33. …And Another King Rises. The Battle of the Pelennor
The turmoil of battle raged furiously around the sorrowing horsemen. The clouded skies joined them in anger and grief, raining grey tears that slicked faces already wet from weeping, quenching the fires of the city, turning fitful fury to cold determined rage.
"Death!" The Éorlingas shouted, urging their horses southwards towards the ranks of the Haradrim. "Death!"
From the city, the Prince of Dol Amroth led his knights forth, and with them rode every warrior of Gondor that could find a horse to carry him. They surged out onto the plain, hacking and slashing at those of the dark host of Mordor that dared to stand against them. Many did, and many died. Knights too took injury; one of the Prince's own sons, his second-born, attacked from both sides, killed the one to his right, but not before a lethally curved war-axe broke his shoulder and cracked his ribs, so that he could do no more than rest a useless left arm on the pommel of his saddle. His armour stopped the filthy blade from biting deeply into flesh, but his pace slowed as searing pain flashed through his body. His elder brother rode to his injured side to defend his flank, and so they battled forward side by side, ever at the heels of their father. Ahead of them they encountered a group of Rohirrim, riders surrounding two sets of men carrying rough biers of spear-shafts and cloaks.
"What burden do you bear, Men of Rohan?" shouted Prince Imrahil, reining-in his horse."Théoden King" one replied, "He is dead. But Théodred King rides out to avenge him and Éomer Third Marshal with him - see? The scarlet crest and the white?"
"Théodred comes? That is good news indeed! We had heard he was lost on the eastern plains of Rohan along with Boromir of Gondor."
Prince Imrahil dismounted, his knights forming a guard about them, and went to the old king's side and knelt to do him honour.
"Nay, Lord, he came out of the north like a shining white flame, riding a mearah to his father's side, but sadly too late to defend him from the fell beast – that was left to another," said the Rohir.
"And what of Lord Boromir, is he also with him?"
The Rohirrim shook their heads. "He came alone, Lord, just in time to bid his father a final farewell – and for Théoden King to name him as heir."
Imrahil rose, "Boromir lost," he shook his head. "This news confirms what Denethor dreaded since his broken horn was found floating on the river in the Galadhrim's cloak – he will take it ill. Your king was a valiant man; carry him back quickly. Do you need more men to bear him?"
"We will not see them desecrated," vowed the bier-carriers.
"Father, look here!" called Erchirion, who cradled his now useless arm, white-faced with pain. Prince Imrahil turned to the other bier.
"A woman? Have even the women of the Rohirrim come to war in our need?"
Erchirion dismounted with an effort, calling to his brother to come help him bind his arm tight to his side.
"Nay! One only, the Lady Éowyn, Lord Éomer's sister. No one knew of her riding until we found her dead. It was she who felled the Black Rider."
Erchirion went to her side, entranced and amazed at the pale beauty of this shield-maiden. With his good hand he reached automatically to brush a stray lock of hair from her face. He looked at her hard. "Rohan! She lives – seriously hurt mayhap, but look…"
He held his polished vambrace before her lips and a thin haze of mist sheened the metal. Imrahil strode across to where the two brothers stood.
"Indeed. Get her back to the city! She might yet be saved. Erchirion - you will ride ahead to alert the healers."
"No, Lord! Let one of the lady's kin go…"
"Erchirion – your shoulder is broken, you can barely sit a horse… You need leechcraft yourself." His father touched his good shoulder lightly, speaking softly so only Erchirion and his elder brother, Elphir, could hear.
"If things go ill… Faramir is injured, Boromir lost…and I don't trust Denethor to keep his head; he falls into despair. Mithrandir can rally the men of Minas Tirith, but I need someone able to ride to Dol Amroth, to lead our people…"
"But that should be Elphir…!" blurted Erchirion.
Imrahil silenced his second son's protest with his hand. "No. You are injured, he is not. Every sword will count here, but I also need a head and heart to ride and lead our folk to whatever shelter may be found. Let them take ship and sale north to Lune, as many as can, and hope the Elves there will shelter them."
