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A Path With No Returning  by Citrine

The sky is gray and it looks like rain. Oh dear heavens above have mercy on us, the wounded, the dying, and the dead-don't rain on us, too! My head pounds when I stand up, so I'm crawling along now. Blood is caked on the back of my neck, I'm seeing two of everything, and whatever hit me has nearly torn my poor ear off. It hurts so much, but the hurt in my heart is worse. I can't find the Captain, I can't find my Master, I can't find anyone! I want to sit down in the mud and cry, but that won't bring me closer to young Master Persifal, wherever he may be-please, may it not be among these mutilated dead.

The wounded as could still walk must have already moved on, and now only the dead and dying are left on this part of the battlefield: Men in the silver and black of Gondor, a few Elves in green, and white, and gold. All of them covered with filth and their own blood. They clutch at me as I crawl along. They cry for water, but I can't give it to them. I can't help them. Oh, may they die soon and not suffer anymore.

I won't find my Master at this rate. I have to risk standing up. The world spins, and for a sick minute I'm looking down a gray tunnel full of stars. Steady on, Andy, I tell myself. Nothing but ruin and death as far as the eye can see. I don't see any folks moving about, big or little. I wonder if the battle is still going on? If it's over, did we win? It's going to be dark before long, so if they come back for the wounded they'll probably overlook us hobbits. I'm dizzy, so I fall down again. Now I am crying. My poor Master! I swore that I'd look after you, and where are you now? "Master! Master Persifal!" My voice is a dry croak. "Dear Master, speak to me if you're alive!"

Beyond all hope, I hear a small voice call to me, but I can't tell where it's coming from. "I hear you, Master!" I cry out, and oh my poor head! "Keep calling! I'll find you!" I scramble over the piles of bodies, disturbing some carrion birds, which fly away with harsh cries. Cursed birds, already gathering to feast on us, can't even wait until we're cold. But I see him when I climb down the other side of the mound. He's half sitting up with his back against an enormous dead Goblin-or maybe it's one of those Orcs, as the more lordly folk called the bigger ones. He's covered with mud and gore so's you could hardly recognise him, but of course I know him. Didn't I carry him on my shoulders when he was a little lad? He holds out his arms to me, just like when was a little hobbit needing comfort, and I rush over as quickly as I'm able and grasp his hands. Tears run down his face and make tracks through the dirt, but he says, "Andy, how very good to see you!" Just as if he had run across me working in the kitchen back home. I almost expect him to ask me for a cup of tea! "Have you seen Captain Bersil?" He asks me, but my heart is so full it's rising up and welling out of my eyes. I can't speak.

Captain Bersil was one of the Big People, a soldier of Minas Anor, who took us small folk under his wing, so to speak, when we arrived in the camp on the plain to offer our service to King Earnil. He never mocked us, like some of the Big People, or laughed at our little bows and arrows. He was a good man, one of the few Big Folk I'd trust with my life. The last thing I remember, he was standing with us in the thick of the fight, fending off some great Goblin brute while blood ran down his face. Things were going our way; all the enemy were running for their lives, then that terrible creature-the Witch-King, they called him-appeared in the very middle of us, mounted on a huge, black horse. I have never felt such a fright before: My knees knocked, my mouth went dry as dust, and if the Master hadn't been there to steady me I would have fallen down flat. I believe the whole lot of us, Men and hobbits alike, might have scattered like a flock of geese, but then we heard horns blowing in the distance, and Captain Bersil cried, "Glorfindel of Rivendell! Glorfindel, for the king!" And everyone around us took up the cry. I heard my own small voice shouting, Glorfindel! Glorfindel! Even though I wasn't sure who Glorfindel was. Some Elf Lord, I reckon. But I don't remember anything more after that. Something hit me and I fell, so I have to shake my head. "No, but I don't doubt that the Captain is alive out here somewhere, such a warrior as he is."

"Have you seen anyone else?" I know who the Master means without him saying it: His kinsmen, Bucca of the Marish, and Master Bucca's younger brother, Madoc. There were fifty of us in all that left home, the best archers in the Shire, but we were most fond of Master Bucca and young Master Madoc. If they are dead I pray they may sleep in peace, wherever they lie, my poor young lads! I shake my head again, and poor Master Persifal just raises his arms, with this despairing sort of look, and lets them flop back down, and more tears run down his cheeks. "Even if they are not dead, they are surely lost, for who could find them in all this?"

"Don't give up hope," I say. "I found you, didn't I?"

He smiles a little. "Dear old Andy." He swallows hard and I hear a dry click in his throat. "I suppose it's no good asking, but do you have any water? I'm so thirsty."

Stars and glory, yes I do! I had completely forgotten my water bottle was hanging on my belt. I uncork it and help him drink. I'd like to let him drink it all, but who knows when we'll be found? We won't be getting anymore anytime soon.

And so we sit there as night comes down. A foul, cold mist rises up from the ground and Master Persifal shivers so hard I can hear his teeth clack. Won't anyone ever come to help us? I put my arms around him and he rests his head on my shoulder. I can feel the jagged, broken edge of something sticking out of his back. One of those great, cruel Goblin arrows, or perhaps a spear. No wonder he cried when I touched him! A high despairing wail drifts to us on the wind. It fairly raises the hair on the back of my neck and makes me jump. "Save us!" I say, my heart pounding. "That's not human, nor hobbit!"

