45. Brothers at War
Chapter 45 – Brothers at War
In the midst of the fight, having disposed of his most immediate assailant, Elfhelm suddenly straightened on his horse, a nameless dread seizing him. Where was Éomer? Despite his vow to keep an eye on his weakened friend, he had lost the king, and as he frantically turned Éon in a tight circle searching for the familiar sight of the crested helm, the Lord of Westfold saw another wave of attackers sweep toward him... and behind them, a glimpse of a figure in a familiar brown-reddish armour... on foot! What in Eorl's name had happened? What was Éomer doing all by himself, limping up the steep slope toward... Elfhelm froze as he recognised the other two figures further up the hill. Something ill was happening over there. Something was wrong. The King of Gondor was standing in front of the Easterling, sword readied for the strike... but he was turning away from her now... toward Éomer! Raising the blade!
"Erkenbrand!" He had but a moment to point the scene out to his comrade before the Easterlings reached him, drawing his attention away from the unfolding drama on the slope. "Erkenbrand, help Éomer!"
"Aragorn, no! It is me!" Éomer's eyes widened, and the sight of his friend brandishing his sword against him left him so stunned that he barely brought up his own in time to deflect the blow, the raw power Aragorn assailed him with travelling through the blade and up his arms. Sparks flew. This was no training fight! This was to the death! "Aragorn!"
Aragorn's arm muscles tensed as he was forced to raise Andúril again, the sight of Éomer's aghast expression hurting him to the core. 'Go!' he wanted to shout. 'Get away from me!' but no words passed his lips. From behind, Harishdane watched with grim satisfaction. She knew there was no escape. Once again, her trap was flawless. The King of Gondor was her pawn now and acting to her bidding, a mighty weapon at her disposal. Resistance lay not within his power. With a short swing, the mighty blade crashed against the much shorter one of Asentis' murderer, almost knocking it from Éomer's hands. Satisfied with the effect of her marking, the woman watched the Rohirrim's bewilderment and desperate defence. He had hardly deflected the blow when the next came, forcing him back.
Éomer sensed the stare and the unrelenting evil directed his way, and knew at once that what he was fighting here was not grounded in the world he believed in, the world he could see and touch. His friend had been placed under an evil spell to fight him, and as he briefly caught a glimpse of the tall, slender shape behind the Gondorian king, he could not help hissing: "What have you done to him, witch? I will kill you for it!"
Laying his full weight behind the strike, he briefly threw Aragorn off-balance and with a feint, dove to the side in a mad dash for the Easterling. Perhaps he would have succeeded had he been at the height of his strength. Perhaps he would have been fast enough. But at the first fast step toward Harishdane, an excruciating bolt of pain shot through his wounded leg that sent him reeling, almost falling to the leader's feet. With a simple sidestep, the woman evaded his charge, and her amused gaze fell on the Gondorian king. Her voice however sounded hard as she spoke.
A shadow fell upon him, and Éomer rolled to the side. A heartbeat later, Andúril was rammed into the space he had occupied only the wink of an eye before. Scrambling to his feet, Éomer yelled, "Fight her, Aragorn! Resist her! You do not want to do this!"
His friend's eyes widened in dismay, but again the legendary blade was raised against him.
Halamin watched the fight between the two kings in stunned horror, not wanting to believe his eyes. His attention was then drawn to the battle again, where Dumarin moved forward, striking left and right, seething with hatred. He did not bother to make sure the enemies he wounded were dead, but raced on. Hilberon on the other side still sat in the saddle, and Harolyan proved to be the most experienced horse. Without the young soldier's guidance, the stallion thrashed his mighty hoofs into the groups of attackers, pushing them aside.
"Aragorn! Do you hear me? Fight her! You are Isildur's heir, you are stronger than that filthy bitch!" Gúthwine reverberated under another heavy strike, and Éomer felt his strength beginning to wane. In Aragorn's eyes he read naked terror, and the fight his brother was leading within. Aragorn grimaced with pain, and from underneath his sweat-drenched hair blood trickled down his neck. Éomer's eyes widened at the sight, and when he caught another glimpse of the Easterling's leader over his assailant's shoulder, there was no doubt anymore: that woman had spilled out evil over his friend, and he was unable to fend it off alone. And yet the circle of Easterling warriors around them ensured that there would be no help, neither for Aragorn, nor for him. They both had walked blindly into the trap. Instinctively, Éomer understood that his only chance of survival lay in disarming his friend and using the short moment of relief this would grant him to somehow kill the Easterling witch. Summoning what strength was left in him, he lashed out with renewed purpose.
