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End To Innocence, An: 19. The Hour of Doom
The woman obeys me, he had said, but the warrior does not, and it is the warrior who must.
Why was it so hard?
It had been a mistake, her coming, she knew. She's known it before she'd decided. Even as she'd spoken with Chip, as she'd arranged the end of everything she knew, she'd known she was coming and she'd known it was a bad idea, unwise in the extreme. She could do very little in the upcoming fight except give everyone who loved her one more thing to lose, and when it was over, if they weren't all destroyed, what then? She had nothing to go back to, and wasn't sure whether she had anything to stay for. She had cast herself loose from any mooring, and now she drifted. But even so, she didn't know what else she could have done. Staying behind had seemed as impossible as cutting off her own arm.
And so here she was.
She and Boromir had exchanged few words since she'd joined him at the front of the host. She knew he was angry with her, but she didn't know what to do about it. Instead of trying to force a resolution, she turned his earlier words over in her mind, looking at them from different angles, trying to find how she and they fit together. How she and he fit together. She supposed that she should have never allowed him to think of her as one of his troops, should have pressed the issue, or asked Chip to add her to his command, but she wasn't used to this paradigm, hadn't realized it would be a problem for her to operate alone in this vast number of people who had to function as a whole. She had thought she could be independent of anyone else during the fight, relying on no one and relied on by no one.
But now in the midst of Gondor's armies, she'd begun to see. She'd watched as Boromir's men had drilled their troops, had admired the smooth functioning of this huge machine of war, many units in an intricate dance. She could see as if in the smoke from the campfires the way the units would move with the enemy, the cut and thrust and parry; pairs, trios, and quads of men with their backs to each other and their blades to the foe, one mind, smooth and fluid, moving always with an awareness of the others. They were not in the chaos of battle, no, but she could see, could see how this would fit into that chaos, could see the dance they would make.
And she was the one alone, adrift, without a place in the machinery. She was the stone in the wheels, the dancer with no partner who would trip up the others, throw their rhythm off. It had been a mistake, and yet, here she was. 'No way out but through,' she thought to herself as she spread her cloak over the thin blanket she'd laid on the ground. Then footsteps, light as a cat's, and she looked up.
"Legolas," she said softly. Moonlight lit his skin like clearest alabaster. The last time they'd spoken had been in the gardens of the Houses of Healing.
He smiled. "I had thought this must be you, too slender for a soldier."
"Sit?" she said, gesturing to the blanket, and he joined her on it. "I'm glad to see you," she said. "I've wanted to apologize for what a - for how rude I was to you the last time we talked."
"It is nothing for which you need apologize," he replied.
She nodded, saying,"Yeah, it really is. I'm just - I feel like a bull in a china shop sometimes, just bumbling around knocking shit over. I'm sorry," she said with a rueful smile, and glanced at him. "You've been so nice to me, and I just -"
He raised a finger to his lips, and she quieted. "I understand," he said. "You fear for Boromir - for what must come to pass, now that the king has returned."
She paused, considering whether to question his easy confidence of what 'must' come to pass, and decided against it. "So," she said at last, "you don't hate me for being such a - for being so harsh in the garden?"
"Lady," he said, "I have been alive for quite a long time, as mortals count it. Were I to hate all who had spoken harshly to me, I would have no heart left for friendship."
She breathed a little sigh of relief. "It's just that I know what a good man Boromir is, and I - I'd like y'all to be friends."
"We are, after our fashion," said Legolas. "And I do not think he would be surprised to know I question his wisdom when it comes to Elendil's heir. Nor would I be surprised to learn that he cares naught for what I think on that score," he continued with a smile, "which, I suppose, is as it should be."
She glanced at him and frowned. "How do you figure?" she asked.
"He must decide how to respond to Aragorn's claim, when he makes it," he said, "and while while there is no ill-will between us, I do not believe he trusts the Elves to have Gondor's good at heart."
"Should he?" she asked suddenly. "I mean, is he right to worry? Will Aragorn's loyalties be split when he marries Arwen?"
"You know of Undómiel, then, of our Evenstar?" Legolas asked.
Maggie raised an eyebrow. "Is that the same as Arwen? God, you people and your double handful of names. Yes, Boromir told me about her."
After a moment Legolas shook his head. "I do not believe Aragorn's loyalties will be divided, for the Elves are leaving Middle-earth."
She looked at him. "Leaving?"
"Leaving?" perplexity written across her features. He nodded again. "But," and she looked around, helplessly. "Where will they go? I mean, isn't Middle-earth, like... the world?"
