"Okay, NOW Panic!"

an LOTR fanfic by Boz4PM

Disclaimer: I own nothing other than Penny – someone has to (poor woman) – and also any other OFCs or OMCs that may appear. The rest all belong to JRRT ("The Great Man Whose Boots We Are Not Fit To Lick"). I trust that, as a consequence of this fic, he will merely maintain the gentle rotation he was thrown into by 'Don't Panic!' rather than start on an all-out spin cycle. grin

Author's Note: This is the sequel to "Don't Panic!" a fic in which Penelope Baker (a twenty-four year old Tolkien fan who works in marketing) wakes up in her pyjamas a few miles west of Bree and is then faced with all the horrors of what it was REALLY like to live six thousand years ago in Middle- earth (latrines of doom being possibly amongst the worst of them).

She is rescued by Halbarad, dour Ranger of the North, and taken by him to Imladris to see Elrond due to the clear knowledge she has of things she should not know, as well as her bizarre and extreme behaviour as she battles with her own sanity while she slowly comes to the realisation of just where she actually is. Once in Rivendell, arriving only a day or two before the Council of Elrond, she is questioned and, with much difficulty and Gandalf's help, manages to explain who she is, where she has come from and how she knows of them all and their futures.

She then has to acquire a new language and new skills, and learn to fit in, all the while knowing full well of the impending war, of the death of Boromir and, worse still, the death of Halbarad. He has become her friend and slowly begins to look on her as a daughter, promising himself that he will protect her and look after her once the war is over.

At the end of "Don't Panic!" despite trying to persuade Elrond not to send Halbarad south to Rohan, Penny watches Halbarad ride out of Imladris, holding the banner of the King that Arwen has made for Aragorn.

She knows that she will never see him again.

Now the story continues...

Warning for this chapter only: since it is a battle scene, there WILL be depictions of violence and bloodshed ahead. Nothing overly graphic but, don't forget, this is a few thousand warriors hitting each other with very sharp swords... it's not pretty.

Edit, Feb 6th 2008: By popular request I have made a Character List for both this and the prequel (Don't Panic). Should you ever need it, you can find it here: http://boz4pm(dot)livejournal(dot)com/268905(dot)html. :)

Chapter 1 - "Dulce et Decorum Est..."

"'This is an evil door,' said Halbarad, 'and my death lies beyond it. I will dare to pass it nonetheless;...'" -
'The Passing of the Grey Company,' The Return of the King.

Even as their ships had neared the northern bank of the Anduin and the quay of Harlond, the Dûnedain had seen the smoke, the carnage, and the horror. Through the gaps in the walls of the shattered Rammas Ecchor, they could make out the northern half of the Pelennor, beyond the battle, already littered with the bodies of the slain, mumakîl carcasses, and burning tents and siege engines. The air was acrid with smoke, death and fear.

Smoke was also rising from various points within the walls of Minas Tirith. The earlier rain had put out the fires in the city but the damage the fires had caused was visible from afar. The siege-engines, the piles of dead outside the walls, the massive gates smashed, splintered and burnt, were clear enough for the keen-sighted amongst those on the boats, even from the river.

The battle was in full swing as they came down the ramps from the ships onto the quayside, many of the men aboard not waiting to disembark but leaping directly onto the stone surface of the quay.

As they hastened towards the great southern gate in the Rammas, Halbarad, bearing the standard aloft for all to see, was riding behind Aragorn. To one side of him rode Elrond's sons, stars upon their brows and fury in their gaze, while to his other side was Legolas, bow already notched and face grim, with Gimli sitting behind him, axe in hand.

Behind them came Halbarad's three sons: Halladan, Hirvell and Arvain. They were tall and proud, their faces as stern and dour as their father's own. They rode with the remaining Dûnedain, most of whom had set out from Rivendell, but several others among them who, like Halbarad's sons, had joined them further south.

Every one of the Dûnedain was a man of stature, strength, courage and nobility of the quality of Halbarad. It was clear in their faces and bearing, as Theoden King himself had seen and commented upon at Helm's Deep. Just the sight of them alone had been enough to convince the slaves on the ships to offer themselves, now as free men, to row them all upstream.

As Aragorn, roaring and bearing the reforged sword aloft, swept north from the river the Dûnedain and assembled peoples of Southern Gondor followed in his wake. At the same time Prince Imrahil charged from the west with the Gondorian forces and Eomer King led the Rohirrim from the north.

The enemy, caught suddenly on three sides, barely knew what hit them.

Near half the enemy's army had already been eliminated by the Rohirric charge led by Theoden King. The subsequent death of the Witchking had left the remaining enemy troops dismayed and uncertain. The sight of Aragorn, tall and terrible, now sweeping down on them like some Valar-sent vengeance, near sent them mad with terror.

