41. Chapter 41: The Last Battle
Disclaimer: as usual
Beta: Anarithilien. Thank you as always.
Chapter 41: The Last Battle
Clouds scudded across the bruised sky and lightning flashed distantly over Mordor. Denser clouds were gathered around one place in particular and Pippin thought he could make out a towering edifice, and the lightning flashed from within. For one brief moment a flame of red stabbed northward as from some great window, immeasurably high, the flicker of a piercing Eye and then the shadows were furled again*....He felt a slow stroke of horror down his spine. This was Barad-dûr. The Dark Tower. Pippin felt suddenly cold. He tucked his hands under his armpits and his teeth chattered a little.
He stood with Legolas, for Gimli had gone after Aragorn, probably telling him off even now, thought Pippin. The Hobbit glanced up at the tall Elf and noticed more sharply how the strange half light caught in Legolas' hair and on his bow, his knives. It seemed like the runes on those weapons moved and poured in the light, as if they were alive and Pippin felt a bubble of laughter well up. Hysteria, he recognised now. Here they were on the doorstep. But not Smaug's, not like Bilbo's old story. This was Mordor. Like Gil-Galad and Elendil and Isildur. But Gil-Galad had led armies of Elves. They had one. Elendil had thousands upon thousands of Men. They had a mere five thousand.
Pippin saw that Legolas was staring intently across the plains to the Black Gate, and the Elf moved restlessly. But although Pippin strained to see between the ranks of Men, archers, even standing on tiptoe, he could not see what everyone was watching with breathless fear.
Quite suddenly Legolas took a quick step forwards. The Men around them stirred too, and strained to see. A quiet murmur went up and Pippin frowned and tried to move around to see but it was dense with bodies and no-one would move. Legolas shifted forwards a little more like he would fly if he could, like a hawk and Pippin pulled gently at his sleeve.
'What is happening, Legolas?' he asked, suddenly afraid.
Legolas looked down at Pippin as if he had forgotten he was even there. 'Pippin! Why do you linger here?' the Elf cried aghast. 'You must stand with Aragorn. We will be overrun here in moments. It is not safe for you here.'
'Oh? Do you think it's safer up there?' Pippin asked with a touch of asperity that he would not normally use with Legolas.
Legolas did not flinch, but he had already turned back, staring out towards the Black Gate. 'You must hide now,' he said without looking down. 'Stay with Aragorn if you can but keep your cloak over you.'
Pippin looked up at him blankly and said nothing, feeling utterly useless. It wasn't fair, he thought. Merry had killed the Witchking and he had done nothing. And it was unlike Legolas to dismiss him so easily.
Legolas glanced down at him and away again as if distracted, and impatient. Then he looked down longer and caught Pippin in his strange green gaze that seemed to see right through the Hobbit. 'Pippin, Gandalf's plan was to distract them...from Frodo and Sam. When I was on the Mountain, I showed them Merry. Merry killed Angmar. He is a Hobbit. I let them see the Ring in a Hobbit's hand. So they would think Merry had it.'
Pippin blinked stupidly. 'But Merry is in Minas Tirith...He's not here...'
Legolas let his hand fall onto Pippin's shoulder and regarded him steadily, letting him slowly see.
'You see why you must hide.' Legolas suddenly dropped to one knee in front of Pippin. He glanced back over his shoulder as if he could see through the gathered ranks of Men at whatever so distressed him. 'You must trust me.' He stared at Pippin more intently so the Hobbit felt he was not just hearing the words, but somehow feeling them as well. 'If they find you, it will be terrible. You cannot imagine...' The Elf held him, cradled him almost in his grey-green gaze., Pippin felt he was falling, drowning in the Sea and white birds cried above foaming waves. Then Legolas blinked and it was gone. 'You will not be able to escape. Hide. Your cloak will keep you from being seen.'
He found himself nodding dumbly.
Legolas nodded back, as if satisfied and rose to his feet. 'Go now. Get up there quickly.' He gave Pippin a small push. 'Run! Get to the top. Hide.' The Elf was already moving, his hands reached back and pulled two arrows from his quiver. 'Pull your cloak over you,' he called over his shoulder as he pushed between the anxious, waiting Men. 'Keep your head down until I come for you, or Aragorn or Gimli. Trust no one else!'
'Be safe too, Legolas!' Pippin called but Legolas was already striding quickly through the ranks of Men to the front line, arrows loosely held in one hand, his bow in the other.
Pippin turned and made his way as quickly as he could up the sloping hill towards Aragorn. There was a growing murmur of anxiety amongst the Men now gathered about Aragorn. Fair and desperate, he had raised the banner of the Tree and Stars* and the mithril thread caught the grey half light so it gleamed against the darkness. Pippin strained to see that upon the other hill hard by stood the banners of Rohan and Dol Amroth, White Horse and Silver Swan. And about each hill a ring was made, bristling with spears and sword.* The thin wail of the Nazgul drifted towards them on the cold wind.
Pippin scurried past Gimli and gave him a quick wave and the Dwarf nodded back seriously. He stood before Aragorn, his mighty war axe already in his hands. The ranks of anxious faced Men parted briefly to let Pippin through and he pushed his way towards Aragorn. The Man looked distant, but his grey eyes softened as he looked down and saw the Hobbit's serious look.
'Legolas has sent me up here with you,' Pippin said by way of explanation. 'He told me to hide but I want to stand with you and Gimli. And I wish Legolas were up here as well so we can keep an eye on him.'
