ones that Galadriel had gifted him. Their every hope depended on this single chance, and Legolas grimly realized, albeit slightly, how Frodo must have felt during the War of the Ring. No wonder the poor hobbit had sailed to the Grey Havens.
"Go on now," he called to Miredhel, desperately trying to keep his tone light. "You remember what to do, right?"
Her eyes flashed, but her face was very pale. "Yes, I remember." She was to ride across the edge of battle and draw out the dragon, hopefully luring him back toward Legolas and the mithril arrow. She summoned the two men who were supposed to ride along side her and headed toward the fray. They had only traveled a few yards when Miredhel stopped.
"My lady?" questioned one of the men.
She turned her horse around and rode the short distance back to Legolas. He had been resolutely sitting there astride his horse, his face schooled into a martyred acceptance of his fate of having to stand by and wait. His features softened at Miredhel's reappearance.
"Miredhel," Legolas spoke quietly, "You must go. There isn't any time. "
"I know. I just…" she faltered.
Legolas' lips curved. "Don't make this about goodbye," he said wryly.
"I hate it when you use my own words against me," Miredhel replied and looked down at the ring on her hand, his ring. Her eyes met his. "Be careful," she said and was gone.
Miredhel caught back up with her escort, and the three of them skirted the outer edges of battle. Smoke hazed over both men and orcs, over the black and occasional flash of sword or bright helm, almost obscuring them to mere shadows in the dusk; and the maddening beat of the enemy's drums exploded into a squall—thousands of stamping feet, bodies colliding, shouts, and shrieking.
All Miredhel could see was the hot mesh of bodies before her. It was all just too dense, too dim for her to make out any sign of the dragon. There was no time for watching and waiting. Their soldiers would not last the onslaught. Finding Anglachur was key. He must be killed and quickly, for without his leadership the orcs would hopefully scatter.
She turned and urged her horse and guardsmen further and further into the fight until they were swallowed by the deafening thunder. Here chaos ruled, but she had a better line of sight and could already make out the distant outline of what could only be the fort at Calenfen. And with unlooked for hope, she made out a flash of grey heading toward the old stone walls. Eledhel. Then just as suddenly, that same hope died in her chest, for she saw a great black silhouette rise against the flying ashes.
"Anglachur! It's him!" she cried to her companions, turning just in time to see an orc impale one of her guards with a pikestaff. Yet there was no time for sorrow, no time for vengeance, she had to keep going and could not afford to look back. She had to be able to pull the dragon away from the battle. She must catch his attention now. Miredhel quickened her pace, her throat dry, her temples pounding. Her remaining guard followed close behind, and both their bows sang to keep their path clear.
The dragon now circled the air, licking the sky with a spiral of flames and observing the battle which was sure to bring him victory.
"Anglachur!" Miredhel shouted to the beast as she raced closer, hoping she would catch the dragon's eye before he noticed her brother. "Black dragon!" But her cries were lost against the deafening roar of the crowds. She had no standard to raise, no pennant to wave with which to summon him, and her voice was certainly not loud enough.
"Dragon!" she shouted again and in desperation pulled her silver hafted knife from its sheath. Miredhel reached back and cut the leather ties from her hair and unraveled the braid with her fingers. A frizz of untamed curls stirred loose in the wind, one wild bevy of gold. Miredhel shook her head, and again the wind caught her hair against the light of the dragon's fire.
The unexpected burst of gold from down below caught the dragon's eye. Anglachur wheeled in the sky and then plummeted in a dead-drop free fall straight toward Miredhel. Her remaining guard from the Gondorian army visibly paled under his helmet.
"Run, my lady!" he shouted and loosed an arrow in the dragon's direction to no avail.
Miredhel swallowed thickly. Well, she had gotten what she wanted. Miredhel could feel the heat of his fire even at this distance. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see her brother safely arrive at the gates of the fort.
"So you do remember me!" She shouted to the dragon and then did what any sensible person in the same situation would have done. She and horse turned tail and ran for their lives.
With her guard following closely behind her, she hurtled through the melee with the dragon's breath licking their heels, and the twisted mass of bodies and blades began to part before them. None wished to find himself in Anglachur's path.
