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In Aragorn's Safekeeping
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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25
Confrontation

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 J for beta reading this chapter for me!

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


~~~

Riding out of the last of the thinning trees that marked the northernmost point of Ithilien, Aragorn scowled at the sight of the landscape before him. The last time he had crossed this grey, arid land located at the northern tip of the Mountains of Shadow, he had been dragging a snarling, whining Gollum with him. The long weeks spent in that wretched creature’s company as he dragged him to Mirkwood were not pleasant ones and he had been greatly relieved to leave him in King Thranduil’s care. Aragorn frowned as he thought of Frodo and Sam and he wondered once again if Gollum would bring some harm to them. Still, there was nothing he could do for them except play out the role he had set for himself and pray they would destroy the Ring… hopefully sometime soon, he mused wryly to himself.

“Aragorn,” Halbarad hissed as he rode up alongside. “There is a problem with some of the men.”

Aragorn twisted around in his saddle to see that some of the men had stopped while others flowed around them and there was a general air of confusion near the edge of the forest. Giving Halbarad a puzzled look, he wheeled Roheryn around, cantering back along the column. Slowing to a walk as he passed the first of these men, comprehension started to come to him at their expressions. These men were paralyzed with sheer terror at their first sight of the lands of Mordor. The place had only ever been a myth to them, a place of horrible evil and now to see it in the flesh was overwhelming to these men from both Gondor and Rohan. Pity stirred Aragorn’s heart as he saw their fear and their youth and he knew he could not compel them to go on, even in the face of his great need.

Raising his voice so that all of the large group of foot and horse soldiers could hear him, he addressed them with compassion in his eyes, yet with a firm voice. “Fear has taken your heart, but do not flee as those who have no honor.” Aragorn’s eyes flitted from man to man as he continued. “I have a task for you that may be within your strength and ability. I believe the island of Cair Andros is still held by the enemy and it would be a great service to the peoples of the West if it were re-taken.” There was a stirring in the ranks as men looked at each other and talked quietly and Aragorn could see expressions of relief cross their faces. Men began slipping away back into the forest, while others hurried off to re-join their companies. Whether they were somehow heartened that he did not condemn them or felt guilt, he did not know. With an inward sigh, he turned to head back to the front of the column, figuring that combined with the men they had left behind at the Cross-roads and the ones lost in the earlier battle, they now had fewer then 6,000 men to face the strength of Mordor.

The Army of the West pushed on into the dusty, desolate Morannon, swinging well away from the foothills and any hidden traps they might conceal. Aragorn knew this area better than anyone here and was aiming for a place several miles north of the Black Gate to spend the night before launching their assault in the morning. The land was becoming increasingly littered with piles of debris and slag hills from Sauron’s mines. Deep pits also dotted the ground and Aragorn carefully led the army around those.

Late in the day, Aragorn turned to Halbarad. “Do you see that jumble of large rocks slightly to the left?” Halbarad stood slightly in his stirrups and stared ahead with narrowed eyes for a moment before nodding. “Will you take a small group ahead and make sure the area is safe? That is where I plan on stopping and sometimes orcs lie hidden among the rocks. But if you do not venture too close, you should be safe enough.”

“Yes, my lord,” Halbarad said. Turning slightly around, he began calling out names. “I need Captain Caladithil, Alvist, Hinhael, Pendem, Damrod, Rilost, Anborn, Beraid, Hinluin, and Thomas.” Aragorn glanced at Halbarad in surprise when he called Thomas’s name, though he said nothing as he watched them gallop off.

--------

Thomas was daydreaming in the saddle when he heard Halbarad call his name. Straightening up, he glanced around to see Hinluin trotting forward so he nudged Baldor forward as well. He kept his face impassive as Halbarad explained what they were going to do, but he was shocked. No one had ever asked him to do anything like this before, and he was excited, scared, and nervous. Glancing around at the other men from the corners of his eyes he thought a couple of the scouts from Faramir’s rangers might be close to his age, but he knew the rest were older men. It felt strange riding out of the protection of the main group and Thomas kept a sharp watch around him as they galloped, kicking up a thick grey dust as they went. He wrinkled his nose in disgust at the horrible stench of the air that steadily grew worse. Slowing as they approached the rocks, most of the men pulled their bows from their shoulders and nocked arrows, much to his dismay. He still carried the one Haldir had given him in Lothlórien, but had not used it since the time he had practiced with Rebecca in Edoras and had never used one from horseback. He pulled his sword instead. Halbarad brought them to a halt about a hundred yards away from the strange rock formation and Thomas could easily see how any number of orcs or men could hide in the clefts and small caves that he could see in the shadowy twilight. He shivered as he stared around curiously, he could sense some… evil foreboding that hung around the whole area and he wrapped his cloak more tightly about himself.

“We’ll split up and circle around,” Halbarad said. “Captain Caladithil, you take Pendem, Hinhael, Damrod, and Beraid and I’ll take the others.” Nodding, the Captain turned to the left and set off with his men spread out on either side of him. Thomas and the others also spread out and he realized the men were studying the ground as they rode and he assumed they were looking for tracks. He rode alongside Hinluin and the young Ranger gave him a quick grin, but then quickly turned his attention back to the ground.

A slight noise caught their attention and everyone froze, looking around for the source. “In the rocks to the right of that small cave,” Anborn said in a low voice that nonetheless carried to all the men. Thomas saw three, no four large wargs creeping out from between the crack where two of the large rocks joined together. There were huge, even larger than the ones he had fought before they entered Moria.

“Anborn, take Alvist and Hinluin and circle to the left. Rilost and Thomas come with me to the right. Go slowly and maybe we can split them. Don’t go closer than fifty yards to the rocks and watch for orcs,” Halbarad ordered. Anborn nodded and started left. Thomas tightened his grip on his sword and wished he had practiced his archery. Trailing a little behind Halbarad and Rilost, Thomas kept glancing between the wargs and the rocks behind them, searching for movement. The beasts seemed uncertain as they crept out of the overhang that had sheltered them, their great heads swinging from side to side sniffing the air and growling as they appeared to watch each group of circling men.

Suddenly, in a blinding, snarling flash, all four of the wargs charged the group on the right. Halbarad and Rilost quickly loosed arrows at them, while Thomas could only wait until they came closer and he could use his sword. He stared at them wide-eyed and swallowed hard as they swiftly approached. One of the creatures finally fell head over heels in a crumbled heap from the arrows that Halbarad and Rilost were shooting, but the others had seemingly been unaffected. Thomas shot a quick glance at the other group of scouts and saw that they were galloping their way, but he feared they would not make it in time to be of any help.
The wargs were on them then and Thomas whirled Baldor out of the way of the warg that leaped at him, slicing at the creature as it flew past, cutting a deep gash in its back. He could see several arrows stuck in the fur, but evidently they had not penetrated deep enough to seriously injure it. The warg turned and came back at him and Thomas was amazed at how quick it was as he desperately slashed at its face. As the warg snapped at him with its razor sharp teeth, he sliced it deeply across the chest and ducked out of the way of the jaws, pulling Baldor back as he did so. Baldor reared slightly and, horrified, Thomas felt himself falling backwards off the horse landing hard on his bottom, still tightly gripping his sword. The warg turned and was attacking him just as Thomas scrambled to his feet and he frantically moved to the side trying to get out of the way of its charge, but the warg was too quick and he ended up facing it head on. He slashed at its face again, and it roared in pain as his sword cut across both its eyes. He ducked under the giant head as it turned towards him and then rammed his sword straight up under the beast’s throat, impaling it deeply and the creature dropped straight down on him, it’s blood flowing all over him. Sputtering and blinking rapidly, Thomas pushed his way out from under the creature and was cautiously looking around, when he was suddenly grabbed by the upper arm and yanked to his feet.

