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Battle of the Golden Wood, The: 17. Many Injuries
Beside Orophin his fellow archer Glorion took an Uruk bolt in the neck, and fell into churned mud, gasping. Orophin wanted no more than to stop, tend his fallen comrade, heal - or at least spare the long torment of half-breath and agony that was his passage into Mandos. He wanted to comfort - to make this foulness go away, at least for one person. But he could not. Instead he leaned down and took up Glorion's quiver, salvaging the arrows for his own need. Every flight that passed through his hands henceforward called him heartless, and the faint cries of pain beneath his feet were louder in his ears than the din of the attacking orcs.
But he had no time for nicety or compassion. "Ware all!" shouted Tasariel, wheeling, drawing away from the lines of fighters by the river, putting distance between herself and some new threat. Orophin looked up from his suffering friend, and saw the huge form of a Moria troll as it ploughed through the orc's ranks towards him. It scattered goblins like a wind through leaves - they fell away from it, or were trodden on. Red was its mouth, open like a cavern in the thick, green hide of its face. The great arms were covered in scales thick as lamella, flexible as the skin of snakes. It carried a club like a young tree, and on its back was a vast skin, bulging with poison to dump into the stream. Its little eyes burned with berserk rage, red as its maw.
Turning back, Tasariel drove her terrified horse forward with her heels, readied her lance, the point swinging down in an arc of fire. Her pennant was of cloth of gold, stitched with a many coloured sun. Her helm had taken one too many blows, and been discarded, so now the sable flood of her hair flew in the wind of her speed as she galloped towards the monster, and the spring light filled it with the glimmer of blued steel.
Breast high to a mounted man was the keen tip of the lance. She spurred her steed on, couched the weapon, bracing herself for the impact, ready to drive the bright point and yards of heavy ash into the cave troll's unclothed thigh. She struck, all the weight and strength of her horse's charge behind her. And the lance shattered against the troll's impervious hide as if against a cliff. Swaying in the saddle, she tried to turn. Wild and white were the eyes of her horse, its nostrils wide. It reared, and as she struggled with the reins the troll brought down its club. Elven lady and mount both went flying, tangled together, fell motionless on the field - stunned, or slain.
The troll let her lie, blundered towards the riverbank. Orophin gasped, looked about himself. All were already fighting for their lives against the renewed flood of orcs. Naught stood between the river and its bane, but only he. Then a foreknowledge of his own death came over Orophin and, as the monster shuffled closer, fear and grief fell away from him, leaving him calm, alone, in a moment of utter stillness. He forgot all but the beauty of skill, the rightness of the pull of his bow and the glory of arrowflight - straight and sure. His first shot took the troll in the mouth.
There came a boom like thunder above his head and for a moment he thought the Valar were with them, and rain would fall, swelling the river, helping it wash away its taint, but it was only the gag and roar of the furious troll. It bit through the arrow shaft. Looked for him.
As the brutish gaze closed over him, he felt a shock as though he had leapt into cold water. But his body moved of itself, nocking and aiming another of Glorion's arrows. He leapt back, let fly. Straight up, the shot burst, like one of Mithrandir's fireworks, aglitter with light, and pierced the creature's mad little eye. At the same moment, the troll's claw hit him in the side. He felt a great wave of heat, and the world lurched, but there was no pain, not yet.
The impact had thrown him thirty paces from where he had stood. He flew, briefly, like one of his arrows, and hit the ground with a roll, effortless, blessing his brother's obsessive training, his perfectionism. Standing, he wondered what was the slide of liquid down his flank, his leg, puddling in his boot. A hand pressed to his ribs came away shining with blood. It seemed...amusing, as he pulled the bow once more, made another perfect shot, leaving the troll with wounds where eyes had once been, only the pale fletchings protruding from the sockets.
At the sight, he came back to his own mind, and nausea crashed over him like a wave. I did that. Unforgivable, it seemed to him, to inflict such horrors even on a creature of the Enemy.
Sightless, the troll turned about, looking for him, went brawling back among its own host, flailing with the club, crushing, trampling goblins, blind and enraged and unstoppable, and the army of Moria quailed before it.
But Orophin took a step away, and dizziness assailed him. He looked down and saw the four great slashes, like the marks of a scythe, where the trolls claws had rent through clothes and flesh alike, and at the sight agony came welling out of the cuts like blood. He reeled further away, and his feet stumbled in slick dead reeds and mud. The ground was tipping, or he was. There was a moment of confusion, a rushing in his ears, and then he fell backwards, and the icy waters of Celebrant closed over him and swept him away.
Calandil's body had been cleansed and dressed in finery, as though he went to a feast. He lay in a shallow grave, on a cloak of green silk, and was weaponless but crowned with flowers. Leofwyn watched as - one by one - the nobles among the elves drew close to him; touched or spoke, or sang, and went away, tearless but grim. On many of their faces she saw not grief, but bewilderment, as though even war could not reconcile them to the sheer wrongness of an immortal's death.
