In An Age Before – Part 46
The Morannon and the Invasion of Mordor – The Second Age of the Sun
Now it came to pass that as the Host of the Last Alliance regrouped following their victory upon Dagorlad, and they tallied the tales of the fallen and the woe of the Nandor, their foemen fled south and passed within the Morannon and thence to Udûn in shame. A great count of their strength they had lost, no less than half their numbers, and yet a host of well 'nigh 72,000 they still were. And within the Black Tower there remained yet unfought, Sauron's personal retainers, gaolers and torturers, and the companies of guards of the Barad-dúr.
Upon the slopes of Ithilien the once Guardians of Lebennin, now the Rangers of Ithilien commanded by Beinvír, spied upon the Black Land from the heights of the Ephel Duath, and they waylaid any such of the enemy's soldiers who sought to pass through that land. But Beinvír was't little content with such duties, for ever her heart and her sight turned to the fuming mount upon the blasted heartland of Gorgoroth, wherein her spirit told her that her beloved fought.
In addition to this, no victory would her forces gain in Ithilien so long as Minas Ithil was't still held by the enemy. Indeed King Anárion chaffed to assail the Black Land, to lead hence the armies of Gondor, for word had come to him of the march of the Host of the Last Alliance. But Beinvír prevailed upon him and counseled him to patience, and together they planned first the liberation of his brother's fallen city.
"No foray upon the Black Land shalt be prudent while'st still an enemy in strength remains unfought at thy back, O King," the Green Elf had said. "Great is the Host that shalt shortly come against Mordor. Hither, in thy lands art still many foes, the more threatening for being closer to thy home. Let us first be rid of them, and thereafter join to the Host such of our forces as can be spared from the safe keeping of Gondor."
"Thy words hold truth, Beinvír Laiquendi, and at heart I hath known it," Anarion admitted, "yet ever do I crave to strike some blow against he who hath so wronged my people. Very well, I shalt be patient. A year or two it may take, yet to the liberation of Minas Ithil we shalt turn ere striking against the Dark Lord on behalf of the southern realm."
So thus through the campaigning season of 3434 the Rangers sought to clear the lands of all foes, and when they had done thus at last and set a leaguer about the Ithil Vale, winter was't upon them and they repaired to their encampments until spring. Well did they know that those holding the city would be resupplied by the high pass through which the first assaults had come, and from the stream of Imlad Ithil, Valley of the Moon, their foes would quench their thirst. Still there was't 'naught to be done save to ensure that through the cold months of winter that none came forth in sortie against the forces of Gondor, nor came by the roads of Ithilien to their relief.
In the deepest months of frost, when none moved upon the front in Ithilien, Beinvír took herself again to the hidden refuge of Henneth Annûn, and there laid herself down before the window in the falls, recalling happier days. And in those moments of solitude, oft did she stare at the clear gem of the Hithaeglir in the band about her finger, and thence her fëa sought that of her beloved. In those times she knew, by the grace of the connection that they shared, that Helluin battled on without rest, ever seeking the victory she could almost taste, yet which ever eluded her.
Now while'st all these things went forth Helluin's battle against the three chiefs of the Úlairi continued within Orodruin. Day after day their combat they waged, the clash of blades ceaseless in that hollow place bereft of sun and moon. Helluin was't possessed with an o'erwhelming imperative to destroy once and for all these most fell servants of her sworn enemy. She fought with an intensity as great as any she had ever felt. Nothing mattered save the stroke that found its mark, and day after day, week after week, she sought to land such a blow.
For their part the Úlairi fought with a grim determination to survive. They knew Helluin sought no less than their final destruction, whereas they had been commanded to capture her alive and bring her thence to the Barad-dúr. Their master would accept no disobedience in this. They had not Sauron's leave to slay her even if they could. And with Helluin there could be no parlay and there would be no quarter. They were disadvantaged in too many ways to prevail and they knew it. Long had they held themselves the most terrible of creatures and long had they reveled in their master's gifts of power. Yet now their powers availed them 'naught and such thoughts as they had entertained of victory had long ago fled. Now they fought instead for their very existence.
