Der Tag nach der Schlacht auf dem Pelennor

nach Pelennor:

Darkness still lingered and the sounds in the camp were hushed when Jestim woke up. At first he didn’t realize what it was that had woken him, but then he saw that Ranulf’s place at his side was empty and that his friend made ready to silently leave the common tent. Quietly, so he wouldn’t wake more people, Jestim followed him.
Ranulf sighed as the archer came to stand next to him outside the tent. Hamnath had treated his head-wound and a bandage ran round his forehead and across one side of his face. He shivered in the cold of the late night’s hour. „I couldn’t sleep, Jestim, but you needn’t stay awake, too.“
Jestim knew this tone. He’d sounded the same, every winter since… then.
„You’re troubled and I just thought… maybe you need to talk“, he answered.
Ranulf swallowed. „Need to… sure. Want to… that’s different. It’s not about the fighting and the slaughter I saw, Jestim. It’s about my father.“
„That’s what I suspected. We didn’t hear much about it, though. Only some of what happened at Hytbold.“
„At Hytbold I learned that for years I had been used to spy on my friends… and I didn’t even understand that that was what I was doing…“
„Good for you.“
Ranulf turned his head sharply to look at him.
„I think you didn’t understand. I meant I…“ „I heard you“, said Jestim, a bit sourly. „And what I understand is that whatever it is you did, you did not do it on purpose.“
A sad expression flickered across Ranulf’s face. „That’s what the others said, too. And for them, it was fine. Darras and Jortwig and the others, they were ready to forgive me and go on as before. And it’s not that I’m ungrateful for that… I don’t know what I’d done had Darras rejected me… or you, now. It’s just that I can’t… I hate myself for having been so blind. I followed Aerdan here in the hopes I’d feel better once I fought against those dark ones with all our men… but I don’t, it still hurts to know that we might have known about those dangers earlier if only…“
Jestim sighed. „Don’t think about what might have been. Trust me, it doesn’t help. You never betrayed your friend’s trust willingly, that’s what matters. You’re not a bad person, Ranulf. That’s why it hurts, and that’s also why you still got friends.“
„Will it ever stop hurting?“
Jestim stared straight ahead. „I don’t know. You’re asking the wrong person,“ he murmured.
„There is no one else I could ask“, said Ranulf. „Tjoren’s my weaponsmaster… Rulavan’s my captain, or at least they were, and I should be talking to Rulavan, but…I didn’t even dare look him straight in the face… and those I rode here with… there’s no one among them who ever was… near to me.“
Jestim bit his lip.
A cold wind blew through the gap between tents and Ranulf pulled the remnants of his jacket together with one hand. „You have no idea what it was like, Jestim“, he went on in a low voice. „I was in Cliving when the call for the weapontake came and there wasn’t time to get back to Darras. And the people from Cliving, they’re all like: ‚we’re the poor victims‘ or like: ‚let’s all stand up against the darkness‘ and they avoided talking to me if only they could, for I’m ´that traitor’s son‘ and either to be seen talking friendly to me might put them in the wrong light or they outright feel contempt for me because of that. I didn’t wrong any of them, yet they treat me harsher than those I truly wronged… I do not understand, and what’s worse, I’m not sure who’s in the right.“
He was shivering so violently now that Jestim thought of going in and fetching a blanket, but he didn’t want to leave him.
„I don’t want to go back to them, Jestim“, Ranulf whispered. „But I don’t know if Rulavan wants me here and I don’t know if what he wants has any effect, because now Lorron Reen is captain here. I once wanted him to be my captain, but he’s always had an arrogant streak and he’s always looked down on me and only tolerated me in his company because of Darras. Now that he knows of my father, I fear he’ll never let me stay.“
This was indeed a question Jestim didn’t find easy to answer. „Again, you’re asking the wrong person. I haven’t come to know him very well“, he said. „In truth I fear him. He’s got a mean punch… but he’d not go against Rulavan’s wishes. And last night, he even allowed that girl from Dunland to stay because of Haram. So I have to admit, he can be quite tolerant if he so chooses. Talk to Rula, he’ll set it right with Lorron.“
Ranulf carefully shook his head. „But he’s even more into rules than Reen, he’s so very straight and honourable… I don’t want to hear…whatever it is he’s got to say about it.“
Jestim groaned quietly, for he realised that he couldn’t hold back on what he knew any longer, he just hated talking about it as much as Ranulf did.
„You remember the time when I couldn’t sleep, Ranulf?“ he asked. Ranulf looked at him, puzzled. „What’s that got to do with it?“
„A lot. My reason was similar to yours, only worse. I felt I’d rather die than talk to anyone and I almost actually did. Jortwig sent me to Rulavan then. I told him what I’d done. I had betrayed someone who thought of me as a friend, on purpose, because I wanted to see him go down, because I was jealous. But I had not known that someone had used my jealousy to support his own plans. What should have been a prank in the end cost the lives of all but two children of a whole village. I buried them, but let the blame fall on my comrade. I can only guess what Rulavan thought as I told him. But he decided not to let me down. That’s why we left you, really. To ride to the king and set things right and hear what he’d decide. That’s why Darras stood alone. Because of me.“
Ranulf’s eyes had gone wide. At first he’d stared at him, but then he’d not been able to look at him. There was an uneasy quiet between them for some while, till Ranulf mused: „That mountain-village? That was you? The one we thought Aenwulf had…“ his voice trailed off as he saw that Jestim was shuddering. „Will it ever stop hurting?“ the archer repeated mournfully. „Most men would tell you that it does, with time. I won’t lie to you. It doesn’t. Not for me, at least. It got better after I’d stopped keeping it a secret and it faded even more after I’d faced the king and heard his judgement, which was that I was to keep my life and my station as long as I kept fighting for Rohan, but the guilt never went away and it’s always there to haunt me whenever I face somebody I wronged. I destroyed Aenwulf’s life and even if he’s redeemed now, it will never again be like it was. He will always hate me because of that and so will his family. His sister married one of Lorron’s best friends, by the way. But on the other hand, there’s Hamnath. Yes, our friendly healer. His nieces survived, but they belong to a dunlandish family now and ceased to be of Rohan. But he somehow copes with that. He’s the kind of person who doesn’t want anybody to be sad, not even me.“ He shook his head. „And he doesn’t like to feel angry for long, either. He’ll forever be a miracle to me. Took my sadness, turned it into friendship and healed us both. Him, I can look at without feeling guilty, but I’m not through yet with confessing to those who knew me what kind of person I really was. Not a good one like you, Ranulf. You did not know. For you, there’s hope you’ll get over it one day. Go talk to Rulavan. He’ll understand.“
The silence between them lengthened after Jestim had stopped talking. „How do you cope?“ Ranulf finally wanted to know. „I mean those days when… you remember.“
Jestim didn’t answer at first. „I guess I just love life too much to give up on it“, he said then. „The sight of the sun rising in the morning never fails to amaze me and there’s nothing like a good view over the land from the top of a mountain to clear your head. I like to hear the girls chatter in spring like the birds returned from the south and I like to sit amidst the men of my company at the end of a day’s labour, listen to their voices by a fire as night comes in. But I couldn’t enjoy the latter if it weren’t for Rulavan. I cope partly because of him, for I know I can rely on him. And whenever I feel like giving it up, I can’t. He’d be disappointed. He believes in me.“
„Where is he now, do you know?“
Jestim shrugged. „Still in Hamnath’s tent or worse, in Jarl’s, I believe.“
„He’s had enough on his hands this night. I’ll talk to him later“, said Ranulf.
„You’re not using excuses, are you? He’ll not mind listening to you now, if that is what is needed to get you back in here and on a bed. You heard Hamnath. You need to rest so you can heal.“
Ranulf still hesitated. „Jestim… thank you for being honest with me.“
„You’re welcome. Now go get it over with and then get some sleep. Works wonders.“
Ranulf smiled at him and left.
Jestim didn’t hear him returning, but in the morning Ranulf lay sleeping peacefully and didn’t stir even as the men in the tent came awake all around him.

