Disclaimer: I only own Danielle. Middle Earth and everything else in it belongs to J.R.R. Tolkien.
Danielle touched her cheek and found that it was wet. She wiped it away, but her gaze remained trained on the lava that still flowed out of the volcano. "If they died -"
"Then their suffering is over, all the same." Aragorn's voice had a hard edge. His words didn't seem to bring himself any comfort, either.
Gandalf and the eagles were too far away to see, but Danielle's eyes remained fixed on Mount Doom. Her thoughts, and those of the rest of her Fellowship, were with two little hobbits who had risked their lives. Danielle wanted to believe that Sam and Frodo had made it out of the mountain, and that they were somewhere safe while they awaited the eagles' arrival, but she could not find hope in her heart. She had already spent whatever hope she could muster.
The cheers around them started to die down as the thrill of victory was replaced by urgency. Many of the soldiers were wounded, and to varying degrees. Efforts had already begun to treat wounds with what scanty supplies were available. Few men had thought to bring anything. No one had expected to survive the suicide mission. Other soldiers were looking around, searching for their friends, and starting to tally up the dead.
A few feet away, Legolas turned slowly in place as he scanned the field. His keen eyes fell on Danielle for a brief moment before carrying on with his inspection.
"Where is Pippin?" he asked. It was the first thing to pull Danielle's attention away from the mountain. She looked around and was able to pick out many of the faces she had come to know. Aragorn. Legolas. Gimli. Imrahil. Eomer. Pippin, however, was not among them.
The field was littered with bodies - men and orcs, mostly, but the occasional troll as well. Weapons were strewn in the dust in addition to severed limbs and heads, but none of them belonged to a hobbit. They were all far too large to match Pippin's stature. This provided Danielle with the faintest encouragement.
She was careful to step over bodies as her eyes scoured the ground, a task that was all the more challenging as she tried to maintain her balance. The ground seemed to shift underneath her feet and images before her slipped in and out of focus. It complicated the task of finding sturdy footing for her feet.
Danielle turned when she felt a gentle hand on her back. The very act made her balance waver.
"Perhaps you should sit." It was Aragorn.
"I can't. Not yet. Pippin-"
"I doubt if you will be the one to find him while your feet falter."
Danielle stopped, looking to Aragorn while indignation and acceptance battled in her mind. The idea of resting while members of the Fellowship were unaccounted for appalled her, but her mind felt muddled and unable to come up with words to object.
Danielle nodded in compliance just as they heard Gimli's gruff voice raise above the other soldiers.
"I have found him!" A few yards away, he was bent over by a large troll, trying to roll the body away. "It is his wee foot. I am certain."
Aragorn and Danielle exchanged a quick glance before he ran toward the dwarf, leaping over the fallen bodies with far more ease than Danielle could manage. Aragorn was right. Danielle's stomach churned and her head throbbed. She was suddenly overcome by the urge to throw up. She took a seat on the chest of a headless orc and shut her eyes as she rested her head in her hands. Even the blackness behind her lids seemed to swim.
She glanced up when the threat of losing her breakfast had lessened, and saw Gimli lay a limp hobbit down on the ground. Aragorn bent over him, removing Pippin's armor and examining him, but other than that she could not tell what was going on. Danielle could not see from that distance whether the hobbit's chest rose and fell, or if he was gravely wounded.
Aragorn turned to Eomer, who then went to speak to a few other soldiers. They ran off, heading to find their horses. Danielle wondered where they were going. To send word of their victory? To get additional aid?
Danielle removed her armor, taking off her vest and her mail. As the pressure let off on her shoulders, she felt a weight lift from her heart. The fighting was over. There would be no more battles. She couldn't comprehend such a concept. Everything she'd done since she'd arrived in Middle Earth had prepared her for that final battle. What, now, was she to do?
She inhaled sharply as she removed her padded leather undershirt, leaving only her tunic behind. Surprisingly, the pain didn't originate from her shoulder. Danielle touched her fingers gingerly to her side, only now remembering the orc with the blade that came to a fine point. When she inspected her hand, she found her fingertips coated in scarlet blood. She was bleeding through her tunic. Danielle lifted her shirt up a few inches and tried to turn her head to get a better look, but found the task difficult. Even so, she could see the size of the blood stain. She had been lucky. Had she not worn the extra leather armor under her mail, the sword would have surely pierced deeper.
Though it didn't seem to be a heavy bleed, she knew she needed to staunch the flow. She had not brought any linen with her into battle, and so she was faced with the challenge of finding clean fabric to fashion into bandage. It seemed inappropriate to tear a strip from the clothes of the men she had fought with, but nor was she keen to search for fabric covered in orc filth. Instead, she ripped off the right sleeve of her own tunic. As soon as she did, she spotted the long slash down her arm. It was a shallow cut, one that had resulted in her losing her vambrace, though neither this nor the scratch caught her attention.