“Thomas! Are you all right?” Halbarad’s anxious voice yelled in his ear.

“I’m fine, stop yelling,” he exclaimed, panting hard and trying to wipe the blood from his face. But when he looked at Halbarad and saw the concern in his eyes, Thomas said more quietly, “I’m really all right, Halbarad, this isn’t my blood, it’s all this thing’s blood,” he kicked the warg before leaning over and cleaning his sword off on the fur.

Halbarad nodded, looking him over carefully one last time and patted his shoulder. “Good, then mount up.” He turned and remounted his own horse.

Thomas looked around for Baldor and nodded his thanks to Hinluin as he handed him the horse’s reins. The Ranger also searched in his pack for a moment and tossed him a piece of cloth torn from a shirt. “Here, clean yourself off.”

“Thanks.” Thomas wiped off his face, hands, and hair as best he could with the cloth, shuddering at the smell and knowing it would be a long time until he could really get clean since there was no extra water out here on the Morannon. Though, he thought ruefully, I could be dead by tomorrow at this time, so I suppose it won’t matter. He tossed the cloth back to Hinluin, who grimaced, as they continued around the rocks, searching for any more sign of the enemy.

Meeting up with the other half of their party they found that they had not seen any tracks or any sign to indicate that the enemy had been there recently. With a last look around, Halbarad led them back to the main body of the army. As Thomas rode past Aragorn intending to return to his place in line, he stopped when Aragorn gave him a sharp look and motioned for him to wait. He pulled Baldor around in a tight circle and rode alongside Aragorn and listened as he talked with Halbarad. “Except for the wargs hiding in the rocks, there were no other signs of the enemy, my lord,” Halbarad said, “We can camp there.”

“All right, thank you, Halbarad,” Aragorn said, nodding in dismissal. Halbarad slowed his horse slightly and dropped back in line. After a moment, Aragorn turned to Thomas and looked him up and down. “I assume that is warg blood and not your own.”

Thomas grimaced. “It is warg blood. It landed on me right after I cut its throat.” He shook his head in disgust.

“Why were you off your horse, Thomas?” Aragorn’s gaze was questioning and his voice full of concern.

“I fell,” Thomas grimaced again. “I was trying to back away and I pulled too hard or something and Baldor,” he patted the horse’s neck, “reared slightly and I just slipped off.”

Aragorn raised his eyebrows. “Then you did very well, to come away covered only with its blood and not your own.”

“I suppose so, but it’s still disgusting,” he replied looking down at himself.

Smiling faintly, Aragorn shook his head. “I am glad you are still here to feel such disgust.” Thomas nodded, returning his smile. “Do you have any spare clothes left?”

“Yes, I think I have a… no, I wore that one and it got ripped up too. No, this was my last shirt,” Thomas said sadly.

Without a word, Aragorn twisted around in his saddle and started digging through his pack. Pulling out a clean, but rumpled dark green shirt, he handed it to Thomas. “Here, take this. You may as well be comfortable tonight at least.”

“Thanks.” Thomas carefully tucked the shirt in his pack to keep it safe until they got into camp and he could clean up a bit more. He glanced around, suddenly self-conscious at riding at the head of the army, and he wondered if he should return to his former place in line.

“You may ride alongside me, Thomas,” Aragorn said, giving him a sidelong look. Thomas nodded and they rode on towards the rocks, talking quietly.

--------

All the color drained from Rebecca’s face. She shifted uneasily on her feet as she quickly tried to think of a response to Faramir’s question about what Merry had meant when he asked why she had been sent. Faramir grabbed her elbow to steady her.

“Are you well, Lady Rebecca?” he asked, concerned. “Come and sit down.” He led her over to the bench and helped her sit before settling down beside her. “I did not mean to upset you, but I have been confused about many things regarding you for several days now and Merry’s comment yesterday just added to my confusion.”

Rebecca looked up at Faramir as he finished speaking to find him regarding her with puzzled, yet kind eyes that so reminded her of Boromir. She bit her lip nervously and continued to absently play with the cords on her sling. Still not sure how to answer him, she asked him a question instead, “What confuses you?”

Faramir gave her a knowing smile at her evasive tactic and she flushed and looked away for a moment before meeting his eyes once again. “I do not understand why my lord king brought a young girl with him on such a dangerous journey. And, then, as you yourself told me, he left you behind in Lothlórien to keep you safe, but if he wanted you to be safe, why did he bring you in the first place?” He studied her intently and his eyes were puzzled, but she made no response so he continued. “Yet, Mithrandir felt you should be with the king and the others, so he brought you with him and again that is something that I do not understand, that a young girl could have such a role in this war that a wizard looks after her.”

Faramir shook his head as he continued to watch her. “It surprises me that you have been taught the use of weapons and of healing, yet you learned those skills in Lothlórien, not in Imladris or… wherever you are from.” Rebecca shifted her gaze to the ground. “The book of tales I gave you are common stories in Gondor and most would have at least heard them and you obviously had not. All of those things taken together seem strange to me and with Merry’s comment, again I have to ask, what does it mean? From where were you sent?” His eyes darkened as he looked down at Rebecca and she struggled to respond.

Rebecca shook her head. “I’m… I’m not supposed to talk about it. Aragorn and Gandalf told me not to and I… doubt you would believe me anyway.”

Faramir sat back with a sigh as he continued to study her. “Then I shall not press you, Lady Rebecca, for I would not have you go against what my lord and Mithrandir have told you. However, I assure you that there is nothing you could tell me that I would not believe.”

Staring out at the horizon, Rebecca spoke slowly, “There are some things, Faramir, that even you would have a hard time believing. If…” she turned her gaze back to him, “if they don’t come back, then I will tell you everything. Though, I’ll have Merry here to help me explain things.”

“I’m here now, what do you need?” Merry’s voice from behind caused them both to start. The hobbit walked around the bench and looked from Rebecca to Faramir and back, his smile fading. “What’s the matter, Rebecca?” he asked.

“I’m all right, Merry,” she replied quickly to reassure him. “It’s just Faramir was asking me some questions that I-I couldn’t answer. He heard what you said yesterday.”

“Oh, I see.” Merry frowned at the Steward briefly and then stared at the ground for a moment. “Perhaps… perhaps you should tell him.”

“How can you say that?” she asked, looking at the hobbit in disbelief.

Merry shrugged. “Lord Faramir obviously knows something is going on.” They both glanced at the Steward who nodded and Rebecca noticed he was watching them intently with a hint of both curiosity and hopefulness in his eyes. She turned back to Merry.

“Aragorn and Gandalf told me and Thomas not to tell anyone.”

“And I told Lady Rebecca I will not ask her any more questions on account of that,” Faramir informed the hobbit.

Merry shrugged again. “Yes, I know, Rebecca. But that was in Rohan and not… not to Boromir’s brother.” He took a deep breath and looked away for a moment. “I’m sure that Aragorn plans to tell Lord Faramir about you and Thomas when he comes back.”

“He said as much to me before I even met you,” Faramir commented. “But, as curious as I am, and I will admit this conversation has made me even more so, I can wait for the King to return.”

Rebecca stared down at her feet for a long time as she thought back to the conversation with Aragorn and Gandalf before they arrived in Edoras. They had been speaking of the suspicious nature of the people of Rohan and how they treated strangers. But she also remembered Aragorn’s comment that he didn’t think he would believe them if he hadn’t found them himself. Still, Rebecca didn’t want to live her whole life here with only a few people knowing who she really was. And, since Faramir was Boromir’s brother and Aragorn trusted him, maybe she could start with him.

