To Dream - Ch32: Any Man Can Fall

Names/Pronunciations will come at the end of each chapter.

`*' signals a footnote
`***' signals a line spoken by Oloriel or Nessúlë in the Common Tongue, of which they are not extremely fluent.

A/N: You probably haven't noticed, but throughout this entire story I've been constantly flipping back and forth between capitalizing or not capitalizing (E/e)lf. I've finally come to a decision. I'm capitalizing the names of all the races. That seems to be the most consistent way in which Tolkien dealt with this issue (though I swear I've seen lowercase "hobbit" in the books). Therefore, you will from now on see only Elf, she-Elf, Man, Woman, Dwarf, Orc, Ent, Hobbit, etc...

____________________________
Chapter 32.) Any Man Can Fall

***
So runs my dream, but what am I?
An infant crying in the night,
An infant crying for a light,
And with no language but a cry.

- Alfred Lord Tennyson
***

Recap: Oloriel and Nessúlë have chosen to go with the Gray Company on the Paths of the Dead.

Cold beads of sweat gathered on Oloriel's brow as she traveled along the hidden path. She felt as though the air was squeezing in on her, trying to snuff her out, and she was hard-pressed to keep herself from looking about with wide, frightened eyes, waiting for some great shadowed hand to reach out from the darkness and snatch her away. She frequently tried to shake herself of these thoughts, knowing that they were foolish, but the chilling gloom of the place would not allow her to do so, plunging straight into her heart with its sharp fingers and pressing against her ribcage.

There was nothing natural about the place. An otherworldly terror dwelt there.

As they traveled on through the oppressive darkness, Elladan tried to reach out to her with his mind and soothe her, but she rebuffed him as best she could. She felt ashamed enough as it was, falling prey to such morbid imaginings, without turning to Elladan for comfort. She was the one who had convinced him to allow her coming, and she would not give him reason to regret that decision.

An eerie tingle ran along the back of Oloriel's neck. They were being followed. She could hear the ruff footsteps of the Dwarf behind them begin to come faster, as though he were anxious to stay within the range of Elladan's torchlight. For a brief moment, Oloriel had the urge to look and see what was behind them, but the idea quickly flew from her mind. Something in her resisted the thought, kept her looking forward. And from what she could tell, everyone else was heading the same wisdom. They continued to walk on in silence, solemn and alert, eyes straining forward into nothing.

Resolved to move steadily onward, Oloriel was rather frustrated when a strong throbbing began to penetrate her mind. It was similar to the sensation she had experienced shortly before she came face to face with Elladan for the first time, but more insistent and sharp. Something was trying to break into her. In contrast to the gentle undulating pressure of Elladan's consciousness, this invasion came in quick, stinging bites, and she was unsure of how long she could keep it at bay.

Ignoring her feeble protests, Elladan let go of his horse's tether, keeping the torch in his right hand, and reached out to circle Oloriel's waste with his left arm.

//What is it?// he questioned frantically, //What can I do?//

Oloriel merely shook her head, bending all her concentration to holding fast the boundaries of her mind.

It was then that, along the side of the path, Aragorn's torchlight glanced off something metallic, creating a small glint in the dark, broad passageway. Aragorn stopped the forward march and went to examine it.

"Does he feel no fear?" muttered the Dwarf. "In any other cave Gimli Glóin's son would have been the first to run to the gleam of gold. But not here! Let it lie!"*

Oloriel heard his soft murmurs and for the first time in their acquaintance, actually agreed with the Dwarf. She wished to have this grim way behind her as quickly as possible. She felt nauseous and her mind was clouded.

"Elladan," Aragorn called softly, "Lend me your torch, for the light is still too dim to see clearly."

Elladan cast a worried glance at Oloriel. She gave him a weak shove toward Aragorn. "Go."

The elf continued to hesitate for a moment.

"Go," Oloriel commanded again, this time more firmly.

With reluctant steps, Elladan left Oloriel and approached Aragorn's side, taking his torch from him and holding them both aloft.