"No buts, Erchirion. You've proved your valour, but if things go badly – you will be my last hope to care for your sisters and little brother."
He turned on his heel, making for the horse one of his blue-clad swan-knights held by the bridle.
Elphir used his pale scarf and Erchirion's to tether the nerveless arm tight to Erchirion's side. Erchirion gasped under the bindings, trying to muffle his groans, even before his brother tightened the knots.
"Little Brother, nobody doubts your courage… but how can I keep Father from danger and you as well, eh?" Elphir smiled, raising an eyebrow in jest.
Erchirion's scowl became a soft snort of laughter, "You mean, how can he keep you out of trouble, and watch out for me as well!"
The brothers embraced briefly. Prince Imrahil was already mounted and rallying his troop. The bier-bearers lifted their precious burdens and started for the Great Gate of the city, the men-at-arms surrounding them, spears held high, though by now the battle had flowed southward and only small skirmishes barred their way.
"Keep well, keep safe, brother" whispered Erchirion in Elphir's ear.
"You too, Little Fish… and keep that lovely shield-maid safe…"
"Hey… hold hard – I saw her first!"
They grinned at each other and grasped arms, forearm to forearm, a warrior's grip, before they stepped apart. Elphir and another waiting knight heaved Erchirion back into his saddle, but though they tried to do it easily, the jolt made him cry out. Erchirion bit his lips hard and shook his head angrily '…he would be more hindrance than help on the field.' He gathered the reins in his one hand, kicked his horse, and spurred for the gate, overtaking the walkers with the biers. Elphir caught the reins of his own horse that the knight held, leapt up, and kicked to urge the beast on to rejoin his father's troops.
Théodred King, teeth bared in a fell grimace, swung down hard with his sword, every helmed head split asunder jarring his arm, but he scarcely felt it, so much anguish and fury raged through him. At his left Éomer's white plume dipped and rose, as spindrift on a wild sea, now besmirched with dark blood as fountains of black ichor spewed from the men slaughtered and orcs trampled beneath their horses' hooves. Ahead of them, still more serried ranks of the Southrons stood firm, unfought. Théodred raised his sword high and tugged his horse to wheel around, his Riders slowing behind him. He signalled that horns be blown to rally the Éorlingas to him. They blared out over the din of battle, over the screams and shouts of men and the neighing of horses, then on they charged through the foot-soldiers, laying into them right and left. Challenging the Haradric horsemen, the Rohirrim rode them down to ruin.
Up from beneath the walls rode the horsemen of Gondor: Húrin of Lossarnach, Hirluin of the Green Hills, and from behind came Prince Imrahil with his swan-knights all about him. On they galloped after the Riders of Rohan, whose onslaught had utterly overthrown the first ranks of their enemies. The Rohirrim had smashed through the Southron forces in great wedges, but left enough footmen behind to form square in their own defence. They now were called by blaring trumpets to rally, while the Riders were confronted by a line of great mûmakil. At the sight of these huge beasts, their horses baulked and swerved away in fear and few could rein them back.
Three times out-numbered, the Rohirrim took their toll of injury as fearsome arrows found their targets in warm flesh. Up from Osgiliath streamed the forces held back for the sack of the city. Ordered now by Gothmog, lieutenant of Morgul, they flung themselves into the fight; Easterlings with axes, Variags of Khand. Some held back, turning westward to face down the forces of Gondor and prevent them coming to the Rohirrims' aid. And whereas once they had carried all before them, now the tide of battle seemed to be turning and a sea of deadly, flashing steal beat at them.
A mighty wind blew the many scarlet gonfalon of Harad, making them flicker like so many forked-tongued snakes. It blew the rain away north, leaving behind the sun to blaze back from sword, helm, shield and cuirass, so many tiny points of shining steel, that from atop the walls of Minas Tirith, it seemed the twinkling stars might have fallen to the ground. But also the watchers from the walls saw beyond the field, down the glittering river, and their hope died within them. Black sails billowed in the wind; many oars dipped and rose either side the great dromunds that plied swiftly up the Anduin. The Corsairs of Umbar had come!