It was early in the morning on the day after the battle. Lorron almost couldn’t believe it as he stepped out of his tent: the clouds were clearing, the weather promised to be fair today. He felt refreshed and hastened to relieve Rulavan of his duties. The poor man hadn’t slept all night, dutiful as he was, and it was high time he got a few hours of well-earned rest.
Rulavan had just left when up to Lorron came four equally tired men. He remained sitting in his chair and left them standing. Bjerkal’s face was grey but he refused to sway before the Captain. „We did what you asked us to do,“ he said. „So I heard,“ answered Lorron, searching the other’s eyes.
„And what now? Are you satisfied?“ Bjerkal wanted to know, his tone aggressive.
„I’m inclined to keep those who really want to ride with us, but those who don’t are free to go.“
Bjerkal smiled. „So finally we understand each other. I already asked Skerrig, and he said ‚yes‘.“
„Good for you, I’ll have Gerfrith draw up your papers.“
Bjerkal took a step back and waved to his friends to follow him. „We’ll wait in the commons till they’re ready.“
His friends made no move to follow him. He frowned.
„I’ll stay here“, Woldmer informed him. The other two said nothing but looked apologetically at Bjerkal.
He stared at them.
„It seems they’re fed up with doing what you tell them“, commented Lorron.
Bjerkal made an astonished noise. „And you think you’ll be happier with what he tells you?“ he asked. Woldmar’s mouth was a thin line as he nodded. He watched Bjerkal leave the tent with stiff steps and then he almost collapsed at Lorron’s side. His captain got up to help him. „Rest in the commons“, he said. „You’re out of duty till midday.“

Lorron hatte die anderen fortgeschickt, ihre Aufgaben zu erledigen. Aswig jedoch hielt er an der Schulter zurück, als er an ihm vorübergehen wollte. „Einen Moment noch.“ Bald schon waren sie allein im Zelt. „Diese Frau, die Haram geschützt hat… ihr kennt sie schon von eurer Zeit bei den Dunländern her, nicht wahr? Erzähl mir mehr von ihr.“ Aswig sah ihn kurz mit zusammengezogenen Augenbrauen an. „Nun, sie tauchte plötzlich zu Beginn der Schlacht an unserer Seite auf und kämpfte gegen die Orks,“ begann er und fuhr dann fort, ihre Taten während des Kampfes aufzuzählen und ihre Fähigkeiten zu loben, als sie Haram verteidigt hatten. Lorron legte den Kopf leicht schief. „Aswig… all das habe ich in anderer Form bereits gehört. Warum hältst du es für notwendig, mir jetzt ihre Vorzüge herauszustreichen, wenn ich dich nach ihrer und eurer Vergangenheit gefragt habe?“
„Errrr…“ machte Aswig. „Sag mir, wieso, meinst du, ist sie zu euch gekommen? Seit wann geht das mit ihr und Haram schon so?“ „Ähm.“ Er wurde rot. „Ganz ehrlich, Captain? Ich habe keine Ahnung. Ich habe damals nichts davon bemerkt, daß sie uns gegenüber freundlich gewesen wäre, eher das komplette Gegenteil.“ „Aha?“ Aswig biss sich auf die Lippen. „So könnte man nicht sagen, dass sie eine Freundin der Rohirrim ist?“ fragte Lorron. „Errr, eher nicht, nein.“ „Ihr habt mir erzählt, daß ihr fliehen konntet, als das Dorf angegriffen wurde. Wo war sie da? Konnte sie mit euch fliehen und ist das nur eurer Erinnerung entglitten?“ „Nein, ist es nicht. Sie war nicht mehr dort. Das heißt…“ Er überlegte. War es möglich, daß…? Nein, bei all ihrer Verachtung für Korhal… aber er mußte nur an die niedergebrannten Hütten zurückdenken und die scheußlichen Wesen… nein, sie war an jenem Tag sicher nicht dort gewesen.
„Was denn nun, Aswig? Hatte sie plötzlich ihr Herz für Rohan entdeckt?“ „Nein, sicher nicht.“ „War sie zuvor keine Kämpferin gewesen und wurde es erst dann?“ „Absolut nicht.“ „War sie dann des Kämpfens überdrüssig geworden?“ „Die? Niemals.“ „Warum lässt du mich raten, statt einfach zu erzählen? Ich gewinne den Eindruck, du weißt wenig Gutes über sie zu berichten und willst deshalb nicht herausrücken.“ Aswig sah zu Boden. „Sie ist ehrlich“, sagte er. „Und sie macht keine halben Sachen. Als sie zu Korhals Clan gehörte tat sie es ganz und war unausstehlich. Sie hasste Rohan leidenschaftlich und wir bekamen das auch ab, deshalb verstehe ich nicht, wieso Haram… wie dem auch sei. Sie muß bald bemerkt haben, daß Korhal wenig Ehre und kaum Mut besaß. Daher sagte sie ihm das und verließ ihn für einen anderen Anführer. In unseren Augen traf sie eine noch schlechtere Wahl. Er mag stärker und mutiger gewesen sein, aber ehrenhafter sicher nicht. „Sie wird merken, daß das der falsche Weg ist,“ war alles, was Haram je dazu sagte, nachdem sie gegangen war. Naja… und wie er es sagte hätte mir einen Hinweis geben können… wenn ich darauf geachtet hätte.“ „M-hm.“ „Wie dem auch sei. Sie war zu Ungrath gegangen und aus unserem Leben verschwunden. Und wahrscheinlich hat sie entschlossen auf Ungrath’s Seite gestanden, sonst wäre sie in Helm’s Klamm nicht dabei gewesen.“ „Sie hat Helm’s Klamm angegriffen?!“ bellte Lorron. Aswig zog den Kopf ein. „Ja. Bis zu dem Befehl, Frauen und Kinder in den Höhlen zu töten. Da muß ihr aufgegangen sein, daß Ungrath’s Stärke nicht von der Sorte war, die sie gesucht hatte. Jedenfalls war sie dabei, die Frauen zu verteidigen, als wir sie trafen.“ „Ein Detail das du bisher nicht erwähnt hast. Was geschah dann?“ „Sie verschwand ehe der Morgen anbrach. Wir dachten nicht, daß wir sie je wiedersehen würden. Aber nun ist sie hier. Warum ich glaube, daß wir ihr trauen können? Aus demselben Grund, aus dem ich ihr zuvor nicht getraut habe. Sie macht keine halben Sachen, ich kann es nur wiederholen. Wenn sie beschlossen hat, jetzt an unserer Seite zu kämpfen, dann wird sie es tun.“ „Aswig!“ schnaufte Lorron. „Du sagst mir gerade, daß ich mich genau solange auf die Frau verlassen kann, bis sie sich ein weiteres Mal durch irgendetwas enttäuscht fühlt. Geht’s dir noch gut?“ „Nun, wenn sie sich durch uns enttäuscht fühlt werden wir’s merken. Das zeigt sie uns dann schon, hinter dem Rücken ist bei ihr nicht.“ „Großartig“, knurrte Lorron. „Und es kann morgen soweit sein oder nie. Du willst, daß ich mich darauf einlasse?“ Aswig nickte. „Wir sind schließlich nicht wie Korhal und Ungrath. Ich meine, wieso sollte…“ „Oh bitte, Aswig. Du sagst mir ins Gesicht, sie wird mir folgen, solange sie uns dafür für Wert erachtet. Sie. Uns. “ „Äh, ja? Und wo ist dein Problem damit? Wir sind dir immer gefolgt, weil wir an dich geglaubt haben, nicht, weil du plötzlich Captain warst. Und das tun wir auch weiterhin. Du warst nie die Sorte, die bedingungslosen Gehorsam Vertauen vorgezogen hat und so wie ich dich kenne gestehst du eigentlich jedem die Freiheit zu, zu gehen, wenn ihm etwas nicht gefällt. Du hast Tjoren auch nicht befohlen, in Cliving zu bleiben. Dennoch ist er noch hier. Wieso willst du ihr weniger Wahl zugestehen als einem von uns?“ Lorron schaute ihn verblüfft an. „Du hast Recht,“ gab er schließlich zu. „Soll sie an Haram’s Seite bleiben, wenn es das ist, was sie will. Aber mit ihr darüber reden muß ich doch.“ Er machte Anstalten, aufzustehen. An dieser Stelle sagte Aswig etwas, das er später bereute. Er dachte daran, daß er nicht wußte, was wirklich vor drei Jahren geschehen war. Noch hatte Lorron Vilheith nie im hellen Licht des Tages gesehen. „Err, Lorron?“ „Ja?“ „Ich sollte dir vielleicht sagen… sie war Korhals Kriegerin.“ „Hast du schon erwähnt, ja.“ „Sie ist mit ihm geritten, jenes Frühjahr. Ich weiß nicht ob du… oder sie…. was erinnerst du von damals?“ Lorron starrte ihn entsetzt an. Er schloß die Augen und rieb sich die Nasenwurzel mit Daumen und Zeigefinger. Damals hatte er alles wie durch einen roten Nebel gesehen. Er erinnerte sich nicht an die Frau. Aber er erinnerte sich an seine Freunde, und wie er sie aufgefunden hatte. Ihm wurde übel. „Lorron?“ fragte Aswig vorsichtig nach einer geraumen Weile des Schweigens. Er öffnete die Augen wieder. Es lag soviel Schmerz darin, daß Aswig zurückzuckte. Lorron stand wortlos auf und ging an ihm vorüber aus dem Zelt. Ein paar Schritte weit folgte er ihm. „Ich möchte allein sein, Aswig.“ sagte Lorron leise ohne sich umzusehen. Aswig sah ihm besorgt hinterher. Als Lorron eine ganze Weile später zu dem Zelt ging, in dem Vilheith und Haram waren, folgte er ihm vorsichtshalber. Falls dieses Gespräch schlecht ausging…. er sah sich um, ob er Jarl irgendwo entdecken konnte.