He hesitated, a startled expression on his face, then laughed. "As your world is 'the world'? Nay, child, the world is wide," he said, shaking his head. "The world is wide, and this only a part of it."
She gazed at him, her brow furrowed. "But you're staying, right?" she asked softly.
He looked at her for a long moment, then replied, "I have not planned beyond the coming battle."
She nodded hesitantly, wishing for a better answer.
"Will you fight with Gondor when we reach the Black Gate," he asked, "or with your mercenaries?"
She glanced away, towards the back of the column where the trucks and guns would be if she could have seen them in the darkness. "With Gondor, I think," she said, deciding not to dispute his mischaracterization of them. They weren't mercenaries, they were pragmatists. "Boromir wants - he thinks I'm a loose cannon."
Legolas looked at her quizzically. "I do not know the term."
"Oh - it's, um. It means someone or something that's destructive and gets in the way, or that might cause the wrong kind of trouble." She started to pluck a blade of grass, but thought better of it - it was so sparse here in the waste they were riding into. Instead she picked up a small stone and turned it between her fingers as she spoke. "He thinks I need to be watched so I don't do something stupid."
"Ah," the Elf said, nodding. "I do not deem he thinks you 'stupid'," he said after a moment.
She shrugged. "Maybe not stupid," she said. "He's right, I guess, as much as I hate to admit it. I don't know what I'm doing here - I don't know how to fit into Gondor's army, but he really wants me fitting in somewhere."
"Perhaps you should return and fight with your people, then," said Legolas thoughtfully.
"Maybe," she said. "I'd rather be able to see him, though."
"Well, there is time yet to consider it," he said.
She felt more than saw the slight shift of his weight that meant he was going to stand, and she said suddenly, "Legolas."
He hesitated. "Yes?"
"I - have you seen them together? Aragorn and Boromir?"
"Why, of course," he said, his tone perplexed. "Many times."
"No, no," she said. "I mean since we - since we got back to Minas Tirith. And since we left for Mordor. How are they?"
"They are much as they have ever been," he said. "Boromir is Steward now, that much is different, and he wears the role as one born to it. It is clear he recognizes no final authority above his own. But he takes Aragorn's counsel, treats him as comrade, as friend." He paused, then finished with a small shrug, "They are much as always."
She hesitated, then asked what she'd been unable to bring herself to ask Boromir, not now while things were so strained between them. "What about what the heralds have been saying," she said softly, cautiously. "About how King Elessar is here?"
"A ploy," he replied, "unimportant except in that it may give our enemy pause. Boromir agreed to it for he is pragmatist enough to see the sense in it, and realist enough to know that as regards political reality, it is meaningless."
"You say that without rancour," she remarked. "I'd have thought it'd make you angry."
A slight smile graced his lips. "I am of two minds on the matter," he said. "Until Aragorn's claim is made and accepted, none have authority here above the Steward, and Boromir would be remiss in his duty if he surrendered it too soon." He paused, considering, then went on, "For the sake of my people, and for the sake of Aragorn, I would have Boromir make plain his intent, and no plainer could he make it than to swear fealty on the spot. Yet, for the sake of Gondor, and of Boromir himself, I realize he cannot."
"Do you think he will?" she said. "I mean, accept Aragorn's claim?"
The smile faded. "If Frodo and Sam fail in their task," he replied, "it will not matter."
The night of their fifth day out from the Morgul Vale, Maggie sat wakeful in the dark, waiting for Boromir to return. They still weren't talking much, certainly not about their strained relationship, but each night they had lain together, and she'd found comfort in the fact that as they drifted to sleep, their breath would slow as one, would synchronize, even if their thoughts and words didn't. And each morning she woke to his fingers tracing over her skin, his soft smile. It wasn't an answer to the questions neither was asking, but for now, it was enough.
She heard his footsteps approaching, and as he lowered himself to the blanket beside her, a wolf called in the distance, and the answering groan of something she didn't recognize sounded nearby. She scooted closer to Boromir, who slipped his arm around her shoulders.
She pressed into him. "I wonder if the sun will ever rise again," she said softly. "It feels so dark."
He kissed her hair, stroking her shoulder. "It will come," he replied. Then, in the tone of one reciting, he murmured, almost to himself, "'Sunlight chases shadow, nighttime fades away, both of them together make another day.'"
She raised her eyes to his face, and his gaze was far away. "What's that from?" she asked. "Is there more?"
"Hmm?" He glanced at her and smiled. "Oh, a song for children," he said. "My father... was it my father?" He shook his head, his eyes searching the past. "He taught it to me, or part of it, when I was very small, but - I think I taught part to him, and I know not from whom I learned that second part." He frowned.
