Lalaith Elerrina--Child of the Stars - Chapter 44
The ground spun nearer as Lalaith plummeted downward. The trumpeting bellow of a mûmak entered her ears. She closed her eyes. Legolas, be strong, do not grieve unto death for me-,
A great snap jerked her to a sudden stop and the leather belts of Théodred's quiver wrenched her breath from her lungs as the quiver caught suddenly upon-, something. Something that bowed with her weight, enough to cushion the dreadful speed of her fall, before it sprung back, again, whipping her roughly about before the spinning world came again into focus, and she caught her wild breath, taking in her surroundings.
The full of her weight hung upon the belts of the quiver, stretched taut across her jerkin. But she was still alive, swinging in the air, ragged and breathless, and confused that she was not crushed upon the ground as she struggled to understand how she had been jerked to a stop, hanging in mid-air as it seemed, that she would still be moving in time to the rhythmic boom of thundering feet, as if she were upon the back of a great horse.
Shaking her dazed head, she twisted herself about, gaping back at the startled eyes, faces shrouded behind thick wrappings of cloth that watched her from over the taut leather balustrade of a moving tower mounted upon the back of a-, she gaped. A Mûmak! Théodred's quiver, she realized, as she twisted helplessly about, her feet dangling over empty air, had caught upon a great out-thrust beam of the vast fortress, braced across the beast's back, guiding trains trailing from them toward the highest pinnacle of the moving tower. And she was dangling like a tiny doll, above the raging mûmak's head.
The Man nearest to her, standing upon a platform fastened across the mûmak's neck, guiding the beast with thick cords pierced through its vast, flapping ears, shouted at her. His head was shorn bare, his face a mass of fearsome tattoos, his eyes sparking with an angry light. His voice, though she understood not his words, was harsh and bitter, and filled with venom. He gestured toward the sky, then away toward the Witch King upon his winged mount that had swooped away, and was skimming low over the battlefield like a hawk near to pouncing upon its prey.
The mûmak, akin to its master in temperament it seemed, bellowed in rage, tossing its head about violently to rid itself of her unwanted weight, and swung its great snout up as if it meant to seize her about the legs. But Lalaith set her jaw, unwilling to remain fearful, helpless to its angry fury. Gathering her strength swiftly, she reached up, and catching the ragged end of the great out-thrusting shaft, flipped her legs up and over the beam just as the beast's snout swiped up at her. The motion loosened her snagged quiver as wrenched herself up over the protruding shaft, her feet landing cat like upon the swaying beam, her knees bent to take the jolting stamp of the mûmak. Several of the Easterlings in the saddled tower, shouted at her, enraged, fuming that she did not fall, and snatched for arrows. Lalaith snatched back for her own arrows, only to find her quiver empty of all but a single knife, her arrows lost in her fall, and her other knife embedding in the clawed foot of the Witch-king's mount. Gripping the wave of panic that rose in her, she snatched the haft of her one remaining knife as she dropped her bow back into its place and pounced into the huge swaying tower, swinging her blade with a vengeance into first man who came at her with a sharpened javelin, screeching, cursing her in his unknown tongue.
Lalaith's knife flashed across this man's neck, and he buckled and fell at her feet. The shroud enwrapping his face fell away as he tumbled there, and his face came into view. He was a Man of middle years, his face raggedly pocked. Gnarled and twisted it was with wild rage, his teeth sparse and crooked in a frozen, sneering mouth. Yet Lalaith paused, shuddering at the sight as she glanced now at her knife, bloodied, though not with the black blood of orcs, but red.
One of the remaining Men, seeing her brief hesitation lunged at her with a shout, the point of his spear leveled at her heart. Stumbling back, she raised her blade to block his cruel blow, but she was too late. Lalaith drew in a sudden gasp as the point of the javelin sliced through the leather of her jerkin, and the cloth of her tunic.
But it did not pierce her flesh.
The circled medallion Galadriel had given her for Legolas to hold against her heart to await their wedding day, pressed into the flesh between her breasts, and dug uncomfortably into her skin beneath the point of the sharpened spear. The Man's merciless strength shoved her backward, and she tumbled over the edge of the leather balustrade with a sharp cry, a torn portion trailing behind her, as the Man's cruel laughter echoed in her ears, the Easterling certain that he had slain her.