Casting a quick glance at Merry and receiving an encouraging smile, Rebecca half turned on the bench to face Faramir more directly. She looked searchingly at him for a moment and he smiled faintly in return. “Faramir, you can’t tell anyone else about this and I’m only going to tell you because you’re Boromir’s brother and because I trust you. Only a few people know about me and Thomas - the members of the Fellowship, as well as Elladan, Elrohir, and Halbarad.”

“I will not violate your trust, Lady Rebecca, but truly no one else knows?” Rebecca shook her head and Faramir leaned back with even more confusion, if that were possible, in his eyes.

“The elves know, Rebecca,” Merry reminded her.

“Oh, right,” she mumbled. “That’s why you need to be here, Merry. Yes, the elves in Lothlórien know.” Rebecca paused, trying to decide how to start and finally she looked up and met Faramir’s eyes and gave him a tentative smile. “Well, the Fellowship found me and Thomas about a week after they left Rivendell. We were both injured and lying on the ground unconscious.” She watched Faramir’s expression go instantly to one of grave concern.

“That is when you broke your wrist.”

Rebecca nodded and continued, “Aragorn tended our wounds, of course, and they waited for us to wake up.” She took a deep breath. “This is where it gets strange. When I awoke, I found myself surrounded by men I didn’t know. Not even Thomas, I’d never seen him before either.” Faramir frowned, but made no comment. Rebecca bit her lip and glanced at Merry once again. “At least I thought they were all men, but that was because my world doesn’t have elves, dwarves, or hobbits.” She watched as Faramir stared at her for a moment and then he blinked rapidly, sat up straight and glanced at Merry before looking back at her.

“Your world?” he asked in a low voice full of disbelief and bewilderment. “What do you mean your world? There is only this world.”

“I thought there was only one world, too, Faramir… my world and this isn’t it.” Rebecca looked at him beseechingly as she saw the doubt and growing anger in his darkening eyes. “I don’t know how it happened, none of us do. All we know for sure is that Thomas and I were on a bus - and I’ll explain what that is some other time - in our world and there was a snowstorm and an accident, and an explosion… or something,” she frowned in remembrance, “and then Thomas and I woke up here. All alone,” she added as an afterthought. She glanced at Merry as he had crept closer to the bench and squeezed her hand.

“Boromir and the rest of you believed this… this story?” Faramir asked Merry sharply.

“Yes, though I’ll admit it was difficult for all of us at first. But, if you had seen them, their injuries, their hair, and their strange clothes…” Faramir turned and looked at Rebecca and she recoiled, trying to get away from his intense, piercing gaze and he immediately softened his expression.

“All those clothes are gone now,” she said quietly. “They weren’t made for the kind of traveling we did and they were really torn up by the time we got to Lothlórien. The elves gave me these clothes.”

Faramir nodded and looked at Merry again. “We found them in a clearing and Aragorn and Legolas searched all around for tracks and there weren’t any that led into that clearing. They just appeared there. Neither of them knew anything about Middle-earth at all. Nothing about dwarves, elves, hobbits, the Valar and didn’t even know basic things like how to drink from a waterskin or how to use a flint and tinder.” Merry smiled at Rebecca and she blushed faintly. “They are definitely not from Middle-earth, my lord Steward,” the hobbit’s voice was firm and unyielding as he stared at Faramir.

Getting slowly to his feet, Faramir walked to the wall and stared out into the distance. Rebecca watched him, wondering what was going through his mind and what she would do if he didn’t believe her. She sighed inwardly, realizing she should have thought of that before now. Merry joined her on the bench and whispered, “It’ll be fine, Rebecca. Faramir’s a wise man and he’ll see that Aragorn and Gandalf and his brother would not be easily fooled. But it’s hard to believe, even for me and I was there!” He smiled and Rebecca nodded.

Finally, after what seem like hours to Rebecca, but was probably less than ten minutes, Faramir turned and looked at them, leaning back against the wall. “As strange as this story is, it does explain many questions I have been asking myself about you, Lady Rebecca. And if Mithrandir, my brother, and my new King, along with various elves and hobbits,” he bowed slightly to Merry, who grinned, “say it is true, then I am going to trust it is the truth. Though, I must admit that it seems impossible to me.” The Steward shook his head as his gaze never left Rebecca’s face. “The ways of the Valar, however, are most often beyond my understanding. My next question is why were you sent here?”

Rebecca shrugged. “We don’t know. Gandalf and Lady Galadriel say your Valar have some plan… though I wish they would tell me what it is.” She sighed. “I told Lady Galadriel that if I knew why I was here then I would do whatever I was supposed to do so I could go home.” Rebecca frowned and looked away for a minute. “But she said I might be here forever, so that’s why she had me learn healing skills; she sensed I had a gift for it. It certainly was useful at Helm’s Deep,” she said, shuddering.

“Maybe you came so you could save Halbarad,” Merry remarked.

“Maybe,” she agreed, “Or, there have been any number of other things that have happened that it could have been.” Rebecca did not want to tell them about the incident at Helm’s Deep with Aragorn and Éomer. “I may never know.” She paused for a moment, frowning thoughtfully. “Sometimes, I think Gandalf has some idea since he came back to life, but…” her voice trailed off uncertainly.

Faramir walked back to the bench and sat down next to Merry, his eyes searching Rebecca’s face intently, though his expression had softened. “Forgive me, Lady Rebecca, if I frightened you, it was not my intention to do so.”

“I know you weren’t trying to, and I wasn’t exactly frightened… well, maybe just a little bit,” she admitted with a small smile.

“Not today,” Faramir said, glancing up at the sky, “but soon, I would like to speak with you again and learn more of your world. You have given me much to think on.”

“I’d like to hear more, too,” Merry said, “you were awfully quiet in Lothlórien when we talked about our homes.”

Rebecca glanced at the hobbit for a moment and then looked away. “It was too hard, I hadn’t been here for very long and it hurt too much to talk about home. It’s easier for me now.”

Merry took her hand and squeezed it gently. “We should have realized, Rebecca.” She shrugged.

“I must take my leave of you,” Faramir said as he stood, “to speak with the Warden. Lady Rebecca,” he took her hand and kissed it. “Thank you for telling me even though I know it has been difficult for you.”

“I’m glad I told you, it’s nice to have someone else here that knows who I truly am.”

Faramir nodded slightly and strode swiftly away into the Houses. Rebecca watched him go, feeling slightly uneasy and slightly guilty that she had told him. But, she also knew that he had deserved some sort of answers to the questions she and Merry had inadvertently raised. She sighed quietly, hoping that if and when Aragorn and Gandalf returned they would agree with her decision.

------

Large fires enclosed the Army of the West and hundreds of men patrolled the perimeter of the camp while the men rested. Few, if any, slept that night. Fear of the upcoming battle and the noises of prowling wargs and orcs kept everyone on edge. After a few quick words, Aragorn sent Éomer off to be with his men and Imrahil to be with his sons, Elphir and Erchirion. Aragorn walked around the camp for awhile, speaking briefly with and encouraging his men before joining his brothers, and Halbarad, Legolas, Thomas, Gandalf, and Gimli at a fire near the center of the camp. He settled himself in between Halbarad and Legolas as they sat listening to the story Elrohir was telling. He watched the fire with hooded eyes as he listened to Elrohir’s soothing voice.

Aragorn’s thoughts drifted from Arwen, to his adar, to his naneth, and then to various things he had seen and done in his long life. Growing up in Imladris, leading the Dúnedain, the long years serving in Rohan and Gondor as Thorongil, the time he had spent in Harad, and, most recently, guarding the free peoples all around Eriador. Yet, the only thing he had ever really desired was to marry Arwen and unless a miracle occurred and they somehow prevailed in the upcoming battle, that would never happen. Sighing inwardly, he deliberately pulled his thoughts back to the present.