Before him were the bones of a mighty man. He had been clad in mail, and still his harness lay there whole; for the cavern's air was dry as dust, and his hauberk was gilded. His belt was of gold and garnets, and rich with gold was the helm upon his bony dead face downward on the floor. He had fallen near the far wall of the cave, as now could be seen, and before him stood a stony door closed fast: his finger-bones were still clawing at the cracks. A notched and broken sword lay by him, as if he had hewn at the rock in his last despair.*

Aragorn did not touch him, but after gazing silently for a while he rose and sighed. "Hither shall the flowers of simbelmynë come never unto the world's end," he muttered. "Nine mounds and seven there are now green with grass, and through all the long years he has lain at the door that he could not unlock. Whither does it lead? Why would he pass? None shall ever know!*

"For that is not my errand!" he cried, turning back and speaking to the whispering darkness behind.*

Oloriel was struck by the strong gleam in his eye - it belied a power undaunted by the forces of evil. She could feel the authority he possessed as he continued to speak out against the lurking wraiths behind them.

"Keep your hoards and your secrets hidden in the Accursed Years! Speed only we ask. Let us pass, and then come! I summon you to the Stone of Erech!"*

Immediately the pain in Oloriel's mind began to recede, like morning fog assailed by the noonday say. The king had declared his power over the oath-breakers, and they no longer assailed her spirit. As long as she was with the king they could not harm her any more.

This knowledge brought a spark of joy into Oloriel's heart. She followed the heir of Elendil, Elf-friend of old, and heir to the nobility of Númenor, the glory of Westernessë. His will was strong, and even the spawn of evil could not approach him without misgivings.

Elladan came back to Oloriel as they set off again on their path.

//Are you alright?// he inquired anxiously.

To his surprise, Oloriel smile softly. //I am now.//

A moment later, she spoke again. //He truly is a great man, isn't he?//

Elladan let the words sink in until he comprehended there meaning. //Aye. And he will be a great king. I only hope that he lives to see his kingdom.//

Oloriel bowed her head quickly. Her knowledge weighed heavily upon her. The thought of Aragorn dying would have seemed impossible to her had she not seen it in the Mirror. Aragorn was like one of the great heroes of old, seemingly too high to be killed. She only hoped that she could use her knowledge in some way to prevent such an untimely and grievous death.


*~*~*~*~*~*~*

When they came out beneath the stars no stop was called. Everyone mounted their horses and continued on, keeping their eyes trained on the dark valley below them.

At some point along the dark passage, Elrohir and Nessúlë had come to walk near to one another and as they continued on, riding slowly down the winding ravine, their horses were abreast. Elrohir had not spoken to Nessúlë since their disagreement in Edoras. He was not quite sure of what he could say. He could not apologize, for he was not sorry for his opinion - he still disliked the idea of her coming very much. And yet, he also did not want her to be angry with him. He wondered why she had remained silent all this time.

Nessúlë shifted uncomfortably on the back of her horse. She could not wait until they finally came out into the clear air of the valley below. They may have come out under the evening sky, but the enclosing walls of the ravine still made her skin crawl.

She was equally irked by Elrohir's brooding silence. His disapproval of her coming had rankled her spirit and called up her defiant nature, but the slow day had worn away at her annoyance and she would have been happy to have her friend back.

`He must be angry with me,' she thought disconsolately, `Although I don't see why he should have been so adamantly against my coming. He has seen me fight and knows that I am capable. Of course, the first time we met I was injured by an Orc, but it was through no lack of skill on my part - it could have happened to anyone.'

Her mood began to grow bitter again as she mused on these things. `He really has no right to act so petulantly. He's behaving like a spoiled princeling! He won't even look at me. Is this how he treats his friends when they do not bow to his wishes? Well... I suppose it's better to find these things out sooner than later.'

Nessúlë let out an indignant puff of air. Elrohir looked over to her and wondered what she was thinking. He sighed and shook his head. She was probably still angry with him for seeming to doubt her skill.

