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Old December 31st, 2007, 07:06 PM
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Telcontar Rulz Telcontar Rulz is offline
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Disclaimer: I don’t own anything that you recognize. I’m just borrowing them without permission but with every intention of putting them back where they belong after I’m through with them.

Chapter 14: A glimpse beyond the present

The elves had erected a pavilion for the Fellowship on the ground, knowing that they could not sleep in trees. A meal had been laid out for them. They ate in silence while around them, elves sang. “A lament for Gandalf,” explained Legolas.

“What do they say about him?” asked Merry.

“I have not the heart to tell you,” replied the elf. “For me the grief is still too near and it is a matter for tears, not songs.”

The elven song was melodious and although it was melancholic, no one could deny that it was beautiful.

“I bet they don’t sing about his fireworks,” said Sam, laying out the bedding. “There should be a verse about them.” With that, the little gardener started to recite:

The finest rockets ever seen
They burst in stars of blue and green
Or after thunder silver showers
Come falling like a rain of flowers


“No, no,” muttered Sam, sitting down after his recital “that doesn’t do them justice by a long road.”

Legolas sat alone, leaning against a tree and staring at the stars which shone like diamonds woven to a piece of black silk. Balian approached him quietly, not wanting to disturb the trance that the elf seemed to be in. He watched the stars with Legolas for a while before opening his mouth to speak.

“Legolas,” he said carefully. The elf turned to him, wearing an emotionless mask. “I apologize for what happened in the mines. It was wrong of me to interfere with something that I did not understand. Forgive me.”

For a while, Legolas did not react. He just stared at the man with his burning gaze, making Balian very uncomfortable. He wished the elf would lash out at him, shout at him, do anything but stare at him with eyes that had as much emotion as the jewels that they resembled. Finally, Legolas looked away.

“You know what, Balian? You are the most humble, compassionate and generous person I have ever known,” he said. “Here I am, wanting to protect my pride and you come and apologize for something which was entirely my fault. I don’t know what I did to deserve a friend like you.”

“You flatter me,” said Balian softly, inclining his head.

Legolas put a hand on Balian’s shoulder. “It is I who should be asking for forgiveness,” he told the man.

“I never faulted you,” said Balian with a small smile of relief.

“So, err, I guess you do not hate each other anymore,” said Gimli, who happened to overhear the conversation. He turned to the blacksmith. “And Laddie, do you really intend to sleep covered in orc blood and other filthy matter which I will not name?”

Balian grinned bashfully, looking down at himself.

“Come,” said Legolas, getting to his feet. “You have even more talent for attracting dirt than Aragorn. There is a decent pool nearby. I’ll show you.”

***

Balian returned to the others devoid of dirt and wearing garments of elvish design. His other clothes had been washed and were now drying on some branches.

“Make way for the Baron of Ibelin!” declared Pippin happily through a mouthful of supper that the elves had prepared for them. “My, don’t you look splendid!”

Balian fidgeted uncomfortably. “I don’t know,” he said. “These garments seem to fine for one such as me.”

“Didn’t you wear any finery as a baron?” asked Boromir.

“Only when I had no choice,” replied the younger man.

“Hear, hear!” shouted Aragorn, raising his cup. “Come now, enough talk about the fashions of elves and noblemen. Have some food before the hobbits eat it all!”

***

Balian’s eyes flew open. What had woken him? No one else was awake. Gimli lay snoring to his right and Aragorn slept with one knee bent and his mud-encrusted boots still on his feet. ‘Who sleeps with their boots on?’ thought Balian wryly. A soft rustle caught his attention. He lay very still with his eyes half-closed; trying to fool whatever it was that had made the noise.

A pair of furry feet passed by. Slowly, Balian lifted his head. Frodo? What was he doing up? Silently, he got out from under the blankets. His bare feet made no noise on the dew covered grass. He looked behind him. No one had been disturbed. They were all too tired. He waited until Frodo was out of earshot before following the hobbit. The cold wet grass was soft beneath his feet. He kept a constant distance between himself and the hobbit to avoid being seen. Frodo was following a white figure; the Lady.

Balian stopped and hid behind the trunk of a large tree when Frodo and the lady entered a clearing. Water flowed into a depression in the rocks from a spring. A silver basin sat on a stand of stone in the middle. The Lady picked up a silver pitcher and dipped it into the water in the rock depression. After having filled the pitcher, she turned to face the hobbit and spoke to him in low tones. Frodo replied warily. They were too far and their voices were too soft for Balian to make out what was being said.

The lady smiled as she approached the basin and poured the water from the pitcher into it. As she poured the water, she spoke, her voice growing louder, then soft again. Balian watched this with curiosity. There was something about the Lady that intrigued him. She was powerful and dangerous.

The Lady stepped back as Frodo went up to the basin and peered in. At first, nothing happened but then, Frodo’s expression began to change. Balian watched on with concern as the little hobbit’s face took on a horrified expression. He was ready to spring to Frodo’s aid should the Ringbearer need him, although he doubted that he would be of much use against someone as powerful as the Lady or the supernatural things that dwelt in Middle Earth.

The Ring slipped out from inside Frodo’s shirt and it dangled on the hobbit’s neck precariously by its chain. It seemed to be pulling the Ringbearer into the basin. Frodo was fighting it but it was too strong. The water began to steam and boil. Frodo’s face was lit up by an unnatural orange glow that reminded Balian of the balrog. Frodo looked as if he was seeing something terrible beyond words.

Just when Balian was about to leap out and pull the hobbit away, Frodo grabbed the Ring and fell back immediately. The water stopped boiling and steaming. The Lady gazed at Frodo through narrowed eyes. “I know what it is that you saw,” she said “for it is also in my mind.” She looked into Frodo’s eyes deeply and held his gaze for a long time. Then Frodo opened his hand. The Ring lay on his palm, glinting in an alluring manner. It called to Balian, asking him to take it. Balian ignored its call the best he could. That ring was evil.

Frodo slowly extended his hand and offered the Ring to the Lady. Her eyes took on a dangerous gleam as she looked at the Ring and reached out with a shaking hand. “You offer it to me freely?” she asked in disbelief. “I cannot deny that my heart has greatly desired this.” Even as Balian watched, she transformed. All the lights dimmed until she was the only thing that shone. No longer was she the gentle lady who had welcomed them into her domain. She had turned into something much more powerful and sinister, and Balian feared for Frodo’s safety.

“Instead of a dark lord you shall have a queen!” she cried, lifting her arms. A great wind whipped her robes about her and they were not white anymore but of many colours. Her voice had become deep and it seemed as if there were two voices. “I shall not be dark but beautiful and terrible as the dawn! Treacherous as the Sea! Stronger than the foundations of the Earth! All shall love me and despair!”

Even as she spoke the last word, the wind dyed down and light returned to the woods. The Lady was her normal self again, a slender elf woman clad in white. “I pass the test,” she said. “I will diminish and go into the west, and remain Galadriel.”

“I cannot do this alone,” said Frodo in a pleading tone. He wore a troubled expression.

“You are a Ringbearer, Frodo Baggins,” said the Lady. “To bear a ring of power is to be alone.”

She lifted her head and gazed in Balian’s direction. “Come out,” she called. “I know you are there. You have been watching us.”

Balian emerged nervously from his hiding place. His muscles were tense, ready to fight or flee. Warily, he approached the Lady.

“Will you look into the Mirror?” she asked.

“What will I see?” demanded Balian.

“Even the wisest cannot tell,” she replied with a smile “for the Mirror shows many things. Things that are, things that were, and some things that have not yet come to pass.”

Cautiously, Balian approached the Mirror and peered in. At first he could only see his own reflection then images appeared in the water…

…Jocelyn was hanging by her neck from the rafters… Her lips were blue and her eyes were glassy… Balian was screaming for help… He cut her down, but she was already gone... He went mad as they dragged him away from his wife’s cold body… His brother screamed in agony as he drove the piece of red hot metal into flesh and pushed him into the flames of his forge… The priest clawed at him in his death throes… Balian reached into the flames and pulled his wife’s cross from his brother’s neck… Sibylla looked into his eyes, imploring him to stay, but she did not speak…she looked like a queen again… she was not in Jerusalem…Her kingdom was falling…she fell ill, her face was pallid… her eyes slowly closed…A golden city stood beside the coast of an azure sea. There were hundreds of galleys in the water. A noble man stood before the city, his sword of bronze was drawn…A black ship was sighted on the horizon…there was blood, they were fighting a war…A wooden horse… and then the city was no more, in its stead, burnt ruins…

Balian jerked away from the Mirror. “What does it mean?” he demanded. “What does it all mean?”

“I do not know,” said the Lady. “You’re purpose here is a mystery known only to the Valar and the One. I think you have seen a glimpse of what they want you to do.”

Balian went away troubled. His thoughts dwelt on his visions. The visions of Jocelyn and of his brother Guillaume were visions of the past. What about his visions of Sibylla? Was she dying? And the golden city? How was it relevant?

***

After staying a month in Lothlorien, Aragorn decided that it was time to leave. The elves had provided them with boats, clothing and other provisions for which the Fellowship was grateful for. Balian shared a boat with Pippin, who had eaten too much of the elvish waybread on the first day.

Before they left, they had all been given gifts by the Lady herself. Balian’s gift had been a fine mail shirt which he now wore beneath his tunic. “You are a warrior, a man born to shape the world,” she had told him. “Do not hide from your destiny, for I know that you will be of great importance before the end.”

Pippin was examining his gift, a dagger of the Noldor elves. “I wish we could’ve stayed longer,” said the little hobbit with a sigh. “The elves are wondrous folk, and I’ve never tasted such fine cooking.”

“Maybe you can persuade Legolas to make dinner then,” said Balian. Being with the cheerful hobbit lightened his spirits immensely.

“Maybe,” said Pippin doubtfully “but he’s a warrior. His cooking might taste like Aragorn’s, and that would be a disaster, not to mention a tremendous wasted of food. Do you cook, Balian?”

“My culinary skills do not extend beyond the occasional half-cooked rabbit, Master Pippin,” said Balian. “As for my knowledge of herbs and seasonings, it is sorely lacking, as my wife always said.”

Pippin shuddered. “’Tis fortunate that we have Sam with us then,” he said.

The Fellowship made camp when the sun began to set. Balian was busy building up a fire and gutting the rabbits that Legolas had shot while Aragorn and Boromir went off to find more firewood. Gimli chewed on a piece of dried meat, looking wistfully in the direction of Lothlorien while Legolas scanned their surroundings for any sign of a threat. Sam came back from the river with a pot of water. He put the pot on to boil and started to cut up the meat and put it into the pot for a stew.

Just as Balian was going off to bury the offal, he heard Aragorn call out.

“Balian, come help us! We’ve found a man in the forest!” The ranger shouted. The blacksmith quickly abandoned the offal and went towards the other men. Aragorn and Boromir supported the stranger on either side. As they drew nearer, Balian’s eyes widened in recognition…


***


A/N: This chapter’s slightly short. And who did Aragorn and Boromir find? It’s a sort of evil cliffie, I know.

Balian is rather dignified, isn't he I'm glad you liked it, Kiwi. Our blacksmith and Boromir are going to have a lot more interaction in the future.
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Last edited by Telcontar Rulz; December 31st, 2007 at 07:10 PM.
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  #27  
Old December 31st, 2007, 09:52 PM
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KiwiGirl KiwiGirl is offline
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Very evil!!! I hope that you are planning on posting more very soon...

I enjoyed the interaction between them with the cooking, that was great and made me smile. I like how you have the moments of humour scattered in amongst the bigger stuff, breaks it up so that when the next important thing happens you instantly have my attention.

Balian's vision was very well done, so much in so few words.

Get writing girl or I will have to come looking for you!!
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  #28  
Old January 1st, 2008, 06:49 PM
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Telcontar Rulz Telcontar Rulz is offline
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Disclaimer: I don’t own anything that you recognize. I’m just borrowing them without permission but with every intention of putting them back where they belong after I’m through with them.

Chapter 15: Unexpected Guest

Balian glared venomously at the newcomer. “Guy de Lusignan,” he said in a low voice, almost spitting the words out as if they tasted foul.

“Well, well,” sneered Guy “The Perfect Knight.” His tone was haughty even though his voice was hoarse from exhaustion.

Boromir saw Balian stiffen and he thought the blacksmith might lose control of his temper any moment. ‘Even he has someone who can bring out his darker side,’ thought the future steward of Gondor. ‘Who would’ve known?’ It seemed as if in a matter of moments, Balian had become another man. When he was looking at Guy, there was very little left in him of the gentle blacksmith that they knew.

“Wait, wait,” said a bewildered Aragorn “you mean this is the infamous Guy de Lusignan?”

“There is only one Guy de Lusignan,” growled Balian darkly “and one too many.”

“Show some respect for your betters, blacksmith,” said Guy arrogantly. Balian paled with anger. He balled his fists, getting ready to hit the man who had insulted him. To his credit, he did not lash out. Instead, he turned on his heel and strode away, his back as straight and stiff as the shaft of a spear.

Aragorn turned to Boromir. “Take him back to camp,” he said and with that, he ran after Balian.

Boromir watched the ranger go, and could not help but feel admiration for Balian. ‘That man has infinite patience,’ he thought. ‘I would have hit Guy if I was in his place.’ He yanked at Guy’s arm roughly. “Come on,” he said curtly “Move.”

***

Aragorn caught up with Balian a few moments later. The younger man was leaning against a tree with his face turned skyward. His eyes were closed and he was taking deep breaths. Aragorn approached him cautiously. “Balian?” he said softly. “Are you alright?”

“I’m fine, Aragorn,” said Balian, opening his eyes “just slightly…annoyed.”

“Listen,” began Aragorn “I know there is bad blood between you and Guy but we can’t just leave him out here to die.”

“You mean you’re going to take him with us?” demanded Balian.

“There is no other way. If he is captured, he will be able to give our enemies a clue as to where we are going. I’ll try to keep him as far away from you as possible. It’s all I can do.”

“I’m not worried for myself. That man has no honour; I fear for Frodo and the quest.”

“We’ll keep an eye on Guy and an eye on Frodo. We won’t let Guy near him. Come, let’s go back to camp. I want to see how your hand is healing.”

***

When the ranger and the blacksmith arrived at the camp, everyone looked surprised to see Balian’s dark expression. He did not say anything as Aragorn inspected the newly inflicted burn on his hand. While in Lothlorien, Aragorn had used another burn to cover the orc brand on the back of Balian’s hand. The blacksmith’s face was blank and devoid of emotion as Aragorn examined the red and angry looking wound. He did not speak when the ranger declared that it was healing well. He made no sound throughout dinner and his mood seemed to affect everyone. The meal was a cheerless and sombre affair.

As soon as the meal was over, Legolas pulled Balian aside. “It’s Guy isn’t it?” the elf asked. “He’s making you feel insecure and uncomfortable. I know he’s tried to kill you twice and given the chance, he’d gladly try it again but you can’t let him ruin everything. Everyone’s very fond of you and Frodo trusts you. Your moods affect us all. Frodo needs you to be strong for him.”

“I’m not worried for my own safety,” said Balian. “I’m worried about Frodo and the Ring. Men like Guy are especially susceptible to temptation. He won’t hesitate to take the Ring for his own.”

“Then we must not give him a chance to do that,” said Legolas. “Guard Frodo well; he trusts you. Don’t let him down.”

Balian nodded. “I won’t,” he said.

“Good,” said Legolas. “Now take that grim expression off your face. It’ll curdle milk and turn wine into vinegar.”

***

Planning the seating arrangements in the morning proved to be difficult. Balian’s boat was the only one with extra space but he adamantly refused to share his boat with Guy. None of the hobbits wanted to share with the newcomer either. Surprisingly, it was Boromir who solved the problem. He had taken pity on Balian and offered to take Guy if Balian would take Merry and Pippin.

Despite his offer, Boromir still felt tremendous dislike for Guy and although he did not hate Balian anymore, he didn’t exactly like him either. The journey was tense. Guy talked about nothing but how Balian had stolen his wife. Boromir was not surprised. If he was Sibylla, he would have fallen for Balian too. At least the blacksmith did not sneer and he was not arrogant.

Aragorn kept glancing back at Balian. He seemed to have taken the turn of events rather well, despite his initial reactions. His voice was calm and controlled whenever he spoke, which was not often. Although Guy continued to insult him whenever he got the chance, Balian remained coldly courteous. This impressed Aragorn to no end. He knew how Balian felt, travelling with Guy. It was like him being forced to travel with Bill Ferny or making Legolas travel with either an orc or Gollum. Neither of them would have been able to hold their tempers in check.

True to his word, Aragorn tried his best to keep Guy away from Balian. He and Legolas often took Balian with them to scout ahead when they were on land. Catastrophe did almost occur once, when Aragorn asked Guy to collect firewood.

“That’s a servant’s work,” said Guy, looking at Aragorn as if he thought the ranger was out of his mind to suggest such a thing. “Make the midgets do it, or the dwarf, or the elf.” As soon as he finished the last syllable, a black blur came out of nowhere and slammed Guy into a tree. It was a seething Balian.

“Listen, Lusignan,” he snarled. “We’re all equals. If Aragorn asks you to do something, you do it. There’s no master and servant here. And when you address my friends, you will do so with respect.”

Everyone gaped at him. They had never seen Balian so aggressive towards something that was not an orc.

“Go Balian,” said Pippin so softly that only Merry —who was right beside him— and Legolas could hear him.

“Aye, go Balian,” Merry echoed while Legolas just grinned at the two youngest hobbits and said nothing.

Guy finally managed to push Balian away. He stormed off to do what Aragorn had asked, still muttering threats and insults under his breath.

After Guy had gone, Gimli let out a whistle of appreciation. “Well done, lad,” chuckled the dwarf. “I didn’t know you had it in you!”

“Obviously you didn’t watch him kill orcs in Moria,” said Aragorn dryly. “He fought like one possessed.”

“Still, they were orcs,” Merry pointed out. “Guy is a man.”

“He’s almost an orc,” said Legolas. “How could you let him live, Balian?”

For the first time in a while, Balian smiled.

***

They reached the Argonath after five days’ journey downriver. Even Guy was rendered speechless by the magnificence of the Argonath. The statues of Elendil and Isildur were as tall as a large hill and carved out of the cliffs. Boromir glanced back at Guy. The man was wearing an awestruck expression tinted with envy. From what Balian had told him, Boromir guessed that Guy probably regretted not building statues like these of himself while he was king.

“Long have I desired to look upon the kings of old,” said Aragorn in wonder “my kin.”

‘Aragorn is royalty?’ thought Balian in disbelief. The ranger never acted like someone of royal blood. He was a good leader but a descendant of kings? ‘It seems that most members of the Fellowship come from important families. I’ll be learning that Pippin is the heir of a hobbit lord next.’

“You look surprised,” said Legolas with amusement as he rowed past Balian’s boat. Balian could only nod. “I was surprised too,” continued the elf “when I learnt about his heritage sixty years ago. The time will soon come for him to become who he was born to be.”

“You mean Aragorn is going to become King?” asked Balian in a whisper, but Legolas did not answer.

***

They reached the Falls of Rauros that afternoon, where Aragorn ordered them to make camp and wait for nightfall so that they could cross the river to the eastern shore and continue on foot towards Mordor. Guy was not told of their destination, although he had asked many times. It was only through an unfortunate accident that he learnt about the Ring. Once, when Frodo had been bending over his bedding, the Ring had slipped out into full view. It had dangled tantalizingly in front of Guy, who had immediately been tempted. If Balian had not tackled him and wrestled him to the ground, he would have snatched the Ring from the hobbit’s pale thin neck.

Aragorn was forced to give the barest of explanations about the Ring to Guy. The former King of Jerusalem remained undaunted. He cared not if Middle Earth fell to Sauron. The Ring could possibly help him to regain his kingdom that Balian had surrendered. If he needed to ally himself with Sauron, so be it. He could live with that. He voiced his intentions to no one, knowing that they would kill him if they knew of his treacherous thoughts.

Guy was, at the moment, the least of Aragorn’s worries. There were orcs on the eastern shore and he needed to find a way to slip past their enemies unnoticed.

Legolas was even more uncomfortable and restless. A sense of foreboding had been growing in his heart for some time now. Something was terribly wrong, he just didn’t know what.

“We should leave now,” he said urgently.

“No,” said Aragorn. “Orcs patrol the eastern shore. We must wait for the cover of darkness.”

“It is not the eastern shore that worries me,” said Legolas anxiously. “A shadow and a threat have been growing in my mind. Something draws near; I can feel it.”

“Where’s Frodo?” asked Merry suddenly.

Everyone looked up in alarm. Frodo had disappeared, along with Guy, Boromir and Balian. The three remaining hobbits sprang to their feet and ran into the woods behind them, calling “Frodo! Frodo!” in their high voices. Legolas and Gimli were already gone and Aragorn was busy looking for tracks.

***

Frodo needed some time to think, alone, away from the others. It wasn’t that he didn’t like them; it was the exact opposite. He was fond of most of them and did not want his friends to accompany him to certain death in Mordor. He knew what he needed to do, but he was afraid to do it.

A man’s voice startled him. “None of us should wander alone,” said Boromir lightheartedly, picking up another piece of firewood and adding it to the pile in his arms “you least of all. So much depends on you.”

