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Battle of the Golden Wood, The: 19. For the Lady
As Oswy lay, curled around his shame, it seemed to him that all of the created world drew in a breath, to condemn him. Leaves stilled above his head and he felt the imprint of each one as a small heaviness on his back. The voice of Khamul's ring in his mind cast off sweetness, clamoured in harsh demand. Imagination beheld the grave burst apart from the inside, its dweller come scrabbling out; the ring, wearing the revenant, coming for him against his will. The thought was vivid as elvish dreams. It drove him to his feet, terrified. He backed away from the mound, the only moving thing in a forest frozen and uncanny with suspense. "No! No, I don't want it!"
And the held breath was exhaled. Not on condemnation, but on release. A power was unmade, and everything was altered. Time flowed back about Oswy. Green-gold light fell on his face, dappling the ground about him, and sparkling in silver above his head. The Mordor cloud had broken and the sun risen in fields of blue over the fresh spring leaves of Lorien. As one blinking out of deep sleep, Oswy stood, struggling from the crushing pressure of dark dreams. He felt as a child feels when its mother comes in at night with a candle - look, that crouching orc in his chamber is shown as a clothes chest, that glimmer of eye only a reflection of moonlight from a buckle. Released from an enchantment of terror the child sighs, relieved by light and truth. So Oswy sighed.
He looked up, breathed in, and felt real, present in a way he had not felt since entering among the dreaming trees of the Golden Wood. Returning to Calandil's grave he saw only the sorrow of an immortal life brutally cut short, and felt no other call from it. He was at last his own again.
Something had happened, of that he had no doubt. Some arcane deed had been done to reshape the world, but he had no time to wonder what. For into the new sunshine the Lord of Lorien came striding, silver as a bolt of lightning. Shrugging into armour even as he strode, calling orders, surrounded by a train of harried advisors, bright-faced soldiery, he paused but a moment when he saw Oswy, and surely he could not have missed the fresh turned earth on the grave, the soiled hands. But he said only "Come. Now we end it."
He too, Oswy thought, looked newly awakened, and there was a difference about him that could not be placed, even as there was a difference about the forest itself. Less high, he looked suddenly, but fiercer. No less elvish, no less strange, but still, less like a legend, more like a spirit of this earth. Whether diminished, or merely changed, Oswy did not know.
Shaking off thought, Oswy dashed to the healers' pavilion, where Leofwyn was scrambling to her feet. His mother looked even as he felt - released, puzzled about whence this new hope came, but not daring to question it. He kissed her cheek and fumbled with the buckles of his armour, until she laughed and did them tight for him. "I know not why," he said to her, "But the Lord says we may finish this now, and I believe him."
"Some enchantment of the Enemy's has been broken, I deem," she said, and her eyes, which had in the darkness seemed dull as stones, shone now as blue as the sky above. "I feel as though I send you not to doom but to victory. Ride well, my son. Return in triumph."
In the North, Rumil had taken charge of the combined forces of elvish knights and archers. At the fall of his brother a silent madness had come upon him and he pressed the hordes of Moria back, spending his own men recklessly, in pain, like a wounded wolf. Behind his forces Haldir came creeping like a carrion crow, picking through the bodies, gleaning weapons and metal, and those few elves who could be brought alive from the field.
"Here! Here!" came the cry from a maiden a little in front of him. Cautiously he ran to her, bent double beneath his cloak of grey, hardly to be seen amid the boulders beslimed by black orc gore. She had found a warrior pinned beneath a horse. The horse was utterly shattered, the warrior lying in a tangle of broken bones, her lips bright red with life's blood. Sodden and dirty as the ground was her bright armour, and her helmetless hair that had once been black as a crow's wing was now a river of filth.
"Tasariel," said Haldir, in some awe, "You are unstoppable! I climbed over the carcass of the brute that struck you - it must have been as though the Argonath fell, and yet you still live?"
The sound she made was half way between a cough and a scream as he rolled the horse's hindquarters off her splintered legs, but he guessed it was meant as a laugh. "I will..."
There was nowhere he could touch her without pressing on a wound, so he steeled himself to cause her agony and lifted her as speedily as he might onto a stretcher that had once been white, but now dripped, just as she did, with mud and matter. "You will..."
He leaned closer to hear the defiant whisper. "You will make sure...I look better than this...in the song of it."
The words reminded him of Orophin and the vow from which he had been released, and grief darkened his sight, pressing on his eyes as the vapour overhead. But then a wind came, a wind from the sea, and blew hard upon the gates of Moria. The air filled with salt and wildness. Treetops streamed like banners and, between heartbeats, Haldir's spirit was changed within him - strengthened, restored. "I will sing you fallen, all black and silver and radiant as the blossoms of Elbereth strewn across the heavens," he said, and wondered at himself.
He carried Tasariel back within the whispering scent of Lorien's borders. As he walked his senses waited for the change - the step that would take them out of Middle earth into a memory of Valinor, the step that would tell him when he had passed the wards. It did not come. Then Haldir knew that far away, in the Black Land, the Halfling Frodo had done the deed heroes of old had found too hard. The One Ring had gone into the fire. All was unmade, the Enemy's power, and their Lady's, and now there remained but elf against orc. Of the outcome of that battle he had no doubt.
Setting the wounded knight down in the healer's tent Haldir looked upon the many bemused faces of folk who rejoiced and knew no reason for it. Laughter caught him then, like the flowers of an ancient rose - a sweetness born from thorns. "The Enemy is overthrown!" he said, "All that Mithrandir has wrought is come to fruition and Sauron is no more."
