Mirkwood's Blade - Chapter Twenty - The Battle on the Hill

"We cross the lake at nightfall," Aragorn said as he unloaded his pack. "Hide the boats and continue on foot. We approach Mordor from the north."

"Oh, yes?" Gimli cut in. "Just a simple matter of..." Novarwen wasn't in the mood to listen to Gimli's complaining, so she walked toward Legolas. Her brother looked as wary as she felt.

"Did you feel it?" she asked without preamble. "The evil on the bank, in the wood?"

Legolas glanced sharply at her. "I felt it," he replied in a low voice. "And did you feel the evil on this shore, when Boromir looked at Frodo?"

It was Novarwen's turn to look sharply at him. "Yes." She was on the verge of telling Legolas what Galadriel had told her by the Mirror, but decided not to. If he had eyes, her brother already knew how Boromir felt about her, and clearly he had sensed the Man's desire for the Ring. Better to say nothing and keep it to herself.

"But whatever that thing was on the bank," Legolas continued, "it's coming here, and fast. The others might not know." He strode over to Aragorn. The Man had finished his argument with Gimli, and was now arranging his things. Novarwen followed him.

Aragorn turned to face them. Novarwen caught her breath in surprise at the look on his face. He had changed once he had admitted to himself that he was a king. Now he seemed more regal, fitting to rule a country. His eyes were almost distant as he looked at them. Then he relaxed, and was again the Ranger they knew, wise in the ways of the land and friendly to those he trusted. "What is it?" he asked immediately.

Novarwen and Legolas shared a rueful look. So much for Aragorn not knowing. "We should leave now," Legolas told him in an undertone.

Aragorn shook his head. "No. Orcs patrol the eastern shore. We must wait for cover of darkness." He tossed a blanket on top of his pack, tucked between the roots of a tree.

Maybe he didn't know. Maybe he just knew them well enough to tell when something was afoot. "It is not the eastern shore that worries me," Novarwen put in. She cast a quick glance behind her, and felt the evil again as surely as if it stood beside her. Aragorn followed her gaze, his eyes growing worried. "A shadow and a threat has been growing in my mind ever since..." She trailed off.

"Something draws near," Legolas insisted. "I can feel it, Novarwen can feel it, can you not?"

Aragorn opened his mouth, but a clatter of wood behind them made all three jump. Merry had returned with firewood. He looked around, then asked, "Where's Frodo?"

Novarwen gasped. Her eyes raked the small shore, frantically hoping to hear the Ringbearer's voice, but she heard nothing, and saw no sign of him. Sam started, his face dead white as he realized that Frodo was gone. Novarwen felt ready to cry. She had promised Galadriel...

Aragorn's hand nudged hers. She looked up at him, her eyes shining with unshed tears of anger and fright, and he directed her gaze and Legolas' to a tree. Between the roots lay Boromir's pack and shield, but like Frodo, the Steward's son was nowhere to be seen.

The tears vanished. Novarwen brushed a hand across her eyes to clear them, then pulled her sword free, anger burning in her chest like a flame. "Novarwen -" Legolas began, reaching out to touch her arm. She looked at him, and he drew back. He had never seen her eyes so cold, not even when Irithion had announced that Theryn, her betrothed, had abandoned her. His sister in a rage was a force to be reckoned with. He shut up very quickly.

With utter calm and control, Novarwen looked at Legolas and Aragorn. "I'm going to find Frodo and Boromir," she said, her voice level, but shaking with suppressed anger. "I'll be back soon." She turned around and ran into the forest, her drawn sword gleaming when it caught the sunlight. She could never remember a time when she was so angry before. She heard footsteps pounding the earth behind her, and she whirled around, planning to kill the person who intended to meddle with her plan of yelling at Boromir until her voice was gone.

It was Aragorn.

She decided not to kill him, as he was the heir of Isildur, but she snapped, "What in the name of merciful Eru are you doing in my plan?"

A brief grin slid across Aragorn's face. He did not stop running, nor did she, as he answered, "Carrying out one of my own." Novarwen growled in frustrated fury and ran faster. To her chagrin and disbelief, Aragorn kept up.

They raced flat out through the woods, reaching the hill of Amon Hen. Novarwen's eyes widened at the sight that met her eyes - Frodo, lying on the grass, gasping for breath, his fist clutched tight around something.

Aragorn stepped close to him. "Frodo?" he asked carefully.

The hobbit's head jerked up to take in the clearing, Aragorn, Novarwen. His eyes were wide and scared. "It has taken Boromir," he said in a voice that chilled Novarwen's blood. Images of Boromir rose up in her mind - at the Council, insisting that the Ring be saved, teaching the younger hobbits to fence, fighting bravely in Moria, looking at her with his feelings plain on his face when he saw her in the white dress - and now the Ring had him. Novarwen closed her eyes against the surprisingly strong pain that hit her.

