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In Aragorn's Safekeeping
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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24
Ambushes

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.

Words in italics are elvish and individual words are translated at the end of the chapter.


~~~

The Army of the West’s crossing of the Anduin at Osgiliath was a small disaster that could have been much worse. Five large barges were ferrying the 7,000 men and horses across the wide river. Midway through the morning, one of the barge’s ropes broke loose, setting the barge adrift and it rammed into another downstream. The force of the collision knocked dozens of men off the packed boats and into the water. The men grabbed desperately at the barges, struggling against the weight of their armor that threatened to pull them under. All but a few of the men survived. Those on both sides of the river could do nothing except watch in horror as those on the boats scrambled to pull the men aboard. Once the men were safe, the rope was rapidly repaired and the crossing continued. By mid-afternoon, all of the men were on the eastern shore of the river and those at the rear were hurrying to catch up with those who had gone ahead. The road they were on led to the now desolate city of Minas Morgul, though the plan was to turn north at the Cross-roads and go through North Ithilien to the area called the Morannon and the Black Gate.

Five miles past the river, Aragorn called a halt for the night and the Rohirrim, the Swan Knights and the ten companies of Gondorians, quickly started setting up camp. Alvist took Aragorn’s horse as he dismounted and several Rangers set to work immediately, erecting a large tent for his use. Aragorn watched them for a moment and then looked around the area to see that Éomer’s and Imrahil’s men were also putting up tents. Nearby, his Rangers were setting out their bedrolls while Imrahil’s and Éomer’s personal guards were putting up shelters for themselves. From what Aragorn could see, most of the soldiers did not have tents or any type of shelters, but fires were already flickering here and there in the semi-darkness of the late afternoon. He idly wondered it they would ever see the sun again. Two of the scouts, Captain Caladithil and Beraid, suddenly appeared from the woods nearby and swiftly walked towards Aragorn. He motioned for Elladan, Elrohir, Gandalf, Éomer, and Imrahil to join them.

“My lord king, Beraid and I scouted all the way to the Cross-roads and a little beyond and there was no sign of the enemy.”

Aragorn nodded and looked at Beraid. “We even checked some of the places where I’ve always found orcs, my lord,” he gave Aragorn a cocky grin, “and there hasn’t been orc activity for days.”

“Where are Mablung and the other scouts?”

“Mablung and Rilost headed north along the road while Hinhael and Damrod went south. Anborn and Pendem also went north, but are well west of the road,” Caladithil reported.

“Are those all the scouts we have out?” Éomer asked, clearly dismayed.

“Those are the ones farthest afield, Éomer King,” Imrahil replied. “We also have several dozen within a two to three mile radius of the camp keeping watch.” Éomer nodded.

“Get some rest, Captain, Beraid, you will need to be off again in a few hours,” Aragorn said and the scouts walked away talking quietly to each other. “Why does Sauron not have a force out to oppose us?” he asked, glancing around the circle.

“He wants us to come, he does not fear an army this size,” Elladan said.

“He’s behind his walls, why should he risk his forces?” Éomer asked.

“Sauron cares nothing for his orcs and men,” Imrahil retorted. “You can be sure he has something planned.”

Aragorn nodded, “We need to be wary of ambushes and send our scouts out further the farther north we travel. Sauron may not fear us, but I doubt he will let us approach the Morannon uncontested.”

As the others nodded, Gandalf spoke up. “Tomorrow at the Cross-roads and then at frequent intervals as we march, I suggest we have heralds announce our coming to reclaim this land,” he glanced at Aragorn, “in the name of the Lord King Elessar.”

Aragorn looked at the ground for a moment as the others murmured their agreement. Lifting his gaze to meet Gandalf’s he gave him a brief, wry smile. “I hope we live long enough to enjoy the reign of King Elessar.” The others chuckled quietly and then moved off towards Aragorn’s tent to continue their discussions inside.

-------

Thomas found the pace agonizingly slow. He knew that with the men on foot they could not go any faster, but after their rush to Pelargir, this seemed like a trail ride and not a war. Everyone was subdued and little was spoken between those with whom he rode. The long, slow day gave him entirely too much time to think and he didn’t really want to do that, not about the battle and most especially not about Rebecca. But, of course, he thought about both. On and off throughout the day he worried about how the battle would turn out and if he and his friends would survive. Thomas also remembered his promise to Rebecca to speak with Aragorn about his fears, but he had no idea when he would ever have opportunity to do that – or if he was really going to do so.

Most of Thomas’s thoughts centered on Rebecca. He wondered if the people in the Houses of Healing would take good care of her. He was glad Faramir and Merry were there, but they weren’t doctors… healers like Aragorn and so he worried she wouldn’t get the proper care she required. Aragorn wasn’t concerned so he supposed he shouldn’t be either, but it still worried him. He tried not to think too much about a possible future they might have together since the chances of that actually happening seemed remote. Still, thoughts of Rebecca as his wife kept floating through his mind.

The one thing Thomas did enjoy during the first day march was the forest of Ithilien. The woods they rode through were much different than any area of Middle-earth he had yet seen. The beech and oak trees, the bushes and the small glades and streams he caught glimpses of all reminded him of parts of Minnesota. The biggest difference was the scent in the air. As soon as they had left the eastern part of Osgiliath and entered the forest, Thomas had noticed the fragrant scent of herbs in the air. It was so different, yet pleasant and it reminded him of some type of tea. He caught Legolas staring around at the trees with intense interest and Thomas wondered what was going through the elf’s mind. Debating with himself briefly, he nudged Baldor a little closer to Arod, deciding that talking with Legolas and Gimli was preferable to thinking endlessly about the upcoming battle and Rebecca.

“What are you staring at Legolas?”

Legolas gave Thomas a brilliant smile, one that he hadn’t seen since they had left Lothlórien. “The forest here is so different from my home, yet it speaks to my heart. Shadow has touched it,” he gave Thomas a look of sorrow, “but not so badly that it cannot be restored. The trees welcome our presence here and…”

Gimli growled, “Welcome our presence? How do you know that?” Thomas stared curiously at the elf, though he knew Legolas often saw and felt things that mortals did not.

Legolas cast a look over his shoulder at the dwarf, “The very air rings with welcome, Gimli, if you would but listen to the song.”

“Trees that sing? We are not in Fangorn with the ents,” Gimli grumbled as he shook his head and Thomas saw a tiny spark of amusement in his eyes.

“All trees have a song, Gimli,” Legolas said with a patient tone in his voice that reminded Thomas of a teacher instructing a small child.

Gimli snorted, but fell silent as he began looking around, trying not to be obvious, much to Thomas’s hidden amusement. They lapsed into silence as the afternoon stretched on, broken only occasionally as Legolas’s keen eyes found some hidden treasure that he then pointed out.

When they halted for the night, Thomas took Baldor to where the Rangers were picketing their horses and carefully cleaned the horse and left his tack in a safe place. Walking to the tent with his bedroll and pack, he arrived just as Aragorn and the others disappeared into the tent. Thomas stood there uncertainly, he didn’t want to disturb them, yet he was staying in the tent. Shrugging mentally, he slipped past Laegrist and into the tent as quietly as possible. There was a brief pause as everyone look up at him before they resumed their conversation. Laying his things down near the back of the tent, Thomas pulled some dried meat, dried fruit, and some bread that was only slightly fresher from his pack and headed back outside in search of Hinluin.

----------

The sounds of the departing army had barely faded when the door to Rebecca’s room opened and a woman came bustling in. “Oh, good you’re awake, dearie. Though, how anyone could have slept through that noise I don’t know. Master Merry! There you are. Alpheth was looking for you to give you your breakfast; we know how you hate to miss your meals! I should have thought you might have been in here with Lady Rebecca, her being King Elessar’s ward and all, and you being such good friends with him. Still, it never crossed my mind with all the things going on around here. You better hurry along now before your food gets cold.” The woman stood with her hands on her hips and looked at Merry expectantly.

Giving Rebecca a sidelong glance, Merry asked, “Couldn’t I eat my breakfast in here with Rebecca, Mistress Ioreth?” he gave her a beaming smile and Rebecca had to stifle a laugh.

Ioreth shook her head, “No, Master Merry, you certainly may not! Lady Rebecca needs to have a bath and clean clothes before she eats and knowing you, you won’t be able to wait that long. I think it’s best if you go now.”

