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That Which They Defend, Part Two



TWO: HORNS IN THE HILLS RINGING




We heard of the horns in the hills ringing,
the swords shining in the South-kingdom.
Steeds went striding to the Stoningland
as wind in the morning. War was kindled.

--Song of the Mounds of Mundburg, “The Battle of Pelennor Fields,” The Return of the King


It was decided that in four days’ time the Riders of Rohan would depart to Minas Tirith, the White City of Gondor. Gandalf and Pippin would themselves be leaving later that same morning. They wouldn’t say why, but Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, and Merry all shared the same close-lipped, haggard look. Afterwards Aragorn lingered, frowning.

“Your brow is dark and fretful, my friend,” Éomer said to the man. “What ails you? I know it wasn’t too much drink in the night.”

“Yeah, none of us know anything about that,” Jim said, rubbing his forehead. He had a burgeoning headache, and his face felt raw from his earlier attempt at shaving. Éomer glanced at him, mouth twitching in reluctant amusement, but Aragorn seemed oblivious.

“I must go down also to Minas Tirith, but I do not yet see the road,” he said quietly. “An hour long prepared approaches.”

Éomer frowned thoughtfully, then exhaled as if making some difficult decision. He knelt down on one knee, and looked Aragorn in the eye from where he sat. The dark-haired man stared at him, startled. “If you would be a King of Men,” Éomer said softly, “know that your time is upon you.” He paused. “And that the Marshal of the Riddermark will ride at your side, if you would have him.”

Aragorn nodded slowly. “I thank you for this, my friend.”

“So what was that all about?” Jim asked curiously afterwards. Éomer raised a quizzical eyebrow. “That whole pledging of allegiance thing back there,” he elaborated helpfully.

“Théoden King resents Gondor,” Éomer answered. “It is no easy thing for him to send our spears to the defense of Minas Tirith. Rohan has long suffered at the hands of the Orcs—and of Saruman. Gondor has sent us no aid in generations past, though we have long held to the Oath of Eorl—an old promise to come to Gondor’s aid should she call,” he explained.

Jim nodded thoughtfully. “And you’re going now because the War is—“

“Yes,” Éomer said. “It will end soon—one way or another.”

~

The rest of the day was spent making further plans before they rode to war. To Jim’s surprise, he discovered that while he understood those around him when they spoke the language they called Westron—a kind of default Standard—he couldn’t understand the other tongues they used. He had heard Rohirric before, when Éomer sang his grave-song for Théodred, but he found he also couldn’t understand Legolas when he spoke Elvish, or Gimli when he spoke the Dwarvish language he called Khuzdul. And while those around him spoke Westron when he was in the company of the other strangers to Edoras, he found that in the time he had to himself that everyone spoke Rohirric unless directly addressing him.

“Why are you so confounded?” Éomer asked Jim at one point. “Surely you did not expect all the races of Arda to speak a single tongue?” He frowned as Jim must have looked guilty. “You did?” he exclaimed in surprise—and not a little amusement. “What sort of traveler are you, that you spend so little time with strange tongues?”

“I—have an officer for that,” Jim admitted. “It’s her job to translate languages when we don’t have access to a universal translator.” Jim thought regretfully back to his Xenolinguistics classes. They had been an interest of his back at the Academy, but the study of alien languages took time and deliberation—neither of which he readily had here. His time was largely spent practicing his swordplay with Éomer or one of his men, like Erkenbrand or Grimbold, who were two of his most trusted lieutenants. The rest of his time was spent helping other Rohirrim with other necessary tasks before they left. Though still hesitant about what to make of Jim, they nonetheless treated the stranger in their midst with a careful politeness—a courtesy that no doubt had quite a bit to do with his—friendship, if you could call it that—with the Marshal.

“What is a—universal translator?” Éomer pronounced the words slowly, taking care to get the unfamiliar phrase correct.

“It’s a—“ Jim paused, trying to think of how to describe the device in its simplest terms. “It’s a machine,” he said after a moment. “A very small machine that you carry around, so that when you talk to someone who speaks a different language than you do, it translates for you, and you both understand one another.”

“A talking machine?” Éomer frowned. “There are dozens of languages spoken in Arda—Westron, Rohirric, Sindarin, all the dialects of the Haradrim and the Easterlings. Are you telling me this machine of yours could understand all of those?

Jim nodded. “All of them and more,” he said. “It was invented over a century ago by one of the earliest Federation explorers, a woman named Hoshi Sato. With the universal translator, people can speak to one another, understand one another.” He paused, eyeing the man beside him. “Find out all the things they have in common.”

Éomer grunted dubiously. “Do the people of your Federation lack the wits and tongues to do such things themselves, that they must build things to do them instead?” he asked scathingly.

Whoa. Jim hadn’t been prepared for that. “No,” he said. “But—machines like that make life easier. Better.”

“Ha!” Éomer snorted. “Tell me, then, Man of the Stars: Do you also have machines that cook for you, clothe you, and fight for you?”

Jim hesitated to answer before this onslaught, and his hesitation was enough to bring forth another offensive. “You do, don’t you?” Éomer cried in disgust. “Blessed Eru! What a waste!”

“How is it a waste?” Jim asked, nettled by the man’s infuriating—cynicism, he supposed. He’s as bad as Bones! “If it helps people, how can it be a waste?”

“There are things Men should do for themselves,” Éomer said stolidly. “How else would one know what—what life is about? It is better far to do things for yourself, than to sit back and watch them be done for you.”

Jim stared at the man, mouth twitching.

Éomer frowned at him, shifting slightly. “What?” he said, as Jim continued to stare.

“You,” Jim said slowly, with both amusement and wonder, “are. A. Romantic.”

Éomer blinked. “What?”

“A Romantic,” Jim said. “It was a historical movement on old Earth. The Romantics idealized nature and feeling over science and rationale. They felt that the aesthetics of emotion overruled those of deductive reasoning.”

The Rohir grunted. “This is more of your foolish prattle.” He paused for a moment. “Did these Romantics of yours have any decent songs?” he asked.

Jim grinned. “Let me tell you about this guy named William Blake,” he said. “I think you’d like him.”

~

The next days were busy ones: Time was spent building the funeral pyres of fallen brethren, or entombing them in the burial mounds of old, as was the way of some of the older kith of Edoras. Supplies were gathered and packed for the Éoreds making the journey to Gondor, while those who would be staying behind renewed what fortifications there were to the walled city. Should Minas Tirith fall, Jim was told, then Edoras would be one of the last holds of the Free Men of Arda. And Éowyn would lead them, with Erkenbrand staying as her Marshal.

She was less than pleased about this, to put it mildly. The night before they were to leave, she, Aragorn, Éomer, and Jim sat together at the leave-taking feast. It was a subdued affair, with many men leaving as soon as they could to spend a last few hours with their wives and families if they had them, or friends and sweethearts if they did not.

