Crossover between ‘The Lord of the Rings’ (Book-verse) and the ‘Forgotten Realms’ stories set in the ‘Dungeons and Dragons’ game-world of Faerûn – the canon Forgotten Realms, in which ‘Tabula Avatar’ and its sequels never took place, and terrible things happened instead.
Summary: following the death of Eilistraee, goddess of the good Drow, a few of her worshippers decide to flee from Faerûn and find a way of reaching another world; Middle Earth, shortly after the end of the Ring War, during Éomer King’s courtship of Princess Lothíriel of Dol Amroth. When a vengeful Haradrim warlord carries out a devastating attack the Drow get caught up in it. In a world where ‘black’ is almost a synonym for evil can the Drow win friendship and respect? First they have to survive a brutal siege where they are heavily outnumbered… Warnings: extreme violence and multiple deaths. 8,800 words. Rating R.
Les Morts Dansant
There's so many different worlds
So many different suns
And we have just one world
But we live in different ones
Now the sun's gone to hell
And the moon's riding high
Let me bid you farewell
Every man has to die
But it's written in the starlight
And every line on your palm
We're fools to make war
On our brothers in arms
Dire Straits, Brothers In Arms
Guthred delivered a downward sword-stroke that laid the last of the Southrons dead on the ground. He pulled his horse to a halt and looked around. “If these Southrons are scouts then they failed in their duty,” he said, once he was sure that all five of the foemen had fallen. “We caught them unawares, praise Béma.”
“And there is the main body,” one of his Men said, pointing out across the plain. “They attack the caravan of the princes of Dol Amroth.”
“The fighting has been fierce,” said Guthred, “for the field is strewn with the bodies of Men and horses. I see dead Men of the Mark, and knights of Dol Amroth, and many Southrons. Yet the Southrons remaining must number more than an éored.”
“I cannot clearly make out those who defend the fortress of wagons,” said another Rider, “but it seems to me that some of them may have black skins.”
“Then the Black Elves of whom the young prince spoke are aiding his people, not attacking them,” said Guthred. “Fréabrand, ride back at once and tell Folcred Thane what we have seen.”
“I thought we were all to return with news,” said Fréabrand.
“Those were the thane’s instructions,” Guthred admitted, “but I cannot ride away and leave – forty or so, would you say? – to fight against well over a hundred with no hope of aid. There may be an opening to charge in, smite some of the Southrons down, and break through to join the defenders. It would greatly hearten them, I am sure, to be told that their predicament is known and that help will come. Who is with me?”
All volunteered. “I would charge with you, too,” Fréabrand grumbled, “but, I know, this news must be passed on. Should I set off at once?”
“Yes,” said Guthred, “for it is best that you be well clear before we move, lest the Southrons see and pursue you. Ride fast!” He watched Fréabrand ride away and then turned his attention to the battlefield. “Now,” he said, “we must pick our moment with care. If the Southrons see us too soon they will feather us with arrows before we can charge home. We must wait until their eyes are fixed elsewhere.”
“The only thing I can think of that would so draw their attention,” said a Rider, “would be if the Southrons break into the circle of wagons. That could mean doom for those inside.”
“True,” Guthred agreed, “and so we must be ready to act quickly if – Béma! They have made a breach even as we speak. Forward for the Mark!”
With desperate haste Laelryne cut through Cierre’s flesh, inflicting more damage than was necessary but accepting this in the interest of speed, and pulled free the arrows. Cierre had been hit four times and she was unconscious, her breathing was shallow, and she was losing blood at a frightening rate.
“She will not survive, alas,” Erchirion said, glancing briefly at the grievously wounded Ranger and then returning his gaze to the fighting at the edge of the circle.
“Vith nindel!” Laelryne spat out. She drew out a scroll case from her belt pouch, slid out the scroll, and began to read the words.
“They are through!” Erchirion cried. “With me, knights of Dol Amroth! We must drive them back!” The defenders had been swept from one of the wagons and bearded Haradrim warriors were swarming over it and into the circle. Erchirion led his reserve force, a mere four Swan Knights, forward to plug the gap. Laelryne’s equivalent group did not yet move.
Cierre opened her eyes. “Vith, nindel zhahus zolarix,” she muttered, and sat up.
Laelryne dropped the now blank scroll of Heal on the ground and drew her sword. “Ridoorl!” she called. “Assist them!” She pointed with her blade.
The young wizard responded by casting Gedlee’s Electric Loop on those Haradrim engaged with the Swan Knights. Men yelped in pain as the shocking charge leapt from one to another. One fell unconscious, another froze rigid and could make no move to defend himself as a Swan Knight drove a sword through his chest, and three more Southrons dropped their scimitars and were left unarmed. Yet still more were swarming over the wagon.
“My bow!” Cierre cried. She had gone to pick up her fallen bow and found that a Haradrim arrow had split the wood and ruined the weapon. “Dos vith’ez rivvin iblith!” She bared her teeth and, not even bothering to draw her sword and axe, she charged. She pounced upon one of the disarmed Haradrim, wrenched his head around until his neck snapped, and hoisted the body above her head. Then Cierre hurled the corpse at the warriors atop the wagon and bowled them over.
Erchirion and his knights were amazed by the sight. Not only had Cierre been on the verge of death only seconds earlier but, as Laelryne had had to cut Cierre’s armour and tunic away in order to extract the arrows, she was naked to the waist and covered in blood. It took every ounce of their professionalism and self-control for them to be able to wrench their eyes away and continue the fight. The Haradrim were not so disciplined and were gawping wide-eyed at Cierre even as they were cut down.
