So far the mountains of the Ephel Dúath had formed a solid grey shadow to their left as they moved south. Now the road continued south but the mountains turned away from them and stretched off to the East. More men joined the army as it continued South through Gondor. Some told stories of raids on villages by the Haradrim, and scouts now moved ahead of the army.
Rumil was glad to take his turn moving silently ahead, and then halting to sit unmoving, scanning the surroundings for anything that seemed out of place. The land was very different from Lothlórien, but it was just as strange to elves who had lived their lives in the Greenwood, or to men who had lived all their lives in the North or in Ithilien. The scouts worked in pairs, one man – usually a man who had been part of the ranger company of Ithilien – and one Elf, taking advantage of the low rolling hills and the shade of trees that were shorter and sparser than those familiar to either.
In the evenings Rumil sat, almost as still, drawing what he had seen.
It was not mid-summer; a fairly obvious statement, but something to be taken into consideration if the ellyth were to take their turn on the fences.
Actually Tindómë had thought, when the decision had been taken that the coalition army would set off to the south, that the timing was not of the good. Taking men hundreds of miles south where it would be hotter anyway, and doing it in mid-summer, was almost playing into the hands of an enemy to whom it was the natural environment.
But when negotiations failed with this warlord, even though other Haradrim chieftains were now at peace with Gondor, it was not feasible to simply wait until late summer whilst letting land and livestock be taken and villagers and townsfolk killed. Once the men were ready to set off, and supplies organised, waiting for cooler weather was not an option. Although Tindómë thought that, personally, she’d have felt quite at home – California girl here, still.
However the time of year concerned the Elves for a different reason. Although the men in Minas Tirith jumped over bonfires at midsummer, and possibly midwinter too, they did it as a game of daring. But for those Silvan Elves who came from Eryn Lasgalen it was more than that. It was almost a form of blessing for the warriors – a mystical connection between the trees that had given wood for the bonfire and those who would protect both trees and the elves who dwelt amongst them.
Now, at peace, the ellyth had not jumped the flames at the last solstice – and no elf was happy to go into possible battle without that ‘blessing’. Even though it was most unlikely that they would need to draw a bow in anger, it was still… ‘bad luck’ was probably the best description. But it seemed as if, over the millennia of danger and threat, there was a contingency plan to deal with this, too.
The central clearing had had all traces of the usual fire swept away. New wood was collected from all the areas of the recovering forest, over a couple of days, whilst celebratory food was prepared. And then, on a night perhaps a month before mid-summer, Eldroth went into Legolas’ cottage and opened a chest Tindómë had presumed held clothes or other personal belongings. From it he took two thick logs that showed signs of having already been on a fire and carried them, between lines of elves, to the newly laid bonfire.
These logs, Tindómë realised, must be from the last solstice fire – to ensure that this fire would carry the ‘blessing’, even though it was not yet mid-summer. The few single ellyn still in the settlement did not ‘hunt’ for kisses, or exchange ribbons with the ellyth, as they would at the true solstices – the symbolic fertility part of proceedings – but there was feasting, and dancing around the bonfire until the first signs of dawn, just as if it was really the solstice.
Not only the ellyth but also the ellyn, who had leapt at mid-winter but would not miss the chance to renew the ‘blessing’, jumped over the still-burning remains of the fire. Tindómë worried in case she would not be able to leap cleanly – to be caught by a flame would be seen as a bad omen; at least, like most of the other ellyth who intended to jump, she had worn leggings.
Saeldauron, who was Tária’s husband, stood beside her and said, “Do not wait until last – everyone will then wonder whether you fear to jump – but there is no need to go for a little while yet. You will clear it easily – believe in yourself.”
Tindómë remembered jumping down from trees, and a balcony in Minas Tirith; yes, as Elrohir had once said, her bones and muscles worked together better than they had when she had first arrived in Middle Earth. She told herself that she really could
easily jump – especially when she saw Laegwen watching her. No way would Tindómë give her
the satisfaction of thinking that she was worried about jumping the fire!