Merry slid off the bed as Ioreth continued to speak and with a sly wink and a whispered “Good luck,” to Rebecca he darted out of the room. Rebecca watched him go and then turned her attention back to this grey-haired, middle-aged woman who was still talking. Ioreth was a short, solid looking woman; someone whom Rebecca could tell had spent years working hard. She was wearing a long, simple dark green gown that had an intricate brooch near her left shoulder. Rebecca suddenly realized there was another person in the room; she had been so distracted by Ioreth’s chatter that she had missed the other middle-aged woman standing by the table. She was taller than Ioreth, and wore a similar gown, though it was covered with a cream-colored apron. Deciding she probably needed to listen, Rebecca turned her attention back to Ioreth.

“…Now, the first thing we need to do is give you a bath and get you into some proper clothes. I don’t know where you got what you’re wearing, but it’s not appropriate,” Ioreth frowned.

Rebecca glanced down to see what she had on, having given it no thought. She looked at the shirt in confusion, it certainly wasn’t hers, it was much too big. It was of elvish make though, so it had to be Aragorn’s, Elladan’s, or Elrohir’s. She knew what she had been wearing would have been ruined, so she assumed they had given her one of theirs. Looking around the room, Rebecca spotted her pack, sword, bow, and quiver in the corner and her eyes lit up and she sighed in relief. “I have a change of clothing in my pack, Mistress Ioreth,” she said, nodding towards it.

Ioreth marched over and started searching through the pack, eventually pulling out Rebecca’s spare brown leggings, shirt and tunic. She held them up and looked at Rebecca in shock. “These are you spare clothes?” she exclaimed.

Nodding, Rebecca glanced at the other woman who gave her a sympathetic smile before turning back to Ioreth. “Yes, those are my spare clothes,” she stated quietly, yet firmly. “I understand that while I am still in bed and can’t take care of myself, I need to wear loose clothes like these,” she gestured carefully at herself with her right hand. “But once I am up and around I will wear those.”

“These are not clothes for a lady!” Ioreth protested.

Rebecca closed her eyes wearily. “I have worn similar clothes for months and no one seems to think me any less a lady.” She opened her eyes and stared at Ioreth, “When Aragorn…the King returns I shall be glad to wear a gown, but for now, those will be fine.”

“Yes, my lady,” Ioreth said with a small curtsey. “Now, Mistress Lothrín,” she beckoned the other lady forward, “is an aide here in the Houses and has been assigned to see to your needs while you are here.” Rebecca’s eyes widened and she smiled at the woman who gave her a warm, gentle smile in return. “She and I will bathe you, change your bandages and then you may eat your breakfast,” Ioreth said briskly. Moving with an efficiency that spoke of long experience, the two women quickly had her bathed, changed and ready to eat. Rebecca only felt intense pain when they took off her shirt and put on a clean, loose fitting sleeping garment. Mostly, though the pain had subsided to a level where she could almost ignore it – until she tried to sit up too quickly or roll on her right side.

Breakfast proved to be some kind of watery porridge and a small piece of bread. Ioreth left the room at that point and Rebecca sighed in relief, her incessant chatter was very tiring, though at least she seemed to require few responses.

“She means well, lady,” Lothrín’s gentle voice drew Rebecca’s gaze back to where the woman was sitting, patiently waiting to help her eat breakfast.

“I’m sure she does. It’s just… does she always talk so much?” she whispered.

Lothrín laughed quietly, “Yes, I fear she does. But, she’s very good at what she does and the Warden trusts her completely, and, more importantly, so should you. Now, lady, you need to eat.”

They talked as Rebecca ate and she learned that Lothrín’s husband had died several years previously fighting in Osgiliath. She had a married daughter and two grandsons, all of whom had been evacuated to the south with the rest of the younger women and children of the city. Her son-in-law had marched out with the army as a member of the city guard, Lothrín explained with a worried frown.

“I understand your fears,” Rebecca said quietly as Lothrín finished.

“I’m sure you do, everyone here has at least one person in that army they love and worry about,” Lothrín said. “Still, we must have hope,” she gave Rebecca an encouraging smile and squeezed her hand.

“You sound like Aragorn… the King,” Rebecca commented as she studied the woman closely, noting her deep brown eyes that matched her hair.

“It matters not to me if you call him Aragorn, lady.” Her brow furrowed in thought as she looked at Rebecca. “Without hope there is only despair and I will not take that path.” Lothrín shuddered and Rebecca saw a look of pain cross her face and wondered what memory caused it. Lothrín smiled gently once more, “No, it’s best to cling to hope. Now, I think you should rest. I’ll be back later to check on you.” Lothrín stood and helped Rebecca get comfortable before leaving the room.

Rebecca’s last thoughts before she drifted off to sleep, were of Thomas and of hope.

------

Thomas stared moodily into the fire as the noises of the camp quieted down around him and men settled into sleep for the night. Soon all he could hear were the faint rustles of the sentries as they made their rounds. Hinluin had left some time ago and Thomas was waiting for Imrahil and Éomer to leave before he entered the tent to seek his own rest. Legolas was out walking in the woods and Gimli was already sleeping somewhere in the Ranger’s camp. Closing his eyes, a slight noise to his right startled him awake and he fumbled for his sword.

“Peace, Thomas,” Aragorn’s calm voice spoke from the darkness and Thomas realized he had fallen asleep sitting up, the fire burned down now to bright orange coals. Aragorn crouched down beside him, picking up a stick to stir up the fire before adding a small log to it. Satisfied, he sat down, dusting off his hands as he looked searchingly at Thomas. Finally, he asked, “Why do you sit out here? Why did you not come into the tent and sleep?”

“I didn’t want to interrupt your discussions,” Thomas shrugged. “I didn’t know if it was some kind of top secret stuff.”

“Top secret?” Aragorn raised an eyebrow in question, “I assume that is a term from your world.”

Thomas nodded with a sheepish expression. “Yes, and only presidents… kings,” he amended at Aragorn’s puzzled look, “and… military leaders know those secrets. Not… well, someone like me.”

Aragorn nodded slowly. “I see. Well, as a member of my household, Thomas, you are not just ‘someone’.” He regarded Thomas thoughtfully for a moment. “Surely you have noticed how others treat you and call you lord.”

“Yes, but I’m not a lord, Aragorn, I’m just your ward. So I thought it was just out of respect for you.”

Aragorn shrugged slightly. “It is in a way, I do not know how it is in your world, but here a ward is always treated the same as a true daughter or son.” He smiled. “As I am your guardian, you are treated with the respect and honor due the son of a… king.” Thomas stared at Aragorn for a moment and then shifted his gaze back to the fire without a word. “Thomas, I told you that so that you would know none would think it strange for you to come into our tent to either listen or to sleep. If the conversation were truly something ‘top secret’, then I would tell you and send you out.” He shook his head and frowned. “Nothing we are discussing and planning is something you cannot hear.”

“All right,” Thomas nodded.

“Good, we need to get some rest.” Aragorn started to rise.

“Wait, Aragorn, I-I need to talk to you about something else.”

Aragorn sank back down and gave Thomas a concerned look at the slightly desperate tone in his voice. “What is the matter?”

“I-I promised Rebecca I would talk to you if I got the chance, but I didn’t think I would have to because you’re so busy, but since you’re here…” Thomas’s voice trailed off and he stared past Aragorn.

“Thomas, what is wrong?” Aragorn’s quiet voice and the gentle hand he laid on Thomas’s shoulder brought the young man’s gaze back to him.

“Sorry,” he muttered. “It’s just… I’m scared, Aragorn,” he whispered.

Aragorn looked at him with compassion and understanding in his grey eyes. “Because of what happened to Rebecca?”

Thomas nodded. “Yes, thinking she was dead and then… then seeing her like that. I’m more scared now than ever before and I know that it doesn’t make sense,” he frowned as he looked at Aragorn in confusion, “because I’ve been in so many battles, that… that I should be used to it.”

“I pray to the Valar you never do,” Aragorn said fervently. “War and killing is not something to get used to, it is something you endure; something that has to be done to fight against evil.” Aragorn sighed and ran his fingers through his long, dark hair. “Fear is strange,” he finally said, “and you never know when it will show up. All you can do is face it as best you can, and try not to let it overwhelm you. Which is difficult… often extremely difficult.” Aragorn looked into the distance for a moment before focusing back on Thomas.

“You have experience,” Thomas stated, pulling his legs up and resting his chin on his knees.

“I am eighty-eight years old, so, yes, I have experienced and overcome fear many times in my long life. Many are the times I have wandered the wilds alone and battled bands of orcs or bandits wondering if I would survive, but knowing that they must be stopped to protect hobbits or other people.” Aragorn stopped there, not telling Thomas of the harder, more personal fears he faced – of his heritage, his fitness to become king, and his greatest fear, which he had long since conquered, that of being a worthy husband to an elf who was willing to give up her immortality for him.

