In An Age Before – Part 50


Chapter Forty-eight

The Siege and Combat of Barad-dúr – The Second Age of the Sun

Now thereafter 'twas with great friendship and honor that they parted from the Númenóreans, and after conveying Halatir back to his folk, Helluin collected some rations, and desiring to minimize her time amongst the host, took her leave late that night. Ere dawn she had covered three leagues 'cross the broken plain of Gorgoroth, returning southeast towards the spur upon which sat the Barad-dúr. All along that way she was't haunted by the tidings of Oropher's death and her mood was't grim.

Upon 5 Norui, (June 5th), Helluin again opened the hidden door, for her passage this time across Gorgoroth to the spur had been direct and unhindered by doubt of the way or staggering captives and she had made good time. Thence into the hidden tunnel did she march, and her boots paced away the miles to the arrow she had carved upon the floor. She drew her weapons and entered the enchanted passage leading into the bowels of the Black Tower, and with stealth and wariness came again into Sauron's dungeons.

In utter silence did Helluin advance, knowing that her liberation of the Avari would hath been long before discovered, and indeed she realized that the time spent conveying them unto the Host of the Dúnedain stood in her favor. The intervening fortnight had given some grace to her quest, for the Yrch, never patient and ever lacking for discipline, had grown inattentive in their search for signs of the captives and any who had aided them. The heightened vigilance that the prison guards had been ordered to maintain had well 'nigh fallen as slack as it had been ere the escape. For this, Helluin would be thankful.

Now the dour Noldo took her way through many a dismal warren and gallery, but ever upwards did she seek a path. By many dimly lit ramps and treacherous stairs, slick with algae and slime, Helluin passed from the fetid bowels of the Barad-dúr. Finding her way in stealth and remaining undiscovered took her all of four days ere she traversed the subterranean precincts and first sighted a ray of sunlight heralding the morn of 10 Norui. She was't in a hallway leading from the dungeon into a gallery whose clerestory included a row of narrow windows at ground level. She could see the shadows of the legs of sentries marching past in the courtyard outside.

With great wariness did Helluin proceed into the gallery, noting that the air within was't indeed worse than what she had smelled save for in the deepest pits aforetime. 'Twas not so complex a stench now, not a miasma of pestilence, but rather simple putrefaction. What she smelled was't an o'erpowering aroma of corrupted flesh. When she came 'round the corner from the hallway and into the gallery, she instantly understood.

Upon either wall, stretching the entire length of the gallery, indeed for well 'nigh a furlong, so vast was't that space, she saw post after post upon which bodies were impaled, crucified, and some even broken and laced upon the wheel. 'Twas a collection of hundreds of cadavers left to decay, some still fresh and bloody, some moldering and sloughing hunks of gore, and some desiccated to leathery husks. Yrch, Easterling, even a Torog or two they were. Indeed all were Sauron's own troops, subjected thus to the punishments of their lord for whatsoever transgressions they might hath committed. Hither had they been left upon display to rot, the first sight to greet any soldiers entering the tower.

Now Helluin peered down the rows of carcasses, searching for an exit. Indeed she soon finally discerned several. Through heavy arches in the longer walls of the gallery, troops could come and go, from the outdoor courtyard beyond, or through a number of passages leading into the darkness of the tower's interior.

With a groan of distaste, Helluin slipped into the gallery, cleaving to the shadows near the walls and hidden by her cloak. Save for the rats, she saw no living things in that entire space. She wagered 'twas not a popular lingering place with the troops.

As she passed the cadavers, Helluin examined some of the executions. An Easterling's grinning skull regarded her from atop a crudely wrought wheel. 'Twas apparent his limbs had been shattered in several places and thence laced 'round the rim, while'st his battered torso was't draped 'cross the spokes. His ankles and wrists had been lashed in place. She noted that his jaw had been broken. 'Twas the work of someone with a lot of time on their hands and an inexhaustible well of cruelty for inspiration.

Now after a hundred yards the first entrance to the interior of the tower opened off the gallery and Helluin took it, for she deemed that choice as good as any other. Thither did a long, dimly lit tunnel confront her, and for all practical purposes, she may as well hath been again far underground. Only a few sputtering torches illuminated the way, and from the stench of their oily smoke, she wagered that they burned rancid carcass grease. All they gave was't rolling tongues of flickering orange flames that gave an unsteady light. Helluin was't thankful for the wavering shadows the torchlight cast, the better in which to hide her own progress.