They would go down fighting, though.

The sound was indescribably loud: a near-deafening combination of the clang and clash of metal, the trumpeting of mumakîl, the roars and shouts of orcs and men, the screams of the wounded and dying, the maimed and the mauled.

There was no time to think, only react instinctively. Falter for an instant and your life was over, cleaved from you by the savage blow of axe, sword or spear.

Halladan, Halbarad's eldest son, became separated from his father in the melee after a few hours. Up till then the Dûnedain had managed to stay relatively near to each other, carving a path through the Southrons and Easterlings that made up the large part of the remaining enemy army. As standard-bearer, Halbarad stayed close to Aragorn, with his sons staying close beside him to protect both king and standard-bearer at all costs.

Then a mûmak, maddened by pain and fear, had run amok nearby, scattering those in its path and crushing underfoot many who were not quick enough. Halladan was forced to dodge the animal, even while keeping his horse under control, while his father and brothers veered their steeds the other way. Thickset, bearded Easterlings with axes, scarlet-clad Haradrim and more orcs than he had ever seen in his life before then surrounded Halladan and those with him. He spent the next hour or two of the battle trying to hack his way back towards the standard, still born aloft one-handed by his father.

Looking up at one point, though unable to see Halbarad, he could make out the standard blowing in the south-westerly breeze as the battle raged round it. Then, just for an instant, the fighting cleared and he could see the long pole, as tall as a spear, being held by his father astride his horse as he cut down his enemies who surrounded him time and again, a group of stout-hearted warriors around him – some still on horseback, others now on foot. Bodies covered the area in front of them: friend and foe alike.

Unlike many others, Halladan managed to keep his horse and was riding across the bodies of his enemies as he fought. The animal's legs were caked in their blood. He had managed to keep a small company of five or so Dûnedain with him, and together they were fighting their way back towards where they could see Aragorn with Halbarad nearby him. The Star of Isildur flashed in the sun upon Aragorn's brow, but Anduril burned even brighter in his hand as he gave the enemy no quarter.

As Halladan and those with him made their way, besides negotiating the flashing, slicing steel around them, there was also the ever-present danger in the battle-field of the mumakîl which would terrify the horses and, when wounded, run berserk, crushing anyone or anything in their path. Still worse were the burning remains of siege engines or tents that could topple over without warning, catching many beneath their flames. There were also the burning remains of barns and houses that were equally liable to sudden collapse. The heat and stench of smoke and blood filled the nostrils till it was all Halladan could do to keep his head from reeling.

Suddenly, Halladan met Aragorn on the field, the man looking more proud and noble than Halladan could ever remember seeing him. Yet they barely had time to acknowledge each other's presence before a great rush of half-trolls and Variags came towards Aragorn.

With a cry of "Dûnedain! To the Heir of Isildur!" Halladan wheeled his horse to place himself between Aragorn and the onslaught, hacking and hewing heads off as the enemy reached him. Aragorn moved beside him, Anduril slashing and biting without mercy, and quickly others joined them both.

In the chaos Halladan was dimly aware of a tall, dark-haired figure standing on the ground beside him, unhorsed, but by the grace of the Valar unharmed: his youngest brother, Arvain.

Arvain risked a grin up at him. Halladan reached out his hand to pull him up into the saddle.

"No, brother," Arvain shouted. "You will have more manoeuvrability with only one rider. Besides," he added, as he ducked a swipe from an Easterling axe, thrusting his sword swiftly into his attacker's stomach from below, "I'm doing well enough down here, I think."

He grinned once more and then, with a roar, launched himself at a group of orc that were aiming for Aragorn.

Halladan shook his head with a grin, but had no time to respond before he heard the shout of a horsed Variag warrior galloping toward him from behind. He turned in time to raise his arm and block the blow whistling towards his head from the man's sword before twisting the blade from the man's grasp and cutting him limb from limb in his own saddle.

He made his way towards his father then, beset on all sides by Haradrim, Variags, Easterlings and half-trolls. As Halladan neatly dispatched enough of them to make a path to his father's side, Halbarad looked up and smiled, grimly.

"Decided to join us at last, I see," his father commented dryly.

Halladan grinned broadly, and the two fell to fighting once more, side by side.

Then it happened.

Halladan and Arvain were fighting close together beside Halbarad, with Hirvell, their third brother, only a little way off, fighting beside Aragorn. Because the standard bearer in any battle was a key target for the enemy, his sons and others had surrounded Halbarad from the beginning, though he was more than skilful enough to fight one-handed.

