Shadow and Silver: The Story of Aurelin - Chapter 32
Disclaimer: I am only borrowing from JRR Tolkien's wonderful work and making no money. I do however claim ownership of Aurelin, Laswing, Calenloth and Belegorn.
The battle could have ended when Ennorís died. No one of the Eldar still on the open battle ground saw her being slain for it happened right under the eaves of the forest and only the long an inhuman cry of "Melkor!" announced that her life was leaking out of her. After the battle had ended, Aurelin heard that it had been the twin daughter and son of Bergil (the scout who had been slain by Ennorís' subjects just after sending the message that put the puzzle of the dark lady together to Eryn Lasgalen), who had fought their way to her and using their power of knowing exactly what the other was going to do. Fighting as one they pierced the heart of Ennorís, the self-styled Queen of Middle-earth.
Their mistress gone but the perimeter still in place and the Elves also in the shadow of the trees, the Orcs had nowhere to go while the harpies had all been slain by then.
It was impossible to ride at that stage in the half-circle because horses and wounded Elves might be laying there to be stepped on as well as the bodies of the enemies. Aurelin had left Alagos to guard the perimeter on his own and had returned to have the battle finished once and for all. Dusk had fallen and the elves were intent to end the fight before darkness came. Eärendil was looking down at the bloody battle-field, Aurelin hoped he would tell of this day in Valinor and lead the feär of the slain Elves to Mandos.
"Will you not just die?!" she thought fiercely as she had to stand against another ugly sword wielded by a snarling Orc in war-paint from head to claw. In frustration and despite her weariness, she self-whippingly made her sword and the knife in her other hand a blur, herself a whirlwind cutting down the Orc with no pause before plunging on. There did not seem to be many more though and the Eldar and Nandor were methodically despatching the few remaining Yrch.
And then she stopped dead in her tracks while her sword-hand fell to her side and she fought the invisible fingers that crushed her windpipe.
"Elthoron, no!" The thin wail that uttered from her mouth sounded alien to her ears as she half-ran, half-stumbled over the bodies of Orcs to the silvery grey horse whom she would have recognised even without the war-headdress with Gilgaer's leaf-and-wave standard embossed on it. Suddenly there was no sound other than her sharp gasps as she hurried on and the pitiable snorts coming from the frothing mouth of the horse, over it all the pounding of her heart as it began to dawn on her that - if Elthoron was down, where was its rider?
Skidding to a halt by Elthoron's head when her wounded thigh gave way, Aurelin brushed her trembling fingers over its nose and received a weak whinny when the horse recognised her. Never noticing the slush of blood and churned earth, she dragged herself along its strong neck and back to the ribcage where a deep slash of the same length from Aurelin's elbow to her palm revealing clotted blood and dirt, flesh, glimpse of entrails and one rib pale against the ermine of the blood. Another but mild graze was visible down the flank.
"Oh, what have they done to you? Oh, Elbereth!" Aurelin whimpered for both Elthoron and Gilgaer as she helplessly pushed the edges of the wound closed and holding her hand on it to stop it from opening. She ripped off one of the sleeves of her shirt and pushed it hard against the wound and miraculously the half congealed blood by the wound glued the fabric to itself. But it was a pitiful seal and Aurelin knew it. Her clothes torn and slashed and drenched with blood, hers, Elthoron's, the creatures of Ennorís, hands bloody to the elbows and face looking the same ghastly colour with paler tracks of tears, she looked nothing like a daughter of the house of Greenmere that she was but rather a wraith of the early days of the Elves haunting the forests around the Lake Cuiviénen.
Elthoron had started to tremble under Aurelin's hands and she knew that her despair was badly affecting the horse.