Aragorn did not smile at all but merely nodded and returned his gaze to the Gate. Pippin followed his gaze and from this better vantage point he could see what had bothered Legolas so; the horses of Dol Amroth on the plains below, galloping away from the Black Gate ahead of a cloud of red-limned dust. Right behind them, the great wings of the Nazgul's beasts unfurled, pounding the air, beating the dust into a storm, and from the Black Gate spewed the hordes of Mordor. But soaring above the whole vale of Udûn, wrapped in a brooding gloom was the Tower, high as a mountain; wall upon wall, battlement upon battlement, black, immeasurably strong, mountain of iron, gate of steel, tower of adamant.* Pippin saw it all: Barad-dûr. Fortress of Sauron, the Lord of the Rings. Pippin felt his courage fail him utterly then and all hope left him....
Legolas was relieved that Pippin at least had scuttled off to safety and now he watched breathless. The Gate was wide open now and out of it streamed the hordes of Mordor as swiftly as swirling waters when a great sluice is lifted*. And above, the Nazgul skittered across the sky. There was barely a breath, barely a sound. Out of a cloud of red dust fled the grey and white horses of Dol Amroth. Shadowfax blazed ahead and the ground trembled beneath the horses' thunderous, desperate charge.
There was no black horse galloping amongst them.
He found himself pushing his way through the Men who strained to see, his own heart pounding. He shook his head slightly; they were still too far away and the long thin wailing of the Nazgul terrified the waiting, watching Men and froze their blood. One man close by dropped his sword from nerveless fingers and sank to the ground, head in his hands, moaning.
Legolas strode between the Men, pushed past the front line until he was clear of them, standing beyond the gathered ranks. Still there was no black horse galloping amongst the grey and white. Ahead of him were rocks piled up like an island, from some long ago landslide. He leaped swiftly from one boulder to another to the top for it gave him vantage and height, though he knew it marked him out. Blood roared in his ears, his heart thumped, flooding his lungs and heart and nerves with energy and power and a pounding fear.
Elrohir could not have fallen. He could not be dead.
His long pale hair lifted in the cold wind, flew back against the thin grey sky that seemed dark enough for twilight. His hands did not shake as he nocked two arrows together and he drew his great bow further and further until he thought his muscles would tear. He sighted along the arrow and found the great winged beasts that pursued the grey and white horses as they galloped, flattened out, streamed in the red-limned wind.
A memory sliced through him...a flat reptilian head in the rain snapped jaws, teeth like fine needles...An Eye opened upon him. I see you... But he gripped his heart and thinned his mouth, breathed in softly through his nose and held...and held...and suddenly the first great winged beast was in range and he fired. He did not wait to see if it struck true but reached for another and the great bow of Lorien sang and he fired another and another so the air was filled with the shrill whine of arrows and the huge soughing wings of the Nazgul bearing down on him. He ducked, crouching between the rocks as it rushed overhead, outstretched talons crashing into the stones above him, sent them skittering down onto him and he put his hands over his head.
And then the grey and white horses were surging towards him and plunging, tossing their heads so their manes were like foam, galloping past him where he stood on his island of rocks...
The Nazgul tore over the Men of Gondor then, shrieking and wailing, and soaring high and out of reach of the storm of arrows. They screamed high over the Men who covered their ears and cringed in fear and desperate horror. One hurtled towards the hilltop where the black banner of the White Tree fluttered defiantly.
Legolas stood tall and sighted along his bow, he narrowed his eyes and the world shrank to where the thin leathery wings whumped the air. He breathed in softly through his nose and exhaled gently...and fired.
The Nazgul's steed veered wildly away to the left. It threw its head back and keened horribly. Its wings beat heavily, laboured and it lurched towards the Gate. An empty hood turned, looked down at where Legolas stood.
I tire of you, whelp of Azgarâzir. When this is done, do not think we will neglect you.
He felt the chill run through him, freezing his blood but he did not care. He could see no black horse amongst the grey and white horses that milled and surged behind him. Then from the gaping maw of the Morannon came a roar that grew, rolled around the mountains, building as if from the throat one great and terrible beast. Legolas turned quickly away from the winged menace and saw the black tide had rushed forwards. The mercurial half-light glinted off a million spears and pikes and shields and he could see the great trolls and orcs that charged madly towards him.
But something lay very still out on the plains between him and the rushing black. It lay still. Like a black boulder.
He narrowed his eyes.
A black horse, lying on its side, its head was stretched out towards him and the wind lifted its mane a little. But then the army of Mordor swarmed over it, hacking and jeering and it disappeared in the onslaught. His lips parted in a faint cry and his hand flew to his chest for the pain that pierced him through.
Elrohir was gone. The black horse had fallen and was now trampled by the bloody trolls and orcs and Legolas was certain his rider fell with it. He pressed his hand over his eyes and it seemed to him then that he too would fall at this ending of the world.
Elrohir clung to his brother as they fled across the plain, the sharp copper tang in his mouth. He felt wetness on his hand. He glanced down at himself and saw the dark wet stain on the sleeve of his black tunic. It was not his.
He glanced back over his shoulder as they galloped, a last look at the dead black horse, as still as a boulder on the plains. The hordes of Mordor swarmed over it, hacking and stabbing and he looked away, glad it had been his hand that dealt the final blow. Valiant Kathuphazgân. He pressed his face against his brother's shoulder thinking how Kathuphazgân had trembled under his hand as he struck him dead.
