Two Sides of a Coin - Chapter 11: Elen
author's note: This is a story in which an Ithilien ranger and a Southron (referred to as "Swerting" due to Shastan's preferance) must learn how to get along. The links to previous chapters are in the comments section below.
"So each one upwards in the air his shot he did expend, and may all other duels have that upshot in the end!" -Thomas Hood
"Shastan? Shastan it's time to get up."
The Swerting groaned, and his eyes blinked open then quickly shut again at the sharp glare of the morning.
"This is the first time I had to wake you up," Ladril speculated.
Shastan sat up and stretched a little. "I did not sleep last night."
"Well I've got breakfast prepared, but it is not much. We're low on supplies."
Shastan became more awake. "Even after the chicken and the buck we had?"
"I'm afraid so," Ladril said. "Now get up so we can eat before our journey."
Shastan and Ladril finished breakfast sooner than expected, and they found themselves packed with time to spare before needing to depart. The morning was warm and bright and Ladril noted a wide clearing not too far from where they sat. This gave him an interesting idea.
The ranger stood up with sword in hand. "Come on. Let's have a bout."
Shastan looked up. "A bout?"
"Yes. I'd like to see how I would fair against your spear."
"...You want me to fight you?"
Ladril frowned. "Well yes, but not in the way you put it. It will just be for sport."
Shastan looked at him solemnly. "I will not fight you, Laaderil."
"It's just for fun! What's the matter with you? You can even take the tip off your spear and I'll keep my sword sheathed so no one will get hurt. Fair enough?"
Shastan remained silent.
Ladril shrugged dismissively. "All right then. If you are afraid to lose I understand."
The Swerting sprang to his feet and marched to the clearing with spear in hand. Ladril smirked and quickly followed. There hung a stillness in the woods and fresh morning air as the two opponents faced eachother in the center of the field. Ladril tied the straps of his sheath tightly around the sword's hilt to keep the sheath from slipping, while Shastan unscrewed the tip off his spear.
"If I hit you with the end off my staff where the spearhead should be then you lose." Shastan stated.
"Likewise, if I hit you with any part of my sword," Ladril replied. With that said, the two men took their ready positions.
Ladril couldn't help but smirk at Shastan's feeble weapon. His staff was no match for the ranger's long sword. If Ladril delivered a swift stroke, he would easily win this bout. The muscles of the two opponents tensed and their weapons raised.
"On the count of three," Shastan ordered. "One...two..."
Ladril dove forward and swung his sword evenly for Shastan's neck, but Shastan tilted his staff and blocked his stroke. Then without warning Shastan spun about and swung his staff for Ladril's head. Ladril only had just enough time to angle his sword and meet Shastan's staff with a clang. He tried to quickly spring away but was soon confronted with nearly the full length of Shastan's ceremonial spear. Only a few jerks from the Swerting's hands sent his staff whipping back and forth at his opponent. With some quick strokes Ladril managed to block Shastan's repeated attacks until the two broke off for a moment in their combat.
Ladril nervously bit his lip. He had never seen a spear manipulated like that before. Shastan was turning out to be a formidable opponent.
"Had enough, Laaderil?" The Swerting asked smugly.
But Ladril smiled. During combat he had found Shastan's weak spot. "My dear fellow," He replied. "I am just getting warmed up."
In response Shastan jabbed at the ranger again. Once more Ladril fended off the pokes as swiftly as he could. Shastan's motions started becoming more circular and fluid as he continued his strokes. In an attempt to catch Ladril off balance Shastan whipped his staff in a full circle over his head with lightning motion. But Ladril was waiting for such and opportunity and dove towards Shastan the second his spear was out of the way. The Swerting found himself fighting with Ladril up close, making his ceremonial spear inaffective. All he could do was block as Ladril came closer to making a deathstroke. But after a few moments Ladril's over-confidence slowed him down enough for Shastan to dart back in a narrow escape. Once again he managed to put the length of his staff between them. Now Shastan attacked with such a vengence that Ladril began to panic. Before he could react, Shastan had knocked the sword out of his hand in one smooth movement leaving Ladril defenseless.
"Yield," Shastan commanded.
"Never," Ladril said defiantly.
Shastan smirked. "Then it is time to be creative."