Frodo did not answer. Gandalf and Galadriel had both warned him about Boromir. He did not trust the man.

“Frodo?” asked Boromir. “I know why you seek solitude. You suffer; I see it day by day. Are you sure you do not suffer needlessly?”

Frodo looked up in alarm.

“There are other ways, Frodo,” continued Boromir “other paths that we might take.”

“Your words would seem like wisdom but for the warning in my heart,” said Frodo coldly.

“Warning?” said Boromir in surprise “against what? We’re all afraid, but to let that fear drive us to destroy what hope we have left. Don’t you see, it’s madness!”

“There is no other way!” said Frodo backing away.

“I ask only for the strength to defend my people!” cried Boromir in frustration, throwing down the firewood in his arms. He extended a gloved hand. “If you would lend me the Ring…”

“No!”

“Why do you recoil? I am no thief.”

“You are not yourself!”

Unknown to them both, Guy was watching them. Guy de Lusignan was an opportunist, and he knew that this was his chance to claim the Ring for his own. The Ring would give him great power; he could feel it.

Boromir lunged at Frodo, trying to take the Ring from him. He pinned Frodo to the ground and was desperately scrabbling at the hobbit. Guy was about to intervene and thus take the Ring but someone else got there first.

Balian found Boromir and Frodo struggling for the possession of the Ring. He gave shout and without another thought, he pounced on Boromir to try and pull him away from Frodo. In his anger, Boromir was unnaturally strong. With a thrust, he threw Balian against a rock, dazing the blacksmith. He pushed Frodo into the ground, stopping the hobbit from escaping. Balian got to his feet unsteadily and lunged at Boromir again, this time his desperation gave him strength and he managed to pry the Gondorian off the hobbit.

“Run, Frodo!” shouted Balian. “Get help—“ He was cut off when Boromir delivered a punishing blow to his head and then unsheathed his sword…

***

A/N: The showdown between Balian and Boromir is taking place. *laughs evilly* Will Guy intervene? Will he help Balian or will he help himself?

Here you go, Kiwi I seem to be good at writing cliffhangers lately.
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  #29  
Old January 2nd, 2008, 04:16 AM
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KiwiGirl KiwiGirl is offline
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Evil cliffhanger is right....I certainly was not expecting Guy. This adds a whole other level of tension to things. It was a good moment when Balian took to him and I liked the comments from the Fellowship.

Don't leave us hanging too long!
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  #30  
Old January 2nd, 2008, 07:50 PM
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Telcontar Rulz Telcontar Rulz is offline
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I added Guy on a whim, Kiwi. It seemed like fun to further annoy Balian.

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Disclaimer: I don’t own anything that you recognize. I’m just borrowing them without permission but with every intention of putting them back where they belong after I’m through with them.

Chapter 16: Reaching an Understanding

The blade clashed against yet another tree trunk. Sparks flew. He let out a cry of frustration. Red haze filled his mind. He felt strangely disconnected and lightheaded, as if his soul was entirely separate from his body. ‘ Kill. Kill. Kill.’ said the compelling voice inside his head. It was his own and yet, it wasn’t. He struck out again and missed. The man was fast, too fast.

Balian ducked another blow that would have otherwise decapitated him. “Boromir!” he shouted desperately, trying to stop the mad onslaught. He was tiring and the Gondorian showed no sign of halting his attack.

Was that someone’s voice that he heard? It sounded so far away. There it was again. Boromir, Boromir; someone was calling his name. Wait. He knew that voice and it was desperate. He’d heard it before, but to whom did it belong? Faramir? Was it Faramir? No, it couldn’t be. His brother was in Gondor guarding Osgiliath. Faramir would never abandon his post. Who was it then. He couldn’t remember. Come on, remember! Who did the voice belong to? Who could possibly be calling his name out here in the wilderness? Were they looking for him? Did they need his help?

Balian stumbled and fell. Boromir swiped down with his sword. The blade landed squarely across Balian’s upper arm. Thankfully, the mail shirt that the blacksmith was wearing mostly deflected the blow. The blade cut through the chain mail and entered his flesh, but did not reach bone.

A cry of pain. Red. Red blood. What was going on? He recognized the man now. The blacksmith, one of his companions. What had he done? Traitor. Traitor. Traitor. He had turned on his own companions. And Frodo? What about Frodo? He’d tried to take the Ring. Was Frodo alright?

Balian’s cry and the sight of blood seemed to bring Boromir back to his senses. The bloodied sword fell from his hand and landed silently amongst the dead leaves on the forest floor. Boromir staggered backwards, horrified. “What have I done?” he whispered, staring at his hands as if they didn’t belong to him. His eyes were frightened and mad. “Balian, I’m sorry…what have I done?”

Balian slowly stood. His left arm was bleeding heavily but the wound was not fatal and he paid no heed to it. He did not know what to say as he observed Boromir’s pitiable state. The Gondorian needed help, that much was obvious. He just didn’t know how to help him.

Boromir was truly traumatized by his own actions. He dared not look up into Balian’s eyes, fearing the accusation and anger that he felt he was sure to find. He fell to his knees and hid his face in his hands. He was ashamed at his weakness.

“Boromir,” said Balian softly. The other man had not meant to hurt him. He understood that. Boromir had been controlled by something much more sinister. He had felt it and had no doubt as to what it was that drove the man to insanity.

“Please,” sobbed Boromir “forgive me…forgive me…I’m so sorry…”

“Boromir, look at me,” said Balian in the most soothing tone he could muster.

“I didn’t mean to do this,” cried Boromir in a panicking voice. “I didn’t mean it. I was just so jealous of you … everyone likes you…it made me hate you…it made me do it. It just took control of me…I’m sorry…forgive me…”

“Boromir,” repeated Balian, more firmly this time. “Look at me.”

Boromir shook his head.

“Boromir,” said Balian sincerely. “I forgive you.”

Finally, Boromir lifted his head to meet the young blacksmith’s gaze. He found no blame in those brown eyes, only compassion and understanding.

“Thank you,” said Boromir at last, at want for better words. “I…I hope we can be friends.”

“We are friends,” Balian assured the other man warmly with a small smile. The two men clasped hands and marked the beginning of their ill-fated friendship.

***

As Balian and Boromir came to an understanding, Frodo fled deeper into the woods, pursued by Guy. The man was gaining on him and the hobbit began to panic. He had escaped one pursuer only to fall into the hands of another. This time, there was no blacksmith to save him. The whole journey, Gandalf’s sacrifice, would have been in vain. In a rash decision, he slipped the Ring onto his finger…

Guy stopped in his tracks with jaws slack as his prey vanished into thin air. How was it possible? Frustrated, he cursed Frodo, the Fellowship, Balian, God, Saladin and anyone else he could think of who put him in the position that he was now in. Still confused he searched the ground for signs of the hobbit. Fortunately for Frodo, Guy was born a nobleman. He was a terrible tracker, having had no need to do so before. Thus, Frodo was able to elude him.

Frodo climbed atop a broken stone structure to better hide himself. As he settled himself against the stone, a sinister and vulgar voice sounded in his mind. “You cannot hide!” it said triumphantly. Frodo swore he could hear the speaker sneering. “I see you…” The hobbit was granted a vision of a great eye wreathed in flame. It was at the top of a dark tower which loomed over rivers of red molten rock. A great roaring noise filled his ears. As he stumbled back in terror, he fell from the structure and in the process, pulled the Ring from his finger. He landed with a thud on the soft turf.

When Frodo had registered his surroundings, he realized that he was alone and lost, until he heard someone call his name. It was Aragorn. The ranger had been starting to worry that something terrible had befallen the Ringbearer.

“It has taken Boromir,” Frodo informed the ranger breathlessly. “Balian tried to stop him.” He clenched the Ring tightly in his fist, ready to run if anything resembling a threat should startle him.

Aragorn started to approach the hobbit. “Where is the Ring?” he demanded, more forcefully than he had intended to. He was just so worried.

Frodo darted behind the stone structure. “Stay away!” he cried. His eyes held the look of a spooked animal.

Aragorn looked confounded. Did the hobbit doubt him too? He held out his hands with palms facing skywards to show that he meant no harm. “I swore to protect you,” he said.

“Can you protect me from yourself?” retorted Frodo. Slowly, he extended his hand and opened it. The Ring lay on his sweaty palm, perfect, golden, shining and alluring. Aragorn’s answer caught in his throat. He could not deny that he was tempted. The Ring whispered sweet promises in his mind. He would need to hide no longer if he took it. Arwen, Gondor, the world, could be his, if he only slipped it on his finger.

“Would you destroy it?” Frodo demanded.

No. Aragorn knew he couldn’t. He knelt. His eyes were fixed on the Ring. With much effort, he closed Frodo’s fingers over it and backed away.

“I would go with you into the very fires of Mordor,” he said. He knew what Frodo intended to do.

“I know,” said Frodo. His voice was thick with emotion. He was touched by the man’s devotion. “Look after the others, especially Sam. He will not understand.”

“Must you go alone? Won’t you take someone with you for protection?”

Frodo hesitated. The image of Balian standing valiantly between him and his enemies came to his mind immediately. The blacksmith was daring and loyal, no to mention skilled and trustworthy. He was very tempted to take the man with him. Then he reprimanded himself for his selfishness. Balian was a dear friend, and he could not ask a friend to accompany him to certain death in the clutches of orcs or worse. Balian was young and he had his whole life before him. He could not deny him that.

“It is my task,” he said to Aragorn at last. The man looked down at the ground without speaking. He accepted Frodo’s decision.

The ranger’s eyes fell on Frodo’s sword. His brow creased in a frown then he leapt to his feet, sword in hand. The blade of Sting was glowing blue.

“Go, Frodo!” he cried urgently, echoing Balian’s words which were spoken only moments before. “Run!”

Frodo glanced at Aragorn’s face and then at the horde of approaching orcs. He was reluctant to leave the ranger to fight them alone although he doubted he would be of much help. Reason got the better of him and he fled.

***

Balian and Boromir heard the clamour of a fight in the distance. “Our companions need help!” cried Boromir. He put his horn to his lips and let out a sharp clear blast. “Come!” he called to Balian. “Let us go forth and fight as brothers in arms, for good or for evil!”

Balian didn’t need to be asked twice. He and Boromir raced towards the place where the roar of orcs and the shrill cries of the youngest hobbits came from.

***

Guy had no idea what was going on. First, a hobbit had disappeared before his eyes and now he was being attacked by great black man-like beasts with red eyes and tremendous strength. Behind him, he could hear the others; the dwarf’s barbaric war cry was unmistakable and neither was the ranger’s voice. He ran towards them, hoping that they would be able to offer him some protection. To his dismay, he found them all occupied and outnumbered, although he had to admit that they were managing very well.

The elf had exhausted all the arrows in his quiver and had resorted to fighting with his twin knives. The dwarf seemed to have lost all reason and was taking on two of the creatures at once. They were twice his size. The ranger was holding his own, although he had almost been strangled.
The former king did not have much time to dwell on his thoughts. Soon, he found himself fighting alongside people that he had once scorned and for the first time, he appreciated them.

***

Balian beheaded yet another orc and more black blood splattered onto his already stained face. He concentrated on keeping himself between the hobbits and the orcs. Merry and Pippin were brave but they were not skilled enough to defend themselves against such a large horde. As it was, He and Boromir felt the need to retreat and call for reinforcements. Unfortunately, the others were probably just as outnumbered as they were. Boromir blew three blasts on his horn, but the third blast was cut short as he had to defend himself against an especially vicious orc.

***

Legolas could hear the clear calls of the horn. “The horn of Gondor!” he cried.

“Boromir,” stated Aragorn immediately. He left the fight and ran in the direction of the horn blasts, leaving Gimli, Guy and Legolas to cover for him. He hoped he would not be too late.

***

The two men hacked in every direction. They made a formidable pair and Balian could see the possibility of surviving. He did not see the orc captain draw his bow and aiming for him.

Boromir did. He pushed Balian aside. The dark arrow that was meant for the blacksmith instead slammed into the Gondorian. Boromir stumbled but he kept fighting. It took more than one arrow to vanquish the future steward of Gondor.

Balian saw what had happened and he was shocked that Boromir would take an arrow for him. It seemed as if history was replaying itself. In his mind, he could see his father lying on his deathbed. Godfrey had died from an arrow wound much like this one. And like Boromir, Godfrey had acquired the wound by trying to save Balian.

The blacksmith slashed left and right, trying to get to his friend. The hobbits had joined in the fight by throwing stones and sometimes taking on wounded orcs. Another arrow hit the Gondorian, bringing Boromir to his knees. The wound was mortal. Despite that, the Gondorian got to his feet again and continued to fight. Boromir was a true soldier and he would die fighting. Balian lunged at the archer but there were too many orcs in his way. The orc shot Boromir again. This time, the Gondorian could not get up. An orc hit Balian on the back of his skull, and he was rendered unconscious.

The orcs grabbed Merry and Pippin, who struggled wildly but were too small to fight off the orcs now that their defenders were either dying or unconscious. They bound the hobbits and Balian and slung them over their shoulders. Having done that, they left. Only the orc captain stayed behind. He stood a few paces in front of the dying Boromir and put an arrow to his bowstring. It was at that moment that Aragorn appeared and threw himself at the orc. The arrow went wide as flesh impacted against flesh. The orc picked up the sword and shield of one of its fallen comrades and Aragorn took the defensive position. Nothing could prepare him for the ferocity and skill of the orc. The fight was long and hard. More than once, Aragorn thought that the orc would kill him. However, the ranger prevailed and at last dispatched the foul creature. Breathing heavily, he ran to Boromir’s side. The man was dying but still lucid.

“They took the little ones and Balian!” he cried urgently.

“Stay still,” said Aragorn softly as he inspected the other man’s wounds. One look told him that they were fatal.

“Frodo,” demanded Boromir. “Where is Frodo?”

“I let Frodo go,” replied Aragorn.

“Then you did what I could not. I tried to take the Ring from him.”

“The Ring is beyond our reach now.”

“Forgive me. I did not see it. I have failed you all.”

“No, Boromir,” said Aragorn sincerely. “You fought bravely. You have kept your honour

Aragorn reached out to extract the arrows but Boromir stopped him. “Leave it,” he said. Blood trickled from the side of his mouth. “It is over. The world of men would fall. And all will come to darkness and my city to ruin!”

“I do not know what strength there is in my blood but I swear to you, I will not let the White City fall, nor our people fail,” Aragorn promised Boromir.

The dying man smiled. “Our people,” he said, tears of happiness filling his eyes “our people.” He held out his hand for his sword. Aragorn placed the hilt in his hand and he clasped it to his chest.

“I would have followed you, my brother,” Boromir told Aragorn. “My captain. My King.”

“Where did they take the hobbits?” Aragorn asked him, but Boromir spoke no more. Gently, Aragorn kissed Boromir’s forehead. “Be at peace, son of Gondor,” he whispered as a tear made a track in the grime on his face.

He stood. Legolas, Gimli and Guy were behind him. “Alas that we are too late,” said Legolas. “We have slain many orcs but we would have been of more use here.”

“Do not blame yourselves,” said Aragorn. “You were needed there.” He turned his head to the east. “They will look for his coming from the White Tower, but he will not return.”

***

A/N: We were learning about this method called ‘flow of consciousness’ or something rather in English and I decided to try it out at the beginning of the chapter. Most of the exchange between Aragorn and Boromir at the end was taken from FotR, in case you haven’t noticed.
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Old January 2nd, 2008, 08:22 PM
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Oh I cried - and I am work. Once again they think I have lost the plot. Is very busy here....can't you tell!

Things did flow very well, like watching a movie. I think that you had to have that conversation true to FOTR otherwise it would have taken away from what is to come.

Well done...you are on a roll with this!
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  #32  
Old January 4th, 2008, 08:43 AM
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Telcontar Rulz Telcontar Rulz is offline
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Disclaimer: I don’t own anything that you recognize. I’m just borrowing them without permission but with every intention of putting them back where they belong after I’m through with them.

Chapter 17: In the Midst of Orcs

When Balian woke, he found himself feeling disorientated. As his mind slowly regained awareness, he realized he was partially upside down and staring at filthy orc armour; a result of being slung over the shoulder of a particularly large orc like a sack of meal. Slowly, he lifted his head to register where he was and soon realized he was in a strange country and hopelessly lost.

Merry? Pippin? Boromir? Where were they? Were they alright? He remembered seeing Boromir getting shot. Was he still alive? No, he had to be. He would not let his thoughts go down that dark road. Boromir had to be alive. Aragorn would’ve found him in time. The ranger would have heard Boromir’s horn. Yes, Aragorn would find Boromir and Boromir would live. Aragorn was a healer.

Merry and Pippin—he glanced up—were captured along with him. He groaned inwardly. He’d been in this situation before. The only difference was instead of one hobbit, there were two. ‘At least the Ringbearer escaped,’ he thought optimistically, not feeling very optimistic at all.

“Hey!” shouted one of the orcs. “The scum’s awake!”

“Is he now?” said the one which was carrying him. “Well, he can walk!” Balian was unceremoniously thrown to the ground. The impact drove the breath from his lungs and jarred his bones. Rough hands hauled him to his feet and cut the ropes which bound them. The orcs threaded a rope between his bound hands and made a sort of leash. The ones behind him gave him a violent shove and the orc holding the leash jerked on it cruelly, causing the rope to cut into his flesh. “Get a move on!” he snarled. Balian glared at the orc but stumbled along to prevent himself from being dragged.

Balian risked looking backwards to see if the hobbits were alright; Pippin seemed fine and alert but Merry was barely conscious. A gash on his forehead was bleeding sluggishly. Pippin was calling to Merry but the other hobbit did not respond. Frantically, the little hobbit looked around for help. His eyes fell on an orc taking a drink from a water skin.

“My friend is sick!” cried Pippin, daring to risk the wrath of the orcs. Balian was filled with admiration for Pippin’s courage and devotion. Merry was very fortunate to have a friend and cousin such as the young Took.

“He needs water, please!” continued Pippin, trying to appeal to the orcs’ sense of mercy which, unluckily for the hobbits, was sorely lacking.

“Sick is he?” sneered the orc captain. “Give him some medicine, boys!”

A foul brown concoction was poured down Merry’s throat, making him choke and retch. Balian gave a shout and tried to go to the hobbit’s aid but was quickly brought to his knees by a hard blow to the stomach.

“No, stop!” cried Pippin desperately. He had only wanted to help and now two of his friends were getting hurt.

“Why?” demanded the orc captain. “Do you want some?”

“No,” said Pippin in a small frightened voice.

“Then keep your mouth shut.”

Balian was pulled back to his feet by his hair and they resumed their journey across lush green plains dotted with occasional scraggly bushes. He felt dizzy from the head wound which he had received during the battle and his feet were weary. These orcs seemed to have no limits to their energy levels. They pushed on at a rapid pace. He wished they would stop for a rest. He felt he was going to keel over any moment. Only his pride and determination kept him going. Soon, that would not suffice. He needed to find a way to escape.

The orcs would surely need to rest sooner or later. When that happens, he would somehow untie the ropes while the orcs were not looking, take Merry and Pippin, and run. It was not the best of plans but it was all his tired mind could come up with.

Balian’s prediction came true. The orcs halted their march in the late afternoon. After a meal of stale bread, of which the prisoners had no share, most of them fell asleep, including the orc who was in charge of the blacksmith. Slowly, the man crept up to his guard and discreetly freed himself from the leash. With his hands still bound, he sneaked up to where Merry and Pippin were dozing. He nudged them awake and indicated that they should go, after they had untied each other’s bonds. The orc medicine might’ve been foul, but it was effective. Merry had regained alertness.

Carefully, the three of them picked their way across the temporary orc camp. If anyone woke, they were doomed. Once they were at the edge of the orc camp, Pippin undid his brooch from Lothlorien and laid it on the ground where only the most observant of trackers could find it. “Aragorn,” he mouthed. Balian nodded. It was a good idea to let the others know that they were still alive.

They were about to head off to their freedom when an orc tackled Balian from behind, knocking him to the ground. The other orcs were not far behind. Soon they were surrounded and recaptured, only a few minutes into their escape attempt. They dragged the struggling blacksmith and the frightened hobbits back to the orc captain and deposited the prisoners at his feet. “Trying to escape, are we?” snarled the orc captain. “You need to learn a lesson.” He advanced towards the hobbits, but Balian planted himself in front of them. “Pick on someone your own size,” growled the man.

“My pleasure,” said the orc, grabbing Balian by the collar and lifting him off his feet. He kneed the man in the abdomen then threw him to the others. “What is the punishment for escaping?” he demanded gleefully.

“Eighty lashes, methinks,” replied another orc who was unfurling a wicked looking leather whip. He struck down hard. There was a metallic sound as the whip connected with Balian’s body. The orc grunted in surprise. “E’s wearin’ somethin’ underneath!”

They divested the man of his shirt to find the chain mail given to him by the elves. It was forcefully removed. Balian was pushed onto his knees, held down by strong, manacle-like hands. His undershirt was torn from his body, revealing skin already marked by another whip.

“So he’s tasted the lash before,” said the orc captain with a smile. “Good. He can now compare.”

The first lash left a stripe of sharp fire. He arched his back in pain and clenched his teeth to keep himself from crying out.