Elladan reached back and briefly squeezed his hand. Elrohir felt intense blue envelop him, flow around and through him. He felt his brother's black silk hair brush his face, the hard muscle beneath the crush of his black suede tunic, he smelled of horses and athelas, and his own clean sky-blue scent.
He saw Elladan glance across at Imrahil who galloped alongside them, the Man's bright sword clasped in his hand and his short hair tugged by the wind. And Elrohir suddenly was aware that Legolas was not here. He could not help a stab of disappointment.
The horse he shared with Elladan suddenly surged ahead and he felt it straining its muscles, flattening out to a gallop. He thought there was a roaring in his ears and he shook his head slightly, thinking it was his own blood pounding. But it came from behind. He glanced over his shoulder and his heart caught. The huge serrated wings of the Nazguls' basilisk steeds pounded the air as they hurtled after Elrohir and Elladan.
The Nazgul were gaining on them, the great beasts covering more ground in one beat of the huge leathery wings than the terrified horses could gallop. Their blunt reptilian heads snapped too close. He heard a sudden whine above and glanced up in fear; a streak of silver sped past him, above him. Immediately there was a loud, harsh cawing from the throat of one of the great winged beasts and the wind shifted. He glanced behind them as the horse suddenly put on a spurt of speed. He saw one of the winged beasts lurch sideways into another and crash downwards into the cloud of red dust.
Ahead was a pile of rocks like an island beyond the ranks of Men, and high upon it a tall figure, golden hair lifted by the sudden wind, sighted along a bow, firing arrow after arrow at the pursuing Nazgul. The plunging, galloping horses, surged around and then past the island. Elrohir pulled at Elladan as they passed but he did not stop. He turned and stared even as Legolas sighted and followed one huge beast speeding towards him, almost skimming him as it fled past, towards the hilltop.
Suddenly they were amongst the breathless waiting host, and men gathered around them, taking the reins of horses, helping them down, scrambling to form ranks, muttering prayers as the black tide rushed towards them from the open Gate. Gandalf had already dismounted and was striding up the slopes towards Aragorn, his white robes shimmered in the half mercurial light. Imrahil too reached up to Elladan, clasping his arm, holding his gaze. Suddenly Elrohir needed to see, to touch Legolas.
He spun round to find the last place he had seen Legolas, the small island of rocks piled up out on the plains. When he saw the Elf leaping lightly down from the rocks, Elrohir's heart swelled, seemed to overwhelm him and he thought it would burst at the mere sight of him. He loved Legolas. He had rejected, without hesitation, everything he had been offered by the Nazgul. He felt a strength course through his veins he had not felt before; he would fight them with every ounce of his strength and with his soul. He would not wear that iron crown. He would die first. His fist clenched hard over Aícanaro and he felt the sword thrum with dark anticipation.
Looking up quickly at Elladan, he reached up to clasp his brother's arm. Their eyes met.
'Go!' Elladan smiled. 'Find him. Tell him what is in your heart if you have not already.' Elladan himself was already looking away, Elrohir noticed, watching Imrahil as he ordered his men, first amongst those to face the hordes that spewed from the Vale of Udûn.
Crowds of men surged around Elrohir, scrambling for weapons, rushing to take positions on the slopes of the two hills, running to fill the gaps. Archers crowded onto the higher slopes, high enough to see over the Men of Dol Amroth and close enough to be quickly in range and the banner of the Tree and Stars floated over the place where Aragorn stood. Above them, much higher, wary now and out of range, the Nazgul circled.
Elrohir looked around, searching for Legolas for he had leaped down from the rocks and disappeared amongst the soldiers. Suddenly Elrohir saw him. He felt his breath catch. Legolas had not seen him and though all around him was chaos, in that moment the Elf was utterly still. Legolas' head was bowed, his shoulders slumped slightly and he had covered his eyes with his hand. Elrohir's heart clenched with an almost physical pain; he could not bear to see his beloved in such despair.
Elrohir strode swiftly up the slopes, pushing through the panicked soldiers, and as if he felt Elrohir's coming, Legolas lifted his head. His eyes widened, lips parted and before he could speak, Elrohir was before him, had cupped the back of Legolas' head and brought him close. Elrohir stared for a moment into those wide green-gold eyes and pulled Legolas towards him, pressing his mouth against his, pushing between his lips as he gasped nad filling his mouth with his own tongue. Wishing there was nothing between them. It was fierce, brief, passionate. He heard eagles soar above the snow. This, this is what love is, he thought. Pure. The Song amplified.
'I will find you,' he said, pulling back and gazing into the green-gold eyes that were full of wonder. 'When this is done, I will find you.' He pushed a loose hair back from Legolas' beautiful, flushed face. He did not pause but turned and strode down the slope. Men parted for him and turned their faces towards him in admiration for he was fell and fair and had braved the Nazgul and the Black Gate alone with Gandalf. And they knew he had fought with Eorl the Young and scoured the mountains for Orcs with his brother for centuries.
