Mirkwood's Blade - Chapter Twenty-nine - The Defending of the Deep
"Feeling down?" Gimli asked, turning around and craning his neck up to see her.
Novarwen did not kneel down - Gimli would hate that emphasis of his size. Instead she just looked down and nodded. Gimli's hand brushed hers in support, and she grinned at him. Gimli and Theryn had been the only people who had unconditionally accepted her appearance, intending to fight. Gimli had had trouble with his armor, but when he'd come out and seen her, he'd simply nodded and said, "Good, we'll need your bow and knife." Novarwen had been grateful for his gruff words. She heard Aragorn talking to the Elven archers, shouting to be heard clearly. Aragorn too had accepted her, after he had gotten over his initial shock. Théoden had not been pleased with her decision, but he was not too stupid to see that they needed all the help they could get. But Legolas...Novarwen flinched even now as she remembered her brother's stony silence, his cold perfunctory glance before he left to take his post among the Lorien archers. I don't think he'll forgive me soon, Novarwen thought sadly.
A hand tapped her shoulder. She turned around and saw, of all people, Legolas in front of her. "What?" she asked, her voice strained. Please talk to me, she thought, her fingers crossed. Just say something!
"I spoke to Haldir, and to King Théoden," Legolas said softly, so softly that Novarwen could barely hear his voice. "They agreed to let you take my place."
Novarwen stared, uncomprehending. Legolas gave her a little shove. "Go on!" he said. "You're with the archers, Novarwen."
Now she understood. An unexpected tear slid out of her eye and mingled with the soft rain falling on all of them. "Legolas, I -" she stammered. "I -" For lack of words to express her feeling, Novarwen threw her arms around her brother and hugged him tightly. Legolas returned the hug, and when he let her go, he planted a quick kiss on her cheek. "Good luck, sister," he whispered. Novarwen gripped his hand once, then picked up her bow and went over to stand among the archers. She wiped a second stray tear from her eye.
Just as she took up her post, the ground suddenly began to quiver. Novarwen put out a hand to steady herself. "What is that?" she asked the Elf nearest her.
His gaze never wavered from the plain ahead as he replied, "Gurth." Novarwen shivered. Death. She gripped her bow and pulled an arrow from her quiver.
A few flags on high pennants, each with the mark of a huge white hand, began to appear over the hill. Novarwen swallowed, but gave no other sign that she was terrified - it would be taken as weakness. Sounds began to assail her ears; grunts, growls, roars low in volume. One glance at the Elf beside her was enough to assure her that he heard the sounds too.
Faster than she would have thought possible, the Uruk-hai army gathered below the Deeping Wall. They were exactly as she remembered them from Amon Hen - but there were so many, millions more than there had been at her last encounter with the monsters. And now they were all roaring, pounding their flagpoles and spears into the ground to a beat, animal sounds coming from their throats to tear against the defenders' ears. "Hold your fire!" Aragorn called as a precaution. Novarwen heard herself murmuring to the Elves near her, "Their armor is weak at the neck and beneath the arm," as she put the arrow to her bow and held it ready to fire. The rain was coming down heavily now. Novarwen sent up a quick prayer to the Valar that the rain would not get into her bow.
Suddenly an arrow whizzed past her. Novarwen gasped as she watched it leap through the air and plunge itself into the lead Uruk's eye. "Hold!" Aragorn fairly screamed.
No other arrows were released, but the damage had been done. The Uruk-hai looked at their fallen comrade, then up at the Wall. Then a huge roar smashed into Novarwen's ears as the army came rushing to the Wall, flags flying behind them.
And still Aragorn did not give the word to fire! Novarwen's fingers itched to release the arrow. The string was biting into the pads of her fingers from holding it so long. She watched as the Uruks poured toward them all, wondering if she should disobey orders and fire. And then came the glorious command. "Fire!" Aragorn shouted.
With relief and glee, Novarwen swung up her bow, took aim in a second, and loosed the arrow. She watched its progress as she drew another one from her quiver, and whooped when she saw it take down an Uruk. She fitted her second arrow to her bow, noting the strategy of not firing until the Uruk-hai were almost at the gates - the front line of dead and wounded was choking up the movement of the lines behind them. At Aragorn's second "Fire!" the precise marksmanship of the Elves created even more bottlenecking as another line of Uruks fell and clogged up the rest of the army. Novarwen heard Théoden on another part of the Wall say, "Give them a volley," and the wildly flying arrows of the Rohirrim made the Uruks nervous about where the arrows were coming from.
Arrow out, to the bow, pull string back, wait for command, fire, arrow out - Novarwen fell into a pattern, her muscles loosening up and moving fluidly with every arrow she shot. She was pulling the string back to fire again when a shout came from one of the Rohirrim. "Ladders!" he cried, casting aside his bow and grabbing for his sword. Novarwen quickly took stock of the situation and shot her arrow into the eye of an Uruk who was leaning a ladder against the Wall. He fell, and Novarwen spared a moment to quickly count her remaining arrows - ten. "Not good, not good," she muttered under her breath. She slung her bow onto her shoulder and drew her knife, waiting. Let some Uruk try to climb up here. She smiled ferally.