Thomas rubbed his face with his hand and sighed deeply.

“Look at me.” Aragorn waited until he did so, “I wish I could tell you that this will be easy, but it is not so. It is something each person has to face on their own. However, I will say that you are not a coward…” Thomas flinched. “…and you are well able to overcome this fear.” He studied Thomas for any sign of understanding, but Thomas’s face remained blank and Aragorn sighed inwardly. “I…”

“Then, I’ll just have to do it,” Thomas’s whispered voice interrupted him, “and hope for the best.”

“Thomas, I have seen you fight, you will do well. But, you have to believe that, or you will fail,” he stated matter-of-factly, placing a hand on the young man’s shoulder as his concern for Thomas grew.

Nodding, Thomas glanced at Aragorn and then away. “I’ll be all right. We have a few more days and I’ll be all right by then,” he tried to make his voice sound firm and convincing, but Aragorn was not fooled, though he said nothing.

“We need our rest,” Aragorn once again rose to his feet and pulling Thomas up after him they headed into the tent.

--------

The nightmare reappeared that night. Thomas hadn’t had one since he was twelve. The first time he had had the nightmare was when he was nine, right after he learned his father had been killed in Germany. That first year he had it almost every other night and he almost always woke up crying and his mother had to soothe him back to sleep. But the dreams had become less frequent over time and by the time he was twelve he was able to roll over and go back to sleep on his own. Then one day he realized he hadn’t had the nightmare for over a month and he had never had it again until now. Thomas lay in the tent with his arm over his eyes trying to get the images out of his mind. The ones where his father was being shot over and over by some faceless soldier and Thomas could see the agony in his father’s eyes and on his face as he crumbled in a heap to the ground. That was always how the nightmare started and this time had been no different, except as the dream continued sometimes Aragorn’s face had replaced his father’s and there were swords instead of guns. As he lay there, Thomas knew it had something to do with Aragorn mentioning him being treated like he was the son of a king. He lay there shaking and trying to control his breathing; glad the tent was big enough that Aragorn, Elladan, Elrohir, and Gandalf were sleeping some distance away from him. Finally calming down, he drifted off into an uneasy sleep.

---------

“I want to get up this afternoon,” Rebecca announced as Lothrín brought in her lunch two days after the army had gone. Setting the tray on the table, Lothrín crossed to the bed and looked at her with a small smile while Rebecca watched her nervously, afraid the aide might not think she was ready to be out of bed. She had been sitting up in bed to eat and twice, when no one was around, she had carefully swung her legs over the edge of the bed and sat there for several moments without support. Only one of the times had she tried to stand but she was shaky and had quickly sat back down.

“Hmmm, you do look remarkably well, lady,” she finally said. “You’re healing much more quickly than I’d have thought possible.”

Rebecca relaxed. “I’ve had the advantage of elvish healing, along with Aragorn’s skill, of course.” Her smile faded as she thought of them.

“You are most fortunate.” Lothrín patted her hand before retrieving the tray so that Rebecca could eat. She ate the thin soup quickly, eager to be on her feet once again. “This will not be easy,” Lothrín cautioned.

Her jaw set and a determined glint in her blue eyes, Rebecca nodded. Slowly swinging her legs over the edge of the bed, she paused for a moment and Lothrín helped her stand by carefully holding her around her shoulders. Grimacing with pain for a few moments, she finally smiled at the aide. “I’m standing at least… now I need to walk.” With her left arm bandaged and in a sling to protect her broken arm, she walked awkwardly, but if she was careful the pain was not overwhelming – as long as she also held her right arm perfectly still along her side and she didn’t twist in any way. Otherwise, the stitches pulled painfully on her back and side. Rebecca walked slowly back and forth across the floor under Lothrín’s watchful gaze.

“I think you should lie back down now, lady,” Lothrín said after no more than five minutes.

“B-but I just got up,” Rebecca protested as she halted in mid-stride.

“Yes,” Lothrín agreed, coming alongside to help Rebecca back to bed. “And you have been injured near to death. You should not overtax yourself.”

“Could I at least sit in a chair for awhile?”” she pleaded.

“Well, I’m not sure Ioreth would approve. However…”

“I don’t want you to get in trouble,” Rebecca interrupted.

Lothrín smiled, “Don’t worry about that, lady.” She grabbed two pillows and a blanket from the bed to pad the chair and then gently helped Rebecca sit down.

“This is nice,” Rebecca murmured as she settled in. Spying her pack she suddenly thought of something, “Lothrín, I had a journal in my pack, would you see if it’s still in there?”

“You won’t be able to write with your arm like that,” she said, handing Rebecca the small beautifully bound journal she had gotten in Lothlórien.

“I know, but…” A firm knock on the door interrupted them. Rebecca called, “Come in,” as Lothrín adjusted the blanket around her lap, Faramir walked in, his left arm and shoulder tightly wrapped in a bandage and sling. “Hello, Faramir,” Rebecca smiled at the steward as he crossed to her.

“Lady Rebecca,” he bowed before reaching for her hand, stopping himself with a slight frown as he obviously remembered her injury. He turned to look at Lothrín.

“This is Mistress Lothrín.”

“My lord steward,” she curtsied deeply, much to Rebecca’s dismay as she wondered if she would have to do that here in Gondor once she was up and wearing gowns.

“Mistress Lothrín,” Faramir acknowledged before turning back to Rebecca and carefully looking her over. “You look well; I am surprised to see you out of bed so quickly.”

“Please sit down, Faramir. I’m feeling much better and I was able to talk Lothrín into letting me get up.” She glanced at the aide as she slipped out the door.

Faramir gave her a gentle smile. “I brought you a book, but I see you have one,” he nodded towards her journal.

“This is a journal I got in Lothlórien, but I haven’t had a way to write in it since then. No time either,” she sighed. “I doubt I could write now, but I was going to read it,” she absently flipped through the pages with her right hand, being careful not to stretch her back.

“Lothlórien,” Faramir’s eyes lit up. “What was it like there? What are the elves like? Do they really live in trees? I have heard the mellyrn trees are silver and gold, but I do not believe that. Is it true?”

Rebecca started giggling and Faramir gave her a sheepish grin. “You sound like me when I get excited or interested in something,” she smiled. “The elves do live in the trees. They have houses they call talans and the walls and roof are…,” she paused, seeking the right words. “Well, it’s hard to explain, but somehow they use living branches of the trees to form the walls and roofs. They are green and living and light shines through, but it’s still private,” she watched Faramir’s eyes widen and he leaned his elbow on the table with his head on his hand as he listened. “The talans are large, but so are the trees, I’ve never seen trees so big. Mine had three rooms and Lord Celeborn and Lady Galadriel’s home was a series of interconnected talans.” Rebecca saw Faramir open his mouth and she paused to wait for his question, but he just smiled and shook his head so she continued. “There are endless staircases to get up to the talans,” she groaned, “and then narrow walkways, with no handrails,” she shuddered, “between the trees. On the ground are the shops for making clothes, dishes and other things they use.”

“I would like to see it,” Faramir remarked and Rebecca could clearly hear the wistful note in his voice. “What are the elves like? You mentioned Lord Celeborn and Lady Galadriel, are they like Legolas? He is the only elf I have ever met.”

Rebecca shook her head, “No, they are much different than Legolas and yet I’m not sure I can explain them either, Faramir. Lord Celeborn and Lady Galadriel are, at the same time, both the most intimidating people I have ever met and yet some of the kindest. You can tell they are ancient, though they don’t look it, except in their eyes. Legolas is very young compared to them and he’s 1,937 years old.” Faramir sat up at that and then relaxed again, shaking his head. “They have incredible power that you can sense just when you see them and Lady Galadriel can read your heart and can speak into your mind just as I am talking to you.”

“How does she do that?” Faramir exclaimed.

“I don’t know, but it’s very strange and sometimes annoying, especially if you are trying to speak with someone else,” Rebecca replied. “She can also heal people, she healed my broken wrist,” she glanced down at her left wrist in its sling and shook her head slightly, wishing Galadriel were here now to do some of her instant healing.

“You were injured there as well? What happened?” he gazed at her intently, his sharp grey eyes curious.

Rebecca groaned inwardly, knowing she needed to be careful with what she said so that he did not discover where she was from. “I had had an accident. Anyway, she just touched it and said some elvish words and it was perfectly fine.” She noticed Faramir was staring at her with narrowed eyes and she knew he’d noticed her evasive answer, but he did not pursue it then.