“Ultrinnan!” Cierre yelled. She bent down to seize the Southron who had been dropped unconscious by the Gedlee’s Electric Loop spell, just as he recovered his senses and began to climb to his feet, and held him up by the throat.
“Cierre! Skrel fol xxilfet pholor, dos vith’ez vigh elg’caress!” (‘Put some armour on, you fucking crazy bitch!’) Laelryne shouted. Cierre laughed, bashed in her captive’s skull against the nearest wagon wheel, and cast the body aside. She scooped up a bow and quiver from the ground and ran back to rejoin Laelryne.
The knights scrambled up onto the wagon, swept clean of the Haradrim by the corpse hurled by Cierre, and braced themselves for the next onslaught. It did not come. Instead five fair-haired horsemen charged into the rear of the Haradrim force, hewing right and left, taking the Southrons completely by surprise.
“For the Mark!” they cried as they slew. “Forth Eorlingas!” The Southrons scattered, leaving a path for them, and some began to gallop away. Others followed and in moments they were in general retreat. Unfortunately they rallied, once reaching the area where they had camped overnight, and came to a halt rather than continuing to flee. They did not, however, resume their assault.
The five Rohirrim reached the wagons, dismounted, and slapped their horses on the rumps to send them running off. “Wes ðu hal,” Guthred greeted the defenders, as he climbed over a wagon and jumped down inside the circle. “We have come. You are not alone.”
Erchirion descended from the wagon on which he had just taken up a position. “Well met,” he greeted, and clasped Guthred by the arm. “I am Erchirion of Dol Amroth.”
“Guthred Guthbrandsson at your service,” the Rohir introduced himself.
“This is Laelryne of the Drow,” Erchirion continued, “whose people arrived to save us at our moment of greatest peril.”
“The Black Elves?” Guthred dipped his head to Laelryne. “We wondered whence they came. The young prince spoke of an attack, and of Black Elves, and we thought he meant that they had been the attackers. But he was sore hurt and his speech was not clear. I see now his real meaning.”
“My brother? He lives?”
“He does, Lord, although, as I said, he is wounded. He reached our village some two hours before sunrise. Our thane at once began mustering Riders for a rescue and sent us ahead to see what was going on. Once we arrived, and saw that you were under siege, I sent my comrade Fréabrand back to inform the thane. No doubt he will ride out at once with whatever… Riders… he has… gathered.” Guthred’s voice trailed away towards the end of his speech as he set eyes on Cierre.
Erchirion followed his gaze. “That is Cierre,” he explained, “as fell a warrior as I have ever seen. She has slain over a score of the foe. Arrows struck her and her armour had to be cut off to remove the shafts. She has not yet had a chance to don new garb.” He moved on to more pressing matters. “What of my brother? How badly is he wounded? And how soon may we expect your thane and his Riders?”
“Your brother has an arrow wound in his lower back, although his armour took the brunt of it and it is not serious, but his head injury is of more concern,” Guthred replied. “He stayed conscious long enough to deliver his message but then fell senseless and he had not awoken at the time I left the village. Our healer fears his skull is cracked.”
“Head injuries are not to be taken lightly,” said Erchirion, “but up to a minute ago I thought him dead. And the Drow have great powers of healing. If we survive I am sure that Amrothos will recover. The relief force?”
Guthred tugged at his beard. “Folcred Thane will come the moment Fréabrand reaches the village,” he said, “with whatever force he has mustered. It may not be enough to break the siege but I am sure it will suffice to hold the Southrons off until a larger force can be brought. Yet it is a long way, though they will ride hard and fast, and it will take time. I would say not sooner than six hours.”
Erchirion nodded. “I would reckon the same. I thank you, Guthred. Now I must consult with Laelryne. She speaks no Westron and will have understood nothing of what you have just told me.”
Laelryne had been aware of the conversation, and had recognised that some parts of it had pleased Erchirion greatly but that others had worried him, but that was all. She knew Erchirion would translate for her and, as she waited, she concentrated on Cierre.
“All of our people’s armour is too small for me, Jabbress,” Cierre said, “and the armour of the rivvin dead would be too loose and thus would hamper my movements. I might be able to find something from the fallen desert people but it is mostly scale armour and, wearing that, I would not be able to cast spells. Even though all I have is two Cure Light Wounds and an Animalistic Power I would not wish to be without them. I think it would be better if I remained unclad; it seemed to distract the desert men so much that it would give me an advantage in combat.”
“It would not distract them at long bowshot,” Laelryne pointed out, “and it was only your armour that saved you this time. Without it you would have died. There must be something you could… Wait. I have an idea. Wear Kyoroth’s mithral chainmail. It is enchanted and will change size to fit.”
Cierre pouted. “She disliked me,” she said, “and for me to take her armour would displease her. She died well and I would not wish to offend her spirit.”
“Do not be a fool,” Laelryne snapped. “Kyoroth will have gone before Kelemvor for judgement and soon will be condemned to the Wall of the Faithless. That you wear her armour will be the least of her worries. Put the fucking armour on and stop arguing.”
“Well, if you put it like that,” Cierre said, and she grinned. “I obey, Jabbress. Although I think it will disappoint some of our rivvin allies. They seem to enjoy staring at my tits.”
“Better disappointed than distracted,” said Laelryne. She registered that Erchirion had finished his conversation with the leader of the newly-arrived Rohirrim contingent and turned to meet him as he approached.
“A smaller relief force than we had hoped for, but welcome nonetheless,” she said. “I assume they are a passing patrol who stumbled upon us by chance?”