Thunder rolled and rolled around the valley, growing in volume until it filled the air. Elrohir gritted his teeth and electricity crackled in his hair and skittered over his skin, prickling. Immense pressure as if a storm were coming, built up, pressed down on him. It drew his eyes inexorably back to the gaping maw of the Black Gate. A demonic red glow lit the clouds of dust that swirled from the Gate, glinted on the thousand and thousands of spears, pikes, lances, blades. And above it all rising black, blacker and darker than the vast shades amid which it stood, the cruel pinnacles and iron crown of the topmost tower of distant Barad-dûr.* A spear of red flame flashed high, high above and it seemed that words like black inky threads wound about him
He felt the words of summoning wind their black tendrils of fear through the uneasy Men, creeping, searching for the One precious thing. He found his lips moving, but the black threads caught on his lips like spider webs and he brushed them away and glanced upwards.
On the hilltop above, he could hear Aragorn shouting orders, and felt the bonds that tied them stretch. He wanted to linger for a moment with his mortal brother, to fold him into a protective embrace, just in case it was indeed the end of everything. He rubbed away the last sensations of the words on his lips.
Ahead of him now he saw that Elladan had turned towards him as if he too had heard the words of summoning, felt the power stretch for Elrohir and seek to entangle him in its web. Elrohir met his brother's tender grey eyes and saw how his long black hair was pulled out by the wind that buffeted them all, and the mercurial light caught on his frost-bright sword.
He lifted his head and strode forwards to stand with Elladan then and together their swords gleamed and the mithril runes twisted around the blades like molten serpents. They stood, their long black hair streaming in the hot wind that blew like fury from the open Gates, their strong beautiful faces set like stone, their grey eyes storm dark and filled with that ferocious violence for which they were known, the Sons of Thunder.
Heavy thunderhead clouds gradually covered the skies, grasping at them, reaching outwards from Mordor, from the Tower that rose up and up, like a mountain. Lightning flashed from the clouds and crackled across the sky, lighting up the spears and pikes and blades of the armies. Pippin found himself holding his breath, for those armies were advancing at a terrible pace and the ground shook beneath their iron shod feet. Any moment now, it would break upon the Sons of Elrond. He shook his head in misery and horror for what was about to happen. He could see no way they could survive, if any of them did, and for a moment he thought of what Legolas had bid him do and felt like throwing his cloak over his head and burying himself down under the dry and dusty earth.
Gimli shifted and said something under his breath. His hands gripped the haft of his axe and he took a deep breath. Following the Dwarf's gaze he saw Legolas then amongst the other archers, shockingly unprotected by anything but light leather armour, no helm, no shield. His long bow was bent back and the lightning flashed, gleaming on his long hair, and the runes on his bow turned molten silver.
'Legolas is on his own,' Pippin said softly and he caught the concern in Gimli's brown eyes. 'Perhaps I should...'
'Stay,' a voice said sternly and Pippin looked up for it was Gandalf's voice. The Wizard's face seemed to be filled with an inner light since he had returned from the Black Gate in the mad dash with Elrohir, and Pippin thought he looked nothing like the old grey wizard who used to visit the Shire and was known for his fireworks. Gandalf suddenly looked down upon Pippin and there was the same softening of his blue eyes that Pippin had seen when they stood on the walls on Minas Tirith before the battle of Pelennor. Gandalf nodded once at Pippin as if he read his thoughts and then he said kindly, 'Stay safe, Peregrine Took and hold your heart. They come.'
Suddenly the spell was broken and the roaring that had been growing steadily broke upon them and a hail of arrows whined over Pippin's head from behind. They all turned in shock and there was a mighty roar in the mountains all around them and they knew they had been trapped. No way out.
'Mahal's bollocks!' Gimli swore, 'I knew it. I told Legolas there was something in the mountains just before the Nazgul attacked him. Stone does not lie.' He gripped his great war axe and gritted his teeth. And already the black tide had broken upon the Sons of Elrond and great trolls were pounding towards them, roaring like beasts, hill trolls out of Gorgoroth. Taller and broader than Men they were, and they were clad in only close-fitting mesh of horny scales but the rounds bucklers they carried were huge and black and they wielded them like heavy hammers* in their great meaty hands. Reckless they sprang into the ranks of Men and the ranks of the men of Dol Amroth and the Dunedain broke like a ship wrecked by a storm.
Pippin stood on tiptoe straining to see and he caught a glimpse of the Sons of Elrond, their swords caught like fire and one struck out at a great troll and the other darted around its back before they were lost in a seething, crashing tide of trolls and orcs. Below him, arrows sang, whined as they sped into the crush of orcs and trolls below. A huge troll lifted its muscular arm and beat with its club upon the shield of one of the sons of Elrond, Pippin could see the half-elf sink beneath the attack, driven to his knees. Pippin gasped and his hand flew to cover his mouth.
The troll raised its buckler again and brought it down like hammer onto the elf's raised arms when abruptly the troll staggered, its hand pawing at its throat and it stumbled and crashed to its knees. The elven warrior staggered to his feet and looked about for a moment and Pippin saw him raise his eyes to search the slopes where the archers were placed. But there was no pause for another troll bore down upon him and he seized the fallen troll's buckler. Pippin lost sight of him then.
The resounding clash of steel deafened him. Shouts and cries from the mass of Men pushed and churned and struggled. An acrid stink wafted across the field. The huge hill trolls beat upon helm and head, and arm and shield as smiths hammering hot iron* and they roared and bellowed like beasts. Pippin felt fear for they were so...other... so unlike people. He could not imagine any parley now, or truce should Aragorn be defeated. He watched in horror as his worst fears became real - a troll reached out its meaty fist and grasped one of the knights of Dol Amroth by the shoulder, dragged him forwards; he was limp like broken puppet.The troll dipped its head so at first Pippin wondered what it was doing. Then the troll raised its dreadful head and its mouth was covered in deep red blood and stringy gore...