Aragorn took another step forward. "Where is the Ring?" he asked, his eyes urgent.

Frodo scrambled to his feet and ran from him. "Stay away!" he cried. The agony in his eyes added to the pain Novarwen felt. She longed to reach out and hug him, assure him that it would be all right, but something told her that she had no place in this discussion. Tears stung at her eyes, and she wiped them away.

"Frodo!" Aragorn had followed the Ringbearer to where he stood, his back pressed against a ruined column. His hands open, the Ranger said, "I swore to protect you."

"Can you protect me from yourself?" Frodo asked. Novarwen bit back a gasp. Galadriel's words returned to her and made her shiver: "And I came close, so close to taking it...and dooming us all." Novarwen slid her sword back into its sheath. "Would you destroy it?" Frodo demanded. His hand unclenched, and he held the Ring before Aragorn's eyes.

Make the right choice, Aragorn! Novarwen thought desperately. Don't take it, can't you feel its evil? She clenched her own fists, praying that the Man would not take the Ring. She could not see his face, but Frodo's was white and scared. His eyes were huge.

Then Aragorn knelt before Frodo, and carefully closed the tiny hand around the Ring again.

Novarwen could breathe again as Aragorn said softly, tears in his voice, "I would have gone with you to the end...into the very fires of Mordor." Novarwen's heart wrenched as she realized what he meant. Frodo was going to leave them, leave the protection of the Fellowship, and make his way to Mordor alone. No! she thought frantically. No, he can't! I promised - I swore an oath to Galadriel -

Then she heard something behind her rustle. All her warrior's instincts kicked in immediately. Her sword flashed as she pulled it free, and her keen eyes peered through the leaves. Her heart shivered as she recognized the evil she had felt earlier, on the bank. It had come at last. She turned around to alert Aragorn.

He had already risen. "Go, Frodo," she heard him murmur as his own sword came free of Galadriel's scabbard. He turned and saw her standing ready for battle, and a faint smile again flashed across his face. "Run," he added.

Frodo was still standing, frozen, against the column. "Run!" Novarwen cried to him, her heart screaming with the pain of her broken oath. Then he turned and fled down the slope. Novarwen bit back her tears, turned around - and nearly choked.

An army was emerging from out of the trees, an army of - what were they? They were huge, hulking, sinewy creatures, their knotted hair dangling from their heads. They put Novarwen in mind of Orcs, but these were obviously not Orcs. Super-Orcs? she thought; it was the only thing she could think to call them.

Then Aragorn lifted his sword and brought it down amidst the front line of the creatures, and Novarwen did not need to wonder what to call them anymore.

She sank into a crouch, her knives ready. One of the super-Orcs growled, baring sharp yellow teeth, and ran at her. She rose from the crouch and slammed her knife into his throat. Black blood spilled over her hand, and the super-Orc fell. She ran forward into the mass of super-Orcs, her knives flashing in the sunlight as they made short work of whatever they connected with. But there were so many! So many, and they kept coming and coming, and there was only Aragorn and her to fight them. She raised her voice in a yell for help, hoping against hope that someone would hear her, and gutted a super-Orc.

An arrow whizzed past her head. Novarwen whirled around, her heart in her throat - were these creatures archers as well as having huge iron bars they fought with? "Novarwen, freeze!" yelled a familiar voice, and another arrow flew past her to embed itself in her new opponent's eye. She knew that fletching on the arrow; she had a quiver full of arrows just like it. "Legolas!" she cried happily, hefting her knives and driving back into battle.

"Oh, yes, only notice the Elf," she heard a loud, indignant voice complain. She smiled to herself. She was glad to have Gimli there as well. Then she heard his roar as his axe bit into super-Orc flesh, and she was doubly glad he'd decided to join them.

She had no idea how long the four of them fought with the super-Orcs, but it was a very long time. Novarwen's arms were beginning to ache, and she wasn't sure how much longer she could keep up this pace of endless fighting, when, from somewhere far behind her, she heard a clear horn blast. "The Horn of Gondor," she said, recognizing it.

"Boromir!" Aragorn ran past her and Legolas, his sword out. Novarwen froze. She couldn't go help Boromir. She couldn't.

"Novarwen, come on!" Legolas called angrily.

She shook her head stubbornly. "He tried to take the Ring," she whispered, the cold fury that had driven her into the woods springing to icy life again. "I cannot help such a one."

Heedless of the super-Orcs surging around them, Legolas snatched her wrist and pulled her over to him, his hand cruelly tight. "Let go!" she yelled, trying to wrench her hand free.