"Can you remember it?" she asked, and his expression softened.
"I shall try," he said, and after a moment his low voice slipped through the dark, singing softly...
"Step into the shadow,
step into the sun;
shadows chase the sunlight,
see the evening come.
Sunlight chases shadow,
nighttime fades away;
both of them together
make another day."
He hesitated, searching for the next verse, then with a quick nod of recollection, continued,
"Twilight comes at morning,
twilight comes at eve,
gold and silver holding hands,
in and out they weave."
At the next line, another voice joined in, and though he didn't stop, Boromir looked up to find the singer, and smiled as they finished together,
"Shimmer like a moonbeam,
glisten like the sun,
dark and bright and starlight,
all of them and none."
"Aragorn," he said then. "You know the song?"
"Oh, aye," Aragorn replied, amusement touching his soft voice. "You taught it me."
A startled pause, and Boromir said, "I?"
"One afternoon in the Citadel, when you were very small. But there is another verse, though I have never recalled it entirely. 'The shadow of a raven’s wing, the brightness of a blade; dark and light are brothers, woven in a braid.' There is more, I think," he said, "but I am not certain."
"It is lovely," said Boromir, motioning to Aragorn to sit.
"And fitting, I think," Aragorn replied as he joined them. "You and Faramir seem very like the raven and the blade to me," and he paused, then smiled and went on, "though I am uncertain which of you is raven, and which the blade."
Boromir laughed. "Your poetic turn of mind, Ranger," he said. "Faramir, I think, would be blade, for the swiftness of his wit."
"Ah, but the raven is a wily bird," said Aragorn with a grin, "like the Ranger your brother is, and your laughter is bright as the sun on steel." He sighed then, and said, "Would that the times we live in inspired more laughter."
"We find it where we may," Boromir replied with a smile. "Perhaps on the morrow we shall find our times changed for the better."
"May it be so," said Aragorn.
Maggie shifted, looking from one to the other. "So," she said after a moment. "You really were here years ago, like Denethor said."
Aragorn nodded. "I was in Minas Tirith before Boromir was born, and for some time after."
"And y'all have talked about it?"
"At length," said Aragorn with a low chuckle.
"Aragorn has explained to me why he chose not to make his lineage known at the time," Boromir said, then looked at Aragorn questioningly. Aragorn nodded, and he went on, "It was as Faramir had supposed - had Thorongil made a claim then, the Council would not have accepted it, and Ecthelion would have been forced either to go against them, and perhaps spark a civil war, or to forswear his oath and lose his honour."
"I would not have risked such," said Aragorn, "though Gondor called to me then as she does now." He leaned back, looking up at the sky. "I have missed this land my whole long life," he murmured, "save for the few years I dwelt here."
For a moment, Maggie thought Boromir was going to speak, but he didn't, and they sat in companionable silence for a time, watching the stars.
Then, "Look, there," said Aragorn, pointing towards a cluster of stars winking on the horizon. "Soronúmë. The Eagle."
"Messengers from Manwë," said Boromir softly. "I thought it was early in the year for the Eagle to rise."
"Where is it?" asked Maggie, looking for the constellation.
"There," and Boromir pointed, "the bright star just above the hill? The Eagle's eye."
"And there," Aragorn continued, his finger tracing a line from one star to the next, "the wings, and the tail."
"Do you see?" Boromir asked, stroking her hair.
"I think so." She sighed, and leaned into him a little, then started as the voice of something large spoke in the distance.
"Creatures of Sauron, I suppose," said Aragorn with a sigh. "The watch will keep them at bay, but they have followed us for two nights now." He stretched then, and rose. "The hour is late," he said, "and I should take my leave. Rest well, both of you."
After he had gone, Boromir turned to Maggie and said, "I have spoken with Chip about where to place you. He would have you return to your people."
"Wait - what?" Frowning, she scooted back to see him better. "What do you mean, you've spoken with Chip?"
Boromir sighed. "He came to me, Maggie, and asked, in effect, what I had done with you." Smiling ruefully, he added, "I think he worries about you, here amongst strangers."
"And he wants me back with them?" She shook her head, still frowning. "I don't understand. Why would Chip care one way or the other?"
"He made mention of your friend Mira," Boromir replied. "It seems she made him promise to see you came to no harm."
"Ah," and Maggie nodded. "That's Mira. But look," she said, the frown returning. "I don't want to be separated from you. Sorry, but if the world is ending, I don't want to be surrounded by people I barely know."