“Shall I always be so chosen to be left behind?” Éowyn demanded bitterly. “Shall I always be left behind when the Riders depart, to mind the house while they win renown, and find food and beds when they return?”

“Peace, sister,” Éomer said gently. He took her firmly by the upper arms and pressed a kiss to her forehead. “We do these things because we must, not because we would have them so.”

“It’s important,” Jim offered. She glared at him scathingly, but he refused to back down. “It is,” he said. “If it comes to it, you’re the last line of defense. You don’t put your weakest soldiers there.”

“Nor your strongest,” she shot back. She turned to Aragorn. “I can fight!” she said. “I learned the way of the sword beside my brother. My wits are quick, my arm is strong, my heart is brave—“

“Well do we know it, Lady,” Aragorn said peacably. “Nonetheless, I say to you: Stay, for you have no errand to the South.”

“Neither have those others who go with you,” she said, shaking her head. She turned her sharp gaze on her brother, and then on Jim. “They go only because they would not be parted from you.” And with that, she disappeared into the night.

The men watched her go.

“Yeah, that went well,” Jim said.

Éomer glared at him. “She fears being caged,” he said. “I expect that’s something a Man from the Stars would have little knowledge of.”

Jim thought of Iowa, then: of the bars he had spent too much time in, of the frustration and the loathing he had felt for his Uncle’s farm. Of the expectations of being George Kirk’s son.

Yeah, he knew all about cages alright.

Éomer frowned at him, expression quizzical. Jim supposed some of what he had been thinking must have shown on his face. The other man said nothing, however, for which he was grateful.

To Jim’s frustration, Éomer had become distant again, the closeness of the night three days previous dissipating in the light of day. He supposed it was just as well—he didn’t need any physical entanglements in this strange new world—but nonetheless he regretted it. He genuinely liked the Horse-Lord, Jim discovered, in a way he seldom appreciated people. Éomer was gruff and blunt, but he was also funny when he had a mind to be so. He loved his sister deeply, and though he and Éowyn could (and did—frequently) argue like cats and dogs, it was clear that the siblings respected and cared for one another.

Once again, Jim regretted the estrangement from his own family as he watched them together.

Éomer also cared deeply about his people, and seemed to know the name and relationships of everyone in Edoras. Which, Jim reflected, was probably not that unusual considering he’d spent his entire life there, but still—the city was easily home to over a thousand people. The man was a natural leader, and Jim couldn’t help but think that the Rohir would have made one hell of a starship captain in another world.

Yes, the more Jim came to know the man, the more he liked him. And this was a problem.

It wasn’t unusual for Jim to quickly develop intense connections with people in certain situations. Hell, he was kind of known for it, really. But usually these brief attractions lasted a matter of days, and he would be gone on the next mission before the infatuation had time to blow up in his face—or that of his partner. But there was no telling how long that would be, here.

Radagast had said he would return for Jim when the War was over. When exactly would that be?

Uncertain, Jim focused on just getting through each day, on doing what he could, where he could. He and the Rohir continued to banter good naturedly as they went about their work, and Éomer was remarkably patient during their lessons in swordplay. It seemed to be the custom here for people to share beds: literally share beds, actually sleeping with one another. And so each night Jim and Éomer lay in the bed in the man’s room, usually falling asleep almost immediately—to Jim’s disappointment.

It’s better this way, Kirk, he told himself firmly. So deal.

~

And so the next morning found Edoras in tumult as the Riders of Rohan prepared to move. Éomer took his place at their head, riding at the side of his Uncle. As the Third Marshal of the Riddermark, it was his duty to keep the men in formation.

“Riders of Rohan!” he cried. “Oaths you have taken! Now fulfill them all, to lord and land!”

“Haaaa!” came the resounding shouts from the men, as spears were raised in accord.

“Ride!” Éomer ordered, voice ringing clear in the cool spring air, and then they were moving.

Jim and Seren rode nearby, Grimbold flanking him. Legolas and Gimli shared a steed and rode beside them, as did Aragorn. They chatted amiably as they traveled, exchanging stories of their various adventures. The Elf spoke of his home in Mirkwood, where he and his kind apparently spent most of their time hunting giant spiders. Gimli told of the Blue Mountains and the dragon called Smaug the Golden that once lived there.

“A dragon,” Jim repeated in disbelief. “You mean a giant, flying lizard that breathes fire?”

Gimli regarded him sourly. “Is there another kind?”

Legolas and Aragorn both smiled at that, though they did their best to hide their amusement.

“I—don’t know,” Jim admitted. “We don’t really have dragons back—back home.”

“Tell us then, Rodorbeorn,” Grimbold said, “of your home in the stars.”

Rodorbeorn?” Jim repeated blankly.

“It means ‘sky warrior,’” said Éomer. He glanced back at Jim.

“We need to call you something,” Grimbold explained.

“There’s something wrong with ‘Jim’?” Jim asked, bewildered.

“It’s dangerous to have only one name, laddy,” Gimli explained seriously. “Suppose a witch or fiend were to call you up by your name—they could ensorcel you so you might never escape, and where would you be then?”

“Uh huh,” Jim said dubiously.

“It’s true,” Grimbold said earnestly.

“Alright then,” Jim said, “what’s your other name then?”

“Grimslade,” the man answered proudly. “It is also the home from whence I hail,” he explained.

Somehow Jim hadn’t expected such a quick answer. “And you?” Jim asked Aragorn curiously.

The dark man shifted slightly. “I am called Strider by the Rangers of the North,” he said, “and Estel by the Elven folk of Rivendell.”

“Oh,” Jim said.

“It is our custom, Man of the Stars,” Éomer said. He flashed a small smile of amusement. “Spoke you to me not earlier of the importance of following the ways of other peoples?”

“And what’s your other name then?” Jim asked the Horse-Lord.

“Some call me Eoh,” the Rohir said.

Eoh?” Jim echoed. That was—underwhelming. “That’s it?”

“It means ‘war-horse’ in our tongue,” Grimbold explained. “It is a name of good omen for the Marshal of the Mark.”

“You should tell us of the stars you travel,” Aragorn said, changing the subject. “The Elves say the stars were the first creations of Elbereth, and so the first lights seen by the Eldar.”

Jim frowned, unsure of what to say. “They are like lights,” he said at last, “burning lights with enough fuel to burn for millenia.” That was true enough. “We call them suns. Planets circle around them, and many planets hold life—races, people—and so we visit them.”

“In your star ships?” Aragorn asked. When Jim nodded, the Ranger added, “And you captain such a vessel?”

“I do,” Jim said. He smiled, thinking of the Enterprise. “She’s one of the largest ships in the fleet. Over four hundred people live and work on her.”

“A mighty vessel indeed,” Legolas said. He began singing softly in Elvish, then translated his words to Westron:

He built a boat of timber felled
in Nimbrethil to journey in
her sails he wove of silver fair
of silver were her lanterns made
her prow was fashioned like a swan
and light upon her banners laid..