"I don't care how you feel about Boromir, how he feels about you, or what he did!" Legolas hissed. "He was a companion, a good fighter, and a good friend, and you are going to help him!" Still holding her wrist, Legolas ran fleetly down the hill, following the small distant figure of Aragorn.

Her rage now directed at her brother, Novarwen dug her heels into the ground and pulled her arm back for a punch. To add to her anger, Legolas ducked as she went to throw it. "I am not going to try to save the life of a man who can't do a thing to save himself!" she blazed at her brother.

Legolas stopped, standing completely still. Then he turned to face Novarwen, and she wished she could take back her words. Her brother looked utterly terrifying.

"Novarwen," he said dangerously, "I am sure I did not hear you say those words. I am sure that no sister of mine would say that about a man who loved her. And I am sure that no sister of mine would refuse help to someone who needed it badly and who was good at heart. But if I heard you say those words, then I am equally sure that you are not my sister." Then he turned around and left, moving swiftly to catch up with Aragorn.

Novarwen sank to her knees behind a tree, stunned by what he had just said. Would he truly denounce me as his sister? she thought, terrified at the very idea. But she knew her brother, and he would do whatever he said he would.

"You know his hope for the future, and what trials he suffers." Novarwen gasped at the memory, as her mind supplied the words in Galadriel's voice. "I am asking you to understand it, and accept it...and be kind." She had failed Galadriel in one of the promises she had made her, but by the Valar, she would not fail in the second! She got up quickly, gathered herself together, and ran after Legolas and Aragorn.

No sooner had she started running down the slope than she heard a growl close by her. Novarwen whirled in the direction the growl came from and barely got her knife up in time to fend off a blow from the super-Orc who had attacked her. She yelled in frustration as he struck away her knife, preparing for a long fight. "What are you?" Novarwen demanded, searching for an opening in the thing's guard.

The super-Orc hissed. "We are the fighting Uruk-hai!" he snarled, and aimed an armored punch at her face. Novarwen ducked it and slid under his arm to thrust her blade into his chest, through a gap in his heavy gray armor. His eyes narrowed, but he fell, and Novarwen wiped her knife quickly on the grass before finding her feet and running as fast as they could take her.

It was insane, how fast she ran. She caught up with Legolas, and gave him a tight smile in answer to the surprise in his eyes. Aragorn was a dim figure in the distance. How did a Man become possessed of Elf-speed? Novarwen wondered wryly, then quickened her own pace.

She heard Boromir's horn again. He's in great danger. The thought struck her suddenly, and without warning a vision rose behind her eyelids. Boromir was fighting in the woods nearby. He was weary to the bone, but he fought on. His sword was stained with the black blood of the Uruk-hai he had killed, their bodies strewn about the clearing. Two small shapes stood behind him, fear written on their faces as though with black ink. Merry and Pippin! How in Eru's name had they gotten there, and why? Boromir lifted his sword again, and then she knew, knew before the black-fletched arrow even left the Uruk's bow, that Boromir was going to die.

"No!" she yelled in rage, and her vision splintered into a thousand pieces as she ran. "Don't you dare die before I can save you!" I swore to Galadriel that I would help you, she screamed inside, and by the Valar, I do not mean to have both my oaths broken in one day! To her surprise, Novarwen found that she was crying. She had never thought for an instant before that she could cry for Boromir, but she could, and she was.

Somehow she knew where the clearing was, intuitively. She burst through the trees, her eyes raking the clearing for Boromir, swearing vividly at having left her bow with the rest of their packs. "Boromir!" she yelled the moment she spotted him, then choked in horror. Two of the black-feathered arrows sprouted from his chest.

He raised his head. Novarwen was frozen to the spot. She couldn't have moved if Sauron himself was bearing down on her. She could only watch, the tears springing like rain to her eyes, as the Man who had loved her looked up, into the horrified eyes of the hobbits he defended, and then into hers. I wish now that I could have loved you, if only it would ease your dying, Novarwen thought as they locked eyes for one moment. That one moment was enough. She knew now that there was no hope for Boromir. He was going to die, and he knew it.

Then he gave a cry, and surged to his feet, swinging his sword in a deadly arc at an Uruk-hai. Novarwen dashed her tears from her eyes and ran down the slope to where Boromir was fighting his last battle, her knife out, launching herself at the Uruk-hai. But she was not close enough to stop, as her Elven reflexes might have stopped, the third arrow from plunging into Boromir's heart.

