WARNING: This chapter includes battle, and the clean up afterwards. There is character death and descriptions of battle and death.
AN: (At the end)
Algar swore furiously to himself as he looked around the hall for the fourth or fifth time. He'd seen Leax on the wall just before the blast, he was sure of it. How had he managed to get lost in the half an hour since? And although he hadn't seen him, Algar was fairly certain that Kit would have been with Leax. He knew that his brother had been keeping an eye on him. Both of them had vanished though. Of course, so had many other riders - far too many – but this was Leax and Kit. Algar had t believe that they were safe.
Finally determining that they really weren't here, Algar sat down dejectedly. His mother would kill him if he didn't bring them back safe. He slumped forward, letting his fringe fall into his eyes as he tried to rest while waiting for his next orders, and not to think about all the awful things that could have happened to Leax. It wasn't particularly successful, and when the unusually gentle command to get ready came, Algar felt more tired than ever. Slowly, he rose, and went to hep those saddling the horses.
They were fortunate that due to those close to the horses' quick reactions when the orcs had got through the first time, most of the horses had been saved from the orcs, and there was more than enough for the survivors to ride in their final attack.
As they prepared for battle, Algar heard two riders talking. Apparently Éomer and the Dwarf had escaped into the caves with many men. Both of those debating were hopefully that they would come to their aid, but Algar was more hopeful that his brother and Kit would be with them and safe. He suspected that they would have orcs hot on their heels though, and doubted that they would be able to join them any time soon.
They lined up in neat lines ready to storm out of the keep before the orcs had a chance to react. Algar gripped his spear purposely, and waited. Since he wasn't in a proper Éored he had ended up near the back, but it had been planned to set up a guard by the doors so that all the riders could get out safely before the orcs could stop them. Algar was vaguely aware that the lord who had arrived with Gandalf had already gone outside, but had no idea what the man was up to. He was sure that there was some reason for it.
There was a roar from the orcs encamped outside, and then another great explosion. The gates crumbled, as the walls had done the night before, and this time Algar was actually in a position to see the explosion and the devastation and be amazed. He hadn't expected such powers, even from the wizards. It didn't seem to make Théoden falter though, even though a few of the men cowered. The King blew his horn, and then from above them, in reply, the great horn was sounded from the tower above. The sound was deafening even after the noise of the destruction of the gates. While the Orcs hesitated, startled, the Rohirrim took their signal and set forth to reclaim their land. From behind them, men streamed from the caves, galvanised and gathered by the sound of the horn. They chased after their horsemen, swords drawn, cutting a path through those who had survived the onslaught of the Riders. Algar spurred his horse forward, eager to prove himself, spearing orcs that came to close, but not slowing his horse until it was impossible to break past the wall of orcs in front of him.
Circling back to rejoin a group, Algar speared orcs right and left, almost enjoying the sensation of putting years of dedicated practice into action. He'd always preferred using a spear, and horse back had always seemed so much safer, but so far need had kept him with his hand on his sword.
Algar pushed his horse on with many others, wanting to push the threat back, to prove their rights to their land, but the orcs stopped abruptly. For a moment, he couldn't work out what had happened, before he saw the wall of green in front of them. Somehow, over night, a forest had appeared, blocking the coomb off and turning it into a trap. Their enemies were caught between the Riders and the trees, the steep walls of the Coomb preventing them from escaping, although it didn't stop them from trying.
And then, on the left appeared a figure. His white robes shone in the early light of dawn, but from behind him came the most promising sound: horns. Gandalf had brought reinforcements. The horn from the tower sounded again in reply, and then they pressed forward again, trapping the orcs between them and cutting through them like wheat in September, until their enemy was finally defeated and Helm's Deep was once again theirs.
Most of the Wildmen ay down their weapons, but Algar circled around them with a relatively small group of Riders to deal with the remaining orcs and the Wildmen that hadn't surrendered. Behind him, unnoticed, a final group of men left the caves: Éomer and his companions.
Once the last of the enemy had been defeated, Algar slipped out his saddle, leading his horse back to the main group. As he approached, he heard a cry, and then someone flung themself at him. Instinctively, his hand went to his sword, but when he realised it was Kit, he relaxed, although not entirely into the warm and perhaps overly friendly embrace that he gave him.
Ignoring the boy's babbled chatter, Algar looked around excitedly for his brother. Kit saw this and paused, following his gaze, before looking dismayed.
"Leax isn't with you?" Algar asked, quickly.
Kit shook his head. "Leax with you? He asked, almost pleadingly.