Glancing around the circle, Aragorn’s gaze fell on two people, Thomas and Legolas. Thomas appeared to be almost asleep with his head on his pulled up knees, but watching him closely for a moment, Aragorn saw his half-closed eyes darting rapidly back and forth as the sounds of wargs or orcs moved closer to one side of the encampment or another. Legolas’s face was a blank mask unless you knew him well and Aragorn could see the sorrow reflected in the depths of his eyes.

“Do your thoughts dwell on those who have fought here before, mellon nín?” he asked quietly. He knew that Legolas’s grandfather had died in the battle of the Last Alliance fought here three thousand years ago.

Legolas nodded once. “I sense the spirits of those who died here. Of course, I never met my daeradar and my adar does not often speak of him or the battle that was fought here, but being here brings him to mind and I wonder about him.”

“My adar rarely speaks of the battle either. Losing Gil-Galad was very painful for him; he was like a father to him. We spoke of it a few times when discussing Isildur and the Ring, but I usually went to Erestor or Glorfindel if I had questions about the battle itself.”

“I learned about my daeradar from my naneth and other people. He sounds like he was very much like my adar and I look forward to meeting him someday when he is released from Mando’s Halls,”
Legolas said.

Aragorn nodded and they lapsed into silence. His eyes shifted back to Thomas and he saw that Gandalf was speaking with the young man who nodded occasionally. Aragorn wanted to speak with him at some point, but knew it was a long night and he somehow doubted that either of them would be getting much sleep.

----------

Thomas half listened as Elrohir told stories of Elladan and himself and their adventures growing up in Imladris and the times they rode with the Rangers. Most of the stories were light-hearted and humorous, but Thomas was more absorbed in listening to the wargs and orcs he could hear prowling around the outside of the camp. He knew they were safe inside the camp, but it just served to remind him of the upcoming battle.

Looking up at Gandalf as the wizard placed a hand on his shoulder, Thomas was surprised to see the depth of sorrow in his ancient blue eyes. “Remember that whatever happens, Thomas, your purpose here will be, or has already been fulfilled even if you never know what it was.”

Not knowing how to respond to a statement like that, Thomas simply nodded.

“Do you regret coming to Middle-earth?”

Thomas looked at him blankly, wondering if he was serious. Deciding the wizard was, he answered slowly, “Well, I never was given a choice.” Gandalf nodded once. “Do you mean besides the fact that I might die tomorrow?”

“In your world you may already be dead,” Gandalf pointed out.

Thomas shrugged. “I suppose that’s true. Well, I never would have met Rebecca if I hadn’t come here, so that’s a wonderful thing. And, I wouldn’t have met Aragorn or any of the rest of you, so those are good things. But the battles and the killing have been truly horrible. So, I have very mixed feelings about this place. I’m not sure this is the best time to ask me,” he added dryly.

“Probably not, yet I was curious and we have had little time to talk.” Gandalf gazed at him intently and Thomas was suddenly reminded of the great power he had. He tended to forget about it since he was so often around the wizard, but sometimes Gandalf would do or say something that made his power obvious and right now was one of those times. Thomas wasn’t sure why, but for some reason he felt like Gandalf was reading his heart or his mind, like Galadriel could do. Not sure what to say, he just responded to the comment the wizard had made.

“You’re always so busy… you have a whole world to save,” Thomas said, giving the wizard a half smile.

Gandalf patted him gently on the shoulder. “I cannot save Middle-earth, only Frodo and Samwise can do that.”

Thomas nodded and Gandalf turned to speak with Gimli, leaving Thomas to wonder what the whole conversation had really been about.

---------

Aragorn stood and stretched before motioning for Thomas to join him. It was an hour before dawn and Aragorn knew he would need to leave soon. He knew Thomas had dozed fitfully during the night and had not wanted to disturb him earlier.

“Yes, Aragorn?” Thomas asked, rubbing at his blood-shot eyes.

“I wanted to speak with you.” Aragorn slipped his arm around Thomas’s shoulder and led him a short distance away from their fire. “Stay with my Rangers today, though some will accompany me to the Black Gate itself and you will not.”

“Why not?” Thomas frowned.

“Because only the leaders, those who represent the other races of Middle-earth, and some guards will accompany me and Gandalf.”

“Oh. I could be a guard.”

“You could,” Aragorn acknowledged. “However, there are many of my Rangers who have fought at my side for sixty or seventy years, and they now consider it a great honor to serve as my personal guard. I will not replace them, not even for you. I want you to stay near Hinluin, Pendem, and the rest of the Rangers.”

Thomas nodded reluctantly. “All right.”

Aragorn drew Thomas into a firm embrace, startling Thomas for a moment before he relaxed and enjoyed the comfort the embrace provided. Releasing Thomas, Aragorn stepped back and gazed at him steadily for a long moment before sighing softly. “Whatever happens today, know that I care for you. I am proud of you and the man you have become.”

“Thank you,” Thomas whispered. “I-I care for you too, Aragorn.”

“If it is our fate to die here this day, then know that we shall meet beyond the circles of this world in the place Eru has set aside for us.”

Thomas looked at Aragorn with dismay. “Will I go there? Or will I return to my own world or my own heaven? I truly might never see you again,” he said as he blinked back tears.

“I had not considered that.” Aragorn shook his head and his eyes filled with sorrow. “We can only trust in the goodness of Eru and hope that we shall be together. Perhaps our worlds are connected somehow.”

Thomas nodded and a glimmer of hope lightened his eyes. “The best thing would be to stay alive,” he said quietly.

“Indeed.” Aragorn glanced around and saw Éomer and Imrahil making their way towards him. “Be safe, ion-nín.

“You too, Aragorn,” Thomas replied, wondering what the elvish meant, but assumed it was probably some kind of nickname. He’d try and remember to ask him later… if there was such a thing, he reminded himself.

------

The Army of the West broke camp early to begin their assault on the Black Gate. The wargs and orcs that had plagued them during the night had withdrawn from sight, though they could still be heard and the presence of the Nazgúl flying overhead continued to sap the courage from the hearts of the men. It took a little over an hour for them to reach the Gate that served both to keep out Sauron’s enemies as well as to keep in his slaves. The high stone walls and iron gate stretched for three quarters of a mile between two high towers that were built into the cliffs of the Mountains of Shadow to the west and the Ash Mountains to the north.

After consulting with Éomer, Imrahil, Gandalf, Elladan, and Elrohir, Aragorn arranged the army on two large slag hills a half mile from the Gate. Éomer and Imrahil would take charge of one hill, while Aragorn and Gandalf would take charge of the other. Satisfied that it was the best they could do with as few forces as they had, Aragorn prepared to ride to the Gate itself. “Halbarad,” he called and his cousin rode up to him. “I know the heralds have carried my banner thus far, but I would have you carry it for me this day.”

“It would be an honor, my Lord King Elessar.” Halbarad looked at his cousin with glittering eyes and Aragorn was forced to look away and he rode forward towards the group that made up the embassy that was going to approach the Gate. With a brisk nod, Gandalf and Éomer fell in on either side of him, while the others followed close behind.

They rode swiftly forward, banners flapping briskly in the stale, choking wind. Pulling up a couple of hundred feet before the two smaller gates, they warily dismounted leaving their horses in the hands of the guards. Aragorn signaled to the heralds who blew their trumpets and then called out:

“Come forth! Let the Lord of the Black Land come forth! Justice shall be done upon him. For wrongfully he has made war upon Gondor and wrested its lands. Therefore the King of Gondor demands that he should atone for his evil, and depart then for ever. Come forth! +

The heralds hurried back to the horses and Aragorn could read the fear in their eyes as they passed.