The hobbits watched in horror as the orcs laid into the man. Each expertly delivered lash opened his flesh, leaving a vivid line of red. He grunted with each blow, refusing to let his spirit be broken. He had survived this once and he would do so again. After eighty lashes, his back was a mess of shredded skin and torn flesh. The orcs left him lying in a bleeding heap on the ground and went back to sleep. The doubted the captives would try to escape again so soon.

***

Guy was exhausted, not to mention extremely irritated. That ranger was leading them on a mad chase. He knew it. Moreover, they had run three days across endless grasslands to rescue two midgets and a cursed blacksmith whom the world was probably better off without. He didn’t belong here, chasing after errant and irrelevant … beings.

“Hurry!” cried Aragorn from the front of the long, stretched-out column. “Their pace has quickened! They must have caught our scent!”

He and Legolas sped off, while behind them, Gimli struggled to keep up and Guy lagged at the back. The elf glanced behind him. Guy found his intense blue gaze disconcerting. It was as if the elf could see every thing that was going on inside his mind. “Come, Gimli!” called Legolas encouragingly. “We’re gaining on them!” To Guy, he said, “If you don’t want to come, we’re more than happy to leave you behind.”

Guy reluctantly quickened his pace. It would not do for him to be left behind. He would starve in the wild; the others had the rations and he had been foolish enough not to take any before they started the pursuit, believing that the others would share with him, which they did, albeit reluctantly.

He overtook Gimli, who was using his axe as a walking stick and talking to himself, complaining about their progress, or rather, the lack of. Apparently no one had advised him to take off his armour and it certainly did not occur to him that it would make things easier if he took it off.

***

Night fell. The orcs stopped by the edge of an immense forest. Even they were too tired to go on. Balian collapsed to the ground in exhaustion. His back burned with vengeance. It hurt too much to move. The orcs had given him back his shirt, although they withheld the chain mail. It was now stained with blood.

The prisoners lay on the ground, either too tired or too frightened to move. All around them, orcs were cutting down branches with their axes to start a fire.

A strange groaning sound came from the forest. It sounded like moans of pain and anger.

“What’s making that noise?” asked Pippin fearfully.

“It’s the trees,” breathed Merry in awe. That didn’t register very well in Balian’s weary mind. Trees didn’t make noises like that, at least, the ones in France and the Holy Land didn’t. ‘You’re in Middle Earth, you fool,’ he reminded himself. ‘Anything can happen.’ He thought no more about the trees and closed his eyes to try and sleep while he could.

“I’m starvin’,” growled an orc “and we ain’t had nothin’ but maggoty bread for three stinkin’ days!”

“Yeah,” said another in a whiny voice. “Why can’t we have some meat?” It was one of the smaller orcs, the type which Balian had encountered during his side trip on Caradhras. The orc’s yellow eyes fell on the hobbits and Balian. “What about them?” it demanded. “They’re fresh.”

Balian’s eyes snapped open. The orcs wanted to eat them? He was in no shape to fight. If the orcs were really going to eat them, then there was no chance that they would survive.

The orc captain picked up Merry and Pippin by the collars of their shirts and dumped them behind him. “They are not for eating,” he growled.

“What about their legs?” asked another with a dark leathery face. “They don’t need those. Oooh, they look tasty…”

“Get back, scum!” snarled the orc captain, shoving the other orc hard. “The prisoners go to Saruman, alive and unspoiled.”

“Alive?” asked Leather-Face. “Why alive? Do they give good sport?” He began to salivate. Balian tensed. Sport. He knew what that meant and heaven help him if he should let them hurt Merry or Pippin.

“They have something,” explained the orc captain. He sounded surprisingly patient. “An elvish weapon. The master wants it for the war.”


“They think we have the Ring,” whispered Pippin to Merry.

“Shh!” hissed the Brandybuck. “As soon as they find out we don’t we’re dead!”

Unbeknownst to the orc captain, the orc who had suggested eating the hobbits was sneaking up behind them. “Carve ‘em up,” he was saying, with his sword raised “just a mouthful…”

The orc captain reacted just in time to save Merry and Pippin. He swung around, and beheaded the offending orc with one swipe. The head flew into the air before landing at Merry and Pippin’s feet. The body slowly toppled over. At first, the orcs did not know what to think. Then the orc captain smiled. “Looks like meat’s back on the menu, boys!” he roared.

The orcs fell on the body of their fallen comrade, tearing the foul flesh from his body. Entrails were flung everywhere. They forgot about the prisoners as they feasted upon one of their own.

The hobbits’ eyes met Balian’s then they looked towards the forest. All of them nodded at once and started to crawl towards it.

An iron shod foot came down upon the hobbits, trapping them beneath it. The hobbits glanced up in terror at the sneering face of an orc. It was Leather-Face. “Go on,” he hissed “call for help! Squeal! No one’s gonna save you now!”

Balian gathered all his remaining strength and flung himself at Leather-Face, knocking him off the hobbits. They wrestled with each other. In his weakened state, Balian was no match for the orc. Leather-face forced him onto his back. Pain paralysed him. If a spear had not come out of nowhere and impaled the orc, Balian’s soul would have been on its way to purgatory to be judged.

Confusion erupted. “Go, now!” cried Balian to the hobbits. The hobbits did not need to be told twice. They crawled as quickly as they could between horses’ hooves and iron shod feet towards the forest. Balian tried to follow them, but he was not as nimble as they were. Something struck him in the shoulder from behind. One of the horsemen had shot him.

***

Éomer surveyed the carnage. The battle had been bloody and brief as the orcs had been unprepared. The last of the orcs were being dispatched when one of his men called out to him.
“My lord Éomer! Over here!”

Éomer rode over to where the man was beckoning. A dark-skinned man lay facedown on the ground, one of the haradrim, he deemed. His shirt was bloody and the stump of an arrow protruded from his shoulder. They lifted up the limp body. He still breathed. His face was young and he looked like he was about Éomer’s age. “Bind him. We’ll see what he has to say when he wakes.”

***

A/N: Here we go. Balian meets Éomer at last. Dun duh duh duh duh dun!! Not that it’s much of a meeting.

Here you go guys. More characters! Kiwi, I kept the convo between Aragorn and Boromir mainly because I couldn't think of anything that could replace it.
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Old January 4th, 2008, 09:04 AM
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Balian and Eomer - now this will be interesting and I thought that you would have him meeting the Ents! Can't wait for the next chapter. Very well woven...
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Old January 4th, 2008, 07:38 PM
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Chapter 18: A Big Misunderstanding

Legolas stared at the shimmering stars, humming an elvish melody under his breath. Occasionally, Gimli’s rumbling snores drowned out the notes of his song. He found it comforting; at least he knew the dwarf was there. Sighing, he thought about their absent companions. Boromir was in the Halls of Mandos, Frodo and Sam were somewhere out in the wild, slowly making their way towards Mordor. The other hobbits and Balian were in the hands of orcs. The elf wondered if they were still alive; whether they were suffering or not. The brooch that they had found earlier away from the tracks of the orcs gave them a ray of hope. At least on of them was well enough to leave a sign. However, doubt ever gnawed at his mind.

In the east, a tinge of red was starting to stain the sky, like the beginnings of a bloodstain. Fear seized his heart and he was filled with a sense of foreboding. He remembered an old piece of folklore. “A red sun rises,” he whispered to himself. “Blood has been spilt this night.”
He whipped around to find his companions still sleeping fitfully, exhausted by the long and fruitless chase. “Awake, awake!” he cried. “We must move on! My heart is filled with dread and I fear that something terrible has befallen our companions!”

Gimli and Aragorn woke immediately and leapt to their feet, startled by the elf’s outburst. Guy, however, only opened one eye and regarded the elf in a haughty manner.

“They’ve waited long enough,” said Balian’s archrival coolly. “They can wait a little longer. Anyway, what do you expect to do when you catch up? Jump into the enemy’s midst and hack them to pieces?”

“That is better than leaving them to their fate,” said Legolas icily. “No one will say we left our friends to die.”

“I would never leave my friends to die,” said Guy. “Enemies are another matter.”

“Fine,” snapped the elf. “Stay where you are and good riddance!”
Grumbling, Guy finally backed off and got up. His face was full of contempt.
The other three did not wait for him. Legolas was already sprinting off. His desperation drove him ever onwards, giving wings to his feet so that the others were hard pressed to catch up with him.

***

His shoulder throbbed fiercely. His back burned with vengeful fire and he was being jolted around terribly. Balian slowly opened his eyes, expecting to see orc armour again. Instead, he saw…brown and white hairs? He lifted his head to better observe his surroundings. He was draped over a horse’s back and in front of the rider. All around him were mounted warriors with long plumes in their elaborately forged helmets with horse designs. Their hair was long and flaxen, reminding him of Odo, the German mercenary. It seemed they had been riding for a few days and most of them were in need of a wash. They had found him, for good or evil. God alone knew where they were taking him and what they intended to do to him.

“My lord Éomer,” called the rider on whose horse he was draped. “The prisoner is awake.”

At least he wasn’t ‘scum’ anymore. That had to be an improvement. The warriors’ leader, an impressive man with hawk-like features turned his horse and rode over. He nodded at the other warriors who took him off the horse and deposited him none-too-gently on the ground.

Balian gasped as the treatment aggravated his wounds. He wondered at his bad luck. Everyone seemed to think he was an enemy of some sort for some unfathomable reason.

The riders’ leader —Éomer, he recalled— stared down at him disdainfully. “Who is your master?” he demanded.

“I have none,” replied Balian truthfully.

Éomer dismounted and approached the kneeling man. “Don’t lie to me,” he hissed, gripping the other man’s wounded shoulder painfully. The prisoner tensed, but did not cry out even as blood seeped through his ragged shirt, staining it crimson. “Whom do you serve?”

Balian met Éomer’s hawk-like eyes. He was not ready to trust the man. For all he knew, he could be a servant of Sauron. “I serve no one,” he replied.
Éomer sighed with exasperation. He hated it when prisoners refused to bend to intimidation. He was not a cruel man who enjoyed inflicting pain on others, but he was a patriot and he would do anything to see the glory of Rohan restored. This man was an important key to his goal; he was sure of it.

“I do not want to hurt you,” he told the prisoner “but if you continue like this, I shall have no other choice.”

“I speak only the truth,” replied the captive stubbornly.

“Very well then,” said Éomer coldly. Two could play the game. It was a matter of endurance, and patience. He nodded to his men, who pushed the prisoner down so that he was prostrate on the ground. The prisoner grunted as the warriors put their gauntleted hands on his shoulders. Éomer brought his horsewhip down across the man’s back. The captive arched in pain, and red blossomed on the stained cloth of his shirt.

The Third Marshall frowned in confusion. He had not ht the man with so much force that the blow would open flesh. His horsewhip was capable of raising painful welts but to cause bleeding upon the first blow? He didn’t think so. He instructed his men to lift up the prisoner’s shirt to see what was wrong. Raw bleeding flesh met his eyes. The prisoner had been tortured not long ago. The wounds still seeped blood. Éomer winced. “Who flogged you?” he demanded.

“Who else but the orcs?” said the panting man. His voice was thick with pain. “I was their prisoner, and now I’m yours. What do you intend to do with me?”

“As I have said before, I have no desire to hurt you. All I want is some information concerning the enemy’s plans. The orcs are no friends of yours and I’m sure we can come to an understanding.”

So this Éomer did not serve Sauron. That comforted Balian somewhat. However, he could not give Éomer what he wanted, because he did not have it. “I know nothing of the enemy’s plans.”

“But you must surely know something,” insisted Éomer. “Your race serves him.”

“I don’t know anything,” said Balian, wishing that he did.

Éomer felt ready to burst with impatience. Never in his life had he met such a stubborn man. Driven to the end of his wits, he struck the man’s raw flesh with his horsewhip. The prisoner sucked in a painful breath through his teeth. His pupils dilated and his eyes widened with agony. His body was as taut as a bowstring from the pain, but still he would not talk. The Third Marshall dealt his blows slowly and deliberately to cause as much pain as possible without doing too much damage.

Agony was layered upon agony as Balian was flogged for the second time in two days. Still, he refused to speak. He had said all that he had to say and if Éomer did not believe him, there was nothing he could do about it. All he could do was to wait and endure.

Finally, Éomer gave up. The prisoner seemed to have taken a vow of silence. He would take his riders out of Rohan first before that traitor Grima Wormtongue sent forces out after them. Once they were out of Rohan, he would interrogate the prisoner some more. Sooner or later, the man would break.

“Put him on a horse and lash his hands to the pommel,” he instructed his men. His eyes roved over them and fell on a young rider whose name he did not know. “You, what is your name?”

“Wulf, son of Ulfwine, sir,” replied the eager young warrior.

“You’re in charge of the prisoner, Wulf. Do not fail me.”

Éomer left the stunned rider and mounted his horse. Wulf faced the bound and wounded man. “Come on,” he said. “On the horse. You can mount, can’t you?”

The prisoner said nothing. He put his foot in the stirrup and Wulf helped him to swing into the saddle. Although he was battered and exhausted, the prisoner was a proud and noble man. The Third Marshall seemed so certain that he would break. Wulf was not so sure. He wished that they did not have to inflict such pain on others in order to save Rohan. There was no glory in harming helpless people.

Wulf lashed the prisoner’s hands to the pommel and then settled himself in his own saddle. “Why must you be so stubborn?” asked Wulf of the stoic man. “Lord Éomer is merciful. If you cooperate, he will let you live and set you free. I don’t want to see them hurt you.”

“Would you have me lie to buy my freedom then?” asked the prisoner softly.
Wulf was startled by this response. He was rendered speechless.

“I will never do that,” continued the prisoner. “I swore to tell only the truth. I will not break my oath. If you do not believe what I say, then there is nothing more I can do.”

“Forgive us if we find it hard to believe you,” said Wulf “but in these times, we can trust no one.”

With that, Wulf took the prisoner’s reins and kicked his horse into a fast gallop to catch up with the others.

***

From the distance, Legolas could hear the thunder of horses’ hooves.
“There is a cloud of dust ahead, and it draws near,” said Aragorn.

Legolas lifted his long hand to shield his eyes from the sun. “There are about a thousand men,” he said. “Should we take cover?”

“Nay, I do not think the Rohirrim are collaborating with the enemy,” said Aragorn.

Legolas was not so certain, but he trusted Aragorn’s instincts. He looked on with worry as the mounted warriors neared them.

“Riders of Rohan!” called Aragorn. “What news of the Mark?”

Legolas quickly changed his mind. Sometimes, he seriously doubted the ranger’s sanity. This was one of those moments. Soon, the four of them were surrounded by a ring of hostile mounted spearmen.

One of the riders broke through the ranks. He was the leader, Legolas deemed. “What business does an elf, a dwarf and two men have in the Riddermark?” the rider demanded curtly. “Speak quickly,” he added when they did not reply.

“You give me your name, horsemaster,” said Gimli defiantly “and I shall give you mine.”

The rider dismounted and approached them. “I would cut off your head, dwarf,” he growled “if it stood but a little higher from the ground.”

Guy produced a snort of laughter at this comment, but quickly became sober again as Legolas put an arrow to his bow and aimed it at the rider with movements so fast that they were impossible to follow. “You would die before your stroke fell,” he snarled. The spearmen advanced on them, their spearheads directed at Legolas’ head and chest.

Things would have gone ill if Aragorn had not intervened. “Peace,” he chided. “I am Aragorn, son of Arathorn, formerly known as Thorongil in your country. This is Gimli son of Gloin, and Legolas of the Woodland Realm. We are friends of Rohan, and of Théoden, your king.”

Éomer recognized the name of Thorongil. He had heard many stories of the heroic deeds of this legendary figure of Rohirric history and he admired him. “Théoden no longer recognizes friend from foe,” said sadly with an underlying tone of anger. He took off his helmet. “Not even his own kin.”
This was a signal to the rest of the horsemen and they withdrew their spears.
“Saruman has poisoned the mind of the king and claimed lordship over this land,” explained the rider. “My company are those loyal to Rohan. And for that, we are banished.” He looked at the four weary hunters. “The White Wizard is cunning,” he told them in a low voice. “He walks here and there they say, as an old man, hooded and cloaked. And everywhere his spies slip past our nets.” At the last sentence, he looked warily at Legolas.

“We are no spies,” said Aragorn quickly, afraid of how Legolas would react to this subtle insult. “We track a party of Uruk Hai across the plains. They have taken three of our friends captive.”

“The Uruks are destroyed,” said the rider sharply. “We slaughtered them during the night.”

“But there were two hobbits and a man!” cried Gimli desperately. “Did you see two hobbits and a man?”

“The hobbits would be small, only children to your eyes,” Aragorn explained. “And the man would resemble one of the Haradrim with his dark skin and hair.”

Éomer began to feel uncomfortable. Was the man the prisoner that they took and… mistreated? “We saw no children,” he said awkwardly “but we did find a man matching the description of your friend.” He turned to his riders. “Bring the prisoner,” he ordered.

Balian was filled with hope as he recognized his friends’ voices. They had come for him, Merry and Pippin. Then his heart sank. Merry and Pippin were still missing and he had no idea where they were.

Legolas’ eyes widened as another rider broke through the ranks, leading a horse behind him. Upon the latter was a battered and bloodied figure that he would recognize almost anywhere.

“Balian!” he cried. He turned to the riders’ leader, his eyes burning with fury. “Valar! What have you done to him?”

“He was already hurt when we found him,” said the man. “We thought he was one of the enemy’s soldiers, so we…interrogated him. I am very sorry for this misunderstanding.”

He helped Balian off his horse and undid his bonds. The blacksmith’s knees gave away under him but his friends caught him before he hit the ground.
“So you were telling the truth,” said Éomer sheepishly to the man whom Thorongil and his friends called Balian. “I, Éomer son of Éomund, do apologize for not believing you. No hard feelings?”

“No hard feelings,” said Balian with a weak smile. “I accept your apology.”

The Third Marshall still felt awkward. The man deserved more than just an apology. Then he got an idea. “Hasufel, Arod, Louan, Cynebald!” he called. Four fine horses trotted forwards. “May these horses bear you to better fortune than their former masters,” he said to the travellers. In addition, he gave them rations and what clean clothing and bandages they could spare for Balian before he went on his way.
“Farewell!” he called back as he rode north. “I hope we meet in better circumstances next time!”

***

A/N: Wulf actually sort of belongs to me, not that he has a major part to play or anything.

I would have had Balian meet the ents, Kiwi, but that would mean he would be involved in drinking ent draught and going to the entmoot instead of partaking in the battle of Helms' Deep. He will see Treebeard later on. ______________________________________
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Old January 4th, 2008, 09:23 PM
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KiwiGirl KiwiGirl is offline
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Oh...Eomer is going to be very upset about this. He is a man who tries to do what is right. Wulf was great and I think it is a good thing to introduce people that are truly yours, you can have them behave as you want rather than as we know that they are. That reminds me to say how good your borrowed characters are - they act in character, speak in character.

Guy is an ***. I was very glad when Legolas got annoyed with him. He does add an interesting element to the interactions but I really don't like him at all!! Not supposed to I suppose but he makes me grind my teeth.

Looking forward to the next bit....
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Old January 6th, 2008, 07:19 PM
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Telcontar Rulz Telcontar Rulz is offline
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Chapter 19: Hot On Their Trail

“Where’s Boromir?” demanded Balian hoarsely, as soon as the horsemen were out of sight. Aragorn stared at the ground and Gimli gave a saddened sigh. A few moments of awkward silence followed before Legolas finally spoke.

“Boromir is at peace,” said the elf. Balian stared perplexed at the elf before the meaning of the words started to sink in.

“No…” he whispered, horrified. “It can’t be. He was still alive when I last saw him. He can’t be dead!”

“Balian,” began Aragorn “Boromir’s wounds were fatal. We could not do anything.”

“It’s entirely my fault,” declared the blacksmith quietly. “Boromir wouldn’t be dead if it wasn’t for me.” The events of the past few days seemed to have caught up with Balian and he was going into mild shock.

“What are you saying?” said Legolas. “What has his death got to do with you?”

“That arrow was meant for me, not him,” said the blacksmith heavily. “I should be the one lying dead, not him.”

Legolas finally understood what the man was talking about. Boromir had intercepted an arrow meant for the blacksmith and Balian felt guilty about it. This was the hardest type of wound to heal. It was unseen and yet, it made the most damage. Out of sight, many would ignore it. Not Legolas. He knew about emotional trauma and he treated it seriously. The elf looked at Aragorn, who nodded in comprehension. The ranger understood this too.

“Boromir chose to take that arrow for you because he loved you, Balian,” said the elven prince gently. “He wouldn’t have wanted it any other way and he certainly would not want you to blame yourself.”

Balian shook his head. He disagreed with the elf but he seemed to have calmed down and accepted the news.

Guy watched the others comfort Balian. He was filled with disappointment. Why wouldn’t the thrice-cursed blacksmith die? He wondered what Balian had done to deserve such good luck. Maybe Godfrey was watching over him. That was the only explanation; some otherworldly force was keeping the Perfect Knight alive just to spite Guy. Still, he was pleased to see that the blacksmith had suffered at the hands of his captors. Balian deserved that and more. At the moment, he had no plans to kill him. It wasn’t that Guy didn’t want to kill Balian. It was just that the opportune moment had not yet arrived.

Aragorn and Balian had gotten into another argument, much like the last one they had.