Many soldiers and orcs had fallen on Halbarad's blade before the enemy realised the only way to bring this standard bearer down was to attack his horse. At their first opportunity, blades no longer sought to strike the legs of Halbarad but that of his steed - and they succeeded. Halbarad's horse was cut down from underneath him. Hamstrung, the animal fell, crushing one of Halbarad's legs beneath its weight. Before Halbarad hit the ground, a Haradrim managed to push past to hew at him as he fell.

Arvain had heard the horse's scream next to him, but had been busy fending off a particularly large Easterling who clearly knew how to use an axe to good effect, and so could not turn. He knew it was bad, though.

Cleaving off the man's head, he turned in time to see Halladan already jumping from his horse to hew the Haradrim to pieces. His father lay, gasping, blood spilling onto the ground around him, one leg trapped underneath his screaming horse.

Even as Halladan picked up the standard, he blocked blow after blow round him. The seven or eight Dûnedain near them quickly formed a circle round him and the fallen Ranger. Arvain ran to them now, his face showing his distress.

"Take this and my horse," Halladan was saying, shoving the standard at him.

"No, I will not leave you!" Arvain shouted.

Halladan flashed him a furious glare, and for a moment Arvain saw his father's expression in his brother's face.

"Do not argue, Arvain, there is no time. Take it. It must be kept high where our men can see it. They must not think the standard has fallen. Do this for Aragorn... for you father."

Still Arvain hesitated. "And you?"

Halladan looked at him. "I will stay here."

There was a cry from their father, and Halladan quickly bent to him. As he did so he shouted over his shoulder to Arvain, "Go! Now! Do not delay!"

Arvain nodded, quickly mounting Halladan's horse, the standard in his hand, and bore it aloft. Immediately he was surrounded by Dûnedain, just as his father had been, as the enemy surged towards him.

Halladan fought to defend his father's body, not knowing if he were still alive or dead, nor having the time to check. The orcs were not the only ones among the enemy with no respect for the dead or dying. Many on the battle-field would not be recognisable to those who once loved them when the battle finally ended.

Halladan lost count of the number he slew. However, he was not left to defend his father alone. Arvain stayed nearby as best he could, and the Dûnedain also helped to protect Halbarad also. The affection the Dûnedain bore Halbarad, as one who was great and noble among a great and noble people, was such that they would have laid down their lives to see that, even if he were already dead, his body was not desecrated.

At last, in the blood-red glow of the setting sun, it was finished. The enemy were routed with the last few of them running to drown or to die of their wounds.

Only now could Hirvell, Halbarad's middle son, find the time to dismount his horse and use the back of an Easterling corpse upon which to wipe clean his sword before the blood caked on it ate into the blade. He had managed to stay close to his father or Aragorn through most of the battle and had only become separated from them only at the last.

He was exhausted, and looking at those round him, knew they were no less weary than he. It had been a hard, long fight, but they had overcome the hordes at last. The euphoria he felt, despite his exhaustion, was huge. Yet he could not smile, nor could any of those with him. For now, as the noise of war abated and the last cries of fighting died out towards the river, the air was filled with groans and faint screams.

Smoke drifted across the gloom. The last few burning buildings collapsed in on themselves with roars and creaking groans, sending sparks far up into the thickening dusk. Already Hirvell could see those who had survived the fight moving among the dead, weeping over those they knew or bringing succour and aid to those who might yet survive their injuries.

Torches were visible now outside Minas Tirith as those in the city came out to help bring the injured back within the walls to be healed, or else make their last hours as comfortable as might be possible. Yet Hirvell knew, with night fast approaching, that many wounded would be missed in the dark and left to die alone and uncared-for.

He remounted his horse and turned it, looking for the king's standard once more. At last he saw it and made his way towards it. As he neared, though, he could make out his youngest brother bearing it now, not his father. He could see Arvain was in urgent discussion with Aragorn, could see him pointing to a spot on the ground nearby, Aragorn looking concerned suddenly, dismounting quickly to hurry to the spot.

His heart in his throat, Hirvell spurred his horse to a gallop, weaving and dodging the fallen and the wounded, leaping over great piles of corpses, burning embers of engines and the head of a mûmak to reach them. As he finally approached his brother, he leapt from the saddle.

"What is it, Arvain?" he said, the concern clear in his voice.

Arvain shook his head. His face was pale with grief. Hirvell now feared the worst.

He walked slowly over to the circle of seven or so Dûnedain, standing silently now round whatever it was Hirvell had seen Arvain indicate to Aragorn. As he neared, the tall, hard-faced warriors moved aside for him. What he saw meant he was not even aware of Arvain by his side handing the standard to someone else to hold.

All he could focus on was the pale figure on the ground, his dead horse lying nearby, having rolled off his leg at last in its death throes. Halladan was crouched beside the figure, his father's hand in his and his arm underneath his back so he was near enough holding Halbarad in his arms.