But as she fell, she snatched desperately at the torn fragment of leather that had torn away with her, swinging with a jarring thump beneath the over hanging saddle, and into the mûmak's side. The shredded leather tore away then and was whipped away in the wind, but not before Lalaith had snatched wildly onto a short bit of trailing rope, ending her fall.
The motion of the raging beast dashed her about, hanging as she was against its side between a pair of strapping ropes lashed across its belly. Yet she kept her wits about her, and her grip tight upon her one remaining blade. Spinning it, so that the blade was h, she plunged it hard to the hilt in the mûmak's side, hoping it would halt the mad beast's wild charge. But its skin was too thick even to draw blood, her blade as harmless as a bee's sting.
The enraged beast bellowed in protest at this small hurt, swiping back again at her with its massive snout. And with a swift gasp, Lalaith pushed away with her legs, avoiding the flailing grey snout of the beast, though the mûmak's whipping snout dislodged her knife, and she watched helplessly as it plummeted, spinning blade over haft, gleaming down toward the whirring ground below where it at last disappeared.
A cry erupted from above her, and as she glanced up, several faces swathed in cloth appeared over the edge of the overhanging saddle, shouting in rage. The Easterlings, clearly infuriated that she yet lived, brandished their bows as they snatched for arrows taking aim at her from their awkward position, above and behind her, their arrows slitting the air about her as they struck the side of their mount .
The mûmak bellowed at this, flinging its head about furiously, and as the Easterlings shouted among themselves for a moment, they at last withdrew.
Lalaith shuddered, drawing in a tentative breath of relief, and there she hung, weaponless, helpless to do more than wait. Wait for the death of the raging angry beast, or her own death-, and she shuddered where she hung precariously, uncertain which would come first.
"Rally to me! To me!"
The voice of Rohan's king sounded strong and undaunted above the chaos of battle as Merry struggled through the dust and noise toward Théoden, his sword clutched hard in his fist. The young Hobbit could see the gleam of Snowmane's coat through the crush of horses clustered about the king.
Where was Éowyn? Merry wondered desperately as he lifted his eyes at an orc's wild shriek, darting its swinging blade as it lunged after him, thinking the small Hobbit easy prey. It's cruel, curved blade sliced harmlessly into the ground, and Merry's own blade found its mark, the orc falling with a grunt of surprise before it lay still. Surely she was not dead, his mind pled silently as he ran on foot, stumbling in his haste, to get to the king.
But his blood froze in his veins as a wretched shriek rent the air. Merry cried aloud at the sound, his knees buckling, for he knew it well. The shriek of a Nazgûl. Shooting his eyes about, he saw it then, the great winged monster swooping near, scattering horses who ran in shrieking fear away from the king's side, nearly crushing Merry in their haste to escape, their riders helpless to master them.
Merry darted here and there as horses scattered about him, thinking only of reaching the king, of finding Éowyn. One horse, trampling near, veered beside Merry, its shoulder careening into the Hobbit as it darted past, sending him spinning into the ground.
Rolling to a stop, Merry shoved himself once again to his feet. His collision with the horse had left him bruised and dizzy. And his own sword had flown, spinning off somewhere. But he hardly noticed it as he turned about, his heart stopping in his chest to see the winged beast pounced upon Snowmane, as a hawk upon a mouse. Its jaws clamped upon the horse as its long neck swung about, flinging both horse and rider helplessly across the grass, tumbling wildly until with a rough thud, Snowmane's bloodied carcass thumped to a halt.
"My king!" Merry shrieked as snatched up a fallen orc's blade that lay near him as he struggled to scramble onward, limping about a mound of dead men and horses even as the wicked beast crept near the king, trapped beneath the body of his fallen mount.
"Feast on his flesh," hissed a cold, cruel voice from the empty shadows beneath the spiked iron helm.
"No!" Merry cried, though his voice was small in the din of battle.
