A/N: Alright, so Part Three! I'm excited, are you excited? If you aren't than you should be. Melomir continues into The Return of the King. If you're reading this note and wondering "Melomir? What the heck is a Melomir?" please stop now and read Parts One and Two before continuing. And I'd like to go ahead and give a nice hearty shout-out to JRR Tolkien and Peter Jackson and anyone else who might have been somehow involved in the making of the epicness that is Lord of the Rings and might want to sue me later. You guys are the best and none of this would be possible without you. And if you still plan on suing, knock yourselves out, I've got nothing to give you.
Changing History: Second Chances
There were so many.
Faramir threw himself from one battle to the next, desperate to hold the city of Osgiliath against the onslaught of orcs from Mordor. If he lost this city, Gondor lost its last stronghold along the river. Nothing would stand between Mordor and Minas Tirith. So he fought with everything he had and his men followed, rallying only to fall back, over and over. He was tired. They were all tired. They had been fighting too long. Faramir fought against the despair he could feel trying to wrap around his heart.
Help will come… he repeated, like a silent prayer. We must hold and help will come…
The sun rose higher in the sky, but it was weak, covered by a growing darkness boiling out of the east. The orcs relished in the dim light and pressed further, pushing back the Ithilien Rangers bit by bit. Faramir fought until he was overwhelmed and retreated toward a small alcove. He hoped to funnel the orcs, forcing them to face him one at a time, but when he passed through the stone archway, he saw that the alcove was already occupied.
"Faramir!" Madril shouted in warning.
Faramir threw himself to the side. The small knot of archers made quick work of the group of orcs pursuing him and finally they had a few precious moments to breathe and assess the situation. Faramir knew that it was grim.
"We can't hold them," Madril said, ever the pragmatist, "The city is lost."
Faramir knew. He couldn't win this battle. They were too few. They had nothing left…
And then he heard the horn sound.
Mel's heart pounded in her chest, matching her horse's frantic gallop stride for stride as she and Boromir raced toward Osgiliath. Boromir let out three more short blasts on his horn and then drew his sword. Mel did the same, suddenly realizing (a little too late) that this was nothing like fighting on her own two feet. She felt unstable and clumsy on the back of her galloping horse. She had just enough time to think that this might be a problem before they were clattering through the city streets.
Their running horses caught a few orcs by surprise, trampling them underfoot, but it only took a few minutes for the others to figure out what was happening and face the new threat. Boromir leapt into the battle with abandon, hacking away at orc after orc, using the height the horse provided to his advantage. Mel followed after him, striking clumsily at any foul, black thing that came within arm's reach. She searched her thoughts for any trees in the immediate vicinity that might be some kind of help, but all she found were charred remains and sickened shrubs. Her heart ached, but she didn't have the time or the strength to do anything for them. She was too worried about keeping herself and Boromir alive.
Boromir was doing almost nothing to help her out. He plunged deeper into the thickening bands of orcs as the pile of dead grew all around them. Mel glanced around frantically. Where was Faramir? Where were the Ithilien Rangers? Had they waited too long? Had the men already abandoned the city? Had they just run into a death trap?
Mel was starting to think that maybe now would be a good time to bring up the idea of retreat, when something whistled past her ear. She turned in time to see an orc go down with an arrow in his eye.
"For Gondor! For the White Tower!"
More arrows flew and as the orcs fell, a group of men in armor swarmed out of the stonework, fighting furiously toward them. Mel had just enough time to feel a surge of excitement and relief…
And then her horse went down. An orc caught the two front legs of her mare and cut them out from under her. The horse's scream echoed with her own as she just managed to kick out of her stirrups and throw herself from the saddle before the poor creature fell. Mel rolled to her feet, sword still in hand, and just missed being decapitated. She slit the throat of the attacking orc as payback, but now she was lost in a sea of black and silver, dark skin and metal clashing together. She could still see Boromir on his horse, but he was on the other side of the skirmish. He hadn't even noticed that she was down yet.
She took one step toward him and had to throw up her sword and gut another orc. They were everywhere. Each step she took was a battle. The ground was littered with pieces of armor and the bodies of men and orcs. She had managed three steps, when she heard a growl behind her. She whirled, but too late. The orc had his sword pulled back to strike, an ugly smile on his dirty face, and Mel had just enough time to realize she was about to die. Then a sword swung from behind the orc and took his head right off. Blood gushed everywhere, covering Mel in black splatter and she didn't even care. She just couldn't believe she was still breathing.
The man who had saved her caught her eye. Sharp nose, shoulder length dark hair, stone gray eyes... Familiar stone gray eyes...
Mel knew it was Faramir the way she knew the earth was round. She just knew. The eyes were the biggest clue really, Boromir's eyes set in a different face. Different, yet slightly the same as only siblings can be. For a fraction of a second they stared at each other, Faramir looking as shocked to see her as she felt to see him. Then Boromir shouted her name.