“Let me have a look at your wounds,” Aragorn was saying.

“I’m fine,” insisted Balian, although his pain-glazed eyes betrayed him. “It looks worse than it…” He trailed off as Aragorn silenced him with a scathing glare and gave up his protestations. Previous experience had told Balian that if the ranger wanted to do something, force was not going to stop him.

“No lad,” said Gimli fondly. “You’re not fine and the sooner you recover the better, so you’d better let him do as he pleases.”

“But we can’t tarry,” argued Balian, trying another approach. If there was anything that could override Aragorn’s healer’s instincts, it was his sense of duty. “We have to find Merry and Pippin—“

“If you would just cooperate then we can get this over and done with quickly,” reasoned Aragorn. He removed the tattered shirt from Balian’s body then winced as he saw the painful looking weeping wounds. There was an old gash on Balian’s left arm but thankfully, it did not seem to be infected. His back was torn and shredded by what seemed like a vengeful cat. The stump of a broken arrow protruded from his shoulder. He recognized it as one of Rohirric make but decided not to mention it. Balian would tell him in his own time.

“You and I need to have a discussion about the definition of ‘fine’ sometime,” said Aragorn disapprovingly to the younger man as he treated the wounds the best he could. He sounded very much like a father.

“Then that would be a fairly short conversation, Aragorn,” said Legolas with a mischievous grin in his eye. “His definition of ‘fine’ seems to fit yours perfectly, if I remember correctly.”

“Your memory is definitely failing you then,” retorted Aragorn without looking at the elf. He turned his attention back to Balian. “This is all I can do for now, as there is not enough water,” he told him. “I’ll treat your wounds properly once we find a stream.”

“Thank you,” said Balian. Aragorn helped him to put on a shirt which Éomer had given him.

“Well, lads,” said Gimli “we’d best be on our way.”

“There are only four horses,” Guy commented acidly. “Who’s going to walk?” His expression said that he definitely wasn’t.

Balian chose to ignore Guy’s expression. “You can,” he retorted. “After all, you suggested it.”

Guy was about to throw an offensive comment to Balian but Legolas stopped him with a look that he had more than likely learnt from his father. “No one will walk,” said the elf. “Gimli can ride behind me.”

“Ride?” demanded the dwarf. “Who said I was going to ride anythin’? I am keeping my two feet firmly planted in the ground!”

“You won’t be able to keep up,” said Aragorn. “You have to ride.” His tone was almost pleading.

“Gimli, it won’t be so bad,” Legolas assured the dwarf. “I’ll try to make Arod go as smoothly as possible.”

“You’ve already claimed a horse?” demanded Guy hotly.

“I didn’t see you indicating that you wanted Arod,” said Legolas coldly.

“I’ll take the bay—Hasufel,” said Aragorn.

The only mare, Louan, nuzzled Balian’s hair, flicking her ears backwards and forwards as if she was trying to make up her mind about him. Slowly, the blacksmith lifted his hand to stroke the pale golden neck.

“I suppose she’s claimed you, my friend,” said Legolas. “The female gender seems to be very much attracted to you.”

Balian blushed, although no one could see it under the layer of grime on his face.

That left Guy with Cynebald, which was the horse he had initially coveted. The arrangement suited everyone fine, although Gimli clung onto Legolas so tightly that the elf found it hard to breathe.

The five of them continued in the direction of the place where Éomer had burnt the bodies of the Uruk-Hai. As they drew near, Balian could see the head of an orc stuck on top of a pike with its tongue lolling out of its mouth, making a grotesque spectre. The smell of burnt flesh and hair repulsed them but their determination to find their friends drove them on. Orc armour and weapons littered the ground around the mound of burnt bodies. They were all that remained of the group which had attacked the Fellowship and killed Boromir. Of the hobbits there was no sign.

Frantically, Aragorn, Balian, Legolas and Gimli dismounted although in Balian’s case, it seemed more like tumbling from Louan’s saddle and miraculously landing on his feet. Guy remained seated upon his horse. He didn’t care about what happened to the midgets which the others were so fond of. The quicker they were away from here, the better.

Gimli and Balian rummaged through the charred corpses while Aragorn searched the ground for tracks. Legolas kept a look out for any signs of Merry and Pippin’s presence. Balian found his mail shirt and the sword of Ibelin in the pile, covered in soot but otherwise unharmed. He strapped the weapon to his belt but left the chain mail draped over his arm. It hurt too much if he tried to put it on.

Finally, Gimli straightened. His face was filled with despair. He held up something for all of them to see. It took no expert to tell that it was not made by orcs.

“It’s one of their wee belts,” said the dwarf sadly. His eyes were filled with distress.

Balian felt numb. Merry and Pippin were dead. He had failed them; failed Boromir who had given his life so that he could live to protect the hobbits. He could see their faces; Boromir’s eyes as he took the arrow, Gandalf’s kind lined face, Merry and Pippin’s grins, Frodo’s earnest expression. He had failed everyone.

Aragorn felt the sense of failure as keenly as Balian did. He was the leader. He had been in charge when this happened. His frustration grew as Legolas recited an elvish prayer for the departed. The elf shouldn’t be saying this prayer for the hobbits. With an emotion-laden cry, he kicked an orc helmet which was lying on the ground before his feet and fell to his knees, his face turned towards the sky as if demanding an explanation from the Valar. His hands were balled into fists, raised in a challenge.

“We’ve failed them,” said Gimli sorrowfully, voicing all their thoughts.

Aragorn lowered his arms and bowed his head in defeat. Then his brow creased in a frown as something caught his attention.

“A hobbit lay here,” he said to himself in a voice that was almost a whisper “and another.”

‘Does it matter now?’ thought Balian in anguish. ‘They’re dead. Gimli’s right. We’ve failed them. I’ve failed them.’

“Their hands were bound,” continued Aragorn as he read the hobbits’ tracks like a book. “And they crawled… Their bonds were cut!” He picked up a length of coarse rope which had been sawn through. Hope crept into his mind. “They ran over here,” he said, tracing the hobbits’ tracks “and they were followed.”

Hope grew in Balian’s heart. Maybe the hobbits still lived. Éomer wouldn’t have seen them because they had escaped!

“The tracks lead away from the battle,” declared Aragorn almost gleefully. Gimli and Legolas raced after him while Balian stumbled behind them. Guy quickly dismounted and followed. In their ecstatic states, they would probably forget him and truly leave him behind. Without them, he would be lost and doomed.

Aragorn stopped in front of an immense dark forest with looming twisted trees, some of which still bore the marks that the orcs had made the night before. “…into Fangorn Forest,” the ranger finished with an awestruck tone.

“Fangorn?!” said Gimli in a small voice laced with horror. “What madness drove them in there?”

No one answered him. Balian felt inclined to agree with the dwarf that only madmen would go into such a forest. He remembered the sounds that had come from it and shuddered inwardly. It looked as if it was alive and could swallow unwary travellers who would never be seen again. However, Merry and Pippin were hobbits and maybe their sense of danger would be somewhat different from that of men. He glanced at Legolas.

Legolas was also awestruck. Unlike the others, his face was filled with delight and admiration. Balian pondered this. The elf had hated Moria and yet this forest was just as dark and sinister, if not more so. The blacksmith shook his head. He would never understand elves. They were too confusing.

Guy did not know what ‘Fangorn’ meant but he hoped to heaven that they would not have to go beneath the eaves of those trees. He had no desire to die just yet and even if he had no choice, he preferred to die in a more pleasant place. Not even the suicidal Balian would go in there, he was certain…

Aragorn took a step into the forest and the rest of them followed. Guy changed his mind. Balian was truly suicidal, so were his friends. He looked back to the relative safety of the horses, then at the others’ retreating backs. If he followed them, he would encounter whatever horrors the forest chose to unleash. If he stayed with the horses and something attacked him, there would be no one to protect him. He hurried into the forest after the others. It was better to encounter monstrosities with someone watching his back.

***

A/N: Whoopee! Fangorn! Wonder what Balian thinks of it. He’s not that pleased, that’s for sure. The poor man has been through a lot recently.

Yep, Kiwi, Eomer is tormenting himself about it, and things will worsen when Eowyn finds out. That was Wulf's only cameo in the entire story. He doesn't appear again, but I'm hoping he might do something else in the next instalments of the series. And Guy...he's supposed to be there just to annoy Balian and the others. Thanks for commenting.
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Old January 7th, 2008, 08:06 AM
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You are welcome. I liked how you had the interaction between Balian and Aragorn, how they are so much alike. Gimli is fantastic, I can just hear him in my head.

A great chapter and more tension there. I am hoping that Guy is going to trip over something and disappear but I would imagine that you have plans for him!
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Old January 7th, 2008, 08:24 AM
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I've managed to make it to Chapter 9 - I was a little distraught over Balian's treatment, I don't like my men to suffer so much, I want to jump in and smite everyone down! Bastard Orcs, branding him like that. Anyway, I'm way behind, but trying to catch up - you're too quick for me but at least I can read through without having to wait.

enjoying the crossover - hard to juggle so many characters but it's flowing well so far.

cheers
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Old January 8th, 2008, 09:14 PM
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Telcontar Rulz Telcontar Rulz is offline
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Chapter 20: In a Dank, Dark, Tree-infested Forest

The forest was gloomy and damp. Balian felt as if he was suffocating beneath the thick green canopy of leaves. The air smelled of water vapour tinged with the scent of rotting forest litter. Sounds seemed muffled in this closed space. There were no birds or insects to be heard. “This forest is old,” he heard Legolas say “very old. Full of memory, and anger…” Every now and then, strange wooden groans could be heard. In front of him, Gimli whipped around, startled by the sounds. He held his axe tightly, ready to defend himself against an unseen foe. “The trees are speaking to each other!” cried the elf, whether it was in terror or in delight, Balian could not tell.

Although there was no wind, the trees waved their branches as if in response to Gimli’s movements. The groans grew louder and multiplied until they were coming from every direction. Guy’s hand flew to the hilt of his sword, eyes wide with terror. Balian looked around wildly, searching for the source of the noise. Despite what Merry had told Pippin and Legolas’ words, he refused to believe that the trees were groaning and moving of their own accord. His refusal to believe in such things might have been due to the fact that he did not want to know what moving and talking trees would do to a man who cut them down for their wood. Later on in his life, he would not be able to remember the reason why he would not believe it but he would never forget the fear that he felt at that moment.

“Gimli!” hissed Aragorn, making a gesture with his hand. “Lower your axe!”

Slowly, the dwarf lowered his weapon, although he was as tense as ever.

“They have feelings, my friend,” said Legolas quietly. “The elves began it; waking up the trees, teaching them to speak…” The elf’s face bore an awestruck expression as if he was seeing a vision from heaven.

“Talking trees,” snorted Gimli. “What do trees have to talk about, hmm? Except for the consistency of squirrel droppings.”

The rest of them ignored the dwarf’s tirade and ventured deeper into the forest. Balian glanced back at Guy. His archrival’s face was pale from fear and he gripped his hilt so tightly that his knuckles were white. Balian decided not to mention that some things in Middle Earth could not be defeated by swords. It would only frighten the former noblemen more. Let him believe that his blade would keep him safe. Guy had a lot to learn and Balian felt inclined to let him learn it the hard way.

Legolas called out to Aragorn urgently in a foreign tongue. Balian deemed it to be Legolas’ native speech. Aragorn ran up to the elf and said something in the same language.

“The White Wizard approaches,” the elf said in common tongue so that all could understand him. Guy was visibly startled at the word ‘wizard’. He had never encountered a wizard before and in his mindset, wizards were servants of Satan, priests of Hell.

Even Aragorn seemed shaken by this revelation. “Do not let him speak,” whispered the ranger. “He will put a spell on us. We must be quick.”

Balian did not know who the White Wizard was. He only knew one wizard and he was certain that weapons made of mere metal and wood would not stop any wizard who could inspire fear in people he so admired as courageous and fearless warriors. Still, he had no other choice but to draw his sword and be ready to defend those whom he held dear.

Aragorn whipped around with a roar, brandishing his blade at the shining white figure. Gimli threw his axes, but they shattered as the wizard hit them with his staff. The same thing happened to Legolas’ arrows. The hilts of the swords grew hot and began to glow red. Aragorn, Balian and Guy were forced to drop their weapons. The light which surrounded the wizard intensified until they could not look directly at him. Guy fell to his knees, babbling in fright. He was so sure that this was the Angel of Vengeance coming to take him to Hell or wherever he deserved to go.

From within the light, a rich resonating voice sounded. “You are tracking the footsteps of two young hobbits,” said the wizard.

“Where are they?” demanded Aragorn.

“They passed this way, sometime early this morning,” replied the wizard. “They met someone that they did not expect.”

“Who are you?” asked Aragorn. “Show yourself!”

The light faded and soon they could make out a kind face lined with age. The wizard’s clothes and hair were as white as light from heaven and he wore a benevolent smile.

“It cannot be…” whispered Aragorn.

“Forgive me,” said Legolas, falling onto one knee and bowing his head. “I mistook you for Saruman.”

“I am Saruman, or Saruman as he should have been.”

Balian was more confused than ever. He had watched Gandalf fall into that dark abyss. No one could have survived this fall and yet here was Gandalf, standing before them and looking perfectly hale.

“What is going on?” he asked with a perplexed look on his face. “Are you an apparition?”

“Ah, young blacksmith,” said Gandalf. “I am not just an apparition. I have been sent back by the Valar.”

Balian looked and felt no less confused. Sent back? Was it possible to come back from the dead? “You fell,” he said to Gandalf.

“Through fire, and water,” replied the wizard. His eyes became vacant as he remembered his trials and tribulations. “From the lowest dungeon to the highest peak I fought him, the Balrog of Morgoth.” Bit by bit, he told them his story.

“…but now I have been sent back until my task is done,” finished Gandalf.

“Gandalf,” said Gimli, his eyes full of joy.

“Gandalf?” said the wizard, furrowing his brow. Then he remembered. “Yes, that was what they used to call me.” He smiled. “Gandalf the Grey; that was my name. I am Gandalf the White, and I come back to you now at the turn of the tide.”

He turned to them. “Come now, tell me what has taken place since Moria. I want to know what has happened to the Fellowship.”

They sat down on some fallen logs and Aragorn began to tell Gandalf their tale, with constant additions made by Gimli and Legolas. “…we were scouting the area when we came across a stranger dressed in foreign garb,” Aragorn was saying. He looked at Guy. “It was him, Guy. We could not just leave him there so we took him with us.”

Gandalf pondered this. Two men from another world were in Middle Earth. They were archrivals. From Aragorn’s retelling of Balian’s story and the other things about Guy that the ranger had told him about, the new arrival boded ill for them, especially the young blacksmith. Gandalf still could not get his head around the fact that Balian was in fact a nobleman. He was observing Balian and Guy when Aragorn finished his narrative.

“It is ill-news about Boromir,” he said. “I heard of his death from the Lady Galadriel. After I returned to the world of the living, I bid Gwaihir, the King of Eagles to bear me to Lothlorien where I could discover the fate of the quest after I fell. Lady Galadriel told me of Boromir’s last stand, and she also gave me messages to deliver to you. To Aragorn I was bidden to say this:

Where now are the Dúnedain, Elessar, Elessar?
Why do they kinsfolk wander afar?
Near is the hour when the Lost should come forth,
And the Grey Company ride from the North.
But dark is the path appointed for thee:
The Dead watch the road that leads to the Sea.

To Legolas she sent these words:

Legolas Greenleaf long under tree
In joy thou hast lived. Beware of the Sea!
If thou hearest the cry of the gull on the shore,
Thy heart shall then rest in the forest no more.”

The recipients of the messages pondered the Lady’s words. They were troubled by them.

“Were there no messages for myself and Balian then?” asked Gimli with distress.

“Indeed, she did bid me tell you this, Gimli,” said Gandalf. “She said: To Gimli son of Glóin give his Lady’s greeting. Lock-bearer, wherever thou goest my thought goes with thee. But have care to lay thine axe to the right tree!”

Gimli chuckled. Balian looked at Gandalf expectantly. The wizard turned his attention to him. His eyes were grave. “Your message, Balian, comes not from the Lady,” said Gandalf “but from the Valar. You were chosen from the hour of your birth to travel through different worlds, to bring justice and to keep it. They have granted you the gift of immortality, not because you wanted it but because it allows you to fulfil your purpose.”

“Immortality?” asked Balian. “My purpose? I know not of what you speak. I am but a simple blacksmith.”

“That is the will of Iluvatar and of the Valar, not mine,” said Gandalf. “I am as perplexed as you. The ways of the One are mysterious and beyond my understanding.”

Guy stared at Balian. Immortal? How could it be? Was he not a man? Men were doomed to fade and die. Why was this blacksmith any different?

“Come now, let us not dwell on these morose thoughts,” said Aragorn. Merry and Pippin have yet to be found.”

“Your task now is not to find Merry and Pippin,” said Gandalf. “The first stage of your journey is over. Another stage begins. We must make for Edoras with all haste.”

“Edoras?” said Gimli “That is no short distance. Have we come all this way for nothing? Are we to leave those poor hobbits in this dank, dark, tree-infested—“

The trees began to groan and wave their branches angrily.

“—I mean charming,” finished Gimli “…quite charming forest.”

“The coming of Merry and Pippin will be like the falling of small stones that starts an avalanche on the mountainside,” said Gandalf. ‘If anyone can cause an avalanche, it’s those two,’ thought the wizard. “The Ents are going to wake up, and find that they are strong.”

“Strong?!” cried Gimli. “Oh, that’s good. Very good…”

“Stop your fretting, Master Dwarf,” scolded Gandalf. “Merry and Pippin are quite safe. In fact they are much safer than you are about to be.” With that, the wizard strode off. The others followed behind him in a single file, with Gimli bringing up the rear.

“This Gandalf is grumpier than the old one,” grumbled the dwarf.

***

Kiwi, now that you've mentioned it, I am surprised by the similarity between Aragorn and Balian. Unfortunately, I do still need Guy. He's a troublemaker.

Luna, I guess I've always been a sadistic writer, that's why poor Balian's going through so much.
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Old January 9th, 2008, 12:18 AM
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I enjoyed this chapter immensely, Gimli was great, liked how he backtracked when the trees started to get angry.

Things are starting to get very interesting now, Balian becoming more of a force in the story.
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Old January 9th, 2008, 12:36 AM
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Oh, don't worry, I always put mine thru hell too, makes them more vulnerable and yet strong and manly and therefore you fall harder for them - always a sucker for a quiet, stoic hero, me....
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Old January 9th, 2008, 07:42 PM
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Chapter 21: The Hall of Meduseld

Everyone was glad to be out of Fangorn’s dark shadows. Their joy could also be linked to the fact that one of their companions had returned from the dead and the hobbits were safe. As soon as Balian’s tension evaporated, he felt the effects of his trials during the last few days catch up with him. He stumbled and would have fallen if Gimli had not rushed to catch him. Aragorn smacked himself on his forehead. “Ah, forgive me, Balian,” he said. “I had forgotten that your injuries have not been properly tended to.”

“I’ll fetch some water from the stream in the forest,” Legolas volunteered, gathering their water skins. Guy was reluctant to stay so close to the forest but he had no choice. The others were not going to go any further without seeing to the blacksmith’s hurts.

Gandalf watched in silence as Aragorn cleaned Balian’s wounds and helped him to put back on his shirt and chain mail. “You have suffered much,” the wizard finally said. “I thank you on behalf of Merry and Pippin.”
“There is no need to thank me,” said Balian in surprise. “I swore to protect the helpless. It is my duty.”

Guy snorted. Balian’s tendency to be the Perfect Knight made him want to scream in frustration. This man would always be an obstacle on his quest for power.

The old wizard turned to observe Guy. He had finally guessed Guy’s purpose. Balian’s coming to Middle Earth had upset the balance of good and evil. Guy was his nemesis and therefore had been sent to maintain the balance. Gandalf shook his head, feeling sorry for the blacksmith. Guy had probably been rendered immortal too, just to make things fair. Poor Balian. It seemed that the young man was stuck with his archenemy for the rest of eternity.

“We shall make camp here tonight,” the wizard said in a tone that permitted no argument. “The poor boy needs to rest.”

Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas agreed without challenging the wizard’s decision. Guy opened his mouth to protest but decided against it. If the wizard could make swords red hot and shatter arrows with a blow of his staff, what could he do to someone who disputed his authority?

Balian possessed no such subtlety. “Do not delay the journey because of me,” he said. “I’ll be fine. We should be on our way.”

Aragorn rolled his eyes meaningfully at Gandalf. The wizard gave the ranger a wry smile then turned on the blacksmith. “No, Balian, we make camp here tonight,” said Gandalf. “Tomorrow we travel to Edoras. Now get some rest.”

“But…” protested the young man
“Balian, sleep,” growled Gandalf, pointing at the man’s bedroll. He wrapped a grey cloak around himself.

Gimli chuckled. “Listen to Gandalf, Laddie,” he said. “He might turn you into a toad otherwise.”

Balian gave Gimli a baleful look. Aragorn decided to join the fun. “Sweet dreams. Don’t worry, we checked. There are no monsters hiding under your bedroll,” joked the ranger.

“I’d offer you a cup of warm milk to help you sleep, but there is no cow,” added Legolas.

“Maybe if you beg nicely, the elf will tell you a bedtime story,” said Gimli with a straight face.

