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In Aragorn's Safekeeping
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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21
Loss

Disclaimer: I do not own any of the recognizable characters; I am only borrowing them for fun for a little while. They belong to J.R.R. Tolkien.

Many thanks to my wonderful Beta’s, Marsha and J.

Author’s Notes: Warning: There are some disturbing scenes and images in the latter half of this chapter, which may bother some people. I am mainly referring to some incidents in Pelargir. This is the only warning I will ever have in the story since the story is rated ‘T’ and there is a war going on, but I do know that these particular scenes bothered some of my readers when it was originally posted on ff.net and I thought I should mention it.


~~~

The presence of the dead army ensured that the members of the Grey Company did not sleep well in spite of their exhaustion. Most found themselves tossing and turning restlessly. However, Aragorn knew that the horses needed as much or more rest than his men and planned to stay until near dawn in hopes the men would get at least some sleep. He kept a wary eye on the dead as he sat with Elladan, Elrohir, Halbarad, and Legolas pouring over a map and planning their route for the next few days. None of them had been in this part of Gondor and they could only hope the map was accurate as speed was critical. By pushing men and horses to their limit, Aragorn planned to reach Linhir by noon on the third day. From there they would be in lands he was familiar with from his days serving in Gondor’s armies as Captain Thorongil over forty years before. It was another day and a half from Linhir to Pelargir which they had to reach in time to stop the Corsairs from Umbar that Aragorn had seen in the Palantir. The Corsairs could not be allowed to sail up the Anduin River to reinforce the forces of Sauron attacking Minas Tirith.

“The lands between here and Linhir should be safe. Prince Imrahil will have left his lands well protected before leaving with his Swan Knights for Minas Tirith. Linhir is where we may run into the first sign of the enemy,” Aragorn said thoughtfully with a far-away look in his eye. “The Corsairs will not be content with just helping Sauron attack Minas Tirith, they will want their treasure and Linhir is easily accessible from the coast.”

“But you know the town, Estel?” Elladan asked.

“Some. I was there twice and it is a typical port town set on the river. We will send scouts ahead as we draw near. Until then our ride will be long and hard. Halbarad, I want Caladithil, Hinhael, and Gilost to leave an hour before dawn to check the trail and to keep watch to the north and south. Elrohir, Legolas, will you be the rearguard?” The elves nodded. Aragorn ran his hand through his hair and narrowed his eyes in thought before shrugging. “There really is nothing else,” he said glancing around at the others. “I do not know about the rest of you, but Halbarad and I need to get a couple of hours of sleep before we ride.”

“I’ll check on the men first, my lord.”

“The men are fine, go and sleep, Halbarad. I cannot have you pushing yourself so hard that you fall from your saddle.” Aragorn stared sternly at his cousin, having had this argument many times in the past.

Halbarad glared back briefly before nodding, “I trust your brothers will look after you, then,” he said as he walked away.

“We will,” Elrohir called after him, ignoring the dark look Aragorn shot him.

“I do not need you to look after me,” Aragorn said, standing and wrapping his cloak tightly about himself.

Elrohir simply smiled.

“Is Rebecca going to be able to do this?” Legolas looked at Aragorn in concern.

“She will have to. She cannot ride with me or Thomas, our horses cannot handle the weight with the distance we must travel in such haste. Since you have Gimli, she might ride with Elladan or Elrohir should it become necessary.” Aragorn looked at his brothers questioningly and they nodded assent. “Good night, then.” He left to join Rebecca, Thomas, and Gimli who were sleeping near a small fire that had burned down to glowing embers. He noticed Halbarad was lying next to Thomas and Aragorn kicked his boot as he walked by when he saw his cousin’s eyes glinting in the glow from the coals. “Sleep, Cousin,” he growled as he continued past Gimli to lie down next to Rebecca. Halbarad snorted as Aragorn rolled over and immediately fell asleep.

--------

“Can you just teach me how to do this, Halbarad?” Rebecca asked as she waited in the pre-dawn darkness for him to saddle Hasufel.

“Yes, but not now.”

“Why not?”

“We’re in a hurry.” Halbarad tossed the blanket and the saddle on Hasufel’s back and grabbed the girth strap, tightening it as they talked.

“Well, if I could do it myself then it’d be faster, wouldn’t it?”

“Not at first.”

“Oh. I’m a quick learner, I’m sure there is something I could do to help you.”

“No, lady, not now.” He attached Rebecca’s pack, bedroll, and the two extra quivers of arrows that Legolas had obtained for her, to the saddle. She now wore the quiver Haldir had given her.

“All right,” Rebecca said, sighing in frustration. She looked around the camp for Thomas and finally spotted him talking with one of the Rangers. She knew it was probably the one named Hinluin that Thomas had mentioned the night before and it made her wish that there was a girl here for her to talk to.

“Lady?”

“Hmm?” Rebecca looked back at Halbarad.

“I will teach you to do this someday.”

“I know, when we have time, right?” Rebecca gave him a half smile.

Halbarad nodded. “Yes,” he paused and looked at her intently for a moment. “This horse is too tall for you and even if I taught you how to saddle it, you would still need my help.” He pulled on the girth strap one last time, nodded and walked off.

Rebecca stared after him realizing that he was, of course, correct. She wouldn’t be able to easily get the saddle up on Hasufel’s back; she would just have to accept his help for now. She absently patted and stroked the horse as she thought. After Aragorn became king - and she wouldn’t allow herself to think otherwise - she would learn this for herself. Though she really didn’t know what she would be doing then and if she would even need to ride a horse anymore. Rebecca frowned at the thought of what her future might hold. If this was like one of the books she had read, in what now seemed ages ago, there was a chance she would be going home. Yet Galadriel had hinted that she needed to be prepared to face a life here in Middle-earth, though whether that was some sort of foresight on her part or just trying to get her to face that possibility, Rebecca didn’t really know. She suddenly realized that going home didn’t have quite the pull that it once did. Something had changed in her and she had become… well, not comfortable exactly, but this was just her life now and strange as it seemed, thoughts of being elsewhere seldom entered her mind anymore.

“You are deep in thought, young one.”

Startled, Rebecca looked up knowing it to be one of the twins. “Good morning Lord…” she searched his face, desperately trying to find a clue to his identity before finally just guessing, “…Elrohir.”

“A good guess,” his eyes twinkled with amusement.

She shrugged, “I had to try.”

“Of what were you thinking?”

“The future… what will happen to me when Aragorn becomes king…” Elrohir smiled. “…things like that. I know I can’t control what happens, but I do still wonder about it.”

“You know Estel will not abandon you, do you not?” Elrohir cocked his head as he looked at her questioningly.

“What! Of course he wouldn’t,” Rebecca scowled at the elf. “I know him better than that. But I meant…” She glanced around to make sure no one was within earshot, “… will Thomas and I stay here or go home.” She stared at the ground, biting her lip.

“Do you want to go home, young one?” Elrohir asked softly.

Rebecca shrugged, “I don’t know anymore, Lord Elrohir, this…” she waved her hand around, “… is just my life now,” her brow furrowed in thought. “Shouldn’t I want to go home?” she whispered, more to herself than to him.

“It is well that you have adjusted to your life here, Lady Rebecca; not to have done so would have caused you great harm. Only you can answer that question for I cannot read your heart,” he gave her a gentle smile. Around them men were starting to mount their horses. “I nearly forgot my purpose for seeking you out. Estel wants you to ride near Halbarad this day and I imagine for the next several days as well.” Elrohir gave her a look of concern. “We will be riding long and hard with very few stops. Ride carefully and if the need arises, you may ride with me or Elladan.”

Rebecca’s eyes widened, “I’m sure I’ll be fine, Lord Elrohir. I’ve been doing this for days now.”

Elrohir shook his head, “This will tax all of the mortals here, and they have many years of experience. Do not be ashamed to ask for help because of your youth and inexperience.”

Shaking her head, Rebecca looked up at the tall elf, “I’m not ashamed, neither of those are things I can do anything about. I will ask for help if I need it,” she frowned. “But I won’t do it unless it is absolutely necessary and I don’t have to like it.”

Elrohir smiled, but his reply was lost when Aragorn rode up glaring at Elrohir, as he said sternly, “Elrohir, Rebecca, we are waiting for you.”

“Sorry, Aragorn,” Rebecca mumbled as she turned and climbed onto Hasufel without looking at him.

Meeting his brother’s gaze without blinking, Elrohir said quietly, “Forgive me, Estel, yet it was necessary.”

