Mirkwood's Blade - Chapter Twenty-seven - The Duel
Author's Note: I know this is a very short chapter. I hadn't intended it to be so short, but the duel just caught me up, and I thought it deserved a chapter of its own. I thought, though, that I should apologize for the shortness.
Although she was glad that Aragorn had returned alive, Novarwen was in no mood to hear that he had seen a huge army of Uruks heading for Helm's Deep to destroy them.
She wished she could go into her room, crawl under the covers, and pretend that none of this was happening, but even as she thought it, she knew how cowardly and stupid it was.
"We never get a rest, do we?" she muttered. Recalled from her job sorting cloaks by the sudden approach of war, Novarwen had been elevated to sorting weapons with Legolas. She picked up an ancient sword and held it up. "Look at this! This must have been used during the First Age!" She dropped the sword into the pile of swords they were making. She bit her tongue when she found an even older shield, but Legolas knew the angry line between her eyes very well.
"Novarwen, can you at least tell me why you're so angry?" he asked. It might be too much to hope for, but Legolas tried to see the bright side of things - Although, he thought, there may not be a bright side of this situation.
She looked up from her pile of weapons and armor. Legolas was surprised to see that her eyes were unnaturally bright. "I just -" She broke off, then continued. "I'm so sick of this." She pulled out a spear and placed it in its pile. "It's odd, isn't it? I'm sick of war, but I'm the one allowed to fight. Whereas Éowyn, who isn't allowed to, can't wait to get out there and start slicing those Uruks to pieces." She gave a very bitter laugh, not seeing how Legolas' eyes had suddenly darkened.
"Novarwen," he said quietly, "I am not going to allow you to fight when the Uruk-hai come."
She stiffened, her eyes wide. "Oh, yes, you are," she replied. "I'm not going to sit calmly wherever you and King Théoden put the women, wondering if any of you will come back - or wait like a good little girl to be massacred by the Uruks!" All traces of her anger and sorrow were gone now. Her eyes were flashing with fury, and her hands were planted on her hips.
"And neither am I going to risk losing my younger sister to some errant Uruk-hai arrow!" Legolas snapped back. "You were just saying that you were sick of war. You should be welcoming a chance for a break!"
"Welcoming?" Novarwen yelled. "I should be welcoming not knowing if all the people I love are going to die, and me not able to do a Valar-blessed thing?" She was on the point of throwing up her hands and storming, incensed, from the armory, but she realized in time how childish that would be, and stayed put.
"Yes!" Legolas retorted.
"No!" Novarwen cried. "You of all people should know I'm incapable of doing that sort of thing, and you will not make me do it!"
He stared coldly at her. "I will do what I need to do for the safety of my family," he replied.
Novarwen grabbed a sword from the pile in front of her and tossed it across the space between them. Legolas caught it easily as she picked up another one. Her angry eyes issued the challenge for her. Legolas moved into the guard position, and Novarwen did the same thing. Just like with Goroth, she thought, back when I was still Captain of the Taurroch. Except this time it's my brother, not my enemy. She suppressed a shiver, remembering how her duel with Goroth had ended, and tightened her grip on the hilt of her sword.
Legolas struck without warning. Novarwen barely had time to raise her blade, and the two swords clashed together, sending off sparks. Novarwen disengaged and drove in, trying to end the fight early. When she was in the Taurroch she had been in great shape, but the period between then and now might have taken unknown tolls on her. Best to end it as fast as she could.
Her brother caught her strike, flung her sword upward easily, and aimed a blow at her unprotected side. Cursing at her stupidity at leaving herself defenseless there, Novarwen dodged the blow very inelegantly, which put her off-balance for a brief moment. Legolas saw her waver slightly on her feet and took advantage of her shaky position, bearing down so quickly that she stumbled over her own feet to block his sword. Furious at herself, Novarwen struck away Legolas' blade and trotted back a few steps. It put her nearer to the wall than she would have liked - less room to maneuver if she was cornered - but it gave her the few moments she needed to regain her balance and breath. Novarwen took only those few moments, then returned to the duel. She circled Legolas cautiously, watching for any flaw in his defense that she could attack. Her breath hissed in as she saw it - his sword was held too high, exposing his vulnerable ribs. Before he could realize it, she lunged, her sword reaching for the weak points. Legolas stepped back, and Novarwen pursued her advantage, forcing him to the wall. He brought up his blade in a last defense; she beat it down.
Then from out of nowhere his sword leaped up again, bracing itself against hers. Novarwen swore again, her muscles straining to force the sword back to the floor, but she could feel him slowly gain the advantage. He forced her blade down, inch by hard-won inch, until its tip nearly touched the stones of the floor. Novarwen yelled in anger and wrenched it from under Legolas' sword. It flew up to meet his in a clang of finely-tempered steel, disengaged, and flew again. She met his sword in the air, beat it down, met it again, beat it down again. Her arms were aching, but she couldn't stop.
Legolas slumped back against the wall, the tip of his sword on the stones, breathing hard. Novarwen lowered her own blade and backed up a few paces. "Are you all -" The first sentence either of them had spoken since the duel began remained unfinished as Legolas suddenly threw his sword up, swung it around to catch Novarwen's by the hilt, and snatched it from her hand, throwing it across the room.
Novarwen stared at her empty hand. This has to be a mistake. I can't have lost! She could still feel the leather grip of the hilt, damp with her sweat, nestled in her hand. Then she looked at Legolas, at the look of relief in his eyes, and had to admit the truth - that she had in fact lost the duel - the first battle she had ever lost since she became Captain of the Taurroch. Her face red from embarrassment, anger, and shame, Novarwen glared up at her brother.
"You will not fight against the Uruk-hai when they come," Legolas told her. He took a few breaths to get his wind back, then dropped the sword in the pile of usable blades and wiped the sweat off his forehead. Novarwen, her teeth clenched, went to the corner, retrieved her sword, and put it in the pile. She bit back tears of anger as she kept sorting weapons, but her eyes misted over, and it was only by touch that she could continue sorting the weapons.
She cast a glance at Legolas, sorting armor as calmly as possible. Bile rose in her throat, and for one brief moment she hated him as much as she hated Sauron himself. She choked the feeling down and returned to sorting weapons. I never gave my word to not fight, she thought mutinously. I can't be beaten as easily as that, Legolas. She had to bit back a grin in case he saw it and suspected mischief, but her eyes unmisted, and she was able to sort weapons again.