With restless energy, Elrohir turned to look behind them. His face took on a somewhat startled expression, but then melted into one of stern composure. He turned back toward the front.

"The dead are following."*

He did not appear to be speaking to anyone in particular, but Nessúlë was the closest to him and could not help from listening.

"I see shapes of Men and of horses, and pale banners like shreds of cloud, and spears like winter-thickets on a misty night. The dead are following."*

Nessúlë did not know how to respond, or even is she should respond. A few silent moments passed before she spoke almost to herself, "Yes, the Dead ride behind. They have been summoned."*

Elrohir and Nessúlë caught glances for a brief moment but then turned away. They both pretended as though nothing had passed and rode silently on into the darkening valley.


*~*~*~*~*~*~*

"The King of the Dead! The King of the Dead has come upon us!"*

Oloriel winced as she heard the terrified cries of the field workers and villagers as they scattered before the ghostly company. The sounds faded quickly as she raced by on her mare, but their echoes still reverberated in her mind. Everywhere they went she witnessed the snuffing out of lights and the intense finality with which doors were slammed shut. The fright of the country's inhabitants convinced her even more that she did not want to turn round and gaze upon their undead retinue.

The company road hard and long until their horses began to stumble beneath them. They had to reach to Stone of Erech before the eve of the new day.

It was close on to midnight when Oloriel looked up and finally beheld the rising slope of the Hill of Erech. Atop it was a black, round stone, immense and buried halfway in the earth.

As the company came to a halt, Elrohir left Nessúlë's side to present Aragorn with a silver horn. Taking the horn from him, Aragorn blew a loud clear note into the night. Oloriel listened intently as the blast faded away and felt as though an answering call was being blown from somewhere in the deep - distant and reverberating.

"Oathbreakers, why have ye come?"* Aragorn called out into the surrounding darkness.

A voice, as though from far away, answered from the shadows. "To fulfil our oath and have peace."*

Then Aragorn said: "The hour is come at last. Now I go to Pelargir upon Anduin, and ye shall come after me. And when all this land is clean of the servants of Sauron, I will hold the oath fulfilled, and ye shall have peace and depart forever. For I am Elessar, Isildur's heir of Gondor."*

As he spoke, Halabarad unfurled the great standard that had been woven by the hands of Undómiel herself. And it was as black as the night that surrounded them, for the device upon it was hidden by the shadows.

The company made camp by the stone, but few slept. Oloriel too found little solace in sleep, taking comfort instead by Elladan's side. And so they sat together, with few words, eagerly awaiting the dawn.

But the next day there came no dawn. And the Grey Company passed into the darkness of the Storm of Mordor and were lost to mortal sight; but the Dead followed them.*


*~*~*~*~*~*~*

The battle of Pelargir was like a whirlwind. The Host of the Dead swept away the Corsairs and left little work for any of the living.

Oloriel was filled with joy at their great success, but also looked upon the field of battle with a saddened eye. The Dead did not merely defeat their foe - they slaughtered them without thought or mercy. And for an Elf, even though she looked upon the enemy, the sight of such ruthless carnage was unsettling. Elves knew life and were at odds with Death, immense and terrible.

She picked her way carefully through the slain as she made for one of the ships. The company was to sail up the Anduin toward Minis Tirith and would be leaving shortly. Afar off on a slow rise, Aragorn was speaking his last words of acquittal to the Oathbreakers. It would only be a few minutes more until they were ready to depart.

"Here, lady, we have come upon some extra food stores, eat while you can."

Oloriel turned to the voice and found herself staring into the dark eyes of Halbarad. She smiled in thanks and took the jerky and cheese from the Man's hand.

***"Thank you." She murmured softly.

The Man bowed his head slightly. "Le ná sai maetolo. {You are very welcome.}"

Oloriel blinked and looked sharply at him. "Pedil Eldarin? {You speak Elvish?}"

Halbarad laughed a deep, hearty laugh. "Aye, fair maiden, I do indeed. I am close kin to Aragorn who grew up among the Elves; I thought it might be useful to learn."