'Cross the miles 'twixt Orodruin and Barad-dúr Sauron kept watch o'er the progress of his servants. Already six had fled hither and he had greeted them with derision and relegated them to the shadows wherein they could recoup their strength, yet t'would be decades ere they healed from the bitter wounds of Helluin's arrows. Grudgingly he accorded her a measure of respect for the tactic. Indeed he shivered at the thought of bearing such wounds himself. From the safety of his chamber he exerted the power of his Ring in favor of his three remaining Úlairi, yet it served only to bring them near parity and prolong the fight. Even he could now see that they had no chance of prevailing. But he could tear not his eyes from the whirlwind of the conflict. For long it captivated him. All else was't forgotten; his host in Rhovanion, the doings of Anárion in Gondor, even his ruminations upon his eventual victory. He never even harkened to the sounds of the battle upon Dagorlad. But at last the aftermath abruptly demanded his attention.
In his tower of Barad-dúr the Dark Lord Sauron was't wrenched from his preoccupation with the combat inside the fiery mount, for returning thence to his lands in defeat came the host he had sent forth unto Rhovanion. Thither they had been ordered, to lay waste to all the lands 'twixt the Morannon and Greenwood, then thence to conquer that sylvan fastness and enslave all the Elven folk within. Yet instead he heard now, 'cross the desolation of Gorgoroth, not boasts and bragging of victors nor the cheers of a host returning triumphant, but rather the wails of dismay, the impotent curses, and the whimpering of the wounded as they fled back to the Black Land.
Sauron was't at first as much amazed as wroth. He had been shown the measure of those who would oppose his host. He had been gifted a vision, seized from the very mind of his enemy; that same enemy who now challenged his Úlairi in the heart of his realm.
It took him but a moment longer to realize that somehow Helluin had tricked him. That the vision he had snatched from her through the palantír of Angrenost had somehow been false. He perceived not how it had been done, but he acknowledged the truth of her deception. False information she had fed him, and believing the weakness of his enemies that he had seen in her mind, he had sent forth his troops to their slaughter. His scream of rage shook the very foundations of Barad-dúr. For this he had given pause and respite to his enemies in Gondor? And what of the battle thither?
With a vicious casting forth of his power he surveyed the western front and shook yet the more in anger. His forces 'twixt Anduin and the Ephel Duath were now penned inside Imlad Ithil! They were constrained thither as prisoners by a leaguer of Men! And who commanded yonder mortals? Young King Anárion? Nay! 'Twas none other than the companion of Helluin, the very same Green Elf he had toyed with upon Amon Hen. He swore then and there that he would crush her, and in doing thus, strike an unassuagable blow against his enemy's heart. He would cripple thus Helluin's resolve and paralyze her spirit. All knew an Elf could pine away from such sadness. Rather than a glorious fall in battle would she succumb rather to an ignominious fading away, broken in spirit, vanquished in heart, and carrying ever after the sorrowful realization that she had engaged an enemy far her superior in darkness and wrath. Amidst all his ill-fate and failure, a grim chuckle escaped his misshapen and blackened lips.
The thought of laying low Helluin's soulmate and thereby blighting her fëa drew back his attention to Mt. Doom. 'Twas his preferred preoccupation. He was't disgusted by the failure of his host and could not yet abide viewing them at length or hearing their excuses. Therefore he turned thither his sight once more to the Sammath Naur and ignored yet again that which went forth beyond his realm.
Now within the week following their victory upon the field of Dagorlad, the Host of the Last Alliance advanced and encamped outside the Black Gate. Thither had they built hasty fortifications to shield their forward positions from such cast missiles and rains of burning fluids as were directed upon them from atop the Morannon, and in the following days they extended their trench lines and tunnels close by the gate. Indeed 'twas the sappers and engineers of Khazad-dûm who had the most to do with this, for no wall could stand against such corps of miners when given the grace of time to work.
"Now come'th the siege," Gil-galad had said with a groan of distaste at the council of war following the first battle. "Great shalt be our losses ere we win through to Udûn."
"Aye, and yonder wall and gate shalt we be forced to breach," Elendil added. "Rams and engines shalt we need to contrive." He sighed. Such equipment had been far too cumbersome to bring hence from the west.
"Not perhaps so very long shalt we need wait," Durin IV had said, scratching his beard. He and his folk had examined the fortifications with great care and their expert eye for masonry. "So massive stands this wall and gate that almost we can hear the tortured protests of the rock 'neath it as 'tis o'erborne by their weight. Already structural settling hast left it swaybacked by a finger's length o'er its span," he asserted with certainty. "Little effort shalt it take, I deem, for it to fall."