“What about the other elves?”

“I only got to know a few very well. Brethil, my guide and friend, was very kind, but she is younger than Legolas. But the male elves were very different. The healer who taught me,” Faramir’s eyebrows went up slightly, “was very stern and demanding and was difficult to get along with, but I learned a lot from him. Haldir,” Rebecca smiled, “who taught me archery,” Faramir’s eyebrows rose even higher, “was also demanding, but he was also kind and courteous. I was scared of him at first,” she admitted, “but he became a friend during my time there.”

“You learned healing skills and archery while you were there?” Faramir asked with a look of confusion.

“Yes, Lady Galadriel felt it necessary. Oh, Aragorn also taught me how to use a sword, but I’m not good at that.”

“You learned a lot while you were there,” he commented. “Is that your bow?”

“Yes. You may look at it. Haldir had it made for me.”

Faramir looked it over intently from one end to the other and then did the same with the quiver and the sword. “These are beautifully made weapons, but the arrows are not elvish made, they have a Rohirric design.”

“I used all my elvish arrows,” she said, looking down at the table for a moment. “Though Legolas did collect them for me after the battle at Helm’s Deep, so I,” she cleared her throat uncomfortably, “used them more than once.” Rebecca looked up at Faramir again.

“You fought at Helm’s Deep?” Rebecca nodded. “Are you good?” he asked as he returned to his seat, looking her over with something in his eyes that Rebecca couldn’t read.

“Yes, I am. Haldir is a good teacher and I had lots of time to practice while we were there.”

“Hmmm, how long were you there?” his grey eyes darkened as he studied her and Rebecca wondered what he was thinking.

“About six weeks.” Rebecca tried to think of something to change the subject. “Oh, I never did tell you about the mellyrn trees! The bark is silvery-grey and the leaves were golden. They are so beautiful. There were lots of flowers growing in the city even in January and it was so pretty.” She sighed in remembrance.

Faramir looked at her closely and then said, “When I have time, which I have had little of the last few years, I read about the elven kingdoms of old and long have I wished to visit them. Perhaps, if we prevail, I will have a chance to do so.”

“I hope you can, you would enjoy both the beauty and meeting the elves.”

“I do not want to overtire you on your first day up, Lady Rebecca, but I do thank you for telling me of Lothlórien and I am sure I will think of more questions for you,” he smiled. “I wasn’t sure what kind of book you would like, or what you might have already read, so I brought this book of tales. It has stories and legends from many parts of Gondor and I thought you might not have heard them all.”

“It sounds wonderful!” she gave him a beaming smile and reached for the book, but gasped as the motion pulled the stitches in her back and side

“Careful,” he scolded gently and handed her the book as he stood.

“Thank you.” Rebecca resisted the urge to immediately open the book and start reading. “Faramir, Thomas told me that Éowyn was here. Have you seen her?”

Faramir gave her a strange look and a small smile, “Yes, I met her this morning. Why?”

“If you see her again, would you ask her if she would come by and see me? I know her a little bit and it would be nice to talk with her.”

“Then I shall seek her out for you, Lady Rebecca.” Again there was a strange little gleam in Faramir’s eyes and Rebecca wondered about it. “I shall take my leave of you now. Rest well, and I shall see you tomorrow, unless you need anything before then.”

Rebecca shook her head, “I’m fine. Unless… have you heard anything from Aragorn?” she bit her lip anxiously.

“Just that they reached the Cross-roads and were heading north; I do not expect to hear anything more from them,” his voice and face were almost expressionless.

“All right, thank you and thanks again for the book.” Faramir nodded and left, leaving Rebecca alone with the first book she had had since her arrival in Middle-earth. Eagerly, she opened it to the first story and began to read.

-------

From where Aragorn rode near the front of the column it was hard to believe there were 7,000 men following him, so quiet were they. Though, it was actually more like 6,500 after the men they had left behind at the Cross-roads two days previously; they were there to protect them from an attack from behind if Sauron decided to send a force from Minas Morgul. The only noise came from the shuffling feet of the men and horses and the occasional herald blast that announced his coming to re-claim his land, something he still had trouble connecting with himself. The Nazgul that continued to fly overhead at frequent intervals drained the spirits of all the men. The absence of birds and other normal forest sounds was also distressing as they rode through the area once know as the ‘Gardens of Gondor’. Aragorn knew it greatly disturbed Legolas and it reminded him of their trek through Hollin weeks ago.

Glancing around for Imrahil and Halbarad, his gaze fell on Thomas and his eyes narrowed as he wondered how he fared. He had not had a chance to speak with him since their conversation two nights earlier, but Aragorn had noticed his haggard eyes and knew he was not sleeping well. Grimacing slightly and making a mental note to try and find a moment to speak with him soon, he moved on to his other concerns. “Prince Imrahil, Halbarad,” he called and the two men pulled their horses up on opposite sides of him.

“My lord?” Imrahil inquired, while Halbarad just waited silently.

“I want you to send Mablung and Rilost out again,” Aragorn said, his eyes becoming slightly unfocused before snapping back into their normal piercing grey sharpness.

“But,” Imrahil hesitated, “they have just returned and need some rest, even if that rest is on the back of a horse as we march.”

“I know, but are they not our best scouts and do they not know this area well?” Imrahil nodded. “Then I fear they must go. I also want a couple of my Rangers to accompany them. Halbarad, do we have any here now, or are they all out scouting?”

“Alvist and Hinluin are here, my lord. Or, we could send Laegrist and Faerlain and have Hinluin and some of the Gondorian men stand guard over you.”

“Hinluin is young,” Aragorn remarked, “but, I believe he will do well. They must be extremely cautious,” he paused. “I sense some force of the enemy awaits us within a day’s journey.”

Imrahil looked at him curiously, “Do you often sense such things, my lord?”

“Not as often as I would like,” Aragorn smiled grimly. “I, and my Rangers,” he glanced at Halbarad, “have been ambushed several times and have lost good men; those are times when my gift would have been especially useful.”

“It also saved lives on many other occasions,” Halbarad reminded him, glancing sidelong at Aragorn before staring into the distance ahead of them.

“Yes, it has,” Aragorn acknowledged with a slight nod. “Please see to the scouts,” he said, clearly dismissing them and the two turned aside to do his bidding.

------

Thomas searched for Hinluin for some time before learning the young Ranger had left to scout ahead. He was somewhat surprised since this was the first time Hinluin had done anything like that and he had often wondered just what he did with the Rangers. As Thomas wandered through the camp, he automatically nodded and returned the greetings of the men he passed. Part of him was amazed at how quickly he had become accustomed to being called ‘lord’ and part of him was still unnerved by the whole situation, though he never showed it on the outside. Sighing, Thomas glanced around the camp before deciding to eat alone. He had been avoiding the others as much as possible, afraid they would ask him what was wrong and not sure how to respond. Aragorn was easy to avoid as he was so busy and, except for brief glimpses of Elladan and Elrohir in the mornings and evenings, he hadn’t spoken with them either. And, although he had seen Gandalf giving him a strange look yesterday as they rode, the wizard hadn’t spoken to him. He couldn’t avoid Legolas and Gimli since they rode together and Thomas could see no way to escape that. He was surprised the elf hadn’t said anything to him already, but then everyone had a lot of their minds. At least they went their own way as soon as they set up camp – Legolas into the woods and Gimli to eat and sleep.

Settling on the ground behind their tent, Thomas slowly began to eat while his thoughts wandered between Rebecca, his father, Aragorn, and the upcoming battle. He desperately wished the battle would start so that he could relieve the tension building within him. He couldn’t totally understand why the nightmares had started again, but he wished there was some way to make them stop. Thomas yawned wearily and rubbed his eyes. He was so tired, but going to sleep was something he tried to put off as long as possible. He glanced up as he noticed a slight movement and he groaned inwardly when he saw it was one of Aragorn’s brothers.

“May I join you?” the elf-lord asked.

“Of course, Lord…?” Thomas looked at him questioningly

“Elrohir,” he replied as he gracefully sat down in front of Thomas. “What dreams awaken you every night, Thomas?” he inquired without preamble, his voice gentle and his steady gaze full of concern as he regarded him.

Thomas just stared at him blankly for a moment before dropping his head and staring at the ground. “How did you know?” he whispered.