Nothing stirred for a long time and then slowly one of the smaller gates opened, creaking and groaning. Aragorn watched, slightly stunned as a mixed group of Sauron’s forces approached led by some type of… creature. He could tell that it was or had once been a man, but that had obviously been many years ago. It and… its men dismounted and approached with a cocky air that was evident to the Men of the West.

“I am the Mouth of Sauron,” he announced arrogantly, “and I see none here that may do justice upon my lord. There is no King in Gondor.” His gaze landed squarely on Aragorn.

Aragorn just looked at this mouthpiece with his piercing grey eyes, but did not otherwise respond. When the creature quailed under his intense stare, he felt a measure of satisfaction, yet it was short-lived as he saw Frodo’s mithril shirt, Sam’s sword, and a small elven cloak appear in the hands of the creature. Aragorn wanted to cry out his frustration and anguish just as Pippin did, yet steeled his heart and features as he often had to. He glanced at Gandalf and saw the wizard’s face had gone grey with shock, but his voice was surprisingly steady as he responded negatively to the Mouth’s demand that the peoples of the West submit to Sauron’s rule in exchange for this prisoner they held.

Furrowing his brow slightly, Aragorn exchanged a puzzled glance with Legolas and Gimli. He wondered why there was only one prisoner being mentioned. They had Frodo’s clothing, but Sam’s sword. At least one of them was still free, he realized. He did not know which hobbit they had and Aragorn grieved at the thought of either of them in the hands of Sauron. But whichever hobbit was free obviously still had the Ring, otherwise Sauron would not be bargaining with them. A spark of hope re-kindled in Aragorn’s heart, if not for himself, then for his people.

“We will take these!” Gandalf’s booming voice rang out loudly as he grabbed Frodo and Sam’s things from the Mouth of Sauron.

“You have sealed your doom, then,” the creature laughingly hissed. The great doors began to open to reveal large troops of Easterlings and Haradrim pushing forward and orcs began to pour out from the towers on the sides.

“Get back!” Aragorn quickly ordered and they rushed to their horses and swiftly galloped back to their men, loosing their horses to make their way to safety before joining their men on their respective hills. Aragorn, his brothers, and Gandalf rushed to the crest of the hill, where they would have a commanding view of the battlefield. Thomas glanced at them as they passed, shifting nervously on his feet on the uneven footing the slag hill provided as he watched the horde of orcs and men approaching. Legolas and Gimli joined him where he stood amidst the Rangers, slightly below where Aragorn now barked out orders. The air suddenly rang with the twang of bowstrings.

--------

Slowly awakening in the semi-darkness that passed for morning, Rebecca sat up quickly with a gasp. Something was wrong. She could feel it in the very air, which was charged with even more tension than usual. Suddenly she knew what it was; the army had reached the Black Gate. “Valar, help them,” she whispered, not sure if that was the right way to ‘pray’ here in Middle-earth, but not knowing what else to say. She gingerly got to her feet, aware now of the pain her earlier abrupt movements had caused. Struggling with the sleeping garment, Rebecca finally managed to get it over her head and she realized how much she had come to rely on Lothrín’s help. After slipping on her leggings, she looked at her shirt with a slight frown before worming her way into it, carefully sliding it over her splint. She was starting to button the tunic when there was a soft knock on the door and Lothrín walked in.

“Lady Rebecca, why are you up already?” The aide quickly moved to her and finished buttoning the tunic. “You shouldn’t be dressing yourself,” she scolded as she took Rebecca’s sling from the table and gently placed it around her splinted left arm before tying it around her neck.

“I need to go outside, Mistress Lothrín,” Rebecca replied urgently. “I have to see what’s going on.”

“See what, lady? You can’t see anything from here except dark clouds. You need to eat breakfast before you go to the gardens.”

“I’m not hungry,” Rebecca protested, shaking her head.

“You need to eat something; you need to recover your strength.” Lothrín’s eyes searched Rebecca’s for a moment and then she sighed. “Will you eat something if I bring it out to you?”

“I’ll try,” Rebecca replied, making no promises.

“Then wrap yourself warmly in your cloak and I’ll join you shortly.”

Nodding, Rebecca grabbed her cloak and followed Lothrín out the door. She hesitated briefly before knocking on Merry’s door, which was quickly thrown open. “I’m sorry if I’m bothering you, but I’m going outside and I-I didn’t want to be alone.”

“I’ll get my cloak.” He spun on his heel and went to retrieve it. “I was going outside in a minute anyway,” Merry commented as they walked down the hallway. “Something bad is happening.”

“I know. They’re there now,” she whispered as they walked outside and crossed the grass to the wall, their eyes fixed firmly to the east. Roiling black clouds covered the northernmost points of the Mountains of Shadow. The air was stifling and hard to breathe. “Do you think they’re fighting now, Merry?” she asked.

“Yes, they are, that is all that this could be,” a grim, low voice caused them to look back to discover that Faramir and Éowyn had joined them. Both had almost identical expressions of sorrow, though Éowyn’s face was decidedly paler. Glancing around the garden, Rebecca saw that many other patients had come outside and were also looking to the Mountains of Shadow and talking quietly to one another.

“Poor Pippin,” Merry murmured, walking a few steps away before resting his arms on the wall and laying his head on them.

Éowyn followed him and laid a hand on his shoulder. “If Pippin is even half as brave as you are, Merry, he’ll be all right,” Éowyn told the hobbit. Merry glanced up at her and then returned his gaze to the east.

“He’s so young, Éowyn, a lot younger than I am. And so small compared to those men and orcs, he’ll probably be stepped on.” He gave a hollow, almost bitter sounding laugh.

“You’re not so big yourself, Meriadoc, and yet look what you and I accomplished together. No, this is his part to play in this war.” She smiled grimly down at the hobbit.

“I know, I know. I just wish I was there with him.”

“I wish I were there as well.” Éowyn sighed and stepped past the hobbit, moving to a spot further down the wall where she leaned against a tree. After a moment, Faramir joined her, speaking words to Éowyn that Rebecca couldn’t hear.

Suddenly realizing that she was trembling, Rebecca walked to a nearby table and sat down carefully so she didn’t pull her stitches. Where are Frodo and Sam, she wondered as her thoughts raced. They must not have made it to the mountain and she could only hope they had died without suffering too much. Poor Frodo with his kind heart, and dear loyal Sam. Rebecca angrily blinked back tears as she thought of the sacrifice they had been willing to make for Middle-earth. She suddenly wondered why she was thinking so much about them – not that she didn’t care for them – and not about Thomas, Aragorn, and the others that she was much closer to. But Rebecca realized that it hurt too much to think about those she was so close to. A feeling of panic threatened to overwhelm her and she bit her lip to keep herself from crying out. A steaming mug and a bowl of porridge slid onto the table in front of her.

“Eat this, Lady,” Lothrín’s calm voice ordered as the older woman sat on the bench next to her.

“I can’t, Mistress Lothrín.”

“Yes, you can.” Lothrín handed her the spoon. “It’ll be a long day and you need to keep your strength up, no matter what happens.”

Rebecca took one bite of the porridge before setting the spoon down and pushing the bowl away. “I’m sorry, but I truly can’t eat this morning. I’ll drink the tea.”

“Very well, lady,” she said with a look of disapproval. “If you become hungry later, please let me know.” Lothrín stood to leave.