Pippin took a step back shaking his head in disbelief. He felt a hand clasp his shoulder and he glanced up. Aragorn's stern noble face was frozen like stone and though one hand was gentle on Pippin's shoulder, the other clenched the pommel of Anduril. The winged helm of Gondor framed his face and he looked like the Kings of Old, that stood on the Argonath.
Pippin stared down at where the sons of Elrond had stood but he could see neither now...the Orcs had overrun their positions and he saw Imrahil casting around frantically and being slowly driven back, back and further back. The Prince swung his sword clanging against an Orc, then a troll and he was pressed back into a retreat up the slopes towards Eomer. Pippin could see the ranks of the Men of Gondor and Dol Amroth crushed against one another now so it was hard to even raise their weapons. A rain of arrows scythed through the Orcs and many Orcs fell though they merely glanced off the tough hides of the trolls.
And then horribly, out of the gathering mirk, the Nazgul came with their cold voices crying words of death;* and then any hope left in Pippin's heart was quenched. Their shadows swept over the Men gathered on the hill about their King, and as the darkness and long fingers of heavy cloud reached from the dreadful Tower. Pippin felt his throat constrict and the breath squeeze out of him in fear. It was worse than he had ever felt in the Shire or on the road. Not even on Weathertop had he been as frightened as he was now. He tried to think of Merry, and Sam and Frodo and even old Fatty back in the Shire, but nothing stayed in his mind except the thought that he would die here, at the Black Gate, like in the old songs, like Elendil and Gil-Galad and Legolas' grandfather, although Pippin had forgotten his name. He hoped it would be quick and he would not get eaten by a troll, or left alive to be sport for Orcs...he had come too close to that already.
But it was the waiting that was worse, watching the battle below and simply waiting for it to reach him. And yet wasn't that the point? To buy Frodo as much time as they could...
He felt Gimli shift again and knew the Dwarf was getting impatient. Gimli turned once and looked at Aragorn and then back at the sea of Orcs that crowded around the hill so the first ranks were slowly being pushed back up the slopes. The armies of Mordor simply broke upon them, battered at them like a storm, crushing the dead and dying underfoot to get to the next ranks.
Gimli looked back again and this time he said, 'It seems to me we are sitting ducks here. At least let's take some with us, Aragorn.'
Aragorn lifted Anduril then. He glanced at Gimli and said, 'I had the same thought.'
Gimli did not grin, or smile but he simply hefted his axe. 'After you?' he invited.
Suddenly the Orcs and trolls had broken through and were upon them. Pippin heard Gimli give a great shout and felt him leap into the fray. Beside him, Aragorn drew his sword in a whisper of steel. Pippin clung to his blade of Westernesse and tried to remember that Merry had slain the Witchking with a similar weapon and he opened his mouth and half of him watched himself with astonishment as he leapt through the ranks of struggling, seething Men and Orcs towards a troll that had smote Beregond, his old friend and was even now leaning over him and reaching out a clutching claw*.
'The Shire!' burst from Pippin's throat and he stabbed downwards onto the troll's foot and then slashed upwards as Boromir had taught him all that time ago on the hills beneath the Misty Mountains. He felt resistance and then pushed harder and the blade sank into the soft underbelly of the troll. Hot liquid spewed out over Pippin's arm and he turned his head revolted and in that moment, the troll toppled forwards and Pippin felt a crushing weight like a boulder had fallen upon him, burying him beneath. Blackness and stench and crushing pain came upon Pippin and his mind fell away then into a great darkness.*
He thought he lapsed into a dream then for he waltzed dreamily into Bilbo's old tale of There and Back Again. No Back Again for me it seems, he thought wistfully. Poor old Merry. He'll have to tell Old Took...no...Old Took? And he sighed and there was a distant cry of eagles but it faded quickly and darkness took him then.
Aragorn wiped sweat from his brow and scraped his knuckle on the star of Elendil. He kept doing that. Ahead of him, between the struggling raging mass of Men and Orcs and Trolls, he glimpsed a familiar figure on the neigbouring hill, bright copper-gold hair, fighting and hard beset on all sides. The bright swords of Rohan had slowly disappeared, blackened with blood or vanquished, for there were fewer and fewer left standing now, and the standard of the white horse had long since been torn down and trampled into the ground. Now only his own black banner with the white tree fluttered bravely, battered by the wind that blasted and tore and seemed to fight them as much as the Orcs and trolls.
In the lightning that flashed from the great black Tower of Brad-dûr he caught movement in the corner of his eye, just in time to bring his own shield up against a curved sabre that slashed down at him. The Southron warrior lunged again at him and turned, blocking him so their blades slid along each other and they struggled, wrestled for a moment… A sudden whine, an arrow whizzed past his ear and drove deep into the heart of the Southron. The warrior looked startled for a moment and then his eyes glazed and he toppled slowly, sinking to the ground. Aragorn did not hesitate but drove his sword into the trembling corpse to make sure it did not rise. Around him, the shouting and clashing blades was deafening but the shrill whine of arrows had lessened and he knew they were running out.