"You will be alright, Thoro!" The attempt to soothe achieved not much but Elthoron stayed its faint thrashing of hind-legs. Slowly Aurelin raised on one knee, the other leg a useless lifeless piece of bone, sinew and meat. "Where is your rider? Oh, Valar, where is he?" she sobbed as she scanned the surroundings for a sign of Gilgaer and received none. Cries of his name yielded nothing besides making her voice hoarse so that it did not carry anymore, taking away one more thing that could possibly help her.
Fingers scrabbling at the dirt, desperate to find some use for them, Aurelin quietly told herself over and over again, "No, this cannot be! It cannot! Oh, my love, help me find you!" In the ever-spreading shadow of night with eyes blurred by tears and vision clouded by grief and unable to move, the impossibility of finding Laswing crashed on Aurelin and she grabbed two handfuls of the bloody earth and threw it to scatter far and wide with a broken keen and slumped to the ground, head buried in her hands, brow resting on the ground. There was nothing inside her, a big void was spreading and she felt detached from the shell that felt its fingers close to claw her face and dull ache in her thigh. She had lost everything she held dear on these shores now and even the anger and hate that wished to flame into a wild-fire in her was quenched by the vacuum.
"Life is nothing, death is everything. Life is nothing, death is everything." She muttered like a mad-woman as she started banging her head against the ground, fingers sprawled wide and crawling over the ground aimlessly. That is until the leaf-ring on her right hand snagged and was almost drawn from her finger by a long and rounded object.
Aurelin's head rose slowly and she grabbed hold of the thing, her ring pressed against it hard. Brow covered with a mix of earth and blood, eyes bleary, she could not make out what it was until she had drawn her eyes and face a little clearer with her forearm. A shaft of some kind, broken and splintery on one end. A spear-haft, Aurelin's numb mind produced. What would she do with it, she did not know but she was reluctant to let it slide from her fingers and resume her bawling. The splintered end slowly came to rest on the ground and the void in Aurelin's mind retreated a little. If she used the haft as a stick, she might be able to limp, and moving meant that she had a chance to find Laswing. Aurelin tested the idea as she leaned more heavily on the wooden haft and brought her unwounded leg from under her and let the foot settle on the ground. So far so good. Shifting her hold on the spear a little higher she put most of her weight on that side as she fought to straighten her good leg.
"Morgoth's irons!" she cursed as she almost toppled over when her hands slippery from blood slid downwards along the haft but she managed to stop the progress and received some splinters for the effort. Orcs never make smooth spear-hafts!, she groaned silently for you would not get splinters in your hand from the middle of the haft of an Elven-made spear.
Like an old woman of Edain, she hobbled from Elthoron (who was breathing still she was relieved to hear) aimlessly toward the first darker patches and began her grisly search. She reasoned that Gilgaer would have to be somewhere not far from his horse and therefore worked in circles that made her head ache and grow light around Elthoron. Darker shape, bend, check who it is, move on, shape, bend.... So it went. Vaguely Aurelin was aware of others moving about the field, but she paid them no mind. Thunder rumbled in the distance and forks of lighting were dancing over the Grey Mountains. Boom! Aurelin had just straightened from her crouch for a swathe of light hair had caught her eye but it turned out to be a dead border-guard of Eryn Lasgalen. She did feel a bit guilty, but she had sighed in relief as she recognised that it was not Laswing. Up again on foot and spear-haft. The last clap of thunder had sounded strange - as if something had blown up, for it reminded Aurelin from Legolas' stories of Helm's Deep. Could it be that Ennorís' "death-powder" had been blown up, either fired by some crony of hers ordered to should she perish, or had she stored it somewhere the lightning could hit it? The reasons did not matter, Aurelin shook her head, for it was gone. Yearning for the next lightning flash that gave at least some, even if eerie light of unnatural colour, she strained her eyes to another little heap of bodies. Lightning forked in a burning web across the sky and there - was it?, yes it was an out-flung hand on which a ring had briefly glittered.