“Thus is the description of Eärindil’s craft Vingilótë,” he concluded. “They say the ship remains in the sky ever after, where the Silmaril remains upon his brow as the Star of Eärindil, the Morning Star.”

They continued talking, and the hours passed by. It was past evening and the moon was rising when a Rohir rode hastily to the King’s side. “My lord,” he said, “there are horsemen behind us!”

“Who are they?” Jim asked immediately.

“Are they marked?” Éomer demanded at the same time. “Do they bear the White Hand of Saruman, or some other sign?”

“I know not, my lord,” said the Rohir. “But they press closer!”

“Halt!” Théoden called, and as one the Riders turned, bearing their spears upwards. Aragorn leapt from his mount and stood on foot by the King.

Jim could see the riders in the distance now, bearing close on them. He swallowed, holding his spear tightly. You can do this, Kirk, he told himself firmly. It’s no different than any other fight you’ve had in your life. He was suddenly very aware of the foreign heaviness of his armor and arms. Okay, it’s different, he admitted. But you can still do this.

“Halt!” cried Éomer. “Halt! Who rides in Rohan?”

The furious sound of the approaching riders abruptly hushed as they stopped short, pulling abreast of them some meters away. A lone man dismounted and walked forward slowly, hands up in the near-universal sign of non-aggression. “Rohan?” the man asked in a clear voice. “Rohan did you say?”

“This is the realm of Théoden King,” said Éomer. “None ride here save by his leave. Who are you, and what is your haste?”

Aragorn looked on quizzically, and then he smiled. “Halbarad?” he cried incredulously. “My kinsman? Is that you?”

“Aragorn?” The man sounded just as surprised as the dark-haired man, who had by now sheathed his sword and joined him. “Aragorn, son of Arathorn!” he said in delight. “It is you! My lord, the Grey Company of the North has come to offer you our swords!”

“More Dúnadain,” Éomer said. He turned to Jim, rolling his eyes heavenward in irritation. Apparently the Rohirrim weren’t particularly fond of these Rangers. He turned to Grimbold and to his Uncle. “We may as well make our camp here,” he said.

Théoden nodded. “Agreed,” he said. “Make it so, nephew.”

~

It turned out that the Dúnadain Rangers were both friends and family to Aragorn. Among them were two Elves known as Elladan and Elrohir, who were brothers to Arwen, who was sort of Aragorn’s girlfriend.

Or something.

“Man I wish Bones were here,” Jim grumbled to himself as he took a turn with other men at digging latrine pits. “Or Spock. Or Uhura—she could keep all these people straight.”

His friends and ship seemed farther away with every day that passed. He had been in Arda for over a week now. Showers—sonic or otherwise—were a distant, fond memory, as were clean uniforms, razors, and anything that didn’t smell of horse. He scratched at the growth of beard on his chin; he had to wait to shave every few days until the hairs were long enough to cut with something like ease.

His penchant for shaving, and his use of the herbal salve that Éomer had provided him (which turned out to be some sort of cleaning concoction used on the coats of the horses, making them gleam) for the purpose was a source of good-natured fun to the Rohirrim.

Well, mostly good-natured.

“Are you a fancy man?” one Rohir had asked him. He had been a thickset man a few years older than Jim, with an ugly turn to his lip that reminded him of Finnegan—one of the more unpleasant characters he had known at the Academy. His name was Herubrand.

“A what?” Jim had stared at the man, confused. There was uneasy laughter from the men around them.

“You know, a lover of boys?” Herubrand had said. “A cocksucker?”

Shit. Some things never changed. Jim immediately adopted loose body language, keeping his eyes on the men around him. Only this Herubrand seemed keen to make trouble, at least.

“What if I am?” he asked smoothly. “And let me just say in advance: No, I’m definitely not interested in sucking your cock.” He beamed with false sunniness.

Several of the men laughed at that—louder, and with approval. Jim could tell from the mood that they weren’t all that keen on Herubrand themselves, and he allowed himself to relax just a little.

The man in question wore an ugly expression on his face now. “You are no man of Rohan, and yet you are here among us,” he said. “You wear our arms and ride one of our mounts, but you are no Rohir.”

“I never claimed to be,” Jim said steadily.

“Yon Ranger, Elf, and Dwarf ride with us as well,” said another man. Jim thought his name was Guthláf. “They fought with us at the Hornburg. They are friends of the King.”

“Well we know how carefully the King chooses his friends,” Herubrand said dourly. “Like Gríma Wormtongue.”

Guthláf hissed at that. “Careful, you fool,” he said.

“What of it?” Herubrand said. “We all know what happened there.”

Jim was bored of this, as were several of the other men around him, and he went back to his work. A heavy hand fell on his shoulder. “Mind yourself, fancy boy,” Herubrand said, and then he was gone.

He debated about whether to relate the encounter to Éomer, but finally decided to address the matter indirectly.

“So,” he said with feigned casualness as they sat together in the Man’s tent, having finished their evening meal, “I have a question.”

Éomer eyed him curiously. “Speak, then,” he said.

Jim paused a moment, trying to put it into words. As the Rohir continued to regard him with that single-minded intensity that was all his own, Jim remembered the man’s earlier demand for honesty. So he gave it to him. “Some of the Rohirrim are—talking about us,” he said.

Éomer frowned. “Explain,” he said shortly.

His tone was exactly like Bones’s before the CMO lost his shit. Icy and then—volcanic.

“Forget I said anything,” Jim said hurriedly.

The Rohir shook his head. “Speak, James T. Kirk, Rodorbeorn,” he said, “and speak you plain.”

Jim let out a long breath; it whistled slightly between his teeth. “A couple of guys think we’re fucking,” he said bluntly.

To his surprise, the Rohir snorted in amusement, letting loose a short bark of laughter.

Jim felt himself relax. “I thought you’d be—angry.”

Éomer shook his head. “The love of men is naught to be ashamed of,” he said dismissively. “Among our people, so long as one does one’s duty to provide children, one’s bedmates are one’s own business.” He shrugged, then looked at Jim curiously. “Why did you think I would be angry?”

“It’s hard to explain,” Jim said slowly. “In my culture, the freedom to choose one’s…bedmates is relatively new. After World War Three and the Eugenics Wars, the ability to have healthy children became more difficult. People who could reproduce without defects—people who could have children easily,” he explained at Éomer’s puzzled frown, “were encouraged to do so as much as possible. This meant that for several generations that progress that had been made for the equality of genders—men and women having the same rights—was pushed back to what it had been several centuries before that. There were rules about what women could or couldn’t do—people thought women wouldn’t make good starship Captains, for instance.”

“Your shield-maidens were not allowed to ride into battle?” Éomer said, nodding. “I see. It has been similar in Rohan. Once many women were shield-maidens, and now they have become very few. My mother was one of the last of her generation.” His expression softened. “Éowyn wishes to follow her example.”