Aragorn nodded once, “I am sure it was.” He glanced back to see that Rebecca had moved to ride alongside Halbarad and he met her eyes briefly before sweeping over the rest of the Company. Thomas and Hinluin were riding behind Rebecca with the rest of the Rangers strung out behind them. With a final look at Halbarad, Aragorn nudged Roheryn forward and the Grey Company headed swiftly out across southern Gondor, the army of dead warriors following.

--------

By noon, Thomas decided that the ride to Helm’s Deep had been a picnic compared to what this day had been already and he knew that they were facing another four days of the same. He groaned inwardly at that thought hoping he would be able to keep the pace. Glancing ahead to Rebecca he wondered how she was doing, knowing that she had never done anything like this.

At the next brief break to walk the horses, Thomas nudged Baldor forward, much to the horse’s displeasure, as it shook its head as if in disgust. Thomas patted Baldor’s neck, “Just a bit boy, then you can walk,” he said in a soothing voice. “How are you doing, Rebecca?” he asked as he drew alongside, looking her over carefully.

“I’m all right, how about you?” she looked him over just as carefully. Thomas frowned at her. “Thomas, it is just,” Rebecca glanced at the sun, “past noon on the first day of what sounds like five days of hard riding. I will do this,” she stated firmly, “as long as I can. Hopefully, that will be the whole way,” she shrugged, “but if not, I have promised Lord Elrohir that I will ask for help.” Thomas looked relieved.

“I know you haven’t done this much riding, and…”

“And you have?” she threw right back. Rebecca lowered her head briefly and then looked at him with an almost pleading expression. “I have to do this on my own now and I don’t want you to worry about me. I promise I will ask for help if I need it.”

Thomas just stared at her blankly, “I’ll always worry about you, Rebecca.”

Sighing in frustration, Rebecca stared down at her hand resting on the pommel of the saddle for a moment as she gathered her thoughts. Finally, she turned her gaze back to him with an expression Thomas had never seen before. “I know in one sense that’s true, Thomas, just like I’ll always worry about you… because I love you.” She smiled. “But I know from what I’ve overheard that these battles will be different from Helm’s Deep where I was behind a wall fighting and where I had at least some measure of protection.” She frowned slightly. “I know you didn’t have that, but I did and I don’t want you distracted by worrying about me. You have to focus on protecting yourself and-and killing all of the enemy you can, just like I have to. I can’t control what happens to you or me anyway, I can only control what I do. It’s what Haldir taught me.” She heard what sounded like a snort coming from Halbarad, but when she glanced at him his face was impassive. “I can’t allow myself to be distracted by worry,” Rebecca shook her head, “I’m not good enough.”

Thomas started to lean over to take her hand, but thought better of it now that they were in the presence of the Rangers. “I suppose you’re right,” he paused and looked at her closely. “I’ll try not to worry, but I’m not sure it’s a promise I can keep.”

“Oh, I can’t make any promises either, but we have to try. I’m just afraid that if I’m worrying about you when I should be shooting that my aim will be off. What if one of my arrows goes astray and it could have made a difference?” she shook her head. “I can’t waste any of these,” Rebecca patted the arrows lying across Hasufel’s withers in front of her. “It’s not like I can go to the hardware store and get more.”

Thomas chuckled, “No, you can’t. But, Rebecca, I’ll tell you right now that caring for you and worry are two different things, and coming to ask how you’re doing is because I care. I will not stop doing that.” Thomas’s blue eyes darkened in the intensity of his stare.

“That’s true,” she admitted and Thomas nodded in satisfaction.

The order was given to return to a swift canter and the company sped on into the afternoon.

-------

Aragorn glanced up at the night sky with a frown as he saw the clouds slowly covering the stars and the waning moon. He knew they needed to travel several more miles to reach Calembel and it would be much more difficult without even the faint light the stars and moon provided. The terrain had changed as they dropped down out of the foothills and they were traveling through some heavily forested areas that were occasionally broken up by cultivated fields and scattered farms. They had passed several small settlements during the day, but had seen no people - most likely they had fled in terror at the approach of the dead army.

The Grey Company had taken one short break in mid-afternoon, mostly to rest and water the horses and for the men to eat. Aragorn could see Rebecca was flagging a bit from the relentless pace he had set and he had spoken with her briefly, but she had assured him that she would be all right and was determined to ride alone. As hard as it was for him, Aragorn knew he had to, as much as possible, push thoughts of Rebecca and Thomas and their individual needs from his mind. He had to look at the needs of all of his people, the people of Gondor and indeed of all of Middle-earth. It was not that he had every truly placed their needs above those of Middle-earth he thought with an inward sigh or they would not be with him right now, covered with injuries they had collected along their journey. But Aragorn was aware that this ride would tax them tremendously and he could not let their pain stop him from doing what he needed to do.

Aragorn also knew that with the addition of his Rangers and his increasing responsibilities he would probably have less time to spend with them. He realized that would be hard on both of them, and if he was honest, hard on himself as well. Legolas and Gimli would still have time for them of course, but Aragorn knew that the relationship he had with Rebecca and Thomas was much deeper than what they had with the elf and the dwarf and that he had become a father figure to both of them. While he understood the reasons behind these changes, Aragorn hoped that Rebecca and Thomas would as well. But their youth might make them blind to the realities of the situation and Aragorn realized he would need to steal a few minutes to speak with them.

“Estel,” Elladan’s low voice broke into his thoughts. “Captain Caladithil approaches.”

Squinting, Aragorn could just make out the shadowy outline of an oncoming horse and rider in the darkness ahead and he called the company to a halt.

“My lord, we’re just a couple of miles outside Calembel and there is a bridge across the Ciril River so we won’t have to ford it.”

“Good, that would have been difficult in the dark. Did you ride through the town?”

“Yes, my lord, though I didn’t see or speak with anyone. I found a good place to set up camp about a half mile beyond the town.”

“Well done,” Aragorn said. “Lead us there.”

Caladithil whirled his horse around and the Grey Company galloped on and they were soon setting up camp in a well protected hollow near the river. The dead army which had been closely following them all day stayed well away from their camp but still cast a pall over everyone.

Rebecca staggered and fell to her knees as she slipped off Hasufel. She wearily pushed herself to her feet and glanced around her hoping no one had seen. But, of course Halbarad had.

“Are you all right, lady?”

Glancing up at him in surprise at the gentleness in his voice, Rebecca gave him a rueful smile. “I’m sore,” she admitted. “I think if I just get some sleep, I’ll be all right. How far do you think we rode today?”

“More than seventy miles.”

“Seventy! No wonder I’m sore.”

“You should walk a bit to stretch your legs.”

“I will, thanks.” Rebecca walked towards the small fire where she could see Gimli, Legolas, and Thomas, but she continued past them to stretch her legs as Halbarad had suggested.

“Where are you going, Lady Rebecca?” Legolas asked glancing up at her.

“Just to stretch my legs.”

“I shall join you if no one else is going,” he glanced meaningfully at Thomas, but he was dozing with his head in his hand.

“Leave him,” Rebecca called softly and turned to walk on. Legolas joined her and they walked in companionable silence, circling the camp. She got a cramp in her leg half way around and Legolas knelt and swiftly massaged it for her. “Thanks,” Rebecca said, smiling as she remembered back to the time he had massaged her feet and how embarrassed she had been.

“What?” Legolas looked down at her with an eyebrow raised in question.

“Oh, nothing, I was just remembering something,” she shrugged as they walked.

“Hmm, I believe your thoughts might be turned to the time I massaged your feet,” he said with his voice holding a hint of amusement.

“Elves!” Rebecca muttered, though she smiled as she said it. “I was remembering how embarrassed I was and now we’re friends.” Legolas smiled. Her brow furrowed in thought. “Legolas, if anything should ever… happen to me, please know that I consider you a true friend and…” Legolas grabbed her elbow and pulled her to a stop.

“Why do you say such things?” he asked, his blue eyes gazing at her with an intensity that used to frighten her. “Do you sense something?”

Shaking her head, Rebecca looked him squarely in the eye, “No, I don’t. But you know anything can happen in a battle and with me… I could just disappear one day. I wanted you to know how much you mean to me. I wanted to thank you for all you’ve done for me,” Rebecca said with a smile as she suddenly yawned.

“You need to go and rest, but first, mellon nín, know that I also value our friendship and if you return to your home, know that you will always have someone here that cares for you as a brother.” Legolas kissed her brow gently before leading her back to the fire and to bed.

-------

Elladan shook Aragorn awake, “Something is amiss, muindor nín,” he said as Aragorn swiftly arose. “The air feels wrong, Sauron is at work here.”

Sniffing the breeze that blew in from the east, Aragorn caught the smell of something unhealthy, but what it was he did not know. He turned to Halbarad who had risen with him. “Rouse the men, we ride in fifteen minutes.” Halbarad nodded and hurried away. Elrohir handed Aragorn some dried meat and stale bread which he ate without thinking. “I know not what that is, Elladan, but it does not bode well for Minas Tirith. I fear Sauron has started his march on the city.” Elladan nodded.