Despairing, Merry stumbled on brandishing the heavy weapon nearly as large as himself, tripping and falling amongst the bodies, rising again, thinking only of standing between the foul beast and the king, defending his lord with the large awkward blade until the life was gone from him. But he was not near enough, and the king would be torn and devoured before he reached him.
But Merry's feet stopped short, for another had come before him in his place, and he caught a sharp breath in his lungs.
"I will kill you if you touch him," she grated, and Merry's throat tightened seeing here there before the Lord of the Nazgûl, fair and fearless, and slender as a shining blade. On over the mounds of bodies he stumbled, renewing his efforts to reach her side.
"Do not come between the Nazgûl and his prey," the wraith hissed.
With a roar, the wraith's winged mount, its rowed teeth dripping with saliva, thrust out its long neck toward the maiden, but Éowyn lunged deftly to the side as it came, raising her sword as she did, and crying out in anger and fury as she brought her blade down upon the beast's neck, once, then twice, the spine split with a crack, and the head severed clean from the body flipped away as the body quivered, flailing, and fell.
Merry paused briefly gasping as Éowyn scrambled to snatch up a fallen wooden shield. But his heart grew cold and fearful again as the black robed figure rose like an angry cloud from beside the body of his dead mount. The Nazgûl turned his eyes upon the maiden as a breath of hissing rage seethed from the emptiness behind his helmet, brandishing in his right gauntleted hand, a long sword, and in the other, a heavy rod of knobbed iron, a wickedly spiked ball hanging from it by a thick chain.
Merry gasped at the sight of it, and renewed his struggle to reach her. He scrambled over a fallen horse's bloodied saddle, helpless as he tumbled over the dead to reach the maiden's side, watching, though he was fearful to, as the iron spikes smacked into the ground, sending up a smattering of earth. Éowyn had leapt to the side in time.
But the Nazgûl was twirling the mace about again, swinging it toward her head! Éowyn ducked away, the dark wraith shrieking in rage as he missed his intended target. Down the mace came in a swift arc, and once again Éowyn jumped away as it pounded into the ground. Several more swings she ducked and dodged, and Merry's heart began to take strength as he leaped and scrambled over the last of the fallen bodies, sure he would reach her side in time to aide her. But then it happened. The mace, swung about as Éowyn rose from ducking its deadly spikes, striking with a bone shattering crack into her shield, splintering the wood that flew in shards in all directions, and sending the maiden falling back against Snowmane's bloodied side.
"No, no!" Merry shrieked wildly as he tripped over a fallen Man's arm and fell upon his chest in the cleared ground beside the wraith's dead mount.
In the din of war, the Nazgûl did not even turn toward the Hobbit as he drew near toward the gasping maiden, hovering over her like a dark cloud. And setting his teeth hard, Merry found his feet and scrambled forward around the yet twitching wings of the vile beast the wraith had ridden upon. As he drew near, his eyes fell upon a spot of shining white upon one of the beast's twitching claws, to see a knife protruding from the naked mottled flesh. It looked Elven made and seemed vaguely familiar, but Merry in his rush could not place how he knew, thinking only that it suited him better than the bulky blade he carried. Dropping the orcish weapon with a heavy thump, he snatched the white blade free of the beast's crumpled claw. And though he knew well that the Nazgûl might kill them both, at the least, Éowyn would not die alone.
Legolas' heart grew chill in his chest as the silent ships drew into to the port of Osgiliath. For beyond the ragged broken city upon the river, he could see the dust cloud of battle, great raging mûmakil stomping over the trampled field as distant horsemen galloped about their legs, shooting arrows up into their thick hides.
Lalaith, Lalaith, his heart murmured with every beat as his eyes rose up the smoking levels of the city. I must reach her, find her-, Great Valar, let her be safe!
Gimli's comforting hand found the Elf's arm as if the Dwarf could sense his thoughts. And glancing down, he caught the terse bearded grin as the Dwarf glanced up at him.
"We'll find `er lad," Gimli muttered from beside him, and gave his arm a final pat.