“No, better than that,” Erchirion replied. “Amrothos lives. He is wounded, and his journey was slow, but he reached the nearest village before falling senseless. The bad news is that it will be some six hours before further help arrives.”
Laelryne shrugged. “We are no worse off now than we were, and in fact are better off by the presence of five more Men – and accomplished warriors at that, to judge by their deeds on arrival. You say your brother lives? I am pleased for you.”
“Thank you,” said Erchirion. “He has a head injury, I am told, but he lives still.”
“A head injury? And he lapsed into unconsciousness after delivering his plea for aid?” Laelryne frowned. “That is not good.”
“You will be able to heal him, should we win through this fight, will you not? You brought back Cierre from the very brink of death.”
“And the scroll with which I did that was our last that could have done so,” Laelryne revealed. “This battle has eaten up our stocks and we are beginning to run short. We did not have a great store of such materials, alas, for while our goddess lived we could cast spells of healing whenever we wished. There seemed little point in building a stockpile but we are paying for that neglect now. Here, take this.” She extracted a vial of liquid from a belt pouch and handed it to Erchirion. “This is a Potion of Heal and it will cure your brother no matter how serious his head injury should prove to be. Keep it safe.”
Erchirion made no move to take it. “Might you not need it yourself, or for one of your people?”
“We are all in this together,” Laelryne said, “and your brother’s contribution may be what saves us all. Head injuries can have lasting effects and for him to suffer so would be poor reward for his perseverance. Take the potion and give it to him when you are reunited. I have not left myself entirely without healing materials and all my people have a potion or two still.”
“I thank you, Laelryne of the Drow,” Erchirion said, accepting the potion vial at last. “Truly our meeting with you and your people was the most fortunate chance for us. We owe you more than we can ever repay and you will have an honoured place in Dol Amroth for as long as our House endures.”
“Thank you,” Laelryne said, although privately she was thinking ‘and will your descendants still feel that gratitude in two hundred years? I think not…’ “But now we have to attend to the battle. What casualties did we take and what defence can we mount against their next assault?”
“Éomer King!” Fréabrand’s surprised and delighted reaction echoed that of the previous message rider encountered on the road. “You have spoken to Folcred Thane?”
“I have,” Éomer confirmed. “What news do you bear of Princess Lothíriel and her escort?”
“They live still but are under siege,” Fréabrand reported. “We slew five Southrons, encamped as a picket upon the road, and then saw the wagons of the Dol Amroth caravan formed into a fortress circle. Southrons encircled it, attacking with arrow and scimitar, and the survivors of the escort were holding them off. Among the defenders were strangers with black skin; no doubt the Black Elves of whom the young prince spoke. My comrades stayed to strike at the Southrons at the first opportunity.”
“How many Southrons are there? And how many defenders?” Éomer asked.
“Many have fallen on both sides,” said Fréabrand. “The grass was strewn with bodies, mostly Southrons, but there were the bodies of Rohirrim and Men of Dol Amroth too. I would say that the defenders numbered forty or so, perhaps half of them Men and half Black Elves, and the Southrons’ force was a little larger than an éored.”
“So Erchirion and his Men are outnumbered three to one,” said Éomer. “Their peril is dire. How far is it to the battle site?”
Fréabrand glanced up at the sky to determine the time from the position of the sun. “It is perhaps an hour, or a little more, since I left there,” he estimated, “and I rode in haste. I do not think you will get there any faster.”
“Well, let us try,” said Éomer. “Onward!” He led his force forward once more. Fréabrand, in the absence of specific orders to the contrary, fell in with Éomer’s force and rode with them. He discovered that there were Men from his own village with the company, taking the places of some of Éomer’s Riders who had been too exhausted to go any further, and he joined them and recounted what he had seen.
“So, Éomer,” Legolas remarked, as the horses accelerated to a gallop, “these mysterious Black Elves indeed are friends. I did not think that Elves of any kind could be co-operating with the Haradrim.”
“And it seems you were correct,” said Éomer. “I wonder who they are, and how they came to be with Lothíriel’s party?”
“I am no Lore-master,” said Legolas, “and I have no idea. The answers to our questions will have to wait until we can ask them for ourselves.”
“And that had best be soon,” Éomer said, “for they, and Lothíriel’s escort, are beset by three times their number. And we cannot increase our pace any further, for the horses are weary, and we must retain enough strength to fight when we arrive. I hope that they can hold out.”
Laelryne strode around the perimeter, Cierre at her heels, assessing the situation. The defenders’ numbers had been further depleted by the last attack. She counted sixteen Drow including herself, eight of the Knights of Dol Amroth, and twelve of the fair-haired Rohirrim. Five of those were the ones who had just arrived. Only seven of the original forty still survived. The wagon drivers, equipped with armour and weapons from the dead, had all perished.
“Thirty-six of us remain,” Laelryne said to Cierre. “We will be hard pressed to defend the circle with so few.”
“What if we retreated to the centre, around the carriage, and set the wagons on fire?” Cierre suggested. “That would present an impassable barrier and they would burn for quite some time.”
Laelryne shook her head. “True, but not for long enough,” she said. “When they burned out we would be in the open and could not withstand a cavalry charge. Also it would be no barrier to arrows and they would be set afire by the flames as they passed through. It is possible the desert men might hold back from an arrow bombardment, for fear of setting fire to the carriage and driving the Princess out into the open where they might slay her unknowingly, but I would not rely on it.”
“True,” said Cierre. “I do not know what else to suggest.”