“I fear that as well.”

“I must speak with Rebecca and Thomas for a moment; will you saddle Baldor for Thomas, Elrohir?”

“Yes, of course.”

Aragorn looked Rebecca and Thomas over carefully as he approached, noticing that while they looked tired, they appeared to be in good spirits, talking and laughing quietly as they packed and ate. “Good morning,” he said as he crouched down beside Rebecca.

“Morning, Aragorn,” Rebecca greeted him with a smile.

“Aragorn,” Thomas nodded.

“How do you fare?” Aragorn gazed at each of them intently.

“I’m very sore,” Rebecca said quietly, absently playing with a tie on her tunic.

“I’m doing all right, though I’m just as tired as everyone else,” Thomas replied.

Aragorn nodded in acknowledgement. “You know the next few days will be much like yesterday.” They nodded. “I wanted to tell you that…” he paused briefly and Rebecca and Thomas exchanged concerned glances at his expression. “I wanted you to know that I may not be able to talk with or be with you as much as in the past. I have my Rangers here now and we are heading into battles that I have to plan.” Aragorn could see glimmers of understanding in their eyes. “I am not just responsible now for a small group of us, but for all of these men and soon for all of the people of Gondor.”

Rebecca and Thomas nodded in understanding. “It’s all right, you’re a king and you have to do kingly things,” Thomas said.

“I might become a king someday, but until then my duty does not always permit me to spend time with those I care for deeply.”

“Thanks for telling us,” Rebecca said quietly.

“I just wanted to make sure you understood what was happening. And, Rebecca I want you to know that I have you ride with Halbarad because, except for my brothers, there is no one I trust more. He would lay down his life for you.” Rebecca blinked rapidly as she tried to absorb that statement. “Come along, we need to go.” Aragorn stood and embraced Rebecca and then clasped Thomas’s forearm carefully being mindful of his still healing injuries.

--------

The second day passed much as the first except that they never saw the sun and they traveled under some strange dark foreboding clouds. To the far east they could see only darkness in the sky and knew it was some evil of Sauron’s making. In mid-morning the Grey Company forded the River Ringlo at Ethring, now in lands firmly in the control of Prince Imrahil. Again this day they only took a rest break late in the afternoon and pressed on late into the night, their journey actually covering much more ground now that they had reached open farmlands stretching down towards the coast.

When they stopped for the night, Thomas handed Baldor’s reins to Hinluin, “Please hold him for just a minute.” He quickly walked to where Rebecca was standing with Halbarad, “Come on, Rebecca,” he said gently, having seen her utter exhaustion and feeling it himself, “Let’s go and find a place to sleep.” Thomas glanced at Halbarad as he wrapped his arm protectively around her waist. “I’ll come back for her things.”

“I’ll bring them.”

Thomas nodded and led Rebecca away from the horses to… where? he thought with dismay, realizing Gimli and Legolas had always chosen the spot where they slept.

“Um, Thomas,” Rebecca asked with a chuckle, “Where are we going?”

“I don’t know,” he admitted. “I guess it doesn’t matter, I’m so tired, I could sleep right here with you in my arms,” he grinned down at her.

“That would be nice, though I think Aragorn would be upset,” she said, stretching up to kiss him, which he eagerly returned in spite of his exhaustion.

“Indeed he would be, as would I,” a stern voice spoke from the darkness and one of the elf-lords walked up behind them.

Rebecca and Thomas just stared at him, too tired to even move apart.

After a long silence the elf continued, “Why are you standing here?”

“I wasn’t sure where to set up camp and then,” he cleared his throat and hugged Rebecca closer, “we got distracted.”

“I can see how you would get distracted, Thomas,” the elf-lord said, “however, right now you both need to seek your rest. Gimli and Legolas have started a fire now; I suggest you join them before you are ‘distracted’ further.”

Rebecca blushed and stared at the ground.

“Yes, Lord Elladan,” Thomas said.

The elf looked down at him with a strange, unreadable expression. “I am Elrohir, why do you assume I am Elladan?”

Thomas fumbled with his words, “Because… well… you seemed sterner and I thought…” he shrugged and looked at Rebecca.

“I thought you were Lord Elladan, too,” she whispered.

“Do not assume, young ones, that I do not have a part of me that is as stern and unyielding as Elladan; just as he has compassion, tenderness, and humor that is a part of him. No person is wholly one or the other. Now, go and get your rest,” he said firmly. They bowed slightly and walked away as quickly as their tired bodies would allow.

Thomas helped Rebecca sit near the fire and left to find Hinluin so he could take care of Baldor and retrieve his packs. He met the Ranger on the way, however and Hinluin handed him his things.

“Here you go,” Hinluin said cheerfully.

“Where’s Baldor? I need to take care of him.”

“Oh, I did if for you, Lord Thomas,” Hinluin said with a cheeky grin.

“I told you not to call me that,” Thomas scowled. “But thanks, you didn’t have to do that, I said I’d be back.”

“I know, but you have that pretty girl to look after and I really didn’t mind.”

“She is beautiful, isn’t she?”

“Yes, though I don’t understand why Lord Aragorn has her here.”

“I can’t really tell you about that Hinluin, I’m sorry.”

Hinluin shrugged, “I figured you couldn’t, but maybe you’ll tell me someday.”

“If I’m ever allowed to tell, you’ll be the first to know,” Thomas promised.

“Good. Well, I’m going to bed so I’ll see you in the morning,” he sauntered off whistling quietly.

Thomas stared after him with a small smile before returning to the fire and going to bed himself.

-----------

The Grey Company awoke to find that the darkness that covered the land had deepened and that they would be traveling in twilight. Aragorn still hoped to reach Linhir by noon and had sent several additional scouts ahead of the main group of riders.

Rebecca knew she was too exhausted to ride alone, but thought if she rode and slept for part of the day she would be able to ride again in the afternoon. It also sounded like there might be a battle in one of the towns ahead and she wanted to be as well rested as possible for that. After informing Halbarad of her plans and sensing his unspoken approval, she sought out Elrohir. Seeing one of the twins talking with Legolas and Gimli she studied him for a few minutes to try and figure out which brother it was. The elf did smile once or twice which led her to believe it was probably Elrohir, though after their conversation of the night before she knew she couldn’t assume anything. Taking a deep breath she slowly approached, praying she was correct. “Lord Elrohir?” she asked, gazing up at the tall elf-lord.

“I am Elladan, Lady Rebecca.”

“Oh… do you know where he is?”

“He is speaking with Estel, perhaps I can help you?”

“I… um don’t know,” Rebecca bit her lip nervously. “I wanted to see if I could ride with him for awhile. I think if I do, I’ll be able to ride alone again this afternoon.” Rebecca glanced at Legolas and Gimli who nodded in approval.

“You will ride with me,” Elladan said firmly.

“I don’t need to do that. You help Aragorn, I’ve seen you,” Rebecca protested.

“Halbarad can do that,” Elladan said dismissively, “and we will ride directly behind them in any event. Elrohir, however, is part of the rearguard and Legolas is already carrying Gimli. It would not be wise for both of them to be riding double. You will ride with me, Lady Rebecca,” he said sternly, his grey eyes boring into hers.

“Yes, Lord Elladan,” she whispered, dropping her gaze to the ground.

“You have frightened her again, Elladan,” Legolas said with a hint of annoyance in his voice.

“I’m not scared of him!” Rebecca snapped, glaring at Legolas.

“Are you not?” Legolas asked, looking at her steadily.

“No, I’m not, Legolas.” Rebecca glanced up at Elladan to see he was watching her with an unreadable expression. “I am… tired of always being told what to do… and…” she struggled to put her feelings into words. “And I hate always needing help – from saddling my horse to…” she furrowed her brow thoughtfully, “… well, I know there’s been other things and now this. I wanted to do this on my own and I can’t and it makes me frustrated,” she shrugged helplessly. “But I’m not afraid of Lord Elladan.”

“Lady Rebecca,” Legolas shook his head, “except when you have been injured, you have needed very little help since you have arrived here. Take the rest your body requires and when you have recovered your strength you shall ride again.” He smiled gently, “You are not even an adult among your own people and I have observed that mortals always seem to resist showing physical weakness and see asking for help as if it were a personal failure. It is not and none here will think that.”

“Aye, lass, take the rest that you need, we’ll need you awake later so you can use that bow of yours,” Gimli growled.