“I will.” As the aide turned and left, Rebecca let out a soft moan and leaned forward, resting her forehead in her right hand and stared down at the table. She didn’t really want to be in the midst of another horrible battle, but to be so far away was so much harder than she’d thought it would be. And she knew they wouldn’t find out how the battle had turned out for several days, maybe a week. Rebecca wished more than ever that there were telephones in Middle-earth or some other kind of communication device… like a telegraph. She didn’t look up when she sensed someone had joined her at the table, sitting on the opposite bench.

“Are you well, lady?”

Rebecca jerked her head up in surprise to meet the eyes of a young man she had never seen before. He had light blue eyes and long, brown hair. Bandages covered his right shoulder and arm. Realizing she was staring, Rebecca stuttered slightly as she answered him, “I’m-I’m sorry, I thought you were one of my friends. I’m fine, just worried about the battle,” she said glancing to the east.

The man nodded. “Me, too. My brothers are there, as well as my uncle and three of my cousins. Who do you have there?” His eyes were shadowed and his face was drawn with worry.

“I have no blood family left, but,” Rebecca swallowed hard, “my guardian is there. And there are four others fighting who are also like my family.”

“So many have lost all their family,” he commented. “My name’s Tathor.”

“I’m Rebecca.”

“Why are you here, Lady Rebecca?”

“My arm is broken,” she replied, giving him a puzzled look. Rebecca was not going to tell him how it had gotten broken, nor was she going to mention her other injuries, which were hidden under the loose fitting shirt and tunic she wore. She did not want him asking questions about why she had been on the Pelennor.

“I see that.” Tathor smiled. “I meant why are you still in Minas Tirith? Why did you not go south with the other women and children?”

“Oh, my guardian left me here. He felt I’d be just as safe here as there.” Rebecca hoped that sounded reasonable enough.

Tathor nodded, “If the Dark Lord prevails, no place is safe.”

“That’s what Aragorn says,” Rebecca said without thinking.

“Who’s Aragorn?”

“My guardian,” she replied, relieved that he didn’t seem to know the name. Rebecca turned slightly to see where Merry was, but he was still leaning on the wall and she sighed inwardly.

“Did you hear the rumor that there is a King now?” Tathor asked eagerly, an excited sparkle in his eye.

“I heard something about it.”

“Do you think it’s true?”

“Yes, I’m pretty sure it is,” she replied, holding back a smile.

“He has to return, we need a King,” Tathor said fiercely, looking towards the east.

“Yes, he does,” Rebecca murmured in agreement.

“Captain!” Tathor struggled to his feet and Rebecca could see his lower right leg was also bandaged. “I mean, my Lord Steward,” he corrected himself as he bowed awkwardly.

“Sit down, Tathor,” Faramir commanded softly as he and Éowyn joined them at the table. “Lady Éowyn, this is Tathor, one of my Rangers. I see you have already met Lady Rebecca.”

“Yes, my lord,” he smiled at Rebecca and bowed slightly to Éowyn. “Lady Éowyn, it’s an honor to meet you after what you’ve done.”

“Thank you, but I didn’t kill the Witch-king by myself.” She gave him a grim look and turned to gesture to Merry. “If Meriadoc Brandybuck hadn’t been there and stabbed it first, I would not have succeeded.”

“A pherian helped you, Lady Éowyn?” She nodded briskly. “I’ve heard stories of a pherian that helped you, my lord.” Tathor glanced at Faramir who gave a small nod. “But I wasn’t aware that one also helped slay the Witch-king. They have… stout hearts for all they are so small.”

“The Pheriannath, or Hobbits as they call themselves, are a surprising people, Tathor,” Faramir said. “I have met four of them now, and each of them has an inner strength that is at least equal to, if it does not surpass, that of most men.”

Sipping on her rapidly cooling tea, Rebecca listened quietly as they spoke of the hobbits. It seemed strange to be talking of ordinary things when not too far away people she loved could be dying. Though, she supposed it was better than sitting and worrying about it when there was nothing she could do to change anything. Still, she really didn’t want to join the conversation as it might lead to questions from Éowyn and Tathor that she could not, or did not want to answer. Faramir seemed to sense her reluctance and steered the conversation away from her, while Éowyn seemed lost in her own thoughts. As Faramir and Tathor moved their discussion on to other people and other things, Rebecca could sit still no longer and got to her feet, drawing the men up as well. “I’m going to walk around for awhile,” she said quietly. “It was nice to meet you, Tathor.”

“The pleasure was mine, Lady Rebecca,” he said with a warm smile. “I hope to see you again.”

Rebecca nodded and wandered off to pace slowly along the wall. As the morning stretched on towards noon she joined Merry and they stood leaning against the wall and staring to the east.

--------

Thomas thought briefly and longingly of Rebecca as he watched the thousands and thousands of enemy soldiers swarming towards the hill. He knew there was no way he could possibly survive this battle. Actually seeing the enemy made him realize that they were just too badly outnumbered and there were no reinforcements coming this time. He gripped his sword tightly and concentrated on breathing slowly in an effort to push back the despair that threatened to overwhelm him. Thomas vowed to take some of these forces of evil with him before he died. He ducked quickly as arrows began falling near him and he closed his eyes briefly against the screams of agony that filled the air. From his crouched position, Thomas saw that the men near the bottom of the hill had already engaged the enemy and he wondered if they would join them or if Aragorn had other plans. He glanced at Hinluin on his left to see the same worried expression on the young Ranger’s face that he knew was on his own. Hinluin nodded once and turned troubled eyes back down the hill. Finally, Aragorn shouted for them to attack and Thomas sprang to his feet, relieved to ease the tension in his body.

Slipping and sliding down the steep hill, Thomas reached the line of Gondorian troops about halfway down. Taking a deep breath, he plunged into the battle as one of the Gondorians fell and he quickly stepped into his spot, battling with an orc. To Thomas’s surprise, this orc actually spoke to him. “Die, you filthy…” the rest of its words were lost as the orc died when Thomas slit its throat. Thomas spared not a glance for it as two more took its place and pressed him hard. He retreated slightly under their onslaught and managed to lop off the non-sword hand of the one on his right, but the orc kept coming even as black blood poured from the wound. Thinking desperately as he parried blow after blow, Thomas finally decided to do something that he knew was probably foolish, but he felt he had little choice. The next time the orc on his left pulled back a little, Thomas turned and ran about ten feet, cursing the whole time about turning his back on the enemy. But it worked. The startled orcs paused before giving chase and the uninjured one reached him first, giving Thomas time to parry the first blow before sinking his blade deep into the orc’s heart. The second orc, slowed by blood loss, arrived seconds later, and Thomas quickly dispatched it as well. Taking a deep breath, he adjusted his helm and walked back into the fray.

-----

As the last of his men engaged the enemy, Aragorn knew there was little left for him to direct from the hilltop. Glancing around to see where he was most needed, he charged down the hill, followed closely by Halbarad, Laegrist, and Faerlain. He waded into the ranks of Haradrim, dealing swift, deadly strikes with Andúril. While focused on the men he was fighting, he was also conscious of the overall battle. He knew when trolls started attacking the other hill and when part of the hill he was on was in danger of being overrun. Dancing back from a particularly aggressive swordsman, Aragorn quickly parried his blows for several minutes before finally sneaking his blade in under his guard and running him through. Jerking his sword out as the man fell, Aragorn retreated back, calling Halbarad, and the two Rangers with him. “We need to reinforce the men down there,” he said, nodding to the south where the line was barely holding. “We cannot allow them to come in behind us,” he said grimly. Glancing around and seeing that this section was holding, they turned and jogged off, taking a handful of Gondorians with them. Passing Legolas and Gimli, Aragorn called to them and they joined him as well.

