In the maze of trees, a fight amongst so many is a muddle of chaos, with combatants constantly weaving between one another. Only a well-trained Captain could keep track of the location of everyone in such a fight, but at times, such training only afforded more reason to become frustrated. One could see when some of one’s allies became separated from others, but might not be able to do anything about it, if enemies were interposed.
I could see, though, that Elemir was following his order to stay close to Lady Shadryn, keeping his shield in play to ward any blows against her. Having dismounted, he urged her off her horse that he might better shelter her with his shield. Radolf ran in weaving lines spraying arrows to one side and then the other, felling highwaymen with injuries ranging from painful to deadly, while Darrien stayed closer to me, switching between his bow and his knife and sword fluidly. My great sword was slower, but when it found a highwayman, it was not slowed by armor or bone, and that man did not rise again. But as I carved a path through the bandits, I could not reach Elemir and Shadryn quickly, as there was always another man between us brandishing an axe or spear. Indeed, the ebbs and tides of the battle kept carrying me away from them, no matter how hard I tried to fight it.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw the blade coming before it bit, but I could do nothing. His shield raised high to knock an axe away from Shadryn, Elemir did not see it. So slender a blade it was that I wager he did not even feel it as it slipped between his ribs, at least until the point found his heart. His eyes widened. Later, Shadryn would tell me that he turned to her and said, “I’m sorry, my Lady, I have failed you.” Then he sank to his knees, in a moment that seemed to hang in the air and refuse to advance to the next.
Then his shield clattered to the stone of the Greenway with a sound that seemed like it might be heard in the White City. Shadryn and the highwayman that had stabbed Elemir both stared at it a moment. I let out a bellow that stunned the combatants around me for a moment, and made to charge towards her, but the bushy-bearded man appeared in my path almost immediately, his club almost finding my gut before my sword bit into it.
I could only watch helplessly as Shadryn took a step back, but I was pleased to see her next instinct was to slide her knife from its sheath. She wasn’t holding it correctly, though; as had been her first instinct on that night so long ago, she held it pointing downward. The highwaymen had lost his slender knife, perhaps still lodged in Elemir’s chest, but soon a short sword was in his hand, and he grinned as he advanced on Shadryn. She brought up the knife and he slapped it aside with his sword, causing it to fly through the air and be lost in the grass.
The burly leader of the highwaymen took a blow with the flat of the blade to his stomach that knocked the wind out of him, but only for a moment, and as I tried to get past him, he whirled and brought his club against my back, causing me to tumble forward and draw up short as I slammed into the bole of a tree, my ears ringing. I watched helplessly as the man with the short sword stepped closer to Shadryn, relishing her helplessness, unhurried. She took a step back and stumbled over a root, falling backwards and staring up at him. One hand reached back, casting about blindly for the knife, but instead her fingers found and wrapped around a sturdy branch, longer than she was tall, likely knocked loose from the tree above her in one of the freak windstorms that had been dogging our steps these past few days. The highwayman was hardly more surprised than I was when that branch came up in a surprisingly swift motion, connected with his forehead with a resounding crack, and came down with its tip in the soil, allowing her to gracefully pull herself to her feet even as he was falling over backwards.
Shadryn seemed as surprised as I was. Even Radolf paused a moment, agape, before letting loose another volley of arrows. She looked at the stick, making a contemplative sound, then lifted it and experimented with its heft. As she pivoted, another highwayman that had been coming up behind her, unnoticed, suddenly got the tip of the stick in the stomach and doubled over. She let out a little shriek, half of surprise and half fear, and spun around, her hair loose and flying around her shoulders, to make a retreat. Which brought the tail end of the stick, still trailing dirt, into the face of another highwayman, who slumped forward, toppling into her and knocking her down, landing atop her in a pain-wracked slumber.
By this time I’d worked myself free of the tree, turned, and met the bearded man coming at me once more. I ducked beneath his blow, for the moment focusing on him instead of splitting my attention to watch Shadryn, and brought my sword up to his gut, knocking him backward. He wore crude but effective armor, and for a few moments we traded blows, earning great bruises and soreness, but nothing life-threatening, until finally he’d taken too much and collapsed, spent.
I turned back to Shadryn, only to find her still spinning about, her branch clipping every highwayman that came near her. Some were only knocked back, dazed, to come at her again, but others were spilled to the ground, groaning. Perhaps half of these blows were clearly by her intent; though she was untrained, she had a grace, as that of a dancer, that seemed to well suit the leverage and reach of a staff. The other half were accidents; as if Eru Ilúvatar guided her branch to strike her foes even when she was simply spinning around to find one, or tumbling over in her zeal to dodge a sword. By the time three or four of the highwaymen were fleeing, the number still on the ground around her easily rivaled those bearing blows from any of the rest of us. Panting, she leaned heavily on the stick, looking in equal measure puzzled and pleased with herself.
In the panic of the battle, and the surprise of Shadryn’s staff-play, it had been easy to lose sight of the fact that one of the men lying motionless on the ground was of Gondor. As this came back to me I rushed to Elemir’s side. I knelt, my armor creaking, to hold his hand, and looked into his eyes. He was still dimly aware, but the light was draining swiftly from him, and he would not last but a few moments. Shadryn also knelt and helped me peel back Elemir’s armor, revealing the wound; her eyes darkened, as it was clear that there was no healing that could save him now.
There was much to do, horses to gather, distance to put between us and the site of the battle lest the highwaymen return, wounds to be tended; but there was time to lift Elemir into my arms, letting his blood stain my armor, and softly say to him, “You fought with courage and honor, and in doing so, you saved the Lady Shadryn and fulfilled your mission. When I return to Gondor I will bring word to your father in Pelargir of your bravery and service.” Tears were in my eyes as I spoke, but I kept my voice as strong as I could.
Elemir smiled faintly, and with no voice in his breath, whispered, “Thank you. Don’t forget, rosemary for fowl, dill for fish.” He grinned, then his eyes slipped closed, and he spoke no more.
We traveled half a day before we stopped to find a place where we could lay his body to rest. Shadryn found, in some nearby ruins, a stone we could lay at the head of his grave, and carved into it a faint impression of the White Tree, singing an elegy that the rest of our group joined in with as we piled soil atop him. We made camp a short distance away, solemn and silent, though I couldn’t help but smile a bit as I found myself pressed into cooking our supper, seasoning a plump partridge Darrien had snared, with liberal dashes of rosemary.
Too much, as it happened. It would take far more than a few words for any of us to come close to matching Elemir’s skill at cooking. For the remainder of our journey, every bland and dry meal was a poignant reminder of the sacrifice that Elemir had made, to fulfill his oath of service.