“C’mon, Hale! You’re falling behind!”
Halethon made a face and smacked his eight year old legs against the flanks of his pony. “Only ’cause you’re going too fast!”
“Well,” started Peldirion, slowing, Halethon was sure, merely to patronize his distant cousin, “when you lead, you can set the pace.”
“But you ALWAYS lead! And we always go play at the old ruins,” Halethon grumbled.
“Oh, don’t pout like a girl,” Peldirion jabbed. “It’s our castle!” he exclaimed, stretching his lanky, twelve year old arms out wide as if to embrace the shoreline, and the broken spire rising from beyond the next hill. “Adrovorn said he will convince father to buy it for me whenever he comes home.”
Halethon looked over to his dark-haired cousin, and grinned. “You couldn’t make him let you go with?”
It was Peldirion’s turn to pout. “No. And Lothiel says he’ll probably find a tribe of wild people, marry a savage girl, and never come home.”
“Lothiel’s stupid,” said Halethon flatly.
Peldirion reached over to punch him on the arm. “Shut up!”
The two boys rode in silence till they crested the hill nearest their ruined destination. “Did you mean it?” asked Halethon suddenly.
Peldirion frowned. “Mean what?”
Idiot. “About it being our castle?”
“Shit. Of course I did!”
“Ass. Don’t say ‘shit’.”
“Shit, shit, shit. And don’t call me that, or it’s just my castle,” said Peldirion without a scrap of conviction.
Halethon smirked. “You’d be bored without me, admit it. And I always kill more orcs than you.”
Peldirion huffed. “I’m starting page work soon. We won’t be able to do this much.”
“Can I go with you?”
“I wanna go with you,” said Halethon with a stubborn set to his jaw. “You’re older so you can get started first, but… if it’s our castle, and we have to kill all the orcs in it first, I can’t be in someone else’s army.”
A grin spread across Peldirion’s face. “You won’t be. I promise.”
Relief spread across Halethon’s face, and he drew his wooden sword from his belt. “Last one to kill the fat orc gives up his lunch!” the boy cried, spurring his pony forward into a run, his imagination bringing shadowy beasts to life beneath the ruined arches. “For the King!”
“For the King!”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
A surging wave of silver and blue, they thundered out of the broken gate. How great they seemed in that moment after a day of darkness; a vanguard of Gondorian might and resolve. Halethon rode closely behind Peldirion as their contingent of Pelargir soldiers took the Swan Knight’s right flank. Their numbers melded with those of the Rohirrim, and the sea and the earth smashed into the lines of the enemy, their wave and zeal neither cresting nor falling.
His heart pounded in his chest to the drumming of his horse’s hooves. They could win! A brother to his left, a Rohir to his right, and Peldirion charging ahead of him, halberd gleaming in the morning light he knew. Drive them to the river! Excitement coursed through Halethon. This was the Gondor he dreamt of! This was the Gondor Peldirion talked about and aimed for. Mighty men fighting along side their allies, spurred on by the rising sun to retake their lands for the glory of their people. It was idealistic at best, and in the past months something of dreams, but now… NOW.
Peldirion shouted a command and the line of mounted Pelargir soldiers turned in a practiced formation, sweeping a few Rohirrim along with them to devour a line of orcs so that the Prince’s knights would not be hindered from that flank. They all followed him, their swords raising as his did, and half of the hope and fear in their hearts came from him as well. They were unwanted sons, either though scandal, found to be of little worth to other commanders, or simply too far down the line of succession. Granted by the unfortunate end of Peldirion’s eldest brother he had found them, or they had begged him for a chance, one chance to prove their worth and be more than the lot in life that had been cast for them.
On and on they fought, till suddenly new drums pounded the ground of the battlefield. Mûmakil. Enormous beasts, they ran into the frey, crushing and throwing dozens with every stride. What was an ordered assault turned into a chaotic tide of men fleeing from the Mûmakil’s paths and attacking groups of orcs. Wheeling his mount to one side, Halethon was nearly thrown from his horse as a soldier crashed into him. Fresh fear gripped his throat as one of the giant animals tore through a line of Rohirrim and Swan Knights.