Danielle's eyes lingered on her empty wrist - the wrist that once bore the bracelet she'd fashioned from the sweater she'd been wearing when she first arrived in Middle Earth. It was gone. Heat rose to her face as she checked her other wrist, sliding up the sleeve of her tunic in hope of finding that she had misremembered where she had put her memento from home. Her left wrist, too, was bare. There was also the square of denim she'd tucked away in the knot of her belt, but she'd already removed that. Danielle looked about her, hoping to find a square of denim or scraps of yarn lying next to her feet, by her hips, on her lap, though it wasn't necessary. She knew in the deepest depths of her heart that they were gone. Sometime between the moment she'd stepped out of her tent that morning and her attempt to stagger through the ruined battlefield, the square of denim had slipped out of her belt, lost to the war. Really, if they were the only things she'd lost over the entire course of the war, she should consider herself extraordinarily blessed. Yet, overwhelmed by exhaustion and vertigo and surrounded by carnage and death, she sat stunned. Her heart grew heavy and pressure built in her chest as she mourned the loss of some of the only treasures she possessed. They were all she had left of her home. But perhaps they had served their purpose - she had made it through the battle alive.
Moisture clung to Danielle's lashes, but she paid them no attention. She told herself to move on, and ripped her sleeve down the length of the arm to form two long strips. They had been silly trinkets, really. Danielle tried to remember this as she tied the linen together to form a long bandage. She wrapped it tightly around her ribs and hoped it would stay in place. There was nothing else she could do while they remained at Morannon.
The soldiers turned, now, toward Mount Doom. Danielle, realizing this, shifted her gaze as well, and spotted three figures in the air, approaching them. As they drew closer, she recognized the eagles, and as they began their descent she could make out Gandalf on the back of one and two small bodies in the talons of the other two. Danielle's breathing hitched as the eagles rested them gently on the ground, near where Aragorn stood. The soldiers of Gondor and Rohan drew closer, blocking the hobbits from view. As soon as Gandalf slid off his eagle, he, too, disappeared into the crowd.
Danielle stood now, not about to let her dizziness keep her away from Frodo and Sam. Her entire focus was on them - on making her way around the bodies strewn on the ground despite the way the world seemed to sway with each step, and on trying to hold back the dread that pooled in the pit of her gut. Were they all right? Had they survived? She almost couldn't bear to consider what she might see when she made it through.
Danielle pushed her way through the crowd of men that quickly formed around them, but she could tell she was close. Already she could hear Gandalf's voice rise above the curious whispers around her.
"My deepest thanks, Gwaihir."
When Danielle broke through to the center, she found the two hobbits laying on the ground, but she could not tell how badly they were hurt. They were emaciated, their rounded hobbit features replaced by prominent cheekbones and bony arms. Their clothes were torn and covered in blood and filth, and the skin that was visible bore a sickly pallor and a myriad of cuts and abrasions, but they were breathing. She could see the faint rise and fall that proved that they were still alive, if nothing else.
"They're alive," she said, relief coloring her voice.
"If only just," Gandalf said. "We found them on a protrusion of rock surrounded by a sea of lava."
"I may be able to help them," said Aragorn, who was crouched beside Frodo, "but our supplies are too few." He held a thin strip of fabric, and wrapped it around Frodo's left wrist with several firm tugs. The linen was far too tight, it seemed, to treat a wrist injury. It was then that Danielle realized that what she thought was a bandage was actually a tourniquet. For the first time, Danielle noticed Frodo's hand, which was dripping with blood.
"What happened to his finger?"
"One of the consequences of bearing the Ring as long as he did, I suspect," Gandalf said.
"I shall need more suitable bindings, but this should stop the bleed," Aragorn said as he lifted Frodo in his arms. "I fear he will lose his hand if we linger here. We must hasten back to our tents and then make for Ithilien. Every minute we delay bears a hefty price for Frodo and other soldiers."
At their campsite, the canvas tents were deconstructed. Many soldiers had died, and so they would need fewer tents for their return journey. Those tents that were fully dismantled were fashioned into better, more sanitary dressings for soldier wounds. The additional provisions that had been left by the campsite were quickly used up as the wounded were treated, and still they did not have enough.
As soon as Aragorn tended Sam and Frodo's injuries as well as possible with their supplies, he knelt before Danielle. She sat on a roll of canvas with her head resting in her hands in an attempt to soothe it, and so did not see Aragorn until he knelt before her. The dizziness was beginning to fade, but the throbbing ache that radiated from the back of her skull persisted.
"How is your head?"