Gulping in dread, Aurelin took off toward the pile limping, tears having started to fall again. Stumbling to the three bodies layng on top of each-other, she bent to check the pale hand and with a little cry of triumph saw that it indeed was the foam-flower ring she had given Gilgaer at their betrothal.
"Eriant, my love, Aurelin is here, it is going to be all right!" she stupidly told the pile and the leering dead Orc-face on a snapped neck that belonged to the top body of the heap. Dragging and pushing, she forced it to roll away, revealing Gilgaer laying on his back, eyes closed and face strangely clean of the blood that squished under Aurelin's boots, covered by the dull swathe of harpy wings as a fallen Swan-knight in a fairy-tale. Breathing raggedly, Aurelin grabbed hold of the wing and tugged at it while balancing on one foot, the other still useless. Feathers came loose and floated down around the two bodies, one settling grey against the white of Laswing's cheek.
"Why don't you come off?!" desperately Aurelin cursed and dropped the wing she had only managed to pull out of its socket. Throwing herself to the ground, her fingers crept to Laswing's neck under the feathers of the other wing and she could have wept, well if she had not been already, in relief to feel his pulse beating if a bit faintly, at least steadily. Frantically she thrust both her hands under the feathers and let her fingers spider to see why the harpy would not be pulled of Gilgaer.
"Sweet, Valar!" she breathed as she encountered the wrinkled and slick face of the harpy. Pushing back the revolt she felt at having to touch it, she slowly roamed her fingers down what had to be its cheek until she felt Laswing's velvet tunic to then slide them along the fabric. Suddenly - saliva, teeth, and then blood! Understanding dawned and Aurelin pulled her hand out and started to fiercely pluck the feathers from the section of the wing that lay over the head of the harpy. When that was done, she slid her hands down both sides of its head and took hold of the jaws. To draw the jaws loose at the same angle they went in would be what she needed but there was not much besides hope there for her to achieve that. Straining the muscles in her arms, she forced the jaws to loosen and heard the lurching sound as the teeth left Laswing's shoulder, the head of the harpy was resting on her hands. With disgust she dropped it and took hold of the creature's shoulder to draw it finally off and could do it a little way until it caught and Aurelin fell face forward on the harpy, cheek landing next to Gilgaer's.
She pounded the earth as she pushed herself up again. "This cannot be! What now?"
The haft that had supported her on her way was laying by her on the ground and she got an idea. Settling by Laswing, she slid her good foot under the wing and to the shoulder of the harpy and pushed as far as she could. Then she lodged the haft there, having created a little space between it and Gilgaer to allow her to investigate what was the matter. Gilgaer's upper body had risen a little from the ground as well and Aurelin was shown the reason as her questing hand found Laswing's dagger in the harpy's heart and him still clutching the blade. Putting her shoulder under the harpy, Aurelin slowly pushed herself upright, moving Gilgaer's knife at the same time. When the dagger slid out from the heart, the moment it was free the harpy fell to one side, wing-bones snapping under its body.
Aurelin forgot all else besides her betrothed as she knelt gasping by Gilgaer and drew his head and shoulders to her lap.
"My love, please, can you hear me? Gwingloth is here, I found you. Did you think I would not? Dearest you have to open your eyes to me and I will not hear anything of dieing!"
Rocking back and forth, she brushed her tears angrily away for she had to be strong for him and not weep like a lost child. One hand she used to caress his cheek while the other searched for his wounds and found beside the bite on the shoulder two gashes - one down his right side and the other down the left arm. Together with the weight of the harpy, they accounted for his unconsciousness but Aurelin thought that if she managed to get his wounds cleaned soon, there would be no threat to his life. If only he would come to!
"Dearest, I need you to wake up! Meleth nín, come back to me!"
She had torn the other sleeve from her shirt and was ripping make-shift bandages from it for his wounds. On and on she talked while she worked and kept brushing her hand against his cheeks and brow and leant occasionally to kiss him awake.