Vilheith saß neben dem Lager von Haram im Heilerzelt für leichtere Fälle, die Axt auf den Knien und schärfte diese mit gleichmäßigen Bewegungen. Haram schlief, ruhig atmend. Seine Wunden waren verbunden und er fühlte sich offenbar sicher.
Sie hatte selbst ein wenig gedöst, jedoch nicht, ohne bei Bewegungen, die in ihre Nähe oder die Harams führten, aufzusehen.
Die Dunländerin erntete noch immer seltsame Blicke von den anderen Kämpfern und dem als Feldscher agierenden, doch hielten alle etwas Abstand, offenbar unsicher, wie sie mit ihr umgehen sollten. Haram war von ihr gerettet worden, ja, und am Abend war es noch nicht vielen aufgefallen, doch jetzt bei Tage war ihre Herkunft deutlich.
Vor allem der junge Feldscher hatte seine Nervosität kaum im Griff gehabt. Sowohl was Haram als auch ihre eigenen leichteren Verletzungen anging, hatte sie ihn schließlich aufgefordert, ihr das Verbandszeug zu geben und war an die Arbeit gegangen. Der Junge hatte sich inzwischen dringenderen Fällen zugewandt und beachtete sie nicht weiter, außer wenn er immer mal wieder beim Zelt vorbeikam.

Die Morgendämmerung war vorüber, als Lorron das Zelt betrat, wo Haram und Vilheith lagerten, den jungen Mann grüßte, der ihm gefolgt war, und ihn um einen kurzen Lagebericht bat.
Der junge Feldscher berichtete ihm, sah dann zwischen dem Captain und der Frau hin – und her, bevor er mit einem leisen „Ich gehe Vorräte holen,“ das Zelt wieder verließ.
Lorron nickte, schaute ihm hinterher, bis er außer Hörweite war, und wandte sich dann Vilheith zu. Er hatte durchaus wahrgenommen, dass der junge Feldscher ihr einigen Respekt entgegenbrachte.
Vilheith sah auf, legte dann langsam die Axt beiseite und erhob sich, als wollte sie Lorron auf Augenhöhe begegnen. Die Anwesenheit des Feldschers hatte sie nur mit einem kurzen Blick quittiert.
Lorron registrierte die Axt, die sie fachmännisch handhabte und begann zu verstehen, woher jener Respekt des Jungen unter anderem kam. Der Blick der Frau tat ein übriges. „Wir müssen reden“, sagte er.
Vilheith musterte ihn. „Dann sprecht oder stellt eure Fragen, wenn es das ist, was euch herführt, Hauptmann der Forgoil.“ Sie wirkte nicht überrascht, mehr, als hätte sie ihn erwartet. Auch klang der Schimpfname der Dunländer aus ihrem Mund mehr wie eine Anrede.
„Aswig sagte mir, ihr seid seinetwegen hier“, er nickte gen Haram hinüber. Ihre Augen folgten seinem Nicken: „Er ist es wert, für ihn zu kämpfen.“ Weder ihre Miene noch ihr Tonfall sagten mehr darüber aus, wie sie ihre Worte meinen könnte.
„Das freut mich zu hören, denn das sehe ich genauso. Aswig sagte mir, ihr habt keine Liebe für Rohan als solches. Was ich mich frage: was werdet ihr tun, wenn der König uns einen Befehl erteilt und ich diesen an meine Männer weitergebe.“
She faced him without flinching: „My way has led me far from the people of my birth. I do not love your people but neither do I hate it anymore. Those feelings have died in the dark of the caves beyond that mountains. I will not raise a weapon against your people anymore. If you and your king ride against the shadow in the east that fouls whatever he touches then your way and mine leads down the same road. If he can follow you“, she nods at the still form of Haram lying on the pallet, „then there is no dishonor in following you.“
Lorron smiled involuntarily, and was astonished himself that he did. It was quite a different thing to hear about this person and to talk to her. Her words were what a Captain would wish to hear and might be designed to fullfill just that purpose. But what he could see in her eyes told him far more than her words. And he only needed to look at the way she carried herself. Aswig was right: as long as she had decided that Haram was hers, they could trust her. And as long as they fought the shadow.
„This battle might be over and won,“ he said, „but the fight isn’t over yet as you very well know. I have no idea what part we will play in what is to come. But yes, we will fight the shadow. To whatever end, if need be.“ Again she didn’t even flinch as if she had presumed his answer.
„There is one thing more I need to know: what will you do if he does not survive that fight but you do? Will you still ride with us? Can I rely on you not to leave us in the midst of a situation where, yes, we might still need you? For indeed that is the last thing I remember concerning you: You and yours left the orcs to die at my hands. Not that I’d have kept faith with them, I wouldn’t have sided with them in the first place. But you ran when things didn’t look good. They will not look good for us soon, I fear. Will you stay this time?“
Vilheith’s face was grim but she returned his hard stare.
„I cannot see what future might be there even if any of us survive. But I will never again dishonor me with running or turning from a deadly foe, neither in fear nor in search of a stronger hand than mine. If that will be my downfall then be it so.“ Again she nodded at Haram. „He risked all to save his comrade back in the village of Korhal. I offered him his freedom, but he wouldn’t even think about it. I will honor his last wish to stand with you to whatever end.“
Lorron looked at her: ‚“You offered him his freedom at cost of Aswig’s life? Small wonder he refused. Let us hope, lady, that we will not face a situation where there will be his ‚last wish.‘ I hope there may be a future for us still. You are welcome to ride with us. And I for one am glad it is so, for I would not refuse a blade offered in good faith. But when I go now to hear the orders of my king I will have to tell him about you. I just hope he believes in my judgement.“
„Go tell him then. I will face whatever his judgement will be.“

Vilheith nahm die Axt von der Stelle auf, wo sie gegen den Zeltpfosten lehnte, und ließ sich dort wieder nieder. Ihre Hand ergriff erneut den Schleifstein, den sie daneben gelegt hatte, und sie prüfte das Axtblatt sorgsam, bevor sie die Axt schließlich zufrieden beiseite legte und danach begann, Harams Waffe, die nahe seinem Lager war, derselben Behandlung wie ihre eigenen zu unterziehen.  Offenbar war für sie alles gesagt und sie würde den Ausgang der Beratungen mit dem König geduldig an Harams Seite abwarten.
Auch nach Lorrons Weggang ging sie nach und nach seine Ausrüstung durch und kümmerte sich um seinen Verband.

Als Haram später so langsam wach wurde, blinzelte er verwirrt, als müsste er sich erst orientieren. Er war zuvor nur einmal kurz erwacht und  stellte fest, dass seine Ausrüstung neben ihm inzwischen  gut sortiert war und Vilheith noch immer da, obwohl es inzwischen Tag und ganz offensichtlich einige Zeit vergangen war. „Hey“, sagte Haram erfreut lächelnd. „Ich konnte dir gestern noch nicht dafür danken, dass du an meiner Seite geblieben bist.“