"I hoped he was with you." Algar admitted,
Chewing on his lip, Kit looked around the Riders, clearly thinking. His elation was one, and he looked just as worried as Algar felt. After all, kit did have a habit of wearing his emotions on his sleeves. For a brief moment, he looked older and more world weary, as though he really was older than Algar, but then it was gone and he looked at the blonde. "Leax." He paused, and then sliced at his arm with the side of his hand.
"Leax was hurt?" Algar straightened up, but before he could continue, Kit held up his hands to pause him.
"Yet, not big. Errr… Little?" He paused again, thinking. "Men who hurt together? Leax with?"
Algar took a moment to digest his accent and limited language, and then nodded. "Maybe. I'll have a look."
Kit almost looked relieved at that. "Yes. I'll look… He waved a hand at the Riders that had gathered to help sort out after the battle.
Quickly nodding, Algar practically ran to find where the healer's had set up camp, trying to ignore the voice that was telling him Leax wouldn't be there.
Kit ran from rider to rider, looking for Leax's familiar face. Gods, this was all her fault. She should have gone back to him after they had blocked the drain, and not trusted chance. But she had been so sure he would be okay, and she had never expected… never expected this.
Each rider she raced past brought her closer to the oppressive, looming walls that they'd fought so hard to defend, until, eventually, there was no one between her and them. Cautiously, she looked back, to where most of the fighters had started the clean up operation already, but couldn't see Algar there. She turned back to the walls and took a deep breath before walking through the hole that had been blasted into them.
Climbing up onto the wall top she looked out over the keep briefly, and soon regretted it as she had to stop herself from being sick. There were more bodies than he had ever expected. For the first time that she could really recall, she truly felt glad and lucky to be alive.
Kit went methodically from one body to the next, checking each one. She was vaguely aware that the bodies were being moved, but it was slowly, and if Leax was there, she wanted to know as quickly as possible. At some point, kit wasn't really sure when, Algar joined her, and they continued together, grim faced and silent. Soon they were descending the stairs and checking those who had fallen inside the Jeep.
It was hard to say who saw him. Kit straightened up from closing the eyes of a man and caught a glance of a familiar green shirt. Almost immediately, Algar was at her side, and they both rushed forward. They were almost directly next to where the blast had been, and there was a huge block of masonry on his legs. Together, they pushed it away, and then Kit had to force herself to look at him. He looked calm, at least, and Kit wondered if it was the blast that had killed him or the vicious looking wound in his shoulder. Algar fell to his brother's side with a scream, and started to cry softly. It was left to Kit to lean over and gently close his eyes through a growing sensation of numbness.
Algar cried until he could cry no more. He cried until he felt empty: until he finally felt numb and calm. He hadn't cried when the news that his father had died, but that had been just that: news. He had never seen his father laid out like this, on the battle field surrounded by friends and foes alike. He had never seen his father's face, or his blue eyes open by empty. He had never seen his father's ruined body, or even thought of what it could be like, except for in his worst nightmares. And yet, here was Leax, his baby brother, laid out just like that, and worse, there was nothing he could do. Leax was dead. Gone.
And it was his fault. Of course it was his fault. He should have known better. He should have stayed along side Leax and not trusted to chance. He should have gone to him when he had seen him.
He shouldn't have let him fight.
Unaware that beside him, Kit was thinking terribly similar thoughts, Algar finally straightened up, washing off the worst of the mess left by his crying from his face with his sleeves. Kit seemed to respond automatically, his eyes blank as he also rose. Together, they lifted Leax, carrying him from that dreadful place.
The men were being laid out in a shaded spot close to the Keep. They followed the slow but continuous line of men who were having to carry their friends, family and comrades from the battle field. A little way away some of the captured Wildmen were digging a massive grave, which both Kit and Algar had to advert their eyes from.
As if sensing Algar's need for privacy, Kit left then. Algar took one last look at his brother, and then went to find water to wash his body with. Buckets had been brought out of the caves and filled with water from further up the stream where the water was still clear. Algar took one, but put it down a little way from Leax where the others close by could get to it without disturbing each other. Taking a rag, he set about the unpleasant task of preparing his brother's body.
Tenderly, Algar washed Leax's face, hair, hands and wounds. He brushed through Leax's hair and made sure that it fell about his face in soft waves. He carefully rebandaged his shoulder and bandaged his side, then neatly stitched up the gashes and tears in his shirt. Algar even tried as best he could to clean Leax's boots without dirtying the water that he had brought from the stream.
And when h finished, Algar sat down next to him, with his head in his hands, waiting for the grave to be dug so that he could move Leax to his final resting pace.