"What a lovely surprise. You do not all speak Elvish, though, do you?"

"Nay," the older Man replied, "Only one other beside myself and Aragorn."

It was at this moment that a strong warning jolt shot through Oloriel.

Without thought, she reached out and yanked the startled Man toward the ground, following him a fraction of a second later as a small Corsair's dagger came hurtling her way. It scraped the side of her cheek, but did no further damage.

As she fell down next to the Man, she was vaguely aware of the swish of Elladan's arrow, who stood several hundred feet away, as it passed over her head and embedded itself in the chest of the formerly breathing Corsair.

Apparently, the Dead had not been quite so thorough as she originally thought.

Several moments later, Elladan was above her, helping her back to her feet. Meanwhile, the Man lay somewhat stunned looking up at the pair.

"I think you just saved my life, lady." Halbarad stated from his still-prone position.

Oloriel gave him a shaky smile. "Actually, it was Elladan. He was the one who warned me."

Halbarad's eyes took on a questioning light. "I don't understand... I heard nothing."

"And it is well you didn't," Elladan spoke up. "If I had needed to make my message known verbally, there would not have been enough time to explain. Oloriel and I do not have need of words."

The rugged Man got to his feet and looked on them in wonder. "I have heard of such things before, but never have I witness the results. I thank the Valar for this blessed gift. I only hope that I can one day repay you both."

Oloriel took Elladan's hand and replied. "Live to fight the darkness. That is enough."

"I shall do my best, lady." Halbarad took her free hand and laid a courtly kiss upon it. "Thank you again, and fair you well; I must continue distributing this food." He picked up a satchel that had fallen from his shoulder and walked off.

As the Man walked off Elladan turned Oloriel toward him and examined her wound carefully. It was a clean slit, with not poison or rust to cause problems.

"We should bandage this to keep it clean," he murmured.

Oloriel rolled her eyes. "It is nothing. And how would you manage to keep a bandage wrapped around my jaw?"

Elladan sighed. "At least let me do what I can. You would not want it to scar."

"And be robbed of my first battle-wound?" Oloriel cried mockingly.

Elladan's brows lowered. "My lady will have no battle-wounds on her if I can help it." He leaned in to place a kiss on her forehead. "Everything about her is precious to me."

A slow smile spread across Oloriel's face. "Very well then, lead on good physician."

Nessúlë, who had seen the commotion earlier and come near to see that all was well, rolled her eyes skyward. "Will I ever be so obviously smitten? I cannot see myself acting so... so..."

"Soft?" A voice supplied from behind her.

The elleth turned to meet Elrohir with an ambiguous gaze. "Perhaps," she replied, tilting her head to one side as she tried to read Elrohir's facial expression. "Yes... perhaps."

After a moment's pause, Elrohir unpredictably brought a small white flower out from behind his back and extended it toward her.

"You may be hard, lady, but I must ask..." He hesitated for a moment then continued speaking, an unreadable expression on his face: "Will this buy me a smile?"

Nessúlë regarded him quizzically for a moment. She simply did not understand this ellon {male Elf}. `He spent almost the entire day ignoring me, and now he wants a smile?' She blinked several times in confusion.

Baffled, and rather uncertain of how to reply, she finally answered him with the first thought that came to mind: "Where in Middle-earth did you find a flower?" She cast her gaze briefly around at the disparaged landscape.

"You did not answer my question." Elrohir cajoled stubbornly, a hint of mirth entering his eyes.

Nessúlë spied the jovial glint and it was enough for her. `Perhaps he has simply shaken off his sour mood and come to his senses,' she conjectured. She was not sure if she was quite ready to forgive him, but she was willing to play along.

With this in mind, she placed her hands on her hips and replied facetiously, "It think that my smile is worth more than that, sir. But you may have it for..." she lifted her eyes to the heavens in thought. "For the flower and... that inkwell of yours. The one made out of a seashell... I always admired it and it reminds me of my homeland."

Elrohir quirked an eyebrow imperiously. "You drive a hard bargain, lady. But I accept."