Sein Gesicht war nicht mehr so blass wie am Abend zuvor und auch sein Stimme klang nicht mehr so schmerzverzerrt, wie Vilheith zufrieden feststellte. Zwischendrin hatte sie erneut etwas gedöst. Lorron war noch nicht von dem Treffen mit dem König zurückgekommen. Auch der junger Feldscher hatte, nach einem kurzem Blick zu Haram, ihr nur wieder eine Schüssel mit frischem Wasser und neue Verbände hingelegt, offenbar inzwischen realisierend, dass sie in Sachen Wundversorgung wohl deutlich mehr Erfahrung als er hatte.
„Ich sagte damals, in einem anderen Leben hätte ich für dich gekämpft.“  „Ich erinnere mich.“ Er schaute sie nachdenklich an. „Danke, dass du es in diesem getan hast.“
Ihre Stimme klangt ernst: „Mein altes Leben liegt hinter mir.“
Haram musterte sie weiter eindringlich, nickte schließlich.  Er wollte schon nach ihrer Hand greifen, doch dann bremste er sich, unsicher geworden durch ihren Ernst: „Ich habe gedacht, ich sehe falsch, wie du plötzlich neben mir warst“, sagte er statt dessen, und es ließ seine Erleichterung erkennen.
Vilheiths Blick ruhte auf ihm, nachdenklich. Sie gab mit keiner Regung zu verstehen, ob sie die Bewegung bemerkt hatte.
„Ich hoffe, Aswig wird mir nachsehen, dass er sich einen anderen Platz suchen musste…“
„Aswig wird dir wahrscheinlich ewig dankbar sein, dass du deinen Platz behauptet hast… gegen Haradrim und was weiß ich nicht alles.“
Haram richtete sich etwas auf: „Du bist unverletzt, oder?“
„Sie waren hartnäckige Kämpfer, die Männer aus dem Süden“, meinte sie, bevor sie beiläufig abwinkte bei der Frage nach Verletzungen. „Die Kratzer sind nicht der Rede wert. Euer Heiler hat mir etwas zum Versorgen hingestellt.“ Sie schnaubte. „Ich glaube, meine Anwesenheit hat ihn in Verlegenheit gebracht.“
Haram lachte kurz bellend auf. „Ja, das kann ich mir vorstellen. Ich denke mal, er hatte selten Gelegenheit, eine Frau zu versorgen“, sagte er schmunzelnd.
„Eure Frauen verletzen sich nicht.“ Vilheiths Tonfall klang fragend.
Haram schüttelte den Kopf: ‚“Klar verletzen sie sich. Aber sie sind eher selten in einem Kriegslager unterwegs, und das ist, wo er dich jetzt erlebt hat.“ Harams Augen leuchteten, als er sie betrachtete: „Ich kenne keine andere Frau wie dich…. falls es das ist, was du wissen wolltest.“
„Die Heiler für eure Krieger sind also nicht die für… die anderen?“
Haram überlegte kurz: „Das ist unterschiedlich. Es gibt einige, die nur für ihre Company da sind, andere helfen allem, was um ihr Dorf herum so wohnt.“
Vilheiths Blick wanderte zum Zelteingang: „Ich kann ihn mir nicht bei einer Geburt vorstellen. Eine Frau scheint ihn verlegen zu machen. Er ist noch sehr jung.“
Haram folgte ihrem Blick: „Ich kenne ihn kaum. Er ist nach Helms Klamm zu uns gekommen und hat zuletzt, glaube ich, auf einem Pferdehof eher die Tiere versorgt…“
Vilheith sah ihn an. Dann lachte sie. Haram stellte fest, wie sehr er dieses Lachen liebte. Es war völlig anders als im Dorf. Frei von dem Hohn und der Herausforderung, der dort allgegenwärtig gewesen war.
„Dann wird er sicher inzwischen gelernt haben, dass Krieger ähnlich stur sind. Und sie werden ihm sicher noch alles Nötige beibringen. Ebenso wie die Pferde.“
Haram fiel in ihr Lachen mit ein: „Das ist ihm sicher schon bewußt geworden.“ Er setzte sich auf dem Lager auf und bewegte sich testweise, leicht das Gesicht verziehend, als die eine Schulter einen dumpfen Schmerz durch seinen Körper sandte: „Armer Junge, aber ich denke, du hast Recht.“
Vilheith beobachtete seine Bewegungen aufmerksam wie einer der Heiler: „Du sollst die Schulter schonen.“
Haram biss die Zähne zusammen: „Ach? – Das arme Pferd, aber ich hab’s verflucht, als es draufgelegen hat.“ Er beugte sich ungelenk vor, nach dem Oberschenkel schauend, den ein frischer Verband zierte.  „Mehr Glück als Verstand gehabt. – Und dich, natürlich“, grinste er zu ihrer Seite hin.
„Der Jägersmann hat seine Hand über dich gehalten. Es wird heilen, ohne dich weiter zu behindern.“ Wieder klang sie ernst. Ihre Stimme verriet nicht, dass sie im ersten Moment nach seinem Sturz sicher gewesen war, er wäre tot und sich daraufhin wie eine Beserkerin auf die ihn umgebenden Feinde gestürzt hatte.
„Das will ich hoffen. Viele hatten weniger Glück als ich.“ Er schaute auf seine Hände. „Ich kann mir nicht vorstellen, dass wir hier lange Ruhe haben werden.“ Seine gute Laune verflog bei diesen Gedanken rasch.
Sie nickte: „So etwas sagte dein Captain auch, als er hier war.“
Haram sah auf: ‚“Lorron war hier?“
„Ja.“ Ihr Tonfall verriet nichts.
„Au… darüber habe ich noch gar nicht nachgedacht… errr… was sagt er denn?“ Eine gewisse Unsicherheit war bei ihm durchaus bemerkbar.
Vilheith musterte ihn ohne Regung: „Er fragte, wie ich zu euch stehe. Ob er mir trauen kann.“ Haram unterdrückte ein Husten.
Vilheiths Stimme klang neutral, weder verletzt noch irgendwie emotionell, als sie fortfuhr: „Ob ich euch verlasse, falls du stirbst.“
Etwas leicht Irritiertes eroberte nun doch seinen Gesichtsausdruck: „Bitte was?!“
„Aswig hat mit ihm gesprochen“, bestätigte Vilheith. „Das letzte Treffen, an das der blonde Riese sich erinnert, ist voller Scham für mich. Denn wir sind geflohen und ließen unsere Verbündeten, mögen sie verflucht sein, zurück. Er wollte wissen, ob ich erneut wortbrüchig werde.“
„Aber… du hast diesen Pakt doch nie geschlossen! Und du hast dich doch seitdem verändert! Hat Aswig ihm das nicht gesagt?“
Vilheith’s Tonfall zeigte deutlich die Zerrissenheit, die ihm damals in der Gefangenschaft teilweise aufgefallen war. Dass ihre Leute sich Kreaturen wie der Orks für ihre Ziele bedienten. Sie sah ihn ernst an. „Ich weiß nicht, was dein Freund ihm gesagt hat. Er schien beherrschter als die Geschichten über ihn vermuten lassen. Es wäre sein Recht gewesen mich niederzustrecken statt Worte zu wechseln.“
Haramn beruhigte sich langsam wieder etwas. Sie war hier bei ihm, obwohl Lorron dagewesen war… ihre Worte hingegen machen ihm wieder deutlich, wie vertrackt die Situation ist. Von ihren Gefährten von damals leben kaum noch welche. Und er weiß nicht und wird nie, niemals, fragen, wen sie niedergestreckt hat. Ihm wird schwindelig, wenn er daran denkt. Das war nicht die gleiche Person, die hier bei ihm sitzt… Doch, sicher war sie das… aber sie wäre nicht hier, wenn sie sich nicht grundlegend geändert hätte… Nein, er möchte nicht genauer wissen, was damals geschehen ist. Aber Trevvis war dort. Und Tjoren und Rulavan. Sie alle kennen sie nicht so wie er. Werden sie sie dulden? Sie scheinen es zumindest zu versuchen.
Aber welche Bilder von damals sind in ihren Köpfen? Er wird sie fragen müssen… er betrachtet den Boden zu seinen Füßen. Daß er jahrelang gehofft hatte, daß Lorron kommen, Rache üben und alles niederstrecken würde, ja, auch sie… das lag so weit zurück.
„Ich… kann nur hoffen, dass die anderen bereit sind, die Vergangenheit ruhen zu lassen,“ sagt er leise.
Vilheith thought about last night. „Some seem to understand“, she said. „But I will face their wrath if that is to come. I will not run again. Never.‘ His eyes grew wide. „So… it isn’t decided yet? Lorron didn’t say if you are here as prisoner, guest or one of us?“
„He accepted my axe to fight in the battles to come. But he has gone to see your king. So what will become will be his decision.“
„Eomer is king now…“ Haram mused. „I wonder if he got over the fact that you miraculously disappeared from Helm’s deep…. at least he knows you fought on our side then…“ He sighed. „They’ll have many things to decide today. We’ll have to wait a while for his answer I fear.“
Vilheith nickte, relativ unbeeindruckt.
„He… Lorron accepted you?“ he realized then. „Good, that’s good. If he’s decides he’s going to try and trust you, then we don’t have to worry about the others. They’ll not go against that.“ He sighed with relief and leaned back. „Vilheith? Danke, dass du hier bist. Zuerst war ich nur froh, dich wiederzusehen. Inzwischen wird mir klar, was das für dich bedeutet. Und für meine Freunde. Ich hoffe nur, der König sieht die Dinge wie Lorron. Weitere Kämpfe, untereinander, ehe noch die anderen kommen, können wir jetzt nicht brauchen. Aber du sagst ja, du akzeptierst, was immer er entscheidet. Danke.“ Ruhig sah sie ihn an und nickte bestätigend. Er konnte jedoch nicht umhin, weiter darüber nachzudenken.
„Ich denke, du hast die richtigen Entscheidungen getroffen. Ich weiß nicht wie ich es fände, wenn dir das Unglück brächte.“ Er wußte, daß er eben nicht jedes Urteil akzeptieren und sie notfalls gegen ihren Willen in Sicherheit bringen würde. Er sprach dies nicht aus, allerdings kannte ihn Vilheith inzwischen gut genug, um es ihm anzusehen. „Nicht alles lässt sich mit der Klinge in der Hand lösen.“
Haram schnaufte, als er hört, daß er durchschaut war. In diesem Moment schob Aswig vorsichtig die Zeltplane beiseite, spähte hinein und räusperte sich. Beide sahen zu ihm.
„Aswig.“ Harams Tonfall war etwas unterkühlt. War es wirklich notwendig gewesen, Lorron an besagtes Frühjahr zu erinnern?
Aswig runzelte die Stirn und grüßte die beiden. „Was ist mit dir los, Haram? Danke, wie geht es dir? Wie wäre es damit gewesen?“
Haramn hob eine Augenbraue und erwiderte etwas mechanisch: „Wie geht es dir?“
Vilheith bemerkte, daß irgendetwas zwischen den beiden stand. „Wenn ihr reden wollt… werde ich gehen. Es sei denn, Euer König hat anders entschieden.“ Aswig dreht sich zu ihr: „Wegen seiner Entscheidung bin ich hier, Vilheith.“ Sie erhob sich und sah ihn auffordern an.
„Macht euch keine Sorgen“, lächelte Aswig. „Als ihm klarwurde, daß du uns schon seit Helms Klamm folgst, hat Eomer eingesehen, dass es keinen Sinn macht, eine zu allem entschlossene Frau aufhalten zu wollen, wenn sie denn nun unbedingt mit uns gegen den Schatten ziehen will. – Naja, vielleicht hat auch dazu auch beigetragen, dass er seine eigene Schwester nicht hindern konnte, am Krieg teilzunehmen, um Theoden zu schützen, aber das ist nur meine Ansicht, sprecht das ja nicht aus.“ Vilheith erinnerte sich an den weißhaarigen Krieger. „Er war ein tapferer Mann und seine Familie scheint ihm in nichts nachzustehen.“
Haramn sagte: „In der Tat!“ „Ja!“, pflichtete ihm Aswig bei. „Ein Hoch auf unseren König!“, sagten beide gleichzeitig. „…und seine Schwester!“ fügte Aswig an. Haram lachte. „In Ordnung. Und seine Schwester.“ Vilheith nickte, offenbar zufrieden. „Ich werde nach dem Pferd sehen.“
„Mach das“, meinte Aswig. „Sollte dich irgendjemand ansprechen kannst du ihnen ruhig mitteilen, dass der König dich uns zugeteilt hat, du kannst dich hier so frei bewegen wie jeder andere von uns. Naja, du weißt ja, wie einige reagieren könnten. Du kommst schon klar.“
Vilheith nickte erneut.
„Dabei fällt mir ein,Vilheith, hör dich bei den Pferden doch gleich um, wo gute überzählige sind“, riet Aswig
„Das werde ich.“
„Gut, ich möchte nicht, dass Haram wieder so einen altersschwachen Gaul bekommt, oder ich so einen fußlahmen.“
Vilheith lächelte. Oh ja, sie würde ihnen Pferde besorgen.
Aswig lächelte auch. Oh,ja. Das konnte er sich gut vorstellen.
Haramn wartete, bis sie das Zelt verlassen hatte. „Alles gut? Einfach so?“ fragte er verblüfft.
„Naja… ich denke, Lorron hat schon ordentlich auf ihn einreden müssen…“
„Ist er noch dort?“
„Ja. Er und die anderen Captains haben Elfhelm Bericht erstattet und warten nun auf ihre Befehle. Er hat mich nur hergeschickt, damit die Angelegenheit mit Vilheith schonmal geklärt ist. All die großen Herren beraten noch, wie es weitergeht, drüben, im Zelt beim Anführer der Dunedain.“
„M-hm. Und warum genau mußtest du ihn an so einem Morgen überhaupt daran erinnern, wo wir ihr zuerst begegnet sind?“
Aswig wurde rot. „Ich dachte, wenn er sich nun doch an etwas von damals erinnert… Wir haben das Thema ja immer tunlichst ausgespart.“
„Dafür gab’s auch gute Gründe.“
„Und jetzt gab’s gute Gründe, ihn ins Vertrauen zu ziehen. Was denkst du denn, wie er reagiert hätte, wenn er es nicht von uns sondern von Rula, Trevvis oder Tjoren gehört hätte?“ Haram wurde bleich. „Hast du eine Ahnung, wie die reagieren werden?“ Aswig zuckte mit den Schultern. „Rulavan hat sie nicht erkannt, sonst wäre er wohl anders mit ihr umgegangen, er war eigentlich ganz entspannt letzte Nacht. Tjoren und Trevvis…
gut, das muß ich im Auge behalten. Aber jetzt muß ich erstmal los, Rula mitteilen, was der König gesagt hat. Ich bin zuerst bei euch rein.“
„Sag Rulavan, ich muß mit ihm reden. Was hat der König eigentlich wirklich gesagt?“
„Errrr…. es lief auf das hinaus, was ich gesagt hab.“
Haramn schaute ihn nur unverwandt an, bis Aswig nachgab. „Er war verblüfft, daß sie nicht einfach so verschwunden ist. Und er meinte, 1000 Mann um sie herum sollten wohl mit ihr fertigwerden und er wisse lieber wo sie sei. Sowas in der Art.“
„Ah, ja.“
„Und daß es in Lorron’s Verantwortung läge, wenn was passiert…“
Haramn stützte das Kinn in die Hand. „Er wird stockwütend sein. Wieso meint er, sich das antun zu müssen? “
Aswig zögerte nicht lange mit der Antwort. „Dir zuliebe natürlich. Ich meine… vielleicht habe ich das ja falsch verstanden… aber wie soll ich es denn verstehen, wenn die gute Dame wie ein Berserker alles niedermacht, was in deine Nähe kommt? Sie ist doch gestern wie ein Wirbelwind auf die Gegner losgefahren, als sie dachte, dir wäre etwas zugestoßen.“
Haramn blickte ihn an und blinzelte. „Das hast du Lorron so erzählt?“‚
„Auch, ja.“
Haramn schluckte. „Was wird der jetzt von mir denken…“
„Ach, mach dir keine Gedanken, ich hab ihn beruhigt, dass das nicht schon seit Jahren so geht und wohl eher eine neuere Sache ist.“
„Was denn nun schon wieder?“
Haramn schüttelte den Kopf. „Das ist doch überhaupt noch nicht spruchreif! Sie würde wild wenn sie annähme… und kann ich mich im Lager überhaupt noch blicken lassen?“
Aswig grinste und Haram schnaufte. „Mann, du weißt, wie sie ist! Das kann ja was werden… als hätten wir nicht schon genug Probleme.“
„Du hast geschlafen, mein Freund. Und sie hat allen Anwesenden unmißverständlich klargemacht, daß ihr Platz an deiner Seite ist. Was, meinst du, denken sie? Ganz gleich, was ich sage? Oder du? Die allgemeine Annahme ist, daß wir auf unserem Weg durch Dunland mehr begegnet sind, als du erwähnen wolltest. Ich fand, dabei könnte man es belassen.“
„Gehst du jetzt bitte Rulavan benachrichtigen? Ich wollte eigentlich zuerst heut noch wieder zu euch ins Zelt… ich bin mir jetzt nicht mehr so sicher…“
Aswig lachte fröhlich. „Als ob dich das hindern würde. Als ob dich so etwas je gehindert hätte…“