Elrohir gently lifted Thomas’s chin until their eyes met. “Elves do not sleep as men do, and are aware of any slight noise. Both Elladan and I have been aware of your dreams. Normally, Estel would also awaken, but his mind is much occupied.” Elrohir frowned, “Though I am surprised he has not asked after you, you look exhausted.”

“He thinks there is something else bothering me.”

Elrohir nodded. “Rebecca?” Thomas shrugged and after a moment, the elf continued. “Tell me of this dream that haunts you,” he commanded softly, his eyes telling Thomas he would not let this go.

“I can’t.” Thomas shook his head, pulling his legs up and wrapping his arms around them.

“Yes, you can,” Elrohir said firmly. “This is hurting you, Thomas, and it may cause others to be hurt as well. You need to tell someone.” His voice softened once again, “Would you rather speak with Aragorn?”

Thomas shook his head vehemently, “No, Elrohir.” He sighed and rubbed his hand across his eyes. “This-this dream… I first had it when I was nine and… and I found out my father… died. Did you know about that?” Elrohir nodded. “I-I had these… nightmares, where I could see my father… dying, for about three years and then they stopped.” Thomas paused and took a deep breath. “They started again three nights ago… only… only sometimes,” he stopped and looked away.

“You need to continue, Thomas,” Elrohir said quietly and the young man glared at him angrily before he started hesitantly again.

“Sometimes… Aragorn’s face was there instead of my father’s,” he whispered. “Now it’s always his face I see.” Thomas buried his face in his hands and his shoulders shook, though no tears fell. He felt a strong hand grip his shoulder and a soothing elvish song being sung.

Finally, Elrohir pulled back and quietly asked in a voice full of compassion, “Why do you think it started again?”

Thomas shrugged and Elrohir just waited as Thomas began to tap his leg nervously with his fingers. Finally he sighed, “I’m not dumb, Elrohir. I know it’s because of this battle and because Aragorn made some comment the other night about me being treated like the son of a king because I’m his ward. That’s all it is.”

Elrohir’s eyebrow went up, “You truly think that is all that is causing your dreams to return?”

“What else could it be?” Thomas looked at the elf in confusion.

Elrohir studied him intently for a long moment and Thomas finally had to look away. “Do you not see Aragorn as a father, Thomas?” he asked softly.

“No!” he cried, “my father is dead.” He started to jump to his feet, but strong elven hands pulled him firmly back to the ground.

“Yes, your birth father died,” Elrohir said in a voice full of sorrow, “and it was a tragic event in your young life. Yet, it does not mean that you cannot be close to someone else and look to them as a father. It does not mean you love your true father any less.”

Thomas shook his head and muttered, “No, no, no, I can’t Elrohir.”

“Why? I will tell you that Aragorn sees you as a son of his heart.”

“I know, I know. But… what… what if he dies, too?” he whispered brokenly as tears finally started to silently fall.

“He might, Thomas,” Elrohir acknowledged, gently cupping the side of the young man’s face. “Yet to hold yourself back from having a father’s love, even for a short time, would be a worse tragedy. And, truly on the inside you see Aragorn as a father, which is why your dreams show him thus. It is why you are in so much turmoil.”

Thomas wiped his eyes with his sleeves and stared at the ground, his mind racing. Sighing, he looked up at Elrohir. “I’m almost eighteen, I really don’t need a father anymore,” he argued weakly.

Elrohir snorted inelegantly, “I am close to three thousand years old, and I still need mine. It has nothing to do with your age.”

Nodding in reluctant acceptance, Thomas glanced around and let out another deep sigh. “I suppose not. Thank you, Elrohir. I mean, Lord Elrohir,” his eyes widened in horror as he realized that he had been calling the elf by his name only.

Elrohir laughed lightly, “Be at peace, Thomas. I suppose if we have agreed that Aragorn is as a father to you,” he gave Thomas a questioning look and Thomas nodded slowly, “then that would make me some type of foster-uncle.” His lips twitched in amusement as he gracefully arose and he held his hand down to help Thomas to his feet. “Then I shall not require you to call me ‘lord’ in private,” he smiled.

Thomas smiled weakly in return, still having much to sort out, but already feeling more at peace with himself.

------

Rebecca stood leaning against the wall in the garden looking out at the Pelennor, trying to grasp the fact that she had almost died on the debris-strewn field where smoke still lingered in the cool morning air. She was well wrapped in a warm cloak and was thrilled to be outside after being confined inside for a week, but seeing the place where she had fallen brought back frightening images and she shifted uneasily on her feet. Merry’s voice at her side brought her out of her musings.

“Rebecca! I didn’t know you could be outside yet.” She looked down at his concerned face.

“This is my first time and I was just going to sit down for awhile. It’s so nice to be outside.” Merry nodded and walked alongside her to the bench where Lothrín had left a pillow which he adjusted behind her back before hopping up beside her, his legs swinging slowly beneath the bench. “How’s your arm, Merry?”

“Its fine,” he shrugged as he held it up. “I shouldn’t even be in the Houses anymore, but I have no place else to go,” he sighed.

“Well, I’m glad you’re still here,” Rebecca said, placing her right hand carefully on his arm, pleased that the motion caused no pain.

“I know,” he muttered, “and I’m glad we have each other, but this waiting without hearing anything is terribly hard.” Merry looked east to the Mountains of Shadow.

Rebecca followed his gaze, “It is,” she admitted. “Faramir told me a couple of days ago that we won’t hear anything else from them.”

Merry let out a long drawn out sigh and leaned forward, resting his elbows on his legs with his chin in his hand. “Then there’s Frodo and Sam to worry about, too.”

Celeborn’s advice flashed into Rebecca’s mind and she tried to repeat it. “Lord Celeborn told me something when all of you left Lothlórien and sometimes it helps me and sometimes not.” She smiled faintly as Merry looked up at her. “He just asked me if my worrying helped you, or if it helped me and that I needed to find a way to let my worry go and be at peace.” Rebecca sighed. “It sounds so easy and I know he’s right because he’s so old and everything and I try, but… “ her voice trailed off and she just looked at Merry.

Merry snorted, “That’s a very elvish thing to say, but it’s true enough, I suppose.” He stood and wandered to the wall with his hands in his pockets. “Rebecca, do you think you were sent here because,” he turned back to her and then froze, wide-eyed, staring over her shoulder. “Éowyn, Lord Faramir,” he quickly said with a half bow before glancing nervously at Rebecca.

Rebecca returned his look and tightened the grip on her cloak, pulling it closer about her as Faramir and Éowyn returned Merry’s greeting and turned to her. “Good morning, Éowyn, Faramir,” she said, looking at Éowyn with a small smile which was returned in kind as Éowyn joined her on the bench.

“Lady Rebecca,” Faramir said with a brisk nod and a gentle smile, though his gaze was piercing and held a hint of a question as he looked at her. “It is good to see you up and about the gardens.”

“I was able to talk Mistress Lothrín into letting me out,” she said, relieved that Faramir had apparently not overhead Merry’s comment. She looked at Éowyn, “You look better,” she said, though she noticed her eyes were dark with worry and the same sense of sorrow that had surrounded Éowyn since she had first met her was still there.

“My arm is better,” Éowyn replied, looking down at her bandaged and sling protected left arm. “I’ll be glad to lose this, though.”

“Me too, the three of us,” Rebecca glanced at Faramir, “are quite the sight when we are all together like this.”

Éowyn nodded and turned her gaze eastward, “I should be with them,” she murmured.

Rebecca stared at her in shock as Faramir exclaimed, “No, my lady! You have done enough and deserve to rest and heal here in safety.” His tone made Rebecca look up at him and something in his eyes made her suspect that Faramir had strong feelings for Éowyn. She blinked in surprise and looked back at Éowyn to see that she obviously did not return his feelings as she just stared up at Faramir blankly.

“The enemy is still out there, Lord Faramir and while he is, I should be helping. Though, I know my brother wouldn’t let me go even if my arm was fully healed,” she said bitterly.

“Aragorn wouldn’t either,” Rebecca reminded her quietly before realizing that was probably not the best thing to say. “But, Éowyn, why would you want to do it again? Didn’t you see how awful it was?” She shook her head in disbelief. “I told you after Helm’s Deep how horrible it was, and yet you still want to continue to fight after being in a battle yourself? After you almost died?” she stared at her in confusion.

“You went on,” Éowyn pointed out sharply. “You could have remained in Dunharrow and yet you rode with Lord Aragorn and his men.”

“I had to, Éowyn you know that, we’ve had this discussion before. I’m Aragorn’s ward and my place was with him,” she glanced at Faramir from the corner of her eye to find him watching them both intently, “and I didn’t have the responsibilities that you have for your people.”