The others stared at him in shock. The Morannon stretched from the sheer walls of the Ered Lithui, 'cross o'er a mile of wasteland to the Ephel Duath. It rose well 'nigh 100 feet to an o'erhanging battlement crowned with firing slots and towers of watch, while'st amidmost stood the impenetrable gate itself, wrought of black iron, set upon hinges of steel sunk deep into the massive pilings upon either side, and faced with ribs of bronze. Upon it was't an unsleeping watch, and from its top, legions of Tor flung boulders and o'erturned cauldrons of flaming oil. It appeared both unapproachable and unbreachable.
To the disbelief of the other kings, Durin assured them, "We shalt contrive to undermine it with a tunnel. Nay, not for the passage of our arms, but rather to collapse it. We shalt easily bring down this monstrosity, ill-conceived and ill-executed, for wall and gate stand not upon bare bedrock as we would build such, but rather atop the compacted ash and weathering sediments of the volcano and the mountains. The season is right. Yea, come spring, great shalt be its fall!"
Then, though still having some misgivings, Elendil and Ereinion easily agreed to Durin's plan, for if such could be, then countless lives would be saved compared to the brutal and deadly frontal assault they might hath launched against the gate.
So through the autumn and winter, while'st aboveground Men and Elves made a show of constructing some catapults, 'neath the surface worked the miners and sappers of the Naugrim. By their calculations they tunneled to the place 'neath the gate, and thence to either side far enough to span the pilings anchoring gate to wall, and thence increasing in width this tunnel until little save a few strategically placed columns of frozen sediment supported the Morannon. In the spring, when the host was't prepared to wage war and the soil thawed, the columns would collapse and the Black Gate would fall.
Now 'nigh Yule, when Durin led his allies thither for inspection, Gil-glad and Elendil and Isildur cringed. Thither they had come through a tunnel that sloped down, thus to safely pass by such depth as was't immune to the falling of missiles and was't most effective for collapsing the wall. Thence they beheld a huge chamber, fully 100 feet in height, 50 feet in breadth, and supported by 'naught but a single row of slender, wasp-waisted columns which ran off center down the length of the room.
"In height it equals the height of the wall," Durin told them, "while in breadth 'tis greater than the gate's thickness. The columns art placed off center of the weight above so that the imbalance shalt hasten their collapse and not provide any support to the ruins." He cast an evil grin at the whole excavation. "Barely can I wait the demolition," he chortled, and then actually capered with anticipation. "It shalt be…dramatic."
"And when shalt this whole collapse?" Elendil asked.
"In the spring," Durin said, nodding with certainty.
"Upon any particular day?" Gil-galad asked.
The Dwarf looked at the Elven King with a mixture of curiosity and mirth. All things came to fruition in their appointed time…weather, history, and great works of craft. Thus impatience was't foreign to him. Durin had no doubt that the Morannon would fall.
"Upon the day when the thaw extends down unto the midpoint of the columns," he said.
But the high kings of Men and Elves looked uncertainly at the king of the Dwarves.
With a sigh, Durin added, "By the mid-weeks of Gwaeron I should stand prepared, though the weather in hither land I know not well. 'Tis likely it shalt thaw sooner than in the Hithaeglir, but the exact day I know not. Does it matter greatly? The wall shalt collapse inwards and spill all unto Udûn, not outwards upon our heads, and the ruin shalt encompass all the gate and its pilings, this much I can foretell. We hath calculated the volume and shape of the chamber such that it shalt fill with rubble well 'nigh equal to ground level. Thou shalt see. And afterwards we can advance 'cross it as we see fit."
"Then we shalt charge and o'erwhelm our confounded enemies," Isildur gloated.
Durin nodded to himself and led hence his guests, back out the tunnel and into the light. Isildur at least thinks with the ferocity of a Dwarf Lord, he thought. Once back outside they stood, looking upon the doomed Morannon, and soon all wore wide grins. Now they could do aught but await the spring.
"Think thou that Anárion shalt join us by then?" Gil-galad asked Elendil.