Rebecca smiled down at the dwarf and then looked at Legolas for a long moment and nodded her head slowly before turning to Elladan. “I’m ready whenever you are, my lord.”

The elf-lord nodded and led her in the direction of his horse with his hands clasped behind his back. They had taken several steps before he said quietly, “Forgive me for being so abrupt, Lady Rebecca, my behavior was inexcusable.”

“Yet you ask for my pardon?” Rebecca smiled slyly up at him and his eyes started to twinkle with amusement. “Yes, Lord Elladan, I forgive you.”

“It is well as you might have had a hard time relaxing and sleeping in my presence otherwise,” he said as they prepared to mount his horse.

“As tired as I feel, I believe I could sleep anywhere.”

Elladan laughed softly as he gracefully settled into the saddle behind her and the Grey Company headed for Linhir.

------------

Aragorn saw the scout galloping back from the direction of Linhir and reined to a halt. Behind him he heard Elladan waking Rebecca and then movement which suggested she was transferring to Hasufel. Pushing that aside, Aragorn directed his thoughts back to the oncoming scout.

“My lord,” Gilost called as he brought his horse to a stop alongside Aragorn, “Linhir has been attacked, but the defense of the city is holding.”

“How many are attacking?” Aragorn asked, his face stern and his voice hard.

“Only two ships, my lord.”

“Not many then, less than a hundred fifty men I judge. Are the Corsairs still down at the wharves or have they spread beyond and into the city?”

“They were contained on the wharves when I left an hour ago, my lord. There seemed to be some sort of organized resistance against them.”

“Imrahil’s doing,” Aragorn noted with approval. “Where are Captain Caladithil and Hinhael?”

“Waiting for you and watching on a small hill overlooking the town.”

“All right. Well done, Gilost.” Aragorn turned in his saddle and his eyes swept over his company and then beyond them to the army of dead warriors and his eyes narrowed thoughtfully as he considered how best to use them. It was something he would think about as they rode to Linhir. His eyes settled once more on his men as he called out. “The Corsairs have attacked Linhir.” Among the Rangers a stirring broke out as cloaks were opened for easier access to swords and as bows were being strung. Aragorn saw Rebecca carefully string her bow, though he knew she had never done it on horseback before and it took her several attempts. Rebecca looked up and caught his eye as she finished and she shrugged slightly. Aragorn nodded once before he turned back and nudged Roheryn forward. The company galloped across the land heedless of any other danger, intent on reaching Linhir in time to help the people there.

---------------

Caladithil and Hinhael met them outside the town and informed Aragorn that the situation had changed and it now appeared the townspeople seemed to be in danger of being overrun. Aragorn nodded and turned in his saddle, “Elrohir, Legolas,” he called, beckoning them forward. The elves and Gimli quickly joined him and the four of them along with Elladan and Halbarad swiftly made plans.

“What about the dead king?” Elladan asked.

“I believe I will tell him what I want him to do,” Aragorn said. “I have all of you,” he glanced around, “for advice and planning, I do not think I need a long dead king as well.”

“We do not know what they are capable of,” Elrohir pointed out.

“That is true,” Aragorn admitted. “However, I believe that against men fear of the ghosts will cause many of our enemies to surrender or flee. It is hard enough for us to handle their presence.” Halbarad and Gimli nodded in agreement while the elves remained expressionless. “We need to speak with whoever is in charge of the town’s defenses.”

“I will go,” offered Elladan.

“I believe a man will have to go, muindor nín, elves have not been seen in these lands for too many years.” Elladan bowed his head in acknowledgment and Aragorn glanced at Halbarad who nodded. “We have to let them know we are coming and what our plans are.”

“We cannot let them take back their ships and escape that way,” Elrohir said. “Perhaps the dead could secure those?”

“Yes, though they must understand those ships have slaves who are not to be harmed.”

“Can they tell the difference, Aragorn?” Gimli asked with a concerned scowl.

“I would think so… slaves would be dressed differently and restrained in some way, Gimli. We will split into two groups with one coming from the north and one heading into the center of town directly toward the wharves. The dead can come from the south and drive them toward us. Hopefully, many will surrender, but if not, then we will do whatever we have to do to protect my people.” The others nodded in agreement. “Halbarad go and speak with whoever is in charge while I speak with the dead king.”

“Yes, my lord,” Halbarad rode off at a gallop.

Aragorn looked at Elladan, “Will you take Elrohir and Legolas and lead the group from the north?” Elladan nodded. Aragorn’s eyes narrowed and he glanced at Legolas, “Take Thomas in your group, Rebecca will ride with me and Halbarad. Now, the dead king.” Aragorn set his jaw and strode purposefully back to where the dead army was gathered and called forth the king and explained what he wanted the dead warriors to do.

“Can you do this?” Aragorn finally asked.

“Of course, my king,” the dead king bowed low. “However, are you sure you do not want us to just slay all of your enemies for you?”

“No!” Aragorn said sharply and in a harsh voice. “These are men, not orcs and if they will throw down their arms then I will extend mercy to them. Only if they refuse to submit do you have leave to kill them,” he said sternly and with a steely, dangerous glint in his eyes.

The king bowed again, “My lord.”

“We shall leave soon,” Aragorn gave him one last piercing glance, spun on his heel and strode swiftly back to his brothers to wait for Halbarad to return. As they saw him approaching, the company rode forth to meet him as he galloped hard from the town.

“My lord, I talked to a Swan Knight named Faelon who is in charge. He is grateful for our help and is informing his men of our plans.” Halbarad glanced at the dead warriors. “He is concerned about them, but will try and prepare his men.”

Aragorn nodded his thanks and then motioned Elladan to set off with his group, while he looked to the dead king. “You must give us time to get into position before you attack,” he said sternly. The king bowed and Aragorn kicked Roheryn into a gallop and let his group down into the town without another word.

The streets were deserted as they rode swiftly through the town. As scared and as nervous as Rebecca was she still looked around curiously at the small town as it was so much different than Edoras. The buildings were made of some type of stone or maybe brick and had wooden roofs. The streets were much smoother and the rocks or paving stones were uniform. It was just neater and more modern looking than Edoras. Rebecca laughed inwardly at the thought of calling a place like this ‘modern’. The sounds of battle ahead caught her attention and she quickly sobered up realizing she needed to focus on what lay ahead of her. She tightened her grip on her bow and the arrow she had nocked, though she still didn’t know how she would shoot from a moving horse. Rebecca had her answer when they stopped and dismounted, leaving their horses behind as they continued stealthily towards the docks.

Suddenly, ahead of them, Rebecca could see three men. The tall man in the middle was wearing the most elaborate armor she had seen in Middle-earth, while the shorter men flanking him had simpler chain mail and helms, though they both had the swan-ship emblems on their tunics which seemed to indicate it was a uniform of some sort. This… Swan Knight’s armor was highly polished and glistened brightly even in the overcast, he also had a dark blue cloth over his chest with a white swan-ship on it. He wore a dark blue cloak and a while belt to which his sword and a dagger were attached. Rebecca stared at him in frank amazement until Halbarad poked her in the ribs with his elbow and she dropped her gaze to the ground blushing slightly, though no one else seemed to have noticed.

“I am Faelon, my Lord Aragorn,” the Swan Knight bowed, “and I welcome your help.”

“Faelon,” Aragorn inclined his head. “I am glad to assist, but we do not have much time before the dead army will start their attack. Have you informed your men?”

“Yes, they are aware,” Faelon paused. “Though I am sure none of us can be fully prepared for that.”

“No, you will not, yet it will save the town. I have directed my Rangers to take prisoners of those who surrender,” Aragorn regarded the knight sternly. “Does Prince Imrahil do the same?” he asked.

“Yes,” Faelon responded without hesitation. “Prince Imrahil is an honorable man and would never kill one who would throw down his weapons.”

“Good… then he is much as I remember him,” he said as if to himself. “Where shall I place my men?”

“Follow me.”

Faelon and his men led them swiftly through the last few blocks and Rebecca could hear the noise of the battle growing and she bit her lip nervously wondering just what use she would be in a battle like this.

“I would have you stay here, Lord Aragorn,” Faelon directed as they stopped by a building closest to the docks. Aragorn peered carefully around the corner and saw the Corsair ships docked. Directly in front of him was a barricade of crates, barrels, and even a small upturned fishing boat. The men of the town and a smattering of men dressed as the men accompanying the Swan Knight, stood behind this barricade and were frantically trying to push the Corsairs back, but they had run out of arrows some time ago by the looks of things and these townsmen were no swordsmen. Even as Aragorn watched a few more Corsairs slipped past the barricade and engaged the townsmen in hand-to-hand combat.

“I have asked your other men to wait behind that building there,” Faelon pointed to the north side of the dock.