“I had thought of removing one of the wagons, to reduce the size of the circle and thus require fewer defenders, but it would not help,” Laelryne went on. “If we brought the wagon inside it would leave us too little room for manoeuvre; yet if we pushed it outside the enemy could use it as cover, moving it forward as if it were a siege tower. And if they charged us as we were moving the wagon they would have a clear path into the midst of our defence. No, I think our only option is to defend the circle as long as possible and then fall back to fight with our backs to the coach.”
Her gaze fell on one of the Drow who appeared to be in distress and she set her course in that direction. As she drew closer she saw that it was Kebella and that the hardened warrior maid was crying. Kebella’s shoulders were shaking as she sobbed. Ilmryn was trying to comfort her, or so it seemed, but without success.
Laelryne hastened to her side. “What troubles you, Kebella?” she asked.
Kebella raised a tear-stained face, choked back her sobs, and answered. “Jabbress,” she answered, “I saw the rivvin carrying off Dau’ne, alive, as a captive.” Laelryne felt her blood turn to ice. “Two of them held her between them,” Kebella continued, “and I had time to loose only once before they would be out of range. And so I put a bolt through her head.”
“You did the only thing you could have done,” Laelryne assured her. “You spared her much torment.”
“I know,” said Kebella, “but it still grieves me deeply.”
Laelryne put her hand on Kebella’s shoulder. “As it should,” she said, “but do not let your grief consume you. The blame for Dau’ne’s death is not yours. It rests with those desert rivvin. And we will make them pay. Dry your eyes and reload your crossbow.” Laelryne took a cloth from her pouch and was about to hand it to Kebella when she saw that it was deeply stained with blood; Cierre’s, from when Laelryne was performing emergency surgery prior to administering the Heal spell. She tucked it away again and sought for another.
“I have already reloaded, Jabbress,” Kebella said, “and I have my own napkin.” She took out a cloth square, wiped her eyes, and then blew her nose. “I am in control of myself once more,” she said, “and ready to fight.”
“I knew I could count upon you,” Laelryne said. “Now show me where Dau’ne’s body lies.”
“It is a hundred yards outside the circle,” Kebella said. “They did not at once realise that she was dead and carried her further before letting her body fall. Do you intend to retrieve it? What if the rivvin intervene?”
“Then I kill them,” said Laelryne. “Cierre, are you willing to come with me?”
“Only a direct order could stop me, Jabbress,” said the tall Ranger, “and even then I would disobey if I saw you in danger.”
“That is what I thought,” Laelryne said. “Let us go.”
Kebella pointed out the corpse’s location. Laelryne and Cierre climbed up onto the nearest wagon and jumped down on the far side.
“Laelryne! Where are you going?” Erchirion called. He ran to the wagon, vaulted up, and looked down at the two Drow.
“To retrieve one of my own,” Laelryne answered, and she walked on. Erchirion did not call out again. “How well will you perform with that bow?” Laelryne asked Cierre.
“I have had no time to practice,” Cierre answered, “and I will have to guess at the elevation. However I have observed their arrows in flight, and noted the trajectories, and I should be able to give a fair account of myself. Also a horse and rider is a much bigger target than a person on foot.”
“Then,” said Laelryne, “if they come at us, take down as many as you can before they draw close. I will take the body and run for the wagons.”
“I can run faster laden,” Cierre pointed out.
“True,” Laelryne agreed, “in fact you can run faster than anyone I have ever seen, drow or darthiir or rivvin, but I cannot use a bow and have no great skill with a crossbow.”
“I know,” said Cierre. “Your eyesight is no better than that of a rivvil.” Her own eyes were trained on the Haradrim encampment, watching for any sign of the horsemen reacting to their presence. “Jabbress, in case we die here, I want you to know that serving you has been a great honour. You gave me your trust when none had done before. It means a lot to me.”
“You have proved more than worthy,” Laelryne answered. “Your loyalty was a gift beyond price. It saddens me that you may have followed me to your death.”
“You gave me a purpose worth dying for,” Cierre said, and then her attention was caught by events elsewhere. “The desert riders move,” she reported. “One clad in gilded mail mounts a fine horse. His beard is trimmed more neatly than that of the others and his helm bears a plume. I think he may be the leader. Four less finely armoured are mounting also.”
“He may think we are walking out to a parley,” Laelryne said. “If he comes within range kill him. The others may lose heart without their leader and give up this siege.”
“As you command,” Cierre said. She nocked an arrow to her bow but did not yet raise it to the aim.
By this time they had reached the corpse of Dau’ne. Laelryne bent down, lifted the body, and slung it across her shoulders. She turned and began to walk back to the wagons.
“Ah, they have realised our purpose,” said Cierre. “The gilded one has halted and the others ride on.”
“Loose shafts whenever you feel it best,” Laelryne said.
“This will be good practice for me,” Cierre said, “and four rivvin pose us no real threat. I will try a shaft now.” She bent her bow and loosed. Her target swerved his horse aside and the arrow missed. “That would have been a hit had he not evaded,” Cierre commented. “Once I get used to this bow it will serve me well – although it sadly lacks range compared with my Uthgardt bow.”
“Good,” Laelryne said. She was beginning to feel the weight and didn’t spare the breath for anything more. She kept on walking, ignoring what was happening behind her, as she knew that between her mithral chain, and the body across her shoulders blocking off the back of her head, she was virtually invulnerable to arrows from the rear. She trusted to Cierre to protect her from any other threat.
The horses galloped toward them, their hooves pounding the grass, and Cierre loosed another shaft. This one struck home, hitting a horse in the chest, and the animal faltered. The rider pulled it to a halt, dismounted, and examined the injury.