Danielle's fingers trailed to the back of her head, feeling the knot that was beginning to raise there. It was tender to the touch. "It's getting a little better, but I've got a pounding headache." She suspected that there was little she could do for the ache.
"It could have been far worse."
Danielle met Aragorn's gaze. Yes, indeed it could have been. She could have died - would have, even, had he not intervened. "You weren't supposed to put yourself at risk for me."
"You are right. I promised I would not, and yet given the outcome, I cannot find it in my heart to regret it."
Danielle reached up, resting her hand against his cheek. "You almost died because of it."
"I could not let the images in the Palantir play out before me." As Aragorn pressed his hand over hers, his look of assuredness - the look he had born since they had left their tent that morning - faltered. The man before her was neither ranger nor King. "It was enough that they were ever present in my mind since first I saw them. I could not bear them, but now maybe I can find peace. Had I done nothing they would have followed me until the end of my days."
"And if you died?" Danielle asked. "You can't honestly believe that wouldn't have stayed with me for the rest of mine. By all rights you should have died. If Frodo hadn't -" she cut herself off as a new thought occurred to her. "Do you think that Sauron might have counted on you trying to protect me?" It was a thought that chilled her. "I think he knew you would, and thought it would kill you. I think that's why he showed it to you." The more Danielle thought it through, the more certain she was of Sauron's intentions. It would have been the most strategic move to make. "He wanted you to keep an eye on me and intervene, and the only reason you sit here now is because the Ring was destroyed before it could all play out."
"That may well have been his purpose," Aragorn said, his eyes heavy on her. It occurred to Danielle that this was not the first time he had considered Sauron's motives. "Fortune was with us for many reasons, today."
"What if it wasn't? How was I supposed to live with that if you had died for me?"
"You cannot ask me to allow you to die without intervention while there is still strength in me to fight. Perhaps it was a reasonable request when first we set out, but we have surpassed that by leagues."
Danielle had no words for that. Instead, she leaned forward and pulled Aragorn to her in a desparate kiss. His lips were tense as they molded to hers, but they softened as he drew her into his arms. She loved this man. She had never felt it so strongly as she did in that moment, unable to let go of her grief for events that had not come to pass. She saw that same grief in Aragorn's eyes, in the way he clung to her as though she might slip away. They had almost lost each other, but she didn't want to sour the moment by fixating on hypothetical losses. She wanted to forget that despair and focus on what they did have. This was the closest thing they'd had to time alone since they had parted ways before the battle. She hadn't expected to have more time, and suddenly it stretched out ahead of them.
Btu with that came unwelcome thoughts that loomed in her mind, refusing to be silenced. Winning the war also meant that Aragorn's birthright would be realized. Would that time still stretch on once he was King?
Aragorn was the first to pull away. "Perhaps this is not the time," he said. Danielle nodded, knowing he was right.
Danielle kept her worries to herself as Aragorn fashioned a sling from a large sheet of canvas. She immediately knew it was for her right arm, to keep from further straining her shoulder. It would finally receive the time it needed to heal, though the pain from it was minimal compared to her throbbing head and the puncture wound in her side. She didn't have much hope for it healing properly anymore. Her care for it had been appalling, despite Lanya's and Aragorn's best efforts to keep her arm immobile.
"Where are Sam and Frodo?" Danielle asked as she watched Aragorn rip a long section of canvas.
"Gandalf is monitoring them," he said. "I have treated as well as can be done with the supplies we thought to bring."
"Are they going to be okay?"
"They will do better when we reach Ithilien, but yes, their bodies will mend."
Danielle ducked her head as Aragorn slipped the sling over her head. He handled her arm gingerly as he helped her ease her arm into place in the folds of the fabric. She couldn't help but wonder about the hobbits' psychological health. She had no way to know what they had faced once they had broken away from the rest of the Fellowship. "And their emotional state?"
Aragorn was silent for a moment as he considered this. "That remains to be seen."
I am so sorry I've been MIA! This semester was far busier than I expected it to be. Honestly, I think I burned out a little. I would have been fine if I hadn't been juggling working on my program at the same time. I would often finish my work super late and simply not have the energy to write. I think I've learned my lesson. Any major writing I'm going to do will take place over more substantial breaks. That's not to say I won't ever do work over the school year - I never have a say in when my creative muse will hit - but I think that is how I will operate as a writer for the most part.
Anyway, I'm excited to have time to breathe again. I think the distance helped, because I've been hit by this new wave of excitement to finish Danielle and Aragorn's story. But now, I am back and excited to start writing again :) My goal is to finish writing this story from Danielle's P.O.V., then do some much-needed editing for some of the earlier chapters (I'm noticing more and more how rushed they are), and yes, I still plan on doing some chapters that show Aragorn's P.O.V. for the story.
Thank you for being patient with me. You won't regret it ;)