High on the embrasure Arwen stood. Her long hair got entangled in the wind, and her light blue gown billowed around her slender frame as she directed her eyes north. She did not notice the wind or the sun on her pale face. Carefully she reached out with her senses. Somewhere beneath the evil that encumbered her husband his own mind reeled. Arwen shivered. She remembered the short moment when she had touched the scar on Aragorn's neck. Now this slight uneasiness she had felt back there had grown to distress, and she concentrated on her breathing before she could speak.
"Come back to the light…" For a heartbeat she could sense him, and the fear that filled him hit her like a wave. She held back the cry and regained her composure quickly. She had no time to give in to weakness. Then she tried again, as if she were reaching out with her fingers to touch his face. She imagined his bearded cheeks under her fingertips, and how she had eased his pain and sorrow. With renewed concentration she attempted to find him again, buried under that evil power.
North of Osgiliath
'Come back…' From somewhere the musical and soothing voice of his wife resounded. Desperately Aragorn wanted to follow her, to hold on to the voice and seek comfort from it. Though he could see and breathe, he could not defend himself against Harishdane's hold of him. And she was strong now, commanding his body, leaving him only the slightest measure of disobedience: he could turn the blade during the strikes so that only the broad side hit. Yet with each forceful blow he lashed out, he felt Éomer's strength fade. The Rohirrim was defending himself with grim determination, all his efforts directed at Andúril, not its bearer. Obviously hoping to knock the sword from his unlikely assailant's hands, but with the growing duration of the fight, it was apparent that he was a far cry from his usual constitution. While striking left and right from the relative safety of his horse's back had been within his partially-restored power, a gruelling melee of the likes he was now faced with was not. Again Andúril crashed against Gúthwine on his weak side, sending a bolt of pain through his recently injured chest and arm. Laying into the block whatever strength was left to him, Éomer stood fast, but was unable to counter when Aragorn's blade slid down to find his shoulder and cut through the leathern straps holding his pauldrons. They protected him from the steel before they slid off, but the heavy blow numbed his arm nonetheless. Driven backwards, the concussion of the hit still travelling through his body, Éomer grunted, swiftly switching his sword to the left. His chest and leg were agony by now: pulsing, crippling pain, and ominous warmth was spreading underneath his armour as poorly-healed cuts were tearing open again from the effort of the fight. And still Aragorn was coming after him to finish him off like a wounded animal.
Aragorn could neither retreat nor drop the weapon, but turned the hilt whenever he was forced to lash out again. The voice of his wife seemed far away, yet her strength steadied his hand. But that presence could not be veiled. When another wave of Harishdane's power hit him, Aragorn cried out, and his momentarily distraction allowed Éomer to parry the blow almost hard enough to knock Andúril from his hands. Sensing his friend's predicament, the Rohirrim went for it: letting go of Gúthwine, his hands locked around Aragorn's in an attempt to wrench the sword from them. His intense stare met dismayed grey eyes.
"Let go, friend! Open your hands!"
There was nothing he would have wanted to do more. And yet despite his efforts to withstand the force that possessed his body, Aragorn felt Harishdane's grip tighten on him. Once more his ribs seemed to tighten to the point where breathing became impossible. Éomer's strained expression filled his vision, and he heard his words through the thunder of his pulse, but his body betrayed him. It held fast.
"Aragorn! Let go!"
Andúril seemed to be set in stone. No matter how hard Éomer struggled, his friend's grip could not be broken. For a brief flash, the idea of letting go himself and knocking Aragorn unconscious crossed his mind, yet as his muscles tensed for the blow, the sight of Aragorn's desperation made him hesitate… for a moment too long. Having sensed his opponent's distraction, a sudden jerk with both hands and the hilt shook him off, and a brutal blow landed in Éomer's face.
With three fast steps, Aragorn followed as the Rohirrim stumbled backwards, blood gushing down from the reopened cut on Éomer's brow. Inwardly crying out, but a captive of his own body as his arms raised Andúril again, he drove Éomer against the Easterling guards that shielded them from the rest of the battle. There was nowhere for his friend to go, and Aragorn felt that he himself had nothing left to give in the fight against the witch's pressure. Though he still hoped for help, the voice was faint now.