A mischievous smirk crept across Nessúlë's face as she reached out to take the flower. But Elrohir did not immediately let go.

"For I would see your smile again, mellon nín, before we sail into further danger. I would not forgive myself if we were parted while you still held anger against me."

Nessúlë stared at him in wonder. She had not been prepared for this intensity of feeling or this apparent extending of the olive branch. Her vexed brooding the day before had allowed her to build up all sorts of nasty notions about the Elf in front of her, and she was now struck forcefully by the sincerity in his eyes. She felt rather ashamed at her own simple mindedness. Yes, Elrohir had been upset with her and painfully aloof, but these were certainly not unpardonable offenses, neither did they out-weigh the many good qualities she knew he possessed. Nessúlë sighed quietly.

"Elrohir," she inquired softly, "are you trying to apologize?"

"Yes and no," Elrohir replied plainly.

Nessúlë gave him a blank stare.

Elrohir rubbed the back of his neck and tried to explain. "I do not repent of my wishes. I still do not want you here... I fear for you, and I do not want you or Oloriel to be hurt. It's just feels wrong for you to be in such danger... But I accept your decision, and I shouldn't have bullied you about it... And I would not want such things to come between us."

Nessúlë nodded. She could accept that. "Thank you, Elrohir. For that I would have given you a smile freely."

For a brief moment they merely held each other's gaze, both smiling and comfortable in the silence of reconciliation. It was Nessúlë who first realized that they were both still holding the small flower between them, hands lightly touching. And from the look of things, she didn't think that Elrohir was going to release his hold any time soon.

She grinned saucily. "But, since I did buy this flower with a price, I believe that you can let go now. ...Do not fret, mellon nín, we will find you another one."

Elrohir snorted in a rather undignified manner but smiled nonetheless. Without letting go, he leaned in to whisper in her ear, "Cheek."

Nessúlë laughed. "I'm afraid it's too late to reform now. I know you too well to start being deferential and courteous."

Shaking his head, Elrohir released the flower and started heading for the ship, calling back over his shoulder, "You are a hard woman."

Nessúlë's laughter rang clear and merry, and seemed to cleanse the air for but a moment of the smell of death.

It would be many days before laughter was heard again.


*~*~*~*~*~*~*

As Oloriel looked out onto the bloodied Pelennor Fields she felt the steel of war-lust pierce her heart. The White City was beleaguered, though as yet untaken, and round about its rocky feet lay the abounding corpses of fallen men.

So many dead already. Had they come too late?

Oloriel felt a single tear slide down her cheek. Why such death? They had not started this war; they were innocent of this blood! Sauron the Destroyer was seeking to suck the free lands dry, to quench their light, and how many had already fallen to this reckless hate? A sudden fury welled up at her with the thought.

As the black standard of the King was unfurled off the prow of the ship, she heard a cry begin to well up among the Men in the field. They recognized the White Tree and the seven stars, glinting brilliantly in the sunshine. Aid had come unlooked for. With renewed hearts they pressed into the lines of the enemy, which had rippled and faltered at this new sight. For instead of bringing reinforcements to those of the Dark Host, thereby ensuring their victory, the Anduin had, with swift winds, brought to them a beacon of destruction.

Letting her voice mingle with the sounds of war, Oloriel unsheathed her long knives and jumped lightly from the boat, running into the fray. Only vaguely did she acknowledge the frantic cries of Elladan in her mind.

She did not fight with the ease of a seasoned warrior. But what she lacked in experience she made up for in sheer determination. She refused to be undone by the enemy.

Her tight braid swirled around her as she sliced into the enemy. Sound became dulled and her thoughts were locked away as she let her body take over the rhythm of the dance. She felt a blade slide shallowly across her thigh but she did not stop. She jumped over the body of a dying Man but she did not stop. She lost her footing and narrowly missed being skewered on a Southron's pike but she did not stop.