"Nor do I wish to be separated from you," he replied. "But look." He released her and turned, sketching out a map in the dirt beside the blanket. "Two hills are opposite the Gate," he said, "or so our spies have told us. Aragorn shall hold one, with Gandalf and the Dúnedain, and Éomer, Imrahil and I shall hold the other, with the Tower Guard. The outworlders will stand betwixt, for to place their weapons amongst our soldiers would be too dangerous to our own men, but from here they shall able to join either army if their escape is cut off. If you are with them, you shall yet be near me, and you shall be better able to retreat with them if retreat seems the wiser course." She looked at him doubtfully, and he shook his head. "It is for the best, Maggie, do you not see? You have not trained with the troops who will surround you if you stand with Gondor's army. How can you think to fight amongst people whose weapons and tactics are so unknown to you?"
"Same way I did at Helm's Deep," she said, but her tone was that of someone trying to convince herself.
"At Helm's Deep, you had first the dike and then the Deeping Wall between you and the enemy," he said patiently. "Here, there is naught to hold Sauron's forces at bay but the weapons and mettle of our men. At Helm's Deep the enemy broke upon the wall like the tide, but here, they will sweep over us in a flood. It is more different than you can imagine to fight a flood than a breaking tide."
He put his hand to her chin and turned her to face him. "Love," he said softly, "I cannot command you. You have shown me that without I lock you in chains and send you home, you will do as you will do. If I cannot command you, then I cannot have you in my command." He kissed her softly to stay the words that she'd opened her mouth to speak. "And could I command you," he went on when he released her, "I would command you to return to your people, for you understand better how to fight with them. I want you alive," he said firmly, "even more than I want you with me."
She hesitated, then brought her hand to his face, cupping his cheek, and he pressed into her touch. "I love you," she said finally. "And you're right." She sighed, and shook her head. "Boromir, I'm sorry. I just - " but she stopped, then finished, "Just come back to me, okay?"
He pulled her into a firm embrace. "If there is anything that could keep me from you, I have not met it yet."
Maggie stood between Michael and and a lanky woman with the unlikely name of Babe, Cassandra behind them, watching Chip ride forward with the guard. He was uncomfortable on horseback, but it had been decided that he should be present when they challenged Sauron, if only in case they had to change their battle strategy because of some unexpected parley. The heralds' cry was clear, even as far back as they stood, when they challenged the Lord of the Black Land to come out to them, but nothing moved. Long moments passed in silence, but just as the Captains moved to turn back, drums rolled in the mountains and horns rang out, louder than at Helm's Deep, shaking the earth. The Black Gate opened, and Maggie, Michael, Babe, and Cassandra all raised binoculars to their eyes as a small company of black-clad soldiers rode out, something monstrous at its head. Maggie increased the magnification to get a better look, and scowled at what she saw, lowering the binoculars.
"It's like something out of a horror vid," Cassandra muttered, lowering her glass as well. "Is it real?"
"I think it must be," said Michael. "They don't exactly have advanced holo technology in these parts."
Maggie raised the binoculars again, focusing on the faces she knew - Aragorn, Boromir, Chip. The emissary from Sauron laughed, a sound surprisingly human from something that seemed so alien, and then spoke. She couldn't make out his words, but his tone was mocking as he spoke to Aragorn. She watched them watch each other, and though Aragorn neither spoke nor moved, the emissary suddenly drew back, his skeletal mount dancing and rearing up as he jerked at the black reigns. This time she could hear him when he cried out, "I am a herald and ambassador, and may not be assailed!"
Babe snorted. "Puss," she said scornfully. "That guy he was talking to didn't even fuckin' move! What 'assailed'?"
Maggie chuckled. "Indeed. Hard to get good help these days, I guess."
"I dunno," Michael said. "I was with Chip for some of the planning, and Aragorn's got this look he can give you - it's pretty freakish."
Maggie glanced at him. "Freakish how? What happened?"
"Oh, Chip got snarky with him about some stuff - was saying we shouldn't be bothering with this but should see if we could get someone inside to just take Sauron out, and you know how Chip can be when he gets an idea of what he wants to do."
"Quite the alpha male," said Cassandra.
"So I don't even remember what Aragorn said," Michael went on, "but he turned this look on Chip, and you could just see, not only did you not want to fuck with this guy, you seriously understood that whatever he was telling you to do was exactly what you wanted to do."
"Really," said Maggie thoughtfully, turning her gaze back to the allies and the emissary. They watched as the emissary turned to Gandalf, and after a time held out something, they couldn't see what. It had an effect on those who faced the black-clad spokesman, though, and shortly thereafter there were raised voices.