With that Shastan striked and Ladril just barely dodged the blow. He then swung for his head, but Ladril ducked in time. Light on his feet, Ladril bobbed and weaved through Shastan's blows until the Swerting grew impatient. He then made such a definitive jab that Ladril was able to spin down the length of the spear and make an attempt to grab it from him. The two wrestled a moment over the weapon, but only until Ladril could feel Shastan tugging at the spear with all his might. The ranger suddenly jerked forward , causing Shastan to lose balance, then jerked back and dropped flat on the ground, pushing Shastan off with his foot. The Swerting sailed overhead and landed on his back with a resounding thud.
After a slight groan and some wheezing, followed by a few curses, he staggered back to his feet. Noticing he had landed next to Ladril's fallen sword he quickly grabbed it, but nearly toppled over again at the weapon's heavy weight. Ladril smiled in amusement as Shastan strained to lift the sword with both hands, but then the ranger noticed his own clumsy grip on the awkwardly long spear. The two opponents hesitated as they evaluated their peculiar situation. After a moment both men chose to attack regardless of which weapon they had. Shastan heavily swung at Ladril while he wobbled the staff in the Shastan's face. Accompanied by strains and grunts the sword continued to make clumsy strokes and the ceremonial spear zigzagged all over the place. After a few more vain attempts to maneuver the weapons, Shastan and Ladril finally gave up and tossed the weapons back to the original owners. Quite ready to end the duel, the two men hollered war cries and charged at each other with such force as not been seen in the entire bout. After quick and thunderous strokes Shastan finally knocked Ladril's feet from under him and the ranger fell flat on his back. When his eyes regained focus he found the end of Shastan's staff pointed at his throat.
"...I win!" Shastan grinned.
In response Ladril could only groan and wheeze for air.
"I know how that feels," Shastan stated, and remained standing over the ranger. "Yield yourself now, along with two mumaks and your steward's boots."
Ladril coughed again and grinned. "...Never. I know a thousand chickens that will gladly avenge my defeat."
Shastan laughed heartily. "Well that was fun! Come now, let's get you up."
No sooner had Shastan said the word "up" when a streak of white suddenly tackled him off his feet from behind.
Ladril blinked a few times in utter surprise, then sprang up and grabbed his sword. He found Shastan on his back with the point of a gleaming sword under his chin. The owner of the weapon stood directly above him.
"Move but an inch, Southron, and my blade shall be in your throat."
Ladril reeled back in shock: the voice belonged to a woman!
The maiden, clad in glowing white, stood sternly over her fallen foe with a firm grip on her blade. She turned to face Ladril with blue, confident eyes shining through strands of dark billowing hair that draped down to her slim waist.
"Have no fear, sir," The lady said with assurance. "This Southron cannot harm you now."
"...Who are you?" Was all Ladril could say.
"I am Dolantalaina, the half-elven maid of Sirion and only daughter of Aglon. Many years have I wandered the roads of Men, vowing never to rest until all evil in Middle Earth has been vanquished and peace is at last bestowed upon Man and Elf alike!"
There was a moment of silence while everything sank in, then Ladril suddenly doubled over and began laughing hysterically.
There was an awkward pause on the maiden's part. "...Is there something amusing, my lord?"
"...It is you that are most amusing, lady," Ladril said after he finally managed to compose himself. "You really must brush up on your Elvish; unless your name truly is 'Dolantalaina', though I can't imagine why a mother would name her child 'Long Head Holy Foot'. And if Aglon truly is your father then you are the daughter of a very narrow pass cutting through ancient Beleriand. And judging by the way you're holding that sword, I doubt you have ever handled a weapon in your life."
The lady somewhat fidgeted but did not lose face. "...You are very clever, sir. I commend you for finding me out. I am actually the niece of the Steward and I have fled the White City because of an arranged marriage to a man I do not love-"
"Lord Denethor has no relations save his sons," Ladril said flatly. "Let's try again, this time with your real name."
The lady fidgeted once more, as if searching anxiously for another option. But at length her posture slackened and she surrendered by sourly muttering "...Elen."
"Then good morrow to you, Lady Elen." Ladril's eyes shifted to Elen's garb and recognized its pale colors.
"You are not by chance a nurse from the Houses of Healing?"
"...I am," Elen muttered with even more disdain.
"Then what are you doing in the middle of the wilderness?"
Meanwhile Shastan, who could not move an inch this whole time, finally lost patience.
"Will you please get off of me?"
Elen, who realized she was still holding Shastan at sword point, switched back to her charade of gallantry. "Silence, heathen! I have not finished with you!"
"Now hold on," Ladril cut in. "There has been a mistake-"
"He would have killed you if I hadn't intervened. The only mistake would be to let him live!"
"You will not touch him! Shastan is my friend!"