The other three riders loosed shafts as they approached. Cierre watched the trajectories. “Step left!” she warned Laelryne, who obeyed with alacrity. The arrow whizzed past on her right and struck the ground ten yards ahead. Cierre’s answering shot sent a rider tumbling from his saddle. “I am finding the range now,” she said, “and they cannot aim accurately from the backs of galloping horses.”
“Well done,” said Laelryne, “abbil”.
“Thank you, Jabbress,” Cierre said. “I am honoured.” She loosed again and killed the second-last Haradrim warrior.
The remaining one must have recognised the inequality of the match. He exchanged his bow for scimitar and shield, crouched low over the neck of his horse, and galloped flat out for the two Drow. Cierre grinned, slung her bow over her shoulder, and drew her sword and axe. The Haradrim turned his horse’s head, wheeled, and circled around Cierre to head directly for Laelryne.
“Jabbress!” Cierre shouted. “He comes at you!”
Laelryne released Dau’ne’s body, turned, and drew her sword. The Haradrim raised his scimitar to deliver a downward slash. She killed him, wiped her sword blade clean and sheathed it, and took up Dau’ne once again.
“That was too much of a risk,” Erchirion scolded her, as she reached the wagons. “What if they had charged at you in greater numbers?”
Laelryne passed over Dau’ne’s body to Cierre and vaulted up onto the wagon. Cierre leapt up in a standing jump, with the body in her arms, and joined her.
“Then we would have turned back,” Laelryne told Erchirion. “It was an acceptable risk. Leaving Dau’ne’s body out there was not acceptable.”
Erchirion’s helm hid his eyebrows but Laelryne could tell that he was frowning. “And yet you were willing to use the bodies of your dead as part of a strategy of war.”
“What is forced upon us is one thing, what we can change is another,” said Laelryne. “It is done. There is no point in debating the matter further.” She descended, took the body from Cierre, and went over to lay Dau’ne down amongst those who had fallen earlier.
“I should have known the futility of debating with Elves,” said Erchirion. “Very well, I will say no more about it.” He jumped down and joined Laelryne. “I am surprised that the Haradrim have not yet launched another attack. These delays give us respite and allow us to prepare. To resume their assault the moment the retreating troops can be rallied would be far better tactics.”
“They take much longer to treat their injured than do we,” Laelryne said. “They have fewer wounded, for those too hurt to join the retreat lie where they have fallen and bleed to death, but those who can still wield a weapon are patched up so that they can return to the fray. This takes time. It has proven greatly to our advantage.”
“Thus far,” said Erchirion. “How many of the foe would you say remain?”
Laelryne looked to Cierre. “Just over a hundred,” Cierre reported, “although I believe a few of them may be wounded too badly to take any further part in the fight.”
“Then we are outnumbered three to one still,” said Erchirion, “as we have been all through this fight.” He shook his head. “We have suffered heavy losses and I fear that we will suffer yet more before this is over.” It was obvious that he was contemplating the grim mathematics that implied this would be a battle of mutual annihilation.
“We do not have to kill them all,” Laelryne reminded him. “Only to hold out for a few hours more.”
“They must realise that as well,” said Erchirion, “and they will attack with even greater desperation.”
Laelryne shrugged. “And we will defend with even greater desperation. We can but do our best.” She gazed out across the plains. “It is odd,” she said. “We came here because it is the ancestral home-world of the Elves. Yet we have seen no Elves at all.”
“You will meet Elves soon,” Erchirion promised. “Legolas Greenleaf is staying with…”
“Hush!” Laelryne interrupted him and drew her sword. Erchirion drew his own and looked around for danger. “My sword! It sings!” Laelryne stared at the blade with her eyes wide.
“Your sword… sings?”
“I hold a Singing Sword, one of the sacred weapons of the Protectors of the Song,” Laelryne explained. “In battle it sang songs of encouragement and of protection from spells. It sang to warn of danger. When Eilistraee died the sword fell silent. It has never sung since then – but I could have sworn that I heard it sing just now.”
“A warning? Are the Haradrim about to attack?” Erchirion stared over at the Haradrim encampment.
“It did not sound like a warning,” Laelryne said. “I would almost call it a song of joy.” She shook her head. “I must have imagined it. Certainly it is silent now.”
“Jabbress!” Cierre called. “I see activity to the east. Fighting, I think.”
“To the east?” Laelryne turned in that direction, and stared out, but saw nothing. “What do you see?”
“Horsemen,” Cierre said. “More I cannot say. It is far off and the rise and fall of the ground obscures my view.” She jumped up onto a wagon and climbed to the highest point. “Yes, horsemen,” she said. “Two desert men are heading west toward their camp. Behind them two more fight five Rohirrim. I believe Men on each side have fallen already for I see riderless horses.”
“A patrol from the village where we had planned to spend the night,” Erchirion said. “They have stumbled upon the Southrons’ eastern picket.”
“One of the Rohirrim has fallen,” Cierre reported. “Now one of the Haradrim falls. The other is beset by four and cannot – yes, he is down. The Rohirrim ride this way.”
“There are riders moving out from the camp of the desert men,” another Drow called. He was one of those rescued from the Eldreth Veluuthra by Cierre; Laelryne could not, for the moment, recollect his name. “They ride to meet their fellows. They number perhaps a score.” He spoke in Drow; Laelryne translated his words into Elvish for Erchirion’s benefit. Erchirion translated once again, including Cierre’s report, into Westron so that the Rohirrim could understand.