"Aragorn!" With Harishdane's minions behind him, their scimitars drawn, Éomer was running out of options. He was being cornered, and too slow to prevent it after the many hits he had not been able to deflect. Too weak to counter his friend's vicious attacks any longer, much less disarm him, even if he had somehow miraculously succeeded in retrieving his sword. Around them, the battle raged, but it offered no hope to Éomer. None of his men would make it through the Easterling guards in time to change the outcome of their duel. Elfhelm had been right after all: participating in this battle had been an act of supreme foolishness he would now pay for.
Harishdane revelled in the demonstration of her will. How she had longed for this moment! How she had yearned to see Asentis' murderer on his knees, bleeding and begging! And it was even better than she had hoped: the killer had been wounded badly in the scásh, and as he stumbled back now under the relentless force she had unleashed against him, he had nothing to counter with. Stubbornness and duty had brought him to this battlefield despite his condition. Stubbornness and duty had enabled him in Dunland to kill Asentis even when he had already been bested, and stubbornness and duty had now led him into her trap. Now he would pay, and the King of Gondor along with him! Revenge was hers, and it had the sweetest taste she could imagine: the strawhead would die at the hands of his own friend!
The vicious strike would have split his head had his helm been crafted with any less care, but even so, the concussion was severe. Éomer went down, fiery explosions blossoming in front of his eyes, dimly aware that his helm had been knocked from his head. All seemed to move very slowly as he fought to lift his glance to his friend and assailant, and to a glimmer of silver scything his way. Somehow he raised the one arm that still obeyed his will, and sparks flew as Andúril crashed against Gúthwine, at last sending the shorter blade flying from his grasp and out of his reach.
Their eyes met. Torment stood in Aragorn's expression: torment and dismay over what he was about to do. Éomer swallowed. In his long years of duty, he had envisioned many ways for his life to end, but having it be taken by a friend had never been among them. His body ached from the numerous blows he had received, and even if Aragorn had so far succeeded in not hurting him severely, Éomer knew it was over when Andúril was raised again. Though it meant nothing, he crawled backwards in anticipation of the deadly strike.
"Follow my voice and come back to the light…" She had closed her eyes, but still she saw. "Let me guide you, my love. Let me take your hand. Feel it. Follow my voice…" There were no pictures, only a prevailing darkness, and within, somewhere, hidden under a spell so strong that it covered all and everything, her husband dwelt in the bitter and dreadful darkness. "Take my hand and feel my strength. By the grace that is given to me, I will guide you back." She felt his fight. She felt how hard he tried to follow her voice and escape the spell which held him captive. Arwen lowered her chin and spoke again. "Follow my voice, my love, I will help you in your need."
Vlohiri burst into the conference room, where the healers from all over Gondor had met to exchange their wisdom. They all stared at him, and the warden, who had tried to hold the young man back, came in behind him. His mumbled excuses were never heard.
Vlohiri ran up to Lomac and yelled,
"By order of the Queen of Gondor, you have to come with me at once!" In his haste to deliver the message he forgot about courtesy, and quickly added, "Please!" He stared at the old man's features and expected him to jump up and run with him, but Lomac only narrowed his eyes in question and put down the quill with which he had been writing.
The healers laughed heartily, and some repeated Vlohiri's demand mockingly. The young boy looked left and right. He was out of breath, and the queen's face still lingered in his mind, while the laughter went on. Lomac rose. He did not even smile.
"Did she name the errand?"
"I'm sure it's about the king," Vlohiri answered in a pressed voice. "Please, come with me! She told us to ride for the battlefield. There is something… bad going on."
"Hum, then…" Lomac stroked his beard thoughtfully and mumbled, "So finally it comes to it." He gazed at his fellows. "Gentlemen, there is one request I have to make." Though he did not raise his voice, the others fell silent. "I ask all of you to not leave the White City until the battle in Ithilien is over. Alas, as I fear, there will be many men whose wounds you will have to mend." Then he collected his sack and left his place. He ignored the chatter behind him, but headed for the door as fast as his old legs allowed. The warden held it open and stared at him as if he could not understand why the old healer did not reprimand the brazen lad. Lomac moved on, Vlohiri close behind him.
North of Osgiliath
The desperate effort of resisting Harishdane made Aragorn shiver. Yet as hard as he fought, the Easterling remained in control, overriding even the soothing and yet compelling voice of his wife, who was trying to lend him her strength. Breathless, sweat pouring into his eyes, he realised that the unavoidable moment had come: Éomer was on the ground, unable to get up. Bleeding. Defenceless. For a moment, his friend's gaze met Aragorn's, hopelessness in the dark eyes. Barely noticeable, the Rohirrim shook his head in a last silent plea. He had no strength left for words, no strength to turn toward the sudden commotion behind his back as Andúril descended in a reflecting whirl – and was deflected by a blurred shape that suddenly thrust itself into the weapon's way, with no regard of what would happen to him.