Éowyn snorted, “And now that you’ve come here and been injured do you wish you’d stayed behind?”

Rebecca paused, taking a deep breath as she slowly shook her head, “No, I don’t. As horrible and as painful as it’s been, I don’t. H-Halbarad would be dead if I’d stayed in Dunharrow.”

The three of them stared at her for a moment, none of them had heard about her saving Halbarad.

“Is that how you received your injuries, Lady Rebecca?” Faramir asked.

“Yes,” Rebecca nodded, meeting his eyes briefly before she looked at Merry and saw his eyes starting to take on a thoughtful expression. She turned back to Éowyn. “But that doesn’t mean I want to go on fighting, Éowyn,” she said quietly. “I pray they will come back safely, but, as I told you before, I don’t want to die myself.” Éowyn just looked down and away and Rebecca realized she still loved Aragorn and wanted to be near him even if she died. With a sigh, Rebecca looked up at Faramir to see he was watching Éowyn with compassion in his dark grey eyes and she wondered what he knew about Éowyn’s feelings for Aragorn. Deciding to change the subject, she said, “I’ve enjoyed all of the stories in the book you gave me, Faramir.”

“Are you finished with it already?” he asked in surprise, finally joining Merry in sitting on the grass in front of the bench.

“I finished it last night,” she replied with a small smile. “I’m a fast reader and there isn’t much else I can do.”

“You’ve wanted to read a book since I’ve known you,” Merry commented. “I’m glad you finally have the chance, though I wish it wasn’t in this way.” Rebecca nodded slightly, though inside she was hoping that Faramir didn’t ask how long they had known each other. He didn’t.

“What was the book about?” Éowyn asked.

“Which story was your favorite?” Faramir asked at the same time and he smiled at her.

“The book was stories from all around Gondor,” Rebecca answered. “And, my favorite…,” she paused in thought and then shook her head, “I can’t answer that, Faramir, there were too many good stories. I’ve never liked questions like that anyway. I can never choose my favorite books. Can you?”

Faramir looked at her with narrowed eyes for a moment and then shook his head with a small laugh, “No,” he admitted, “I cannot. There are too many of them to choose only one.” He glanced at Éowyn and Merry, “Do either of you enjoy reading?”

“I only do it if I have to,” Merry snorted. “There were always too many fun things to do outside that I wanted to explore.”

“There aren’t too many things written down in my language… mostly histories and such,” Éowyn said quietly. “We have things written in the common tongue, of course, but the style is so different than the language of my people that it’s not something that I really enjoy doing.”

“Maybe you just did not have the right books in Rohan. I shall have to find something to read to you so that you may see that it is something enjoyable,” Faramir said with a gleam in his eye. Rebecca and Merry exchanged amused glances, while Éowyn just nodded in response.

Merry looked up and said, “Uh oh, here comes your keeper, Rebecca,” there was a slight hint of amusement in his voice and Rebecca sighed.

“I’ve been out here a long time,” she said as she glanced over her shoulder at Lothrín. “Have you come to take me away?” she asked.

“Yes, lady,” she said with a slight bow to her and the others. Faramir arose and helped Rebecca up and after a last look off to the east and a quiet good bye to the others, Rebecca returned to her room.

-------

Rilost brought his sweat-soaked horse to a halt alongside Aragorn. “My lord king,” he said, slightly out-of-breath, “we’ve discovered a large force of the enemy about five miles ahead. Mablung and the others are keeping watch on them.”

“Men or orcs and how many?” Aragorn asked sharply, glancing around to make sure Imrahil, Éomer and his other advisors were within earshot.

“Both, my lord,” Rilost replied, taking a long drink from the waterskin Imrahil handed him. “The men with the orcs are Easterlings and our estimate is around fifteen hundred all together.”

Aragorn grimaced slightly, “What is the area like?”

“They are east of the road on a forested hill overlooking it. It’s just past a sharp bend in the road, my lord,” Rilost frowned. “It’s actually a perfect place for an ambush, we’ve used it ourselves.”

Aragorn narrowed his eyes in thought. “I believe I remember that place and it is indeed a good place for an ambush.”

“Did Mablung have any suggestions, Rilost?” Imrahil asked. “He knows this area better than most - apart from our Lord King,” he said glancing at Aragorn from the corner of his eye. Aragorn ignored him.

Rilost nodded. “He suggested sending horsemen around west of the road, circling back and attacking from the north.”

“Well done, Rilost,” Aragorn said. “Take some rest; I will have need of you soon.” Rilost nodded, dismounted and led his weary horse away. Dismounting himself, Aragorn looked around at Elladan and the men surrounding him, noting absently that Elrohir was riding with Thomas. “Mablung’s plan sounds reasonable and he does know this area better than the rest of us,” he said glancing at Imrahil who smiled slightly. “If you will agree, Éomer, I suggest we send your men around while the rest of us continue up the road. Once you have engaged them from the north, we will strike from the south and, hopefully, overwhelm them without too many casualties. I also want Faramir’s Rangers and some of our other archers to slip up into the hills behind them and drive them down towards us and to keep them from escaping back into Mordor.”

“I’ll take my men around, Aragorn. You must give me time to get into position, traveling through the woods will be slow,” Éomer said. He glanced at the forest surrounding them. “There’s not much underbrush. I’d expect it’ll take us about four hours.”

“It will take us less than two hours to travel by the road,” Elladan commented.

Halbarad glanced at the sky and shrugged. “Take a break for lunch now.”

Aragorn nodded, “Imrahil, pass the word among all the men and prepare your Swan Knights and the other horsemen who will be in the front of the column. The foot soldiers must stay up with us as best they can.” Imrahil nodded and departed. Aragorn turned to Éomer, “Be safe, brother,” he said, clasping his arm tightly.

“I will,” Éomer grinned cockily, “you as well.” He strode off, barking instructions to his marshals.

Looking to Elladan, Gandalf, and Halbarad, Aragorn remarked, “Fifteen hundred? That is not enough to defeat an army of our size.”

“No, but it would severely hamper us if he had succeeded in surprising us,” Gandalf replied. “It is a small risk on his part and he had much to gain.”

“Perhaps he means for us to underestimate his strength,” Elladan added, “To give us false hope.”

“That sounds like him,” Halbarad snorted.

Aragorn nodded, running his fingers through his hair. “And, to test our resolve and strength as well. We need to eat,” he said abruptly, turning and rummaging through his pack. Tossing Roheryn’s reins to Faerlain, he walked back to where Elrohir, Gimli, Legolas, and Thomas were sitting under a tree eating their own lunch. He was relieved when Thomas met his gaze steadily and seemed to be better rested than he had been the last few days. “Come along Thomas, I want to find Pippin.” Without a word, Thomas scrambled to his feet and joined him, carrying his dried fruit and meat with him. Laegrist trailed behind. They walked in silence for a time, both of them eating and Aragorn nodding absently to the men that greeted him as they passed. Finally, Aragorn quietly asked, “How do you fare, Thomas? I have not had a chance to speak with you these last few days.”

Thomas hesitated only a moment, “I’m doing better. I’m still uneasy about the battle, but I’ll be all right,” he said firmly, glancing up at Aragorn.

“Good.” Aragorn clasped his shoulder briefly as they walked, “Your dreams have stopped, have they not?”

“You do notice everything, don’t you?” Thomas shook his head and gave Aragorn a half smile. “Yes, they have. Elrohir and I talked about some things and…,” he shrugged as they carefully walked around a rearing stallion that one of the Swan Knights was trying to settle.

“Hmmm, yes, Elrohir often spoke with me when I was young and could not speak with my Adar. Being three thousand years old does tend to give you a certain amount of wisdom,” Aragorn said dryly. He stopped and looked around with narrowed eyes and then turned and set off in a new direction as he located Pippin’s company and heard the hobbit’s high-pitched voice amidst all the thousands of men. “I am glad he could help you, Thomas, though I wish I would have been able to.” Thomas could hear a certain wistful tone in his voice.

“I know how busy you are. You told Rebecca and me not too long ago that your kingly duties would keep you occupied.”

“Strider! Thomas!” Pippin’s voice caught their attention and the hobbit ran toward them, weaving in and around the men sitting and eating.

“Hello, Pippin,” Thomas greeted him with a smile.

“Peregrin Took of the Citadel Guard,” Aragorn smiled faintly as he gazed down at the hobbit who stood at attention in front of him. “Are you faring well marching amongst your company?”