As she had aforetime in the dungeons, Helluin made her way hence, flattening herself into recesses and dark places whenever others passed nearby. 'Twas almost too easy, she thought, for Sauron's minions came and went with a tramping of hobnailed boots, a clattering of poorly made armor, and much cursing and complaining. Always she went silent and wary, moving with the craft of the Laiquendi. None saw her. Even the many shades that she marked haunting the ways of the Dark Tower seemed as ignorant of her presence as the living. Several times she was't tempted to slay those who came 'nigh, but stealth was't now more important than slaughter, and so she stayed her hand. Ever she took whatever stair she found, always moving upwards. 'Twas a very long way and very slow progress, for she had no idea of the route. Thus hour after hour passed.

Now on her second day in the Dark Tower, Helluin happened upon a strange character unlike any she had seen aforetime, and she remained hidden as she watched him. He was't a Man of the Black Númenóreans, she finally decided, and from his mumbling, probably quite mad. Nevertheless, he was't the first of that people whom she had encountered in the Barad-dúr. He was't heading upwards, and since he seemed to know his way, Helluin followed him.

Now the Noldo had noted that he was't a tall Man dressed head to foot in black, with a long cloak o'er a tunic and pants. Tall boots covered his feet and calves and gauntlets covered his hands. He carried no sword and wore no armor, yet he had under his arm a curious helm with louvers slotting the face and a hinged plate o'er the mouth. In the light of a torch she beheld his visage for a moment as he considered his way, and in that wavering light she found his countenance horrific, for his skin was't afflicted with a pox of many weeping sores. Indeed to Helluin, he seemed perfectly in character with his surroundings.

Eventually Helluin deemed that he had been burnt o'er his face with some caustic juice, an acid perhaps, for his skin was't blistered and reddened, and in places mottled black. Raw lesions he had also, as she had noted aforetime, and the flesh of his nose and ears had sloughed away. His eyes were glazed and clouded as with cataracts, and his lips had been shorn away revealing blackened gums and teeth crudely replaced with outsized spatulas of steel. Helluin could only wonder what torments Sauron had visited upon him. 'Twas no doubt nothing he didn't deserve, she wagered.

Oft times he grimaced and drooled a while as he stood catching his breath, yet in the end he invariably turned and slunk into another stairwell leading upwards, and so Helluin continued to follow along behind him. Ever higher in the tower he went, never faltering but always leading her thither, and Helluin was't indeed thankful, though she would hath slain him given half a chance. Anguirél beseeched her for his blood and she could regard him only with disgust.

'Twas after some hours, when he was't met in a hall by some high ranking Orch, that Helluin indeed discerned his identity. That officer, a commander of the Glamhoth, greeted the Númenórean in the Black Speech, but some of his words Helluin could just barely understand.

"Fecal-breathed Mouth of Sauron," the Orch said derisively, "hasten on thy way, sluggard. The Master will feed us your arms if you're late...snaga¹." ¹(snaga, slave Black Speech)

The Mouth of Sauron made no reply to the Orch, but grinned and sketched a clumsy bow that managed to appear mocking ere he went upon his way. The Orch hawked and spat in his wake and then hurried down the stairs in the opposite direction. Helluin smiled at her good fortune.

Thereafter she followed the Mouth of Sauron as closely as she dared, knowing that his errand would lead her precisely where she needed to go. As she came closer, she noted the foulest stench she had encountered save in the deepest pits of the dungeons. 'Twas the fetid meat of his body itself, anointed with such putrid sweats and rancid secretions as his diseased flesh produced. For once she cursed the fine senses of the Firstborn and wished for what she'd heard mortals refer to as a 'head cold'.

Now even with a guide to lead her upon a direct route, the remaining ascent of the Barad-dúr still took well 'nigh four hours, so vast and tall was't that edifice. Indeed no single stair led from the tower's foot to its crown. Rather they climbed a zig-zagging progression of staircases that wound about the interior with no apparent order she could discern. 'Twas almost as if the planning had been conducted by one half-witted and ever forgetful of what had come before. Even the sizes of the treads and risers was't inconsistent. Helluin was't astonished. No tower she had ever scaled was't so chaotic in its design. She could only suppose that this was't the result of having had the construction carried out by Yrch driven thralls. Even so, the ascent eventually came to an end at last. It opened onto a huge and open chamber with no visible exit leading higher, and thither the Mouth of Sauron paused upon the threshold and bowed and gibbered while'st catching his breath. Helluin stood a ways behind him gazing past his form.

Within the chamber she saw shadows and much arcane paraphernalia, including many weapons and a suit of armor upon a stand. And thither, amongst many treasures laid out on large tables, stood a form, tall and black and corrupt, that could hath only been Sauron himself. She gritted her teeth to stifle the growl in her throat. He was't gazing out a tall window, surveying his troops beyond the walls of his fortress and the deployment of his enemies. For many moments he purposely ignored the presence of his servant, for 't'would hath been impossible to be unaware his presence, so badly did he stink.