They had chosen to bury him in the clearing of the fountain, beneath the eves of the trees. Noon was high in an azure sky and golden light lay on the small flutter of leaves. Shadows were green, and the air was cool and clean. The scent of growth and sap was strong. Falling like the notes of the fountain came the voices of many elves, soft and sad. But there was an edge on the beauty, a barb in every breath, for over the sweet laments could be heard the drums in the camp of orcs, and if the wind wheeled there came a stink from the burning borders and the choked streams. Evil surrounded all.
Leofwyn looked about and saw pain, everywhere. Beside her Oswy stood, and his face was white and drawn, but he did not cry. Instead a trembling would sweep over him, and he would bow his head and shiver like a horse tormented with flies. Burning, hot as fever, were the hands she had clasped in joy when he returned to her, and his eyes had been full of shadows and shame. The elves who brought him to her had called him 'Edhellon', as though in some fell deed on the battlefield his name had been cut away from him, and he stood, indeed, like one lost, who cannot remember who he is. It had not taken long for her joy in his safe return to fade. Now she wished only that he had taken some common wound - some hurt of flesh that would heal swiftly - and not this injury to his soul that she did not understand and could not soothe.
She had seen Galadriel stretch out her hand and pluck a Nazgul from the sky, burning him away to naught but ash, and thought to ask the Lady to spend that power in healing Oswy - until now. For Galadriel stood at the head of the grave as rigid and as still as one who walks in mortal pain, and Leofwyn saw that she took every death to herself. The Lady mourned as though she were the mother of every fallen warrior, grieved for each one with the anguish Leofwyn bore for her own son. She mourned as though she bore some blame in their deaths. Fragile, she seemed to Leofwyn suddenly, and the woman of Rohan could not bear to lay another grief on her.
I protect the witch of the Golden Wood she thought, surprised at herself, As a good liegewoman should. Yet how could she see such suffering and not be moved to pity, though it seemed the wren pitied the eagle?
Even the Lord of Lorien, who stood by his Lady, and wept openly - as many of the lesser elves did - looked unwell; favouring his right arm. He too had slain a Nazgul, in a great blow of which Helm Hammerhand might have been proud. But it seemed to Leofwyn that even to stand against these evil creatures was a wound of its own, and not even the mightiest came away unscathed.
Celeborn stepped up to the grave now, and knelt to take Calandil's hands in his own. "Navaer, calan dil nin," he said, quietly, "Greet my King from me. And tell my children I love them." He released the dead grasp and stood up, and at that moment Oswy gave a gasp beside Leofwyn and strained forward, his trembling like a palsy on him. She followed the line of his gaze, saw it locked onto Calandil's clasped hands. Through the loose cage of his long fingers she saw briefly just a glint of jasper and gold, and she guessed that at the last his Lord had pressed into his hands a ring to take into death with him. A final honour.
But Oswy's notice was more desperate than seemed right for a mere touching piece of courtesy. "What is it, child?" she asked, frightened. He turned on her a look at war with itself, and she caught her breath, seeing the struggle in him. As a man obsessed with a forbidden maid, her son seemed to Leofwyn; torn and guilty, lustful and shamed. "Oh, Oswy, what have they done to you?"
His gaze flinched from hers, strayed back to the grave where even now soil had been mounded like a thin sheet over Calandil's resting form, hiding the red-gold flame from view. "Mother...I..." His face was all supplication and fear one moment, and calculation the next, "It is nothing. I am well."
Then elves piled the earth high, and on the top they planted a little seed the size of an almond. The sound of lesser lamentation ceased, and Celeborn and Galadriel sang together. And as they sang there sprang from the grave a silver shoot; a sapling mallorn, wand thin, and on each of its fledgeling boughs there rustled dark green leaves and a single blossom of gold, sweet with scent. It swayed in the wind from the mountains, defiant and new, as bright as the kind lord whose memory it cherished.
"No..." said Oswy and yearned forward. Then he turned, and dug the heels of his hands into his eyes and groaned, as though overmastered by a terrible ache. "I don't want this! I don't want it!"
Seeing him so, Leofwyn thought of Calandil's words, which her son had repeated in awe and thankfulness; 'You know now what to expect, Oswy, when you ride out against the forces of Shadow.' And for the first time she felt that the price for battling evil was too high, this injury too great, and they should, after all, have thrown themselves in Anduin and drowned. It would have been cleaner.
"Would that this was over!" Oswy cried, in torment, "When will it end? When will I be at peace with myself again?"
There was no answer she could give him, except for her own despair.
Celeborn stood on the high talan and looked out. The sun shone, but on the encamped armies of orcs it made no glimmer, only picking out in harsh lines the vile shapes, the devices of cruelty and malice. Each squadron had now for its banner the body of an elf slain in battle - naked, abused, impaled - and looking on them he did not know what he felt - whether it was loss or fury so great it made him doubt he was still entirely sane. Twice ten thousand years he had dwelt in this world, and fought this battle, and still it went on! How much more? How much more did they expect him to endure? How many more of his friends, his family, would he have to lose before it was over?