She tried to summon the will to fight, but she couldn't find it, even as Merry and Pippin were seized and swung onto the backs of two Uruks, even as the monstrous things marched steadily forward, forcing her to either retreat up the slope or be shown the mercy that the Uruk with the bow had shown Boromir. She wanted to collapse on the ground and cry, but she had no more tears. But her white-hot rage came to the burning point when one Uruk stopped and faced Boromir, who had fallen to his knees and was struggling to breathe. The Uruk drew an arrow and fixed it to his bow. Sweet Elbereth, will he shoot Boromir even now, when he knows he's won? Novarwen thought furiously. It seemed that that would be the case. The Uruk leered mockingly as he drew the bowstring back. Novarwen crouched, ready to throw herself on top of the thing before he could shoot -

And then a dark figure launched itself from the trees to do exactly that. As it struggled to its feet, Novarwen recognized Aragorn. She felt, unlikely as it was, a vicious smile curve her mouth - she could almost pity the Uruk for fighting its losing battle against Aragorn. But she was confident that the Man could deal with Boromir's murderer - Boromir himself needed her more than Aragorn.

She ran over to him. He had fallen onto his back, and his breathing was ragged and torn. "Boromir!" she cried, grabbing his hand, kneeling beside him. "Boromir, curse you, open your eyes, look at me -"

His eyelids fluttered open. The look in them broke her heart. "Novarwen," he said, so faintly that she could barely hear it. Then his look changed to one of anger. "I failed them, I failed you all, Novarwen. I couldn't save them - I couldn't even save myself -"

Her first impulse was to give him a blistering denial, but that was not what a dying companion needed. She curbed her tongue and cut in more gently, "Stop that. You fought as long as any man could - and not just against the Uruks." At his surprised look, she added, "I know about the Ring, and I don't think any Man, Elf, or Dwarf could have suffered more for it than you have."

Boromir gave a shuddering sigh. "I had wanted...to make you my queen," he said. "I had hopes...such hopes, Novarwen...but I see it was not to be."

Novarwen closed her eyes for a moment. When she opened them again, she replied, "I know, and believe me when I tell you that I wish I could have loved you in return." She did not say a word about Theryn, but he knew.

"I suppose I knew it was foredoomed, as soon as I saw your Elf." Boromir gasped for breath, and then whispered, "Love him, Novarwen...for my sake."

She was not out of tears after all. "I swear to you," she whispered. Then she cursed. "Why? I swore to Galadriel as well, that I would help you, and look what has happened!"

"Don't blame yourself. I could not bear dying and knowing you blamed yourself for it."

Novarwen bit back her tears. "Then I will not." She leaned over Boromir and kissed him gently, a kiss not of love but of farewell. "Sleep well," she whispered.

Aragorn touched her shoulder. Looking back, she saw the body of the Uruk lying on the grass, and its head nearby. Novarwen suppressed a shudder and stood up, walking away to let Aragorn and Boromir say their last words to each other in peace. Suddenly her legs gave way, and she sank onto the earth. She drew in a long, shuddering breath.

"Novarwen?" The voice was Legolas'. She stood up and threw herself on her brother, sobbing like a child, clinging to his shirt. He held her, soothing her as he had in Moria. When her tears were spent, she looked over at Boromir. Aragorn was standing up from his body, and she knew Boromir was dead.

***

Novarwen did not understand how Legolas could be so active. Her brother was dragging a boat into the water, calling over his shoulder, "Hurry! Frodo and Sam have reached the eastern shore!" Novarwen was not even surprised that Sam was with Frodo. Her nerves were dulled by Boromir's death.

Aragorn said nothing. He looked out at the Falls of Rauros, tracking the progress of the boat that held Boromir's body as it went over the falls.

"You mean not to follow them." Legolas' words were a statement, not a question.

"Frodo's fate is no longer in our hands," Aragorn said heavily.

Gimli growled angrily. "Then it has all been in vain! The Fellowship has failed!" To her surprise, Novarwen found herself agreeing with a Dwarf.

Aragorn's eyes widened, and he came towards them. He grasped Legolas' shoulder with one hand and Gimli's with the other. Novarwen stood between Legolas and Gimli, watching their leader's eyes. They were hard now, intense as they had not been since Boromir died. "Not," he replied, "if we remain true to each other. We will not abandon Merry and Pippin to torment and death, not while we have strength left!" He took his hands from their shoulders and turned, picking up his dagger. "Leave all that can be spared behind! We travel light." He sheathed the dagger and turned again to face them. "Let us hunt some Orc!"

Novarwen felt alive again. There was a purpose once more for what was left of the Fellowship of the Ring, and she was glad of it. A smile slowly spread across Legolas' face, and Gimli gave a throaty yell of approval. A smile cracked across Novarwen's face, too, and she grabbed her knife, sheathed it, and ran after the others, into whatever place their new path would take them. And when we get there, she thought, I'll have a few grievances to tell of.

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