“Or Aragorn could sing you a lullaby,” said Legolas.

Balian glowered at his friends with mock anger. It wasn’t his fault that he was the youngest and he didn’t see why he should suffer such teasing. Anyway, he wasn’t really that young. God, he almost got to tell bedtime stories to his own child before…

The man pushed away those painful memories. Some things were really better left forgotten. He lay down on his bedroll and soon was in the realm of dreams.

Aragorn watched the young man sleep. He felt so protective of him, especially in moments like these. To him, Balian was barely more than a child. In his sleep, the blacksmith was curled up in a fetal position, clutching the blanket to his chest. All the anxiety was erased from his face and he looked so young and vulnerable.

“What are you thinking?” Legolas asked him.

Aragorn turned to face his friend. “He’s so young. I can’t believe that he’s done all those things.”

“His world shaped him,” said Legolas “as did yours to you. Men who are destined for great things must pass through many trials and tribulations. You are like metal. Steel must pass through many fires before it is tempered enough to become a good blade.”

“I couldn’t have survived it without the help of my friends,” said Aragorn. “Your friendship is like gold. True gold fears no fire.”

Aragorn looked up at the sky. The moon was full and round, just like the night when Arwen declared that she had chosen a mortal life. His thoughts drifted to the conversation he had with Elrond beside his mother’s grave. He did not want to be king and yet it seemed he had no other choice. He did not think he could be king and at the moment, he did not think he could save his country

“Legolas, I don’t think I can pass my last test,” he said softly to his elven friend.

“Why?” demanded Legolas.

“I don’t think I can retake Gondor.”

“Estel, you were destined to reclaim kingship. Have some faith in yourself. If you stumble, I’ll be there to catch you. I won’t let you fall.”

The two friends clasped hands. No words passed between them but some things did not need to be said out loud. They both knew that no matter what, they would always be loyal to each other.

***

The next morning, they set off. During the night, Gandalf’s steed, a majestic albino stallion with powerful flanks and long legs, had come. Balian learnt that his name was Shadowfax, and that Gandalf was the first to tame him. The horse reminded him of Pegasus, the flying horse of Greek mythology. His hooves seemed to never touch the ground as he raced across the plains.

During their journey, Gandalf explained to them that they were in Rohan, the home of the horselords. Saruman, another wizard who had fallen into evil, had taken control of the king’s mind and was now creating chaos in this country. There had been a famine and a plague, and Rohan was quickly disintegrating. It would not take much to topple the country.

Balian wondered what six people could do against such evil. He remembered the question that the Bishop of Jerusalem had asked him before the siege. “Who do you think you are?” Heraclius had demanded. “Can you alter the world?” What had he said in reply? Yes. He had said yes. And he did change the world, however slight that change was. The memory gave him confidence. They may only have six people, but they would change the fate of this doomed nation. Or die trying.

They reached Edoras the next morning. It was a city built on a hill with the palace —a simple structure with stone walls and a thatched roof— on the very top and the houses surrounding it. It was sparsely populated for a capital city. Orphans were abundant. Their parents had been killed either in war, or by the plague or the famine. The children stared at the strange newcomers. Their eyes were wide in their dirty thin faces. Although it was bitterly cold, they were clad only in ragged and threadbare garments. Their feet were bare. Many of them had running noses and they were shivering. They huddled together in somber groups, trying to preserve the little warmth they had.

Balian felt a stab of pity. He desperately wanted to help them. These were the people he swore to protect. He paused, but Aragorn indicated that they had to go up to the palace. Reluctantly, he left the children behind. He glanced backward at them. They would have to wait until they had completed their business up in the palace, whatever that was.

Although it had not looked like much from a distance, the palace of Rohan was really very large. Guy, who had lived in the magnificent palaces of Jerusalem, was not impressed however. He considered this to be a rundown barn and not fit for common nobility, much less a king.

A lady clothed in white with golden tresses had been standing on the porch of the palace when they had entered the city. Now she had disappeared. Balian wondered who she was. Maybe she was the king’s daughter. From what Gandalf had said, she was definitely too young to be the king’s wife, unless the Rohirrim did not view age difference as an obstacle to marriage.

“The Great Hall of Meduseld,” Gandalf announced when they reached the bottom of the steps which led up to said hall. They dismounted and climbed up, only to be stopped by a contingent of palace guards.

“I cannot allow you and your companions before the king so armed, Gandalf Greyhame,” said the captain “by order of…Grima Wormtongue.” He delivered this announcement with a grimace and an apologetic tone as if he was reluctant to carry out the order.

Gandalf frowned, then nodded at the remaining members of the Fellowship. They began to disarm themselves. Balian handed a palace guard the sword of Ibelin and bade him to take good care of it. He was amazed at how many weapons Legolas seemed to have on him. Even as the elf disarmed himself, Aragorn grinned at him as if sharing a private joke. Legolas did not seem to find this joke as amusing as the ranger did. He glared at the man.
Balian suspected that the elf still had weapons hidden on his person.

Guy seemed insulted that he had to disarm. In the not-so-distant past, he was the one demanding that people disarm before seeing him.

Once they were all disarmed, Gandalf started to go in, but his way was barred by the captain of the guards. “Your staff,” he said. Gandalf looked startled and gave the man a doleful look.

“You would not part an old man from his walking stick,” said the wizard. He winked at the others

The captain looked doubtful but he allowed them to pass. Gandalf laid his hand on Legolas’ arm to give the impression that he was weak and old. As they walked through the wooden doors, Aragorn smiled wryly. He had seen just how much damage Gandalf’s ‘walking stick’ could cause.

It was dark inside the great hall as it was only lit by smoky torches which left black marks on the walls. On the throne at the very end of the hall sat an old man with pale rheumy eyes and scraggly white hair and beard. He was clad in a moth-eaten fur coat and looked as if he was dying. Balian deemed that this was the king of Rohan. Beside the king sat a sickly looking man with a pallid complexion. His colourless eyes looked everywhere and were full of cunning. He leant over and whispered into the King’s ear.

“The courtesy of your hall has somewhat lessened of late, Théoden King,” cried Gandalf in greeting. Balian noticed that there were malicious looking men lurking in the shadows. He tensed as he realized that they had walked into a trap.

“Why should I welcome you, Gandalf Stormcrow?” demanded the king slowly in a tired and rasping voice.

“A just question, my liege,” said the king’s adviser. He rose from his place and approached Gandalf.

“Late is the hour in which this conjurer chooses to appear,” he said in an arrogant tone that Guy was prone to adopt. “Láthspell I name you. Ill news is an ill guest.”

“Be silent!” commanded Gandalf angrily. “Keep your foul tongue behind your teeth! I have not passed through fire and water to bandy crude words with a witless worm.” With that, the wizard brandished his staff.

‘This must be Grima Wormtongue,’ Balian suddenly realized.

“His staff!” gasped Wormtongue. “I told you to take the wizard’s staff!”

The men in the shadows lunged at them, their weapons drawn. Balian’s eye fell on a jar. He smashed it and picked up a large shard. He could see Legolas pulling daggers from his boots and tossing one to Aragorn. Balian threw himself at one of them men, brandishing his makeshift weapon. With expertise he slit the man’s throat with the broken jar fragment. A blow with a bludgeon to the small of his back drove the breath from his body and brought him to his knees. He rolled way from another strike that would’ve brained him. The bludgeon struck the floor and the flagstones cracked from the force of the blow. Before the man could lift his weapon again, Balian leapt at him and pulled him to the floor. The two men wrestled on the stone. Balian, being of a lighter build, was at a disadvantage. He soon became the man at the bottom. Driven to the end of his wits, he head butted his adversary, who immediately fell backwards, clutching his head. Balian scrambled to his feet. The two faced each other warily, each resting on the balls of his feet and ready to leap. The other man lunged first. Balian jumped out of the way and tripped up his adversary. Before the man could recover, the blacksmith stamped down hard on his neck, crushing his windpipe.

The battle was brief but bloody. Many of the men lay dead or wounded. Legolas had suffered a gash to his arm and Aragorn’s head was bleeding. Gimli’s nose was bleeding and Guy sported a beautiful black eye. Although battered, the Fellowship was victorious. Gimli had one foot on Wormtongue’s chest and was advising the man to stay still.

“I release you from the spell,” said Gandalf, lifting his hand over the king. Nothing happened. The king laughed. It was not a laugh of joy but rather one of scorn. “You have no power here, Gandalf the Grey,” he sneered.

Gandalf threw off his grey cloak to reveal the brilliant white underneath. The king stiffened and leaned back in shock. He tried to shield his eyes from the light which Balian swore was the light of heaven. It illuminated the entire hall.

“I will draw you, Saruman, as poison is drawn from a wound!” Gandalf cried with determination. The king cried out as if in pain. Gandalf brandished his staff and seemed to be wrestling with an unseen adversary. The lady clad in white chose this moment to enter. She saw what was happening to the king, and made to run to his side. Aragorn grabbed her by the arm and bade her wait.

“If I go,” snarled the King “Théoden dies!”

“You could not kill me,” said Gandalf, advancing on him. “You will not kill him.”

“Rohan is mine!” The king lunged at Gandalf with an infuriated roar. His fingers were curled like claws.

Gandalf roared as well. There was a flash of bright light and the king was thrown back into his seat. The light faded. Gandalf was panting with exertion.

Aragorn let go of the White Lady and she rushed to the king, kneeling at his feet. Before their eyes, the king began to transform. His beard and hair shortened and became a light wheaten brown. His eyes became clear and focused and he lost the deathly pallor. He looked around in amazement as if he had just been born. Then he saw the White Lady.

“I know your face,” he whispered, cupping her chin in his hands. “Éowyn…”

Théoden looked up. “Gandalf?” he asked in disbelief.

“Breathe the free air again, my friend,” said Gandalf. Théoden rose from his throne, and the people around him bowed their heads in reverence. He examined his hand, flexing his fingers as if to test the joints.

“Your fingers would remember their old strength better if they grasped your sword,” said the wizard. The captain of the palace guards came forward, carrying a sword in a sheath decorated with intricate pictures of horses. He offered the hilt to Théoden he slowly wrapped his fingers around it and drew the weapon from its sheath. The blue steel of the blade seemed to glow. He raised it and tears of joy fell from Éowyn’s eyes. Beneath Gimli’s boot, Wormtongue shook with fear.

The king’s eyes fell on the adviser and they narrowed with anger. “Take this vermin out of my halls!” he snarled. The palace guards readily complied. They roughly threw Wormtongue down the steps. The adviser cried out in pain as his body impacted roughly with the stone. He scrambled to his hands and knees even as the king advanced with a naked blade in his hand.

“I’ve only ever served you, my lord!” cried Wormtongue pitifully, backing away from his liege.

“Your leech craft would have had me crawling on all fours like a beast!” snarled the king.

“Send me not from your side!” begged Wormtongue. Théoden lifted his sword and prepared to decapitate Wormtongue but Aragorn stopped him. Théoden looked at the ranger in confusion.

“Enough blood has been spilt on his account,” said Aragorn.

Balian was confused. If this man had caused so many deaths then let him pay for it with his own life. He was not feeling particularly sympathetic towards Wormtongue. Such a man did not deserve to live. Guy was of the same opinion although both of them would have been severely insulted if it was revealed that they actually agreed on something for once.

Aragorn offered his hand to Grima. The adviser looked at it with loathing then spat on it. Disgusted, Aragorn withdrew his hand. Wormtongue wasted no time in flying down the stairs and pushing away the small crowd that had gathered to watch the spectacle.

Balian suddenly felt lightheaded. Of all the Fellowship, he had fared the worst during the fight, on account of his wounds. He swayed on his feet. Legolas was at his side instantly, stopping him from following Wormtongue’s example and rolling down the steps.

Éowyn was watching the people kneel before her uncle when a sudden movement caught her eye. It was the haradrim warrior who had fought Wormtongue’s cronies. He had collapsed and if one of his friends had not been close enough to catch him, he would have fallen off the high podium of the hall.

“Is he alright?” she asked his friend, then instantly reprimanded herself for having asked such a ridiculous question to which the answer was obvious. Of course he was not alright. If he was then he wouldn’t be unconscious.

“We need a room, my lady,” said the warrior’s friend. He had the bluest eyes she had ever seen and she suddenly realized that he was one of the Firstborn.

“Come with me,” she said. She would give him Éomer’s chamber. The elf hefted the haradrim onto his back and followed her. The warrior did not move. The dwarf followed them, his face full of worry.

“Is the lad going to be alright?” he demanded. “What happened?”

“He’s tired and wounded,” replied the elf, depositing the warrior on the bed. Another man came in. He was the one who had prevented Éowyn from running to her uncle while Gandalf had performed his exorcism.

“How is he?” demanded the newcomer.

“Relax, Aragorn,” said the elf. “He needs to rest. Oh, it would be helpful if the arrow stump in his shoulder is removed.”

The one called Aragorn removed the haradrim’s shirt to reveal a scarred and bloodied body.

“Who did this to him?” demanded Éowyn, feeling anger growing inside her.

“Orcs, and someone called Éomer,” said Aragorn. “It was a misunderstanding. With Éomer I mean, not with the orcs.”

Éomer did this? She was going to kill him.

***

A/N: Balian gets to meet Éowyn soon. I know they’ve seen each other but that does not constitute a meeting. Yes, I’m very cruel to Balian and I know I should stop torturing him, but it’s so fun! Anyways, till next time!

Kiwi, I can't claim credit for most of Gimli's lines about the forest. They were in the Extended Edition of the Two Towers.

Luna, that is exactly the way I feel about my heroes. The more I love them, the more I torture them.
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Old January 10th, 2008, 09:15 AM
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I loved the exchange between Balian and Aragorn..looking forward to the conversation between Eowyn and Eomer, that will be rather heated I am imagining.

I have not watched the extended version in a while, perhaps it is time to take it up again...
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Old January 10th, 2008, 10:14 PM
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Chapter 22: Journey to Helms Deep

The haradrim warrior now wore more bandages than clothes. From his friends’ talk, Éowyn had learnt that his name was Balian. It was a strange name but she liked it. She had sent the others off to rest after promising that she would look after their companion. The man was sleeping peacefully. Aragorn had removed the arrow in his shoulder.

Gently, she sponged the dirt off his face.

“Sibylla,” he whispered, reaching out. She caught his hand. Who was Sibylla? His sweetheart maybe.

“Sibylla, don’t go,” he mumbled, clutching her fingers.

“Shh,” said Éowyn. “I’m here.”

The mumbling stopped and the man quieted. She extracted her hand from his grasp. She had to go and prepare for Théodred’s funeral. Her dear cousin. How she missed him. Tears filled her eyes and threatened to fall. What was going to happen to them? What was going to happen to Rohan? She went out of the room and closed the door, swallowing rapidly as she did so. She had to be strong, both for herself and her people.

***

Balian opened his eyes. He was alone lying on a bed of furs. Slowly, he pushed himself up. Where was he? His body ached and he was hungry. Someone had dressed him clean clothes and treated his wounds. He swung his bare feet over the edge of the bed. Where were his boots? He found them, cleaned, beside the door and pulled them on. The stone floor was cold. He opened the door and found himself in a long corridor lit by smoky torches. Voices came from the far end of the corridor and he followed them until he could see the great hall, now empty except for a few people, his friends and Guy among them. The White Lady was now dressed in black. Her hair was pinned up and she wore a golden circlet on her head. She was comforting two frightened children who were shovelling food into their mouths.

“Where’s Mama?” asked the little girl. Éowyn wrapped a blanket around her shoulders and hushed her.

“This is but a taste of the terror that Saruman will unleash,” said Gandalf to the King.

‘Who is Saruman?’ wondered Balian as he stepped into the hall.

“Lad, what are you doing up?” demanded Gimli gruffly. In one hand he held a hunk of cheese and in the other, a cup.

“I…” said Balian. Good question. What excuse would Aragorn and the others accept? “I was hungry,” he said.

“Here, come and sit down before you keel over,” said Aragorn, guiding him over to one of the benches. The ranger was inhaling smoke from a long wooden tube with a bowl at the end. It reminded Balian of people smoking hashish in the streets of Jerusalem.

“We were just talking about the problem of Saruman,” explained Aragorn quietly as Gandalf and Théoden continued their conversation.

“Who’s Saruman?” asked Balian, taking a chunk of cheese from the platter that Gimli was eating from. He bit into it. Food had never tasted so good. Aragorn handed him a cup full of golden liquid.

“Saruman is a wizard,” said the Ranger.

“Maybe it’s just me,” interrupted Guy “but you seem to have very many of those.”

Both Balian and Aragorn glared at Guy then the ranger resumed the explanation. “There were once five wizards in Middle Earth,” continued Aragorn. “They were sent by the Valar.”

“Heathen gods,” said Guy scornfully. Everyone ignored him.

“One was Gandalf the Grey. Another was, and is, Radagast the Brown. The most powerful of them was Saruman the White. He was their leader,” said Aragorn.

“What happened to the other two?” asked Balian. “You only mentioned three.”

“The other two were blue wizards,” said Legolas. “They disappeared. No one knows where they went.”

“Saruman has recently betrayed us,” said Aragorn. “He allied himself with Sauron and bred the orcs that killed Boromir and captured Merry and Pippin, and you of course.”

“That’s why Gandalf came back as a white wizard,” said Legolas. “He’s here to replace Saruman.”

“What’s that got to do with Rohan?” said Balian.

“Saruman intends to conquer Rohan,” said Aragorn. “He has bred an army of orcs. Gandalf and the King are debating whether the Rohirrim —the people of Rohan— should fight or flee.”

“We have not the strength,” the King was saying. Obviously Gandalf had suggested that they fight.

“You have a thousand good men riding north as we speak,” said Aragorn. “Éomer is loyal to you. His men will return to fight for their king.”

“They will be three hundred leagues from here by now,” declared Théoden. “Éomer cannot help us. I know what it is that you want of me, but I will not bring further death to my people. I will not risk open war.”

“Open war is upon you,” stated Aragorn “whether you would risk it or not.”

Éowyn looked at the ranger from the north, admiration apparent in her eyes. It took a lot of courage to speak to her uncle in that fashion.

“When last I looked,” said the King “Théoden, not Aragorn, was King of Rohan.” He did not bother to disguise the hostility in his voice.

“Then what is the King’s decision?” asked Gandalf.

“We will make for the fortress of Helms Deep,” said Théoden.

“Why does he not fight?” whispered Balian.

“He is afraid of fighting a battle that he is sure to lose,” said Legolas. “Edoras is not a well fortified city and it is easy to conquer. Perhaps he thinks they will have a greater chance of surviving if they retreated to their fortress.”

With that, the elf left Balian and went to speak with Gandalf who, with Gimli and Aragorn, was already stepping over the threshold.

Balian was left behind in the hall. He felt a light touch on his arm and turned to find the White Lady. “How are you feeling?” she asked him.

“Better than before,” he replied, feeling slightly awkward. Why was a noblewoman paying any attention to him? He conveniently forgot that he had captured the attention of the Princess of Jerusalem once.

“I apologise for what my brother did. I hope you can forgive him.”

“Your brother?” Balian was confused.

The White Lady smiled. “My brother is Éomer,” she explained. “I am Éowyn, daughter of Éomund.”

“I am Balian,” he said. “I am pleased to have met you, Lady Éowyn. Do not worry about what your brother did. It was a misunderstanding. He was only serving his country. I do not fault him.”

“I am glad, Lord Balian.”

It was strange, for the haradrim warrior carried a soft lilting accent which did not come from Harad. His shy and soft-spoken manner reminded her of her late cousin. She suddenly felt protective of him. His race would surely cause her people to be hostile towards him.

“Why do you fight for us when your race serves the Enemy?” she asked.

“My race? I know not of what you speak, milady.”

“You are haradrim, are you not?”

“No, I am… from another country far from Middle Earth.” Balian found himself telling Éowyn his story.

“You’ve led men into battle?” said Éowyn. Hope grew in her heart. Maybe this man was sent to take Théodred’s place, not that anyone could replace her cousin.

“Only twice,” said Balian.

“That’s more than what most men would have done,” said Éowyn.

“I lost both of them.”

“I do not think Jerusalem was a defeat.”

“We both lost, Salah al Din and I.”

“And you both won. Rohan will have need of your services.”

“And I will be glad to be of service.”

***

Soon, Balian’s story had spread and grown. By afternoon, the whole city could put his name to his face and the story now said that he was the victorious commander of ten campaigns. He spent much time correcting it.

Aragorn had assigned him to the task of preparing the orphans of the city for the journey. The ranger did not want the blacksmith to over exert himself. Legolas and Gimli found this extremely amusing.

Legolas had dubbed him ‘Balian the childminder’. Balian had wanted to wrestle the elf to the ground but then decided that he would probably lose and he forfeited the idea. Later, he would find a way to have his revenge but for now, he had children to look after.

He was soon laughing and jesting with the children as he loaded food and bedding onto wagons and latched the wagons to the horses that he had been assigned.

***

Legolas had to admit, Balian was a very able man. Not only was he a warrior and a craftsman, he would make a wonderful father as well. The man was walking with one small toddler balanced on his hip. He led Louan with the other hand. The horse also bore many children. They had all accepted him as a favourite uncle and were begging him to tell them stories.

“Maybe you should adopt some of them,” one of the riders called out to the blacksmith as he rode past.