"Indeed we will," Aragorn murmured from nearby, offering the Elf and Dwarf a brief smile before glancing out over the ship's railing at the horde of orcs gathering near the edge of the river. "She has Gandalf and Pippin. And knowing her, Lalaith has doubtless has gained the loyalty of many others since her coming to Minas Tirith-,"
"Late as usual, pirate scum!" a sharp voice snapped from among the mass of orcs as a hard faced figure drew near, its helmet brandishing the decaying skull of a Man, traces of straw colored hair still clinging to the bleached scalp. Legolas drew in a sharp breath, his jaw tightening beneath his skin at the sight of it. "There's knife-work here, needs doing!"
The ship scraped the docks and came to a halt.
"Come on, you sea rats! Get off your ships!"
At these words, Aragorn drew in a fierce breath, a gleam of determination hardening in his eyes as with a cry, he leaped over the railing, and landed deftly upon the stones bordering the river.
Following the Man's lead, Legolas, with Gimli beside him, vaulted the ship's railing, Gimli landing heavily, stumbling as he did, but only slightly while beside him, Legolas landed lightly upon his toes, his bow at the ready as he studied the snarling faces of the orcs, startled at first, though seething grins quickly overcame their faces at the sight of the three, seemingly alone.
"There's plenty for the both of us," Gimli grumbled, brandishing his axe as Legolas' hand darted for an arrow, and he allowed himself a brief smile, recalling their counting game. "May the best Dwarf win!"
At these words, a soft murmur, as of a whispering wind suddenly picking up, stirred behind him. Legolas did not need to glance back, knowing already what it was, for the Dead were fulfilling their oath now, and he broke into a run, drawing his string back to his cheek, releasing it into the horde as the swift warm wind drew up from the several ships behind him, and passed through him, the grey green shadowed forms of the Dead swiftly sweeping over the orcs like a wave, flattening them as hailstones upon a field of high grass. On the wispy forms of the Dead surged, spilling through the broken city. And Legolas, with Gimli and Aragorn beside him, was only the more eager to follow behind at a hard run, seeking the battle field, the burning, wounded city beyond, and Lalaith. His heart leapt at the thought of her. His beloved, who held his heart. He would find her surely. She would be safe, unscathed. And he would draw her to him, filling at last, the emptiness of his aching arms. And the thought gave courage to his heart, and wings to his feet.
"You fool," the wraith hissed, as Merry scrambled nearer. The dark cloaked Nazgûl grasped Éowyn by the neck, lifting her up by her throat. "No man can kill me. Die now."
Drawing in a hard breath, and battling the crippling chill that seemed to crackle through his flesh to his very bones, Merry lifted the blade he had found, and as he lunged the last distance toward the wraith, he stabbed it, with all the force of his strength, deep into the sinew in the back of the Nazgûl's knee.
A wretched pain that seemed to burn and freeze him all in the same moment, shot up the blade of the knife, and into his hand, and Merry cried out, startled in fear and pain as he tumbled back upon the grass, clutching his shuddering wrist. Though even as he did, Éowyn, released from the wraith's hold by Merry's blow, rose to her feet, gasping as Merry lifted his fogged and weary head, looking on.
And with her sword in hand, lifted her arm, and peeled off her helmet. Her hair, long and golden shone in the light of the morning, her face fair and beautiful as any Elf maiden's.
"I am no man," she breathed. And with a cry, she drove her sword into the emptiness between crown and mantle, twisting the sword in the quavering void before she released the hilt, the sword shooting out onto the ground as if the Nazgûl had vomited it out.
Éowyn, weakened and as startled as Merry had been, fell, suddenly helpless to her knees. But her foe, their foe, moved not to rise as the mantle and hauberk crumpled onto nothing before Merry's eyes, crumbling into an empty upon the ground, torn and tumbled. And as Merry watched, the last of his strength ebbing, a chill crackling along his limbs, a cry lifted up into the air from the torn and crumpled mass like a thin mist that died in the air, and faded into nothingness.
The battle raged around him, the grass about him covered with the bodies of the slain, and the moaning wounded as Legolas, his mind focused hard upon his task, drew arrow after arrow, firing them into the raging orcs that pounced at him.