"Come on," said Michael. "Things are getting hot." He turned, gave a quick hand signal and then the squad leaders and their squads were falling into position. Tension sang in the air around her, and she wondered whether it was any different for the troops of Gondor, Dol Amroth, Rohan.
A few minutes later the emissary and his soldiers were racing back towards the gate, and the gate was swinging open wide, releasing a torrent of troops while more spilled down from either side, and more still flowed in from the southeast. A great cry went up on both sides, ally and enemy giving voice, and then Maggie heard the distinctive thrum of the rocket launchers, and where they hit the explosions shook the earth, throwing up plumes of dirt and the bodies of the enemy soldiers. The tide seemed to falter, and then another volley from the rocket launchers threw up another quintet of earthshaking explosions, thickening the air around the enemy with dust and smoke. Maggie searched the field quickly, saw the armies of Middle-earth gathering around the hills of rubble, one with the banner of Gondor, and the other the banners of Rohan and Dol Amroth - Tree and Stars, the White Horse, and the Silver Swan, gleaming in the cold light of the morning. She couldn't see Boromir.
Another volley of rockets tore earth and bodies asunder, and then the enemy forces, as though at some command, surged forward again, though not so eagerly nor with so loud a cry. Chip, on foot now, came pelting back to them as a fourth volley was loosed. When he reached them the machine gunners began to fire, and through the sight of her M16 Maggie saw, again, the faces of the enemy.
The battle was unlike anything she had experienced. The machine gun fire on the walls of Minas Tirith had seemed almost a comforting sound, thick and heavy where she had knelt protected by stone. But here, on the ground, Black Riders circling overhead and raining despair, and the enemy closing; seeing the carnage being wrought by enemy and ally alike, and hearing the clash of steel on steel and the meaty thud of blade and arrow into flesh - the effect was overwhelming, and the rapid-fire weapons only added to her sense of unreality. She had no idea how much time had passed, or how long she had been crouched by this shoulder-high stone at the base of the hill where Aragorn had raised the standard of Gondor. Minutes? Hours? She picked off enemy soldiers one by one with a sense of detached perplexity.
Then behind her she heard the thup of a grenade launcher, saw the missile lob overhead and land at the feet of a mountain troll that stood momentarily devoid of combatants. The explosion tore into the lower half of the creature's body, and its scream sounded like the very voice of the mountains that had been its home, deep and raw and echoing, yanking her back to reality with its agony. It fell, but did not die, and lay shrieking in the mud, huge hands clutching at the place where its legs used to be, and Maggie raised the M16, sighted, and fired three rounds into its head. It jerked and was still, its eyes open and staring at the sky.
"Good girl." Babe's voice behind her. "Those things are a bitch to bring down, but I hate to see anything suffer like that."
Maggie turned to her, opened her mouth to speak, but said nothing. After a moment the other woman reached out one hand to brush the wetness that streaked Maggie's face. Maggie didn't know whether it was tears or blood or sweat that she touched, her gaze strange; smelled leather and metal on the whisper of Babe's glove.
Babe paused then, listening to something, and Maggie remembered that just over half of Chip's people had headsets, saw Babe's hidden in the tangles that had escaped her wheat-colored ponytail. "Got it," she said into the throat mic, then turned to Maggie. "Remember, green flare means fall back to the trucks, red means the trucks are a loss, fall back to whichever defender's flag you can get to. I'm heading there -" and she pointed to an outcropping of stone some thirty yards away. "Grace and Adam are there - Adam's hurt, and I'm gonna help Grace get him to the trucks."
"Need me?" Maggie asked.
Babe shook her head. "We can get him. Might give me some covering fire, though."
"Sure thing," Maggie said, and when Babe had reached the outcropping, turned her attention back to the fight around her.
For a moment, it was like watching a movie. Pale sunlight filtered through high clouds and shone dully on the mail and weapons of the combatants. Here, cavalry carved bloody swaths through the advancing line of Southrons; there, orcs fell like a landslide out of the hills onto Gondorian footsoldiers, who rushed to meet it as though by sheer force of will they could hold back the crush. She could see the outline of the dance, saw one soldier fall and another turn to replace him, a third kneeling swiftly at his side, the others blocking them from attack. Then they were hidden from her sight, swallowed by the battle.
To her right she saw the standards of Dol Amroth and Rohan, and was struck by how still they seemed - no wind caught them up, and they hung listless but bright in the grey air. She caught her breath to see Boromir there, the black and silver of his tunic shining like shadow and cold fire, and she wondered suddenly why he fought under the standard of Dol Amroth when, to her left, nearer than she'd realized, was the standard of Gondor, the glittering stars winking from the folds of the black silk. Beneath it on the side of the hill, the silhouette of Aragorn - she knew the flash of that sword, could hear his rage as he cut down an enemy, stepped forward to meet the next.