“Maybe I shall,” said Balian.

“Or maybe he can marry one of the Rohirrim maidens,” whispered Legolas to Aragorn. After they had gotten over their initial shyness, the maidens of Edoras had been casting admiring glances in the blacksmith’s direction. Balian was a fine catch. He was skilled in all aspects. He could protect and provide for his wife.

Balian seemed oblivious to their attentions. He was too occupied with his charges.

He and Éowyn seemed to be getting along quite well. She now walked beside him, listening to him telling stories to the children. Occasionally she would ask him questions, mostly about his life and the Fellowship. Balian took care not to tell her too much about Frodo’s quest. It wasn’t that he didn’t trust her. It was because he didn’t want her to accidentally mention it.

Meals proved to be a slight problem for Balian and his little group. Each family cooked for themselves. Balian, despite all his skills, lacked the ability to make anything edible. Éowyn had offered them some of her stew but it did not look too appetizing and he had declined her offer as politely as possible. He did not want to discourage her from practising and improving her cooking. He shook his head as she approached Aragorn, who seemed to have accepted her offer of stew. The poor ranger did not know what he was getting himself into.

The solution came in the form of Legolas, who in fact did know how to roast rabbits and other game decently. As well as meat, the elf had a surplus of lembas, which he shared out generously. They sniggered as Aragorn looked over at them helplessly, a bowl of Éowyn’s stew in his hand. Éowyn was watching him. He had to eat it now.

Once everyone was full, Balian tried to convince the little ones to sleep, without much success. They were far too excited to settle down.

“Tell us a stowy, Baelee,” begged one of the younger children. Why they did not use his real name, he did not know.

“I don’t know that many stories,” said Balian. “Now go to sleep. We have a long journey tomorrow.”

“Pleeease?” they begged. Balian looked to his friends for help. They pretended not to notice his plight.

“Let’s count the stars,” he suggested, hoping that such a boring activity will eventually put them to sleep. It worked. One by one, the children’s eyes closed. He sighed with relief. Now he could rest as well. Nearby, Aragorn was inhaling smoke from his strange tube again. Legolas moved upwind from the ranger. Balian could tell that the elf disapproved of this activity. Balian lay down on the grass and wrapped a blanket around himself. Beside him, Gimli was snoring.

***

Disaster occurred on the third day of their journey. Legolas was scouting ahead while Aragorn and Éowyn walked side by side, speaking softly. The ranger seemed saddened and distant. The children were too noisy for Balian to hear what his friends were saying. It was probably none of his business anyway. Gamling and Hama, two of the King’s bodyguards, rode ahead, overtaking them. Moments later, Hama’s bloodcurdling screams were heard, followed by a cry from Gamling.

Confusion and panic gripped the entire group. “A scout!” shouted Legolas to Aragorn, who had run to see what had happened. Aragorn raced back to inform the King.

“Wargs!” cried the ranger. The women began to scream and the children whimpered in fear.

“Riders to the front!” cried the King.

Balian helped the children to get off Louan. He mounted. “Lead them on to Helms Deep!” he said, turning to Éothain, the oldest boy

“I want to fight!” said the boy.

“You’re not ready yet,” Balian told him. “I need you to take care of the others. Now go!” With that he rode off to join the other warriors. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Gimli trying to urge Arod forwards, without much success. The horse was backing up. In the distance, Legolas was already releasing arrows.

Coming towards them were orcs, mounted on the largest dogs Balian had ever seen in his life. Now he knew why the others were frightened. One bite with those slavering jaws could break a horse’s neck. Could horsemen win over a pack of beasts such as these? Balian did not know. He didn’t really want to know. All he could do was try and gain time so that the women and children could reach their destination safely. He drew his sword and swallowed, just as the first ‘wargs’ and horses collided, sending the horses flying backwards.

Louan swerved and almost dislodged her rider from the saddle as she dodged the onslaught of a warg. Balian slashed out with his sword, beheading the warg’s rider. Legolas seemed to be making some progress. His arrows had felled many of the beasts and their riders while Gimli was nowhere to be seen. The King, despite his age, was holding his own. Balian had no time to be impressed as another warg, this time without a rider, assailed him. The fight was bloody and brief, with many casualties. The blacksmith was surprised that the Rohirrim were victorious and that he himself sustained no serious injury. He was pretty certain he would have gotten his head bitten off by one of those wolves from hell.

“Aragorn,” he heard Legolas call out. He listened for an answer but there was none. Gimli’s voice joined in. Balian looked around but could not see his friend. Where was the ranger? What had happened to him?

***

Thanks, Kiwi. Eomer's going to be in big trouble with Eowyn. She won't let him forget his mistake overly quick.
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Old January 12th, 2008, 08:52 PM
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Telcontar Rulz Telcontar Rulz is offline
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Chapter 23: In the Fortress

“Aragorn!” called Balian. Where did the ranger go? Where could he have gone? “Legolas, where did you last see him?”

The elf looked around with a worried expression on his face. He examined the ground. “There are drag marks,” he said. He, Balian and Gimli followed the marks to the edge of a cliff which looked down into a deep ravine with a fast rushing river swollen from the rains. A weak gurgling laugh sounded behind them and Legolas whipped around to see a dying orc with black blood trickling from the side of his mouth. Aragorn’s dagger was buried in its belly.

Gimli put the edge of his axe to the foul creature’s throat. “Tell me what happened and I will ease your passing,” he growled.

“He’s dead,” sneered the orc, gasping for breath as blood filled his lungs, slowly drowning him. “He took a little tumble off the cliff.”

Legolas grasped the orc’s armour and hoisted him up. “You lie!” hissed the elf through gritted teeth. His voice was thick with pain and anger. The orc did not respond. His gurgling laughter died in its throat as he stopped breathing.

A glint of light from between the orc’s fingers caught Legolas’ eye. He plucked a shining jewel from the creature’s hand. The elf frowned. The Evenstar. Arwen’s gift to Aragorn. He rushed to the edge of the cliff and looked down. A warg’s broken body lay on the rocks, its entrails leaking out of its exploded belly. Or Aragorn there was no sign. He heard someone come up behind him. It was Balian

The blacksmith felt hollow. First Boromir and now Aragorn. Was anyone going to survive this futile struggle against evil? He felt lost. They had lost their leader. Who was going to lead them now? Did it even matter anymore? Immediately he chastised himself for having thought such a thing. Of course it mattered. They had to save the people; they had to save Middle Earth. Aragorn would have wanted them to continue and finish that which he believed in.

Legolas wanted to say something to the youngest member of the Fellowship but his voice caught in his throat. His mouth refused to form words. His heart had been cast into a sea of darkness and despair. Aragorn, his dearest friend and comrade was gone. The elf looked down at the turbulent waters and then at the Evenstar in his hand. How was he going to break the news to Arwen? He had failed her; failed both her and Aragorn.

He heard the King giving orders to leave this killing field and make for safety. The man’s voice sounded so far away. “Leave the dead,” Théoden was saying. The elf whipped around. Leave Aragorn? How could the king even suggest such a thing?

Théoden put a hand on the elf’s shoulder. The words of comfort which threatened to spill from his mouth were futile, he knew it. How could he comfort someone with centuries of experience who had just lost a dear friend, a friend who was a brother in every way but blood? There were no words to describe such sorrow and therefore words could not possibly sooth the pa8in. Instead, Théoden uttered a single imperative: “Come.”

Legolas did not move. He remained at the edge, standing as still as a statue, mired in his grief. Balian looked up and swallowed hard, blinking back tears. Aragorn would not want them to fall into despair.

The men were already mounting. Guy sat astride Cynebald, untouched by the Fellowship’s loss. He was, however, unwilling to ride with the Rohirrim alone. Balian’s story had spread, making him immensely unpopular. At least he knew the Fellowship wouldn’t allow anyone to kill him, although now that Aragorn was gone, he was beginning to wonder.


“Legolas,” said Balian, trying very hard to keep his voice from trembling with emotion. He touched the elf’s arm. “We should go. Aragorn would not want us to despair. He’s in a better place now…”

“What do you know about it?” demanded the elf, turning on his friend. “Have you died before? Have you?”

“I…” said Balian.

“Have you ever lost a brother, a friend, a comrade?”

“I killed my brother in anger, Legolas,” said the blacksmith. “And I’ve watched my friends die. I’ve seen my mentor’s severed head tossed in a pile. I watched my father take his last breath. I held my stillborn child. I cut my wife down from the rafters. Aragorn was my friend too. I think I do know how you feel.”

“I’m sorry,” said Legolas, calming down. “I’m just…”

“I know,” said Balian, wiping a sleeve across his eyes to dry them. “We have to be strong for Aragorn. We have an obligation to fulfil. He would want us to go and protect Rohan. We need you to lead us on.”

Legolas bowed his head and said nothing. He mounted Arod and helped Gimli to climb up behind him. Balian swung himself into Louan’s saddle, surprised to see Guy waiting for them. They kicked their horses into a fast canter to catch up with the others.

Balian observed Legolas closely during the rest of the journey. The elf was withdrawing into himself to hide his grief from the world. His face was a blank expressionless mask. It might as well have been made of stone. The blacksmith had heard in Lothlorien that although elves could not succumb to illness and old age, they could die of grief. He was afraid that it was happening to Legolas. Gimli feared the same thing for he gave the young man a comprehending look. They would try to work on the elf once they reach Helms Deep.

Guy was strangely silent. It appeared that he was shaken by their encounter with the wargs but in truth, his mind was working furiously. With the ranger dead and the elf consumed by grief, there were fewer people to watch Balian’s back. The blacksmith himself still bore wounds from his misadventures and was not in the best condition. If Guy planned well enough, he could arrange Balian’s demise and make it look like an accident. Maybe the blacksmith could ‘fall’ from the battlements while inspecting them. Unfortunately, the man would have collapsed due to his wounds and fatigue and would have fallen. Guy de Lusignan smiled at his fantasy. He would get rid of Godfrey’s thrice-cursed bastard and have his revenge. How sweet it would be.

As soon as Balian caught sight of the fortress of Rohan, he became concerned. The fortress was semicircular in shape, making it vulnerable to attack from all directions except the back, which was shielded by rocky mountains. The placement of the fortress itself was not too bad as it was nestled at the vase of steep cliffs. However, this would make escaping difficult. He prayed it would not come to that.

They rode up the causeway of stone and up to the heavy wooden gates worn smooth by time. The gates opened with a groan. The sounds of hooves hitting stone resounded throughout the fortress as they rode in.

“Make way for the king!” cried the heralds. People scattered before the horses. Éowyn rushed out to greet her uncle. Her hair was loose and she was clothed in a rough woollen gown.

“So few,” she said, searching the riders with her eyes. “So few of you have returned.”

“Our people are safe,” said Théoden, dismounting. An attendant took his horse. “We have paid for it with many lives.”

Balian swung out of the saddle and looked around. Where were the catapults? The ballistae? How did the Rohirrim intend to defend their fortress without any of those things? He followed the King and his riders into the keep. Legolas had disappeared and Gimli was speaking to Éowyn, no doubt breaking their bad news to her. The dwarf was brave. Balian doubted that he had the courage to do such a thing.

He heard the sound of children crying his name behind him. He looked around. There were his young charges, eager and glad to see him. “We were scared,” they told him as he assured them that he was not hurt. “Were the wargs very big?”

“Yes, they were big,” he said. “But we killed them all.” And they killed a lot of us too.

“Sir Balian,” said Éothain, “I want you to meet my mother.”

“I am pleased to meet you, ma’am,” said Balian, bowing. He turned to the boy. “Since when did you call me ‘Sir Balian’?”

“Well,” said Éothain, shifting from one foot to the other. “You are a knight, so I thought it would be appropriate.” He looked up at Balian. “Can you teach me to be a knight?” he asked.

“Maybe later,” said Balian. “I need to find my friends.” Actually, he needed to find a certain elf before said elf did something stupid.

***

Legolas stood at the highest point of the fortress with a smile on his face. His keen eyesight tracked a lone rider across the plains.

“Legolas?” said Balian. “Legolas, what are you doing?” he climbed up to the elf. “Please don’t tell me you were thinking of jumping.”

“I was not,” said the elf. The blacksmith was surprised to see that he was smiling.

“Hope is coming,” said Legolas as if that explained everything. Balian was perplexed. He shook his head and left the elf to his musings. He had something to discuss with the King.

***

Théoden was holding a discussion with his ministers inside the keep when the blacksmith who became a knight interrupted him.

“My lord,” said Balian. “We must look to the defences. This wizard will attack us here soon. We must be prepared.”

“Sir Knight,” said Théoden patiently “this is exactly what I am doing.”

“Then where are your catapults and ballistae?” said the younger man. “How do you intend to defend your fortress without the proper equipment?”

“With archers and rocks and warriors of course,” replied the king. “We Rohirrim are not like the Gondorians. We do not make siege engines.”

“If you will excuse me, milord,” said Gamling, clearing his throat. “Maybe he has a point. Maybe we should commission some to be made.”

“Perhaps you are right, Gamling,” said Théoden “but even so where would we find an engineer and the materials to make these things?”

“I am an engineer,” said Balian. “I’ve made them before.”

“Yes but that still does not solve the problem of materials. There is not enough wood or metal in this fortress. Maybe, Sir Knight, you should focus your energy on seeing to the defences with the things that we do have?”

***

Guy leaned against a wall and watched Balian teach the boys swordplay. The boys were using wooden sticks as swords. Balian demonstrated with his own blade.

“No, no,” the blacksmith was saying. “Never take a low guard. You always strike from high.” He showed them. “The Italians call it La Posta di Falcone; the guard of the hawk.”

“What are Italians?” said a boy.

“Oh, never mind. Just strike from high.” Balian checked the boys’ postures, correcting them if they needed correcting.

Guy shook his head. That fool of a blacksmith was trying to make these farmers’ sons into knights. He couldn’t see it happening.

“Blacksmith!” he called. “How about we give them a little show?”

Balian looked at Guy in surprise. Was that arrogant bastard offering to help? No, he had a malicious gleam in his eyes. This was going to be just like that last time, in the streets and alleyways of Jerusalem.

“Well?” pressed Guy.

Balian nodded. To back down would be to show weakness. He couldn’t do that.

Blade clashed against blade. This wasn’t just a show. It was a struggle for life, for dignity. Balian threw Guy against the wall. Guy’s blade glanced against the blacksmith’s arm and bounced off the elven chainmail. The former king swiped wildly, almost decapitating the blacksmith if he had not leapt out of the way in time. A crowd had gathered to watch. Their eyes were wide with awe. Some men even betted on who would be the first to draw blood.

“Stop this madness!” cried the king who was also watching. “The enemy marches upon our borders and you two are trying to kill each other!”

Balian bowed his head in shame. He had given in to his pride when he should have ignored it.

“We were just showing the young ones the proper way to use a sword,” said Guy.

“Well, I think you have shown them quite enough,” said Théoden. “Come Sir Knight, I would discuss the defences with you.”

Balian sheathed his sword and followed the King. “I’m not done with you yet, Perfect Knight,” he heard Guy say as he passed by. The ominous words made him want to shiver. He fought the urge to do so. He would not let Guy win.

Théoden led Balian into the hall where maps and plans of the fortress were strewn about all over the tables. Balian looked at them intensely. The only thing that needed reinforcing was the gates, as the entire fortress was made of rock. Unless, of course, the enemy had catapult, ballistae and other siege engines. Then things would be slightly different.

“How many archers do we have?” he asked Théoden.

“Not enough,” replied the King.

Balian and Théoden were discussing where to place the archers when there came a shout from below. Moments later, Aragorn burst in, battered, tired and wet, but otherwise unharmed.

The blacksmith rushed towards his friend, speechless. He had so many questions but Aragorn did not seem to be in the mood for storytelling. “A great host of Uruk Hai is making their way here,” said the ranger. “I passed them.”

“A great host, you say?” said Théoden.

“All Isengard has been emptied,” said Aragorn.

“How many?”

“Ten thousand strong at least.”

Théoden whipped around in shock. “Ten thousand?” he whispered.

“They will be here by nightfall,” said Aragorn.

“How many do we have?” asked Balian. He had a bad feeling about this.

“Three hundred at the most,” said Gamling.

“I want every man and strong lad able to bear arms,” said Théoden. “Get the women and children into the caves.” He walked out of the keep, with Aragorn, Balian, Gamling, Gimli and Legolas behind him. They went out to the outer wall and surveyed it. Théoden seemed satisfied by its condition. “They will break like water upon the rocks,” said the King. “Saruman’s hordes will pillage and burn, we’ve seen it before. Crops can be resown. Homes, rebuilt. Within these walls, we will outlast them.”

“They do not come to destroy Rohan’s crops and villages,” said Aragorn. “They are here to destroy its people, down to the last child.”

“What would you have me do?” demanded Théoden, grasping Aragorn’s arm tightly. “Look at my men. Their courage hangs by a thread. If this is to be our end, then I would make it such an end as to be worthy of remembrance.”

“Send out riders, milord,” said Aragorn. “You must call for aid.”

“And who will come?” said Théoden. “Elves? Dwarves? We are not so lucky in our friends as you, Master Aragorn.”

“Gondor will answer,” said Aragorn.

“Gondor? Where was Gondor when the Westfold fell? Where was Gondor when our enemies closed in around us? Where was Gond…” The King trailed off angrily. He had no wish to list his grievances against Gondor. “No, my Lord Aragorn. We are alone.”With that, Théoden stormed off, Gamling behind him.

“We must prepare,” said Legolas. “Aragorn, get some rest. You look like you just walked out from Mandos’ Halls.”

“No, I’m fine,” said the ranger. “We’ll post archers along these walls. That way, we can shoot those who attempt to come up the causeway to ram the gates.”

“Aragorn, you must rest,” said Legolas as Aragorn descended into the keep again. “You’re no use to us half alive.”

“He’s right, you know, lad,” said Gimli. Balian just shook his head. Aragorn was just as bad as his patients.

‘You reap what you sow,’ he thought.

“Aragorn!” came a woman’s voice. They turned around to see Éowyn running towards them. She looked flustered. “I am to be sent with the women and children into the caves,” she said, almost growling with frustration.

“That is an honourable charge,” said Aragorn.

“To mind the children! To find food and bedding when the men return! What honour and renown is there in that?”

“My lady,” said Aragorn patiently “There comes a time when there is honour without renown.”

“Let me stand at your side.”

“It is not in my power to command it.” The ranger turned to leave.

“You do not command the others to stay!” cried Éowyn. “They stand beside you because they would not be parted from you…because they love you!”

Balian’s eyes widened in shock. Was Éowyn in love with Aragorn?

“I’m sorry,” said Éowyn, in softer tones. She fled into the caves.

“Let’s go to the armoury,” said Gimli, breaking the tension. “We should arm ourselves.”

Aragorn nodded but did not speak. The four of them made their way to the armoury, where riders were handing out weapons to the would-be defenders of Helms Deep. Balian’s eyes swept over the men. Most of them probably hadn’t touched a weapon before in their lives. Aragorn was of the same opinion.

“Farmers, farriers, stable boys,” said the ranger. “These are no soldiers. Not including you of course, Balian.”

The blacksmith nodded.

“Most have seen too many winters,” said Gimli.

“Or too few,” said Legolas. “Look at them. They’re frightened. I can see it in their eyes.”

The milling people stopped and turned to look at the elf as if demanding an explanation.

Legolas began to speak in elvish impatiently. Aragorn replied but the elf refused to be placated. The volume of his voice increased and he almost spat out the last words.

“Then I shall die as one of them!” shouted Aragorn. Now both Balian and Gimli understood, at least, they were almost certain that they did. The ranger left in anger. Legolas made to follow him but Gimli held him back.

“Let him go, lad,” said the dwarf. “Let him be.”

Balian turned to look at his two friends, then went after Aragorn. He found the ranger outside, taking deep breaths to calm himself.

“Maybe Legolas is right,” said the blacksmith. “It is quite impossible.”

“How could you say that?” demanded Aragorn. “You’ve defended Jerusalem with worse odds. You survived. The people survived. Why is this any different?”

“Last time, I had siege engines,” said Balian. “The Rohirrim don’t have a single catapult. And Saladin was not bent on destroying us or the city. It is very different.”

“I will not give up hope, Balian. Nor should you.”

Balian was left there standing alone. The ranger was right. He could not give up. How many people almost gave up before the siege of Jerusalem? Many, too many to count. Yet he had not. He did not know what he could do but he was certain that like last time, he could make a difference. Encouraged, he went back to the armoury. The world of men will not fall.

***

A/N: Whoopee! The siege of Helms Deep next! I’m more than halfway through this story; I can’t believe it!
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Old January 13th, 2008, 08:40 AM
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KiwiGirl KiwiGirl is offline
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hmmm I missed the post yesterday...

Loved the interaction between Balian and the children, very bittersweet.

I am very much hoping that someone has Balian's back on those battlements.
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Old January 14th, 2008, 07:42 PM
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Telcontar Rulz Telcontar Rulz is offline
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Disclaimer: I don’t own anything that you recognize. I’m just borrowing them without permission but with every intention of returning them to their rightful owners.

Chapter 24: The First Wave

Thunder clashed, like the sound of shield against shield. Lightning exploded in the sky, foreshadowing a great storm. Balian glanced up. The clouds had rallied. It was going to rain soon.