Few had been privy to the danger the Lord and Lady had taken on themselves in letting the Ring of the Enemy shelter in Lorien. Haldir had known only because it had been his to guard for two nights. What more he knew was pieced together from rumours overheard on journeys to Imladris and Mithlond. So it was without surprise that he received the looks and wry words of incredulity. Indeed he could scarce believe it himself. Was it over? And were the elves now free from the hatred of Vala and Maia as they never had been in all the history of their race?
Haldir's amazement was cut short. Rumil's second, Borogil, came racing into the encampment with a wide eyed look of hope. "The sun shines!" he shouted, "And the Moria-goblins shriek and cower before her face as of old. Whatever power brought them out despite her, it is gone. Let all who can stand upright and bear a weapon of any kind come - we scatter them and drive them back into their gate as the West wind scatters cloud. Come!"
Then Haldir strapped a shield to his injured arm and took up a long white knife in his left hand. He could not draw a bow, but against common goblins this should be more than enough. A grim smile was on his face as he left Tasariel, but ere he joined the new company of the injured he paused at his brother's bedside. The flush on Orophin's face was livid as a burn, and his breaths came rapid - harsh little gasps of pain.
Haldir bent down to kiss the hot forehead. "Orophin," he said, "The darkness is past. Come home to us. There will be peace now, I swear it. I will make you wake to peace." Then he turned and went out to fulfil that promise, to fight one more battle, to make certain that if his gentle brother returned he need never lay hand to weapon ever again.
In the South, the elves too felt the change. A falling away, and a resurgence, as though the tide had turned. Before them orcs wailed and staggered in the new light. Companies split apart as the will that united them was withdrawn. Then wargs turned upon their riders, and Moria goblins fell on their brethren of Mordor, or allied, festering with resentment, to hack down Saruman's hated Uruks.
The bell like note of a great horn sounded in the East - a rallying cry. Then Merethir and Erethon exchanged a glance of wonder. Back to the forest they went, once, for Erethon to re-arm his force with bundles of fresh arrows sent from the City, and for Merethir to pour over himself a bucket full of water. His white cloak had long since been lost but, with the drenching, his armour grew bright once more, and his black hair glittered with points of light.
Erethon mounted his company on the spare horses, leaving only the injured behind. He felt alight, as though a great flame burned in his chest. "Now for justice," he said to the knight, "Now for repayment and vengeance!"
"Justice," said Merethir, frowning, "Aye. But say not vengeance. We are no orcs. We will spare those who sue for pardon, and we will show mercy - yes even to these monsters - as befits us."
Erethon was not abashed by this rebuke. Over nice it seemed to him - the courtesy of a vanished age, a higher people. "For Celebrian!" he shouted, and behind him both archers and cavalry took up her name as a battle cry as they swept upon their demoralized enemy. Many orcs died that day to the sight of sharp elvish beauty and the sound of the name of Celebrian, so that in ages afterwards it became a rumour of dread among them. But Erethon and Merethir drove their way through the orc host unhampered, and joined the main elvish army that gathered in the burned lands before Caras Galadhon.
The sun had passed the noon and descended over Lothlorien. The shadow of the elven host streamed before it. A haze stood upon the river banks and spread in pearl and steam down the length of the Anduin. The light had changed from gold to silver, and the shadows were painted with distant blues. Water fretted through reeds even as the elves silently gathered, and on the further bank the orcs quarrelled among themselves, or slipped away, deserting where they might, killing each other where they could not.
The pontoons, huge, tarred, and black, boomed as Anduin's currents slapped at them in disgust. Ill made they were. Their planks bore still the bark of the trees torn down untimely in Mirkwood, and they were held together with iron spikes, whose ragged ends had lamed many an orc, many an elvish horse.
"Take the vile things from the water and use their wood to burn the carrion," said Celeborn to Aelinoth, "Not one living bough of Lorien will I spare for their pyre." He looked out, and saw where the enemy still held together in the middle of the field. Such captains as the Enemy had left, after the fall of the Ringwraiths, were there, and the terror of them, even now, kept the centre of their forces firm. Then Celeborn smiled, grimly, hearing the battlecry of Erethon, and he felt glad. Now he would cleanse the stain from Ennor, as he had always desired to, and present it, won, at peace, redeemed, to his Lady. She would see at last that it was possible for this world to be as perfect as the one she had given up for him.
An early moon was in the sky. It was a good sign. "To the boats!", he cried.
The fleet of the Galadhrim - white as snow, grey as the sea - set forth over Anduin, and Ithil's pale light mingled with the rich yellow of the descending sun. The water was as flame, and the armour and the eyes of the elvish warriors gleamed as though they were not flesh at all, but fire. Mist parted, and they burst through it, glimmering, flickering with light, surging onto the further shore. Silver limned the great banner which Oswy bore, and gathered in the heart of it, as though the stitched moon had caught the spirit of its namesake. Even upon the wave patterned spearhead radiance lay, honed as steel.
Then Oswy knew that the shadow had passed indeed and his ordeal was over. Even if he fell now he would fall as a Man, clean, at peace with himself. He rode into song whether he lived or died. A wave of thankfulness washed out the memory of Khamul's Ring and he found himself taking up the cry of the warriors of Lorien. No longer did they call Death! Death!, but "For Celebrian! For the Lady!"
Wholeheartedly, he joined his human voice to their eerie, beautiful melody. Then Lorien's army burst upon the remnant of Sauron's host like a thunderbolt from an ardent sky and scattered them utterly, driving them even to the eaves of Mirkwood, and further, into the blackness under the twisted trees.
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