Novarwen’s feet flew as she ran as fast as she could back to her room. Her bow and quiver were propped neatly against the wall – she grabbed them and threw the full quiver on her back as she dashed back out the door. She began to pant as she ran, both from her speed and the rush of fear that filled her with no warning. Those men who rode out to Osgiliath knew they were going to die. I will likely die too, before this battle is over. The thought sent a chill through her whole body. Elves were not made to die, to gasp and choke for air as blackness filled their vision. But they did die, at Helm’s Deep, and in the Second Age at Dagorlad, she reminded herself. I am no less vulnerable than they were.
She pushed the thought from her mind. Thinking about her probable death would not help her aim or her spirits. A Gondorian soldier rushed past her – she caught his arm and asked, “Where did Gandalf – Mithrandir – where did he go?”
“Up there,” the soldier said, gestugay hastily toward a higher level before pulling free and running on.
She was no help to Gandalf now – he had his own task, and she had hers. Novarwen made her way to the outer wall closest to her and slipped through the defenders to stand in front, staring down at the massive army. For an icy instant her courage failed her utterly – the field of the Pelennor was black with Orcs. But we knew this was a losing fight all along, she reminded herself. We knew there was hardly any chance we would survive.
It did not help, for once, to learn that she had been right.
She heard Gandalf shout, “Send these foul beasts into the abyss!” The creak of ropes and cables followed his words, and Novarwen noted with some dark amusement that the missiles of Minas Tirith’s catapults were pieces of the city that had been hit by the Orcs’ own catapults before. With savage joy she watched the pieces squash parts of the army like ants, and she breathed sighs of relief every time – that many less Orcs to have to kill. Her fingers itched to fight, to shoot her arrows and to kill, but the other bowmen were holding their fire, and she had no wish to disturb their strategy. Novarwen stared down at the plain, a tight aching in her chest, wishing that the Orcs below were within feasible range of her arrows. There was a bestial urge to kill in her, something dark and hungry that lay just below her still outer image. It frightened her that she harbored something like that, but it frightened her still more to think of those monsters raging through the city, to think of the people she loved bleeding, screaming, and dying beneath their blades.
Suddenly a boulder spiraled into her field of vision, a dark round stone coming ever closer to the parapet she stood on. “Duck!” Novarwen shouted, and fairly threw herself at a soldier to her left, shoving them both away from the boulder as it smashed into the stone wall. She could feel the wind rush by her, and the floor shook under her as a part of the parapet crumbled to pieces.
Novarwen stood up, shaking. It had been so close to her! Her bones rumbled with the force of the collision. She grabbed the hand of the Gondorian she had knocked over and pulled him to his feet, muttering a hasty apology. Her eyes were already back to raking the plain, searching for more incoming boulders.
“My lady,” the Gondorian to her left said, his voice raised to be heard over the sounds of catapults, “the Orcs are close enough to shoot!”
She looked out onto the plain. It was true – she could easily hit targets below her by now. “Then shoot!” she answered, grabbing an arrow from her quiver and fitting it to her bow. Novarwen drew the string back to her ear in a fluid motion, aimed into the midst of a crowd of Orcs below her, and released her arrow, her heart leaping with it as it sang away from the walls. Her keen eyes watched its progress as it arced through the air and penetrated the helmet slit of an Orc. She hissed in relief that she had hit a mark, and also in pride. It was usually Legolas who could make such precise shots. Around her, the Gondorians were firing their arrows. Novarwen nocked another arrow and shot, another one, yet another one… It was better this way, falling into the rhythms of battle. Focusing on only her aim and her shots made Novarwen forget the utter folly and desperation of this battle that they were sure to lose.
At last Novarwen lifted her eyes from the section of the Pelennor that she was shooting into – and her heart almost stopped beating. Out of nowhere, it seemed, huge siege towers roughly built of wood and metal were looming near the walls, pushed by trolls even larger than the one in Moria. All the cool automatic actions of battle numbness fled her, and she stared for an instant in pale, sweating terror at the towers. Why didn’t I see them? she thought wildly. Why didn’t I even look up?
“Not the towers!” shouted Gandalf’s voice from somewhere far away. “Aim for the trolls! Kill the trolls!”