An Uruk lay behind him, gurgling and clutching its belly in spasms. Aragorn curled his lip in disgust and slashed Anduril across its throat and then turned to hack at an Orc that struggled with one of his Dunedain.
He looked about briefly and caught sight of Legolas and a few other remaining archers standing tall and firing into the skies. They were intent on driving the Nazgul higher and back for they had boulders gripped in the taloned feet of the beasts and would drop them on the Men of Gondor if they could get near. The wind suddenly intensified and buffeted Legolas, pulled his hair back and he narrowed his eyes, squinting against the wind. But like Eomer, Legolas was being driven back and so many of his archers had fallen too. Suddenly there was a triumphant roar and Aragorn lost sight of the Elf beneath the seething churning sea of Orcs.
A heavy blow from a troll suddenly knocked him sideways and then as he brought up his shield to defend himself, it struck on his helm and made him see stars, literally, and he crashed to his knees. The troll lifted its hammer for the killing blow, and suddenly it stumbled beneath the storm of arrows that rained down desperately. He knew not if it was Legolas or the Men of Gondor who protected him but whoever it was he was grateful. The troll fell, crushing Men and Orcs as it fell and as he rolled away, Aragorn shoved another Man away from beneath its body.
''Ware my lord!' came a cry and he blindly struck out again and hot black blood spurted over his chest, his face.
He wiped his eyes with the bit of fabric that peeked from a tear in his chain mail. He could not remember that tear happening. He could not remember how his helm had become so dented he felt them press against his skull. It was hopeless. They were an island in a sea of black armour, of grey hides. The strange half light glinted off the thousands and thousands of spears and pikes that had still not even reached them. The hordes of Mordor were climbing over the piled up bodies of both Orc and Man to get to the next rows of Men and the air was suffocating, stank of blood. It was a massacre and there was nothing he could do. No strategy, no plan would ever mean victory here. They squandered their lives to buy time...and he did not even know if the time was worth the price. They did not even know if Frodo was on the slopes of Oroduin or in the bowels of Barad-dûr.
He heard Gimli's battle cry; so the Dwarf was still alive. The knowledge fed the small flicker of hope in his breast. He glimpsed Gandalf then too, striking out with his staff and wielding Glamdring with a vengeance, light shining from him. The Wizard seemed charged with energy, and it gave Aragorn a sliver of hope as he swung around and slashed and parried with barely conscious thought. His arms were tired like they had not been at Pelennor or Helm's Deep. It was the crush. His foot slipped on a bloody mess on the ground and it was soft. He did not look down, could not look down but in the moment that he slipped, a huge hill troll lunged forwards and pounded upon his dented helm and shield and beat him down.
This is it, thought Aragorn, holding up both shield and Anduril to fend off the heavy blows that were more than a Man could take. All those years of waiting...wasted. And he sent a little sigh for Arwen. He stabbed upwards in one last desperate try. He heard Legolas shouting his name somewhere and then Gandalf's voice.
'...eagles are coming....'
Darkness descended and he heard Legolas crying out, knew the Elf was fighting towards him but ah, too late. But at least the Elf was still alive. For now. And Gimli. He wanted to look once more into the Dwarf's steady earth-brown eyes. He wished he had made Pippin hide. And he had wanted to say again to Legolas that he was sorry. But more than anything, he wished he could hold Arwen just once more...her softness, her deep understanding. The thought of her was in his mind when he fell.
The wind buffeted and blasted Elrohir so his long black hair streamed behind him. Lightning skittered across the sky, ripped blinding flashes of silver and black in the clouds, lighting up the Nazgul as they shot through the sky like flaming bolts. Their cold voices rose above the thunder that rolled and roared like some wild thing.
He felt them reach for him, wrapping their cold voices around him and he could no longer see Elladan, Legolas or Aragorn. They were beaten back...defeat was close.
A huge troll, its scaly hide grey and wrinkled, hung loosely off its heavy muscle and bones, brandished its iron mace and it roared. It clanged the mace against the iron buckler and swung round. Elrohir dodged and threw himself near the ground, rolled and came up on his feet, leaping beneath the troll's reach and aiming for its knees. He felt Aícanaro bite deep and its pleasure darkened as blood spurted over the blade.
The troll reared back and bellowed its fury, lifted its mace high and smashed it down toward Elrohir. He felt the earth judder beneath his feet as he leapt over the blade and landed a series of slashing blows on the trolls' chest and thrust his blade upwards. Blood spattered and sprayed over his face, and he thrust and hacked at the grey heavy flesh. The troll opened its maw and rolled its head in frustrated fury and smashed the club carelessly on the ground. Nearby a man of Gondor screamed as it smashed into him but Elrohir did not pause. He darted between the troll's legs, a hot stink hit him as he came up at the troll's back even as the mace crashed into the ground where he had been seconds before.
An orc turned and seeing him, stabbed wildly with the curved scimitar in his hand but Elrohir quickly sliced across its neck even as he turned back to the troll. The troll was swinging its head around looking for Elrohir and again, he speared the back of its knees and then he leapt upwards, aiming for its groin. The troll howled in agony but Elrohir dared not pause for already there was thunder and another troll appeared right behind him. It smashed its buckler over Elrohir's shield and he heard a terrible crunch and then knifing pain in his arm. His nerveless fingers dropped his own round shield so he ducked below the swinging fist that was the size and weight of a boulder, and ran swiftly from the arc of the club as it swung round and smashed through the air. An orc's head rolled off at his feet for trolls were not discriminate.