Haram laid back and sighed. It was all so confusing. He’d been irritated because Aswig had told Lorron and he still felt unsure because he didn’t know how his old friends would react to this new revelation. But then slowly those concerns faded. Lorron had talked to the king and they had the crown’s consent now. The fierce joy he felt that Vilheith had not only seen the error of the way that had been Ungrath but also that she had chosen to come here and ride beside him and that this choice didn’t prove her undoing now but was right, just right, this joy shone with a light that dimmed all other concerns. Yes, for sure Lorron was angry and all, but they’d raised him and taught him and he’d turned out to be a caring person, for given the choice between revenge for the dead and dedication to the living their lad had chosen to swallow his revenge in favor of what Haram wanted. His heart went out to his captain. ‚Thank you‘, he thought. ‚You can shout at me all you like now, I’ll still be smiling inside. Thank you for your concern.‘ He’d ridden with him from Helm’s deep to here. The battle, all the new faces in their company, the haste of the ride… their horrid welcome to Hrimholt’s company before that, where he had been forced to secretly do things he wasn’t ashamed of but weren’t right as well… the long, very long, absence… all of this had led him to expect things to go the cold way, had lured him into believing even his friends weren’t totally on his side. No, he hadn’t told Lorron about Vilheith. He hadn’t dared. Tears came to his eyes unbidden but not because he was unhappy. There had been no reason for fear. He was home. Finally, truly, he’d come back to the few people in this world who meant home to him. Who’d stand by him, no matter what. Even though the world could end tomorrow, or next week, he didn’t care. Right at the moment, there was a warm feeling in his heart. ‚Welcome to my world, Vilheith‘, he thought as he closed his eyes to get a little sleep. ‚I cannot tell you how much time remains for us, but I’m glad you’re here with us.‘