"Faster, my lady!" the guard called frantically and then was silenced with a strangled yelp.
From his far removed spot on the plains beyond the battle, Legolas watched with increasing horror as the dragon swooped down, claws outstretched, and seized the guard's mount from beneath him with one terrible swipe of his claws.
His fingers tightened around the grip on his bow, and the prince murmured a prayer for Miredhel: that she could draw the dragon out to him before it was too late, before the dragon caught up with her as well. He closed his eyes and vainly tried to squeeze out the image from his mind.
In a few minutes, the dragon would be his to face, his to kill.
On the far side of battle, orcs swarmed the walls of the old fortress, Calenfen.
"They've got a troll!" Miredhel's brother, Eledhel, shouted to his fellow soldiers and pulled up short after thundering through countless lines of orcs to reach the fort.
Lips curled, the troll turned from smashing in the fort's gate and lumbered toward the soldiers.
"Shoot him," screeched Adrendil, who pulled his bow and took aim at the troll's head, but it was Eledhel who leaped from his horse and brandished his sword at the troll.
"I'll draw him away," he shouted to Adrendil. "Secure the fort! Find Belegil and Sulindal!" Belegil and Sulindal had remained at the fort with the rest of Legolas' group of elves to protect the villagers from the orc threat.
Eledhel dodged a heavy-handed blow from the troll, only to back into a nasty looking trio of orcs.
"Aye, looks like we'll have a bit of sport with this pointy-ear!" one of the orcs sneered and thumped a filthy club against his open palm. "Get 'im, ye maggots!"
With the troll closing in on one side and orcs ready to pounce on the other, Eledhel lifted his sword with a savage gleam in his dark gray eyes.
"Then let the games begin, shall we?" the elf said in a deadly low voice. The enemy's blood splashed his armor and coated his vambraces, but his face was as calm as a prairie dawn. His thick straight hair flew out behind him as he fought in one fluid motion learned through centuries of training with the wardens of Lothlorien. He was beautiful and fierce, and Eledhel was nothing, if not a survivor. On this battlefield, he was also Death.
He whipped a dagger from his belt and flung it so fast the three orcs facing him became but two in less than a second. Eledhel had caught the one who had spoken right between the eyes with his blade. He swung his sword and beheaded the second and then the third as they charged, and then quickly knelt to regain his dagger and dodge a blow from the troll still on his trail.
"You look like you could use a hand," a voice said coolly behind him. Eledhel turned and nearly wept with joy. Two of his oldest and dearest friends stood at his back.
"Belegil, Sulindal!" he exclaimed. "How did you get out of the fort?"
"Scaled down the wall," Belegil said with a grin. "Now let's get rid of this troll so we can open the main gate and let the rest of our friends join us in battle.
"We couldn't let you have all the fun," Sulindal said, "especially now the dragon has flown away."
"The dragon!" Eledhel visibly grayed before his friends' eyes. "He's after Miredhel, then! We had a plan to draw him away from the battle, so Legolas could shoot him!" And in perfect timing, all three elves' heads turned toward the dragon's peerless flight above the smoky haze of the battle and watched him swoop down toward his prey…
Miredhel had ridden fast before today. Like in the archery contest when she had first met Legolas, she and her horse had really flown. But that was nothing compared to this. It seemed to her that she must have taken flight. Her horse had grown wings ever since he had first spotted the dragon. It wasn't just her hide he was trying to save.
The frenzied path they were taking through the battle was verging on insanity, but she knew that stopping, or even slowing down, would mean death. The open field where Legolas waited was now visible. Just a little further and they would finish their part of the task. Legolas would have his shot with the mithril arrow.
Perhaps the sight of the open field made her mount overly confident as well, because the poor horse's attention faltered and in that moment, he made a fatal error. He lost his footing and stumbled over a fallen orc in their path. Miredhel sailed over his head and landed with a thud, only to see Anglachur diving straight toward her.