Kit walked past the line of bodies, unable to keep her eyes from drifting from one face to the next. Most already had men beside them, or had already been cleaned and prepared for burial. There were many: here there looked even more than she would have guessed before. At least 400, and that didn't include those who hadn't been moved yet. Kit didn't want to know how many had been hurt.
As she waked, Kit caught a glimpse of someone familiar. She paused, startled, looking back to double check.
It was Aiken, laid out between two young men, his face a mask of pain. Unlike Leax, who at least looked peaceful, the pain of Aiken's death was evident, both from his face, and from his ruined body.
Kit found herself paralysed as she looked at him, unable to take her eyes off him. The orcs had been cruel, stabbing him repeatedly in his chest, arms and legs, and even though someone had already closed his eyes it was not difficult to imagine the tortured look that they might have contained as he died.
Yet, for some reason, the only thing that Kit could think was that his spear was missing. He looked strange, unarmed. Smaller, somehow, and older. More fragile.
Slowly, she came and knealt beside him. Gently, she put one hand on the side of his face, and then moved it to his neck. She didn't know why: it was painfully obvious that the poor thing was dead, but she still felt that she needed too.
He was a mess, and it didn't look like there was anyone else to look after him, so Kit rose again, looking around her to find clues from her fellows. There were buckets and rags scattered around, and it didn't take a genius to work it out. But it took more trips back to the bucket to clean his face and hair than she would have liked, and when she attempted to comb his hair, her comb caught in his blood matted hair, and she had to give up, wetting it and pulling it back into as neat a pony tail as she could instead.
There was little that she could do about his ruined shirt and tattered trousers, so instead she removed his cloak and tucked it around him like a blanket, before she sat down at his head, waiting. She knew that Algar would come for her eventually, and until then she didn't want to leave Aiken alone, as much as she would like to go back to the Keep and find him a spear. Even if he had no need for it now, and Kit had no idea what she believed about the afterlife and material belongings there, he just looked so wrong without it… but that would have to stay.
Algar came to her maybe an hour or two later. Kit had dozed off again, but lightly enough that she woke as his shadow fell on her. Looking up at him, she saw the shock in his eyes to see Aiken laid out alone, and quickly rose so that she could put a comforting hand on his shoulder. Even if she'd had the language skills, she felt that sometimes (and this was one of them) actions spoke louder than words.
To give Algar a moment, Kit looked around to see what had happened while she had dozed. The grave had been finished: that was clearly why Algar had come to find her, and the Riders were moving their fallen to the mass grave. The Wildmen had been moved somewhere, and Kit couldn't see the Dwarf or Éomer either, which surprised her. She thought that Éomer, as such a loved leader, might have come to help with the burials. Maybe he had something more important to be dealing with.
Algar looked a little more settled when she looked back, so Kit moved closer to Aiken, ready to move him. "We can?" She asked, indicating picking the old man up.
Algar nodded, moving as he did so to get Aiken's legs. Together, they lifted him up, and carried him carefully over to the fresh grave. Then Algar led Kit back to Leax's body. Kit took a moment to look over him again. Algar had done a good job of cleaning him up – too good. She felt tears prick her eyes, and had to brush them away angrily. Now wasn't the time: there was still work to do.
She let Algar take his shoulders, lifting Leax feet so that they could gently take him back to the grave and lay him down beside Aiken. The teenager and the old man made such a contrast, but it was nothing that wasn't echoed by the bodies around them. Many of those that had fought (and died) had been too old, or too young to really be fighting. Kit realised that it was only the true fighters – and the fortunate, like herself – that were here, and unhurt. Bringing in men like those who had died: that had done little but boost their numbers.
Algar and Kit fell back, watching the men as they brought the fallen and laid them down. After a couple of minutes, Algar sat down, and Kit quickly followed suite. Exhausted, it didn't take long for them both to fall into a doze, and after a while Algar's head fell onto Kit's shoulder, and Kit's head rested on his.
They were woken by a solemn blast of the horn, and for a moment both were confused, before Algar realised and startled, breaking away from Kit. He rose, and shook himself, still a little bit sleepy, and tried not to look at the other boy. He hadn't realised that he was quite so tired.
The horn blast had marked the start of the funeral. The last of the bodies had been laid, and men were gathering to honour the dead. Kit rose as well, a lot slower than Algar had. For a moment, he felt guilty: his fright had probably startled him. But he hadn't expected to wake up like that, and he still wasn't sure about Kit. At least, he wasn't sure if he liked the boy or not. He trusted him.
Together, they made their way over to join the growing crowd. Algar avoided the urge to glance over at his brother and Aiken's bodies. He would have to get used to the fact that they were gone.
No matter how much it hurt.