"I should think not," the King of Arnor replied, "else we should hath seen his forces hither ere the freeze. Nay, I wager he shalt first retake Minas Ithil ere he joins his host to ours. Indeed, I should hope so, and if he leaves thence a garrison upon the Ephel Duath, so much the better to plug bolt-hole for the rats of Sauron."
To this the Elven King nodded in agreement. Then they set about biding their time as the months of freezing passed.
Now in the first week of Nínui, (February), one came to the encampment of the Host of the Alliance and was't ushered into the lords' board, and there she pulled back her hood and revealed herself.
"Beinvír Laiquende," Elendil exclaimed in surprise, "whither come'th thou?"
"Indeed from Ithilien, O King, and with stealth, knowing not if these lands art safe," she said.
Gil-galad looked at her in shock and then stared about the chamber as if missing someone.
"Hath Helluin come'th with thee also?" He finally asked.
"Nay, O King," Beinvír said, "for she hast been long occupied in combat."
"In what battle? Whither doth she fight and with whom?" Elendil asked as he gestured the Green Elf to the seat beside him. Isildur slid his own chair down a place to make room for her and then stood to assist her into her seat. She graced him with a smile for his gallant manners.
"Helluin hath long battled the Nine," she reported, to which the others gasped, "and she hast sealed the last three with her inside Orodruin that thou call Mt. Doom. Had thou wondered not that those most fell servants of thy enemy opposed thee not?"
For some moments only silence greeted her words. Expressions of shocked wonder shaped the faces of those gathered thither. To oppose the deathless Nine who cloaked themselves in terror, and to do thus alone…it boggled the mind. However did she conquer the fear? At last Isildur spoke.
"Never in any lore hath I heard tell aforetime of such bravery," he said in awe. "Indeed we hath considered not those absent from the battle, only those whom we faced. Tell me of her strategy, I pray thee, for I would hear tell of such heroism."
'Twas small wonder that he who was't most forward in arms and most daring in action would cleave in his heart most strongly to the acts of another such in time of war. Here was't a tale to inspire his own heart, and laid atop his already considerable regard for the two ellith, led him to well 'nigh a state of hero worship. Elendil, though more reserved, felt much the same.
About the table the initial shock receded to be replaced by individual reactions. The Lords Glorfindel and Cirdan wore small smiles, for they saw in these tidings the reinforcement of their impressions of their friend. She had acted to spare them all from facing those very foes that their allies were least equipped to oppose, applying thus her prowess to the greatest mutual advantage. More, they knew that for one of her powers, the Úlairi were little threat; certainly not compared to that which they could hath wrought upon the mortals in their host. Elrond worried for the outcome and the well being of his friend. He had always admired Helluin, yet knew too of her wrath and of the atrocities she had committed during the last war. He understood her darkness better than his king and nearly as well as Glorfindel, and he felt a twinge of fear for what might transpire. Gil-galad was't well 'nigh horrified. He too knew that the Úlairi could do Helluin little harm, and in his own mind he calculated that she could not but prevail. He saw her fearsome bloodlust as bringing her eventual victory and foresaw her contesting next with the Dark Lord himself. And what then? His old fears of Helluin victorious o'er Sauron and the prospect of her taking up his One Ring very nearly made him ill.
"Upon 13 Gwirith last did we mark the final leave-taking of the Host of Sauron from the Morannon, marching thither from the Black Land to lay waste Rhovanion," Beinvír reported. "Upon the following morn did Helluin make her way east, o'er the Ephel Duath and the fences of the Morgai which lie within, intending to make her way thence unto Orodruin. In that same time I hastened west to Gondor, and as we had agreed with Lord Anárion aforetime, took up again command of the Guardians of Lebennin who art now called the Rangers of Ithilien."
At her words excitement lit the eyes of the Dúnedain, knowing that aid had come to their folk from the coastal lands of the south. This the Green Elf clearly perceived.
"Long hath the Realm of Lebennin stood, O Kings of Men, and in their time was't the duty of keeping the watch upon Mordor theirs. 'Tis little wonder then that now, when the Dark Lord hast struck against Gondor, the warriors of Lebennin marched forth to battle 35,000 strong. With these troops I hath foiled the passage of Sauron's armies, ending thus his incursions into Gondor, and in the past fall did we at last constrain all of evil will to the City of the Moon in Imlad Ithil. Thither now stands a leaguer about them, and in the spring shalt we unseat them and slay or drive them hence, reclaiming thy fair city in the name of the king." Here Beinvír dipped her head to Lord Isildur. Tears of gratitude started in the eyes of the elder son of Elendil at her words.