Something whined past him, felt like it had sliced his cheek and his hand flew up instinctively. But though he felt like he had been cut, there was no blood and he realised it was not the troll's blade but an arrow that had whizzed past him and was now lodged in the troll's gullet. It threw its head about, the horrible gurgling that came from its mouth Elrohir barely registered, for already and so soon, he was again hard pressed. Orcs this time. He found himself slipping on blood and stumbling over the bodies of the fallen, so many men and now and again, when he looked down, he recognised a face and was glad it was not Elladan.
There was a shimmer in the air, hanging over the battlefield now like heat and a metallic tang on his tongue. The air shifted subtly; something darker approached. Needed to be summoned. Flame and shadow, a thrust of evil seemed to pierce him. Fire ran through his veins, skimmed over his skin. And the Voice that opened inside him was darker than the Nazgul, deeper, like black silk, velvet. Like the Void.
You will be their Lord. Master. You will have dominion...
An iron crown awaited him, an iron ring would chain him.
The rich iron-salt smell of blood filled the air and made the ground slippery underfoot. He took another step forwards and Aícanaro trembled with delight, drinking in the darkness, letting it soak into its metal, the flames and darkness rolled off the blade like ribbons of silk. Even after so much blood, still it was unsatisfied.
Your yôzâira...There will be a sacrifice but it will not be your rich blood spilt.
With sudden understanding, Elrohir stared up at the soaring Tower, the mountain of adamant too colossal to have ever been made by any creature of Arda. And the spear of red flame pierced the gloom to find him, him alone and fixed upon him.
'Your price is too great,' he said with finality. He felt a thin smile against the corners of his mind then and the Eye watched, waited for him to fall. Because he knew he would. They all would.
The press of battle was fiercer than anything he had ever experienced in his long, long life. An iron will forced the hordes of Mordor onwards and held him back. His arms felt heavier and heavier as though he had been fighting for days without rest instead of the few hours this had gone on. And there was no sign of ceasing.
He swung Aícanaro again. It felt so heavy, and clanged against the thin blade of a Man from the East. His red robes shimmered and flowed around him though he was already weakened from the gash Elrohir had opened up in his side. The robes were red so you could not see the blood, Elrohir realised in one part of his mind; the other part calculated the angle of the thrust that would finish the Man from the East. Elrohir thrust. The blade sank into warm flesh, the Man's eyes stared horribly and rolled in his sockets, his hands clutched at Aícanaro and cut his palms so blood slid down the blade, pooling with the black blood that already bathed it. Elrohir carefully pulled Aícanaro from the Easterling's twitching body like an act of sex and the dark metaled blade drooled with gore, dripped blood like a fang or talon. Elrohir felt its power surge through him for Aícanaro had drunk the blood of the Nazgul, it had drunk the blood of Sauron Annatar himself.
Fool! To dream you can threaten me...
Sudden thunder rolled around the valley and a flash of lightning lit everything silver and then black. He lifted Aícanaro again.
'I am not afraid of you!' he shouted into the teeth of the gale that stormed, hurled the words like a thunderbolt.
He did not pause or wait for the response for already he felt a shift on the bodies piled behind and around him, the squelch of heavy iron shod feet stamping down on a Man behind him. Elrohir hurled himself round to face a huge Uruk from Mordor. Its narrow yellow eyes gleamed with a wildness and glee he had never encountered before this day, for he had not been at Helm's Deep. It bared its yellow fangs and bellowed, and Elrohir suddenly felt there was nothing like a conscious reason behind that frightening visage. He slashed upwards blindly in sudden hatred and fear, overwhelmed by a memory of stifling tunnels and the grunting panting breath...In the moment he lost his footing and slipped, stumbled on a wooden buckler that had become slippery with blood and clots of flesh.
The Uruk brought its scimitar down and drove it hard against Elrohir's blade, whipped it back swiftly and struck at his face. The heavy blade knocked against his helm, his head, bashed him about his chest, his cuirass, and his legs were swept from under him. He felt his own armour buckle and give and he was pressed back, weighed down by that will that crushed them all, poured its malevolence against them.The heavy curved blade struck Aícanaro away. Blood on his own hands was slippery and suddenly it seemed that Aícanaro slithered out of his grip and disappeared beneath him.
He threw himself after it, fingers grasped at the dark metal as it slid beneath the slithering, slippery bodies. He scrabbled at the bloody corpses beneath him, but Aícanaro slipped away from his desperate clawing grasp. A thunderous roar and hot stink in his face made him look up and his heart gave mighty lurch in his chest as he locked eyes with the Uruk. Desperately he scrabbled at nothing and suddenly his fingers bashed against a wooden edge, brought up a wooden buckler, thrust it in the Uruk's grinning face, and as the Uruk lurched backwards, he staggered to his feet. But its heavy jagged blade locked and smashed against the wood, shattering it. He felt his arm give and the wood spilt. He seized one half in both hands and blocked and blocked but each time the Uruk drove deeper, thrust harder, its lips drew back in a snarling grin and its little yellow eyes glinted. A red tongue flicked out and licked its fangs and it raised the scimitar high over its head and drove down, hard, hard enough for the wood to splinter, hard enough to drive the blade into Elrohir's shoulder, hard enough to drive him back down to his knees and he dropped the shield, leaning over, hands gripping the ground as he fought the dizzying whirl of the ground.