Legolas did not forget the plan he and Aragorn had made, but he chose to ignore it. He certainly was not going to sit idly by and do nothing when that foul beast of a dragon attempted to devour his beloved. He loved Miredhel, LOVED her! And no sorry, scaly excuse of a reptile was going to come between them. Damn dragon.
With an unholy glint in his eyes, Legolas forgot all about his injuries at the hands of the orcs, he forgot about his thirst for vengeance, and he did not think twice about himself. He was an elf transformed; heat sizzled from every pore and seemed to crackle in a trail of pure energy behind him. The power in Thranduillion's blood began to sing.
He saw Miredhel, knew he could help her. The dragon was close, close enough for him to have a clear shot. "Anglachur," he roared above the battle. "You will give me satisfaction!"
The dragon spotted the prince of the elves and, licking his maw, swerved toward him.
"Foolish princeling!" he snarled as he dropped down toward the elf. "I played you, played you like one of those silly harps your kind love so much. You lured Aragorn away from his precious white city. After I destroy his army here, Minas Tirith will be mine to devour!"
Legolas would delay no longer. He fit the mithril arrow to his bow, pulled the string taut, and released it. Like a flash of lightning against the thunder of the battle, the arrow raced straight and true toward Anglachur's heart.
And missed. The arrow missed Anglachur. It didn't even hit him at all. He soared upward at the last possible second, and the arrow fell short of striking him.
Legolas could scarcely believe it. Their one shot at salvation in this battle against a foe they could not otherwise defeat, and he had blown it. Now Anglachur wheeled in the sky above him and began dropping down in a free fall straight toward Miredhel. "See if your magical arrows can save her," he taunted.
"Forget about me!" Miredhel shouted to Legolas as she watched him race toward her. "Look for the arrow! It had to fall somewhere!" She drew her short sword and dodged back into the battle, hoping the dragon would lose her in the scuffle.
With Miredhel lost from his sight, Legolas continued to ride at full speed into the battle, hoping against hope that he would find her before the dragon did. It seemed that Anglachur must have lost her as well, because he had settled for doing low fly-bys over the fray and scooping up clawfuls of orcs and men looking for her.
"Legolas! I see her," a voice called from his left. His eyes snapped to the source.
"Eledhel, thank the Valar," Legolas called back. "I missed with the arrow. I think we have to go with our second plan of attack!"
"We have a second plan?" Eledhel swiped at an orc with his sword as he shouted.
"Plan B. It's called 'Find Miredhel and kill as many orcs as possible.'" Legolas took turns firing arrows at enemies between words. He swept around, losing Eledhel from sight for a moment to pull a knife and stab an orc from the side.
"I like the sound of that. Does Aragorn know about it?" Eledhel joked loudly as he fought toward the prince and then sucked in his breath as he realized he had been hit. And then hit again, and again.
"Eledhel?" Legolas called out. "Eledhel?" His striking blue eyes scanned the spot where he had last seen his friend.
It was Miredhel. "We have to get moving. The dragon is circling, and you're out in the open. Let's go." She took his hand and made to pull him toward her, but fear rooted his feet to the ground. She followed his gaze and understood why in one horrible instant.
Her brother had fallen to his knees a few yards away. Three arrows pierced his chest.
With the dragon closing in, they rushed to her brother's side anyway. "Eledhel, lie back," Miredhel urged him, taking his hand. "Elvish medicine has cured worse—you'll be fine!" she assured him in a cheerily false voice.
"Legolas," Eledhel avoided meeting his sister's eyes. "Look at the arrows. Look," he hissed. "They're all mithril, like Galadriel's gift. Like the ones stolen from you. They pierced my armor, but you…" he sucked in a breath, "you can use them to kill the dragon." He placed a gray-tinged hand around one of the arrows. "Quickly, help me pull them out. The dragon's coming… Hurry."
"Legolas, no!" Miredhel caught his hand in her own. "If we pull the arrows out now, he'll bleed to death. We can't!"
This time Eledhel met his sister's eyes. "Miredhel, he must." He coughed in a fit of pain and gripped the arrow to dislodge it from his ribs. "It's the only way."
"I won't let you do this, Legolas. You'll be killing him, my brother. He's all I have," she begged, working her brother's hand free of the arrow so she could hold it. She sank by his side and put her other arm around his shoulders.