Reaching the weak spot in the line, Aragorn ran back and forth, calling encouragement to his men, who fought harder at his appearance. The addition of his men, along with Legolas, Gimli, and himself allowed them to push the enemy back slightly and Aragorn breathed a quiet sigh of relief.

------

As the morning lengthened towards noon, Thomas wondered how long any of them would be able to endure this endless fighting. Already he was exhausted and he knew the longer they fought the more mistakes he was likely to make. Thomas fought amidst total strangers now. Legolas and Gimli had disappeared and the last Ranger he had seen, Pendem, had been killed just minutes ago. At that thought, a rush of anger swept through Thomas and he quickly stabbed the orc he was facing through the heart. He hadn’t known Pendem well, but he was one of Aragorn’s men and he knew it would grieve him greatly.

Staring angrily into the yellow eyes of another, larger orc, Thomas shook his head slightly, knowing he could not let his anger take control of his emotions. The large orc leered at him as it lifted his sword to attack. Moving to counter it, Thomas felt his feet start to give way on the loose surface of the hill. He blocked the sword as he skidded down the slope towards the orc, pushing their swords between them as he slid. His momentum was stopped when Thomas came within reach of the creature and the orc grabbed him around the throat and started to slowly squeeze, a hideous grin on its evil face. Thomas struggled desperately to escape, dropping his sword and using both hands to pull at the clawed hand that fit neatly around his throat, but the orc’s strength was too much. He began to see black spots before his eyes and he sagged limply in the orc’s hand as darkness overcame him. When he stopped moving, the orc released Thomas and he collapsed onto the ground without a sound. With a grunt, the orc moved on.

------

Leaving Legolas and Gimli behind, Aragorn took his three Rangers and sprinted off to another section of the hill where the Gondorians seemed to be floundering. He saw a flash of white further down the line and knew Gandalf was probably wreaking havoc on whatever men and orcs he faced. His thoughts briefly touched on Pippin and Thomas before he firmly pushed those aside to concentrate on what he was doing.

A small group of orcs broke through the line as Aragorn and his reinforcements arrived. With the ease of decades of fighting together, he and Halbarad fought side-by-side as they worked to push the enemy back.

“I’m… getting… too… old… for… this… Aragorn,” Halbarad said through clenched teeth as he killed one particularly stubborn orc.

Aragorn snorted with amusement, having heard Halbarad make the comment so many times over the years that it brought a brief spark of light in the midst of the darkness. Still chuckling to himself, he jumped lightly over the body of the orc he had just killed to realize that Easterlings had joined this corner of the battle and he frowned wearily. Battling orcs was difficult enough, but men were always harder – both to defeat and emotionally as well. Setting his jaw, Aragorn strode briskly forward, his eyes sweeping up and down the line to see if there were any one particular spot that need his help. Seeing none, he plowed straight ahead, Andúril driving back the Easterlings rather quickly as Aragorn skillfully thrust his sword around, under, or over the blocks his opponents used. He slowed only as he realized he was advancing a little too far ahead of his men and he dropped back slightly. Aragorn caught a glimpse of Faerlain falling under the sword on an orc and he took his grief and frustration out on the Easterling in front of him. The man did not last long.

------

With a choking gasp that brought air back into his oxygen starved lungs, Thomas’s eyes fluttered open. As memory flooded his mind, he froze, aware of the incredible danger he was in. He struggled to control his breathing, both because of the raw, throbbing pain of his neck and throat and because he didn’t want to draw attention to himself. Breathing through his nose seemed to lessen the pain so he did that… one slow breath at a time. After a moment, he realized the battle had moved up the hill and he wondered how long he had been out. Slowly re-opening his eyes, he carefully turned his head, ignoring the throbbing pain in his neck and head. Seeing nothing but bodies littering the ground around him, he cautiously rolled over. Thomas closed his eyes as nausea hit and black spots danced across his vision at the movement. Getting his stomach under control, he lifted his head and saw the battle had moved further up the hill. His eyes widened in shock when he realized that he was entirely behind the forces of the enemy. With a groan, Thomas dropped his head down on his arm wondering what to do. Knowing that whatever happened, he would need his sword; he raised himself slightly on his elbows and looked around, finally spotting it a few yards away half hidden under the body of an orc. Crawling slowly, Thomas made his way to the sword and tugged it out.

Feeling better just having a weapon in his hands once again, Thomas sat up on his knees, again battling nausea, and surveyed the area around him. He pulled his cloak tightly around himself, and put up the hood, knowing the elvish made cloak would provide some protection from wandering eyes. He kept a wary eye on the battle, but none of the enemy seemed the least bit concerned about anything behind them, so he felt he was safe enough for the moment. Lightly touching his neck, Thomas hissed in pain and he suddenly realized how thirsty he was and how good water would feel on his throat. He pulled out his waterskin and sipped the water, choking slightly at the pain as it slid down his damaged throat. It did, however, soothe him as well. Not even a quarter full to begin with, the waterskin was soon empty and Thomas eyed it with regret, wishing for more.

Glancing up at the battle, Thomas saw that things had not changed much and he wondered again what he should do… what would Aragorn expect him to do? He frowned and looked down, his gaze falling on the waterskin of a dead Gondorian as he did so. He blinked rapidly several times as he wondered if it would be all right to take it. Thomas didn’t know if it was disrespectful to take a dead warrior’s possessions and use them, though he knew he would grab a sword and use it at need. After a moment of hesitancy and asking the man for forgiveness, he crawled forward and carefully cut the waterskin from the man’s belt. Wanting to be away from the man before he drank the water, he crawled along the hill, being mindful of bodies and fallen weapons.

Thomas froze when he reached the grey-cloaked body of a Ranger. The body moved. He was sure he was imagining things when he heard a low moan. Crawling up to the head of the man, Thomas looked into the sweat-beaded, pale face of Hinhael, Hinluin’s older brother.

“Hinhael,” he croaked out in a raspy voice, grabbing the Ranger’s hand.

Hinhael opened pain-filled, glazed eyes and stared at him for a minute, before recognition filled his eyes. “Thomas,” he panted.

Thomas fumbled with Hinhael’s cloak and finally pulled it open to reveal the full extent of the injury and his face paled. Hinhael had been deeply sliced open across the stomach and Thomas knew, from his conversation with Elladan and Legolas after Rebecca’s injury, that there was no chance he would survive. He gently covered the cloak back over the wound. “I’m sorry,” he whispered. The Ranger did not respond. Since Hinhael seemed feverish, and not knowing what else to do, Thomas tore a strip of cloth from his shirt, poured water on it, and began gently wiping Hinhael’s face. He knew in the long run it would not make any difference, but Hinhael seemed grateful for it as his lips curved up into what might have been a smile. Thomas had been bathing his face for quite some time when Hinhael opened his eyes again. “Tell… tell my wife I love her,” he whispered. Thomas nodded. “Tell Hinluin…he’s…a good Ranger,” he coughed, gasping and moaning in pain. Thomas’s eyes filled with tears and he grabbed Hinhael’s hand, gripping it tightly. “I’ll tell them,” he whispered hoarsely as Hinhael’s intense pain seemed to subside for a moment.

“The eagles! The eagles are coming!”

A loud cry broke through the noise of the battlefield and Thomas looked up in wonder to see many giant eagles swooping down and attacking the Nazgúl and he grinned. “Look, Hinhael!” he whispered, turning back, but the Ranger was gone. Thomas bowed his head briefly and then arranged the cloak more appropriately around the Ranger, covering his face. Still totally at a loss of what he should do, Thomas decided to stay right where he was sitting.

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

“Eagles, Gandalf?” Aragorn panted, turning questioning eyes on the wizard as they stood together on the slope of the hill, slightly above the ongoing battle.