Her only pause came when, caught up in the frenzy of battle, she came very close to slitting Elladan's throat. Fortunately, he caught her hand quickly and deflected the thrust. She froze, with eyes widened in horror, breathing harshly.

//You should not sneak up on someone in the midst of battle,// she said, as they both continued to fight, this time with their backs to each other.

//And you should have honored our bargain. You said you would stay with me.//

Oloriel chose not to answer, as she was extremely occupied with a particularly grotesque Orc.

~~~

In the end, it turned out to be both comforting and practical to stay close to Elladan. Their connection gave them a unique edge over their adversaries. Instantaneous communication, in word, thought, or feeling, gave them the ability to work as a unified team - never getting in each other's way, always complimenting each other's movements. Together they cleared a wide path from the ships.

All around them the Dúnedain were also instilling the enemy with fear. The thrust of thirty such knights into the tangle of Orcish limbs was far-reaching and strong. But, though they were skilled and fell warriors, they were not invulnerable.

Many Men died that day and many hearts were left weary and sad, but out of them all, Oloriel remembered Halbarad the most.

Halbarad was the standard barer, but this did not leave him defenseless. With a power that Oloriel marveled he wielded his sword in one hand, to fend off his enemies, and upheld the standard in his other, letting the end of the pole rest upon the ground. When the line of the enemy receded, or a clear way was opened up for him, he dove farther into the throng, sword brandished and flag flying. He also kept an eye on his chieftain, Aragorn, and this focus was the goal of all his maneuvering. At all times, he tried to stay close to the future king, waiting in readiness should there be need of him.

And this was the cause of his down fall.

The current of battle had brought Oloriel and Elladan near to where Halbarad stood. After she became aware of him, the elleth acknowledged the man with a quick nod before returning to her grim work. She would have forgotten his presence thereafter had not an unusual shadow fallen across her face. She looked to the side and was just able to catch the black standard before it fell to the ground. Grasping it firmly in her hand, she looked around frantically for Halbarad, silently asking Elladan for cover.

She caught sight of the man just as he reached a particularly dense pack of Orcs. For a moment she could not discern why he had left his post, but then it became apparent.

Aragorn was surrounded.

The man was truly formidable, but it was as if the servants of the Dark Lord knew who he was and knew what he could become. They closed in upon him and pressed his strength to its most extreme limit.

Oloriel's throat constricted. This couldn't be happening! A whole host of people lay between her and Aragorn and there was nothing she could do.

She was yanked from her thoughts as a mace came swinging at her head. Ducking quickly, she dealt her opponent a thrust in the gut, still maintaining her hold on the banner, before turning her eyes back to where Aragorn had been standing. The mass of Orcish bodies had thinned, and Aragorn and Halbarad now seemed to have the situation under control. She sighed with relief and then flinched as Elladan stepped in front of her to take out another mace-swinging Orc. Sufficiently assured of Aragorn's safety, and alerted to the fact that she needed to regain her focus, she let her eyes flit across the field one more time as she jammed the standard into the ground and prepared to launch back into battle.

What she saw made her guts turn.

Oloriel watched helplessly as the foot-long dart of a Southron crossbow flew across the field straight toward Aragorn's heart... and was intercepted by Halbarad's back.

She let out an involuntary cry and turned her face away. There was no time to mourn as a jagged sword came swinging toward her head.

Oloriel was never quite sure how she managed to survive the following encounters. Her eyes were almost continually flooded with tears.

***

1-4. Paragraphs taken from The Return of the King: Book IV: Chapter II: The Passing of the Grey Company

5-6. Lines taken from same source as above. Originally spoken by Legolas

7. Lines taken from same source as above. Originally spoken by Elladan.

8-12. You guessed it... same source as above.



Things to Know:

Le ná sai mae-tolo = literally, "you are very(?) well-come." --- I know, I totally cheated on `welcome' = )

Ped-il Eldarin = "speak-you Elvish." --- I was lazy and didn't want to look up the Elvish word for Elvish. I think I've seen `Eldarin' used before... could be wrong.

ellon = "he-Elf" ... is that like a he-man?

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