"Thirty," he counted aloud as he drew an arrow and holding it within his fist, ducked the swinging blade of a squealing orc that leaped at him before he drove the shaft into the throat of the creature, black blood gurgling in its throat as fell limp beneath his feet.
"Thirty one!" he cried as he drew the blackened dripping arrow to his cheek, and let fly into another raging orc that scampered near to Gimli, its blade swinging toward the Dwarf's back.
Gimli spun as the orc squealed and fell dead, its blade fallen harmlessly away, his startled eye's meeting Legolas'.
"I'm on thirty four!" the Dwarf shouted merrily as his thanks.
"Thirty three!" Legolas shouted back, grinning. "For Aragorn was the one who struck the first blow on that scarred orc chieftain you slew but moments ago!"
"Paugh! Thirty five!" Gimli cried back, laughing as he cut down yet another snarling orc. "Aragorn merely cut the orc's arm off! I struck the death blow!"
"Thirty four and a half, then!" Legolas conceded with a laugh, turning away and drawing yet another arrow to his cheek as an orc growling in fury, stumbled near to a young bearded warrior of Rohan. The orc's blade was raised as the warrior, one of his legs bent at an unnatural angle beneath him, lifted his hands in fear to ward off the blow.
"Thirty two!" Legolas cried as his arrow cut the orc down, its blade falling harmless, from its hands.
"Legolas" Aragorn's voice had grown suddenly into a hoarse cry, fraught with wild alarm.
He spun at the ranger's ragged words, his eyes, in a swift instant, taking in the raging mûmak stampeding toward him. But its thundering feet, rumbling near to crush him, he paid no heed to. Instead, his startled eyes took in the small slender figure which had drawn Aragorn's sudden anxiety, clinging desperately to the side of the raging beast, hanging helpless, and weaponless he could see, but for her bow in her quiver over its thundering feet.
Her hair was unbound and hanging disheveled about her slender shoulders, her elven cloak and her garb rumpled and caked in dust and ash. But at that moment, she was more beautiful than he ever remembered seeing her.
Sudden longing, lanced through with a fiery blaze of fierce protective rage swelled within him. And heedless of his own danger, his fist tightened about the shaft of his bow, and he broke into a hard sprint, straight for the bellowing mûmak, her name a wild cry from his throat, though at the uttering of it, tasted sweet upon his lips.
The mûmak's head was lowered, its great spiked tusks swooping near. But Legolas deftly caught the beast's great tusk before the spikes could driving into his body, letting the momentum of the beast's swinging head carry him up, avoiding the wicked spikes as he whipped up, and swung over the branching tusk to land in a crouch upon the upper edge of the beast's great curving tooth where the wicked spikes did not protrude.
Roaring its displeasure at him, the mûmak swatted its great snake of a snout across its tusk, and Legolas flinched as the grey flopping flesh, slammed across the massive tooth, barely missing him. Down the mûmak swung its head, and Legolas, grasping at one of the rough ropes twined about its tusk, swung from the huge curving tooth, into empty air for a brief heart stopping instant, before he landed, jarring roughly upon the spike entwined forefoot of the beast as he caught desperately at the rough ropes lashed about the mûmak's thick ankle.
Legolas kept his hold upon the thick, abrasive ropes, his determination to reach Lalaith burning like a raging fire within him as he caught his breath, judged the timing of the beast's surging legs, then with a might thrust, he leapt again across the chasm of air between the beast's fore and hind legs, catching at the arrows of the Rohirrim that protruded from the mûmak's wrinkled grey flesh of its hind knee.
From the mûmak's throat, another raging roar bellowed out, as its tail whipped out, swiping at him. The wire hard tuft at the tip of its tail snapped viciously across his arm in a blistering sting, though Legolas heeded the pain not at all as he scrambled up the beast's wrinkled hide, pulling his weight up on the arrows buried deep in the tough flesh as the mûmak's tail continued to whip about him.
His arms straining as if the very muscle burned, he hoisted himself at last, to the sloping edge of the mûmak's broad back, rocking madly back and forth, his legs braced apart beside the jutting ridge of the mûmak's spine, his knees bent to balance himself against the swaying of the raging beast.