He sounded panicked. Mel glanced over her shoulder and saw him frantically searching the courtyard. The orcs had been chased out, probably on their way to get reinforcements. She turned back to Faramir and grinned at his bewildered face.
"Thanks!" she blurted out, before turning to shove her way through the crowd of men between her and Boromir.
"Here!" she shouted, waving a hand in the air, "I'm right here!"
He jumped from his horse to meet her, grabbing her arms tightly, his eyes frantic.
"I told you to stay right beside me! What part of that was unclear?"
"Oh, I'm sorry," Mel snapped, "Next time an orc cuts the legs off my horse, I'll make sure he has your permission first!"
Boromir took a deep breath and let go of her arms.
"I don't have time for this. We need to mobilize our forces so we can strike with precision, use the southern and eastern exits to drive the orcs out of the city. I need to find Faramir."
He turned away from her, searching the crowd of men. It took a minute for Mel to process what she was hearing. It didn't make sense. What was he talking about, drive out the orcs? The orcs were embedded in this city like a really bad case of termites. And when she looked around her, all she saw was exhaustion. These men had been fighting for days, some for weeks. Sure, their eyes were bright with adrenaline now, but pretty soon they were all gonna crash hard. And Boromir was talking about fighting?
"Boromir," Mel said, gently, quietly, so no one else would hear, "I told you, the city's gone. You can't save it. Let's just get these guys..."
But Boromir whirled on her, his eyes flashing.
"I have saved this city from the forces of Mordor many times before. I will not allow it to fall now!"
They both turned. Faramir had come up behind them and neither of them had noticed.
"Can you not see the men are weary?" Faramir asked, his own tiredness plain on his haggard face, "We have fought for many days and nights to keep this city. Perhaps we should pull back while we have strength left; use our men to defend Minas Tirith…"
"If we hold Osgiliath, we hold the road to Minas Tirith," Boromir insisted, "There will be no need to defend the White Tower if no enemy is able to cross the river and reach its gates."
"But, Boromir-" Mel tried again, but he cut her off with a burning glare.
"I will not abandon this city! We will hold!"
He stormed off, leaving Mel and Faramir staring after him. Mel had seen that look before and it frightened her. There was no talking him out of it. He was determined. Mel turned to Faramir, trying to keep the edge of desperation out of her voice.
"You can sound the retreat."
Faramir shook his head, dazed, still staring after his brother.
"Boromir is the Captain of the White Tower, the men listen to him…"
"Faramir, these are your men, they'll listen to you!" Mel insisted, "You're the one who's been fighting with them all this time, the one they've shared stories with around campfires, who knows how tired they are. They know you. All you have to do is give the order and they will follow you."
Faramir was staring at her now with that same dazed look.
"Who are you?" he murmured.
Mel couldn't help it. She laughed, feeling a little bit of hysteria creeping in. She shoved it down.
"That is a very long story, and I promise I'll tell you as much of it as I can once we're safe and sound behind the gates of Minas Tirith."
She reached out and almost put a hand on his arm, but at the last minute she hesitated and dropped it.
"Please Faramir," she said, her voice shaking a little, "I know you don't know me, but I can't lose him again."
He opened his mouth to reply…
A loud screech tore the air above them and everything stopped. A cold, dripping dread trickled down Mel's spine, vaguely familiar, and she was taken back to the banks of the Anduin, on a cool night beneath stars blotted out by a dark shadow. She swallowed and forced her eyes skyward. A giant creature, a cross between a dragon and an eel, rose into the air with one mighty pulse of its leathery wings and then turned, swooping down toward the courtyard. The men scattered. Faramir grabbed Mel and jerked her behind a stone column just as the thing made a grab for the ground. Several men were caught in its claws and tossed aside like rag dolls to lie crumpled on the stones. Mel's mind slowly worked through her paralyzing terror toward her first coherent thought of the last five minutes.
The winged Nazgul took to the sky and slowly curved around, coming back for a second pass. Faramir pulled her from behind the pillar, shouting across the courtyard as Mel was dragged helplessly behind him.
"Fall back! Fall back to Minas Tirith! Retreat!"
Like a rock dropped in a still pond, men heard the call and echoed it out to their friends, who in turn called it out to their friends until the calls of retreat filled the air around them. Everyone came out of hiding and rushed toward the city gates. Mel finally regained her feet and her senses, trying to yank her arm out of Faramir's grip.
"I have to find Boromir!" she said.
"He will be with us," Faramir said, still dragging her along behind him, his eyes now clear and focused, "Trust me, my brother is stubborn and overconfident, but even he is not so foolish as to take on the Nazgul alone."