Novarwen looked up, her heart still thudding painfully, every beat counting down the seconds until she died. She felt like screaming, both from fear of the trolls and towers and from rage at the idiotic Gondorian archers, who were concentrating all their arrows on the siege towers that were made of dead wood and could not feel. “Aim for the trolls!” Novarwen yelled, echoing Gandalf’s words. “Aim for the trolls, you fools!” She followed her own advice, mechanically nocking and firing her own arrows into the immense trolls. But it was hopeless now that they were so close to the walls – she remembered with dread the cave troll in Moria, and how long it had taken nine of them to kill just the one, when they had much more room to move than these soldiers. Tears of fear blurred her vision for a moment – she dashed them angrily from her eyes and fired another futile shot into the troll nearest her.
The loose section of the siege tower’s wall was released, and it crashed with a shatter of stone into the wall of the city.
Novarwen sprang back, grabbing for her nearly depleted quiver. The wall shook with the impact of the tower, and she fell backward onto her side. Novarwen rolled, the bow over her arm jabbing painfully into her side, and came up on her feet as the first Orcs began pouring out of the tower. Instantly she discarded her bow and quiver, tossing them into a place she didn’t look at – they would be no use at such close quarters – and tore her daggers from their sheaths, falling into a crouch. “Come on,” she muttered, glaring balefully at the Orcs raging onto the wall. “Give me one more reason to slit you open and throw you to the crows.”
An Orc spotted her, waiting with ever muscle tensed, and made for her, bellowing a triumphant shriek. Novarwen silenced him forever, lunging up and burying a dagger in his throat, tearing along it to make certain he was dead. He gurgled in disbelief, staring at the blood gushing up from his neck, and she ripped her dagger free as he crumpled to the ground. Anyone else? she cried silently. Is there anyone else who thinks they can kill me?
Quite a few Orcs rushed at her, waving their heavy swords and screeching incoherent words in Black Speech. Smoothly Novarwen ducked and thrust the stained dagger into the belly of one of her attackers, wrenching it free as he fell and beheading another Orc with a vicious backhanded slash. That left one more. She blocked his downward swing, catching it on one dagger, and drove the other one into his neck.
Emerging from that skirmish stained with black blood, she caught a glimpse of a small person, silver winged helmet shining in the sunlight, as he ran into the fighting. “Pippin!” she shrieked, fear for the hobbit seizing her, but he didn’t hear her – he ran ahead without a backward glance. “Pippin, get out of here!” she yelled – no one should have to see this bloodshed and death – but he was gone, vanished into the mass of seething fighters and dying bodies.
A snarl on the right alerted her to her danger, and Novarwen whirled to face her newest attacker. This is hopeless, she thought dully as she parried the Orc’s thrust. We cannot win this fight.
We cannot win this war.
Novarwen was unspeakably grateful for the reflexes of battle that overtook her body, the automatic swings, parries, and thrusts that she performed without thinking. It kept her mind concentrated on the peril she personally was in, rather than the overwhelming, impossible odds, or the danger that Gandalf and Pippin faced.
Only once did she have a coherent thought. She had just dispatched yet another Orc, and was taking a moment to breathe. Where are the Rohirrim? she thought, wiping sweat from her forehead as she braced herself against a wall. They have to come, or Minas Tirith will fall! Then an Orc rushed at her, and all possibility of thought vanished once again.
As she did not notice the passing of time, the sudden intrusion of night came as a shock to her. Suddenly and out of nowhere it was dark. Thankfully by then most of the Orcs that had made it inside the city were dead. “Where to?” Novarwen asked a Gondorian as he wiped his blade on a rag covering an Orc’s body.
“The gate,” he answered shortly. “Mithrandir ordered it.” Sheathing his sword, he headed off at a fast walk, half-bowed over to regain his breath – or was it from an injury? Novarwen saw then the dark red stain slowly spreading from his side.
“Here, let me help you!” she called, wiping off her daggers as well and hurrying to his side. Over his protests (“I’m fine! Stop that, let go of me, I’m fine!”), Novarwen took his arm and put it over her shoulders. “Put your weight on me,” she instructed. “You’re no good as a fighter if you can’t walk.” This is another one who will not kiss his wife and children again, she thought, and the cold reality of death smote her once again. This man, who is so alive now that I can almost touch his very soul, will not survive the night. His wound is deep and his pride large – he will not let himself leave the fighting, and he will die for it.
“What is your name?” she asked abruptly as they made their way, as fast as Novarwen judged safe for him, down to the first level.