“I’m fine,” Pippin shrugged. “I’ve endured worse marching on this journey,” he said. “I seem to remember a certain Ranger that made us march in the dark – from way before dawn until way after sunset. And I mean a real sunset.” He grinned saucily at Aragorn, who smiled.

Thomas laughed, “That’s why I’m glad I have a horse, Pip, I seem to remember a few days like that myself.”

Aragorn shook his head, “I do not think that Pippin truly enjoys riding on a horse, Thomas. A little too far off the ground, I suspect.” Pippin nodded. “No, walking it is for our young hobbit friend.”

“I had enough riding on horses when I was with Gandalf.” Pippin shuddered and the smile left his face. “Walking is just fine.”

“Good,” Aragorn said. “Well, I just wanted to check on you while I had a moment. Be safe,” he clasped the hobbit’s shoulder briefly and turned to go, but Pippin threw his arms about him and hugged him tightly. “You, too,” he whispered.

Pulling back away from Aragorn, Pippin looked at Thomas with a slightly worried expression and said, “You be careful, Thomas.” He hugged Thomas just as tightly.

“I will. You take care of yourself, Pip,” he said, awkwardly patting the hobbit’s back before turning and following Aragorn.

------

A mile and a half before they reached the area where the forces of Sauron were waiting to ambush them, archers snuck into the woods following Ranger scouts Anborn and Beraid. They planned to circle around behind the enemy to keep them from escaping back into Mordor. The rest of the six thousand men continued slowly up the road, waiting to receive some word from Éomer that he had reached his position. A half mile from the bend in the road, Damrod crept out of the woods and sprinted up to Aragorn. “My lord, Éomer King is in place,” he panted, “and should be attacking any moment now.”

With a brisk nod to Damrod, Aragorn turned to Imrahil, “Signal the men, my lord prince.” As Imrahil did so, Aragorn touched his heels to Roheryn’s sides and led the column swiftly down the road. Rounding the bend, they could hear the clash of swords and the loud cries of men and orcs as they fought. More orcs and Easterlings flowed down the hill as Aragorn’s men came into the area. On the hill behind the orcs, the archers started shooting and driving even more of the enemy out of hiding.

Lying low on Roheryn’s back, Aragorn charged straight into their foe flanked by Faerlain and Halbarad, while his brothers, Thomas, and Legolas followed close behind. Andúril flashed as he swung it ruthlessly against the enemy that crossed his path. He sliced the throat of an orc and then Roheryn spun around and he thrust his sword through the heart of a man coming from behind. Spurring Roheryn forward, he knocked an orc down just as it was reaching for one of the Swan Knights and the creature fell under the hoofs to its death. “Aragorn, duck!” he instantly obeyed Halbarad’s command and heard the whoosh of an arrow overhead, then heard the grunt of pain as it hit one of the orcs on the far side of him. Aragorn smiled grimly at Halbarad as his cousin maneuvered his horse nearer and they continued to press their attack on Sauron’s forces.

-------
Thomas took a deep breath as he rode into the battle. Elrohir had told him to stay mounted if at all possible, but it was something he had never done before and it added to his nervousness. He hoped he wouldn’t accidentally slice Baldor. Gripping his sword tightly, Thomas followed hard after Halbarad and alongside Elrohir and he heard Gimli yelling somewhere off to his left. Then they were in the midst of the enemy and his fear disappeared. The horses knocked down many of the men and orcs before fierce fighting broke out. Thomas discovered that Baldor was well-trained for battle and knew how to move away from the enemy without his direction so he concentrated on fighting and let the horse take care of them both.

Thrusting his sword deep into the back of the first orc he saw, Thomas quickly pulled it out and turned to the other side of Baldor, meeting the blade of a man who was approaching from the right. They exchanged blows for a moment before Thomas kicked the man in the chest, causing him to stagger back a pace and allowing Thomas to stab him through the stomach and dropping him to the ground in agony. Looking around, he saw Elrohir surrounded by orcs and he urged Baldor forward and attacked from the side. Jabbing and slicing at the creatures, he fought his way through to the elf-lord and was slightly startled at the incredibly fierce and terrible expression on the face of the normally impassive looking elf. Nodding to each other, they continued fighting side-by-side.

----------

From the front and a little to the side, Aragorn could see the Army of the West was swiftly overpowering Sauron’s forces and the enemy was starting to flee back up the mountains into Mordor. He called Halbarad to him, “Go tell the Fourth and Fifth Companies of the City Guard to go after them.” Halbarad hesitated, searching Aragorn’s face briefly, before nodding reluctantly, “Yes, my lord.” He turned and rode swiftly back to where some of the foot soldiers were waiting in reserve. Watching Halbarad for a moment, Aragorn then turned and rode off in search of Éomer, still followed closely by Faerlain and Laegrist.

---------

The Easterling’s sword caught him right across the shin. “Damn!” Thomas swore loudly even as he killed the man. Glancing down at his right leg, he could see a steady stream of blood flowing from the wound and his leg felt as if it were on fire. Continuing to swear softly under his breath, he fought on, though the battle was clearly won. Finally he pulled up and glanced around and seeing none of the enemy nearby, he carefully dismounted. Carefully wiping his sword off on the cloak of a dead Easterling, he sheathed it before looking at his leg. Since he was able to stand and walk on it, he knew it couldn’t be too bad. Thomas sat on the ground and slowly rolled up his leggings, muttering under his breath the whole time. There was too much blood to really see the wound so he got back to his feet and retrieved his waterskin, tearing off a piece of his shirt before sitting back down. He winced as he poured water over the cut. It appeared to be four or five inches long but not too deep and in his vast and growing experience with sword injuries, he knew it would need to be stitched. Thomas sighed, thinking about all of the scars he had on his body, though this one wasn’t going to be too visible and the ones Elladan had sung over had rapidly faded.

Hoofbeats made Thomas look up as he was tightly tying the makeshift bandage around his leg. “Thomas, what happened?” Legolas’s concerned voice called as he leaped gracefully to the ground. Gimli followed, slowly sliding down off of Arod.

“One of the men sliced me open,” Thomas scowled, “right at the last, too.”

“Is it bad?” Gimli’s voice was also full of concern.

Thomas shook his head, “No, I don’t think so; I’ll need stitches… again. But I can walk on it.”

Legolas and Gimli visibly relaxed. “Then we need to get you to a healer,” Legolas said.

“Oh, I think we can wait here and one will come to me,” Thomas smiled faintly and pointed with his chin to Elladan who was rapidly approaching.

Leaping lightly from his horse, Elladan looked Thomas over intently with his piercing eyes. Thomas noticed his expression almost mirrored the one he had seen on Elrohir’s earlier, though he was obviously calming down from the blood lust that seemed to have overtaken him. “Easterling or orc, Thomas?” he asked abruptly.

“Easterling.”

“Good, they do not often use poison.” Elladan turned back to his horse and took his healing kit from his pack. Returning to Thomas, he took his waterskin and poured water on his hands to clean them as best he could. Unwrapping the bandage, he sang softly, as he quickly and expertly cleaned the wound before stitching it.

“You’ve done this before,” Thomas said through clenched teeth, grimacing at the pain as he watched him work.

Elladan smiled faintly, “Once or twice.” He tied on a new, clean bandage and sat back. “You need something for your pain, but I need a fire and hot water for that,” he said with a frown as he looked around. “There are other wounded men over there and I am sure there will have to be fire to tend to them. Come along.” He patted Thomas’s shoulder and helped him stand and mount his horse. Thomas hissed softly as he settled his foot in the stirrup, but the pain had subsided to a steady throbbing sensation.

The four of them rode to where the wounded were being treated and Thomas realized how fortunate he had been when he saw the severe injuries that many had suffered. Some of the men were obviously going to die and even some of those who would live would be in constant pain. He swallowed hard as he looked at men who had lost limbs in the battle and he knew that in this world there was no help for them - only a painful death. Thomas gave Baldor’s reins to Legolas and with a slight limp he slowly followed Elladan to a small fire where water was boiling. He patiently waited with his eyes fixed on the ground as the elf-lord fixed willow bark tea for him. He was startled when a hand grabbed his upper arm. “Thomas! What happened to you this time?”

“It’s not serious,” he replied, looking up into the concerned eyes of Aragorn. “One of the Easterlings sliced my leg open and Elladan just stitched it up. I’ll be fine, Aragorn.”

Aragorn glanced at Elladan who nodded and he relaxed, shaking his head. “Good, then I shall leave you in Elladan’s hands for now,” he paused briefly and looked Thomas up and down carefully. “When you have cleaned up, I need you to do some things for me, if you are able.”