Suddenly there was shouting, but when Maggie could make out the words they made no sense to her - the eagles were coming? She looked around, looked up, and saw a long line of birds, their wings broad as a jet's, rushing down out of the sky towards the Black Riders who circled overhead. The Riders wheeled away, back towards the gate, but before Maggie could even smile at this turn of events, she heard a scream and the armored body of a Gondorian soldier whose neck had been cut nearly through fell to the ground a few yards in front of her. Unthinking, Maggie raised her gun and fired at the enemy who had struck him, and saw the shocked expression on the man's face - 'a Southron,' she thought to herself, and he clutched at his throat where one of her rounds had struck. There was only blood and meat there now as he fell atop the Gondorian, and she had a sudden recollection of the man she'd killed at the dike at Helm's Deep, the wet sounds he had made as he'd died, sounds that both the Southron and the Gondorian made now. The battle which had seemed so huge only seconds ago now shrank to two men, the only two things in the world, dead and dying in front of her until white sparkled her vision and with a sharp exhalation of breath she rose and started forward, meaning to pull the dead Southron off the Gondorian if she could, though she knew there was nothing she could do for him except keep him from dying with the weight of his enemy's body pressing him to the earth. Then a sudden and terrible jolt staggered her, her rifle clattering to the ground at her feet. Startled, she clutched her right arm, only then seeing the feathered shaft that protruded from her shoulder.
"Oh, goddamn it," she muttered, snatching her hand away from the thing opening her flesh. Then a second jolt and her left leg collapsed beneath her, and she fell hard to the ground, catching herself with her left hand, feeling something crunch in her wrist and opening her palm on a stone. Still cursing, she looped the strap of her rifle around her left arm and scrambled awkwardly backwards towards the rock she'd been crouched beside, adrenaline singing in her veins. Her back to the stone, she tried to bring the rifle up to bear, but it was impossibly awkward with one injured hand, and she couldn't get her right arm under her control.
"Fuck fuck fuck fuck," she muttered, a mantra as she pressed herself into a hollow in the stone. Another string of curses tumbled from her lips as she saw the shaft that had struck her in the meat of her left thigh, and she felt a wave of dizziness wash over her. She couldn't stay here - the battle continued around her, and she knew she wouldn't remain unnoticed for long. She could use her right hand, but her arm was impossibly weak, and she couldn't raise it; her left arm was uninjured, but her left hand hand was hampered by whatever she'd done to her wrist, and she couldn't grip, couldn't hold the rifle. She cast about for an ally, for one of Chip's people who might help her back to the trucks, but saw no one. Still cursing, but soundlessly now, needing her breath, she shifted the rifle into a vertical position, muzzle to the ground, pulled her right foot in close and levered herself to a one-legged crouch, then hooked her left arm over the butt of the rifle. From there she tried to stand, glancing up barely in time to see the dark visage of an Orc surging towards her, spiked blade raised.
Eyes wide, she collapsed to the ground again, avoiding the first stroke and struggling helplessly to grip the heavy gun with her injured left hand, struggling to make her right arm obey. Her back to the stone, she had no place to retreat to, and as the blade descended she kicked out with her uninjured right leg, the edge of the sword cutting into the leather of her boot, stopped by the steel in the front of the sole. With a snarl, the orc wrenched it loose and brought it around in a gleaming arc for her throat, and she knew she was going to die. She wondered whether it would hurt. The arrows hadn't hurt.
But the blade never reached her, a blood-darkened sword clashing against it, parrying the killing blow and delivering one of its own, the creature falling backwards, headless. She looked up to find the face of the one who had saved her, but he was shadowed against the watery brightness of the sky. She felt sick, and stunned, and tried again to find a way to raise the rifle as he turned to battle another Orc. Blood spattered her, and she tugged her left leg up, bracing it against her right and struggling to rest the weapon on her knees but it was too heavy, too awkward, and she could only wait. Her heart pounded, adrenaline still coursing through her, the knife edge of panic bringing everything into crystal focus, and she watched the soldier and his enemy cut and parry, that intricate dance that had seemed so beautiful and now was only ugly fear and death.
The orc fell, twitching, to the ground. The solider hesitated, scanning the field, then turned and crouched beside her. "You left them in - good." Swift, efficient hands probed her wounds, and he said, "Lie quiet. These will not kill you, but if you struggle, you could lose too much blood, and that might."