Tária came to join her husband and Tindómë; she was the person who would be least likely to need to fight, but even she had kilted up her dress.
“Follow me,” she said, “and Saeldauron will follow behind you. If I can leap in my dress, you can leap in your leggings. Come!”
Following Tária, Tindómë jumped across the fire with ease; around her the Elves clapped. They hadn’t clapped the others – but she knew this was not because they hadn’t expected her to make it – Eldroth had told her every Elf was clapped the first time they cleared the flames as an adult and a warrior.
She felt a wave of emotion wash over her. Perhaps it was an effect of jumping, perhaps you really did feel the blessing of the trees, but Tindómë thought it was more likely to be because in that moment she felt accepted for herself. Now she really was part of this community. It was a good feeling.
It was neither Rumil nor Orophin who first caught sight of the Haradrim but Galanthir and his human partner. The Haradrim did not send scouts ahead silently and invisibly, in the way that the army of Gondor was doing, rather, they sent out small groups on horseback away from the main body of men. This difference meant that the joint army of Gondorrim, Rohirrim, and Elves were now aware of the closing distance but they were sure that the Haradrim had not seen the man and elf.
Now, as Legolas commented before departing to take part in the commanders’ discussions, the two kings had an advantage neither had previously had in battle; they could choose the place rather than that choice being dictated by the enemy. More of the elves and rangers began to scout ahead to check the lie of the land as well as looking out for the Haradrim. Soon they would be in combat.
Tindómë had once spent a night ‘on the fences’ of Lothlorien – but only as a visitor, not on guard duty. The flets had been high up in trees that stood two or three hundred feet tall, invisible from the ground, with talans on some of them capable of sleeping twelve elves in comfortable beds. The ‘fences’ around Eryn Ithil were very different.
Here the trees were rarely more than eighty or ninety feet high, yet, and none strong enough to hold a large talan. But then they didn’t need to – the area of forest being protected by these wardens was much smaller and they usually only spent one or two days on patrol at a time. Small flets were hidden in the canopy within hearing distance of each other – slightly closer together to the East side of the woods than to the West – orcs had continued to appear, occasionally, from the hills separating these lands of Northern Ithilien from Mordor.
Sitting on one of these flets, between Eldroth and another ellon, Tindómë felt as if she really was ‘grown-up’. She was pretty sure that, had she remained ‘Dawn Summers of Sunnydale, sister of The Slayer’, she would still be being left behind ‘to keep her safe’. Even though she would have been… what? Twenty-two, or so, by now? Buffy would have still been trying to keep her safe, she thought, when they were both in their nineties.
Although she continued to scan the surrounding countryside she let her memories drift back to California for a few minutes. She wondered if Buffy still thought of her – she rather hoped she didn’t. It would be sad if Buffy was mourning her, or still worrying about what had happened to her; hopefully all the false memories would have faded when The Key left that dimension.
Mind you, she thought with a smile, Buffy would have been equally shocked by Dawn having an almost-betrothed, or even by what she was doing before she took her turn up here on lookout; feeding the chickens wasn’t a common task back on the Hellmouth!
That first shift was peaceful, as she had expected; hopefully all of them would be until the warriors returned. And whereas Buffy would have ripped everyone a new one for putting her in possible danger, Legolas would be proud of her – although he’d probably complain about missing her braiding ceremony. He might even decide to do it again when he was back, she thought, as she headed for the cottage that she was already thinking of as home.
“Almost perfect,” Legolas said. “Not too flat, these rolling hills give higher ground for us and the Gondorian archers, room for the éorlingas to act as shock cavalry and break up the Haradrim formations. Now we prepare and allow the enemy to find us.”
The containers of spare arrows were unloaded and the pack horses, and the other elven horses as elven archers did not usually fight mounted, were left well behind the lines. Mail was donned, helms kept close at hand, everything checked and rechecked. All these Elves had fought in battle before. Many of the Eryn Lasgalen archers had been at the Battle of the Five Armies, and at the storming of Dol Guldur, although none were old enough to have fought with Oropher at the Battle of Dagorlad.