“Sir Balian!” he heard someone call. It was Éothain. The boy was dressed in armour that was too big for him and holding a sword awkwardly. The other boys were in the same condition. The looked absolutely terrified, although they tried to put on brave faces.

“Are you ready for this?” asked Balian. Éothain nodded, although some of the others looked uncertain.

“Sir,” said one of Éothain’s companions. “How can we win?” Balian realised that he was surrounded by a sea of frightened boys who were looking to him for answers. ‘How can they win if they feel as if they can’t?’ he thought.

“We have no knights or riders,” continued the boy.

“Truly?” said Balian, looking at each and every one of them. Then he turned to Éothain. “You said you wanted to be a knight. Do you still want to be?”

The Rohirrim boy nodded.

“Kneel!” said Balian. “If you want to be a knight, kneel! On your knees!”

The boys knelt, gazing up at this man with awe and expectation.

Balian looked down upon them, feeling a sense of nostalgia wash over him. “Be without fear in the face of your enemies,” he began. “Be brave and upright that God may love thee. Speak the truth always, even if it leads to your death. Safeguard the helpless. That is your oath…”

***

Gamling watched the strange scene unfold before him. The boys seemed to change even as the foreigner spoke. Their faces lit up with hope. In one moment, they had become defenders of Rohan, not just mere farm boys.

“Rise a knight!” Balian shouted. “Rise a knight!” The boys got onto their feet. Éothain was rubbing his face where the man had slapped him, but his eyes were shining. Even the grown men, who had not partaken in the ceremony, seemed encouraged by the blacksmith’s words. The entire fortress was strangely quiet, and Balian suddenly realised that they had all been listening. This time, he did not mind being at the centre of attention, not if he could help them. They looked at him with new respect, stepping to the side as he passed and dipping their heads in acknowledgement. The men and boys went back to their work, preparing for the forthcoming battle with more fervour than before.

Legolas saw his friend from the highest ramparts of the fortress. The words reverberated in his mind. He knew that Balian had done this once before, but he never realized how amazing it was to see it for himself. With a few words, the blacksmith seemed to have changed the entire atmosphere. The elf felt his despair wane. Yes, there was still hope while men like Aragorn and Balian were here. Aragorn. He would have to find that stubborn ranger who seemed to have gained a knack for disappearing. He needed to tell him that he was right.

***

“Sir Knight!” called Théoden, wishing he had more men like the foreign blacksmith, or just more men.

The younger man turned. “My lord?” he said.

“I would like you to be in charge of the defenders above the gate.”

“As you wish.”

“And…before I forget, the mass knighting was spectacular. I thank you for it. You have raised the men’s morale.”

“It is my duty.”

Théoden clapped the young man on the shoulder then left to see the other parts of the fortress. Balian headed for the armoury where his friends were probably hiding. He had work to do and he needed their help.

***

Guy heard about Balian’s second mass knighting. Let the fool think that he was making a difference. This was the perfect chance to get rid of him. In the chaos of the battle, everyone would be occupied. No one was going to notice that a man had fallen off the wall or had been cut down by a sword which did not belong to an orc. He pulled on the chainmail that he had been allotted, wistfully remembering the beautiful surcoat and armour that he had owned when was King. Now he was here, about to fight like a common soldier for a cause that was not his own.

He fingered his sword. At least he still had this. God forbid that he should fight with one of those awkward and ugly lengths of crude metal that the Rohirrim called blades.

“Hey you!” said one of the Riders. Guy bit back an acidic retort. It would only make him more unpopular and they despised him enough.

“Yes?” he said coolly.

“Do you know how to use a bow?”

“Do I look like an imbecile?”

“Good.” The man thrust a bow and a quiver of arrows into his arms. It seemed that the former king of Jerusalem was going to be posted along the wall with the other peasant archers. He fumed with anger. The blacksmith was probably in charge of a contingent of soldiers. What did they see in him anyway? This reinforced Guy’s opinion that Balian had to be eliminated, no matter what the cost.

***

Gimli grunted in frustration as he struggled to pull the armour on. It was too tight, but he needed armour. He cursed in dwarvish, raising some eyebrows. The dwarf was panting as he struggled with the garment. Was it really worth all this trouble? Probably not. It would probably strangle him anyway. Maybe it would be best not to put it on. Besides, how could a dwarf fight in such constricting armour? He tried to pull it off himself but his arms were pinned to his sides. He could hardly breathe, much less move. He realised with dismay that he was stuck.

“Err, Gimli?” said a familiar voice. The dwarf groaned. Why did one of his friends have to see him like this? It wasn’t Aragorn. The voice was too young. He hoped to Aulë that it was not the pointy-eared-elvish-princeling. He would never hear the end of it.

“Do you need some help?” No, that definitely was not Legolas. Legolas would probably be laughing his pretty head off by now.

“Can you get this stupid shirt off me, lad?” he said. There was no answer. He felt tugging and it almost lifted him off the ground.

“You have it mostly on anyway,” panted Balian. “Maybe it would be easier to put it on and see what can be done about the length.” The blacksmith tugged the other way and after much puffing and pulling, Gimli managed to fit his arms through the sleeves.

Balian quickly turned a snort of laughter into a not-so-discreet cough. The dwarf looked comical. The mail shirt looked like a sort of dress on him. It brushed the ground and the sleeves were too long as well. Gimli looked decidedly red, probably from all the effort he put into trying to pull the shirt on. It was strained across the dwarf’s broad chest. The blacksmith wondered how his friend could still breathe.

“Right, lad,” grumbled Gimli. He didn’t seem to find the situation so amusing. “What are we going to do about this length problem?”

“Maybe you could tuck it up? Or you could find something to trim off the bottom. Bolt clippers maybe?” Now that the dwarf was mostly out of trouble, Balian really needed to find Aragorn and Legolas to discuss the defences. He had no idea how to defend a fortress without the right weapons. It was all very well to throw rocks down upon the enemy but that would mean the enemy had to be very close. He preferred to fight them while they were still some distance from the fortress.

“Oi, lad! Come back!” shouted Gimli. “You’re the blacksmith! You fix it for me!”

Balian was about to go into one of the side rooms then stopped. Both Legolas and Aragorn were inside, speaking softly in elvish. Any earlier animosity had evaporated and the two were clasping each others’ shoulders. He did not want to disturb them. Gimli had no such qualms. He waddled in, lifting the hem of the chainmail. “If I had time I’d get this adjusted,” he said, looking pointedly at the doorway where Balian was standing, then let the hem drop. It fell to the stone floor with a metallic clank.

The elf and the ranger looked at the dwarf with amusement. Gimli opted to complain about the width rather than the length. Any complaint about the length would probably trigger a bout of teasing from his elven friend. “It’s a little tight across the chest,” he said. Legolas and Aragorn raised their eyebrows. The length seemed more of a problem, as far as they were concerned. Legolas opened his mouth to say something but he stopped, cocking his head. The dwarf’s overlong mail shirt was forgotten. Balian listened. A horn. Were the orcs here already?

“That is no orc horn!” said the elf, and he rushed outside. Aragorn and Balian followed him, leaving Gimli alone to solve the problem of the chainmail.

The sight which greeted the three friends lightened their hearts immensely. An army of elves from Lothlorien had arrived, led by Haldir. He was talking to Théoden who seemed to shocked to say anything. Balian figured that these men had probably never seen an elf until Legolas came to Rohan and now, there were hundreds of these immortals. They were certainly an amazing sight. The soldiers were very orderly and seemed to move as one.

“Mae Govannen, mellon-nin,” said Aragorn. Well met, my friend. He rushed up to Haldir and embraced him like a long lost brother. Haldir seemed reluctant to return the embrace but finally relented and allowed his arms to close around Aragorn. The ranger released the elven captain. “You are most welcome,” he said.

Legolas ran forwards to greet the elf as well, clasping his shoulder warmly as elven warriors did when they greeted each other. Then it was Balian’s turn. It felt awkward, greeting someone he hardly knew in front of so many people. “I’m glad you’ve come,” he said at last. “It’s very generous of you.”

“We are proud to fight alongside men once more,” said Haldir.

‘Does that mean it’s happened before?’ wondered Balian.

Thunder clashed again, and the rain pelted down, soaking them in mere moments. Water dripped down from the end of Balian’s nose. His hair was plastered to his head. In the distance they could see the light from the torches of the marching orcs. The boys were silent; watching the approaching army that may be Rohan’s approaching doom. None of them showed their fear and Balian felt proud of them. Then he grieved. Many of these boys might not survive this. They had no experience in war.

Nearby, Aragorn was instructing the elven troops. Legolas and Gimli were with them. Balian wondered how Gimli felt about being placed with the elves. They were all good archers which eased Balian’s anxiousness a little. At least now they had more long range weapons. He missed his ballistae and catapults. Not to mention the oil which burnt fiercely when lit. The Rohirrim didn’t have any of those things.

The orcs halted in front of the fortress. Balian could make out their long pikes in the dim light. And what was that? He peered carefully into their midst. Oh God help him! The Uruk Hai had ballistae!

***

Éowyn heard the approaching footsteps of Saruman’s horde. The ground trembled as if it loathed the feel of their foul feet upon its surface. The women and children sat silently in the dark, too frightened to talk, or to do anything for that matter. She wondered what would be worse, knowing that the men she cared about were dead or not knowing anything at all. She opted for the latter.

She could imagine Lord Aragorn standing proudly on the battlements, ordering the men to stand firm. She would give anything to stand beside him and be one of the soldiers that he commanded.

‘His friends will look after him,’ she told herself firmly, but she doubted even her own words. His friends would be occupied with their own adversaries. There would be no one to protect Aragorn.

‘Aragorn doesn’t need protecting,’ she scolded herself. ‘He is a good warrior.’ Despite her own reassurances, she somehow thought that it would be safer if she was with him.

***

The two armies stood facing each other, not doing anything. Neither wanted to make the first move. Then an arrow flew down from the battlements, released by an old man with one eye. It hit an Uruk Hai in the eye, felling the creature. The orcs looked at their fallen companion, seemingly in shock. Then they roared in anger and surged forwards like a wave of spears and armour. The battle of Helms Deep had begun.

***

A/N: Well, the battle at last. I had hoped to go onto the battle itself this chapter but there wasn’t enough time to do it justice. We’ll just have to wait for the next chapter. There will hopefully be more about Guy and how he copes.


I thought Balian would be good with children, Kiwi, since he did seem pretty happy to be with them during that Ibelin scene. Well, it's hard to watch anyone's back when there's a war going on.
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Old January 15th, 2008, 09:06 AM
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KiwiGirl KiwiGirl is offline
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Loved the knighting scene and so very appropriate. A good touch of humour with Gimli's armour to break the tension and then allow it to build again.

Lets hope that Guy trips and falls over the edge...
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Old January 16th, 2008, 10:26 PM
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Telcontar Rulz Telcontar Rulz is offline
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Chapter 25: The Battle for the Keep

Wave upon wave of orcs surged forwards, their wet bodies glistening in the flickering torchlight from the fortress. Aragorn gave instructions, and the elves fired at the orcs. Arrows fell down on them like the rain, striking them at the weak points of their armour and felling many. Not to be outdone, the men released a volley of their own.

Balian could sense the men’s nervousness. The tension was so thick he could almost slice through it. The boys clutched their chunks of rock, ready to throw them down upon their enemy. He held up a hand to stop them. The orcs were out of range.

The minions of Isengard retaliated, shooting crossbow bolts up at the defenders. Bodies tumbled from the wall to smash upon the hard rocky ground below or to be impaled by pikes. A force using the turtle formation with shields protecting them on all sides and the top slowly and steadily made their way up the causeway towards the gate. Each shield bore a crudely drawn shape, but it was not so hard to tell that it was the White Hand which was trying to strike down Rohan.

“Now!” shouted Balian and his contingent threw their rocks and other missiles down upon the orcs. Most of them bounced off the shields but some hit the orcs below. It seemed that every orc they felled was replaced by another more determined to get at the gate with their battering ram.

Ladders were being propped up against the wall, each with an orc perched at the top. Balian could not help but be impressed. Whatever these orcs were, incompetent was not a word that he would use to describe them. The blacksmith drew his sword, and around him, the others did the same. The orcs leapt onto the wall and the men promptly engaged them in battle. As soon as Balian parried the first blow that was meant for him, he immediately knew that these orcs were not like the others that he had fought. To compare these ones to those was like comparing the light of the sun to that of the moon. His arm shook from the force of the impact. The orc was strong; too strong. The only advantage that the blacksmith had was speed and agility. He ducked the next blow and struck the creature’s leg, amputating it just below the knee. Black blood spurted onto his hands and the orc roared in pain as it toppled over. Amidst the din, he heard Gimli’s battle cry of something which sounded like ‘Baruk Khazad!’. Without slowing down, he whirled around to face yet another assailant. Unlike his previous adversary, this one wore armour. The Sword of Ibelin struck it with a loud clang and Balian had to drop to the ground and roll to avoid being cleaved into two. He thrust up with his blade and plunged it into the orc’s neck. The blacksmith scrambled to his feet and pulled his sword out of the dead orc.

His inexperienced boys were fighting three of the foul creatures and they were losing. Behind him, Gimli was harvesting orc heads, landing blows left and right. He shouted numbers gleefully while nearby, Legolas was also counting.

‘They have made a game of it,’ thought Balian. It was too serious to be a game. He blocked a downward stroke that would have killed Éothain then trapped his adversary’s blade with his sword’s guard. He swung the blade upwards and cut the orc’s throat.

Éothain had already engaged himself in yet another fight, this time with help from his companions. He was determined to prove that he was worthy of his knighthood.

***

Éowyn could hear the din of the raging battle above them. The domed roof of the caves amplified the sounds. It seemed as if their whole world was tumbling down around them. Mothers clutched their frightened children to their bosoms, too terrified themselves to offer them any words of comfort. The Shieldmaiden of Rohan ran her thumb gently along her blade of blue steel. She itched to see it covered in the black blood of the orcs who had taken both her father and her cousin.

She wondered what was happening outside the caves. Aragorn no doubt would have assumed the role of a commander of some sort. His friends would be fighting beside him cleaving orc heads as they would ears of wheat. More than anything, she wished she was out there with them. Why weren’t women allowed to fight? Was she not as capable as any of the men? Théodred had said that she was better than most. He ought to have known and her cousin had not been a man who would tell her a lie in order to placate her. Valar damn it! Why was she born a woman, a member of the weaker sex?

Éowyn took up her sword. The hilt felt comfortable in her hands. She gave it a few experimenting swings, imagining that it was cutting through orc flesh.

***

Shooting arrows for an extended period was more tiring than Guy had thought that it would be. His shoulders and arm muscles ached and his quiver had almost be emptied. Soon he would be fighting with his blade and he had no desire to face one of those demons from hell. He put his last arrow to the string… then he saw something that he hated more than hell itself. He changed his mind and aimed at Balian who was fighting with one of those things nearby with his back to Guy.

Guy’s hand shook with anticipation and excitement. At last, the day had come! Warmth coursed through his body and his heart hammered like the drumbeats of victory. He released the arrow. It flew … and grazed Balian’s thigh. Guy cursed then cheered up again as the blacksmith faltered. That moment’s distraction was all the orc needed. It struck Balian’s ribs with its club, sending the man falling backwards. Balian landed hard on his back, wheezing in pain, his breath driven from his lungs. His chest throbbed.

‘Probably broke some ribs,’ he thought, grateful for the armour that Lady Galadriel had given him. Somehow he felt that she knew he would need it. He knocked aside a blow that would have impaled him then rolled away, ignoring the fire in his chest. The orc’s sword connected with the stone, creating sparks. Just as the orc charged at the wounded blacksmith, an elven arrow suddenly sprouted from its eye and pierced its brain. Balian turned and nodded his thanks to his rescuer. Legolas saluted him then turned back to the next oncoming wave of orcs.

The former king of Jerusalem saw this out of the corner of his eye as he fought of the ferocious onslaught of one of the foul creatures. Damn the elf to Hell, and may he burn for eternity! Why did he have to ruin everything? If not for him, Balian would have been long dead, with no evidence to suggest that Guy had any hand in his demise.

Balian clambered to his feet, gasping. Each breath hurt. He doubted that he was of much use now.

‘Come on!’ he told himself. ‘Godfrey once fought two days with an arrow through his testicle, so why can’t you fight with a couple of broken ribs?’

‘Godfrey wasn’t fighting with demons from hell,’ said another part of his mind.

‘Shut up,’ he told it. He was about to charge back into the chaos when he heard a large explosion. Moments later, he was being blasted backwards. Rocks and bits of debris hailed down around him and he tried to shield his head with his arms. He heard someone calling his name desperately then he was being shaken. Balian looked up to see a terrified Éothain. “They’ve blown a hole in the wall,” said the boy fearfully. “Are you alright, sir?”

“I’m fine,” he said, clambering to his feet. “They’ll be needing my help.” He raced off to where the wall had been breached, not looking back to see if the boy was following him. Personally, he hoped that the boy was not following. It was too dangerous for a child. He arrived just in time to see Gimli jump off the wall into a group of orcs who were about to tear Aragorn to pieces. The dwarf did not seem to care that the orcs were holding pikes that were pointing upwards. Gimli must have had the blessings of all the deities in Middle Earth for he was not impaled. He landed in the water at the base and started hacking in every direction. Balian found a flight of steps and ran down to help his friend.

Gimli had been overwhelmed and if he did not get help soon, he would drown. Balian threw himself at the orcs, just as Aragorn gave the elves a command. Arrows flew towards them and hit the Uruk Hai. Balian reached into the water and pulled the sputtering dwarf up. They looked up just in time to see Legolas sliding down the steps while standing on an orc shield and shooting at the same time. He had used up the last of the arrows and now he brandished his knives. Aragorn had joined in the fight. The four friends hacked and slashed, trying to stop the orcs from entering the fortress, to no avail. There were too many of them.

“Fall back!” they heard Théoden shout. Gimli took no heed of the command and Legolas and Balian had to drag him away by the arms, kicking and struggling.

“What are you stopping for?!” roared the infuriated dwarf. Balian was surprised. Could Gimli not see the futility?

“Stop it, Gimli!” said Legolas. “If we don’t go in we’ll all be killed!”

Gimli looked up at the elf. “Alright, then, elf. Put me down! I can walk!”

“You promise you won’t go the other way?”

“I promise!”

Balian and Legolas released Gimli and they rush inside the keep to find Théoden trying to reinforce the gate. “Hold them!” the king was shouting. “Stand firm!” The orcs had made a hole in the wood and the men were busy trying to fend them off as well as mend the gate. The blacksmith immediately went to help the men with the timbers, while Aragorn pushed the orcs’ weapons back so that the men could place their timbers.

“Hold them!” repeated Théoden.

“How long do you need?” said Aragorn.

“As long as you can give me,” said the king.

“Come, Gimli!” said Aragorn. The two of them disappeared. Balian wished he could follow them but he could not abandon the men. They needed him here; he had done this before and he knew what to do.

Moments later, he could see Aragorn and Gimli appear miraculously in front of the gate on the causeway, sending orcs falling down the sides. ‘Where did they come from?’ he wondered.

“Up a bit!” he said out loud, instructing the men where to put the wood. “We need another one over here!”

Bit by bit, the hole in the gate was blocked in until a tiny space was left. “Aragorn!” Théoden shouted through said space. “Get out of there!”

The ranger started for the gate, uncertain of how a man and a dwarf could fit through such a small gap. He didn’t have to think for long. An orc grabbed them both by the neck and proceeded to strangle them. The king ordered the last timber to be placed, much to Balian’s dismay.

“You’re just going to leave them out there?” he demanded angrily. “They may have just saved your nation and is this how you repay them?”

“Much must be sacrificed in war,” said Théoden. “You of all people should know that, Sir Knight.”

Balian stormed away to find a way to save his friends. The king’s words irked him; Théoden was right and he knew it. Only his conscience found it difficult to accept. He went out to the battlements above the gate and looked down at his friends. The blacksmith hated his helplessness.

The Uruks were launching ballistae at them, using the large missiles as grapple hooks to pull up ladders that were covered in orcs. Balian felt a hand on his shoulder. It was Legolas. “We’ve got to do something,” said the elf. He pulled an arrow from his quiver —somehow he had managed to refill it— then took aim. His arrow flew true and severed one of the ropes pulling the ladders up. The ladder fell backwards and crushed its load of orcs. Legolas took the rope. “Aragorn!” he shouted, throwing the rope down to them.

The ranger caught hold of the rope with one arm and Gimli with the other. Legolas hauled them up while Balian fended off any orc that tried to attack the elf while he was preoccupied.

“That was stupid,” said Balian, clapping Aragorn on the shoulder. “Next time, take me with you.”

“Agreed,” said Aragorn. “Now inside the hall. We can’t hold them here for much longer.”

“Where’s Haldir?” said Legolas suddenly.

Aragorn was silent and the elf understood. He sent a swift prayer for Haldir’s soul. They would mourn him later, when they had the luxury of time.

***

Guy rushed inside the hall, panting. He was going to die. There was no way that anyone would survive this, not unless there was divine intervention. Guy prayed to God for help. He wasn’t ready to meet his maker yet! Goddammit! He was not ready to die!

Aragorn, Balian, Gimli and Legolas rushed inside. They were the last. The doors were closed and the remaining men and elf started to barricade the entrance.