Aragorn nodded, though he shifted restlessly as he wanted to rush out and help the townsmen immediately. Feeling a hand on his shoulder, he glanced back to meet Halbarad’s understanding eyes. Aragorn’s gaze fell on Rebecca and he saw she was trembling though when she looked up at him she met his gaze steadily. “You will do well, Rebecca,” he said, before shooting a glance at Halbarad.

“Yes, sir,” she nodded and Aragorn noted how she had again slipped back into her old speech pattern in her extreme nervousness.

“Stay near Halbarad.”

“Not you?” Rebecca looked at him in surprise.

“No… I need to be out front leading the men and you will be safer with him.”

“Yes, sir,” she bowed her head and plucked at her bowstring.

---------------

A strange eerie whooshing noise heralded the arrival of the dead army coming from the south and the screams of terror from the Corsairs confirmed it as they scrambled recklessly over the barricade in a desperate attempt to escape. The two groups of Rangers sprang out from their hiding places to stop the Corsairs from leaving the docks and escaping into the town. Many of the townsmen also reacted to the dead army by falling on their faces and cowering in fear. Some of the Corsairs stabbed them viciously in the back even as they ran by such was their cruelty and hatred for all the Men of the West. Immediately, the twang of bowstrings could be heard as the Rangers cut down those Corsairs before they had gone a step further.

Thomas followed Legolas and Gimli as they ran onto the docks blocking the only exit to the north. The looks of horror on the faces of the Corsairs rushing towards them was almost comical as the pirates themselves were covered with ugly tattoos and had vicious scars that bore testimony to the life that they lived raiding and plundering towns and villages. The battle was brief as most of the Corsairs quickly surrendered to the Rangers. Few of them had the courage to face the dead army behind them and most realized that being alive in the hands of men was preferable to being dead. Only four or five continued to struggle for their freedom and they were swiftly and mercilessly slain by Elladan, Elrohir, and several of the Rangers. Thomas watched the twins in amazement as they moved with a grace that not even Legolas could match. Their swords were wielded without apparent effort and you could hardly see the blades so quickly did they slice through the air.

Sighing quietly in relief that he had not had to engage any of the enemy, Thomas turned to look for Rebecca when the brief battle was over. “Thomas!” he turned back to meet the fierce gaze of one of the elf-lords. “Yes, my lord?” He had given up trying to tell them apart.

“I need you to stay here and help guard the prisoners. They need to be searched carefully. Gilost is in charge.” Thomas nodded and the elves and most of the Rangers ran down the docks towards the ships where some skirmishes were still going on, leaving Thomas and seven Rangers behind to guard the thirty or so Corsairs. Hinluin and one of the other men were carefully searching each prisoner for hidden daggers while Thomas and the five other Rangers stood in a large circle around them with bows nocked and pointed or swords drawn watching closely.

Suddenly there was a furious struggle as one of the Corsairs pulled a dagger and lunged at Hinluin. The young Ranger was able to sidestep the first swing, but the backswing cut a long slice across his chest. By that time, Thomas and a Ranger named Alvist, had reached them and without hesitation Thomas stabbed at the Corsair, sinking his sword into his stomach while Alvist plunged his sword through his heart. The man fell to his knees and then dead to the ground while Thomas and Alvist knelt down beside Hinluin. The angry Rangers had pushed the rest of the Corsairs back away from where Hinluin had fallen.

“Damn it,” Thomas swore angrily as he looked at the blood on his friend.

Alvist carefully pulled back the shirt from the wound, “It’s not too bad, but we need to get the bleeding stopped.” He tore off part of his shirt and pressed it firmly to the cut to staunch the flow of blood.

“Am I going to die?” Hinluin whispered his eyes full or fear.

“No, lad, you’re not,” Alvist said stroking his hair comfortingly. “But we do need a healer.”

“Rebecca! I’ll get Rebecca!” Thomas stood and looked down the docks where the fighting appeared to have stopped. “I’ll be right back, Hinluin. Hang on.” Hinluin gave him a puzzled look before closing his eyes.

Thomas ran down the docks scanning the men for any sign of Rebecca, Aragorn, or Halbarad figuring they would probably be together. He finally spotted the tall figure of Aragorn and ran up to him breathlessly when he didn’t immediately see Rebecca nearby. Shifting from foot to foot, Thomas waited for Aragorn to notice him as he stood talking with Faelon, Elladan, and Legolas. After a few moments Thomas interrupted him, “Aragorn, where’s Rebecca? I need her right away.”

Aragorn frowned down at him in disapproval. “What is the matter, Thomas?” he asked sternly.

“Hinluin was wounded by a Corsair prisoner and he needs a healer and-and I need Rebecca. Do you know where she is, Aragorn?” he asked again.

“She is helping with the wounded near the barricades. Halbarad is with her. How badly is Hinluin hurt?”

Thomas took a deep breath. “He has a long, fairly deep cut right here,” he drew a line across his chest. “Alvist said he wouldn’t die, but he needs a healer.”

“I think it would be wiser to move him down here with the rest of the wounded. Legolas will you go and carry him?” The elf nodded. “We also need to move the rest of those prisoners here and confine them. Elladan, go with them and bring them back and secure them with the others.”

“Aragorn, I’m sorry for interrupting you. I just…” Thomas shrugged.

“Peace, Thomas, you were worried for your friend, go and get him,” Aragorn said, motioning him away.

---------------

Thomas talked quietly to Hinluin as Legolas carried him to the healers. As Legolas laid him gently on the dock, Thomas saw Rebecca finishing with an injured man and called her over. She ran over and quickly knelt by Hinluin’s side giving him a reassuring smile as she pulled back the cloth covering the wound. “It’s not too serious,” she murmured, “but it does need stitches. Thomas, go to the fire over there and get me some of the hot water,” she ordered.

“Hinluin!” a Ranger cried out, dropping to his knees beside him, opposite Rebecca. “What happened to you?”

“One of the prisoners had a dagger.”

The man scowled down at him, “You should have been more careful.”

“We were searching them, Hinhael,” he protested.

Rebecca looked at the man darkly, “I don’t know or really care who you are, but this is not the time to scold him.”

The man flushed, “I’m sorry, Lady Rebecca, I’m his brother and I’m just worried for him.”

Her voice softened, “Still, right now he needs your care and not your anger.”

Hinhael nodded, “Will he be all right?”

“Yes.” Rebecca took the water Thomas handed her and poured some of it into a small cup and set some willow bark and other herbs steeping to make tea for the pain Hinluin was in. She used the rest to clean the wound before starting to stitch it.

Thomas watched in fascination while she worked, amazed at her skill. As she bandaged Hinluin she glanced at Thomas and gave him a quick smile before returning to her work. “I’m going to leave you with your brother now, Hinluin, but I know he won’t be scolding you,” she gave Hinhael a pointed look and he nodded. Rebecca gathered her things and stood glancing around for the next patient. Before she could move, however, Thomas grabbed her elbow and pulled her a short distance away. “Let go of me, Thomas. I have to help the wounded.”

“I know, I just wanted to see if you were all right.”

“Don’t I look all right?” Rebecca said with annoyance. “I didn’t even loose an arrow; it was all over so quickly. Now let me go.” She shook off his hand and headed back to the wounded, throwing an angry glare at him over her shoulder. Elrohir intercepted her on the way back.

“Lady Rebecca, Estel wants to know if Hinluin can travel.”

“Right now?” Elrohir nodded and Rebecca’s brow furrowed in thought. “I-I think so, Lord Elrohir, though he will need help mounting his horse. His wound will pull and…”

“I can help with that,” Elrohir said.

“Why didn’t you or Lord Elladan heal him?” she exclaimed.

“My gift allows me to take away pain, Lady Rebecca and while Elladan’s gift is stronger and can promote healing and impart strength, it cannot close wounds that need to be stitched. Though both of us have skill such as yours, we were needed elsewhere,” he smiled.

“Are we leaving right away?” Rebecca asked, looking beyond him to the other wounded men.

“Yes, the townspeople will take care of their own, we must ride on. Our battle is in Minas Tirith.”

Rebecca led the way back to Hinluin and they helped him to stand with just a little support from his brother. They all followed Elrohir back to where Aragorn was waiting and he gave Hinluin a swift piercing glance up and down before turning to Rebecca. “Well?”

“He can ride, though as I told Lord Elrohir he will need help mounting his horse.”

Aragorn nodded, “We need to leave. Elrohir, Hinhael, take Hinluin to his horse and meet us at the meadow east of town. Rebecca, wait for me.” Aragorn turned to Faelon and quickly took his leave before swiftly leaving the dock. Rebecca hurried after him and after a moment Aragorn remembered and shortened his stride, allowing her to catch up. Halbarad suddenly appeared out of nowhere and Rebecca jumped in surprise.

