Banjoverse: The Full Epic
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Laughing Oliphaunt, The: 3. The Aging Knight (Amlaith)
Yet the cry of Nazgûl he had never heard before.
They often spoke of it. Other soldiers, those who had heard it, who had traveled nearer to Minas Morgul, they had tried to describe it. But none could accurately depict the sound – that inhuman wail, that shrieking fear – as it twisted through the heart and raised the hair on the back of the neck. Not until one heard that noise could one ever say they knew true fear.
Amlaith had not looked. He had known better than to look. But the sound alone was enough to chill his blood, to forestall his rebellious war cry, to loosen his grip on the sword.
Amlaith had led the first company over the bridge, at Lord Boromir’s urging. He had saddled the nearest horse he could find, raised his sword, and bellowed in his enormous voice, To me! To me! First and second! To me! Retreat! Pull back to the west bank!
And the swarms of Men had flocked to him, yet Amlaith caught sight of also the poor souls hacked down as they ran. Orcs snarling, spitting, burying their rusted swords deep. And the rain had come forth then – the rain of arrows – nothing as he had ever seen before. Everywhere, everywhere, they were everywhere. And then – there! – the cry, the cry of a Nazgûl as it swept forward, riding its Fell Beast, great black wings billowing out, and the smell – the smell of death – pushed down in a vile current of air, so that Amlaith had used all his will not to retch, all his will not to drop his sword and flee, all his will to lead the Men on, over the bridge.
And the bridge itself – tilting and swaying – pieces of stone crumbling away as the catapults fired into it. And Amlaith had cried, Onward! Onward! Retreat! just as half the bridge exploded outwards, sending Men flying, ruined marble up, up, up, soaring, and then smashing down – crash! – into the river and into the city. And the dust and the screams and the blood streaming down his brow, Amlaith could not see, yet he grabbed at whoever he could find, and pushed them on, all the while urging, urging, urging, Go! Go! Go! And one of the young Men he was jerking forward by the shoulder had received an arrow to the neck, so that his blood spurted out in a high arching stream and blinded Amlaith further and…
“They say the oliphaunts laughed because the Haradrim mistreated them, and so they rejoiced in their defeat.”
Amlaith looked over to the younger Man at his side: Ragnor. The ginger-haired Man stared at his ale, chewed his pipe.
“Know you the story, Amlaith?” Ragnor asked. “’Tis a riddle, I think.”
“Nay, I do not know,” Amlaith replied, sipped his mead. “’Tis only a fable.”
Ragnor smiled bitterly. “If horses may scream with fear, then an oliphaunt may laugh.”
They fell silent.
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