All of a sudden, Novarwen felt her muscles freeze. No, she thought wildly, not here, not now! But the vision was taking over her instantaneously, and she barely had time to pull out the Ainaglin before she was lost, staring into it, seeing... The ladders were coming up fast. The Uruk-hai were swarming over the tops of the walls, battling ferociously. She saw herself, swinging her knife with wild abandon, cutting down Uruks like mad. Then she saw the little figure of herself in the Ainaglin stopping, staring, as an Uruk with a blazing-white torch started running toward the Wall. She heard Aragorn scream "Kill him!" to Legolas, saw her brother set an arrow to his bow and shoot once, twice, saw Theryn on the Wall directly below the racing Uruk, who threw himself into the drainage hole with two of Legolas' arrows in his back -
And then the Wall exploded, and Novarwen watched in helpless horror as Theryn was catapulted into the air, and as an Uruk lined him up in his bow sights, and as the creature's arrow sped through the air and slammed into Theryn's stomach -
"NO!" Novarwen screamed as the vision thrust her out of it and back into the battle. She couldn't stop screaming, even as an Uruk cleared the wall and leaped for her. The scream turned into a yell of rage and fear as she swept the thing's head off and started racing toward the Wall. I have to get Theryn off there, she thought, I have to save him. She offered up a silent but heartfelt thanks to Galadriel for the gift of the Ainaglin and decapitated an Uruk who was in her way.
Novarwen was a fighting machine. She moved automatically, her eyes seeing nothing but that horrible vision and the real Theryn, so close to her now. She stepped onto the Wall and started running as fast as she could toward him -
And froze in horror as she saw below her the blazing-white torch of the running Uruk, and Aragorn's frantic "Kill him!" to Legolas. It was coming true.
Novarwen sucked in a lungful of air and shouted, "Theryn!" He turned around, and she ran to him. "Theryn, you have to get off this wall!" she yelled. In the back of her mind, she heard Aragorn repeat his words, louder and more frantic. Time, she thought wildly, give me more time! She grabbed Theryn's hand and pulled him away from the spot where the drainage ditch was close to. "Please," she pleaded, "don't go back on the Wall!" Her eyes were wild and terrified, and Theryn quickly promised. Suddenly his face turned white as he saw, for the first time, the Uruk, running as fast as he could. Novarwen gasped and clutched Theryn's arm as she saw what the Ainaglin had not showed her - Aragorn, too, was standing on the Wall, close to the ditch, in danger. She made a lightning-fast decision. "Please stay here!" she yelled above the din of battle. "I have to get Aragorn!" She pulled her hand free of Theryn's and ran toward her friend, praying wildly for time.
Then the Wall exploded.
The stones ripped apart under her feet, and she was standing for one split-second on air, before she started to fall. She clung to her knife as though it could halt her fall, but she hit the ground hard, landing on her face. Novarwen gasped as tears of pain sprang to her eyes. Her nose was burning with pain. It's probably broken, she thought detachedly. She squeezed her eyes shut against the pain.
A hand touched her arm. "Novarwen!" said a horrified voice. Through her tears, she saw it was Aragorn. "What in the name of -"
"Later!" she yelled. The pain tightened her chest and made her angry at nothing. She got laboriously to her feet and renewed her grip on her knife. Aragorn looked around and saw the Uruks massing in front of them. He held his sword tighter and, yelling a wordless cry, ran at the monsters. The other people who had been flung off the Wall followed him, echoing his yell, and Novarwen plunged after them.
It seemed that they fought the Uruk-hai forever, and that no matter how many they killed, there were still three Uruks for every one that went down. Novarwen was intensely grateful when she heard King Théoden shout, "Fall back!" to Aragorn. His jaw clenched, Aragorn repeated the order to the others fighting with them, and yelled it up to Haldir. Novarwen allowed herself a quick glance at Haldir - then cried, "Aragorn!" as she saw him fall to an Uruk's scimitar. Aragorn turned and ran with her toward the Elf. She got there first.
"Haldir, please..." Novarwen could think of nothing else to say. The Marchwarden turned his head to look at her. The death-look in his eyes turned her limbs to stone.
"Princess...Novarwen..." His words were well apart, but they were clear. "My son...do you know of my son?"
Tears not brought on by pain pricked Novarwen's eyes. He was speaking of Theryn. "Hush, Lord Haldir," she whispered. "He is safe and well, and he knows you are his father." She reached out and took the Elf's hand. How long had he been tormented by the thought of the son he had had and had forgotten about when his wife died?
"Thank...you..." Haldir forced his eyes to stay open. "Thank you...for loving him..." Novarwen swallowed hard, and stood up gladly to let Aragorn speak to him. Her heart heavy, she ran back, inside the fortress.
Theryn was among a group of men, trying to hold the door against the Uruks. Novarwen set down her knife and joined them, adding her strength to theirs. Theryn caught her eyes, saw the tears in them. "What?" he asked, reaching over the backs of the Rohirrim to touch her hand.
She swallowed again. "Haldir is dead."
Theryn gasped and quickly turned away. Novarwen clenched her teeth and braced herself against the door, biting her lip. On an impulse, she threw herself onto the hard wooden door. She bounced back off it, her whole body aching. Good. The ache of the body helped her ignore, or at least push aside for the moment, the ache of the spirit.