Faces swathed in dark cloth glared at him over the railing of rope and leather strapped across the mûmak's rocking back, their eyes burning with rage. Legolas set his jaw hard as the Easterlings cursed in their tongue, snatching for arrows, but he was swifter.
"Thirty three!" he gasped to himself as the arrow he had snatched, and drawn to his cheek in the same fluid motion, found its target in the chest of a Man who was drawing the string of his arrow back. The Easterling screamed, his arrow went wild zipping harmlessly past Legolas' head, and the Man toppled back, falling over a tear in the leather balustrade, above the spot where Lalaith hung, disappearing swiftly beneath the mûmak's trampling feet. "Thirty four, thirty five!"
Two more fell with wild wails down toward the ground below.
With a cry filled with rage, another Easterling dared to leaped over the side of the mounted tower, brandishing a spear at Legolas' heart. But Legolas' arrow was struck through his heart ere his feet hit the mûmak's back. Lifeless, the Man rolled off the beast's side, and fell away without a groan.
Another Man vaulted over the edge of the saddled tower and onto the mûmak's back with a murderous shriek, a thick spear bearing a razored blade arcing down toward Legolas' head.
Brandishing his bow in both hands, he swung it like a staff, cracking the curved shaft across the head of the spear, and deflecting the murderous blow away from himself, sending it down into the thick hide of the mûmak. With his jaw set hard, Legolas snatched the imbedded spear, and wrenched it, flinging it away, and the Easterling, still clutching the shaft, fell with a shriek over the haunches of the trampling beast, and into the surging cloud of grey and green, the Dead who raced across the ground below, like a mist driven by a swift wind.
One more Easterling with a wild cry leapt at him, but Legolas no longer wished to deal with them. Enough time had been wasted, and he wished for nothing else but to reach Lalaith! He simply dodged the Man, who, missing his mark, fell wildly over the rump of the beast, and swiftly disappeared. Leaping from the mûmak's back, Legolas snatched a stray rope that hung loose from the mounted tower, and swung down in a dizzy drop toward Lalaith where she hung, visibly wearied.
"Lalaith!" he cried into the wind as he collided with the mûmak's tromping foreleg, before he caught himself beneath it, and pushed himself back, swinging against the mûmak's side, before he came to a stop where she hung, and with his free arm, caught her about the waist.
He could have wept from the feel of her, soft and slender in his one free arm. Her hair was damp and dirty, and the scent of ash lingered about her, but Legolas cared not at all as he clutched her more tightly, and pressed a hurried kiss to her brow caked in sweat and dust. Doubtless, she had been through far more than he knew.
"Legolas!" she choked wearily, releasing the stray rope she had been clinging to, turning in his embrace, and flinging her own arms about his shoulders.
"Forgive me beloved," he gasped. "Hold on a moment longer-,"
And with that, he drew his arm from about her waist, and as her slender weight hung about his shoulders, he snatched one of his knives from his quiver and in the same motion, slashed it through the belted ropes binding the saddled tower beneath the mûmak's forelegs. The ropes severed cleanly, flipping sharply upward, like a bow's string suddenly snapped. The weight of the tower began to sway, straining the other belt across the mûmak's belly before the ropes twined through tore away with a loud ripping echo.
Legolas clapped his knife back into his quiver, then snatched her again about the waist as the tower began to tilt, and as the remaining Easterlings above them began to cry out in dread, the tower slowly began to slide off the beast's back. The two Elves, Legolas, clutching Lalaith tightly to him with one arm, and the trailing rope in the other, scampered gradually up the mûmak's surging side until with an echoing shudder, the tower of wood and leather crashed to the ground and crumpled, the cries of the Easterlings drowned in a surging tide of the Dead that swarmed over the fallen mass in a misty stream.
Legolas caught a swift breath, his hands both tightening about Lalaith's waist where they stood perched upon the bare back of the mûmak. How he wished, after so many days of separation, that he might take her in his arms, and greet her as he so often had in his dreams. But the anger of the mûmak, with the burden of the tower gone, was growing only fiercer. The beast would, in its rage, fling them from its back soon, or plunge headlong into the river, casting them in with it in its madness. Setting his jaw determinedly, Legolas released her hand, and reaching back, snatched three shafts from his quiver, gesturing to her to follow him and the two dashed up the quivering ridge of the beast's neck.