The men of the city shouted in alarm. Some ran to sound bells, to blow on trumpets to sound the retreat 'Back to the walls!' All was clamour and chaos and many openly wept.
Théodred had no need of such alarums. All too well the Rohirrim could see the fleet of black sails straining in the wind; the white-water wake the ships left as they ploughed swiftly through the water. Between the Riders and the Harlond was scarcely a mile of land, but it was covered with a mass of foes, cutting them off from any haven they might have found at the river. Behind, massed the host of Mordor; they too saw the ships beating up river before the wind. Enheartened, they attacked anew, howling for a triumph they knew was theirs to come.
Théodred King reined back his horse to rear in the face of his enemy, to break skulls with its flashing hooves at it dropped down. He signalled for the horns to call the Riders to rally to his banner – in his mind he'd decided to make a shield-wall – and if this was the end of the Riders of Rohan… let it be so. They would fight and die to the last man and do deeds that should be commemorated in song… even though they would likely be none left to sing of the passing of the last King of the Mark.
A small hillock was nearby, long and narrow-topped, and Théodred had his standard set there: the White Horse rippling in the wind. Éomer was at his side, eyes glittering; he too knew that this was the end of them, and he shouted out with fell laughter in his voice:
Out of doubt, out of dark to the day's rising
I came singing in the sun, sword unsheathing.
To hope's end I rode and to heart's breaking:
Now for wrath, now for ruin and a red nightfall!
Théodred faced him, turning his horse so the two stood thigh to thigh, and grasped his cousin's arm. Both were still unscathed, both fierce warriors of a warrior people – they curled fists and clashed vambraces together with a great shout, then turned their horses about. Éomer held his sword high, laughing in defiance at death. Suddenly with a great whoop, he tossed his blade high in the air. It flashed brilliantly as the sun lined the steel edge before he caught it, whirled it around his head and pointed to the sight he saw on the Anduin.
All eyes followed, and behold! On the foremost ship, a huge standard broke free of its wrappings: silver on sable the White Tree blazed, but above the white boughs gleamed Seven Stars, and above them glittered the high crown, the symbols of Elendil, unborne for years beyond counting. The great banner embroidered with mithril and gold flashed brightly, sparks of starlight captured and held by the needle of Arwen.
So came Aragorn, son of Arathorn, Ellessar, Isildur's heir, out of the Paths of the Dead, borne upon a wind from the Sea to the kingdom of Gondor.
The Rohirrim roared, their swords sang, and blood stained the churned earth beneath their horses' hooves. From the east rode the swan-knights of Dol Amroth; Prince Imrahil and Lord Elphir at their head driving down the Variags and the orcs who hated the sunlight. Théodred rode out, south to meet the ships, his scarlet horse-tail plume streaming and tossing in the sea-wind, and beside his streamed the white of Éomer's; they laughed as they slew. But the enemies before them had no heart for this; caught between hammer and anvil they turned and fled. Some hardier footmen stood where they could, but they were no match for the horses. The brave men of Green Hills came up to fire arrows into the eyes of the mûmakil, blinding them so that they stampeded among their own troops until they were eventually cut down.
At the quays of the Harlond, many men now leaped from the ships and swept up into the rear of the panicking Haradrim: there came Gimli and Legolas, Elladan and Elrohir, Dúnedain, Rangers of the North, leading a great valour of people from Lebennin and Lamedon and the fiefs of the South. At their head was Aragorn and in his hand was Narsil re-forged, the Flame of the West, Andúril leaping in his hand, a fire kindled that none now could quench. A stern king of old seemed to stride before them; a king with the Star of Elendil upon his dark and furrowed brow – few stood to face him, and all those that did died where they fought.
