Once the men started to trickle in, the flow of blood did not stop. Despite her duties, Halvel tried to not look. But it was hard not to feel like her head was swimming when she held together the flesh of a man’s chest in an attempt to staunch the flooding tide. When the tiles of the bathhouse grew crimson and treacherous. When they brought in her uncle with part of the axle of a catapult sticking through his ribs.
His left leg was crushed, too, but it was easier to pretend that was something else once the blanket covered the mangled limb. Out of sight, out of mind. But the thick piece of hardwood protruding from his torso could not so easily be ignored. The surgeon spoke words to her (condolences? instructions?) and her uncle tried to speak, but even as Halvel strained to hear him, the sound did not penetrate the high pitch screeching in her ears. No one else seemed to hear it and the surgeon barked his orders again and a strong page hurried around to drag Halvel out of the way to let the man pass.
“He is too badly injured!” she finally heard and realized the page was shouting in her face. “Nothing can be done!”
Halvel realized that the young man spoke in response to a babbling voice begging to help the bloody mess that stared at her even now with disdain. After a few moments more, she realized the voice was her own and it stopped.
“My lady, we must help those with a chance!”
Numbly, Halvel nodded. She stepped forward to fix the blanket covering her uncle, but before she could turn away, cold fingers caught her wrist.
“Traitor,” she thought he said, but it could have been, “Water.” It did not matter, though, for his grip relaxed and as he died, she pulled herself free.
When the giant ram broke through the Great Gate, Tondaer of House Belegorn fell to his knee. Beside him, the solider turned to flee, but the bodies frozen with fear blocked him and soon he cowered with the others. Things happened in the courtyard beyond, but Tondaer could not tell what. The fell cries of the Black Captain did not chill him; they rent his spirit from his body and he felt as though he were nothing but pain. Agony.
The terror that had nearly ripped him apart hardly melted from the First Circle guard when the doors pushed open to spew the servant of the enemy.
Roars and screams. Shadows and light. Tondaer gripped his sword and tried to gain his feet. Then, as though the morning rose like any other, a cock crowed. Then horns. Horns sounded in the distance and the terror lessened enough to allow him to raise his head.
The Witch-king was gone. The world seemed light again and Tondaer rose to his feet with renewed hope. Rohan had not forsaken them.
He joined in battle those who awoke from their nightmare to fight. He slew one, two, ten. It did not matter. He did not count. Then he turned toward the gate.
They have trolls, he thought and somewhere inside him, he laughed. He raised his sword and stood to face the brute bearing down on him. Pain, sharp and penetrating, radiated from his back and as he fell, the servant of Mordor had already moved on to be slain by a knight in bloodied starsilver armour.
She knew. She was gone, laid to rest at the bottom of Argillond and she would never see her again.
Always, the cards can only reveal so much, and though the tower fell behind her making way for the new world to be built upon the remaining foundations of Men, she could not have known that her own fortress would crumble around her as well. She had worried and wondered, but she could not have known.
And now, walking as a prisoner of men that live in stone, Erislos Thanat looked back at the smoke of Minas Tirith’s burning and she was glad that they would suffer, both houses of power and greed. And she longed for the sea beyond the bloodied fields of war and knew that nothing would ever be the same.