Distantly she could hear Gandalf crying "Stand, Men of the West! Stand and wait! This is the hour of doom!"
She gasped when he pressed his fingers to the bones in her wrist, and then the ground shook, and stones began to fall from above. Quickly he wrapped his arm around her waist and half dragged her away from the rock; in the distance the Towers of the Teeth groaned.
They watched as these bastions of Sauron's might began to list towards each other, and a great rolling rumble sounded. Dust climbed in the air around the towers, billowing upwards as though clawing towards the teeth that lined their pinnacles, and with a noise like the death of a world, the towers started to fall. Below them, barely visible through the plumes of smoke and dust, orcs and men scrambled to escape their slow and terrible collapse, and the black towers, once solid and heavy as hate, crashed together and fell into rubble.
Around them, the battle which had raged came suddenly to stillness. Looking to the east they saw a huge shadow rising in the sky above where the towers had been, lightning flickering about the crest, and it hung there over them like a shroud of malice. Maggie felt as though it would reach down and crush them in darkness if it could. But a wind rose up, caught the shadow, and in moments had swept it away. As Maggie watched, disbelieving - could a wind simply blow such a thing away? - the creatures of Sauron began fleeing back towards the ruined gate, some throwing themselves on their own weapons, and she found herself curling into the arm of the one who held her, and her gaze fell on the symbol of a white tree on his gauntlets. She raised her face to look at him.
"Thank you," she said. "He had me."
"He did at that," said Aragorn with a smile. "But Boromir would have had words for me had I let you die."
She nodded, feeling dizzy. "So, is it done, then?"
"Aye, it is done," he replied, and his voice sounded like rain after a drought, terrible relief. "It is done."
"That's good," she said, the edges of her vision growing dark. She felt lightheaded. "Is it going to be a big problem if I pass out?"
"Faint? Is it okay if I faint now?"
When he answered, he seemed far away. "It would be better if you did not," he said, leaning her forward, but it was too late, and the world sparkled, then winked out.
When she opened her eyes again, she was being carried, and the pain in her shoulder, her thigh, her hand came rushing towards her. She gave a soft cry, and Aragorn said, "Not far."
She squirmed in his grip, wanting her feet on the ground and feeling suddenly ill. "Down," she murmured. "I'm going to be sick."
He stood her on her feet, all her weight on her right leg, and said, "No, fight it, now. Arm around my shoulders."
Dizzy, she almost fell, bending over and dropping her head forward, swallowing convulsively. After a moment the queasiness retreated.
"Come," he said, helping her upright again. "It is not far."
They reached a spot on the field where others were laid out, wounds being bandaged, and Aragorn passed her into the keeping of a man who wore the symbol of the Houses of Healing, pressing his hand quickly to her cheek and saying, "Do as they tell you; I will get word to Boromir that you are here."
Then he was gone, and the man was helping her to a blanket, lowering her to the ground. "I'm sick," she said, struggling vaguely against him, worried she wouldn't be able to keep from soiling him, and he said something to someone else, then put a warm cup to her lips. "Drink this," he said. "It will settle your stomach, and help the pain."
She drank, the liquid bitter but not unpleasant.
"Better?" he asked when she had finished.
"Lie back," he said. "Someone will see to your wounds, but lie still."
She closed her eyes, and tried not to listen to the sounds of the people around her. She wondered whether any of her own were here. Slowly, after what seemed a long time, she felt a sluggish lethargy begin to take her, the pain in her limbs floating into the distance. She opened her eyes again, saw what seemed a dream, the silvery bright sky, people moving about, none she recognized. She wondered idly whether anything was real, tried experimentally to move her arm, but couldn't tell whether she succeeded. After a while she closed her eyes again, and drifted into darkness.
It was too bright, and her shoulder and her thigh felt as though they were on fire. Flashes of light illuminated a strange and alien landscape as she tried to open her eyes, and voices ebbed and flowed around her, but in her dream, Boromir held her, singing softly, a song she didn't know. "Whatever the Valar intend me to do, there’s naught with the power to keep me from you," he sang, his voice for her alone. "Whatever I grieve for, whatever I rue, there’s naught with the power to keep me from you...."
She stirred in her dream, tried to speak, but he didn't see, his eyes closed. "I stand on the line when the shadow creeps in, but I will be with you before day begins," he sang, his voice breaking. "We harry the dark and we weep for our sins, but I will be with you before day begins."
"Boromir," she said, or thought she said, trying to open her eyes.
"She wakes," Boromir said, and she wondered who he was talking to.
