In An Age Before – Part 43
The March to Dagorlad – The Second Age of the Sun
Throughout the year following the forming of the alliance in Lindon, Gil-galad and Elendil wereindeed heavily occupied with the mustering of their armies. To the High King of the Eldar came every Noldo and Sinda in Eriador save those who clove to the Lord of the Havens. The Falathrim, those Sindar who of old had withdrawn to the Isle of Balar and served 'neath Cirdan the Shipwright, formed an army of their own, 9,000 strong. These marched east with Gil-galad's 18,000 in mid-Gwaeron, (March), of 3431, making their way from Mithlond towards Baranduin.
Unlike their march in the War of the Elves and Sauron half an Age before, this time the host crossed Eriador passing north of the Emyn Beraid and south of the Emyn Uial, skirting the up thrusts of the downlands upon their north and joining the East Road at its bridge o'er the Baranduin. Thence they marched thither to Amon Sûl, to join as agreed with the Host of the Dúnedain.
Upon 28 Gwirith, (April 28th), the Host of the Eldar came 'nigh the great watchtower upon the Hill of the Wind, and there they halted in amazement in spite of themselves. Thither before them, arrayed in gleaming ranks and files, stood the Host of Arnor; 100,000 knights and foot soldiers, and a quarter again their number of support personnel. In a row beside them stood miles of wagons laden with all an army long campaigning could want for. The host's vanguard alone numbered 10,000 knights, and at their head rode Elendil, Isildur, and the three princes of Gondor.
The 27,000 stunned Eldar marched alongside the bright massed columns of the Dúnedain, all standing silently at parade rest, ere they came at last to the fore of their ranks where the two High Kings met.
"Mae govannen, Hír en Dúnedain¹," Ereinion said, warmly clasping forearms with Elendil. ¹(Mae govannen, Hír en Dúnedain, Well met, Lord of the Men of the West (Númenóreans) Sindarin)
"Mae govannen, Haltharan Celbin¹," Elendil replied with a smile. Though he sat at the head of an army four times Gil-galad's count, 'twas the King of Arnor who briefly bowed his head. He offered a similar gesture to Lord Cirdan and acknowledged several others of the great amongst the Eldar. ¹(Mae govannen, Haltharan Celbin, Well met, High King of the Elves of Light (Amanyar/Noldor), = hald (high) + aran (king) +celbin (elves of light, pl) Sindarin)
After a brief council the leaders signaled the march forward and the combined Host of Eriador made its way upon the Great East Road, 40 leagues towards the River Mitheithel. Upon 5 Lothron the armies commenced their traverse of the rougher lands north of The Angle, finally reaching the Bruinen on the 10th. Thither they encamped for the night and in the morning entered the hidden valley of Imladris. In that guarded refuge the hosts repaired, training together as a unit, changing arms, augmenting their supplies, and sending out messages to coordinate with their other allies. Also during that time improvements were made to the northern pass o'er the mountains. In all they spent three years finalizing their readiness, and in the early spring of 3434 word was't sent to Greenwood, Lórinand, and Khazad-dum that their march o'er the Hithaeglir would commence.
The high pass north of Imladris had been widened and graded where possible for the passage of their arms, wagons, and horses, yet 'twas still 'nigh on a month ere the whole of the Host of Eriador was't ensconced in Rhovanion about the western spur of the Men-i-Naugrim. In those days no major road led thence south upon either shore, but the plan called for the crossing of Anduin at the road's ford, and thither the warriors of the Eldar and the Dúnedain crossed.
"We march 'nigh Anduin," the Elves warned their mortal counterparts, "but set thou no foot in the forest nor do aught in disrespect of it, for spirits powerful and ancient walk 'neath its shadows, or so say the Nandor of Oropher who dwell thither."
The word was't passed and the Men of the West nodded and conducted themselves accordingly. In those days the Dúnedain still took to heart the wisdom of the Elves and gainsaid it not. Even they could feel the watchfulness and tension radiating from the deep shadows 'neath the trees scarcely a furlong or two from the river banks.
"What danger lies 'neath yonder trees?" King Elendil asked of Ereinion one night at the officers' board. His curiosity had been peaked by the prohibition against hunting or gathering wood in the forest.
Gil-galad sighed, having only lore and rumors to offer his friend.
"With my own eyes I know not of any peril dwelling thither," he began, "yet much lore doth tell of ancient and powerful guardians amongst the trees. If any hath seen aught of them though, I cannot say."
"Some hath seen them indeed," Cirdan said, "and many still harken to the tales of the People of the Trees. For myself, I hath not met such, yet upon the starlit Westward March of our people, some did chance upon them and shared speech with them. Since that time I know of only a few who hath held converse with the Onodrim."