Eventually he stood to face Théodred and Éomer in the midst of a battle that for the moment swirled around them at a distance. They stood and leant on their swords, speechless for a few moments, smiling at each other. Aragorn spoke first, to Éomer:
"We meet again – did I not say so at the Hornburg?"
"So you said, but hope can fail and I didn't know then you had the Sight – Never was a meeting of friends more welcome, or more timely!"
Éomer held out his hand. Aragorn clasped it gladly forearm to forearm, and then turned to Théodred.
"Well met, Prince Théodred! You I hoped to see again, but did not think it would be here."
They clasped hands, shaking firmly.
"And Boromir? Does he ride with you?" asked Aragorn, perhaps a shade too eagerly.
Théodred dropped his hand, looking at the ground before looking Aragorn in the eye.
"I've much to tell of what happened after our parting, a tale not suited to idle gossip, but… the last I saw of Boromir he was recovering… at least in body. The Elves of Lorien have him in their care. Their Lord holds him safe… at least he did when I left."
"Lord Celeborn?" Aragorn said in surprise, before lapsing into momentary silence. "If he himself cares for Boromir… then there was serious ill…" He looked straight at Théodred, who nodded slowly. Impulsively, Aragorn stepped closer and embraced Théo,
"He will be well," he said quietly in his ear. "You will tell me all later?"
Theo nodded. Aragorn released him and they nodded in understanding. Theo raised his open hand again, and this time Aragorn took the proffered arm in the warrior's grip of brotherhood.
"And what of your father? Where is he?"
Théodred closed his eyes for a moment in remembered pain. It was Éomer who spoke.
"Théoden King fell in battle."
"No!" gasped Aragorn. "Did you… were you in time…?"
Théodred nodded slowly, "I was fortunate indeed, but not so lucky as to be there to defend him… that privilege went to another - who also forfeited their life."
Theo put his hand out to Éomer's shoulder; his cousin gripped the pommel of his sword hard and leant hard against it so the point became buried in the earth.
"The Lady Éowyn rode to battle unknown, and though she slew the evil rider of the beast that slew my father, she gave her life to do so."
Aragorn gave a great sigh; he plunged the blade of Andúril to stand upright in the soft earth; then closed his eyes and dropped his head, before rousing himself to place his hand on Éomer's shoulder.
"That is indeed hard news – for both of you…"
"My Lord!" shouted Halbarad urgently.
An orc some feet away, previously feigning death, raised itself to throw a short wicked blade at Aragorn, but the new king swayed back and three white arrows thudded into the orc, returning it to a corpse.
"It appears we are not done yet!" Aragorn said with a grim smile. He plucked out his sword, turned again to his horse and leapt into the saddle. The Rohirrim also mounted.
"May we speak more closely later, Prince…" He paused, "Though, I must say 'King' now, I presume…?"
Théodred inclined his head with a grim half-smile, "Let battle spare us both, and we'll have much to tell each other."
And they spurred away back into the fray, for the remaining Southrons were hard men, and fought fiercely in their despair. The Easterlings also were war-hardened and neither gave nor asked for quarter. From burnt barn to broken wall, over hillock and ruined homesteads' fields they fought, and were made to fight every inch of the way until, at last, as the Sun went behind Mindolluin at the day's end, not an enemy was left alive within the compass of the Rammas.
Finally, Aragorn met again with Théodred and Éomer, and as they walked their exhausted horses; Prince Imrahil joined them as they rode towards the Gate of the City. All were weary, beyond thought, arms and bodies numbed with fatigue, minds too filled with harsh scenes to cope with or think about coherently. Finally Imrahil spoke.
"A beautiful woman, your sister, and very valiant…"
Éomer covered his face with one hand, but said nothing.
"…I hope the healers were able to get to her in time to help."
"She was beyond help," said Théodred dully.
"No," Imrahil frowned in puzzlement. "When we sent my son Erchirion from the field to call for aid, she still lived."
"What?" gasped Éomer, "She lives!?"
Clapping spurs to his weary mount, he made it rear in protest before he sped away towards the ruined gates of Minas Tirith.
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.