“Menegond,” he gritted, bracing himself against her despite his words of protest. “Menegond son of Beneldir. One of – the captains of the army – stationed here.”
Novarwen memorized the name. Menegond son of Beneldir, who fell during the battle of the Pelennor…
“You are the Elf woman, are you not?” Menegond gasped. He lifted his head and looked for the first time straight at her. “Aye – you have Elven features.”
Novarwen nodded, not trusting herself to speak. “Yes. I am Novarwen, daughter of Thranduil,” she answered, her voice not much above a whisper – she did not trust herself to speak any louder without crying in rage and despair.
“Novarwen, daughter of Thranduil, you have done me a service this day,” Menegond whispered. “I would ask you – to do me – another one…”
“What?” she asked. Even in a whisper, her voice shook.
“My wife – Rieth – she will not want to hear from – a soldier – when I -” Menegond trailed off, a bitter grimace that might have been intended to be a smile crossing his face briefly. “I think it would be better – coming from a woman. Would you tell her – Novarwen, daughter of Thranduil – tell her when I -“
He could not say it. Of course he could not. No one wants to admit they are going to die, she thought. “Yes,” she whispered. Despite her efforts, the tears were coming. She choked them back so that Menegond would not see them. “I will tell her.”
“Will you tell her – I love her – and that I’m sorry -?”
“Yes.” She had to breathe through her mouth so that he couldn’t tell she was crying by her sniffs.
A look that seemed like peace passed over Menegond’s face. “Again I thank you, Novarwen, daughter of Thranduil.”
Novarwen could not speak for the rest of the way down to the first level.
When they finally came down to the first level, Menegond’s breath was harsh and ragged. Novarwen cast a lightning-quick glance at the soldiers taking up positions to defend the doors, gauging the time they had. The Orcs did not seem to be using a battering ram yet, so she led Menegond firmly over to one side. “Sit,” she ordered, pointing at a section of the city that had fallen down from a higher level and now made a suitable stool. Menegond opened his mouth to argue, but Novarwen forestalled him. “You cannot fight anything in your condition,” she said briskly, gently pushing him down onto the fallen stones. “Now, take off that mail, and let me see what I can do about your side.”
Menegond needed her help to lift the heavy chain mail off of him. Novarwen set it carefully aside and inspected his wound as best she could through his tunic. She did not want to deprive him of that as well – it would take forever to get the chain mail back on as it was.
The wound was bad, as she had feared, a short but deep gash cut straight at his midsection. Menegond could not survive the night on such a wound. She bit her lip to keep her face from showing the extent of his injury and cast about for some clean cloth to wrap his side in. But there was nothing she could use. His own tunic was bloodstained, and might even aggravate the wound if she bound it with strips from the tunic, and she recoiled from using the tunics of the dead Gondorians around them – not that they were much cleaner than Menegond’s tunic.
The only clean cloth she had near her was, in fact, her own underclothes.
“Excuse me,” Novarwen muttered, retreating behind a column of stone. She shrugged out of her tunic sleeves and tugged it down to her waist. Her under tunic lifted off easily enough, and Novarwen quickly pulled the outer tunic back on, fastening it at the back. Feeling decidedly less protected, she returned to where Menegond sat, her thin under tunic in her hand. “Don’t ask, and I won’t have to tell,” she cautioned as Menegond’s eyebrows lifted a quarter inch above his eyes.
She sliced it into long strips and tied them tightly around his waist. Novarwen wished she had a needle with her to sew up the wound – then he might have a chance of recovering – but she did not, and this was the best she could do for Menegond. “There,” she said softly once the last strip was firmly tied on. “Let’s get you back into that chain mail.”
Just as she hefted the heavy coat of mail in preparation to helping Menegond put it back on, a sound like thunder boomed into her ears. Novarwen twisted around, panicky – surely the Orcs couldn’t have breached the city! – but the door held solid. Menegond, however, was even whiter than he had been already, “Battering ram,” he hissed. “They’ve got it.” He got shakily to his feet. “Help me with the mail,” he gritted, reaching out for it.
Novarwen held it out. Menegond slipped arms and head through their respective holes, and Novarwen tugged the coat down and buckled on his belt for him. “This is it,” he whispered as she helped him get into place by the doors of the city. “This is the beginning of the end.”