Both Elen and Shastan looked up at him blankly.
"...I mean "friend", as in we are both on a mutual level of indifference," Ladril quickly explained. "...We are that, aren't we?"
"Well yes, I suppose we are," Shastan reasoned.
Elen looked at Ladril, then at Shastan in disbelief. "But- I don't understand. You're a Gondorrim, and he's a Southron-"
"Se-werting." Shastan said.
"He means Swerting."
"He prefers to be called Swerting," Ladril explained. "'Southron' sounds too barbaric."
Elen stared at the two men blankly. "...But...why would...?...he had a spear pointed at your throat!" She cried helplessly.
"The spearhead had been taken off. We were in the middle of a friendly bout," Ladril replied. "Now can you please get off him?"
Elen looked down and found herself locked in the icy glare of Shastan. "I'm going to count to zero..."
"All right! All right!" The Lady lightly sprang off the annoyed Swerting and sheathed her sword.
As Ladril helped Shastan up, Elen could not help but look at them in wonder. "I still do not understand how two men like you can be friends."
"And we do not understand why a nurse would be so far away from her city," Ladril answered. "So with all due respect lady, since your entrance was rather intrusive you should give your story first."
"...Very well," Elen agreed, though a bit disappointed she couldn't think of a more theatrical version for the tale. "The Healer sent me to accompany the wains departing Minas Tirith for the valley."
"Wains?" Ladril was startled that women and children were already evacuating from the city. "The times are dark indeed."
"I am afraid so," Elen said. "I was in the first company to leave Minas Tirith, but two days ago as we journeyed past the Crossings of Erui we were ambushed by orcs from the hills. They have taken over the wains now, and thus far I think I am the only one that has managed to slip away." Elen said this with a touch of pride.
"Now even wains are being attacked?" Ladril was mortified. "Right when I thought the enemy could stoop no lower!...No offense, Shastan."
Shastan simply shrugged.
"...But the Crossings of Erui are on the Western side of the Anduin," The ranger speculated. "How did you get on this side of the river?"
"I swam across," Elen stated.
"Oh yes," The lady was casual, as if it were no more than an easy chore. "I managed to steal a sword and slip away in the night. A few brutes tried to chase me, so I crossed the Anduin and that's that."
"...That's that." Ladril repeated, unconvinced. "You just crossed the Anduin and that's that."
"...Yes," The maiden's voice slightly wavered. Ladril raised a brow and glared as she tried to keep a confident posture, but after a drawn out and shaky silence Elen suddenly broke down.
"It was horrible!" She cried. "All these orcs were shooting at me and the water was freezing so I couldn't feel my legs and I kept sinking because of my stupid sword and I nearly drowned five times! And now I can't find the city to get help and the wains are doomed and I don't think I can even look at another river again!"
She began to sob uncontrollably into Ladril's shoulder. The young man went as stiff as a board and looked to Shastan for help, but Shastan raised his hands and stepped back, wanting no part in the fragile situation. Ladril was left to awkwardly pat Elen in an attempt to stop her weeping.
"Now, now...things aren't that bad...don't cry, we'll help somehow..." Suddenly an idea struck him. "We could help the wains!"
""We"?" Shastan asked.
"You are only two men," Elen said between her tears.
"But that could change. Do you know if the enemy and the wains are on the move?"
"...I think so. As far as I could tell they were still moving South. The brutes most likely want to distance themselves from the shadow of the city and go deeper into the valleys. There they will make spoils of our food and treasure and do to my people whatever they find more entertaining than death."
"Not if we can help it!" Ladril declared.
"..."We" again?" Shastan asked.
"-If a good diversion is created, the enemy will lose its strength in numbers."
"Even so, you two could not take on such a force!" Elen insisted.
"What if every man in your wains was armed?"
The lady hesitated. "...Then I suppose it would work. But the enemy confiscated our weapons the moment they overthrew the wains."
"But I've got an advantage." Ladril left the clearing leaving Elen and Shastan to follow him. He went back to the campsite and opened his pack, displaying a large bundle of various sized knives.
Elen practically beamed with hope at the promising stash of weaponry. Shastan however was very grave.
"Where did you get those?"
"I found them back in the cabin," Ladril explained dismissively. "What do you think? We could smuggle ourselves into the wains, quietly distribute the knives, create a diversion so the larger force of orcs is drawn away, and then we can overthrow the enemy from behind!"
"Marvelous!" Elen cried, thoroughly delighted.