“The Rohirrim turn away,” Cierre said, “and ride back from whence they came.”
“They will be back,” said Erchirion. “They go to report and then will return with more Riders. That village is somewhat closer than the one from which Guthred and his fellows came; I sent Amrothos to the other village because the largest forces of Riders lie in that direction. Now, however, the twenty or so Riders from a single village would be enough to tip the scale. We can expect aid in only three or four hours.”
“And the Haradrim will guess as much,” said Laelryne. “We can expect them to attack again soon. Cierre, keep watching them.” She began to allocate defensive positions to the surviving members of her force.
“The Haradrim are forming up,” Cierre reported shortly afterwards. “Strange. The majority of them line up on foot. Only a score of them, plus one who I think is that leader in gilded mail, have mounted.”
“That is not good,” Erchirion said. “The previous attacks have failed because some broke, and fled, and the others followed. It is natural for horses to follow the herd; the riders would have to make a conscious effort to stop them and, when they are faced with a resolute defence, they could not summon up the resolve to do so. On foot it is not so easy to run away. They will come at us and they will not stop until they are slain.”
“Why do some remain mounted?” Laelryne wondered, and then answered her own question. “Those are the elite, who are least likely to run, and they retain their mobility. The footmen will hit us in one place and the riders will circle looking for a place where we have stripped away the defenders to reinforce the site of the foot assault. If we do so then the horsemen will pounce.”
“I fear you have the right of it,” said Erchirion. “If we weather this assault we will be safe, for they will be in no shape to mount another before a rescue party arrives, but they will press this attack home with a resolve beyond anything we have faced before. This, I fear, will be our moment of greatest peril.”
“Noro lim, Arod!” Legolas urged his horse to greater speed and he began to draw ahead of Éomer’s éoreds.
“Steady, lad,” Gimli said, tightening his grip on the Elf. “There’s no point in us getting there before everyone else. Even we two wouldn’t be able to achieve much on our own – and, if you shake me off the back of this beast, you’ll be fighting all by yourself.”
“Forgive me, friend Gimli,” Legolas said, slowing down to match the pace of the others. “I’m not sure what possessed me. I felt a pull, a sudden sensation of terrible urgency, and was filled with the need to go at a faster pace. I know not why. I have never possessed the gift of being aware of what was happening in far-off places – and even those who did have such powers have found them to be fading since the destruction of the One Ring and the lessening of the Three.”
“Well, you Elves have senses not shared by the rest of us,” Gimli said, “and I’m perfectly prepared to admit that there is a need for haste. But Éomer knows his business; the pace he’s setting is the fastest that will get us there in shape to fight. In fact, as he’s desperate to reach his Princess, he’s likely to err on the side of excessive speed if anything. All you’ll achieve is to tire your horse out too early.”
“I never thought that I would take advice on riding from a Dwarf,” said Legolas, “but you are correct. Yet still I feel impelled to greater haste.”
“I wouldn’t have thought you would be so eager to set eyes on the Black Elves, considering that you had never heard of them before,” Gimli remarked. “It’s not like Sam’s desire to see Oliphaunts. He’d heard tales of them since childhood.”
“I confess that I am intrigued,” Legolas said, “and indeed I would like to see these Black Elves. And I would prefer to see them while they are still alive.”
“Fall back! Back to the coach!” Laelryne saw Haradrim warriors swarming over two of the wagons and knew that her people could hold the perimeter no longer. “Pull back!” She heard Erchirion’s voice, on the far side of the carriage, shouting out what was presumably the same command.
Drow jumped down from the wagon beds, and scrambled out from under wagons, and ran for the centre of the circle. Not all of them made it. Laelryne saw Kebella hit in the back by an arrow; the bloody point came out through her chest and she went down, sprawling on her face in the dirt, and did not move.
Ilmryn cried out, reversed his direction, and threw himself into a rolling dive. An arrow passed over him and then he came to his feet in front of the archer who had shot Kebella. Ilmryn rammed his sword into the man’s belly, ripped it sideways, and the man fell screaming. Another Haradrim came at Ilmryn with a scimitar; the Drow parried with his left-hand sword, riposted and killed the man, and then a third Haradrim slashed at him from behind and Ilmryn went down with blood gushing from his half-severed neck.
Laelryne slew an onrushing warrior, then another, and then the surviving Drow were all at the carriage and forming up. Laelryne made a quick count and her heart sank. Ten, including herself and Cierre. And one of those who had not made it back was Ridoorl.
She had briefed everyone on what to do and they wasted no time in obeying her instructions. They formed into two ranks; the rear rank stood, backs to the carriage, and the front rank knelt. They thrust their swords into the ground and raised their crossbows. Laelryne took up a position to the left and Cierre, bow in hand, went to the right.
“Load!” Laelryne shouted. “Front rank, loose! Reload! Rear rank, loose! Reload! Front, loose!”
The rolling volleys tore into the Haradrim. Cierre was loosing shafts in time with both ranks. Eight Haradrim fell before one put an arrow into a rear-rank Drow. Scimitar-wielding warriors ran in from the flanks. Laelryne slew three with two cuts and a thrust. On the other side Cierre dropped her bow, drew her hand-axe in a lightning move that ended with it buried in a Haradrim skull, and then drew her sword. She brought up the sword in a stroke that took a man’s arm off at the shoulder and then it descended in a lethal arc that clove through another man’s head.