Gil-galad regarded his elder mentor closely. None had spoken to him of such meetings. Oft times still he felt like a young ellon harkening at the feet of his tutor.
"My Lord," the Shipwright said, "a strange tale did Lord Celeborn relate to me o'er supper in Lindon at thy council; he and the Lady Artanis. Both of them hath spoken with Oldbark, Lord of Calenglad i'Dhaer," he nodded in the general direction of the woods. "They found him civil and wise, yet the lord of many unruly subjects of myriad kinds. Also, they had their introduction to that lord by the grace of Helluin Maeg-mórmenel, in whose esteemed confidence she and her friend Beinvír hath long been held."
The High King groaned at the mention of the dark warrior. She had disappeared completely for the past few decades, having indeed been last seen by Elendil somewhere 'nigh the turn of the century.
"Whither hast Helluin and Beinvír delivered themselves?" Elendil asked innocently.
"I hath no idea," Gil-galad said, "and usually I hath no idea. Indeed she could be anywhere. I deem her only superficially a subject 'neath my crown anyway and ever given to wandering and acting upon her own wisdom."
"I wager she is already engaged in the war, my Lord," Cirdan offered. "No logistical problems hath she with only herself and her friend to consider. I should find myself amused indeed if she were to slay Sauron ere we took the field, and coming thence to the Barad-dúr, find her thither with Fingolfin's pennant waving o'er the battlements and legions of Yrch doing her bidding." He chuckled. "Perhaps she shalt even hath contrived to take upon herself another Ring."
At this the High King blanched and his head jerked up in alarm.
"Speak not thus even in jest, my friend. Such I deem far from impossible. What a horror t'would be that her darkness be augmented by his. No less a threat than Morgoth himself would I deem her."
"Helluin…?" Elendil could only stare at his hosts in disbelief.
"Oh yes," Gil-galad groaned, "Twas long ere thy time, but ever from of old hath her battle fury known no bounds. In Beleriand, in Gondolin, in Avernien, and in Eriador in the last war…ever she charges into battle screaming 'Beltho Huiniath!', and all those about her art affected, cleaving to her will and following her as if besotted. Such is her lust of mayhem that I should not doubt if in her lifetime she hath spilt more blood than Sauron himself. The notion of her darkness and Sauron's combined should she somehow contrive to defeat him and take his Ring is too horrible to contemplate."
Elendil regarded the High King of the Eldar. Ereinion at least seemed to believe his doubts well founded and took them seriously. Yet upon those occasions when he had met the Noldo and her friend, they had been ever courteous, noble, and calm. The King of Arnor shook his head.
"My friend, what the king says is true in so far as it doth go," Cirdan assured him. "Yet there is far more. Alone of us all hast she repelled a personal attack by the Dark Lord, confounding his gambit to enthrall her with his sorcery. She charged him, challenging single combat, or so saith Lord Glorfindel, but he fled her presence. And she saved many of thy forebears at the Sack of Avernien, indeed doing thus at the request of a Vala. In no other doth the Light of Aman shine so brightly, and yet she forged a weapon of such potent darkness that many of us mistrust her." Here he cast a glance upon his king. "Hath thou marked the ring blade she wears? The cirth upon it inspired the Dark Lord's creation of his One Ring, for the script upon Sauron's Ring is related and no less fell."
"Yet none hold a greater hatred for the Dark Lord," Glorfindel said, speaking for the first time, "nor art any other of his enemies so marked or so sought in his malice. I deem she hast no desire for the Enemy's Ring, for to rule others when she hast reveled so long in her solitude would be to chain herself with the bonds of rule; this she knows well. I fear not her falling thus, nor taking up aught which she might win from his hand. Indeed I should wager her first act would be to cast it into Orodruin, and she more quickly and with less regret than any other."
That night after the meal was't finished, many thought long and deep o'er what they had heard. The idea of defeating and taking the enemy's Ring, a repository of great and fell power, 'twas attractive to no few, especially amongst the Dúnedain. Wielding such a weapon could bring security to their realms such as no other thing imaginable. Yet the act that would make such a possession possible was't deemed beyond any realistic aspirations and soon enough laid aside. There was't much more pressing than such daydreams to consider. And so the Host continued its southward march as the weeks Gwirith passed into Lothron.
Now upon 3 Lothron, (May 3rd), S.A.3434, the Host of Eriador reached the point 'cross Anduin from the mouth of the River Ninglor, that called Men the Gladden. Thither they were met by the Army of King Oropher, 26,000 strong, which appeared abruptly out of the verge of Greenwood. They had marched within the forest, pacing the Host of Eriador as they made their way south from the Men-i-Naugrim. 'Twas a coup for them to hath dogged thus the footsteps of the Eldar and Edain for 120 miles without being discovered.