But Shastan was not so moved. Instead he went over to Ladril and with a firm grip on his sleeve he leaned in close. "First of all, you do not get to use "we" unless you actually have my consent. Second of all-" He glanced at Elen. "Could you excuse us for a moment?"
"...Of course..." Elen hesitantly backed away from the campsite and returned to the clearing.
When they were alone, Ladril turned to Shastan in disbelief. "Why did you send her away like that? That was highly inappropriate."
"Why were you keeping those knives from me?" Shastan demanded, straight to the point.
Ladril's eyes could not meet the Swerting's piercing gaze. "...Do you want the truth?"
"Because I figured they would give me an upper hand in case you turned on me."
Shastan blinked. "...You didn't trust me?"
"Shastan I'm sorry..."
"-Because I certainly trusted you. And what advantage would I have had if you decided to turn on me?"
"None at all. I should have told you about them, Shastan. I'm sorry..."
Shastan paced a bit, then let out a long breath. "All right."
Ladril looked up. ""All right"? That's it?"
"Yes," Shastan turned away thoughtfully. "We all keep secrets, don't we?"
Ladril frowned at the possibility of Shastan still keeping secrets from him. "...I thought you and I were past that point."
"Not when you started hiding knives."
"All right, but what about the situation at hand? What should we do about Elen and her wains?"
"You can do what you wish."
"-And you? What will you do?"
Shastan looked up, resigned to his decision. "Nothing."
"...Nothing?" Ladril started. "But the Enemy is holding the wains hostage!"
"You speak of the Enemy as if it were naught but a machine made of bolts and wheels. We may be friends but I am still on the other side; to help this girl and fight against my allies would be considered treason."
"But they're orcs. You don't like orcs."
"Nonetheless, I cannot get involved."
"Shastan, I know you have bent many rules on my behalf, but I ask for this one favor. We'll need your help and if you sit on the sidelines many women and children are going to be killed."
Shastan spun about. "What women and children?"
"The ones Elen has been talking about."
The Swerting stared blankly.
"-Wagons of women and children sent away from a city before it is seiged! What did you think a wain was?"
"How would I know? I'm not exactly caught up in your culture's odd terminology."
"They're going to kill women and children, Shastan. Your people do not stand for that. You even said so."
There followed a thoughtful pause on Shastan's part. At length he sighed.
"If my commanding officers ever caught wind of me aiding the other side..."
"I will not breathe a word to anyone," Ladril vowed.
"All right then...I'll help."
"Thank you. You will not regret this." Ladril turned to the direction of the clearing. "We'll need to tell Lady Elen of our decision."
The two men left the campsite once more, but had gone no more than five steps when they spotted Elen crouched behind a tree. To hide the fact she had been eavesdropping she quickly sat on the forest floor and stared idly in the other direction, tweedling her hair.
"...We're not taking her with us, are we?" Shastan frowned.
"Of course. We can't just leave her out here."
Shastan lifted a brow and shrugged as if to say 'Why not?'
Ladril looked at him incredulously. "Have you got something against women?"
"Not all women, just those that try to run about brandishing swords," Shastan's frown turned into a nauseated grimace. "Do we really have to take her?"
Ladril shook his head disappointedly. "I'm surprised at you! Sword or no sword she is still a lady. It's a wonder you spent all those years in Gondor without picking up a little chivalry."
"My folk are chivalrous enough to the women who remain at home rather than tromp the wild," Shastan's glance shifted to Elen, who was innocently standing up as if she had just seen them coming. "-Mark my words, if we take her with us she'll be nothing but trouble."
"I am not leaving a lady in the woods," Ladril insisted. "Better we have trouble than tarnished honor." And that was his last word on the matter. Ladril stepped forward to greet Elen. "...We have firmly decided to help reclaim your wains, lady."
"Thank you," Elen said gratefully. "It is so kind of you two to do this, though I have yet to know your names."
"Oh!" Ladril nearly hit himself for neglecting his manners. "This is Shastan of Western Kisha'rut," He gestured to the Swerting, who made a grudgingly curteous nod. "-And I am Ladril, son of Morlin."
At this Elen's eyes widened. "...You are Ladril?"
"...Yes," Ladril started. "What? Have you heard of me?"
"Er..." Elen quickly waved a hand dismissing the subject. "Nevermind. What will be our plan of action for the wains?"
As Ladril dove into a detailed plan with the lady Elen, Shastan was left to dig his heels in and helplessly wonder how this new unbalanced chemistry would dramatically affect their quest at hand.