As much as she wanted to believe him, Mel had seen Boromir do too many stubborn, overconfident and stupid things. She desperately searched the faces of the retreating soldiers, trying to catch a glimpse of Boromir somewhere in the surging throng, but there was no sign of him. When they reached the gates of the city, Faramir grabbed the reins of a horse and shoved them in her hand.
"I'm not leaving without him," Mel insisted.
"Neither am I." Faramir said, "If he hasn't reached the gates in five minutes, we'll go back for him, I promise."
He turned and began directing his men to horses, making sure everyone had a way to escape the city and overseeing the opening of the gates. Mel mounted up and continued to search for Boromir. Where was he? He still had his horse, so if he was coming he should be easy to spot. She was just about to take off and go back herself when Faramir pulled his horse up beside her. The men were mounted and beginning the mad dash for Minas Tirith.
"Have you seen him?" he asked.
Mel shook her head. There was another screech and she could hear the slow beating of wings. A shudder trembled through her. She shouldn't have left him. She should have stayed with him. Where was he? If they survived this, she was gonna kill him!
"Ride with the others," Faramir said, drawing his sword, "I'm going back."
"Oh no you're not!" Mel said, "You ride with the others and I'll go back!"
Faramir stared at her and then narrowed his eyes in a stubborn look that Mel was all too familiar with.
"My lady, I cannot allow..."
Mel tuned him out. It was pointless to argue with him and there was no way she was leaving without Boromir. She was just about to kick her fidgeting horse back toward the courtyard without him, when she heard the clatter of hooves on stone, faint but distinctive. She waved a hand to get Faramir to stop talking. Surprisingly, he did. They both turned toward the sound, coming from one of the darkened passageways to their left. They waited, the hoof beats getting louder and louder until finally, Boromir burst into view, riding as hard as he could toward the gates. Mel's heart leapt in her chest.
"Run!" Boromir yelled.
Mel and Faramir wheeled their horses and the three of them flew out of the gates of Osgiliath, racing across the open fields west for Minas Tirith. Mel heard more blood-curdling screeches behind them, but she didn't look back. She already knew what was chasing them: Nazgul, three of them, hurtling across the blackening sky. Mel could see the darkness rolling above them, just within her line of sight, but she kept her eyes on the group of men galloping in front of them, rushing toward a white glimmer in the distance. Her body was numb, blood pounding in her ears, waiting for one of those creatures to drop from the sky and…
The first Nazgul attacked just in front of them. The creature tore through the soldiers, scattering them in all directions. The men cried out in terror and the horses screamed in pain as claws ripped through them all. Another Nazgul flew so close over their heads that Mel ducked, grabbing two horses and letting them plunge back to earth. Mel rode past the crumpled, lifeless bodies, trying not to see, trying not to lose it. The Nazgul dropped from the sky again, more screams, more broken bodies. And still they rode on, helpless, alone… and suddenly, Mel had another coherent thought.
Gandalf, where are you?
As if in answer, a bright white light cut across the sky and struck the Nazgul like a physical blow. The black creatures reeled back, squealing as if in pain, flapping their giant wings in retreat. Mel lifted in her saddle and saw a speck of white riding toward them across the open grass. She grinned.
"Gandalf!" she shouted, so happy to see him that she didn't even consider that he couldn't possibly hear her. Both Boromir and Faramir glanced at her, but she barely even noticed. She kicked her horse and rode hard to catch up with the others, the brothers following in her wake. With the immediate danger now passed, the other men had slowed their retreat down to a brisk canter and the three who lagged behind soon caught up to the rest. Mel tried to work her way to the front, but that proved more difficult than she would have thought. She had barely managed to reach the middle of the pack when she looked up and momentarily forgot what she was doing.
Minas Tirith was quite a bit bigger than she had anticipated and much more formidable. The circular walls that made up the many levels of the city seemed carved out of the very mountainside, the city itself jutting out into the surrounding fields with all the authority of a king staking claim to his kingdom. Mel could hear trees in her head, gentle murmurings, intelligent and sophisticated, like the trees in Rivendell and Lothlorien. This was a place of knowledge and wisdom. Or at least it had been once. War changed everything.
As the men congregated in the courtyard of the first level, Mel craned her neck, trying to take in everything as she passed within the gates of the city. Boromir's sharp voice pulled her back to the present.
"Why didn't you tell me about the Nazgul?" he demanded.
Jerked from her reverent awe, Mel turned and glared at him.
"What difference would it have made?"
"It might have made all the difference!"
"You're the one who didn't stick to the plan!" Mel snapped, "We were supposed to get in, look around, and get out, not stick around and try to play heroes!"
"I could have saved that city. I just needed more time!"
"In case you hadn't noticed, time was not something we had a lot of. I told you going there was a bad idea!"
"And when, pray tell, did you become an expert in military strategy?"