For some reason neither Théoden King nor Lord Éomer were at the funeral. Algar was surprised, but supposed that something more important had called them (even if he couldn't think what that could be). Instead, several captains, none of which Algar knew, gave short speeches. None of them looked very happy, and Algar realised just how many of the men here had lost good friends or family. There were a few men lurking towards the fact of the crowd with expressions of relief and thankfulness on their faces, but most of those gathered were in clear mourning, and those captains chosen to speak were very obviously of them.
Despite this, Algar found that he didn't want to listen, as his eyes drifted to Leax's body, and then away again as he realised. He tried not to take in their remarks about giving and sacrifice, tried to ignore when they said that death came to them all, and how honoured the fallen would be to die like this, protecting their homeland. Algar refused to agree that protecting the Westfold and Rohan had been worth his brother's life, and he certainly didn't want to think that Leax would have been glad to give his life like this. Even that the men who had fallen here would be remembered in song for as long as Rohan remained gave him little comfort.
But none of this was as bad as the list that was read out following these speeches. Two men had come round as Algar had sat by Leax, asking for his name and hometown, but he hadn't taken it in then. But now, as the list of names, almost five hundred strong, was lead out, Algar had to close his eyes, his pulse increasing with each name. So many. So many had died.
And when Leax was named, immediately after Aiken, Algar felt that his heart would stop altogether. It was all that Algar could do to stop himself from crying again.
As the list drew to an end, and then trailed off, there was an uncomfortable pause. Algar shuffled his feet, and suddenly because aware that many of those gathered were crying, Kit included. His eyes drifted once more to where Leax lay, and then away again.
From somewhere at the back of the crowd, a song started. It was a feminine voice, and Algar guessed that it was one of the women who had been evacuated into the caves from the Westfold. Soon, other voices joined in, complementing and building the song of mourning. Algar attempted to join in, but it seemed to be a song native to that part of the county, and he didn't know it. Beside him, Kit was also joining in, equally as failingly, in his thin, high voice. At least Algar could actually understand what the words meant.
Slowly, that song faded away, and another started, this time one that Algar knew: a slightly more upbeat one, thanking the fallen for their role. Algar did join in this time, ignoring any doubts about the strength of his voice to give remembrance to the fallen.
Finally, a girl stepped forward. She didn't look very old, perhaps the same age as Leax. She sang alone, an old song of farewell, her soft voice echoing softly through the valley.
As the song came to a close, those that had no more reason to be there quietly left, leaving those close to the fallen to seal the grave alone. Although the captured Dunlendings had dug the grave, it would be the family and friends of the dead who would put them to rest.
Algar made his way forward, Kit following a little cautiously. On their way, they passed one solitary grave, and in a moment of curiosity, Algar peered over. He was greeted by the face of Captain Háma, another face that shocked him to stillness. Of all of those fighting today, the captain was one of those he was sure would live to see the dawn.
There was little time to contemplate. Soil was being transferred by the few shovels that they had, but mostly by hand. Algar moved to help, with Kit as his ever constant shadow. Together, the Riders quickly buried the dead, and when the mound was complete, a solitary Symbelmynë that someone had found was laid on the top.
AN: Well… that was the first time I haven't met my 4000 word count. But the chapter naturally ended 1000 words in, so I'm actually impressed I managed to get so close. XD;; I'm not very happy with it, considering how long I've been thinking about Leax's death, but I think that this is the best I can get it, so I hope it's good enough.
I'm not sure if I've been looking forward to this chapter or not. In the first draft Leax (unnamed and unrelated to Algar) died at the stream in Chapter One. In the second draft he got a stay of life, and in the third he became… Leax. And he grew on me far too much, especially since I knew he would die here.
But now it's over and done with, and things will start to take a more serious tone from here on in. There's some drama coming up in the next two or three chapters that will be fantastic fun to write, but I think we're finally, slowly but surely, making our way towards the end. This is probably half way through. ^________^
As usual, thanks to all of the lovely, charming people who reviewed and/or added to alerts or favourites. You all are the people who keep me going, and make me so happy. I can't tell you how ecstatic I was to get home from holiday to find my inbox so full of all your lovely messages. 3 There was bouncing involved.
Aaaaannnd~ I'm getting kittens to replace my beautiful cat who died last month. They're called Bentley and Pepper, anddddd I want their next door neighbour Mr. Giles as well, but mum thinks he'll fight with Selena, our other cat. *sad* I also might be getting my first job, so I might get a bit distracted. Because, y'know, the RSPCA centre P&B are at is about ten miles away and at the moment I'm going every day. XD;;
I'll shut up now. Thanks for reading, and thanks again to everyone who reviewed or added. THANK YOU! 3