The briefest glimpse of a black horsetail on a helm, a hulking figure shielding him, and then the Flame of the West found his defender. Sparks flew as it cut into Erkenbrand's cuirass with full force. Downing the warrior! Like a puppet with its strings severed, the marshal crashed face-down to the ground, unmoving.
Angered at the intrusion, but merely seeing it as a brief delay in the fulfilment of her plans, Harishdane forced the Gondorian King to raise the sword anew.
The Easterling drove Hilberon back, and Harolyan reared, unable to evade fast enough. The young soldier thrust forward his sword to keep the enemy at bay, yet the man behind the bronze helmet was quick and experienced, and used his polearm to strike down on Hilberon's right arm. He cried out. His right hand felt numb and he almost dropped the weapon. Only with the forward movement did he avoid being pierced by the Easterling, but the polearm followed him and caught his side, penetrating the mail above his waist. Within his gasp of pain, he watched Prince Faramir jab his sword into the enemy's shoulder, and when the Easterling turned and drew his scimitar, the prince ended his life with a deadly blow. Hilberon drove Harolyan forward, kicking another foe out of his way, and that was the moment he noticed Ridasha, who had tried to hide in the scanty camp the Gondorians had erected. She shrieked in terror when she saw one of her kinsmen running up to her, scimitar drawn and ready to kill her. Hilberon spurred his steed with his heels against the flanks, and Harolyan – to his rider's relief and joy – still possessed enough strength to push through the ranks. The young soldier simply rode into the Easterling who was aiming for the woman. When the enemy tumbled and fell, Hilberon turned his horse, extended his left hand and grasped Ridasha's arm to pull her up. She was too terrified to speak, but clung to his waist. He gritted his teeth and rode on to aid Halamin, who was entangled in a fight against two men.
Vlohiri reached the stables with the healer in his trail, who stood gasping and sweating the moment he reached the doors. Without hesitation, the boy ran for the bridle and saddle of Rohyren, the only horse he could think of to ride safely and fast enough beyond Osgiliath. He did not look at the old man. He was in haste, and when Lomac frowned, he only glanced at him.
"We will ride shortly," he announced, thinking the old man wanted the information.
"Have they got no smaller ones?" Lomac asked when he spotted Rohyren in his box.
Irritated, Vlohiri grimaced.
"They have no ponies here, no. And they wouldn't do. We have to be fast. She said so." He put on the saddle and closed the girth leather after adjusting the cloth. "Come on over here. I have a stool to help you mount."
"I never ride," the healer mumbled and shook his grey head. "I simply don't do it." But he stepped closer, and Rohyren snorted into his face. Though in awful haste, Vlohiri smiled. "Does he make fun of someone so old?"
"He knows you're not used to horses." The boy patted the steed's neck. "But he will bear you as long as I am with you." With that he helped the healer to sit in the saddle, and pulled himself up lightly. He did not see the admiring glance the healer gave him as they quickly rode down the rings of the City.
North of Osgiliath
He heard her clear voice in Sindarin, stronger now, calling to him. Finally he felt the connection he had thought lost. But the surge of power that followed was too much for him to bear. He gasped. The torment in his head increased to an intolerable level as the two forces clashed. With an outcry of agony, Aragorn dropped the sword and fell on his knees. He pressed both palms against his temples and squeezed his eyes shut.
Harishdane's brow furrowed. That reaction she had not anticipated, and though she was skilled in many ways, she found no explanation for her pawn's continued resistance and that other power working against her. But still, at such close range, the advantage of the greater influence was hers, and she was determined to use it. She needed to see the strawhead dead first, before she would slowly, irresistibly, force the King of Gondor to die upon his own sword.
Stunned, Éomer's gaze shifted back from the still form of his marshal to that of his friend kneeling in front of him. For a moment, he thought he saw something in the contorted expression that caused a spark of hope, but it died when Aragorn extended his hand for Andúril. Instinctively, he pushed himself backwards with the one leg that would still obey. Gúthwine lay to his right, but his arm hurt too much to grasp it, and there wasn't really any use in it. No matter what he did, Aragorn would kill him with his next strike, and the Easterlings had once again closed their protective circle around them after Erkenbrand's desperate charge had reduced their numbers. There would be no more help for him.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.