"Is it you, Gwin?" a rasping voice queried quietly (but to Aurelin it was like a bellow, so unexpected in the near silence around her and Laswing) while she was leaning over his shoulder to push the linen between the rent in his tunic against the side-wound. Aurelin's upper body whipped up and she managed to hit herself at the kidney area against Gilgaer's elbow for he had raised his hand to brush the dirt particles from Aurelin's smeared clothes and face that had scattered in his eyes.
"Eriant! I cannot... Elbereth help me breathe...Oh, for the love of.." she babbled incoherently as she threw her arms around his neck and kissed his upside down face over and over again.
"Me neither...if you do not...loosen you hold...love!" Gilgaer's lips formed against Aurelin's and she hastily cancelled her strangling embrace.
"You frightened me out of my mind! If you were not as helpless as you are, I would pound you bloody!" She cried and grinned at the same time, spreading her hands helplessly and letting them to drape again on his tunic front while the other crept around his shoulders.
"I will live, I think." Gilgaer gingerly raised his hand to brush Aurelin's wraith-like cheek. She looked like someone sporting the war-paint of some of the Orcs with that dirt-smeared face with blood-webbing all over it. The tears had formed some clearer tracks down the patterns but she still looked like a little mad hermit. "Let us see if I can get up!" He propped himself up on his unwounded elbow and gathered his legs under him, groaning when his side-wound pulled open and the deep bite on his shoulder felt as if it had still the teeth that intended to rip chunks of it out in there.
"I'm sorry, I am so sorry!" Aurelin repeated over and over as if she had given him the wounds.
Both looking frankly horrible, they got to their feet with each other's help. Laswing's hair was russet where it had lain against Aurelin's thigh-wound and she almost fell when Gilgaer leant his weight on her for the last effort to stand up and her leg gave way. Awkwardly Laswing caught her with his wounded arm and in the end both were hissing from the pain.
"A nice couple of cripples we are!" Gilgaer barked out a short laugh. It was so like Aurelin not to tell him that she was also hurt. Circling her while still retaining his grip on her arm, he settled his hurt side to Aurelin's right and put his good arm across her shoulders so that she could lean on him while his gashed arm was dangling by his side. It was not the best solution bearing his side-wound in mind and both he and Aurelin knew it but she did not start objecting because it was clear that neither could she move unsupported nor Gilgaer, so they just had to bear the pain.
"Is Elthoron all right?" Laswing's voice rang anxiously and his eyes were bright with worry as he searched Aurelin's face for the answer. It was hard to read her under all that grime and to nod was too much effort, so Aurelin just smiled wearily.
"We will go to Alagos and then I'll take you to the Halls!" she said fiercely. "Even if I have to tie you onto me in case you decide to faint on me!"
Gilgaer's lopsided grin made him look almost like his old self.
"Sounds familiar! But the Lady should take care not to faint herself intending to ride with that ugly wound on her thigh."
"It is my turn now and I refuse to do worse by you now that our roles are changed." She wiped Laswing's dagger on her already hopelessly dirty tunic and slid it to its sheath on his right side. Both their swords were hanging over her right shoulder by the sword-belts.
Gilgaer's grip on her shoulder tightened. "You never tire, my love, or change!" He noticed a spear driven to the ground and handed it to Aurelin to use as a support. Pity his wounded arm barred him the use of one!
"Come, tell me of how you built your first boat while we find Alagos!" Aurelin urged him to take their minds off the painful walk and keep them conscious. "I think that after seeing your home and the beautiful Sea lapping the rocks in the Havens, I cannot stay here anymore. Nor would I prolong our misery at being apart after all this!"
"Truly, you would come to Mithlond?" Gilgaer stared into her wide green eyes in disbelief. He had been waiting for it for so long, secretly, never speaking of it to her to avoid creating a slightest hint of pressure (for he knew Aurelin well enough to know that she quite unconciously would balk and dig her toes stubbornly in).
"Truly!" came the answer in a sigh.