Aragorn was standing beside them, his face taut with his distress. As Hirvell neared them, his shock written on his face, Aragorn looked up.

Hirvell did not need to ask. The look on Aragorn's face said everything.

Halbarad was still alive, but mortally wounded. Even though Hirvell could not see the wound, the amount of blood around his father, even on Halladan as he held him, told him all he needed to know.

Halbarad was dying.

Arvain's cheeks were wet with tears as Hirvell crouched on the other side of Halbarad, his face set and hard as he struggled to control his emotions.

Halbarad, pale and breathing shallowly and with difficulty, was trying to speak despite Halladan's insistence that he should not. He did not even see Hirvell, so intent was he on speaking to his eldest son.

"You... you have made me proud this day... All three of you," he gasped. "I have always been proud of you... Your mother also... You have grown to be fine men... proud Dûnedain and noble..."

"Please, father, do not try..."

"Nonsense... if not now, then when, Halladan?... You had proved yourselves worthy... before this... but now you are men... great men, indeed... Elbereth smiles on you."

He stopped, struggling to fill his lungs with the air he needed to continue.

Halladan exchanged a glance with Hirvell opposite him and then with Arvain standing nearby. Arvain's distress was clear on his face, while Hirvell was pale with rage and grief, his eyes blazing.

"I must," Halbarad wheezed. "I must... ask you to do something..."

Halladan turned to him once more. Halbarad had to catch his breath and gain his strength with near every phrase he said. His voice was so quiet that Hirvell, on the other side of him, could now no longer hear him.

"Halladan... you remember I told you... of Lady Pen-ii... the woman I found... I told you her story..."

"Yes, father," Halladan said quietly, his eyes filled with tears.

"Tell her... tell her Lord Elrond told me... he told me everything..."

His voice was failing and Halladan had to bend closer to hear him.

"This... this is not her fault... I knew... It was my choice... she must not blame herself..."

Halladan nodded, unable to speak. His father had told all three of them about Penny, but had spoken about her most to Halladan. It cut Halladan deeply to now hear his father had known for certain that he faced his death in journeying south.

"Will... you tell her?"

"I will," Halladan managed to gasp out at last in a near sob, his throat tight as he struggled to contain himself.

"Promise me, Halladan... I need you... to promise me that..."

Halbarad's breathing was slowing, coming more difficultly with each rise and fall of his chest. His voice was cracking, quietening. Halladan knew his father was slipping away from him.

"What, father? What would you have me promise?"

"Promise me... that you will... look after her... as I told you I would..."

There was again a lengthy pause while Halbarad struggled to find the strength within him to continue speaking.

"Fulfill... my duty... by her... for me."

"I will. I promise."

There was a faint smile on Halbarad's lips, even a vague nod.

"Good... It is well... She is alone... she needs..."

Suddenly he gasped and coughed, and a trickle of blood trailed from the corner of his mouth. His breathing was now a mere faint rasp.

"Pain... is easing..."

Halladan gave him a weak smile. He glanced up once more to catch his brothers' eyes and saw Arvain kneeling now, weeping openly; and while Hirvell's face was still hard, his cheeks were wet with tears.

Halladan felt the grip on his hand increase a little.

"I have... missed... your mother..." Halbarad whispered, a smile on his face. "Now I will... see her once more... that pleases me."

Another spasm shook his body as he murmured with a gasp, "Elbereth Gilthoni..."

And then, with a long, low sigh, Halbarad, Dûnedan of the North, died.

Halladan, still holding Halbarad in his arms, wept.

Author's Notes: I was not going to make Halbarad standard-bearer till I read this passage in 'The Battle of the Pelennor Fields' (ROTK): "There came Legolas, and Gimli wielding his axe, and Halbarad with the standard, and Elladan and Elrohir..."

'Hamstringing', for those of you who don't know, is a particularly unpleasant activity, which involves cutting the hamstring tendon behind the knee. Apart from meaning you're crippled, invariably the main artery behind the knee tends to get sliced open in the process which is why duellers used to wear pads behind their knees sometimes.

Blood does indeed rust a sword – they would have had to be kept meticulously clean, and even then rust spots would develop over time. It's because of the proteins in the blood. Tissue will do the same thing. It's why surgery nurses and such get so paranoid about cleaning instruments, besides the contamination factor.

For what it is worth, I had already decided that Elrond told Halbarad even when I was writing the last chapter of "Don't Panic!". It was only later that I was reminded that Halbarad in fact foretold of his own death in front of the door to the Paths of the Dead (thanks, MumstheWord). So this is no longer pure poetic licence, I would argue. Penny did not tell Elrond when Halbarad would die – which battle – and so Halbarad did not know, only that he would not return to the North.