He woke as Rulavan entered the tent. „Sorry to disturb you“, he said. „How are you?“ „Much better. A little more rest and I’ll be on my feet again.“ Rulavan nodded. „Good. Aswig told me Vilheith has permission to stay with us and that you wanted to talk to me.“ „True“, Haram sighed. He bit his lip and didn’t know how to start, only that he didn’t think it right if Lorron knew and Rula didn’t… and was surprised to see Rulavan smile, if a bit sadly. „Don’t you know me at all?“ he asked softly. „That woman saved your life. How could I possibly hold a grudge against her?“ „Well, because she…“ Haram began, but Rulavan held up a hand. „I remembered her, Haram. When she brought you in yesterday, I recognised her and I remembered where I’d seen her last. I decided not to bring it up, because she seemed very different from the one she was then.“ Haram stared at him speechless. „I do not think it a good idea to wake Trevvis‘ memories of that day if he doesn’t remember for himself“, he went on. „But I spoke to Tjoren on my way here, because with him I needed to be sure what he thought, now that it was clear she is staying. You know what? He was just watching her bargaining over one of the spare horses with one of the Eastfolders who’d set eyes on it, too. At first I thought he hadn’t listened to what I said. Then he shook his head and gave a barking laugh. „Fate is a beast“, he said and nodded in direction of the Eastfolder. „He’ll soon find he stood no chance. She’ll come kill orcs with us? My pleasure.“ Haram grinned. „Is there a place for us in our tent? I guess the healer will be glad to see me leave and make room for others who might need this cot.“ „As long as you don’t take it as a pretext to be moving around too soon… I’ll ask him and carry your things… and you’d better tell her yourself and come in to us with her. For one thing, I won’t touch her weapons and for another that will state things as they are for all to see. Best way to end rumors before they even started is to keep things in plain sight.“

That midday they sat next to the common tent, all of them who were not wounded so seriously that they were confined to a bed or who weren’t needed to tend to those. They sat on stools, makeshift benches and the ground as a cluster of small groups together. It was the place to be now. Last night and the morning they had mourned the dead. But they had won yesterday. The sun was shining and they still had a king. They still had their lives and they had themselves. Those who’d gone were remembered fondly. They’d given their lives to repell the darkness and today, the darkness was gone and the survivors were glad for it. Now was the time to look at those who were still there, a time to feel their presence more intensely than usually and to make sure of one thing above all: We’re alive. We have us.
Trevvis had done what he could with what was left of their provisions or else had been given them by the Gondorians. It wasn’t a feast but it was good and enough for all.
It might have been a fleeting moment in a series of battles during those days of turmoil, but that midday at least, they had peace.

Haram had been sitting wedged between Vilheith and Aswig and smiling he’d followed the heated -but -not- earnest discussion Tjoren and Leochtmar had had. Geol had been tired still after the long night and rather listened to conversations than taken part in them. That trout-fisher they’d taken with them from the foot of the white mountains had told stories about the rivers and the different fish in the region where he’d grown up. Inwardly, Geol had sighed. At the heart of their company were men who earned their living as warriors and were trained, but dear old Andvar had only ever fought with a weapon when he needed to defend himself against wolves or the like. Granted, he handled a spear better than most, ´cause there were fish he caught with it, but still there were so many like him here, men able to hold a weapon but not used to war, that he wished the worst would be over. Yet a look at Lorron’s face told him it wasn’t. Lorron hid it, but he knew his son better than that and wasn’t surprised when he got up and threw him a look to follow him.

This wasn’t about the woman, he knew. They’d talked about that, before. „Eomer will have wanted to know why they (‚they‘ meaning their collection of Dunlanders, of course) come flocking to us“, Geol had supposed and Lorron had smiled ruefully. „Indeed he did.“ „And what did you answer him?“ „That I have no clue as to who was advertising about us out there, but that I’d sure not chosen to knock at Hrimholt’s door, either, if I were them. At least that made him laugh.“ „But she isn’t like Nardashan. Rulavan told me. How do you cope with that, lad?“ Lorron had looked at him. „How do you?“ Geol had sighed. „We can’t very well expect Hamnath to get along with Jestim if we ourselves can’t forgive those who once hurt us, right? Just like Dal, she’s left the past behind her.“ Lorron had cocked his head to one side. „Ah, that’s another way to see it. I just didn’t want to hurt Haram’s feelings where not absolutely necessary.“

Lorron’s mood now concerned something far more grave. „What news have you kept hidden from them?“ Geol asked, as they had reached their tent.
Lorron told him. And then he turned away from him and stood with his head bent. „I’m not as brave as I’d like to be“, he confessed.
Geol stepped up to him and laid an arm around him. He felt him trembling and waited till that spell had past. „I’ve been through many and more campaigns, child“, he said. „From what you told me it’s clear that our king rides to distract his foe. But from what I do not know and neither can I tell you how he plans to win or if those providing the distraction stand a chance to return. Yet he himself goes there. And that wizard does, too. I’m sure it’s got something to do with that man. He will have a plan.“ Lorron sighed. „That wizard is older than any of us. Our grandfathers knew about him and he was old back then already. Time does not affect him as it affects other people and neither does death. His plans may differ in the extreme from those we’d make.“
„And that exactly is the reason why I have hope“, said Geol. Lorron turned round to him then and his eyes betrayed him. „This might be farewell, father.“ „I know.“ Knowing, too, that once Lorron had told the men they would hardly find the time for a proper ‚Goodbye‘ Geol hugged him and held him a moment. „But I refuse to believe it is“, he whispered. „I gave up on you once. Never again.“ Lorron managed a smile. „Your confidence never fails to amaze me“, he said.

They were still sitting together, after the meal, and Haram was laughing at some joke Rulavan had made and Vilheith was looking puzzled at them, struggling with the unfamiliar words, when a messenger stepped in and summoned Rulavan to Lorron’s tent. Puzzled that their Captain hadn’t come himself the men looked after him as he left.
When he returned some while later he was accompanied by Lorron. Both their faces were stern and Haram sensed that the brief time they’d had to cherish they were still alive after that great battle was over now. Lorron’s next words confirmed that. He called together all the company and told them what the leaders had decided. „Our King is making ready to ride with about 500 of us on foot and 500 on horse to the Black Gate together with the Gondorians and the Dunedain. This army will be about 7000 strong altogether. Elfhelm has been assigned to clear the road and take care of the fleeing hosts, so that they don’t venture into Rohan and do more damage. It is thus“, he said, „that we will have to divide our company. I myself will lead those who are to ride with the King. Rulavan will lead those who are to ride with Elfhelm. I tell you openly that… those who go to assail the Black Gate stand less chance of coming back safe than those who stay in Gondor under Elfhelm. I tell you openly, too, that for that reason only those who come of their own free will and aren’t hindered by wounds shall go that way. I’d advise those of you with family to choose wisely, but choose you must. We will wait to hear your decision by nightfall at latest, so that those who will ride with Elfhelm can make ready. Scouts have been sent to bring news of the roads and tonight Elfhelm will give out precise orders. He’s going to march tomorrow morning. When he’s cleared the way, the companies following the king will march early the next day.“ With that having said he looked around at them again. „Then there’s another matter. As I can see you’ve all come to know Vilheith by now. I want you to know that I regard her as part of our company and I expect you to treat her likewise. That will be all for now. You can find me outside inspecting the horses.“ All was quiet for a moment after he’d left. They were looking at each other. „What now?“ asked one. „Which company do you think Geol will choose?“ asked a second. He got no answer as the others were thinking about what they’d heard.