“Where did you come from?”

“I’ve been near you all day, lady,” he said with a trace of amusement in his voice.

“I wondered where you went.”

“I told you, Rebecca, that Halbarad would be around. In fact, I believe I told you to stay with him.” Aragorn gazed down at her with an unreadable expression.

“I did, Aragorn, until the wounded needed help and then… then I sort of lost track of him.”

“I imagine you did, Rebecca, you have a healer’s heart.”

Reaching the horses, they swiftly mounted and headed back through the streets that were now filling with women and children. Outside the main gate, they nudged the horses to a gallop and circled around the town to join the rest of the Grey Company and the dead army to continue the drive to Pelargir.

-------------

Pelargir lay spread out before the Grey Company, smoke rising from different sections around the large town, but mostly centered close to the river where fifty large Corsair warships were either docked or lay at anchor. The largest ship was tied near the center of town and Aragorn could faintly see a steady stream of men going up the gangway carrying things and dragging struggling women. His heart clenched in pain at the suffering of his people, yet he knew that he would see many worse things in the streets below. They had traveled the last twenty-four hours without sleeping and had fought small bands of Haradrim that they had encountered and yet they still must deal with this. During that time he had collected hundreds of men on horseback from the small towns along the way and thousands more were coming on foot as fast as they could. Aragorn glanced at Elladan, “The dead should take and secure the ships while we handle the town.” Though it was a statement he still looked at his brother for his thoughts.

Elladan nodded, “Yes, we need the ships and they cannot be allowed to sail.” His face darkened, “They have taken women.”

“I see them. I am going to divide us into six groups and drive through the town and push the Corsairs towards the wharves.” Elladan nodded as Aragorn called out, “Elrohir, Legolas, Captain Caladithil, Gilost.” The men and elves joined him and he quickly explained what he wanted them to do and he sent them off to divide up the Rangers and the Gondorians. Then Aragorn spoke with the dead king and told him to capture and hold each of the ships.

-------------

Thomas followed Elladan closely as their group of forty men trotted through the streets of Pelargir. His eyes were sunken and dark rimmed from exhaustion, but fear gave him the adrenaline to keep going. So far they had seen no signs of the Corsairs, but Thomas could hear the sounds of breaking glass and was unsurprised when Elladan called them to a halt. Using hand signals, Elladan motioned to a Ranger and the man crept forward and cautiously peeked around the corner of the building before hurrying back to the elf and whispered to him just loud enough for Thomas to overhear. “There are twenty men, my lord and they are breaking into some shops. There doesn’t appear to be anyone else around.” Elladan nodded and the Ranger scurried back to his horse. With that they surged into the small square and surrounded the Corsairs, leaping from their horses and quickly engaging them. Thomas found himself facing a much shorter man and though he was quick he was no swordsman. Thomas quite easily disarmed him and held his sword to the Corsair’s throat, “Will you yield?” he barked.

His eyes wide with fear, the Corsair squeaked, “Yes.” Thomas nodded and backed up a step, but did not take his eyes or sword off of him. As a couple of the Gondorians came with rope, Thomas glanced around him to see thirteen bloody bodies and seven prisoners and he sighed, wondering why they didn’t surrender in the face of such overwhelming odds.

“Some men prefer death, Thomas, rather than accepting mercy at the hands of others,” Elladan spoke from beside him, his face stern and remote.

“What will happen to these men?” Thomas indicated the prisoners.

“The king will decide,” Elladan said with a dark satisfied gleam in his eye. “Come.”

They rode on through the streets heading for the docks and searching out the enemy.

--

The part of town they rode through was littered with the bodies of men and even some children and Rebecca’s heart cried out for them even as she wondered where the women were. She had never seen Aragorn look so angry, fierce, and… sorrowful as he did now as they picked their way gingerly through the streets. Hearing screams in the distance spurred them into a trot and Aragorn led them carefully and quickly down a twisting street to a scene of utter horror. In a square surrounded by houses was a large band of Corsairs. Bodies of men lay dead and dying around the square while women were being dragged screaming from the houses. Across the square from their group, two women were being raped. Children were being casually killed as they ran crying after their mothers. Rebecca’s face paled as she stared in shock before a fierce and righteous anger swept over her and she tightened her grip on her bow. It was all she could do to not just start firing right then.

Without a word, Aragorn jumped from Roheryn and strode swiftly into the swirling mass followed by his men who spread quickly around the square. His face cold and hard he grabbed the first Corsair he came to and jerked him around by the collar, forcing him to release the woman he was holding. Aragorn ran him through with his sword without a second thought and with not a thought for mercy.

By this time, the Corsairs had become aware of their danger and were starting to react and fierce fighting broke out all over the square. Rebecca stayed close to Halbarad and finally saw an open shot as one of the Corsairs was trying to escape down the street. She fired, hitting him squarely in the back and as he slowly dropped to the ground Rebecca knew he was dead. She stared at him with her left hand tightly clenching her bow and her right hand in the act of nocking another arrow. This was not like at Helm’s Deep where it was dark and Rebecca had killed orcs and she could distantly see men falling under her arrows. This man was only thirty yards away and she had killed him. Taking several deep breaths and glancing at the bodies of the brutally slain children and men around the square, she wiped a shaky arm across her eyes and realized that though these might be men they were acting like orcs. She gritted her teeth and finished nocking her bow and looked around, but a bow was really no good in such close quarters.

“Halbarad, can I stand on the steps up there so I can see?” Rebecca pointed to one of the houses and he grunted in agreement as he turned to face another man. She ran up the steps and being able to see over the heads of the others allowed her to pick out targets. It was hard, though, because everyone moved so fast that it was hard to tell who was who. Still, she scanned the mass of men with her bow ready to fire until she saw one of the Gondorians stagger back under the onslaught of a Corsair and then she loosed her arrow. It struck the man in the shoulder when he turned slightly. “Dang it,” she muttered angrily. But it gave the Gondorian enough time to recover and kill the pirate. Rebecca scanned the crowd again, but could only watch until the battle ended.

Finally, the battle died down and Aragorn took no prisoners, his mercy only extended so far. When it was over, thirty-seven Corsairs and eleven Gondorians lay dead; and eight Gondorians and three of the Rangers were slightly injured. Aragorn ran his hand though his hair as he debated about what do to with the injured women and children, most of whom had fled back into their homes. Glancing around him he saw that Rebecca and two of the Rangers were already tending to his wounded men. Aragorn strode to one of the now closed doors and knocked, he had to find help for these people, for he could not stay. It was a long time before a timid, shaky voice answered, “Yes?”

“Forgive me, lady, but I need your help. Though I know you must be terribly frightened, please open the door so that I may speak with you.”

The door slowly opened and a battered, terrified woman stood there and Aragorn forced himself to soften his features so as not to further frighten her. “My men and I must leave.” Her eyes grew even more fearful. “I am sorry, but we must reach the docks and stop these Corsairs. Is there someone to help with your injured? A healer nearby, perhaps?” he asked gently.

“On-on the next street over there is one… at least there was. I-I could get him.”

Aragorn sighed in relief, “You must be brave, lady, and do that for your family and friends.” She nodded. “I am sorry,” he said again bowing slightly and turning away. He headed back to the horses frowning when he saw Rebecca and Halbarad on the far side of the square. Rebecca was kneeling over someone. “Halbarad, Rebecca, we need to leave.”

“Just a minute, Aragorn,” Rebecca called back in a voice that was strained and highly agitated.

Aragorn blinked in surprise at her tone wondering what she was doing as Halbarad had his back to her. He suddenly sighed and rubbed his forehead in frustration as he remembered that that was where the women had been raped. “Oh, Rebecca,” he murmured. He watched as Rebecca swiftly packed her healing supplies and patted a woman gently on the shoulder before jumping to her feet and hurrying across the square skirting around the bodies as she walked. “I’m sorry, Aragorn,” she said, refusing to meet his eyes as she passed him and climbed on Hasufel.

He just nodded and then looked at Halbarad who whispered, “I couldn’t stop her,” the look he gave Aragorn was filled with sorrow.

“I am sure you could not, but I would have spared her that at least,” Aragorn said matching Halbarad’s look as he mounted his horse and led them around the square and closer to the docks.

---------------

Elladan’s group met up with Legolas and his men as they were both chasing large numbers of Corsairs towards the docks. Emboldened by their suddenly increased numbers, the Corsairs turned and rushed at them. Temporarily overwhelmed by the sheer numbers, Elladan and Legolas pulled their men back a short way to regroup.

“What is our plan, Elladan?” Legolas looked to him for direction.

