The battle was over. The battle was done. Silence had replaced the sound of steel upon steel and skulls crushing against rock. Pain and death had their own noises, loud and shrieking and cold, like the bite of a sword. In the stillness, the day had been bright, had dawned brightly over a fight still being fought. Noontime had come, and the battle was over. It had left countless dead, mauled faces unrecognizable. Orcs lay, undistinguishable from the bodies of Elves. Neither beauty nor grace was left to Legolas's people. Drowned and choked by their own blood, the Elves had given up their claims to any discernible characteristics, features. Death was something that smoothed over the roughest rock and pitted the smoothest sand. It had feasted that night, that morning, had gorged itself upon the massacre on both sides and, satisfied, had gone to follow the rising shadows that gained power elsewhere. Death was death. It was the equality that terrified Legolas so: that man and Orc and Elf alike had given up the same thing, there on the battlefield, and no sacrifice could be labeled greater than the one previous, or the one that followed.
It had been one thing to fight. The very act of fighting left Legolas breathless with the pounding of his own blood and the strength of his own limbs. The movement of his muscles in battle was a familiar thing. It left him without pause to think or to fear the outcome. Men were not that way, as men lost strength at seeing their comrades slaughtered. Legolas himself saw his brethren as one by one they fell, but only now, afterwards, could he give pause to realize the extent of what the land had lost, what he himself had lost. Only after the fight in him had faded, could he realize all that had happened, enough to grieve and mourn.
He had killed too many to account for that night. Both he and Gimli had at last given up their count as the men of Rohan died so quickly about them they could not see friend from foe, could not find those to whom they wished to give good cheer. And it was a battle, in the end, a battle and not a game, for all Legolas's skill, for all that he had survived thus far. It was possible, he saw, as he looked out over the grounds below, saw locks of golden hair in among the dirt and the muck, for him to die. In fact, it was very probable that he would, when all was said and done. After almost losing Aragorn, who was by far the strongest and most skilled in their company, the gravity of the situation had become more personal. Legolas had at last taken it to heart, something he rarely did, with anything. And it took, of course, an actual battle on such a grand scale for the threat they faced to become individual.
The Elves had been leaving, Legolas knew, though by now he had been so displaced from his people it was a surprise he knew even that. The land had been whispering its loss, low and mournful. Even the men could hear it, though it was only shivers in the night that made them aware of it, and they did not truly know what 'it' was. Legolas could feel a great sadness fill him, knowing so many of his brothers had been so close to freedom, and had sacrificed it for this: a long stretch of battlefield, a longer stretch of stinking death. The days would pass. The flesh here, which was only flesh, would rot. The bones beneath the flesh, which were only bones, would be picked clean. There were too many to bury. This would be a place of memory, a graveyard of thousands, nameless and lost to the light. How could Legolas not mourn? Bright stars had fallen, would be remembered en masse, rather than as singular, unique creatures. On the one hand, it was a touching thing; that the race of man should be saved by such a sacrifice, that Legolas's people felt the same way as he did. On the other hand, it was devastating, to know that man's greed had come to this. Legolas knew why the Elves held such contempt for men, though there were some yet worthy of their love.
All throughout Helm's Deep, wounds were being healed. Scared women who had held their babies to their chests, who had prayed in the depth of night for their husbands, brothers, fathers or sons to be saved, had set to work. They boiled water, made bandages of their shirts and skirts, cleaned wounds and did their best to heal what injuries they could. Small children, little, androgynous girls and boys, ran here and there with buckets of hot water. They had not fought, but they had ever been a part of the fight. There was a great relief in their big eyes. Now, they were alive to help; there were those yet alive they could help. And those few who were not injured paced here and there, inspecting the great gap in the wall, the gaping mouth of the hole. Aragorn, sleepless, tireless, was with them. They wondered, Legolas knew, if Helm's Deep would ever be considered a haven again. So long as there were those yet breathing, to tell the tale of how the great wall was split in two, it would not be thought of as 'safe' again. One day, when their history was merely another people's myth, if Helm's Deep yet survived in those times, Legolas knew it would be considered the stronghold it once was.