Drawing the string once again to his cheek, he felt a remote twinge of regret. The mûmak itself had indeed done no willful wrong, knowing nothing more than that it must obey the will of its masters. But now, as it shook its head, bellowing it anger and rage, Legolas knew he had no choice.
He released the string with a snap, and the arrows struck true, buried to the fletchings in the mûmak's skull.
The beast's legs began to buckle as a bellowing rumble shuddered from its throat. Legolas reached back and snatched Lalaith's hand. Together, the two Elves leapt over the mûmak's brow as it crumpled to the earth, their boots catching the ridge of its long snout, and slid down the long ridged flesh, the wrinkled flesh of the beast's snout thumpling beneath their boots. Until with a final leap, the two Elves vaulted from the end of the mûmak's crumpling snout to land deftly upon solid ground as the beast tumbled on its side, and lay still.
Lalaith drew in a deep shuddering breath, her heart thundering within her, struggling to believe after the events of the past several minutes, that she would find herself safe, upon the firm earth, with Legolas, of all the men of Arda, beside her, his hand in her own.
Nearby, as if having waited in that very spot for their descent from the mûmak, Gimli stood, glancing over the dead mûmak behind the two Elves as if he were entirely unimpressed.
"That still only counts as one!" the Dwarf barked tersely by way of greeting, though she could see the relief sparking in Gimli's eyes even as he struggled to hide it. Then glancing up at Legolas with a stern look, he crowed, "If not, only a half, since she was helping you!" But he said this even as he chuckled, and slapped Lalaith amiably on the arm.
Aragorn was a space beyond Gimli's shoulder, a bright sword flashing as he cut down a lone, snarling orc.
The fume of darkness above them was swiftly dispersing as one by one, their foes squealed and fell and lay still upon the crushed grass, and the blade and hilt of Aragorn's sword gleamed in the new light of morning.
Lalaith blinked, her eyes catching the shining hilt. Narsil?
Yet she did not have long to wonder, for a warbling howl interrupted them, and a small pack of ragged, wild eyed orcs, all the more determined and desperate now that they were being slain and driven, came scuttling near the small group. Legolas and Gimli turned swiftly, and leapt to meet them with Aragorn, the three of them forming protective phalanx about Lalaith, sheltering her where she stood weaponless between them and the bulky mass of the dead mûmak.
Aragorn swung his shining blade, deflecting the short, serrated blade of an orc. Yet another orc scampered up behind the ranger, a bitter gleam in its eyes as it raised a curved scimitar to bring it down into the Man's cloaked back.
With a wild cry, Lalaith threw herself forward, snatching up a fallen orc's blade before the creature could perform its murderous act. The weapon was bulky and unfamiliar, but she brandished it with determination, and swung it with all her strength. The iron blade slashed across the chest of the orc, and the raised scimitar dropped from its hand just as Aragorn spun, breathless, blinking, his eyes finding hers across the space between them as he realized what she had done.
"Lalaith!" he cried, casting her his well loved easy grin. "It is good to have you back!"
But his smile did not last long before he turned away again as an orc came lumbering near, its gleaming eyes fixed upon the maiden, a great knobby cudgel raised to crush her head. The point of his shining sword slashing across the creature's midsection, even as one of Legolas' arrows caught the creature in its side, and Gimli's thick battle axe caught it in the back, and it fell to the earth as he cursed it beneath his breath.
"Dare to harm our Lalaith? Wretched creature!" Gimli mumbled before he turned away again, taking his axe to yet another orc.
Legolas shot a hurried grin toward her at this, before he spun away again, and caught another arrow from his quiver. And without nocking it to bowstring, he shoved it home in a snarling orc's throat before he drew it to his cheek, and let it fly into the chest of one of the few remaining foes about them.