What hope had built in him slowly began to turn. He didn’t want to believe it. He couldn’t! Turning back around Halethon went in search of Peldirion but, instead of seeing his Captain, an orc dove over the head of Halethon’s horse, and tackled him to the ground. His leg caught for a moment in the stirrup, and something pulled, sending hot pain up his leg, but there was no crack, and no time to think on it. His foot falling free and horse bolting away, Halethon grappled with the snarling creature.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
“The river! Black sails!”
Halethon cut down an evil man and turned to look to the river. He had lost him in the chaos. Many of his comrades had been found alive and dead, but not Peldirion. Not anywhere. At the cry that there were ships, he stopped dead in his tracks. What now? Before they might have won by sacrificing every man, but with the aid of Corsairs, how could they ever hope to drive them back?
Pelargir. What had they done to her? To their castle? Anger ignited, mixing with the despair that washed over him. Where was Peldirion? At least they could die together, brothers hewing apart the monsters that more than likely saw to the ruin of what was left of their fair city, and with it, years of dreaming. So many dreams, all burning and drowning in blood.
His knees found the earth, sinking into the dark mud as pain clawed through the muscles of his left leg. So many. Emeleth… Valar… Is this what will become of us? Hailthon wavered, swaying. Soaked in sweat, rainwater, and blood he waited for a passing orc to finish him as black sails filled his vision.
Halethon blinked, the words distant, echoing in his ears. “Wha –”
Air suddenly rushed back into his lungs as strong hands drug him to his feet. “Get up! Halethon?!”
He blinked, staring in disbelief at Peldirion and maybe two dozen of Pelargir soldiers. By the gods, he looks like death.“S-Sir?”
Peldirion smiled… no, grinned at him. A bright, engulfing expression he had not seen in years. “Don’t give up on me! Halethon, stand up! The king is here!”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
It was a battle to rival all others, and none would match it. At least he hoped not. He didn’t understand it, how the Captain could keep going. He had stayed up when the others slept, fought in the worst of, and Halethon could not remember the last time he had seen him eat.
They had fought for the majority of the daylight hours, the sun and brilliant hope brought by the return of the king fueling them. For the first time in hours, it seemed, Halethon stood still in the strange silence and observed the fields. A great wind had swept the rain clouds away, and standing next to the fallen body of a Mûmakil, the man suddenly felt so small. What was he compared to the mighty men that inspired their armies to victory? Against all odds they had somehow won, and it was on the wings of the gods that each new hope arrived.
He was tired. So tired. Sword dragging in his hand, Halethon turned to watch his comrades sweep across the field in search of brothers and friends. One picked a Swan Knight out of the mud, another wept as he embraced a Pelargir soldier long thought lost. Yes, he felt small. Small, and proud to be here among the victorious dead, and triumphant living.
Catching sight of Peldirion, Halethon raised a hand and started towards him. Peldirion rose to his feet, looking over his men with pride. But turning his gaze to Halethon he stopped. Something was wrong.
Fatigue slowing his limbs, he frowned. What was he shouting about? Peldirion had picked up his halberd and was now rushing towards him. Why are you running? What is wrong?
A shot of searing pain like fire exploded though his back. Halethon stumbled, barely aware of the arrows that suddenly flew past him. The world turned red, and he looked down to see a black spear tip protruding from his chest. How had that gotten there? And why… why can’t I move my arms? Breathing became a struggle, and the ground rushed up to meet him.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
“What is going on?”
“Don’t worry about it. Close your eyes.”
“Why are you carrying me –”
“I said don’t worry about it. Just relax.”
“Why can’t I feel anything?”
“Later. For now just rest. We are almost there.”
“I feel cold.”
“A few minutes more, and I’ll get you warmed up.”
“What about them?”
“You never cry. Tell me, damn you.”
“Not now. Not here. I said rest.”
“Is that an order?”
“Is it bad?”
“Don’t lie to me.”
“Just… hold on. We’re almost there.”