Two Southrons avoided Cierre and made it to the rear of the coach. They scrambled up to the top of the vehicle and nocked arrows to their bows to fire down upon the defenders. Cierre followed them up, reaching the top in two leaps, and rammed her sword through the back of one of them before the man could react. Then an arrow struck Cierre’s sword-arm, piercing all the way through, and she let go of her sword. The dying Haradrim toppled from the coach taking the sword with him. Cierre kicked the other man so hard that he flew through the air and landed in a crumpled heap ten yards away. An arrow struck her body but failed to penetrate the mithral mail. She threw her hand-axe at the nearest Southron, with lethal accuracy, and jumped down from the carriage roof. As soon as she landed Cierre snapped off the arrow shaft, pulled out the arrow, and cast Cure Light Wounds on herself. Two more arrows hit her as she did so but again the armour saved her. Then Cierre scooped up two Haradrim scimitars from the ground.
“Hey, I’m Drizzt!” she called out. Two of the surviving defenders actually laughed, despite their dire situation, and Cierre grinned. “Ultrinnan!” she cried, and slew an onrushing attacker.
The Haradrim corpses lay in heaps and the ground was red with blood. Yet their arrows were taking their toll on the defenders. One by one they were hit and went down. And as they fell the effect of their volleys grew less and the attackers were able to take aim before they loosed.
Laelryne killed a man to her left, and then struck right, but as the second man fell she saw an archer behind him, bow fully bent, with his arrow trained on her. She had no time to dodge, nor even to bring her shield across, before he loosed. He was a mere four paces away and at that range the power of the bow defeated her armour. Laelryne felt an impact like a punch in her stomach, and then a searing flare of agony, and her strength deserted her and she went down on her knees. Her sword fell to the ground.
“Jabbress! Nau!” Cierre’s cry was a howl of pain and of berserk fury. She hurled herself upon the Haradrim, hacking and slashing, and dismembered the archer who had shot Laelryne in a blinding flurry of blows. She killed two more men and then, as her right-hand scimitar was buried to the hilt in a Southron’s stomach, another warrior brought his scimitar down and took her hand off at the wrist.
Laelryne looked down at her wound. The arrow was buried deep. If she tried to pull it out she would only disembowel herself. She could hear the clash of swords from the far side of the carriage, and knew that some of the rivvin still fought on, but on her side only herself and Cierre remained alive. She drew her second-last healing potion from her pouch. It wouldn’t heal her, not with the arrow embedded in her stomach, but it would slow the internal bleeding and numb the pain. Then a Haradrim came at her with a scimitar poised for a beheading stroke. She snatched up her sword, parried the blow, and drove the point of her blade through his throat. In the process she dropped the potion vial. The dead man’s scimitar fell on it and shattered the glass.
Cierre pointed the stump of her wrist at the face of the man who had cut off her hand. Blood sprayed out onto his face and eyes. He brought up his arm and scrubbed the back of his hand across his eyes. As he did so Cierre brought around her left hand and drove her scimitar into his chest. She spoke a phrase and the blood flow from her wound stopped. Then she spoke another phrase, pulled free the scimitar, and turned to face another man who was charging at her. She moved with such speed that she seemed to blur. Her scimitar swept across at waist level and bit so deep that she cut the man almost in half.
Two more Haradrim attacked Cierre. She slew one but the other, in what must have been a deliberate move, sliced down at her left arm and severed that hand too. He called out triumphantly, speaking in a language unknown to Laelryne but his tone unmistakable, and then Cierre drove her forehead into his face with tremendous force. The man reeled back, his face a mask of blood and shattered bone, and dropped to his knees. Cierre kicked him in the head and he fell flat. He did not move again.
Laelryne managed to draw forth her last potion, extract the stopper, and raise it to her lips. Even as she was drinking she was struck by another arrow. This one took her in the side, just under her ribcage, and drove in deep. She rocked at the impact but managed to complete her drinking. Even so she knew that, unless the arrows could be extracted quickly and another potion of at least Cure Critical Wounds strength found, her wounds were mortal. And yet, somehow, she seemed to hear her sword singing a song of joy.
Ahead of her Laelryne saw a man in gilded armour. His skin was blistered and his beard was charred; he must have been the target of Ridoorl’s last Fireball before the wizard went down. Two tall Haradrim warriors escorted him. Both held bows; they trained them on Cierre and loosed shafts which pierced Cierre’s armour and went in almost to the fletching.
Cierre ignored her wounds and sprang upon the bowmen. She smashed one with blows from elbows, knees, and forehead. As the man collapsed the Haradrim leader thrust his scimitar into Cierre’s body and, at last, she fell. The Southron commander withdrew his scimitar and strode toward the carriage.
Laelryne forced herself to her feet. She lunged at the man in gilded mail. He brushed her sword aside, the first time in two hundred years that anyone other than Iljrene the Battle-Master had ever managed to parry one of Laelryne’s attacks, and riposted to her chest. His blade penetrated her mail only partially and skidded from her ribs without reaching heart or lungs. Laelryne brought her sword around again and connected but she had no strength in her arms. Her blow bounced off, harmlessly, without piercing the gilded mail. Her grip slackened and her Singing Sword fell from her hands. She went to her knees, sagged forward, and fell on her face. With an effort she managed to roll over onto her back, so that she could see, but she couldn’t rise. The Haradrim leader spoke, incomprehensibly, and then turned and strode on to the coach. Laelryne felt bitter pangs of failure as she watched, unable to act, and she heard the pounding of blood in her ears. It sounded almost like hoof-beats.
The gilded man threw open the door of the coach, a smile of triumph on his face, and then the look turned to one of horror. There was a ‘twang’ and a crossbow quarrel buried itself up to the fletching in his left eye. He fell back, killed instantly, and lay still.