Vilheith had watched him as Lorron laid out the plans before his men. She might not have understood all of it but enough to grab the basic meaning. She had recognized the tone of his words, too, and knew which way she would go. She looked sideways at Haram and nodded silently holding his gaze firmly. Then she turned her gaze to Aswig frowning lightly.
Haram sighed and bit his lip. His expression turned sad.
Aswig seemed to have sensed their attention and looked up just at that moment. „Well then, let’s go tell Lorron“, he said and stood up.

Vilheith stood stretching her legs. She seemed to want to speak but remained silent after another look at Haram before she left the tent.
On the other side of the fire the eyes of the young healer, Hamnath, followed her on her way out. He bit his lip obviously torn in the choice laid out before him.
Aswig wasn’t waiting till they’d caught up with him, for there was no doubt in his mind which way they’d go. „Aswig… wait“, called Haram softly. His friend stopped, frowning slightly. „You’re not sure your shoulder will be up to it?“ he asked „It’s a few days to the Black Gate. You’ll be fine by then.“
Haram swallowed hard and decided to keep it short. „Aswig, you’re not going.“
Aswig blinked his eyes a few times as if he hadn’t understood.
„I mean it“, Haram said, laying a hand on his arm. „We’ve known Lorron all his life… did you ever hear him confess chances weren’t good? We all know that. He gave the numbers that were chosen, and you’ve seen what kind of army the enemy sent against Minas Tirith in haste. How many, do you think, are being kept behind the black gate?“
„But…“ Aswig shook his head.
„I have no idea what the king’s plan really is, either. And neither does Lorron, I’m sure. All I know is… I don’t want you to die there. Jarla and Lentje need you more than the king. If things go ill for us at the Gate, then there’s still Elfhelm and Gondor… and you my friend, to cope with them. I’d be happy to think you could stop them and then to imagine the day you returned home. I’d rather that than have you beside me if things go ill.“
„Who’s speaking of dying…? I mean… wild winds, Haram, you don’t think that mission… Lorron wouldn’t, would he? Lead us to… if there really was no chance?“
Haram said nothing.
Aswig drew in breath sharply. „Of course I miss my family, but I’ve always stood beside you all, you know that…“
Haram still answered nothing, so Aswig turned to Vilheith. „What do you think?“ he wanted to know.

„Your duty lies with your family after the army we left behind on the ride here is dealt with. Riders from the north and east who joined your host during the ride spoke of other hostile groups up in the lands beyond that marshes. Hard to believe that there aren’t stragglers who seek an easy target while the warriors are gone elsewhere.“ Her eyes were grim as that would have been a way her own people had pursued more than one time in the past.

Aswig looked from her to Haram and back. „I can see I’m outnumbered here“, he murmured. „You’ll both be going, right?“ He didn’t look at them anymore but had started to finger the little figurine Arynd had made, which he kept in his pocket always. „I’m a warrior of Rohan, “ he said in a strained voice. „And my king calls. Yet if a man like Elfhelm stays there’s no dishonour in staying, I know that. And yes, I’d love to keep safe our lands and not die at some gate in the east. But it means we’ll have to part tomorrow.“

„Our fate waits for us under the Shadow in the Black Lands“, Vilheith nodded to Aswig confirming his assumption. „But yours doesn’t. You are to seek life, not chase death!“ She remembered Urvun’s cryptic words she hadn’t fully understood on the moment of their parting.
Aswig put the figurine back and shuddered. There was nothing to add to her words. His heart told him she was right. He took a step back. „See you later?“ he asked tentatively. Haram nodded.

Lorron looked up as they approached and he took in what he saw. „How did Aswig take it when you told him to go to Rulavan?“ he asked. „He’s devastated“, answered Haram. Lorron sighed. „I’m sorry. I wouldn’t have taken him with us. I’m not even sure I want to take you with us. I know HER mind (he nodded to Vilheith) but I could guess at yours only. Are you sure?“ „I’d rather fight against the shadow at your side.“ „Even though you know what to expect?“ „What is for me here when both you and she are going?“ Lorron nodded. „Tell me if you know it… have the others understood?“ „Some, I think. Something tells me Geol won’t come, right?“
„He’s got a young wife waiting for him, so…“
„He’s got…?!“ These few words had changed Haram’s mood completely. „He s got… and he didn’t say… man, now that’s a surprise.“
„It sure was for me. Now, do you have a horse? I remember you lost yours.“

Vilheith was the one who answered. „I organized two horses for both of them.“ She didn’t specify how and where she had found the horses but pointed to the picket line where they stood next to her own. Their tack had been cleared from the worst signs of death and they had settled to their rations easily enough in midst of the other horses. She was quite satisfied with her choice and it showed in her voice when she praised their advantages for the deeds to come.

She had listened to the words the men had exchanged but kept her mind to herself. She had long accepted death and knew there wouldn’t be a future for her as long as the shadow remained.

Leochtmar and Jarmun had come and gone and a score of the others who’d lost everything at the Westfold and saw no other way but to try and fight the shadow. Lorron had not accepted Inglad, for he was sure that what the young spearman was really looking for was the safety of the group with whom he’d fled. Only they hadn’t had the sense to tell him ’no‘. He was almost glad when Jarl showed up. „I saw Aswig with Rulavan“, Jarl said. „Good choice.“ Lorron squinted up at him. „If you think it the better choice, then why are you here? You’ve got daughters, haven’t you?“ Jarl nodded. „Three of them, fine young ladies. All of them married and with children of their own by now. I met them at Helm’s gate, they are safe. And they got their husbands to keep them safe. I’d like to see where this tale leads. With the king going, I will not stay behind.“ „That’s fine with me. Oh, look… I’d not expected HIM…“

Hamnath slowly came up to Lorron, mentally bracing himself to bring out his request with a firm voice though there still was doubt in his heart. He could only hope it to be the right choice. As the captain had presented them with the options he hadn’t understood how dire the stakes really were. Hadn’t they won this battle against all odds?
But when he had followed Aswig, Haram and Vilheith to tell the captain his eyes had been opened. Still unsure of his choice he hadn’t paid attention and had to stop dead in his tracks as the other three had come to an abrupt stop way before meeting up with the captain. Not wanting to interrupt their exchange he had wanted to withdraw silently but something in the tone of their low voices and Haram’s bearing had kept him there. Involuntarily he had witnessed Haram telling Aswig to stay behind and Vilheith backing him up. Her strange wording resounded in his mind.
Hamnath had stood motionless in the shadow of the tents for long moments after Haram and Vilheith had continued on and Aswig had left for Rulavan, trying to sort his racing thoughts and feelings.
When he finally had come to a conclusion others had passed him going this way or that. There would be no shame to go with Rulavan he kept telling himself but he couldn’t bring himself to lead his feet down that road.

Relieved he saw the strong figure of Jarl approaching the captain. If others could face certain death he would, too.

Lorron sighed as the young man came to stand before him and looked him straight in the eyes. „I suspect you heard Geol would stay with Rulavan and thought we needed a healer?“

Hamnath’s pale and drawn face lit up a bit and he nodded, hesitating only for the blink of an eye. „I take it that there might be fighting on the way before… the Gate“, again his voice faltered just a bit before become firm again, „I might be of use, Captain.“

Lorron studied him. This one might bolt at the first sign of that gate, the way he spoke the word. He might as well have said: „before the end“. Yes, he might. But up to then, as he himself put it… he was right. They had no other as skilled as him in healing left. And he’d shown last night that he was able to endure a lot if needs be, for after the fight he’d seen him working all night and in the morning and he’d found him beside a wounded man’s bed when he returned from that debate this afternoon. But was it really necessary to take him with them if it came to that end? Damn, he was so very young. „I know you might,“ he answered. „And I even got the feeling you listened closely to what I said in there. Yet I’m reluctant to take you. Your skills are needed here, as well.“

The young man nodded to the captain’s words. He chose his next words carefully keeping his voice steady. „That might be right for now as we all are still camped here. But with most of our fighters gone the wounded who remain will be gathered in a better suited place within cleared up parts of the city with the more serious wounded brought up to buildings near the Houses of Healing as I was told this afternoon. With fewer numbers they will handle the situation. They even expect more healers and helpers to come to the city by boat or horseback within the next few days. Some of those who had been sent away before the siege and some coming up with the host following the fleet.“ He didn’t stress that some of the wounded wouldn’t last the night further reducing their numbers in a grim way.