Alone did King Oropher and Prince Thranduil meet with the leaders of the Allied Host. They agreed to continue their march to the southern border of Greenwood within the forest ere joining ranks in the flatlands beyond. Should any force seek to waylay the exposed hosts of Elendil and Gil-galad, they would soon be fighting an army at their backs that could appear from the trees at will. The Elves of Greenwood would hold and ensure the safety of the larger army's eastern flank.
When their short council concluded, Oropher and Thranduil rejoined their army and melted back into Greenwood. Shortly there was't no sign of them at all. The forest lay silent and undisturbed as before. Elendil shook his head. These Nandor were stealthy far beyond his people, yet not so perfected of the trait as were the Nandor of Eriador.
In the year after his return from the council in Lindon, upon a night when Ithil hid his face, one had come alone to his court in Annúminas. Even after being announced and admitted he had been difficult for the king to see in his own chamber. The High King had been on edge as the visitor had lifted the hood from his head and revealed himself to be one of the Eldar, clad in a shadowy cloak of mixed greens.
"My greeting upon thee O King of Men," he had said in a musical voice speaking antique Sindarin, "I am called Dálindir, and I bring thee word from the Laiquendi of Eriador. Fear thee not in thy absence after the peace of thy lands, for this country shalt my people guard, and free of thine enemies shalt it remain 'til thy return. Fare thee well in thy war."
Ere Elendil could question him he rose and bowed and then melted into the shadows of the chamber. Somehow he moved without being seen and only the closing of his chamber door did the High King mark. In the hallway outside, no trace of this Dálindir had the sentries noticed and indeed the hall lay silent and empty. Elendil half believed he had dozed and dreamt of a ghost out of the Elder Days.
Only later with the counsel of Gil-galad and Cirdan did he come to understand that he had been granted a great boon. He alone of all Men had met the King of the Laiquendi. Both of the Eldar of Lindon knew his name for it had figured in one of Helluin's tales, yet neither had ever met him. Of the Green Elves they recounted some sketchy impressions from Ossiriand and little more. Indeed it seemed that Beinvír was't the only Laiquende they had ever met in Eriador in all the years of the Second Age. It seemed that not even another Elf could mark their presence should they not desire it, while a mortal could walk within arm's reach of one of that folk and never know it. When Elendil had gone to war he had brought almost every able-bodied fighter in Arnor, for he feared that no ill would come to his realm in his absence.
Now the southward march of the Allied Host continued another 40 leagues down the eastern banks of Anduin, and upon 16 Lothron, (May 16th), they paused, for a great crossing of river craft was't in progress just ahead. Already the 6,000 warriors of Lórinand waited upon the eastern shore, securing the landing area within a cordon of archers. These wore blue-black armor of small, fitted, o'erlapping plates, much like a reptile's scales, and they bore curved daggers and a few scimitars as well as their bows.
Still crossing Anduin were their allies, the Host of Khazad-dum. Those already upon the hither bank waited in silent companies, perfectly drawn up in ranks and files. Each bore upon their backs a heavy, massive pack filled with rations and goods for their deployment. In their armor of blackened steel, plate, mail, and helm, they appeared well nigh as thick as they were tall. Each carried a great axe, a long-shafted, double-bladed labrys, a shorter single-bladed axe, and a pair of small double-bladed axes tucked into the backs of their belts. They wore heavy boots soled with iron, thick leather gauntlets, and their long beards were plaited upon their chests. As each boat was't unloaded, the occupants immediately fell into formation with their fellows. There they stood still as statues and moved not afterwards. Into the afternoon the ferrying of the Dwarvish Host continued and during all that time those waiting remained immobile. At their head stood their officers and their king, equally still. The Dúnedain and the Eldar watched in amazement.
When at last the crossing was't complete, the Naugrim gave a great shout as with one voice and began marching south in perfectly coordinated steps that shook the ground underfoot. 'Twas a first for all the Dúnedain present; for no living Man had seen the Naugrim marching forth from their mansions as an army going to war. Only a few of the Eldar had seen such in Beleriand, long ago in the First Age, and even these had never seen the Host of Khazad-dum, but rather the lesser Hosts of Nogrod and Belegost. The much smaller force that some had seen come to fight in Eregion couldn't compare with this vast army. Here were 65,000 heavy infantry, fully equipped and perfectly disciplined, the visible evidence of a strongly militant culture. In the coming war they would make valuable allies.
Now ere the march of the Host of Eriador continued, the leaders met with King Amdír and Prince Amroth of Lórinand. From the army of the Golden Wood a party made their way thither into Calenglad i'Dhaer. There they met with Oropher and Thranduil. Upon their return King Amdír issued orders and the entire army moved into the Greenwood, quickly disappearing from sight. And when they had gone, the High Kings Gil-galad and Elendil continued their march to the south.
To Be Continued
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