Jim felt his lips quirk upwards at the thought of his friend’s sister. Her fierceness reminded him of Uhura, he realized suddenly, and he felt once more the tug of homesickness for his friends. Pushing those thoughts aside, he continued, “Anyway, back then, people who chose to be in same-sex relationships, or just sleep with the same sex, were mistreated—violently, in some cases. When you and I—the other night—“ He felt himself flush, remembering the surprising intensity of his response to the Rohir’s carresses. “—I thought your customs were like our own, now—where it’s acceptable to sleep with whoever you want. But then, from what—what that guy said,” and he caught himself, not wishing to name the man, “I wondered if maybe I was wrong, if maybe that was something to be ashamed of here.”

All this time Éomer had listened thoughtfully, and when he was done the other man was silent for a long moment. “James T. Kirk,” he said at last, “the other night, I spoke to you of the old tradition of the gúthwinë. It is not uncommon for men who share this bond to share their beds as well.” His hazel eyes were dark, echoes of firelight glimmering in their depths. “I am drawn to you, James T. Kirk. Seren loves you, and it is rare for one even only partly Mearas to be so moved by one who is not of the Rohirrim born. You have a good heart. And you are a true warrior, for all that you prattle like a foolish child.”

“Thanks,” Jim said, making a face.

Éomer shot him a look, part amusement and part irritation. “I wish to bed you most mightily,” he concluded.

It took Jim a moment for his brain to catch up with this. “Éomer. Eoh,” he said slowly, using the man’s other name for the first time, “are you saying that you want to have sex with me?”

The Rohir glared at him. “Is that not what I just said?” he demanded.

Normally, Jim Kirk would have had something more to say on the matter, but in this case he chose to let actions speak for him instead. He pulled the Rohir to him, kissing the Man in relief. Éomer’s mouth opened to his hungrily, and for a long moment Jim savored just the sensation of their lips and tongues together.

The Rohir groaned softly, pushing Jim to the ground. Thankfully it was carpeted with a thin rug over the newborn grass of the field. Éomer tugged at Jim’s tunic insistently, slipping a warm hand inside and palming his nipple.

“My lord?” A voice outside of the tent. Jim and Éomer disengaged, springing apart in startlement.

“What is it?” The Rohir’s voice was thick with frustration.

“My Lord, Théoden King requests your presence in his tent. Now, sir.”

Éomer and Jim exchanged a look. So much for mighty bedding, Jim thought ruefully.

~

Jim followed Éomer to the King’s tent. Grimbold and Halbarad were there, as were Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli, and several other men that Jim didn’t recognize. No one questioned Jim’s presence at this meeting; it seemed by now that it was expected of him to act as the Marshal’s shadow.

“I have received ill news, nephew,” Théoden said when they entered. “We have mustered a further six thousand spears—no more.”

Éomer’s expression darkened. Jim didn’t know what numbers they would be facing, but from the grim faces around the room, it sounded like the odds were bad indeed. The Rohir turned to Halbarad. “Can we expect any further aid from the Rangers of the North?” he asked. “Or what of the Elves of Rivendell?”

Halbarad bowed in apology. “The Grey Company are at your service, as you know. The other Dúnadain are yet occupied with the Enemy in the North country—we are what could be spared to come to Aragorn’s aid,” he said.

A dark-haired Elf—Jim wasn’t sure if it was Elladan or Elrohir; he couldn’t tell the twins apart—stepped forward. “Our Father, Lord Elrond, sent what enforcements he could to Helm’s Deep, and gave us word to pass on to our foster-brother here.” He nodded at Aragorn. “We have done so. There is no more that Rivendell can do for you now.”

Aragorn frowned, as if coming to a decision. “By your leave, lord,” he said to Théoden, “I must take new counsel for myself and my kindred. We must ride our own road, and no longer in secret. For me the time of stealth has passed. I will ride east by the swiftest way, and I will take the Paths of the Dead.”

“The Paths of the Dead?” Théoden echoed. “Are you mad?”

Jim looked at the pale, astonished faces of the Rohirrim around him, and at the determined face of Aragorn, flanked by Legolas and Gimli. The Ranger seemed to be least disturbed at the prospect of all the men. “I don’t get it,” Jim said. “What are the Paths of the Dead?”

Théoden shook his head. “If there be in truth such paths,” the King said, “then their gate is in Dunharrow. But they say no living man may pass by those roads!”

Éomer’s expression was stern. “Aragorn, my friend,” he said to the dark-haired man, “I had hoped that we should ride to war together. But if you seek the Paths of the Dead, then our parting is come—and it is unlikely that we shall ever meet again.”

Aragorn gave the Rohir a small smile. “It is a road I will take nonetheless, my friend,” he said. “But I say to you, Éomer, that in battle we may yet meet again, though all the hosts of Mordor should stand between.”

They went their separate ways then: Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli to these strange Paths of the Dead; Éomer and Théoden to confer; Merry returning with a frown to a tall Rohir called Dernhelm that Jim had seen him talking to often.

A few hours later, they broke camp, riding on to Minas Tirith.

~

They could hear the Enemy for a long time before they finally saw them. The men around him were silent, listening, and then Théoden began to sing one of their battle songs—and the Rohirrim took the melody of it up so that by the time they reached the battle-field proper they could only vaguely hear the sound of the opposing army.

Pelennor Fields stretched out for many miles around the White City of Gondor. The earth was brown under their feet, dead brown grass hesitantly displaced by newly growing greenery. If any one lived long enough to see it, the spring would bring a beautiful summer, Jim could tell with his old farmboy’s instincts.

The city of Minas Tirith itself looked like a gleaming jewel in the distance: shining and white, as beautiful and ageless as a diamond. It was too bad a massive army of Uruk-hai, Orcs, and Trolls stood between them and it.

The line of Rohirrim was spread out across the field, thousands of them. Seren shifted underneath him, exhaling impatiently.

“Steady, girl,” he murmured softly.

Nearby, Théoden was dispensing orders to his Marshals. “Éomer, take your Èored down the left flank. Gamling, follow the King's banner down the center. Grimbold, take your company right, after you pass the wall.” The men nodded, returning to their respective Éoreds.

Éomer and Firefoot joined Jim and Seren. “And so we find ourselves at the hour that tests the souls of Men, my gúthwinë,” he said with a wild smile that sent a chill down Jim’s back.

“Is that what you call it?” Jim asked mildly. “I always called this the part where we kick ass and take names, but that’s just, y’know, me.”

The Marshal of the Mark nodded in approval. “Well said, James T. Kirk, Rodorbeorn. We shall indeed take the names of those who fight and die here, and sing songs until our own days are ended.”

“Great,” Jim said gruffly. “That’s a hell of a St. Crispin Day’s speech for you, right there.”

Éomer would have answered, but by then the King was riding up and down the line of Rohirrim, urging them to battle fury. “Forth, and fear no darkness! Arise!” he cried. “Arise, Riders of Théoden! Spears shall be shaken, shields shall be splintered! A sword day! A red day—ere the sun rises! Haa!