They had won, Legolas told himself, but there was no end in sight. They had won, Legolas repeated in his heart and in his mind, but one had only to look at what they had lost - so plain and clear before their eyes - and the meaning of 'victory' would be questioned. Legolas bowed his head and held tight to the cold stone before him. There was a great chill in the air, the sort of heavy, humid chill brought about after a full night of rain. The afternoon was near ended; the sunset would be a vivid, visceral red. It would remind them all of how much they had to mourn.
He wished he could be like Gimli, the sort who could put on a brave face, and in doing so, begin to feel it.
"You seem troubled, my friend," Gimli's rough voice said at Legolas's back, and Legolas did not turn. He had, of course, heard the dwarf coming and had, in fact, been grateful for the presence. Perhaps some of Gimli's cheer could help in fortifying his own. Legolas could not, in times such as these, stand in isolation, wasting time with his own grief.
"Mellon en amin," Legolas began, half-reverent, but he shook his head, and fell silent.
"Come now," Gimli said, gruffly, "you know fair well I do not understand that muck; speak to me, if you would speak, or not at all." Gimli had a rough and solid way of speaking, much like the rough and solid face of the rock against Legolas's smooth palms. Part of Legolas felt almost as if he needed to cling to that solidity. But he was not a child; he had never been a child. It would have been selfish to attempt that. The distance expressed in his voice was what Gimli had reacted to with such dissatisfaction, Legolas realized; though the dwarf did not know his words, he could tell from the tone there was a great impersonality in them.
"Forgive me, Gimli." Legolas spoke quietly. "I meant no offense."
"But there is something," Gimli said after a pause, "that is troubling you; and gravely so, if I am not mistaken."
"There is, but I know not how to make it clear; no, I know not if it shall ever reach my lips, this heaviness in my heart." Gimli moved forward, but said nothing, and leaned against the wall. Legolas was grateful for the disruption of the silence, made by the sound of Gimli's heavy breathing.
Legolas wondered in that time of near-silence whether he would be the last of his people left in the land; whether he would be alone, in the end, the only one of his kind who did not choose leave Middle Earth. He did not see how he could leave it. He had fought too much for its safety, had made bounds too strong for breaking, companions too close to his heart to leave behind. There was too much yet to be done. No; his time for leaving had come and gone. In deference, in homage, to his fallen brethren, he would stay in the place they had chosen not to leave. He would honor their memories this way; this, the only way.
It was only when Gimli cleared his throat that Legolas realized he himself was crying. It was a silent affair, the tears moving hot and slow down his pale cheeks. It was a eulogy, perhaps; it was all that he could not release himself enough to speak. The rest of him was upright, was firm, was unmoving, but the tears cooled in the cool air against his cheeks, and though he did not shiver, the wind itself did. Gimli and Legolas stood there, half-facing each other, for a long and silent time, and then Gimli cleared his throat again.
"Kneel down," he said, roughly, and though his voice was commanding it seemed to be a question rather than an order. Because of that and that only did Legolas do as Gimli wished him to. He knelt down on one knee, so that he was near eye to eye with the dwarf, whose expression was unreadable. "Naught so beautiful should see the times that cause them to shed tears." Gimli's hands were roughened, yet more callused with wielding his axe than Aragorn's were with wielding his sword. "It seems a sad day indeed when an elf should weep for the loss of his brothers." Gimli's hands were also far less graceful than Legolas's own, with short fingers and thick, broad palms. He rested them for a moment against Legolas's cheeks, and then ran his cracked fingertips over them, brushing away the slow tears that yet had cause to fall. Legolas's eyes were bright.
"You need not do this," he said quietly.
"Aye," Gimli muttered, "I know." But Legolas's skin was smooth, so soft to the touch; it made Gimli intensely aware of how coarse and weathered he himself was.
"Thank you," Legolas said, touching the back of Gimli's hand with the palm of his own.
"Aye," Gimli replied, running his thumbs over Legolas's cheekbones still, though the tears had since ceased to fall.
"Eligre," Legolas murmured, "elmare."
And even though Gimli didn't know what the elf was saying, he happened to like the sound of it.
Mellon en amin: my friend (implies distance, unfamiliarity).