Elladan’s eyes burned fiercely and Thomas was glad that he was not the object of that gaze. “Take twenty-five of your men to the left and down the next street. Alvist can take twenty-five around to the right and I will take the rest straight back down here.” Legolas and Alvist nodded and took off. Elladan waited a few minutes and then headed back down the street with Thomas and the other thirty men on his heels. Thomas saw that many of the Corsairs were standing in the crossroads arguing about something when they burst into view. Elladan led his men straight through the Corsairs knocking many of them down, while Legolas and Alvist led their men around to the sides and they all quickly dismounted and charged into the pirates.

Thomas took a deep breath and waded into the fray, quickly locking swords with a toothless tattoo-covered man that seemed very skilled with his curved blade. The man sneered and cursed at him, but Thomas ignored that and watched him warily as they crossed blades, looking for an opening. He blocked and parried for several minutes before he saw it. When the man went to his right, he was slow in covering up his left side. Seizing the next opportunity, Thomas quickly thrust his sword into the Corsair’s heart and rapidly jerked it out, watching dispassionately as the man fell to the ground. As the battle progressed, he fought and killed one more man and then suddenly the battle just ended with the Corsairs surrendering. Over seventy Corsairs lay dead, while more than fifty had surrendered. At least twenty-five of the Gondorians had been killed and many more had been wounded, some seriously. Thomas staggered over to Elladan, Legolas, and Gimli and stood listening quietly. Legolas put his hand on Thomas’s shoulder, gripping it firmly and then just left his hand there comfortingly.

“I sent Hinhael forward and we are only a few blocks from the docks, Legolas. The dead have control of the ships, but none of our other men had arrived.”

“We can have the prisoners carry the wounded and head there. We have a lot of extra horses to deal with though.” Legolas closed his eyes briefly.

“Are we taking the horses with us to Minas Tirith?” Thomas asked suddenly.

“No, we cannot,” Elladan replied. “Those ships are not built to carry horses.”

“Oh,” Thomas said realizing he would be losing Baldor. He sighed and stared down at his feet.

“I’m sure Aragorn will send for him, lad,” Gimli said gruffly. Thomas nodded.

Elladan looked at Thomas for a moment and then turned back to Legolas and they finished making their plans. With the prisoners carrying the wounded and under heavy guard they reached the dock without incident where they were shortly joined by the rest of their forces who also had groups of prisoners who were herded into large, easily secured warehouses. Almost all of the Corsairs on the ships had died, either from drowning when the dead army swept aboard the ships or from their refusal to surrender. Aragorn spoke to the small number of Corsairs who had survived, telling them harshly that when the battles were over they would be judged for their deeds and any trouble they caused now would be held against them.

-----------

Rebecca stood off to the side quietly watching as Aragorn spoke to the Corsairs. She saw the mocking laughter in the prisoner’s eyes die at the coldness and surety in Aragorn’s voice and under the steel in his piercing gaze. She knew she should be off helping the healers, but it appeared they had enough help and she was just too tired – physically and emotionally. After witnessing the horror in the square – and Rebecca knew she would never be able to forget the sights there, especially seeing the children brutally slain, but then helping those poor women. Rebecca shuddered as she remembered their eyes – full of grief, pain, and… shame - and then trying to help them as best she knew how. Her training had never prepared her for that particular horror though she knew it was something that happened in war. She was also appalled at herself because later when they had run into more Corsairs she had almost shot a man who was surrendering. It was only at the last minute that Rebecca lowered her bow as she realized that she couldn’t shoot an unarmed man no matter how great her anger or what he had likely done. As she had lowered her bow she noticed Halbarad watching her with a concerned expression. For some reason she had whispered an apology, but he had just patted her arm and they had moved on. Now here she was waiting to board a ship to take to another battle. Rebecca sighed deeply.

-------------

Aragorn strode grimly from ship to ship talking to each crew of former slaves asking them if they would be willing, as free men, to stay aboard to row up the Anduin to reach Minas Tirith as swiftly as possible. To a man they all agreed and Aragorn breathed a quiet sigh of relief. It would have been impossible without them. Men from the outlying villages and towns began pouring into town and boarding the ships. There was one final thing Aragorn had to take care of before they could leave. He quickly walked back to the largest ship which was already loaded. Standing on the bow of the ship, he summoned the dead king to him. Aragorn stared at him for a moment and then spoke in a loud, clear, yet stern voice. “Long have you wandered without peace for an oath that you broke to my ancestor, Isildur. Today I declare that oath fulfilled. Go, find your rest beyond the circles of this world.”

The dead king bowed low and he and his people vanished.

Aragorn turned to the former slave who he had appointed as captain. “We may depart.”

“Cast off,” the man bellowed and the fleet slipped away into the darkness, heading up the river to Minas Tirith.

------------

After checking on Hinluin, Thomas had to search the ship twice before finally spotting Rebecca curled up asleep amongst some boxes on the stern. He gazed down at her, wondering why she was here all alone when she could be sleeping in one of the cabins set aside for them. She was shivering in the cool night air and Thomas took off his cloak and gently laid it over her, carefully tucking it around her before sitting down beside her and leaning against a box with a weary sigh. He tenderly brushed the hair back off of Rebecca’s face, thinking once again of how beautiful she was even as covered with dirt and grime as he was. He knew she hated that, though, and hoped that maybe tomorrow she could get a bucket of water and get clean… at least for a little while he thought ruefully. He finally scooted down beside her and fell into an exhausted sleep knowing that someone would probably be around to keep an eye on them.

----------

It was well past noon when Rebecca awoke with a start. She sat up in the dark twilight, rubbing her eyes and looked down the river at all of the ships following. Stretching her sore and aching body she finally saw Thomas lying beside her and noticed his cloak on top of hers and she leaned down and pressed a light kiss onto his forehead. She got quietly to her feet and laid the cloak over him before moving to the center of the ship to find some food. There was no one around that she really knew, but she found her packs where she had left them and dug out some dried meat. Walking carefully along the side of the ship, she found a place to sit on the bow. As she ate she stared up the river broodingly, wondering what horrors the next battle would bring.

“How do you fare, Rebecca?” Aragorn’s gentle, yet grave voice interrupted her musings.

Rebecca glanced up at him and saw such concern and compassion in his eyes that she almost wept. “Not well, Aragorn,” she whispered as he sat down alongside her taking her hand in his own. “Those-those children… and the women.” She took a long shuddering breath. “Those weren’t orcs… those were men…” her voice trailed off and she stared out at the water. Aragorn did not speak as he waited to see if she was finished. “I-I know, Aragorn that this stuff happens, b-but to see it.” The dam broke and Rebecca wept long and hard. Aragorn pulled her into his arms and held her tightly. She clung to him desperately as she cried into his chest and he stroked her back soothingly. Rebecca finally pulled away, wiping away her tears with her sleeve, though Aragorn kept a tight grip on her hand as he started speaking quietly and gently.

“Rebecca, my heart grieves for all of the horrors you have had to endure since you have been here. But most especially for yesterday.” Aragorn lifted her chin so she could see his eyes and read the sorrow there. He sighed. “As for them being men,” Aragorn raised his hand and let it fall in a helpless gesture. “They chose evil paths for their lives and continue to make evil choices. Their hearts have become so hardened that that is what happens, they do not even see the pain they cause nor do they care.”

“Later, I-I almost… shot one of the men who was surrendering. I was so angry,” she confessed. “But then I couldn’t do it, but I wanted to.” She looked at him searchingly to see what he would say.

He nodded. “Your anger was a natural reaction, to the horrors that you witnessed. I, too, was angry and it took all of my years of experience to control myself,” Aragorn said gravely. “Yet it would have been wrong to shoot that man and you knew that, in your heart, you knew that. That is why you could not shoot; your heart is not hard.” Aragorn squeezed her hand gently.

Rebecca sighed. “Yet I feel so guilty for even thinking about doing it.”

“Do not be, there is no shame in thinking something like that. You did not act upon your thought.” Aragorn stood and stretched wearily, “I must go, but I wanted to speak with you for I could sense your pain and sorrow.”

“Thank you.” He turned to leave. “Aragorn?” Rebecca said hesitantly and he looked back. “W-will the battle tomorrow be in Minas Tirith itself?”

Aragorn heard her fear and walked back. “No, it should be in a field called the Pelennor in front of the city.” He frowned, “Unless they have broken into the city, but the men in Pelargir told me that the women and children have been evacuated to the country.”

Rebecca visibly relaxed and Aragorn embraced her briefly before walking away.