“Haa!” The Rohirrim cried back.

“See that?” Jim said mostly to himself. “That’s how you do a speech.”

And then they were moving.

Fast.

Jim had been in plenty of battles, but never one like this. There was an old Earth proverb: In space, no one can hear you scream. Dirtside, surrounded by thousands and thousands of men and horses, Jim could hear plenty of screaming: savage cries of exultation, of fear, of death.

Jim had been a fighter all of his life. Maybe not trained in the ways of sword and spear, but nonetheless, to him survival was an art form—one that had been finely honed through years of pain and loss, training and conditioning. Back on Tarsus he had learned guerilla fighting—ugly, quick moves to thwart the Governor’s Civil Guards. In Iowa he had mastered bar room brawls and the dirty tricks of street fights. At the Academy, he had trained with numerous instructors as he took courses in the martial arts and fighting techniques of a dozen cultures: the Suus Mahna of the Vulcans, the Galeo-Manada of the Ktarians, the old-Earth forms of Aikido and Tai chi chuan.

In the field? He picked up a few other things, when he was lucky. He picked up even more when he was unlucky. This was an ugly but true fact of life for an officer in Starfleet.

And of course, battling in space? That was an exercise in the mathematics of gravity and the physics of photons and neutrons, phasing beams and space-bound artillery.

On the plains of Pelennor Fields, fighting was something else again.

Jim supposed there was nothing that could really prepare you for this kind of war. The front line of the Rohirrim collided with the line of the Uruk-hai and their dense line of spears which were held at the ready. There was no telling how many men and horses fell to that first part of the attack alone.

Seren danced underneath Jim, the two of them working together to dispatch the enemies that surrounded them. For a long time it was systematic movement—stab and slash, move on. Stab and slash, move on. Killing had a rhythm all its own, Jim learned. He tried not to think about what that meant.

And that was when the reinforcements arrived.

The Easterling reinforcements.

“They have Mûmakil!” Someone, maybe Grimbold, said nearby in horror.

The Mûmakil were giant beasts that looked like woolly mammoths from hell to Jim. Men rode them, shooting arrows from high above the rest of the battlefield.

“Haradrim arrows are poisoned,” Éomer cried out to the men around them, “be wary!” And with that, he took his spear and threw it at the man on the leading Mûmakil, giving a great cry of satisfaction as the man was impaled. The body crumpled, fell to the ground, and was trampled by his own beast as the creature lost control.

Jim stayed by the Marshal, tossing him another spear as he continued to focus on the men who were steering the great beasts. In the distance, he saw another Rohir riding wildly between the feet of the Mûmakil, slashing at the tendons of the creatures and bringing them to their knees violently. He cheered the fighter exuberantly, admiring both the man’s guts and quick thinking.

Then the air was filled with wild shrieking. There were giant—flying—things in the air.

“Nazgûl!” someone yelled out.

“Oh shit!” Jim said, genuinely amazed. He’d seen dozens of astounding sights and fascinating creatures before, but this—! “It’s a dragon! It’s a fucking dragon!

“It is the Witch King!” Éomer corrected him. “He comes!”

Jim didn’t find out what that meant—they were too busy with the Easterlings after that. But they moved towards the shrieking monsters steadily. Privately, Jim thought it would be awesome if he could kill a dragon—but of course, that was a distant thought beyond his current driving need to stay alive.

The battle continued.

And continued.

There was a loud cry that rose above the din around him. Jim jerked, looking around to find its source.

It was the Rohir.

“Éowyn?” Éomer’s voice was rough and dark with horror. Jim turned to find him, narrowly dodging an arrow. “Éowyn!”

Jim looked in the direction of his friend’s gaze: Éowyn lay on the ground. Dressed in the gear of a Rider of Rohan, her long straw-colored hair spread out on the ground, she herself was pale and still. And nearby lay the body of King Théoden, crushed under the body of his horse, Snowmane.

“Oh, shit!” Jim murmured fervently. “No!”

“Éowyn, how came you here?” Éomer leaped from his horse, taking his sister’s body in his arms. “What madness or devilry is this?”

“The Corsairs!” breathed Grimbold nearby. “They come!”

Jim looked up: there were black ships in the distance, alright. More reinforcements for the opposing army—like they needed them.

“Shit, man, we’ve got to go!” Jim hissed. He tugged at Éomer’s arm, but the Rohir was nearly insensible in his grief. “Éomer!” When the man didn’t respond, he used his other name sharply. “Eoh!

For a brief, awful moment, Jim was afraid that Éomer was a lost cause. His face was pale, hazel eyes burning holes in his skull. But then the Rohir roused himself, shaking his head, and re-mounted Firefoot. He blew his horn to call the Rohirrim about him to attention. “Death! Ride, ride to ruin and the world’s ending!” he cried.

“Haa!” Grimbold shouted, followed by further bellows: promises of fury, vengeance, and death.

It was one of the scariest things Jim had ever seen in his life: the Rohirrim determined to die.

Jim wondered for a while if he was going to die with them.

And that was when a growing cry of surprise wavered across the field, followed by an eerie green light. Where the light went, men died—and miraculously, it seemed to only be after the forces of Mordor.

“Aragorn?” Éomer cried in disbelief, somewhere to Jim’s left.

Jim looked up, and sure enough, there was the Ranger, fighting steadily through the battle, the green lights moving at his side.

They passed close by Jim, then, and up close—it looked a hell of a lot like skeletons in rotting clothes.

“Thus we meet again, though all the hosts of Mordor lay between us,” cried Aragorn as he moved swiftly through the fight around them. “Did I not say so, my friend?”

“So you spoke,” answered Éomer with a laugh that, to Jim’s ears at least, sounded almost unhinged. “You come none too soon, Ranger—much loss and sorrow has befallen us since last we met, and we may yet ride to our deaths!”

“Then let us avenge ourselves, and then speak more later,” answered Aragorn, and then they spoke no more as they lost themselves in the heat of the furious battle.

~

The sun was setting by the time it was all over. They had lost many, including Herubrand, Guthláf, and Grimbold. Halbarad and many of the others of the Grey Company had perished as well.

Thus it was in a dark and weary mood that the survivors reached the great Gate to the White City. Aragorn looked on it with something like awe.

They were met by a Man named Imrahil. “Come you as a new conqueror?” he asked the Ranger dryly. He was the Prince of Dol Amroth, and had led the men of Gondor on the city’s side of that day’s battle. “Already you have raised the banner of your Kingship and displayed the tokens of Elendil’s House.”

“He’s no conqueror,” Jim said before Éomer could bite out a sharper retort.

“I have no mind for strife except with our Enemy and his servants,” Aragorn said.

Imrahil’s expression calmed at that. “Your words, lord, are wise,” he said. “My kinsman the Lord Denethor is strong-willed and proud, yet I would not have you remain like a beggar at the door.”