"No, it's not," Master Persifal whispers. "That's an Elf. Listen."

So I listen. Tooha ahmeen! The voice says, tooha ahmeen, mellonameen! Over and over. I can't make head nor tail of it, but I recognise a call for help when I hear it. The poor soul must have lain unconscious among the dead for all this time, and now he's woke up in the dark, separated from his kin, lost and hurt. What an awful sound it is!

Perhaps to drown it out, Master starts to talk about Mistress Pansy and the baby. "I wanted to name her Ruby, after my mother, but Pansy wouldn't have it." Master Persifal laughs a little, a breathless chuckle that makes him cough. "You know how she and Mother don't get along. So we named her Jewel, because she is so beautiful..."

"As beautiful as all the gems in Middle Earth put together," I say. Little Miss Jewel is as dear to me as my own grandchild. I've heard this story many times before, but I let him talk. I want him to recall the happy times. I remember how Mistress Pansy had stood so quiet and brave with the baby in her arms. She had kissed him and let him go. She had kissed me, too, and I was glad of it, though it did make me blush.

You take care of him, Andy Cotman, she says to me, with her arm still around my neck so's no one else can hear her. You know I will, says I. I'll bring him home, or I won't come back at all. And I meant it, too. How was I to know battle would be so big and terrible, and us Little Folk lifted up and swept away in it like leaves?

"We'll never go home," Master says, after a long while. I had thought he was asleep. "I know that now. I think you knew it all along, that when we left the Shire we had set out on a path with no returning, but you came with me, anyway. Bless you, Andy. Forgive me for bringing you to this."

Tears are stinging my eyes again as I lift his hand and kiss it. I'm an old Hobbit without much learning-always a cook, never a scholar; I don't have the words. I always liked to think Master Persifal is like the son Bella and I would have had, if only she and the babe had lived, but it wouldn't be proper to say so. "None of that kind of talk, now."

"I wish," Master whispers, and his voice is now so faint. "I only wish I could see Pansy and my little lass one more time." And then he lets out his breath and doesn't breathe anymore.

"Rest easy, Master," I say, and let him slide down until he's lying across my lap. I brush the brown curls out of his face and close his eyes. My poor boy! I can't bear to look at him, he is so beautiful in death. The night wind has blown the clouds away, and now I can see all the stars: The Wain, the Sickle, and lots more I don't have no names for. I reckon that Elf warrior sees them, too, because he quits his crying, and now I hear him singing. His song is so beautiful and sad, a soul crying because of the bitterness of life, and sorrowing because it was over too soon. Elbereth! he calls, and then he's quiet. It's a pretty word. Perhaps Elbereth was the name of his sweetheart.

My head hurts so much, and my Master's gone, and I am so tired...

The Witch-King had fled in defeat with the coming of Glorfindel the Elf-lord and Earnur, a Captain of Gondor and son of the king, and his minions were all slain. But though he was pursued to the Ettenmoors by a mighty force led by Glorfindel and Earnur, nightfall had covered his retreat and no one could say where he had gone. And so as the sun rose, Elves and Men called it victory, regrouped, and took stock of their dead.

Bersil of Lossarnach-not truly a Captain, but merely an archer of Gondor-roamed over the place of battle, searching for the Halfling archers that had been in his care. He was accompanied by an escort of fair Elves of Rivendell, for one of their own was also missing and not counted among the wounded, so they searched for him among the dead. Bersil had been sorely wounded: A cloth stained with his blood was still bound about his head, and his eyes were bright with fever. But he would not rest until the Halflings were found. And so at last while wandering apart, he had found two of the Little Folk, dead in each other's arms, or so he had thought. He knelt to gather them up, only to see the elder of them lift his head. "Captain Bersil! I knew you would make it! Did we win?"

"We have the victory, little one," Bersil said. "The Witch-King is thrown down, and his power is broken forever." This he truly believed.

"What a story this shall make, in all the tales and songs," Andy whispered. "I hope they don't forget us."

"They will remember," Bersil said, but the Halfling had closed his eyes, and he did not speak again. Bersil put his hand on the small, curly head and wept. "I will remember you all the days of my life, even though all the world may forget." the last battle at Fornost with the Witch-lord of Angmar [The Shirefolk] sent some bowmen to the aid of the King, or so they maintained, though no tales of Men record it. Prologue, Fellowship of the Ring, pg. 22

..To the help of the king [the Shirefolk] sent some archers who never returned; and others went also to the battle in which Angmar was overthrown..Appendix A, The Return of the King, pg. 1018

The End.

As is probably fairly apparent, this is one of the first LOTR-related peices of fanfiction I ever dared post. I was my own proof-reader back then, (no doubt that's fairly obvious, too,) and the idea that anyone would ever look at it, much less review it, was an unbelievable notion to me. Some recent reviews have led me to believe that maybe it's not as terrible I thought I was, so I've dusted it off and put it here on Stories of Arda, for all the fanfic world to see. It's never too late for improvement, so if anyone out there sees some flaw that I've missed, please don't hesitate to tell me.

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