"In the meantime hast Helluin engaged in battle with the nine Úlairi," Beinvír continued, "and she hath laid low six of their number. But the three remaining, they being the chieftains of the Ringwraiths, contest with her still, and all art trapped within the Sammath Naur."
"Wait a moment, I pray thee!" cried Isildur. "Saith thou that Helluin hast maintained a combat since Gwirith last? Why, 'tis a battle of well 'nigh 10 months! Surely she hath had some respite? Surely her enemies too hath felt some need of rest."
"My Lord Isildur, through the link of spirit I share with Helluin I hath learnt that no respite hath either party taken, but rather fought steadily and fiercely since they initially engaged. Indeed I believe that no respite shalt there be ere the resolution of their combat, for neither party shalt ask nor accept quarter from their foes. This fight is too bitter.
Indeed the remaining wraiths art barely a match for her and I feel her anticipation of their fall with each stroke. She fights on, believing in the certainty of their defeat, while'st they can but ward her off, for she hast discerned that they seek not to slay her, but rather to deliver her alive to their master in his Dark Tower."
Elendil and Isildur were shocked to silence. Hardy Men they were, kings and great captains of ships. But in no terms would they hath imagined that any Child of the One could maintain personal combat for even one week without rest. The thought of facing three such foes for ten months without pause was't incomprehensible.
"How much doth thou truly know of the Amanyar?" Glorfindel asked them softly.
"We know they art immortal as art all the Elder Kindred of the One," Elendil replied, "and that during their abiding in the Blessed Realm in the Age of the Trees was't great power and knowledge conferred upon them. What exactly the extent of such virtues truly entails, I now deem we knew not."
"Indeed even the least of the Amanyar art as thou say, for the Light within their spirits such foes as the Úlairi art unable to withstand," Glorfindel told them. "Yet amongst the Calaquendi there art too the greater and the lesser, even as there art amongst Men.
Know then that Helluin is well 'nigh a case apart. Of old did she absorb not merely the virtue of the hallowed land of Aman, but sought out its Light repeatedly in its purest form. For a thousand years and more she stood 'neath the showering fall of the mingled dews of the Two Trees, such as no other within Arda hath dared. In those times that most Holy Light penetrated her, conferred its Blessings upon her, and, I believe, changed her.
What well of power deep lives within her now I know not. I do know that she hath repelled an attack by Sauron aforetime, shields herself from his gaze at all times, and upon more than one occasion, she hast dared to challenge him. And as she believes, so too doth I believe; that her mastery o'er the Úlairi is but a matter of time. She shalt achieve it, whether by strength of arms or by her wit, and indeed she hast within her the strength to fight until she prevails, though it take a hundred years."
Lord Glorfindel turned then to his young king and spoke.
"My lord, those tiny fragments of the Blessed Light that sparked the Exile of our people and all the wars of Beleriand art but the chaff before the granary that is housed within Helluin's spirit. For all thy fear of her battle rage and the darkness that now dwells within her, the very Light from which she draws her power would indeed destroy her were she truly evil. Foul creatures cannot withstand it. The Silmarils burnt even the hand of Morgoth and one alone consumed the bowels of Carcharoth¹. And within Helluin blazes such of that Light as burns not in any other of the Amanyar, nay, not even the Vanyar! I hath been most recent of us in Valinor and I know of what I speak. Fear not, O my King, for were she to take Sauron's Ring and set it upon her hand, I wager that t'would fail ere she, and failing thence of its darkness, t'would wither from the world. I hath no fear of her falling to Sauron's token. Indeed sooner would I welcome such a disposition of it than any other." ¹(Carcharoth, the Red Maw, a giant wolf bred by Morgoth and ensouled with a devouring spirit; he bit off the hand of Beren that held the Silmaril and was driven mad by the burning it wrought within his belly. Eventually he was slain by Huan, the Hound of the Valar. The Sil, OBaL, pgs 212- 220)
Gil-galad sat in silence considering Glorfindel's words. The others too gave thought to his claims. But most, Beinvír was't thankful for the faith that the Lord of the House of the Golden Flower showed for her beloved. Indeed even she had known her moments of doubt. And yet she felt in her heart that not all was't so simple as he believed. Wherefore came then the compensation for the mutilations and atrocities Helluin had visited upon their foes during the war in Eriador? Why then had not some ruin come upon her from within in that time? Or had such indeed befallen her from without? Had the doom pronounced by the Eagle been Manwe's judgment against her? And yet the Eagle had said that her doom constituted not a punishment and had been wrought long aforetime. Finally after much thought and no conclusions, the Green Elf spoke.