-------------

Thomas and Rebecca sat on the bow of the ship silently watching the shore slip past in the increasing darkness that signaled the sun must be going down even though they hadn’t seen it for days. They had both managed to get halfway clean during the day and Thomas ran his hands idly through Rebecca’s hair as she leaned against him with her head on his chest. He wanted to pull her onto his lap and hold her closer, but wearing chain mail and swords hindered his ability to do that. Instead he kissed her lightly on the top of her head. Rebecca looked up at him in surprise and he leaned down and captured her lips with his. As Rebecca eagerly responded he deepened the kiss and pulled her closer to him. Pausing for breath he pulled back slightly and looked searchingly into her brown eyes for a moment and saw all the love he felt for her reflected back… along with an incredible weariness. “I love you,” he whispered as he drew her back into his embrace and began kissing her tenderly. Her forehead. Her nose. Her cheeks and then back to her lips. Rebecca slipped one arm around his neck to draw him closer and he moved his hand back up into her hair, enjoying the feel of it against his skin as he kissed her. Eventually, breathless and flushed they pulled back and Thomas rested his head against her forehead for a moment and took a long deep breath. “We need to stop,” he murmured.

“Yes,” Rebecca agreed, glancing around from the corners of her eyes. “I’m surprised one of our guardians hasn’t shown up already,” she laughed shortly.

Thomas snorted with amusement, “Well we are on an open deck and it was sort of daylight, I guess they figured we couldn’t get in too much trouble.”

Rebecca giggled and leaned back against him with a weary sigh. “Most of the time I’m glad they’re around, but there are times...”

“Me too,” he grinned.

They lapsed into silence again, lost in their own thoughts of what the next day would bring.

--------------

Aragorn stood with his arms crossed on the bow of the ship staring up the river at the smoke rising from Minas Tirith. It would be another hour until they arrived at the Harland docks and he willed the rowers to row faster though he knew they were doing their best and had worked all night without rest. Yet his people… his people were suffering and he needed to be there to put an end to it if he could. He ran his hand through his hair as he realized that this day could bring about something he had hoped and dreamed about for almost seventy years. Arwen… his love… his passion… his dreams… his life…. Aragorn shook his head angrily. He could not dwell on those thoughts; he had to focus on this one battle and winning it. Even if… no when they won today the Ring still had to be destroyed or he would be king of a crumbling kingdom for a very short time. Aragorn glanced up at the dark foreboding Mountains of Shadow to the east and wondered where Frodo and Sam were, praying they were safe and moving towards Mt. Doom.

An arm was laid across his shoulders and Elrohir stepped up beside him gazing into the distance. “There are orcs on the docks and mumakil on the Pelennor,” he said.

Aragorn nodded, not particularly surprised.

“Elladan is raising your banner to announce your arrival.” Aragorn looked up at the flagpole to see the banner Arwen had made which was now easily visible to mortal eyes. It had a flowering White Tree that signified Gondor, but Seven Stars were about it and a crown above it. It signified the King of Gondor and had not been displayed in Gondor for almost a thousand years. “It is good to see, muindor nín. Adar sent Elendil’s star for you.” Elrohir took a thin intricately interwoven mithril circlet with a star shaped jewel in the center and set it carefully on Aragorn’s head.

“I am not the king yet.”

“Yes, you are,” Elrohir laughed softly. “You were born the king.”

Aragorn glared at him briefly before turning back to look up the river.

---------------

Rebecca crouched with some of the other archers along the railing of the ship as they approached the Harlond docks. She could see the orcs scattered here and there and was relieved that no men were in sight, she was hoping not to have to face any today. Beyond the docks she could see a stone wall that looked like it stretched for miles around this Pelennor field that Aragorn had spoken of. Minas Tirith towered over it all and she could see that it was as impressive as Boromir had said. Though she admitted it would probably be much more impressive without all of the smoke that was rising from it right now. Still, the sheer height and the way it was constructed was incredible and seeing it made her grieve for Boromir and she wished that she could have come here with him in a time of peace and enjoyed it with him. Shaking her head, Rebecca turned her focus back to the filthy orcs on the docks and waited for them to come into range. Several of the other archers were already firing and the orcs were scrambling for cover. Now within her range she finally stood and fired, but the orcs had hidden themselves so well or had run back onto the Pelennor that there were few targets. Aragorn called the archers away from the rails and everyone prepared to disembark.

-------------

Leaping off the ship behind Elladan, Thomas pulled his sword and sprinted up the docks towards the battle being waged on the Pelennor. There were a few short skirmishes, but most of the orcs had fled the dock area. Halbarad now carried Aragorn’s banner on the staff and the Grey Company followed it and Aragorn closely while the thousands of Gondorian soldiers surged onto the Pelennor in waves as they disembarked. Moving through the Rammas Echor, the great stone wall, and onto the Pelennor, Thomas was overwhelmed by the chaos. But not for long as he was immediately thrust into battle and had no time to think about the thousands of men, orcs, horses, the mumakil, the siege engines, the colors, and the noise that made up a battle of this size. Orcs closed in on their company and he was engaged in combat once again. The only thing he was grateful for was that these orcs were the smaller more easily killed orcs than Saruman’s Uruk-Hai. Occasionally he noticed Elladan or Elrohir fighting and was again amazed at their incredible skill; their quicksilver sword strokes and their elegant grace that seemed more suited for a dance floor than a battlefield. But Thomas had little time for such thoughts as the morning turned into afternoon and they pushed ever closer to the smooth black city walls. His clothes became black with orc blood once again, but thankfully none of his own had yet been spilled. Forgetting his promise to Rebecca, he did try and keep an eye on her for he knew she was with Halbarad and he was easy to keep track of since he was holding Aragorn’s banner. Thomas tried to stay in the area around the banner, but it was hard as the battle ebbed and flowed during the day.

------------

Aragorn fought with a passion that surprised even him. Maybe it was the circlet he wore and the need to prove that he was worthy of it. Maybe it was the plight of the land and his people. Maybe it was simply hatred of the evil before him that sought to take over the free peoples of Middle-earth. Maybe it was a combination of all three. Whatever the reason, Aragorn fought as he had never fought before. He had always been an incredible swordsman, unquestionably the best mortal in Middle-earth. Today he was better - quicker somehow, more accurate, his footwork never faltering. No blade he faced came close to touching him throughout the long day. As he fought, Aragorn was able to see, to his utter relief, that the Rohirrim had arrived and were, as he had foreseen, pushing the enemy straight towards him. Prince Imrahil and his well-trained Swan Knights were also all over the Pelennor, as well as the city guardsmen from Minas Tirith itself.

In the general chaos of the battle, Aragorn found himself separated from Halbarad, but was fighting alongside Legolas and Gimli with whom he exchanged grim glances as they continued their ongoing rivalry as they counted their kills. His heart clenched in pain as he saw Gilost die under an orc blade and he could do nothing to stop it. Another Ranger – he could not see who it was – also fell, but Aragorn could not tell if he was dead or simply wounded and now was not the time to check. If wounded, then hopefully he would still be alive when the battle was over and they could come back for him. Furiously, he drove his sword into the next orc and the battle continued unabated.

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Sticking to Halbarad like glue, Rebecca’s eyes widened in terror at the horror around her as they sprinted directly into the battle. Following Halbarad’s instructions she stood with her back to him and looked for a target. It was actually easier here than in Pelargir because everything was spread out and orcs were much easier to distinguish from men. Nevertheless, in her terror she dropped her first arrow and had to grab another one. She swiftly nocked it and took a long, deep, steadying breath and focused on her task. She thought about Haldir and the things he had taught her and then took another breath before raising her bow and killing an orc. It became somewhat easier after that, though one of the hardest things was to remember to shoot sparingly as she had only so many arrows and she mostly needed to use these for self-defense. Between the three quivers she carried – two on her back and one strapped to her right side – she had, perhaps, seventy arrows. Not many considering the number of orcs and the time it would take to vanquish them. Rebecca also had to be aware of and move with Halbarad as best she could, though she knew he was much more aware of her and often jabbed at or yelled at her to move.

In mid-afternoon Rebecca caught a flash of movement from the corner of her eye and turned sharply to see what it was. An orc was rushing towards Halbarad’s partially turned back with a raised scimitar. “Look out!” she screamed, shoving Halbarad out of the way of the blade. Rebecca stumbled slightly, but would have been able to recover were it not for the two arrows that had also been aimed and released at the king’s standard bearer that hit her instead knocking her directly back into the path of the falling blade.

Rebecca dropped lifelessly to the ground.

~~~

Author’s Note: I will update this before I leave for my Christmas vacation. I would like to thank Isabeau for allowing me to use her description of the Swan Knights.

Elvish Translations:

Muindor nín – my brother
Adar – father
Mellon nín – my friend


Reviewers: Many thanks to everyone who is reading this story and especially to those who reviewed. I appreciate the encouragement.


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