He wished he had not wasted all his long life in hatred and fear and self-loathing. He wished he could say he was sorry to Elladan. And to Legolas. Breathing hard, he waited for the world to stop spinning and he could feel, hear the Uruk's heavy tread approach.
And suddenly it stopped. The Orcs around him suddenly rippled and seemed nervous, fell back...A way opened before him and he raised his dizzy head. A thin black shroud fluttered slightly and then he saw a mailed fist raised, a heavy broadsword clasped before it.
He swallowed. Gripped the wet soil, the earth. The Nazgul seemed taller, darker, like it absorbed any light or warmth. Its cold shadow fell over him and his blood went cold. But he was Rávëyon, Elrohir Elrondion and he would be cowed by no rattling of old bones. So he told himself.
Elrohir lifted his own grey eyes wearily upwards. It seemed to Elrohir then the dust had whipped up into the shapes of huge leathery winged beasts that dropped out of the sky and landed with heavy thuds. Darkness gathered where they landed. One threw its flat reptilian head up and gave a dreadful hissing shriek and snapped at the arrows that flew towards it and peppered its thick impenetrable hide. One unfurled its great wings and from its shadow there emerged a tall figure. In its mailed fist was a huge broadsword the equal perhaps of Aícanaro. The air was full of terrible cries that chilled his blood. The Nazgul emerged from the red clouds and fog.
Ash nazg durbatulûk,
In Elrohir's dazed and pain-shattered mind, the battle receded, went elsewhere, perhaps to his left where a bright-haired Elf fought to reach him, twin blades flashing white and silver, slashing round and up. Perhaps the trolls had lumbered heavily, swifter than he thought possible, to where another fought, long black hair flying in the wind, struggling to reach him as the Nazgul approached, circled him as wolves bring a stag at bay. He heard distantly, his name called and thought someone might be shouting to him...And then all else faded and there was only him and the darkness...
Ash nazg gimbatul
They converged upon him. No longer separate entities but one. The Brethren. Unassailable they strode through the trolls and orcs and men. Great swords they held before them, gleaming. Empty hoods dark. A dark chant of deep voices, felt in the blood and bone, not heard. Resonance and power surged through the air, crept around him and he knew this was the end...
Ash nazg thrakatulûk
Words of summoning conjured from the blood-soaked air. Black threads scattered on Elrohir's skin, caught like spider webs, twined around him where he knelt weaponless, helpless.
... agh burzum-ishi krimpatul.
The words seemed to swirl and become darkness. Solidify. Black shrouds halted in a circle around him. Stood silent. Still. Waiting. And he could see beyond the veils now, could see their dim forms, the skeletons they were, the grinning empty eyes that burned, the hunger that devoured them. They were filled with a dreadful, gnawing hunger that they could not satisfy. Their lust and desire could not be assuaged. They were starving...
Rávêyon. Lord... of the Brethren.
Slowly, they advanced and they did not hesitate or slow their advance. It seemed ponderous but it was swift nonetheless and there were seven blades all poised before him.
A tear down his arm and warmth oozed from the cut. Another on his chest and a sword that came suddenly from his left only to be cut on his right cheek. Another piercing cut on his shoulder, his arm, his hand, a blade sliced down thigh. He remembered, distantly that he had seen this before...
Ash nazg thrakatulûk agh burzum-ishi krimpatul
The words drew together in darkness and a red rim of fire burned the edge of the dark. It grew, fed off the dark. A ring of Fire...that burned and heated his skin.
The world tilted sideways and all was red with blood. Pain flooded him. Like he had never known and darkness fell over him. Head bowed. He was aware, but could not comprehend, that his tunic was soaking wet. He felt the throb and pulse of his blood; he had never felt it as strongly as he did now...it seemed to pulse strongly, to beat loudly but more slowly...yes, perhaps that was it. It was louder, but weaker...Aícanaro was not in his hand.
Ash nazg gimbatul.
It seemed the words trembled in the air, a dreadful summoning, an incantation that would bring the Eye to the midst of the battle, as it had on the mountainside and he trembled for his mortal blood. Fire licked across his skin, across the darkness, white fire. Lightning split the darkness, thunderbolts struck the earth and the world seemed plunged in darkness, the lightning struck the hilltops, struck great craters in the earth, and like Orthanc fire it killed Orcs and Men.
The fire grew more intense and the Ring grew brighter and then it opened. The Eye. Opened upon him.... the Eye opened upon him and he felt his blood heat, burn, scald, boil and he gasped at the horror of it.
He felt the cold iron upon his finger. A crown forced upon his head. It closed around his brow, bearing down upon him. Closed in on him so he cried aloud and struggled to take it off.
Long, pleasurable. Each syllable lingered over like a lover, with pleasure. The cold seemed to burn on his skin like it had been branded...and it felt...right....
Bring Ash Nazg to me.
Someone shouted that eagles were coming but he knew it was too late. The eagles would not fly now.
There was cold, cold pain and darkness and he thought the earth shuddered in horror but it might have been his own flesh as he was pierced. Somewhere he heard someone shouting, and he remembered a beloved voice telling him he would search everywhere...but his yôzâira could not follow this time.
- shows extracts from ROTK
Ash nazg etc is of course the inscription on the One Ring. Ash Nazg means One Ring so it would, of course, be its name.