“Come on, Lusignan!” shouted Balian. “Don’t just stand there and wait for death!”

“The fortress is taken,” said Théoden in despair. “It is over.”

“You said the fortress would never fall while your men defended it!” shouted Aragorn, releasing the table that he and Legolas had been carrying over to the doors. “They still defend it! They have died defending it!”

“The women and children…” said Balian. It didn’t matter if he died but he could not let those innocents be harmed.

“Is there no way for the women and children to get out of the caves?” demanded Aragorn. He got no answer.

“Is there no other way?” he repeated.

“There is one way,” said Gamling hesitatingly at last. Legolas rushed to the remaining table and with Guy’s help dragged it over against the door. “It leads into the mountains,” continued the guardsman “but they won’t get far. The Uruk Hai are too many.”

“Send word to the women and children to get out of the caves, and barricade the entrance!” said Aragorn.

“Does it matter?” said Théoden. His voice was heavy, laden with hopelessness. “There has been so much death; too much. What can men do against such hate?”

“The least you can do is try,” said Balian. Didn’t Théoden care? They were his people! How could he give up like that? Théoden threw him a dispirited glare. He was too tired to argue with the young man.

“Ride out with me,” said Aragorn. “Ride out and meet them!”

Light returned to Théoden’s eyes. He remembered his own words. ‘If this is to be our end,’ he had said ‘Then I would make it such an end as to be worthy of remembrance.’

“For death and glory,” he breathed.

“For Rohan,” said Aragorn. “For your people.”

“The sun is rising,” said Gimli.

‘What is so significant about that?’ thought Balian. ‘The sun will rise whether we succeed or not.’

“The horn of Helm Hammerhand shall sound in the deep for one last time!” declared Théoden.

“Yes!” cried Gimli and he sped off, no doubt to sound the horn. Moments later, the horn blast shook the fortress.

“Now for wrath, and for ruin, and a red dawn!” cried Théoden, putting on his plumed helmet and mounting. The others followed the king’s example, with naked blades in their hands. The door gave way and fell to the ground with a loud crash, sending dust flying upwards.

“Forth Eorlingas!” shouted the king and he kicked his horse forward, cutting his way through the ranks of orcs. To be honest, more orcs were trampled to death than cut down by swords but at that moment, the remaining defenders of Helms Deep were not particular as to who actually killed the orcs as long as the orcs were killed. They rode down the causeway, spilling orcs off the sides.

In the east, the golden rays of the morning sun reached across the sky. In front of the sunrise was a lone rider on a white horse.

“Gandalf!” breathed Aragorn. Another rider soon joined the wizard, then a whole contingent of riders.

“To the king!” shouted Éomer. The riders charged down the slope just as the sun emerged, blinding the orcs.

“Reinforcements!” cried Guy. “Praise be to God!” He started hacking at the orcs with more fervour than before. Killing orcs was not so different from killing infidels. It was killing the enemies of God either way and it might just secure him a place in heaven, or at least keep him out of Hell. He forgot about Balian for a while as he slashed at the monsters, feeling as if he was a saint fighting the minions of Satan.

To Guy’s left, Balian cleaved an orc head in two. The hope had renewed his strength. He forgot about his injuries.

The Uruk Hai, which had been so feared, were driven away into a forest which had not existed the day before. ‘What in God’s name?’ wondered Balian. Forests did not grow in the span of one day, not even in Middle Earth, at least, he thought not.

“Stay away from the trees!” shouted Éomer. Legolas looked on with awe and reverence as the forest began to move. The screams of dying orcs could be heard.

“Mary mother of God!” breathed Guy. He was never going to look at trees the same way ever again. In fact, it would be best if he never saw another tree in his life. Who knew whether it could be one of these murderous things? Wait. Was it possible to lure Balian into one such forest? Maybe, if the blacksmith was drugged. Then again, his friends would never let that happen. The elf knew too much about trees anyway.

“That was the most magnificent thing I have ever seen,” said Legolas with an intoxicated look on his face. Gimli grimaced.

“I am not going to go into another forest again, ever,” he grumbled. Balian felt inclined to agree. Getting crushed or impaled by a branch was not a desirable death.

“Gimli,” said Legolas cheerfully. “I believe we have a score to settle.”

“What score?” said Balian.

“Well, the elf here bet that he could kill more orcs than me,” said Gimli. “I felt disinclined to agree.”

“What did you bet?” said Balian, not sure whether he wanted to know or not.

“Let’s just say that the elf won’t be pleased if he loses,” said the grinning dwarf.

“Gimli, it’s not very nice…” began Balian.

“Sir Balian!” cried Éothain. He was followed by more children, Freda among them.

“Thank goodness you’re alright!” said Balian. One of the girls ran to him and hugged his leg.

“I was scared,” she said, looking up at him with large round eyes. “But I was bwave and I didn’t cwy.”

“I’m sure you were very brave, little one,” said Balian, bending down to ruffle her hair.

“Well, Balian, Childminder of Rohan,” said Legolas with a grin. “We’ll leave you to your charges. Gimli and I have some counting to do.”

Balian had forgotten all about that nickname, until now. All of a sudden, he was very eager for Legolas to lose his bet.

***

A/N: Well, that was more difficult than I thought it would be, mainly because I know next to nothing about fighting techniques. Ah well, I hope you enjoy it anyway.
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  #50  
Old January 16th, 2008, 10:27 PM
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Telcontar Rulz Telcontar Rulz is offline
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Disclaimer: I don’t own anything that you recognize. I’m just borrowing them without permission but with every intention of returning them to their rightful owners.

Chapter 25: The Battle for the Keep

Wave upon wave of orcs surged forwards, their wet bodies glistening in the flickering torchlight from the fortress. Aragorn gave instructions, and the elves fired at the orcs. Arrows fell down on them like the rain, striking them at the weak points of their armour and felling many. Not to be outdone, the men released a volley of their own.

Balian could sense the men’s nervousness. The tension was so thick he could almost slice through it. The boys clutched their chunks of rock, ready to throw them down upon their enemy. He held up a hand to stop them. The orcs were out of range.

The minions of Isengard retaliated, shooting crossbow bolts up at the defenders. Bodies tumbled from the wall to smash upon the hard rocky ground below or to be impaled by pikes. A force using the turtle formation with shields protecting them on all sides and the top slowly and steadily made their way up the causeway towards the gate. Each shield bore a crudely drawn shape, but it was not so hard to tell that it was the White Hand which was trying to strike down Rohan.

“Now!” shouted Balian and his contingent threw their rocks and other missiles down upon the orcs. Most of them bounced off the shields but some hit the orcs below. It seemed that every orc they felled was replaced by another more determined to get at the gate with their battering ram.

Ladders were being propped up against the wall, each with an orc perched at the top. Balian could not help but be impressed. Whatever these orcs were, incompetent was not a word that he would use to describe them. The blacksmith drew his sword, and around him, the others did the same. The orcs leapt onto the wall and the men promptly engaged them in battle. As soon as Balian parried the first blow that was meant for him, he immediately knew that these orcs were not like the others that he had fought. To compare these ones to those was like comparing the light of the sun to that of the moon. His arm shook from the force of the impact. The orc was strong; too strong. The only advantage that the blacksmith had was speed and agility. He ducked the next blow and struck the creature’s leg, amputating it just below the knee. Black blood spurted onto his hands and the orc roared in pain as it toppled over. Amidst the din, he heard Gimli’s battle cry of something which sounded like ‘Baruk Khazad!’. Without slowing down, he whirled around to face yet another assailant. Unlike his previous adversary, this one wore armour. The Sword of Ibelin struck it with a loud clang and Balian had to drop to the ground and roll to avoid being cleaved into two. He thrust up with his blade and plunged it into the orc’s neck. The blacksmith scrambled to his feet and pulled his sword out of the dead orc.

His inexperienced boys were fighting three of the foul creatures and they were losing. Behind him, Gimli was harvesting orc heads, landing blows left and right. He shouted numbers gleefully while nearby, Legolas was also counting.

‘They have made a game of it,’ thought Balian. It was too serious to be a game. He blocked a downward stroke that would have killed Éothain then trapped his adversary’s blade with his sword’s guard. He swung the blade upwards and cut the orc’s throat.

Éothain had already engaged himself in yet another fight, this time with help from his companions. He was determined to prove that he was worthy of his knighthood.

***

Éowyn could hear the din of the raging battle above them. The domed roof of the caves amplified the sounds. It seemed as if their whole world was tumbling down around them. Mothers clutched their frightened children to their bosoms, too terrified themselves to offer them any words of comfort. The Shieldmaiden of Rohan ran her thumb gently along her blade of blue steel. She itched to see it covered in the black blood of the orcs who had taken both her father and her cousin.

She wondered what was happening outside the caves. Aragorn no doubt would have assumed the role of a commander of some sort. His friends would be fighting beside him cleaving orc heads as they would ears of wheat. More than anything, she wished she was out there with them. Why weren’t women allowed to fight? Was she not as capable as any of the men? Théodred had said that she was better than most. He ought to have known and her cousin had not been a man who would tell her a lie in order to placate her. Valar damn it! Why was she born a woman, a member of the weaker sex?

Éowyn took up her sword. The hilt felt comfortable in her hands. She gave it a few experimenting swings, imagining that it was cutting through orc flesh.

***

Shooting arrows for an extended period was more tiring than Guy had thought that it would be. His shoulders and arm muscles ached and his quiver had almost be emptied. Soon he would be fighting with his blade and he had no desire to face one of those demons from hell. He put his last arrow to the string… then he saw something that he hated more than hell itself. He changed his mind and aimed at Balian who was fighting with one of those things nearby with his back to Guy.

Guy’s hand shook with anticipation and excitement. At last, the day had come! Warmth coursed through his body and his heart hammered like the drumbeats of victory. He released the arrow. It flew … and grazed Balian’s thigh. Guy cursed then cheered up again as the blacksmith faltered. That moment’s distraction was all the orc needed. It struck Balian’s ribs with its club, sending the man falling backwards. Balian landed hard on his back, wheezing in pain, his breath driven from his lungs. His chest throbbed.

‘Probably broke some ribs,’ he thought, grateful for the armour that Lady Galadriel had given him. Somehow he felt that she knew he would need it. He knocked aside a blow that would have impaled him then rolled away, ignoring the fire in his chest. The orc’s sword connected with the stone, creating sparks. Just as the orc charged at the wounded blacksmith, an elven arrow suddenly sprouted from its eye and pierced its brain. Balian turned and nodded his thanks to his rescuer. Legolas saluted him then turned back to the next oncoming wave of orcs.

The former king of Jerusalem saw this out of the corner of his eye as he fought of the ferocious onslaught of one of the foul creatures. Damn the elf to Hell, and may he burn for eternity! Why did he have to ruin everything? If not for him, Balian would have been long dead, with no evidence to suggest that Guy had any hand in his demise.

Balian clambered to his feet, gasping. Each breath hurt. He doubted that he was of much use now.

‘Come on!’ he told himself. ‘Godfrey once fought two days with an arrow through his testicle, so why can’t you fight with a couple of broken ribs?’

‘Godfrey wasn’t fighting with demons from hell,’ said another part of his mind.

‘Shut up,’ he told it. He was about to charge back into the chaos when he heard a large explosion. Moments later, he was being blasted backwards. Rocks and bits of debris hailed down around him and he tried to shield his head with his arms. He heard someone calling his name desperately then he was being shaken. Balian looked up to see a terrified Éothain. “They’ve blown a hole in the wall,” said the boy fearfully. “Are you alright, sir?”

“I’m fine,” he said, clambering to his feet. “They’ll be needing my help.” He raced off to where the wall had been breached, not looking back to see if the boy was following him. Personally, he hoped that the boy was not following. It was too dangerous for a child. He arrived just in time to see Gimli jump off the wall into a group of orcs who were about to tear Aragorn to pieces. The dwarf did not seem to care that the orcs were holding pikes that were pointing upwards. Gimli must have had the blessings of all the deities in Middle Earth for he was not impaled. He landed in the water at the base and started hacking in every direction. Balian found a flight of steps and ran down to help his friend.

Gimli had been overwhelmed and if he did not get help soon, he would drown. Balian threw himself at the orcs, just as Aragorn gave the elves a command. Arrows flew towards them and hit the Uruk Hai. Balian reached into the water and pulled the sputtering dwarf up. They looked up just in time to see Legolas sliding down the steps while standing on an orc shield and shooting at the same time. He had used up the last of the arrows and now he brandished his knives. Aragorn had joined in the fight. The four friends hacked and slashed, trying to stop the orcs from entering the fortress, to no avail. There were too many of them.

“Fall back!” they heard Théoden shout. Gimli took no heed of the command and Legolas and Balian had to drag him away by the arms, kicking and struggling.

“What are you stopping for?!” roared the infuriated dwarf. Balian was surprised. Could Gimli not see the futility?

“Stop it, Gimli!” said Legolas. “If we don’t go in we’ll all be killed!”

Gimli looked up at the elf. “Alright, then, elf. Put me down! I can walk!”

“You promise you won’t go the other way?”

“I promise!”

Balian and Legolas released Gimli and they rush inside the keep to find Théoden trying to reinforce the gate. “Hold them!” the king was shouting. “Stand firm!” The orcs had made a hole in the wood and the men were busy trying to fend them off as well as mend the gate. The blacksmith immediately went to help the men with the timbers, while Aragorn pushed the orcs’ weapons back so that the men could place their timbers.

“Hold them!” repeated Théoden.

“How long do you need?” said Aragorn.

“As long as you can give me,” said the king.

“Come, Gimli!” said Aragorn. The two of them disappeared. Balian wished he could follow them but he could not abandon the men. They needed him here; he had done this before and he knew what to do.

Moments later, he could see Aragorn and Gimli appear miraculously in front of the gate on the causeway, sending orcs falling down the sides. ‘Where did they come from?’ he wondered.

“Up a bit!” he said out loud, instructing the men where to put the wood. “We need another one over here!”

Bit by bit, the hole in the gate was blocked in until a tiny space was left. “Aragorn!” Théoden shouted through said space. “Get out of there!”

The ranger started for the gate, uncertain of how a man and a dwarf could fit through such a small gap. He didn’t have to think for long. An orc grabbed them both by the neck and proceeded to strangle them. The king ordered the last timber to be placed, much to Balian’s dismay.

“You’re just going to leave them out there?” he demanded angrily. “They may have just saved your nation and is this how you repay them?”

“Much must be sacrificed in war,” said Théoden. “You of all people should know that, Sir Knight.”

Balian stormed away to find a way to save his friends. The king’s words irked him; Théoden was right and he knew it. Only his conscience found it difficult to accept. He went out to the battlements above the gate and looked down at his friends. The blacksmith hated his helplessness.

The Uruks were launching ballistae at them, using the large missiles as grapple hooks to pull up ladders that were covered in orcs. Balian felt a hand on his shoulder. It was Legolas. “We’ve got to do something,” said the elf. He pulled an arrow from his quiver —somehow he had managed to refill it— then took aim. His arrow flew true and severed one of the ropes pulling the ladders up. The ladder fell backwards and crushed its load of orcs. Legolas took the rope. “Aragorn!” he shouted, throwing the rope down to them.

The ranger caught hold of the rope with one arm and Gimli with the other. Legolas hauled them up while Balian fended off any orc that tried to attack the elf while he was preoccupied.

“That was stupid,” said Balian, clapping Aragorn on the shoulder. “Next time, take me with you.”

“Agreed,” said Aragorn. “Now inside the hall. We can’t hold them here for much longer.”

“Where’s Haldir?” said Legolas suddenly.

Aragorn was silent and the elf understood. He sent a swift prayer for Haldir’s soul. They would mourn him later, when they had the luxury of time.

***

Guy rushed inside the hall, panting. He was going to die. There was no way that anyone would survive this, not unless there was divine intervention. Guy prayed to God for help. He wasn’t ready to meet his maker yet! Goddammit! He was not ready to die!

Aragorn, Balian, Gimli and Legolas rushed inside. They were the last. The doors were closed and the remaining men and elf started to barricade the entrance.

“Come on, Lusignan!” shouted Balian. “Don’t just stand there and wait for death!”

“The fortress is taken,” said Théoden in despair. “It is over.”

“You said the fortress would never fall while your men defended it!” shouted Aragorn, releasing the table that he and Legolas had been carrying over to the doors. “They still defend it! They have died defending it!”

“The women and children…” said Balian. It didn’t matter if he died but he could not let those innocents be harmed.

“Is there no way for the women and children to get out of the caves?” demanded Aragorn. He got no answer.

“Is there no other way?” he repeated.

“There is one way,” said Gamling hesitatingly at last. Legolas rushed to the remaining table and with Guy’s help dragged it over against the door. “It leads into the mountains,” continued the guardsman “but they won’t get far. The Uruk Hai are too many.”

“Send word to the women and children to get out of the caves, and barricade the entrance!” said Aragorn.

“Does it matter?” said Théoden. His voice was heavy, laden with hopelessness. “There has been so much death; too much. What can men do against such hate?”

“The least you can do is try,” said Balian. Didn’t Théoden care? They were his people! How could he give up like that? Théoden threw him a dispirited glare. He was too tired to argue with the young man.

“Ride out with me,” said Aragorn. “Ride out and meet them!”

Light returned to Théoden’s eyes. He remembered his own words. ‘If this is to be our end,’ he had said ‘Then I would make it such an end as to be worthy of remembrance.’

“For death and glory,” he breathed.

“For Rohan,” said Aragorn. “For your people.”

“The sun is rising,” said Gimli.

‘What is so significant about that?’ thought Balian. ‘The sun will rise whether we succeed or not.’

“The horn of Helm Hammerhand shall sound in the deep for one last time!” declared Théoden.

“Yes!” cried Gimli and he sped off, no doubt to sound the horn. Moments later, the horn blast shook the fortress.

“Now for wrath, and for ruin, and a red dawn!” cried Théoden, putting on his plumed helmet and mounting. The others followed the king’s example, with naked blades in their hands. The door gave way and fell to the ground with a loud crash, sending dust flying upwards.

“Forth Eorlingas!” shouted the king and he kicked his horse forward, cutting his way through the ranks of orcs. To be honest, more orcs were trampled to death than cut down by swords but at that moment, the remaining defenders of Helms Deep were not particular as to who actually killed the orcs as long as the orcs were killed. They rode down the causeway, spilling orcs off the sides.

In the east, the golden rays of the morning sun reached across the sky. In front of the sunrise was a lone rider on a white horse.

“Gandalf!” breathed Aragorn. Another rider soon joined the wizard, then a whole contingent of riders.

“To the king!” shouted Éomer. The riders charged down the slope just as the sun emerged, blinding the orcs.

“Reinforcements!” cried Guy. “Praise be to God!” He started hacking at the orcs with more fervour than before. Killing orcs was not so different from killing infidels. It was killing the enemies of God either way and it might just secure him a place in heaven, or at least keep him out of Hell. He forgot about Balian for a while as he slashed at the monsters, feeling as if he was a saint fighting the minions of Satan.

To Guy’s left, Balian cleaved an orc head in two. The hope had renewed his strength. He forgot about his injuries.

The Uruk Hai, which had been so feared, were driven away into a forest which had not existed the day before. ‘What in God’s name?’ wondered Balian. Forests did not grow in the span of one day, not even in Middle Earth, at least, he thought not.

“Stay away from the trees!” shouted Éomer. Legolas looked on with awe and reverence as the forest began to move. The screams of dying orcs could be heard.

“Mary mother of God!” breathed Guy. He was never going to look at trees the same way ever again. In fact, it would be best if he never saw another tree in his life. Who knew whether it could be one of these murderous things? Wait. Was it possible to lure Balian into one such forest? Maybe, if the blacksmith was drugged. Then again, his friends would never let that happen. The elf knew too much about trees anyway.

“That was the most magnificent thing I have ever seen,” said Legolas with an intoxicated look on his face. Gimli grimaced.

“I am not going to go into another forest again, ever,” he grumbled. Balian felt inclined to agree. Getting crushed or impaled by a branch was not a desirable death.

“Gimli,” said Legolas cheerfully. “I believe we have a score to settle.”

“What score?” said Balian.

“Well, the elf here bet that he could kill more orcs than me,” said Gimli. “I felt disinclined to agree.”

“What did you bet?” said Balian, not sure whether he wanted to know or not.

“Let’s just say that the elf won’t be pleased if he loses,” said the grinning dwarf.

“Gimli, it’s not very nice…” began Balian.

“Sir Balian!” cried Éothain. He was followed by more children, Freda among them.

“Thank goodness you’re alright!” said Balian. One of the girls ran to him and hugged his leg.

“I was scared,” she said, looking up at him with large round eyes. “But I was bwave and I didn’t cwy.”

“I’m sure you were very brave, little one,” said Balian, bending down to ruffle her hair.

“Well, Balian, Childminder of Rohan,” said Legolas with a grin. “We’ll leave you to your charges. Gimli and I have some counting to do.”

Balian had forgotten all about that nickname, until now. All of a sudden, he was very eager for Legolas to lose his bet.

***

A/N: Well, that was more difficult than I thought it would be, mainly because I know next to nothing about fighting techniques. Ah well, I hope you enjoy it anyway.

Everyone loves to hate Guy, Kiwi, but I still need him
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