"Ere I take my leave and return to the Realm of Gondor I would hear any words thou hast for the Lord Anárion. I hath told all such tidings as I came to share."
"I pray thee say thus to my son," Elendil told her, "that my prayers and hopes go with him and that I think oft of him and his kin. Ever he hast my Blessing. Give my thanks to the Men of Lebennin as well, for they art true-hearted and valiant and I am proud to call them allies and friends."
And Isildur asked, "What word of the Men of the Mountains? Hath they too joined thee in thy fight?"
"Nay, O King, none of that folk hath come," Beinvír told him, "and of old when as Chief Guardians did Helluin and I preserve the peace of Lebennin, that folk were outcast and outlawed, untrustworthy and ever a threat. We had no dealings with them save to guard our borders and uplands against them. Never would I hath expected aught of aid from that quarter, nor would I hath trusted their service in any case."
At these words, Isildur growled and clenched tight his jaw in anger.
"I bound their king by oath to serve our cause," he ground out in a growing rage, "and upon the Stone of Erech did he swear his oath to me, to stand and fight against Sauron!"
"Lord Isildur, in years long past did many of that folk worship Morgoth ere they came hither as refugees to the southern coast. I am little surprised that they hath failed to oppose Sauron now," the Green Elf said.
Her words ignited the wrath of the elder son of Elendil and he leapt to his feet.
"Then by all the Valar I doth curse them," Isildur proclaimed, slamming down his fist upon the table. "I curse them to rest not, and not even in the shadow of death shalt they find peace! They hath sworn their service and ere they find their way from Middle Earth, they shalt serve. Yea, they shalt serve ere the end. By the Valar, they shalt serve!"
Then the King of Minas Ithil's eyes took on a faraway gaze, as if he cast his wrathful glance upon one cringing before him though many miles stood between. To Beinvír's eyes a glow as of fire grew in the Man's face and never aforetime had she seen aught of such power in a mortal. And Isildur spoke thence to the King of the Mountains with prophecy and condemnation, knowing that in his craven heart, the oath breaker would hear his words of chastisement.
"Hear me, O betrayer, for thou shalt be the last king! And if the West prove mightier than thy Black Master, this curse I lay upon thee and thy folk: to rest never 'til thy oath is fulfilled. For this war shalt last through years uncounted, and thou shalt be summoned once again ere the end.¹" ¹(Isildur's curse is taken from LotR, RotK, Book 5, TPotGC, pg 765, with slight paraphrasing and amendment of setting).
The gathered Eldar cringed at his words, especially the Noldor. A curse or oath of vengeance sworn in the name of the Valar was't viscerally terrifying to them. So too had Feanor spoken, to the ruin of all their people. Only had he named Ilúvatar too would Isildur's curse hath seemed more horrific. Whether or not aught came of it in his own lifetime, such words spoken in the heat of anger would be heard 'cross the sea; the Eldar were sure of it. There would be consequences.
In that moment a dark foreboding came upon Lord Glorfindel. The son of the High King of Men had a fey streak and a rage within that set his hair on end. Much evil could come of it. By his curse had he not consigned the Men of the Mountains to a fate as wraiths? The Lord of the House of the Golden Flower resolved to keep watch upon the doings of Isildur whenever he could spare an eye.
Alone of them all, Durin IV silently applauded Isildur's actions. Like him, I too should curse any who betrayed me in such dire straits, he thought, again 'tis Isildur who abides most closely in heart to our own. Yea, the more I learn of him, the more I like this King of Men.
Now Beinvír took her leave and none marked her passing, and in good time she came again to Gondor. Thither she conveyed her messages and tidings to King Anárion and then took up again her duties with the Rangers of Ithilien. Spring was't soon to come.
To Be Continued
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