Thomas shrugged, “Oh sure, this isn’t that bad. I’ve felt much worse.” He took the cup of tea Elladan handed him and grimaced before quickly swallowing it. “Where will you be?”

“I will be helping the healers for awhile,” Aragorn glanced around, his eyes filled with sorrow, “and then I will be meeting with Éomer, Imrahil, and Gandalf over there,” he pointed to the northern end of the clearing along the road. “Meet me there after you have washed.” Aragorn clasped Thomas’s forearm tightly and strode briskly away to tend the wounded men.

“Thank you, Lord Elladan,” Thomas turned to the elf, but he had already gone. Limping slightly, he made his way back to Legolas and Gimli.

“How do you feel, lad?” Gimli asked, eyeing him closely.

“Lucky,” Thomas replied, gesturing to the men lying behind him. Dwarf and elf nodded and Legolas handed him Baldor’s reins. “Aragorn needs me as soon as I’ve washed off,” he said, glancing around at the battlefield with a frown.

“There is a stream down the hill,” Legolas said, leading the way.

Joining the hundreds of other men along the stream, they washed off the blood, dirt, and sweat from their bodies. Walking around to where Thomas was to meet Aragorn they found that only Éomer had arrived.

“You appear to have injured yourself, Thomas,” Éomer commented as the young man limped towards him.

“I didn’t injure myself, Éomer, I had help,” Thomas grinned. Éomer and Gimli laughed while Legolas just shook his head. Spying a log in the shade of a tree, he walked over and sat down with a sigh, followed by the others with Éomer and Gimli joining him on the log. “Will we move on tonight?” Thomas asked, glancing at Éomer.

“I imagine so, at least for a short distance. No one will want to stay anywhere close to here.”

“How much farther is it?” Gimli asked, glancing from Legolas to Éomer

Éomer looked at Legolas, but the elf gave a graceful shrug so the King of Rohan replied. “We should reach there late tomorrow night, though we won’t attempt an attack until the following morning.”

“Why not?” Gimli scowled fiercely at the king.

“Because our purpose, friend dwarf, is to delay as long as possible so that the Ring-bearer has time to destroy the Ring,” Éomer’s eyes darkened. “Spending another night will give him more time.”

“I hope they’re all right,” Thomas whispered. No one responded.

Prince Imrahil and Gandalf walked up, talking quietly about their plans for the army. “Where is Aragorn?” Gandalf asked, his gaze sweeping over the assembled group.

“He’s helping with the wounded,” Thomas replied.

“Will you go and fetch him? Others will have to see to the wounded now.”

“Sure,” Thomas got to his feet and started away with his slight limp.

“Thomas,” Gandalf called and Thomas looked back questioningly. “Why did you not say you were injured?”

“You didn’t ask,” he shrugged, “and it doesn’t hurt much.” He noticed Prince Imrahil was watching him closely.

“Sit down, Legolas will go.” The elf nodded and dashed away. Thomas sat back down after scowling briefly at Gandalf, who ignored him as he continued his conversation with Imrahil and Éomer.

“Relax, Thomas,” Gimli said, “he’s just looking after you.”

“I know,” he smiled slightly and leaned back against the tree, closing his eyes. Aragorn shook him awake some time later and he sat up with a guilty look on his face. “I’m sorry, Aragorn, I didn’t mean to fall asleep. What did you need me to do?”

“You obviously needed the rest,” Aragorn replied with a dismissive wave of his hand. “I want you to ride around to all of the Gondorian companies and check on the number of dead, wounded, and missing men and then report back to me as soon as possible. Keep the tally on this,” he handed Thomas a piece of parchment and a charcoal stick.

Nodding, Thomas set off to seek out the captains of the ten companies. Most of them were easy to find as they had gathered their men together in various spots around the battlefield. The man who commanded the Third Company was dead, so he spoke with Beregond instead. Within an hour Thomas returned to Aragorn and handed him the sheet. “The Third Company captain has died, Aragorn, so I talked to Beregond instead.”

Aragorn looked up at him briefly before studying the parchment again. “Seventy-three dead and over two hundred wounded. None missing, though,” he said to Imrahil and Gandalf. “I will put Beregond in charge of the Third Company before we move on.” He glanced at Thomas, “Go and get him for me.” Thomas left again and returned with Beregond riding behind him, much to Baldor’s displeasure. “Beregond,” Aragorn said, “I want you to take command of Third Company for me. I believe you know the men well.”

“Yes, my Lord King Elessar, I would be honored.” Beregond bowed.

“Good, we will be marching in a few moments, Thomas will take you back to your men.” He smiled faintly at Thomas who just shrugged and re-mounted Baldor. With Beregond aboard, he cantered swiftly back to Third Company, dropped him off and returned to Aragorn. This time he did not dismount, but just looked down at Aragorn expectantly. “I think that is all for now, but we are leaving as soon as Halbarad brings me Roheryn so you may as well stay in the saddle.”

“How far are we going?”

“Just a couple of miles, Mablung found a place for us and we need to get the wounded settled down for the night.” Aragorn took the reins Halbarad handed him and with a last look around at his men, he set out down the road, ignoring the battlefield they left behind.

--------

Rebecca slowly paced back and forth along the wall in the garden, the new book Faramir had given her swinging gently by her side. Occasionally she paused for short periods of time and looked off to the east before moving on again with a soft sigh. She missed Thomas and he was seldom far from her thoughts during the day. She worried constantly about all of them, especially Aragorn and Thomas, and she was having trouble sleeping. From what Faramir had told her, Rebecca knew they must be getting close to the Black Gate by now. She wondered how long it would take to hear anything after the battle, though she supposed if they lost she might never know what had happened to any of them. Setting the book on the wall, she rubbed her hand across her forehead, grimacing only slightly when the stitches in her back pulled. The Warden had told her he expected to take her stitches out in a couple of days and she was delighted as they were starting to itch. Rebecca leaned against the wall and looked down over the city, still amazed at how it was built. She could see the tops of houses and what she assumed were shops, restaurants, and the like, though the only people she ever saw were soldiers. Behind her someone cleared his throat and she turned to see Faramir.

“Lady Rebecca,” he said, taking her hand and gently kissing it.

“Good afternoon, Faramir. Where’s Éowyn?”

“I know not. I was hoping to find her out here,” he replied, disappointment clear in his voice. Rebecca ducked her head to hide a smile she couldn’t hold back. “Where is Master Merry?”

“He went in search of something to eat. He mentioned something about having a proper hobbit meal,” Rebecca smiled. “I don’t know if there will be enough food, even without the food restrictions; I saw how much those hobbits ate when we were in Lothlórien!” She shook her head as a sense of sorrow filled her and she turned back to the wall, leaning against it and looking out at the Pelennor.

Faramir joined her after a moment and a somewhat awkward silence fell. Finally, turning to Rebecca, he cleared his throat and asked in a low and hesitant voice, “Will you tell me how Boromir died? I know orcs slew him, but little else.”

Rebecca stared at him blankly and then said quietly, “I wasn’t there, Faramir. Though, I-I can tell you what Aragorn told me a few days later.” She watched as his expression changed from one of sorrow to one of confusion.

“You were not there? How can that be?” his gaze sharpened as he looked at her.

Swallowing hard, Rebecca stared back at him. “Aragorn left me in Lothlórien because he wanted me to be safe,” she gave him a weak smile. “But when Gandalf came to Lothlórien…” she paused, wondering how or if she should explain that Gandalf thought she had a purpose to fulfill with the Fellowship – something that made sense and would satisfy Faramir. Finally she just said, “Gandalf decided that I should continue with the Fellowship, so he took me with him and we caught up with Aragorn and the others.”

Evidently either her pause or the answer did not sound quite right to him because he frowned and his eyes darkened slightly as he asked, “How did you come to be King Elessar’s ward, Lady Rebecca?”

“My parents died,” she whispered, blinking back tears as she tried desperately to think of a way to change the subject.

But Faramir would not be dissuaded, though he did say gently, “I am sorry for your loss. I, too, know what it is like to lose both parents.” He paused briefly, “Have you been his ward for long?” he continued, though his voice was kind. Rebecca shook her head, but did not otherwise answer. She had decided she would not lie to him outright and she just hoped he would not ask certain questions. “It is strange for a wandering Ranger to have two wards,” he remarked, his piercing gaze never leaving her face, though she did not meet his eyes. “Lady Rebecca, I heard Merry wondering if you were sent here for some reason. What did he mean?”

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