"I'm not saying I'm an expert..."
A new voice broke into their argument.
"I believe I am an expert."
They both turned and stared at Faramir. He was almost slumped in his saddle with dark rings around his eyes, but he had a determined set to his jaw.
"I may not have your skill with weapons or be a master of men, Boromir, but I am most certainly an expert in strategy. The lady is right. The city was lost before you arrived, Nazgul or no. If it had been more than just the two of you riding to our rescue we might have stood a chance, but look around you. These men are exhausted. You would have led them all to their deaths."
Maybe he just needed to hear it from his brother. Boromir's expression lost all of its stubborn fight and he sighed, rubbing his face.
"You are right, Faramir. You are the strategist. I have always deferred to your wisdom in such situations. I am too rash, I suppose. I see hope where clearly hope has failed."
"Not all hope has failed," Faramir said, clasping his brother's shoulder, a relieved grin spreading over his tired face, "You are alive. Father will be overjoyed to hear it."
Mel perked up when she heard her name, in a small voice that still somehow carried over the sounds of the soldiers, a voice that she'd know anywhere. She finally spotted a white horse making its patient way toward them and two little hands waving frantically in the air. Mel smiled and pushed her way toward Gandalf and Pippin. The hobbit was practically bouncing with excitement.
"Mel, I knew you'd be here, I just knew it! Everyone's been worried sick about you, but I told them that as soon as we got here I knew you'd turn up and here you are too! I'm awfully glad to see you, Mel, really I am, to tell you the truth I was a little worried myself, but it's alright now isn't it?"
Mel smiled and ruffled the hobbit's hair.
"I told you everything would be alright, Pip. Doesn't anyone ever listen to me?"
"So, Melody Calenhiril, still alive I see."
Mel turned her smile up to the wizard, trying his best to look grumpy but not really succeeding.
"I'm glad to see you too, Gandalf. You have no idea how glad."
Gandalf finally gave up the pretense and returned her smile. He looked… younger. Despite the white hair and beard, there was an energy about him that he hadn't had as Gandalf the Grey. He seemed less like an old man and more like an ageless entity.
"I like your new look," she said, only half-joking, "White's your color."
Gandalf's face took on a tinge of amusement and he opened his mouth as if to reply, but then his eyes flitted behind her and the humor vanished, replaced by a carefully guarded expression.
"So," he murmured, "You have truly rewritten the song."
Mel looked behind her. Boromir and Faramir were making their way toward them. She looked into Gandalf's troubled face without shame or apology.
"I was given a choice. I chose life."
The wizard nodded, but his eyes remained on Boromir.
"I know of your choices. But life is not always so simple."
He finally met her eyes and something she saw there told her he knew everything. He knew about Mandos and her ultimatum, a life for a life. He knew that she was going to have to let someone die…
"Mithrandir!" Faramir's voice rang across the courtyard, "They broke our defenses. They've taken the bridge and the west bank. Battalions of orcs are crossing the river."
"It is as Lord Denethor predicted," A soldier said, "Long has he foreseen this doom!"
Gandalf glared at the man, "Foreseen and done nothing!"
He turned his horse to better face Faramir, revealing Pippin to him for the first time. Mel watched Faramir's eyes widen in surprise, but Pip only had eyes for his brother.
"Boromir!" he shouted happily.
Boromir grinned and ruffled the hobbit's hair as Mel had done just a few moments ago.
"Hello there, Master Peregrin! What are you doing in my city? And where is your faithful companion, Meriadoc? Getting into trouble I imagine, the two of you will bring Minas Tirith tumbling down from the inside if left to your own devices for long."
Pippin's face fell, "Merry... We… We left Merry with the others in Rohan."
"Rohan, you say! Why you've been quite the traveler of late haven't you?"
Gandalf's shrewd eyes were fixed on Faramir, who had not taken his surprised gaze from Pippin even once.
"This is not the first halfling to have crossed your path…"
Boromir turned to stare at his brother.
Faramir glanced up at his older brother and then dropped his eyes, as if he were embarrassed. Boromir looked at Mel, his eyes asking her the question he obviously wanted to ask his brother. Pippin's enthusiastic voice broke the silence.
"You've seen Frodo and Sam!"
Faramir nodded, once again glancing at his brother. Boromir just stared at him in shock.
"Where? When?" Gandalf asked, his face awash with relief.
"In Ithilien, not two days ago," Faramir met the wizard's eyes, "Gandalf, they were taking the road to the Morgul Vale."
Gandalf's face fell, "…and then the pass of Cirith Ungol."
Mel felt eyes burning into her and she looked up. Boromir was glaring at her. Mel felt something cold knot up in her chest. Great, what had she managed to screw up this time?
"Faramir," Gandalf said, an edge of panic in his voice, "Tell me everything."