“Not a beggar,” Aragorn said with a smile. “Say a Captain of the Rangers, who are unused to cities and houses of stone.” He turned to Jim, his smile growing a little wider. “More exotic yet to Men of the Stars, would you not agree, James T. Kirk?”

“You never know until you try,” Jim answered, ignoring Imrahil’s puzzled look.

And so they entered the city together.

Aragorn went away to the Houses of Healing, while Jim followed Éomer and Imrahil to the Hall of the Tower. There they expected to find the Steward and give him a report of the day’s battle, but instead, they found his chair empty. Before the white marble dais the body of Théoden King of the Mark lay in state, surrounded by twelve torches and an honor guard of twelve knights, men in both the red of Rohan and the black of Gondor.

Éomer frowned. “Where is my sister?” he asked. “She should lie in state with no less honor than the King.”

Imrahil stared at him. “But the Lady Éowyn was yet living when they bore her hither. Did you not know?”

Éomer’s look was incredulous, bright with unbelieving, then hesitant joy. Jim’s heart squeezed tightly with empathy. The Rohir said nothing, but he turned swiftly, headed for the Houses of Healing.

“How? When?” Jim demanded, watching as his friend disappeared into the halls before them. He turned to Imrahil. “If you’re wrong—“

The older man shook his head. “I saw her myself as they bore her hence,” he said. “She lives, though it be a near thing. The darkness of the Witch King burns within her yet.”

Jim stared at him. “What do you mean?”

“I mean,” Imrahil said slowly, as if Jim were simple, “If Aragorn cannot heal her, her doom is yet near.”

“Shit!” Jim breathed, and took off after Éomer.

The Houses of Healing were located on the sixth level of the city. Jim was still running when Éomer appeared once more, mounted on Firefoot. Jim didn’t break stride, but held his arm up; the Rohir grasped him firmly, using Jim’s own momentum to pull him up behind him. They rode pell-mel through the White City, civilians and warriors both scattering in their wake. When they arrived before the white halls of the Houses, Éomer dismounted quickly, making a whistling command to his steed to stay put as he hurried within the building, Jim following behind.

Men and women clothed in the white robes of healers circulated throughout the long halls, each of which was filled with dozens of cots, all occupied with the injured and the dying. The place smelled like every field hospital Jim had ever been in: the scents of blood and piss, the sickly-sweetness of pus and bile, the stinging vinegary whiff that must be some sort of local disinfectant—they all hung thickly in the air.

The Rohir scanned each room for a sign of his sister, peering in impatiently before continuing to the next. Jim moved beside him as they roamed down the lengthy hallways, glancing into each chamber curiously. There was no sign of the bright-haired, stubbord shield-maiden, and then—

“Éomer!” Jim saw Aragorn, the black-clad man sticking out like a sore thumb amongst the healers. Gandalf was nearby, as was a frowning woman, heavyset and chattering. At their feet were the cots of Éowyn and a fair-haired man Jim didn’t recognize.

“Alas! if he should die,” the woman was saying. “Would that there were kings in Gondor, as there were once upon a time, they say! For it is said in old lore—“

“Éowyn!” Éomer breathed his sister’s name like a prayer, sinking down to his knees near her.

“How is she?” Jim asked Aragorn. The Rohir stared at his sister silently, as if catatonic; his expression was broken and fretful. The shield-maiden was as deathly white as the linen she lay upon, though strange gray marks covered her arms.

“—that the hands of the king are the hands of a healer,” the woman concluded as if oblivious to this by-play. “And so the rightful king could ever be known.”

“I need athelas,” Aragorn said without looking up. He held a mortar and pestle in his hands, steadily grinding herbs. “Kingsfoil,” he elaborated. He held up the deceptively delicate plant so that Jim could see it. “Go you, James T. Kirk, and bring me as much of it as you can lay your hands on.”

“On it,” Jim said, and he was up and running.

Gandalf’s steady voice echoed behind him as he left. “Men may long remember your words, Ioreth,” he said, “for there is hope in them. Maybe a king has indeed returned to Gondor—“

And that was the last he heard, as he went in search of the herbs that Aragorn required.

~

It took time, and lots of peculiar looks from healers and others passing by as Jim scrambled through the carefully tended public lawns and gardens of the prosperous part of the City, searching for kingsfoil. The hardy plant grew in profusion but seemed to be considered little more than a weed. He finally found it growing in several patches of overgrown, abandoned plots around the less inhabited part of the city: the precious healing herb. He also conscripted several young servants who seemed to be the errand boys of the healers and they soon returned to Aragorn with several collections of the stuff, which the Ranger used to make a healing tincture.

The fair-haired man who lay near Éomer’s sister was Faramir, it turned out—the late Steward’s younger son. Aragorn heaved a sigh of relief as he concluded his work.

“She will live,” Aragorn murmured to the Rohir. “She sleeps now.” Éomer didn’t answer, but remained staring at the still, white form of his sister. Aragorn shook his head, and placed a consoling hand on the man’s shoulder. “You need rest yourself, my friend,” he continued. He looked at Jim pointedly. “See to him,” he said, “as I must see to the others.” And he was already moving on to the next group of patients, taking care of his people.

“Come on, Eoh,” Jim said. Éomer didn’t stir. “You heard him,” he said more quietly. “We aren’t done here, not by a long shot. You need some sleep. Come on.” He pulled the man up bodily, then, relieved that his friend was roughly his size, despite the added weight of the armor. Once standing, Éomer walked outside the Houses of Healing with him willingly enough, but once they were out in the quiet corridor he gave a harsh cry and began punching the stone walls.

“Shit, man, what are you doing? Stop!” Jim cried in alarm. Éomer still had his gauntlets on, which made a horrible sound but at least cushioned the flesh of his hands. Jim pulled the other man back, arms wrapped around his body, clasping his arms to his sides. “I know it hurts, okay?” he said softly into Éomer’s ear. “Trust me, I get it.”

“How could you?” Éomer threw him off, whirling around and pushing him against the harsh cold of the wall. His face was close to Jim’s, his dark eyes bright and wild. “How could you know?” he demanded again. “She is my sister!” That last was a plaintive, angry cry.

Jim stared at him for a long moment, long enough that the wild brightness began to burn away from the Rohir. Shaking his head, he stood close to Éomer again, faces close. “I have a brother, back home,” he said. “Sam, remember? We were close when we were kids. And—and there was a time when people were starving and—and things got really bad. I mean really bad, man,” he continued shakily. He hadn’t thought of these memories in a long time—hadn’t wanted to, but-- “People were being executed. We were supposed to be among them, but I got us out, us and a few others. But it was a near thing. Sam almost died. So believe me, when I say that I get it. I get it,” he repeated more quietly. Jim nodded at the other man.

Éomer nodded back reluctantly. “I’m sorry, gúthwinë,” he said. “I forget you are not the innocent youth you appear to be.” He smiled crookedly at that. “Well, not all that innocent.”

Jim smiled back, relieved. “No,” he said, “not really.”