A muttered curse in a voice she didn't recognize. "There is no time," the voice said. "Hold her still."
Hands on her, and then a searing pain. She heard a scream, heard her own voice cursing, tried to struggle against the hands that held her, heard Boromir's voice saying urgently, "Be still, Maggie, he has to cut the arrow out," and then she fell back into red darkness.
Her eyes opening, someone helping her to sit. White bandages on her thigh, her hand. She saw whiteness out of the corner of her eye, bandages wrapping her shoulder. The pain was fierce. "Drink," Boromir's voice, his hand holding a cup to her lips. "Come love, it will help you to sleep."
She shook her head, but he was insistent, one hand on her back, the other tipping the liquid into her mouth, and she drank. Again, bitter, but sweet, and strong, like something foul that they had tried to make palatable by mixing in honey, and she thought she smelled chamomile.
"Lie back," he said, and she tried to take his hand in hers.
Her vision was strange, and she could make out only his shadow, blurry, but his scent was his own, and comforted her. "Don't go," she murmured, closing her eyes again.
"I am here," he said softly. "I shall be here when you wake."
She didn't know how much later it was, but thought maybe not too long, for Boromir still held her, and she felt his lips on her forehead. "Maggie," he said softly. "Will you wake now, please? Will you please wake now?"
She felt his hand in hers, and tried to squeeze it, turned her face towards the sound of his voice. Opening her mouth, she said "How long?" but no sound emerged.
He had seen, though, it seemed, for he answered, "Many hours, love," and she could hear joy in his tone. "Many hours, but are you with me now? How do you feel?"
After a moment, she managed to open her eyes, and saw him above her, blurry until she blinked a few times. "Like I've been hit by a truck and haven't slept in two weeks," she answered at last. "Where am I?"
"Near North Ithilien," he replied, "though not far enough from the Morannon for my liking. The battle is long over. Your wounds have been tended, and you were given something to make you sleep, but you have slept somewhat past what I was told you would, and I -" he smiled slightly. "I became concerned."
"How are - did we - are we all right?"
"The day is won," he said. "The Ringbearer succeeded, against all chance, and the day is won."
"Our people," she said, trying to sit up. "How did we fare?"
He pressed her gently back down. "Time enough for that when you feel a bit stronger," he said.
"No, now," she said, as insistently as she could.
He frowned. then replied, "Of the members of our Fellowship who rode with us, all are accounted for and live. Of your people, I have not a count of the wounded, and know not if any were killed. I know that your friend Michael yet lives, and he may be able to tell you more, but not before you have rested."
She nodded, subsiding somewhat. "Do you know if Chip's alive, or Gus?"
"I know not," he replied. "But I would have you rest more, if you can."
"Boromir," she said, "were you singing to me, just then?"
He looked at her quizzically. "Some hours ago, when Aragorn brought me to you."
She smiled. "It was a lovely song. You know more songs than you said."
"All for children," he replied, stroking her hair back from her face. "But rest now."
Frowning then, she said, "Aragorn?" remembering something, but not sure what.
He nodded. "'Twas Aragorn who stopped the blow that would have killed you, though how he got to you in time I know not, for all I saw him do it. I could not reach you, but he was closer." Boromir smiled then and said, "He moves quickly for an old man."
"An old man, eh?" Aragorn knelt beside them then, grinning. "How fares the patient?"
"Obstinate as usual," Boromir replied. "I tell her to rest, and she asks after you."
"A good sign," said Aragorn, and Boromir shot him an annoyed glance. "That she is obstinate, I mean," he said quickly. "I mean that she is herself, no longer in the waking sleep she seemed at first." He turned to Maggie then and said, "But Boromir is right, you should rest. And I expect you to do so."
"There, the healer has spoken," said Boromir as Aragorn departed. "You will do as he says, as all good patients do, if you follow not my commands."
"Boromir," she said softly, and he shook his head, smiling ruefully.
"Hush, love," he said, "I mean no ill."
"But you were right, and I was right," she said, struggling to drag her thoughts out of the mire of sleep. "You were right, but - I'm - I'm - "
"You are weary, Maggie," he said firmly, touching his finger to her lips. "Hush now, and rest."
A/N: Huge thanks to the lovely people who answered my plea for medical information - Lyllyn, Chris, Ithilwen, and lindorien were all wonderfully helpful. To the extent I got it right, it's thanks to them; to the extent I didn't, 'tis all on me. Lines spoken by the Mouth of Sauron and Gandalf are from ROTK: "The Black Gate Opens" and "The Field of Cormallen", respectively.
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