Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Lord of the Rings belong to their respective creators, Joss Whedon and J.R.R. Tolkien.
Near dawn, the fighting slacked, then ceased, and there was a break in the battle. The copsewood was a stretch of ragged frith, broken thicket, and yrch
corpses, scorched with fire and gnawed by sword blows and arrow bites. For several, breathless moments, everything was quiet but for the harsh breaths of those who still lived.
He lowered his bow, gritting his teeth. A finger beneath the sleeve told him what he already knew—the wound had opened again, and blood drenched the left side of his hauberk.
“Angaladh,” someone called. Angaladh recognized the voice of his brother, Morgaladh, who had taken position in a talan
higher than his. Morgaladh's face was awash with blood from a wound to his head—he had had his helmet struck from his head by a pike. “The Uruk-hai
are on our flank!”
“Hold,” Angaladh shouted to him, even as he strung his last arrow, searching for a target through the trees. “We must hold!”
Behind and above, he could hear the whispers of the women from the highest telain
, the few that he and his men had managed to keep alive. The children with them no longer wept, and he could not hear them.
“Angaladh,” cried a man to his left—Glanlhass, barely more than a boy, now missing the third finger of his left hand and with most of his hair burned from his head. “The ground force is gone. The Olog-hai
His grip faltered. Bile filled his mouth. No.
Out of the far woods, in the darkness from where they had fled, howls filled the air. Shouting, the clash of steel, the screams of men, women, and children. The talan
shuddered beneath Angaladh's feet, and the black shapes of the yrch
horde roiled in the gloom.
The smoke of corpses and trees burned in his eyes, his throat. Angaladh had been fighting for nearly three days without rest, since the first moment of the final assault on the Halls of the King, leagues south of where they were now, at the very border of Taur e-Ndaedelos
. Then, his warband had been two hundred.
Now, they were fifteen.
His last arrow was in his hand. He knew his men could not have many more of their own. They would have to draw swords and close with the yrch
, for the last of the swordsmen on the ground had been struck down only moments earlier.
Angaladh glanced at the sky. Here, nearly at the very foot of the mountains of the Withered Heath, there were gaps enough in the treetops.
It was the chill damp before dawn, yet there was no light. The smoke of the fires in the South had darkened the clouds, filled the air with ash, and hidden the stars themselves.
“Angaladh.” Glanlhass was looking at him. They were all looking at him, those few who still stood, faces haggard, exhausted, and hopeless. Bloodied and battered. “What can we do?” Nothing.
Angaladh bit his tongue. We can do nothing.
Yet they were still watching him, and so he said, “Give the women time.”
Glanlhass's eyes widened, but he did not protest. No one did. Warriors all, they understood that they had done all they could do.
Angaladh turned away, despairing.
Despair had driven them to the North. The Halls of the King were naught but blackened stone, the last of her defenders broken and harried through the woods. Olog-hai
stalked beneath the branches, torturing and killing all those who could not hide, could not escape. Those south of the Emyn-nu-Fuin
were either dead or fled westward, and they had heard nothing of the King since he had led the last army through the Narrows, to the relief of the Galadhrim.
North had been the only direction left to them. To the East, Easterlings and yrch
besieged Erebor and Dale. To the West, the Ford of the Carrock churned with blood. Angaladh had seen no other way to go but northward, and there they had gone, hurrying women and children ahead of them.
Here, at the edge of the wood, where they had flown as far as they could, they had been caught, and they would die. “Angaladh,”
Morgaladh caught his eye. Slowly, cautiously, he lifted a hand and pointed, for Angaladh's eyes to follow.
The figure was small, and clad all in black, half-hidden in the shadow of a copse of elms. The head wore a narrow cowl, ragged and dirty, wrapped tightly at the throat and covering the mouth, hiding the eyes and hair. On the body was a filthy leather brigandine, and about the waist a girdle of iron and black, wide enough to be a sheathe for the hips and loins.
The arms and legs, however, were bare—and from them Angaladh knew that this was a girl.
And not only a girl, but a child of Men.
Beside him, Glanlhass gasped, horrified, and moved forward, dismay in his eyes, opening his mouth to call out to her.
Angaladh grasped him by the arm, in a grip that made Glanlhass hiss between his teeth.
“Angaladh?” whispered Glanlhass, but Angaladh had no eyes for him.
was looking up, at them, where they stood concealed in the heights, her face only a shadow beneath the cowl.
Angaladh felt more than heard his men still, the women above abruptly silencing. He himself had tensed, his arm aching to raise his bow.
But something stopped him.
From nearer than before, the howl and tramp of yrch
came drifting through the dark and the trees.
turned her head, briefly, toward the noise, before looking back up at Angaladh. She moved quietly, calmly, utterly indifferent to the coming peril.
The black-clad girl raised her head, the face he could not see. A hand came up—a small hand, at the end of a slight arm—and placed the extended first finger against her mouth.
, pl. telain
| a wooden platformUruk-hai
| commonly Black Speech meaning "Orc-folk"Olog-hai
| "Troll-folk"Taur e-Ndaedelos
| Forest of Fear, Mirkwood in the vernacularEmyn-nu-Fuin
| Mountains Under Night, the mountains of Mirkwoodadaneth
| mortal woman/girl