Laelryne saw Srulauthe, reloading her crossbow with smooth and practiced motions, and then the leader’s remaining bodyguard released another shaft. It took Srulauthe in the throat. Her crossbow fell, bounced on the coach step, and landed on the blood-soaked grass. Srulauthe toppled after it and lay sprawled half in and half out of the carriage.
At some point in the fight, unnoticed by Laelryne at the time, someone had cut free the two bound Haradrim prisoners. One of them rushed for the coach and reached in to grab Lothíriel. The maid-servant screamed.
And Lothíriel thrust with Srulauthe’s short-sword and stabbed the Southron to death.
The bodyguard, and the surviving freed prisoner, cursed and began to advance. Then something whistled through the air and struck the bodyguard’s head. He wore a steel helm but against this impact it was no protection. A heavy war arrow, loosed from a bow perhaps as powerful as Cierre’s Uthgardt bow, pierced through helm and skull alike and dropped the man dead upon the instant. The other man looked around, his mouth hanging open, and saw no other Haradrim inside the circle. His jaw dropped even further as he saw something out of Laelryne’s line of sight. He turned and began to run. Another arrow hit him in the back and he fell.
And Laelryne realised that the pounding in her ears really was the sound of hoof-beats; hundreds of them. Rohan had come at last.
“Jabbress.” Cierre had crawled to where Laelryne lay. Blood was trickling from the corners of her mouth and her breathing was laboured. “We are dying. I go to Fury’s Heart, to join Auril, but you go to the Wall of the Faithless. It is unjust. When I stand before Kelemvor I shall spit in his eye for you.”
“No,” said Laelryne, “we shall spit in his eye together.”
Cierre croaked out something approximating to a laugh. “Jabbress,” she said, “you… remembered…” And then her eyes rolled up, she slumped down, and lay still.
Lothíriel appeared above Laelryne. There were tears in her eyes. “Erchirion!” she shouted. “Laelryne is deathly hurt!” She bent down and stared at the arrows. “I have some small training as a healer,” she said, “but this is far beyond me. But I will do what I can. Have you your magical potions?”
“All gone,” Laelryne said. “Erchirion lives?”
Erchirion limped into view. The swan crest had been shorn from his helm, his surcoat was torn in several places, and the armour under the cloth was marred by nicks and scratches. A trickle of blood ran down his right leg from a wound in his thigh. His left hand was a bloody mess and he seemed to have lost at least one finger. Yet he lived.
“Laelryne!” he exclaimed. “You must not die. I have the healing potion you gave me.”
“No use,” Laelryne said. “Won’t work with the arrows in and withdrawing them… will kill me. Save it for your brother. Who… of us… survived?”
“All your people are dead, alas,” Erchirion said. “All of my Swan Knights also. Two of the Rohirrim from our original escort live still, also Guthred and one other of the Riders who came with him, but all of the others are dead. Éomer King has reached us with his full force and those few Haradrim who remain alive are fleeing with the Rohirrim in pursuit. We are safe – but it is too late for your people. I am sorry.”
“Not… your fault,” Laelryne said.
Then a new face appeared. It was a darthiir, the tallest Elf Laelryne had ever seen, and he was fair of face. He held a great bow in one hand and Laelryne guessed that he was the one who had slain the last of the Haradrim within the circle. And she heard the singing again but realised, now, that it was coming from inside her and not from the sword.
“It is you,” the Elf said, looking down upon her. “It is from you that I felt the pull. My fëa sings with yours. But you are hurt unto death.”
“Vith, dos ph'zandeln,” Laelryne said. “If I had known that the Elves here were as fair as you I would have made sure that I didn’t get killed. Too late… now.” The coppery taste of blood in her mouth was strong. Although the day was yet young, not even mid-morning, it seemed to be growing dark.
“You must not die!” said the Elf. “I have only just found you.” He knelt at her side and took hold of her hand. Laelryne saw a Dwarf behind him; the Dwarf laid his hand upon the shoulder of the tall Elf.
“It’s not… as if… I have any… choice,” Laelryne said. “But we saved Lothíriel. Remember… the Drow… with…” She gulped for air and squeezed his hand tightly. “I… I…” she said, and then suddenly her eyes opened very wide. “Eilistraee!” she said. “You live! But why is your skin… pale? And…” She jerked convulsively and her eyes closed. The onlookers thought her dead but then her eyes opened once more and she spoke. “I come to you!” she said.
And then she died.
• ‘rivvin/rivvil’ = ‘human’ (plural/singular)
• ‘Jabbress’ = ‘Commander’ (female)
• ‘Darthiir’ = ‘Surface Elf’
• ‘Darthiiri’ = ‘Elves/Elven’
• ‘Vith nindel’ = ‘Fuck that’
• ‘Vith, nindel zhahus zolarix’ = ‘Fuck, that was painful’
• ‘Dos vith’ez rivvin iblith’ = ‘You fucking human excrement’
• ‘Ultrinnan’ = ‘Victory’
• ‘Skrel fol xxilfet pholor, dos vith’ez vigh elg’caress’ = ‘Put some armour on, you fucking crazy bitch’
• ‘abbil’ = ‘trusted friend’
• ‘Nau’ = ‘No’
• ‘Vith, dos ph'zandeln’ = ‘Fuck, you’re handsome’
• ‘Wes ðu hal’ (Rohirric) = ‘Be well’
• ‘Noro lim’ (Sindarin) = ‘Ride on’
• ‘fëa’ (Sindarin) = ‘soul/spirit’