"Indeed! It is good to have you back!" she cried teasingly toward Aragorn in return as she joined him at his side, blocking the raised blade of a red eyed orc with the heavy weapon, and forcing the cruel blade into the ground, before Aragorn's blade plunged into the creature's bulbous abdomen, and pinned it, twitching, to the crushed and bloodied earth. For a brief instant, she caught sight of the familiar pommel before Aragorn jerked it free of the twitching creature's carcass. Narsil indeed it was, reforged. And her heart cried joyfully as her smiling eyes met his. Aragorn smiled as if he sensed her bright thoughts before she turned once again to an orc thumping near, hissing menacingly.
Ducking its swinging blade, she shoved the heavy blade beneath its armor, slicing through flesh, and it screeched, and fell to the earth to lie, twitching and dead.
"Come on, then. Come on!" Gimli crowed from nearby as his swinging axe cracked and shattered orc armor to his right and left. The orcs were growing sparse, she noted as she ducked the blade of a screeching goblin, and slashed the blade in her left hand up into the beast's armpit before Gimli pounced eagerly near, and his axe caught the orc in the side, bringing it down.
"Forty two!" the Dwarf cried obstinately, and shot a flippant grin toward Legolas before he glance about, his black smeared axe at the ready, awaiting more foes to come at them, but there were none.
"Forty one and a half," Lalaith muttered softly, to which Gimli cast her a soft growl though it faded into a soft chuckle he could not hide as the Elf maid and Dwarf traded teasing grins.
Aragorn had just wrenched the neck of their last foe, the sound of crunching bone carrying easily in the sudden quiet, and now, the four of them stood, near to one another, unchallenged and unscathed, upon the trampled grass.
Lalaith let herself grow still, and cast the heavy weapon away. Her hands dropped to her sides, and she lowered her head as the rage of battle slowly ebbed from her veins.
She heard the stirring of grass beneath booted feet. And then she felt his fingertips, light as a bird's feather, slide warm over her own. With a sigh, she lifted her head and turned to find Legolas hovering over her, studying her eyes with a concerned expression, the timid endearing smile that teased the corners of his lips. She swallowed softly at the sight of him, unsure if she should laugh or cry.
"I have been awaiting you," she finally said at last, her voice soft beneath the fading din of war that echoed away across the grass.
"And I have been coming as swiftly as I might," he returned, his own voice low and warm, though it quavered distantly with his own emotion.
"Forgive me, for my unsightliness," she muttered softly before she ducked her head, suddenly painfully aware of her gnarled hair, and ash caked garb. "I have been through much. To tell you of it, would fill volumes." She sighed, glancing away from him at the tide of the Dead that washed about the quieting battlefield. "And it would seem that you have much to tell me, as well."
Legolas merely smiled as he lifted a hand, and touched her cheek, turning her face to his own, and smiling tenderly as if he gazed upon a fair vision. "We shall not leave one another again," he vowed, his voice solemn, though his eyes smiled. "We shall have all the time we wish for."
Lalaith swallowed and ducked her head. "Yet I had wished to be beautiful for you-,"
"You are beautiful Lalaith nin," Legolas returned without hesitation, his voice softly breathless and Lalaith lifted her eyes, her breath catching in her lungs at the smouldering flame that lit the depths of his warm blue eyes.
Across the grass, some distance away Gimli shuffled about, sniffing and grunting, ignorant of the Elves' softened exchange of words as he nudged an orc's carcass with the thick toe of his boot. Aragorn stood near, the Man's eyes turned down, a soft grin etched across his bearded lips, though Gimli could not tell what humored the man.
"Forty two, forty two," Gimli muttered to himself, though he knew Aragorn could hear, for the Ranger's eyes turned upon him with a humored inquisitive look. "I wonder how many the Elf got? Legolas!!" he cried suddenly, only to be silenced by Aragorn's hand upon his arm.
"Eh? Wha-?" he wondered, before turning to glance in the direction Aragorn nodded. But then he smiled, flushing beneath the thick of his beard and he and Aragorn both turned away, pretending they had not seen the two Elves softly weeping and laughing at once between kisses that were numerous and tenderly sweet, entwined in each other's arms as if nothing would ever separate them again for all the ages of the world.