Taking the man by the hand, he drew him away from the dark Houses, and led him to one of the many rooms in the Tower that were being used as quarters for the many Men now within the city. The one Jim had found was very small—it was probably an empty closet in its previous life—but it would serve its purpose well for the moment: it was clean, and quiet, and there were blankets on the floor.

And it was private.

“Sit,” Jim ordered, and to his surprise Éomer did so without complaint. He began tugging off his armor, putting it carefully aside on the floor. Jim shifted things about slightly—he had already procured a bucket of water, a piece of linen, and some food—and when he turned around the other man was naked to the waist. Breath hitching at the simple beauty of the man, Jim assumed his familiar smile of cocky assurance. “Alright, then, Eoh,” he said, “assume the position. You’re going to wash.”

Éomer quirked an eyebrow at him; though exhausted and with eyes red with grief, he was amused. “You’ll get no argument from me this night, James T. Kirk,” he said slowly.

Jim grinned at him, but said nothing. He was too tired and—it had all been too much. Together, the two men sponged one another off carefully, removing the grime, dirt, blood, and sweat of the days past. (He would’ve given anything for a hot shower, hell, a bath tub, but that would have been an unspeakable luxury on this day of days. Not even Aragorn, the would-be King, would have as much this night.) When they were as clean as could be managed, they shared the simple meal that Jim had put away earlier—nothing more than dry bread, cheese, a spiced sausage, and a couple of dried apples—again virtually silent.

It was funny how easy it was to be quiet with Éomer, Jim reflected. Much like Bones, and Spock as well, the man was self-sufficient, requiring little of those around him beyond that they carry out their duties, preferably well. He had no need of extraneous chatter, and yet when he did talk everything he said was sensible, intelligent, and (when he allowed himself to be) amusing.

Afterwards the two of them lay back in the blankets, close together, and drifted off to sleep immediately.

They awoke sometime in the night.

Jim’s senses hovered in the realm of his dream: it seemed to him he was in a warm pool, drifting idly, and he became aware of several fish gently nibbling along the line of his body. In the way of dreams, he accepted after a time that the nibbles were kisses, and then later that these caresses came not from fish but from Éomer.

The Rohir’s mouth was soft on Jim’s skin, his hands firm as they roamed over his chest and back. Jim moaned, and Éomer’s caresses became less gentle.

“If you wish me to stop, now is the time, James T. Kirk,” Éomer murmured in his ear, before pulling at it with his teeth.

“What kind of idiot do you think I am?” Jim mumbled back. “I’ve been waiting for this for ages.” As if that was the piece of encouragement that he had been waiting for, Éomer redoubled his rough caresses, stroking his sides, thumbs pressing down with a firmness that would leave marks in the morning.

They were still stripped down to what passed for underwear here—a length of cloth wrapped around the waist, then slipped between the legs and tied at the waist again, with a sort of open slit in the front. It was an easy matter for them to free their cocks, rubbing them one against the other in sleepy playfulness. It was only slightly more difficult to divest themselves of their last garments, and then they were completely skin to skin.

Éomer’s flesh was very warm, even hot from sleep and shared heat. Jim’s own skin was slightly damp with sweat from the heat of the other man and the blankets, as well as with arousal. He pushed the blankets away, and a draft of cool air from somewhere made him shiver under the other man’s body. Éomer halted. “You tremble,” he stated.

“It’s the cold,” Jim said. “It’s nothing.”

“As you say.” Jim could hear the frown in the other man’s voice. “Are you sure you wish to—continue? I would not have you come unwilling.”

“Not an issue, trust me,” Jim said, pressing his burgeoning erection against the other man’s hard thigh. “Although if we’re going to talk about coming…”

Éomer chuckled at that, and kissed him once more. A firm hand encircled Jim’s cock, thumb playing with the slit at the head, rubbing precum over it. Jim pushed his cock further into the other man’s grasp, craving more contact, even as one of his own hands reached around to toy gently with Éomer’s ass. The flesh there was covered in a peach fuzz of very fine hairs, the puckered ring of muscle tight. There was no lube and no hope of getting any either, so Jim spat in his hand before gently insinuating a single finger there.

The Rohir groaned loudly, murmuring in his own language. The Rohirric was melodic and rolling, distinct from the Westron favored by the other Men, and Jim shivered at the sound of it. Encouraged, he rolled the other man over, drifting downwards and swiftly taking Éomer’s cock into his mouth. It was large; he worked to take the length of it into his mouth, humming in pleasure at the sounds of the other man’s joy.

However, they were still tired and overwrought from the intensity of the last several days. It was not long before Jim’s mouth was suddenly filled with the heavy, salty taste of the other man.

“Blessed Eru!” Éomer said roughly.

Jim chuckled smugly, a sound that became a groan as he was flipped over in turn and his own cock was laved by the other man. He was glad he was far removed from his known universe then, as the vaunted Kirk reputation was quickly shot to hell with the cleverness of Éomer’s mouth and tongue.

Afterwards they lay on their backs together, breathing heavily.

“What think you, James T. Kirk?” Éomer asked after a time.

Jim was still catching his breath. “I’m thinking one day, when this is all over, we’re going to get a real bed and some lube, and we’re going to do this again. Properly.” He turned his head to grin at the other man. “You are not getting the real Jim Kirk experience, here. I have a reputation to maintain after all.” He leaned over to bite the other man’s shoulder playfully.

“I know not what reputation you speak of, or what this lube you refer to is,” Éomer said sleepily, “but—“

“But I feel sorry for you,” Jim interjected. Despite the pitch black of the room, he could feel the Rohir’s intense glare. “Sorry,” he said, “you were saying?”

But,” Éomer continued, “a bed would be most welcome indeed.” He pulled Jim close to him, then, and kissed the back of his neck. “Now be quiet. The cock will crow all too soon.”

“I’ll say,” Jim murmured before he could stop himself.

“Youngling,” Éomer grunted. But his tone was soft and fond.

~

They only got a few more hours of sleep, and then Éomer was summoned, along with Imrahil and other Lords and Captains to a meeting in Aragorn’s tent outside the city. When the Rohir returned, he was strangely subdued. “Come with me,” he said, and led Jim to the topmost level of the city. From there they could see for miles; in the distance, southwards, the sky was unnaturally dark.

“The Eye of Sauron watches us closely,” Éomer said. He turned to Jim. “We will ride to the final battle on the morrow. We lost one third of our forces yesterday.” He paused. “It is very like that we will not live long, now.”

“You keep saying that!” Jim said in frustration. The Rohir stared at him, nonplussed, and that made Jim even angrier. “All of you! Look, has it ever even occured to you that there’s the possibility that you’ll survive this?”

“It—has,” Éomer admitted reluctantly. “But it seems to me unfair to dwell overmuch on things that I know cannot be.” He eyed Jim then with a mix of simple affection and sadness, and Jim realized he wasn’t just talking about the battle.

Complications. Fuck.