"That's not true, Miredhel," Eledhel disagreed softly. "You have Legolas. He loves you. I want him to do this, for the both of you…" Miredhel buried her head against her brother's shoulder and his hair, and Legolas wrenched all three arrows free.
Standing protectively over his fallen friend and Miredhel, Legolas wiped Eledhel's blood from the arrows. The battle raged in chaos and death all around them. Then the skies parted and the dragon plummeted through a ring of fire in the sky straight toward him. This time, Legolas vowed, he would not miss. The runes on the arrow caught his eye as he aimed, and he murmured their words like a prayer, bein nar, celeb Erulisse.
The arrow soared through the air and then buried itself in the dragon's heart.
Anglachur shrieked as he fell, raking one massive claw across his chest at the arrow that pierced him so cruelly. Legolas shot him again with the second arrow, and then again with the third, and the dragon struck the earth hard, sending soldiers and orcs alike flying upon impact.
"Eledhel, it worked! The arrows worked!" Legolas cheered. Quickly remembering his friend's injury, he knelt back down, but it was too late.
Eledhel, First Marshal of the Guard of Lothlorien, was dead.
Miredhel held her brother in his arms, and her eyes were a cold, pale green. "Legolas," she cried softly, "I can't leave him."
"It's not safe, the battle is still going. Even with Anglachur dead, we may not win. The orcs out number us, and they're not fleeing like we hoped they would."
"I can't, Legolas," Miredhel said. "I won't."
"Then neither will I," Legolas agreed, and handing her his bow, drew his long knives, and began to carve a wicked swathe in orcs around them. In the distance, he could see Aragorn and his men doing the same, and Belegil and Sulindal staving off orcs from the fort. Hopelessly outnumbered was an understatement.
Then a distant horn sounded, followed by a dreadful shout from the north deafened over the din of battle. The orcs stopped in their blood lust to look. The men of Gondor paused. Legolas checked his knives in mid-swing.
A great host had arrived in green and brown, stood waiting on the edge of battle, with bows and swords gleaming fresh and bright, led by a fierce and terrible warrior whose frightening blue eyes brought fear and loathing to his enemies.
Thranduil had come. With him the elves of Greenwood hurled themselves into battle. The orcs wisely began to flee. Since their leader Anglachur perished, they knew no reason not to retreat. Fighting an army of wild-eyed wood elves was not the same as fighting tired men from Gondor.
Tired or not, the men from Gondor let out a victory cry as they chased their foes down across the field to smite them. Aided by Thranduil and his elves, the men felt a new lease of energy consume them. An hour later, the kings of Greenwood and Gondor met in the ruins of the battle, surrounded by ash and death.
Aragorn clasped Thranduil's hand with obvious appreciation. "You could not have arrived at a better time, King Thranduil. You have my deepest gratitude."
"Aragorn," Thranduil said, placing his hand over the man's, "I have known you since you were a young man. From scruffy Ranger of the North to King of all of Gondor. I admit I had my doubts and voiced them to Legolas when he said he was joining you." The king's eyes were shrewd and earnest. "He disagreed with me. Stood up to me in front of my own council!"
"I'm sure Legolas meant no disrespect…" Aragorn diplomatically started to say.
"I am very proud of him, my son Legolas. As much as a father can be, I think, and I wanted to prove it to him…and the world of men..." Thranduil finished.
"I am glad, then," Aragorn said, amending his opinion of the hardened elf king.
"Where is my son?" Thranduil wanted to know.
The elf king met his son halfway across the field, carrying a prone, limp form.
"Father," Legolas said brokenly, his face stained with soot and the wet traces of mourning. "Help—help me. She's dying…"
And he lowered his arm to reveal Miredhel's lovely and sad features, her eyes closed and unseeing, her skin pale and cold.
Thanks for reading! Again, sorry about the hiatus! But I hope you enjoyed this hardened (and sad) battle chapter. It's one that I knew I was going to write from the very beginning, but felt very intimidated to make it just right for my readers.
I hope you enjoyed it.