The men, almost all of whom were also veterans of more than one battle, made their own preparations. Then, as the Elves took their places on the chosen hillock, half a dozen young men arrived who reported to Legolas. They were clearly not even fully grown, Rumil realised; what facial hair they had was fine and wispy. He was pleased that the Elves need for them had been recognised – but then Legolas was one of the commanders. He was also pleased that such young mortals had been given this role – they would be safer amongst the Elven archers than amongst the foot soldiers.
They would keep the archers supplied with arrows from those containers the pack horses had brought all the way from Ithilien. As the battle progressed they would also scavenge arrows, from the near edge of the battle, to be shot back at the enemy. Two of the young men carried buckets. This was something new; the young Elven warriors who undertook this role did not carry buckets.
Then Orophin explained, and it took a good deal of effort for Rumil not to laugh out loud – or possibly snort with derision. “They are the piss buckets,” his brother had said.
Mortal archers might need to empty their bladders frequently during a pitched battle if they were nervous – and at least once or twice, should the battle last more than a few hours, even if not. Some might be nervous before battle and find their stomach contents refusing to stay in place. In either instance, the boy brought the bucket at a call – so that the ground under the archers’ feet did not become wet or slippery.
It was, to be honest, very sensible, Rumil thought, once Orophin had explained what one of the youths had said. But these Elven archers were not novices – there would be no vomiting – and the battle would need to go on for a very long time before any of them needed to relieve himself in any other way.
He wondered whether Tindómë would be amused when he told her, or if she would regard ‘bucket duty’ as a normal part of battle. He allowed his thoughts to dwell on her for a few moments; her body touched by moonlight, her slightly wicked grin when she had bested him with her sword... Then he carefully put that image to the back of his mind, picked up his helm, and chose his first arrow – the enemy had been sighted.
Almost midsummer; the days were long, and warm, and sometimes Tindómë thought longingly of air-conditioning. But it would be warmer still where Rumil was. She had, finally, washed the bedding both from her own bed and Rumil’s. Now, on the nights when she was not taking a turn on the fences, it was usually warm enough to sleep with no more than a sheet as covering.
She wondered just how far south the warriors had travelled. From what she had heard, before they left, it seemed that they would have to go well into South Gondor to reach the lands to which the Haradrim Warlord laid claim; but she really wasn’t good at calculating how quickly an army moved without airplanes, and APCs, and helicopter gunships.
Admitting such a lack of understanding of the speed of travel might give away just how different her background was from those around her and, even if Gandalf thought she was safe amongst the elves, it was best to keep things vague. Eventually she asked, not one of the remaining warriors, but Túriel.
“I have looked at the maps,” Tindómë said, “but I don’t really understand the distances…”
“They will be moving slowly because of the Men,” Túriel said. “Maybe they will have reached the enemy by now, maybe not.”
Then the elleth smiled and went on, “If they have not returned by the end of firith even Nithdur may find himself fending off invitations to go starlight bathing with ellyth!”
Tindómë smiled back at her. There were some unbound ellyn still in Ithilien – those whose roles were not those of warriors. Nithdur was one of these; he was a highly skilled leather worker and, as the warriors were able to undertake their own running repairs, he remained in Ithilien. These craftsmen, like the ellyth, were now taking their turns on the fences and were certainly able to find amenable female company whenever they wanted. Tindómë had already learnt that Nithdur, though, was not usually to be found starlight bathing with the ellyth as his preference was almost entirely for ellyn. It was one of those pieces of knowledge that helped someone feel part of a community.
“In fact,” Túriel finished, “if they are away much longer, as I am sure they will be, we will have to start going starlight bathing without any ellyn at all.”
‘Oh!’ Tindómë thought. If she had understood correctly, and she was pretty sure she had, that sounded like an invitation to a very different sort of ‘girls night’!
Firith – the Elven season made up of October and November.
Disclaimer: The characters in this story do not belong to me, but are being used for amusement only, and all rights remain with the estate of JRR Tolkien. (And Joss Whedon if he is at all bothered that Tindómë once spent a short time in his care...)