"The end comes," as if she answered his thought Galadriel stepped upon the platform and stood beside him. The smoke-stained breeze flattened her silver-grey dress against her legs and plucked at the crown of braids she wore. Slender and slight, and infinitely sad she looked, as weary as he. "See," she pointed, and he saw with a numb sickness that Mirkwood's borders seethed with orcs, working tireless as machines to build new siege engines. Already a fourth device crawled from beneath the web-tangled shadow, and Dol Guldur's armoured pits smouldered; spitting out the parts for many more, "We have bought only a breathing space before inevitable defeat."
He closed his eyes and clenched his fists, and pain lanced from his right hand as though it were pierced with a dagger of ice. His arm was cold and only the sheer force of his will prevented it from lying dead at his side. Galadriel's touch on his shoulder was like the press of a glede against his flesh. "I thought to hear you laugh at that," she said, faintly, looking in his face as though she could find hope there. "Ever before you have laughed at such talk."
Turning to her, he saw the scars on her soul - scoured and bleak and barren, as all things became that Sauron's black hand touched. She looked to him for the strength to go on. He, who had no burdens of foresight or perilous power, he should have resilience enough for both of them, courage enough for both.
He reached up and loosened the tight knot of her braids, and the light of Aman, caught in her hair, washed over his Morgul-frozen fingers with faint warmth. How beautiful she was! And how much she deserved. The world - if it had been his to give - he would have laid gladly at her feet, for her comfort. But everything that was his had now gone before him into the West, and he had nothing left to offer. He looked away, failing her at last. "Today I have buried my laughter," he said.
Haldir lifted the boathook in his good arm and fished another orc corpse out of the river. Silverlode swept around a great bend here and much floating carrion was washed upon its shelving beaches. Their decay too would render the water unusable, and so the maidens and the injured were occupied hauling this grim catch from the stream. It was ill work, for many a warrior he had once called friend he now drew out of the flood broken, and each dead face he saw seemed an accusation. I should have been there.
A cry went up further upstream, and he saw the Lady Thilevril struggling to pull a body from the water. The grey cloak and armoury of Lorien he saw, streaming with liquid - and then the lolling head, and the wheat-blond hair; the cherished rare golden hair of his brother.
Horror made a blur of the next moments, until by some chance he found himself by Orophin's side, lifting him onto a stretcher, Thilevril saying something meaningless to him, but all his thoughts focussed on the huge washed wounds that laid bare his brother's ribs.
The Noldo woman spoke again. He ignored her, clutching onto Orophin's arm. This was not, could not be so. And his fault!
Thilevril drew back her fist and slapped him stingingly across the face. "I said stand back, Nando!"
He looked at her, bewildered, conscious that he should be affronted - he should feel something other than shock - but he moved away nevertheless, and her hands descended upon Orophin like a rain - gentle, encompassing. At her mental call her two helpers came running with bandages, and as he saw the maids dress the gaping cuts, some measure of thought came back to Haldir. He is not dead?
He caught the arm of one of the apprentices. "He is not dead?" and she shrugged him off, pouring out a tiny cupful of some drink colourless as the stream, whose scent was snow and green growth - like early spring. They lifted Orophin's head, and forced the cordial into him as Haldir had sometimes done for fawns left to die by their dams, and at the taste of it Orophin's eyelids pinched, and Haldir knew that he was indeed not yet dead.
Thilevril's helpers chose that moment to draw away, and Haldir could no longer be restrained. He rushed forward and again clamped his hands about his brother's wrist, as though he could haul him away from death's grasp bodily.
Orophin gave a weak sob and opened eyes black with drugs and pain. "Haldir?"
Thus summoned Haldir held on tight and beamed. It was not so bad as he had feared after all! Orophin would live, would recover - and Haldir would never let this little one out into danger again. "I am here. Sssh! All will be well now. You're safe."
"I..." Orophin struggled to focus on Haldir's face, "I wanted to say farewell. Where... where is Rumil?"
"You will not!" O Araw, O Elbereth! Had Haldir's stupid idea indeed come to this? Orophin had been safe at the healers - safe as it was possible to be in this darkness - and it was Haldir's doing which had brought him to this. Panic overcame him. "You will not say farewell. You are not going anywhere. Orophin, do you hear me, I forbid it!"
Tears welled and leaked from the corners of Orophin's eyes, mingling with the river's damp in his hair. "Tired..."
"Sleep then," Haldir begged, weeping in sympathy, his grip moving from his brother's wrist to the clammy hands. "And heal. I swore, remember? I swore I would hear no song before yours. Do not leave me in a world of silence! Little brother, I pray you, pity me. Pity me and live!"
Orophin coughed, and his breath caught for a moment with the pain, so that Haldir's heart tore within him, fearing the worst. But then the younger elf opened his eyes once more and gave a sweet, despairing smile. He beckoned, and when Haldir leaned close he whispered, on a small thread of melody into the cankered air:
"Swift, the arrow's sudden flight
Across the burnished sky.
Brave for a breath its arc so bright
But even this must die.
Thou, my brother, from the light
Behold me who has reached the mark.
I beg you, hinder not the night
But let me pass into the dark."
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