Jim cared deeply about the man—too deeply, and despite himself. But they both knew how this had to end.

“Tell me about the stars you travel among, gúthwinë,” Éomer said after a moment, changing the subject. “Are the heavens like unto a wine-dark sea, bearing your ship aloft?”

“Not exactly,” Jim answered. He leaned against the parapet thoughtfully, gazing into the darkness that lay southwards. “It’s more like—“ He broke off. The Rohirrim had no terminology for things like gravity, lightyears, atmosphere, or inertia dampers. How could he explain them? Jim tried again. “It’s like absence,” he said. “There’s no light, no sound. Nothing. And that nothingness is what keeps our ships in place.”

Éomer frowned. “Nothingness,” he repeated doubtfully.

“It’s hard to explain, Eoh,” Jim said. “If I could show you, it’d be easier.” He shook his head, trying to imagine this proud warrior in all his glory aboard the Enterprise--tried and failed. That thought made him even more melancholy.

The Rohir grunted, and gazed into the distance. “I like that idea not,” he said gruffly. “Though the wonders you tell of are indeed remarkable, I think they are not something I would wish to see.” He grimaced. “To be truthful, the idea of sitting in a ship floating on naught makes me sick to my stomach.”

A vision of Bones momentarily supplanted that of Éomer before him. Jim blinked. “Yeah,” he said after a moment, suddenly sorrowful. “I guess you wouldn’t like it that much.”

Something in his voice caught the other man’s attention. The line of Éomer’s mouth thinned unhappily, then softened slightly as he grasped Jim by the shoulder. “A great gulf separates us, James T. Kirk, Rodorbeorn,” he said, hazel eyes dark and intense. “You are a Man of the Stars, and I a Man of Rohan. Tomorrow we will ride to the Black Gates, and if we are very lucky, we will both return from them whole. But well we know how this will end, one way or the other.”

The words were unspoken, but they seemed to ring in the air nonetheless: They would be separated. By time and space, if not by death. Something in Jim wanted to rebel at the thought, but he knew it was not to be.

“Yeah,” Jim said unhappily. “Yeah, I guess we do.”

The two men were quiet for a long moment.

To Jim’s surprise, it was Éomer who broke the silence. “That moment has not come yet,” the man said, turning to Jim with a look that might almost have been mischevious.

Jim found his lips quirking upwards in response. “No,” he said slowly, “no it has not.”

~

The ride to the Black Gates of Morannon, on the border of Mordor, took six days. They traveled at a careful pace, mindful that they didn’t want to wear out themselves or their mounts before the final battle even began. The singing at the campfires each night was hesitant, everyone hyper-aware that they were passing time—and likewise, that as time and miles passed, they rode ever closer to what may well be their deaths.

On the last day, the morning was cloudy, sunlight peeking out through clouds and giving off a sickly light. When they got to the Morannon proper, the Army halted, and out of the great gates rode a tall, ugly creature. Aragorn and Gandalf rode to meet it.

“They’ve called a parley,” Éomer explained to Jim unnecessarily.

The creature said something to Aragorn, and he cut its head off.

“If that’s called a negotiation, don’t tell me what a fight is like,” Jim said.

“Wait a moment more, my gúthwinë,” Éomer said dryly, “and I suspect we’ll find out.”

Aragorn was riding back to the assembled Host of the West. He rode along the line of them, much as Théoden had done before at Pelennor Fields.

“Sons of Gondor, of Rohan, my brothers!” The Man cried. “I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me. A day may come when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this day. An hour of woes and shattered shields, when the age of men comes crashing down! But it is not this day! This day we fight! By all that you hold dear on this good Earth, I bid you stand, Men of the West!”

There was a great cry at that and everyone rode forth as one. Jim had never felt anything like it—there was a wild exuberance to the air, a fierceness, a hope--and everyone seemed to share it in that instant. Beside him, Éomer laughed in that mad warrior’s way of his, and Jim couldn’t help but laugh back.

Suddenly there was a horrible pain in his right shoulder, and Jim was knocked off of Seren. He fell to the ground heavily, the breath knocked out of him by the impact—and in the chaos of the madly moving men of the Army of the West he coughed and gagged as he struggled to get up again. One of the slim black arrows of the Easterlings had pierced his pauldron, stabbing his shoulder. It burned like hell; Jim hoped it wasn’t poisoned. Éomer had warned them of their arrows days ago—

He had other things to worry about at the moment, too, like trying not to get trampled to death. Seren was shielding his body with her own, stubbornly standing in place, head bowed and legs spread apart, as Rohirrim, Dúnedain, Elves, and Tower Guards streamed by them. She and the armor protected him somewhat, but against this mad crush it was only a matter of time unless he could get up again—

“Jim!”

He heard his name as if from a great distance. He was very tired all of a sudden, too; maybe he should try to move a little later, when he had more strength…he was really sleepy, actually. How had he not known that?

“Jim! Hold on!”

“Bones?” Jim muttered. “That you?” A familiar shape was tugging at him, pulling him up. “I really don’ feel so good,” he said, words slurring thickly. “You better not stab me with a hypo, either. I’m watchin’.”

“Hold fast, my gúthwinë,” Bones said. He was pulling at Jim’s clothes, stripping armor away from where his shoulder burned. “You are poisoned. I have to get it out before it reaches your heart.”

“Huh,” Jim grunted.

Bones pressed down hard on his shoulder, breaking the arrow in half at the shaft, before pulling a knife from somewhere and sticking the tip of it into the wound. Jim screamed as the arrowhead was leveraged out, gleaming with red blood and some black, foul ooze.

“Oh God, that’s gross,” Jim said as the scent of it hit him. His stomach roiled suddenly. “I think I’m going to be sick.”

Bones didn’t answer, but instead put his mouth to the burning place in Jim’s shoulder, sucking at the wound there. Despite himself, Jim cried out with the pain of it, even as Bones was spitting out his blood, which, like that on the arrowhead, was red and black. He kept doing this until there was only red.

“I think I’m gonna be sick now,” Jim announced. He expected Bones to yell at him, but he didn’t. He just looked really, really worried.

That was weird.

“The Eagles are coming!” There was a ringing cry that seemed to come from all around them, from dozens, maybe even hundreds of voices at once. “The Eagles are coming!”

“Stay with me, Jim,” Bones said.

“’Course, Bones,” Jim murmured, as he drifted off to sleep. “Where—else—would—I—be?”

Next

Comments

( 3 comments — Add your .02 )
suddenlyswept
Oct. 20th, 2010 05:07 pm (UTC)
you are very effectively breaking my heart at this particular moment :-(
buhnebeest
Oct. 20th, 2010 07:53 pm (UTC)
Taking a break from this goldmine of awesomeness to say that 'I wish to bed you most mightily' is the best pick-up line ever.

That is all.
caitri
Oct. 21st, 2010 03:30 am (UTC)
Haa, I agree!!
( 3 comments — Add your .02 )

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