„I have no direct family who depend on me, Captain. And none can say what will happen on the road. I cannot imagine the… enemy to keep quiet for the whole way. It might make a difference to tend to the wounded quickly. And in case that all… ends well I still expect there to be a lot of wounds to be looked after.“

Hamnath preferred to keep his mind from following down the road right up to that Gate of which he only had a dim threatening idea. He decided to stick to things he knew like skirmishes and ambushes on the road with which he thought he was able to cope.

Lorron still wasn’t quite convinced. „You’re a healer all through I see“, he said. „Thinking of the others first, trying to reason with me for their sake. I ask you to take a step back please and think of your own sake for just a moment. If it ends well, you say. We know it very well might not and then you’ll be trapped there with the ones you came to help. And yes, I, too expect dangers on the road before that. Can you really take all this? Can you watch the men you just saved walk further? You are someone who cares, someone who pushes himself beyond his limits to help others… which is why I order you straight to bed in any case once we’re done with this interview… and I really do not want to see you break under the strain that surely lies before us. Are you sure you can take it, Hamnath?“

Hamnath looked at Lorron. Indeed he took a moment to give him an answer. Not that he had to think twice about his choice but he did recall an incident at the beginning of his study with the healer of the eored near his old home. An incident that had had a great impact on him. His voice was quiet but firm then at last he answered.

„My mother had a good hand at herblore  and I had learned from her at first. When she died an old friend of my father took me as his apprentice. The old man was stationed at the small village where we lived – no longer fit enough to ride out with the eored. So for most of their patrols I would take up that part after I had learned the basics from him and the men of the eored. In that mountain region most of the times there wasn’t fighting and battle wounds that had to be treated but snow bite and cold and smaller wounds from some of the plants which inflicted an itchy rash which led to great bloody wounds if not treated quickly and directly.  Nothing too serious for a boy who knew his handiwork.“ His voice trailed off for a moment lost in memory.

„One winter was different. Snow had come early. There had been several findings of dead livestock at remote pastures but tracks or even hints of what had happened were scarce. The trackers spend a lot of time out there and the eored took their patrols further up to the higher regions. I was exited at first to accompany them for there was little else to occur.“ He sighed, seemingly having forgotten Lorron and Jarl looming over him.

„I loved to listen to the stories the men told in the evenings when we put up the camp and imagined all kinds of great deeds that might await us even if the culprit for the slaughter proved to be a mountain lion or something like that.
As we went higher the weather got worse and the winter storms caught up with us…“

Again he sighed: „To shorten up the story of a long and exhausting search… in a region known for its treacherous ways and shifting snows we were caught in an avalanche… one moment we were still riding up, in the next the whole mountain of ice and snow seemed to be crashing down on us. It took the surviving members of the patrol long to get out of it and back on temporarily safe ground… We had lost almost all of the horses and most of the rations and equipment to make up more than a makeshift camp. As you can surely imagine the avalanche had led to several severe wounds and broken bones. I had been lucky to ride at the rear and got thrown when my horse panicked before getting lost in the mess of snow, ice and stones. I broke an ankle and a rip or two and nursed a prominent headache but lived… Others were not as lucky… We did our best to settle in for the nights and the days to come for we were a long way from home.
One of the trackers was send back to the village as he was the most likely to get through bearing fewer and lighter wounds. We others did our best to survive till he would return… we found corpses of the horses not too far from our place but those did attract hunters of the night, too. And so at long last we got an answer as to what creatures had been responsible for the slaughter down at the farms…
In the first night all we heard was dark howling in the cliffs around us and strange noises distorted by the echos of that place. The next night the first man set up for the watch… vanished.. all that was left of him was a pool of blood in the snow… It must have happened too quickly for him to even cry out an alarm… He had been one of those who weren’t hurt too badly but couldn’t walk all too well. One of those who could help me with the wounded. The first I had seen half buried in the snow and had managed to get him out…“ Hamnaths voice grew harder and sadder: „From that night on our number began to dwindle. Some men succumbed to their wounds as time went on and the bit of storage we had been able to secure was gone. As we grew weaker by cold, hurt and famish it became harder to keep up a constant watch. A moment of abstraction and we had to mourn another loss to the unseen attackers, if only in the long nights when a lot of snow was falling. The lasting bad weather didn’t help, covering tracks and other hints of the assailants, hindering us to leave the place even if we had been willing to leave those behind who couldn’t walk on their own since none of us would have been able to drag them along…“

Hamnath looked up at Lorron: „I learned two harsh lessons up there in the snow, Captain. One every healer has to face, one time or another, over and over again, as my master had tried to tell me. But words aren’t enough for it to drive home the pain that goes along with it.  I know I cannot save everyone in my care. Sometimes all my efforts are in vain. Not only when wounds or illness prove to be fatal or simply well beyond my skills given all circumstances. And even if I manage to help someone one day he might still die another day in battle or accident. Knowing doesn’t help with that sorrow but walking another way leaving the task to others doesn’t either.
You ask me if I can see it through to whatever end. I won’t tell you I’m not afraid to die, for I am. But as I see it I am back in that camp up in the snow with death stalking night and day. All I can do is to meet it as best as I can. Tell me, how great are the chances for a different outcome if I go with Rulavan and Elfhelm and you find your end at the Black Gate?“

He kept his soft voice low enough for only Lorron and Jarl to hear.

„I cannot give you an easy answer to that“, Lorron said. „What awaits us at the gate will be hard beyond measure. If you stay here, you may live, but find that your world has gone dark and isn’t worth living in anymore. Or maybe there would be corners still which are overlooked by the dark forces, but secret and hidden, without much chance of a better future. I do not know. Whatever the plans of our leaders, they better not fail…“ He sighed. „The choice put before you was more the question of how you would like to meet your own fate“, he said. „For some, staying behind to defend their families and maybe returning to them and being together before the end is the only right way, and they have to take it. For others, riding with the king no matter what is the only right way. But deciding to do so and not making it through would spell a personal defeat even before any other that may lie ahead, and I do not want my men to meet their end ashamed of themselves. Not as long as there’s a valiant man like Elfhelm ready to marshal everyone who stays behind. I needed to know your heart, Hamnath, for that was the part of you I was worried about.“ He laid a hand on the other’s arm. „I’m sorry I doubted you“, he said warmly, „and I’m glad you’ll ride with us.“
He felt him shivering, for now he had his answer and the harsh memories of the past had piled on top of the exhaustion and weighed him down. „Jarl?“ Lorron gave responsibility for Hamnath over to the big warrior with this word and Jarl nodded and stood ready to support their healer back to the tents and onto a bedroll.

Rulavan had been talking to Geol as Aswig approached. He was very quiet, so neither of them noticed him till he came to stand right next to them. Then Rulavan only had to take one look at him as he stood there, head bent, unhappy. He got up from the post he’d been leaning against and laid an arm round his shoulders. Aswig shivered and finally he did look up. „Why?“ he asked, his eyes darting from one to the other. He realized Geol felt a pain similar to his, only veiled and far better hidden. „Why didn’t you just tell him ’no‘?!“ he demanded to know. „He would have listened to you! Why didn’t you just tell him it’s a folly to split the group and that we’d best all go defend Rohan with Elfhelm?“ Geol looked at him and shook his head. „I couldn’t.“ He made a pause in which he decided how best to explain to Aswig. „Lorron only ever got glimpses of how Theoden once was, before he succumbed to the wizard’s pawn. You know the kind of king he dreamed of. Disappointed in him and disappointed in Athelward, too, his loyalty had become a stray thing searching for a place to go. And then the old man rides out and shines and Lorron sees him fighting at Helm’s deep and when the king acknowledges him as his captain afterwards he’s won his heart. – You weren’t there, Aswig, you were defending Haram at the time. You didn’t see the look on his face as he took the king’s banner from Guthlaf’s hand and passed it on to Eomer. You didn’t go with us on the wild ride that followed. And you didn’t see the wild fire burning in Lorron’s eyes as we thought to make a last stand on that hill… if his king calls, Lorron will answer, always. There is no stopping him. And if this is going to be the last ride of the last king of Rohan, then so be it. But if it isn’t, if he returns, then he’ll wish his lands to have been protected meanwhile. It’s what we once swore to do. There was no other choice but to split the group. You know that. What you really asked was: how do you cope with staying behind? Honestly? Only by thinking of all the people left behind in the villages and on the farmsteads. They never even got to choose and they wouldn’t understand nor praise the king if Erkenbrand was left to protect them all alone, the last defender of all we hold dear.“
„Cold comfort that is, but it will have to suffice,“ sighed Aswig.

aus den Ländern von Mittelerde und darüber hinaus