“The Valar, in their wisdom, have sent them,” Gandalf replied, not meeting Aragorn’s gaze.

“Hmmm, I am sure you had nothing to do with it,” Aragorn said returning his gaze to the battle. The Army of the West was holding out much longer than he had hoped, and while the outcome was still inevitable, he was proud of his men.

A low, rumbling sound reached his ears, followed by a shaking in the ground and Aragorn braced himself, reaching out to steady Gandalf as well. With amazement, he watched as the Nazgúl broke off their attack, screaming in rage and flew rapidly back into Mordor. Sauron’s forces froze, seemingly uncertain and the Army of the West pressed forward viciously, taking full advantage of their distraction.

“Frodo,” Aragorn breathed out softly, glancing at Gandalf with eyes that shone with hope.

“It must be,” Gandalf’s voice was thick with both hope and concern.

Even as they spoke, they could see Mt. Doom suddenly start shooting flames high up into the air. The ground beneath their feet started trembling violently, orcs and other foul creatures turned and ran heedlessly in all directions, and the Black Gate and towers started crumbling down.

“Do not pursue them,” Aragorn yelled out in a loud, clear voice that carried far over the battlefield and he could hear Éomer in the distance, echoing his command. Some of Sauron’s men continued fighting briefly, but most scattered and many begged for mercy, which was readily given.

“I am going to see if I can find Frodo and Sam,” Gandalf said quietly, looking at Aragorn with eyes full of sorrow.

“May the Valar guide you,” Aragorn responded fervently, his eyes matching Gandalf’s sorrow and pain. He glanced at the eagle that was landing, before slipping his kingly mask into place and rapidly striding down the hill looking for Éomer and Imrahil so they could start planning how to deal with their wounded, their dead, and their prisoners.

---------

It was close to noon when the tension in the air over Minas Tirith changed. The clouds over Mordor seemed to darken and Merry grabbed Rebecca’s hand and squeezed it tightly. Looking down at the hobbit and seeing tears starting to fall, caused her own to begin. Suddenly a rumbling sound reached them and the ground began to shake and they grabbed the wall. “Earthquake,” Rebecca mumbled, her eyes widening in fear. As suddenly as it had started, it stopped and Rebecca felt a strange lightness in her heart that she had never felt before. The heaviness and tension in the air was gone. To the east, over Mordor, the black clouds were starting to dissipate and the sun was beginning to appear overhead. All over Minas Tirith, cheering and songs could be heard.

“Frodo did it, Rebecca. Frodo and Sam did it,” Merry said, his tears falling faster.

“They did, they did.” Rebecca dropped to her knees and carefully embraced the hobbit, her tears staining his shirt. They held each other for a few minutes before Merry pulled back, wiping his eyes with his sleeve.

“I wonder how-how Pip is? And Aragorn and Thomas and everybody?” Merry said.

“I don’t think we’ll find out for awhile, Merry. It took them a week to get there.” Rebecca sighed, wiping away her own tears.

“Yes, but they had foot soldiers that slowed them. If they send a messenger on horseback, it shouldn’t take more than a couple of days.”

“I-I wonder if someone would send us a message about… each person, Merry.” Rebecca frowned. “We know so many fighting there.”

“If Aragorn is alive, he’ll tell us,” Merry replied, patting her hand.

“Lady Rebecca! Master Merry!” Faramir called as he approached, smiling broadly. “It appears that Frodo was successful.”

“It does indeed, my Lord Steward,” Merry said, while Rebecca smiled in return.

Faramir looked down at Merry for a moment. “For friendships sake, I would have you call me Faramir, Master Merry.”

Merry gave him a startled look before smiling. “I shall if you will call me Merry.”

Faramir nodded and turned to Rebecca, “How do you fare now?”

“Better, knowing the Ring is destroyed and your people will be free. Worried about Aragorn and Thomas and everyone else at the Black Gate, of course.”

“Of course,” he murmured in agreement. “It will take a couple of days to find out anything.”

“That’s what Merry said.” Rebecca glanced to the east and straightened up. “What’s that? It looks like… it is!” She turned back to Faramir and Merry. “It’s a giant eagle. I saw one in Lothlórien. They’re messengers of the Valar. That’s what Haldir told me,” she said excitedly as the eagle approached.

The giant eagle circled the city calling out in a loud voice:

Sing now, ye people of the Tower of Anor,
for the Realm of Sauron is ended for ever,
and the Dark Tower is thrown down.

Sing and rejoice, ye people of the Tower of Guard,
for your watch hath not been in vain,
and the Black Gate is broken,
and your King hath passed through,
and he is victorious.

Sing and be glad, all ye children of the West,
for your King shall come again,
and he shall dwell among you
all the days of your life.

And the Tree that was withered shall be renewed,
and he shall plant it in the high places,
and the City shall be blessed.
Sing all ye people!++



As soon as the eagle said the king was alive, tears of relief started rolling down her cheeks. Glancing around, she saw that Merry was also crying again and even Faramir’s eyes were glistening with unshed tears. As the eagle flew off, Rebecca said quietly, “If Aragorn is alive, there’s hope that some of the others are, too.” Merry smiled and nodded, while Faramir replied, “Yes, my lady, there is hope.”

“Lady Rebecca, I must insist that you return to bed now.” Lothrín was suddenly at Rebecca’s side. “It’s been a long day for you already and you haven’t even eaten anything. Please come,” she pleaded gently, placing a hand on Rebecca’s arm.

“I am very tired, Mistress Lothrín, a nap sounds wonderful. Goodbye, Faramir, Merry.” She smiled at Faramir and impulsively leaned down and kissed the hobbit’s cheek.

“You shouldn’t have done that, Rebecca, I’ll tell Thomas,” Merry threatened with a mischievous gleam in his eye.

“Oh, he’s always known I’ve had secret feelings for you,” Rebecca said, laughing as she walked away. Merry just grinned and shook his head.

-------

When the ground started shaking, Thomas dug his fingers into the rocks to try and hold on. Grunts and screams that were different than normal battle cries caused him to look up and he saw, to his utter horror, that orcs were rushing towards him. It took him a second to realize that they weren’t carrying weapons and that they seemed to be completely terrorized. Still, they could trample him if nothing else and he didn’t want them stepping on Hinhael either, so he got shakily to his feet and moved to stand over Hinhael’s body. Gripping his sword tightly as they approached, Thomas was stunned as the orcs paid him no more attention than if he were a rock. They parted and passed on both sides of him without a single glance in his direction. As the last orc went by, Thomas wondered if it was the cloak he was wearing that kept him hidden, but then he realized his face could be seen.

It suddenly occurred to Thomas that only one thing could have caused the orcs to flee like that. “Frodo did it. Frodo and Sam did it,” he whispered aloud, glancing around to see if there was someone he could share his excitement with, but all there were was bodies. As he looked south, Thomas saw the Black Gate and the towers start to fall and his eyes widened at the enormity of the destruction taking place. Feeling weak all of a sudden, he sat down, pulling his knees up to his chest. “We won and I’m still alive,” Thomas whispered hoarsely, shaking his head in disbelief. “I’m still alive,” he repeated. Putting his head in his hands, Thomas began to weep.

~~~

+From Return of the King copyright 1955 by J.R.R. Tolkien, Houghton Mifflin Company, pages 869-870
++From Return of the King copyright 1955 by J.R.R. Tolkien, Houghton Mifflin Company, page 942

Daeradar - grandfather
ion-nín – my son
Mellon nín – my friend
Pherian - hobbit
Pheriannath – hobbits


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