"Thou art trying again my patience, my Mouth, for thou hast taken somewhat longer in thy ascent than was't commanded," he finally said without looking towards the door. "Hath thou tarried upon thy way?"

"O noooo, my Master," the Mouth of Sauron said as he edged into the room. "I hath nothing to tarry for and 'naught to do but heed thy summons. I exist only to convey thy voice. I was't delayed by a fearless commander of the Glam; delayed and subjected to insults, O my Master."

Sauron grunted at him, knowing full well that his Mouth was't always late and ever trying to spread blame upon others of his servants. The Mouth's actual arrival time scarcely mattered to him, and so he never gave the creature long enough to make his ascent.

Helluin crept closer behind the Mouth until she was't at the top of the stair, still somewhat obscured by the shadows and careful to remain hidden behind his form. She slipped on her hauberk and silently unclasped the Sarchram from her belt.

"Go thou to the Host of the Enemy and offer them terms for surrender," Sauron ordered, "and remember, thou art my voice. Bandy no words with them. Offer them no parlay. They art to leave my land at once, forfeiting all claims of redress, or they shalt die."

"Buuut my Master, I do not think they will accept such terms," the Mouth said, and then grinned like a death's head. "They hath come to fight and expect battle and death..."

"It matters not what they think," Sauron snapped, "and thou art not supposed to think, my Mouth, only say what I tell thee to say. I care not if they accept. I care not if they fight. If they must, they may embattle those already defeated who yet linger beyond my walls. I intend to ignore them thereafter until they die. They hath no chance of taking my tower and I hath no need to go out to face them. I may sling some shot at them from time to time for my entertainment, but I intend not to stoop to combat with such a rabble. In a few decades or perhaps a century they shalt be gone from the world or they shalt lose interest in the fight. Thou hath thy orders. Now go!."

He turned back to the window and the Mouth of Sauron bowed to his back, then turned to leave. He found himself face to face with Helluin.

At first he could only stare. Then he began to open his steel toothed jaws in a grimace, but Helluin flung the Sarchram, hewing off his head ere he could make a sound. She dodged the foul head as it bounced past her down the stairs, then leapt into the room drawing Anguirél. The Mouth's body crumpled to the floor, falling behind her as the whining mithril Ring continued on its course straight for the Dark Lord.

Sauron only marked it at the last moment and barely managed to recoil aside ere it hewed his neck. The Ring flew past him and rebounded off the window frame 'nigh his shoulder, flinging sparks and shards of stone, then sped off 'cross the room. It commenced a ricocheting flight, returning to threaten him again, cursing in its cold voice, and seeking his death with bloodthirsty pleasure. With a shriek of rage, Sauron turned and faced the doorway. He was't so appalled to see Helluin that he almost forgot to duck the returning Grave Wing's next pass.

"Thou!" Was't all he could scream as he lunged for his mace.

"Yes, me!" Helluin taunted, "And now at last I shalt send thy black spirit to the Void."

He ducked the Ring's fourth pass and hefted his weapon, then hastened into the center of the room, for Helluin was't charging to meet him, blazing with Light while'st the darkness of battle lust lit her eyes.

Even as he moved to answer her threat, Sauron was't attracted to the malice that washed towards him from her; unwillingly was't he drawn by her hatred, and he craved it as he long had. Whyfore must we forever be enemies, O Helluin, Sauron wondered yet again, for in league of alliance would we soon and easily come to rule o'er this Middle Earth. Gladly would I make thee my lieutenant, woulds't thou but serve me. Never in all the Ages past hath any of thy Firstborn kindred willingly served me or my greater master, yet in thee woulds't I revel, for such darkness abides in thee as to balance all the others of the Eldar. Alas that I must seek to slay thee instead.

So at last, in the highest chamber of the Barad-dúr, there was't waged that combat Helluin had long sought. From the windows blazed forth the Light of Aman, kindled as a living flame from Helluin's fëa, but in deadly counterpoint to it there roiled the all-consuming black fumes of the spirit of Sauron. Helluin's brilliance stabbed outwards from the windows, flashing upon the embrasures and flickering upon the walls. The crowning battlements of the Barad-dúr were wreathed in vapors dark and impenetrable, but ever lit from within by flashes as of lightning within a storm cloud. 'Twas a clash fought upon many levels, with weapons of steel and with the power of the spirit, and a bitter fight it was't.

To those outside, watching from a great distance, it seemed a violent storm broke in the topmost chamber of the Barad-dúr. Amongst the Host of the Alliance, many thought Sauron labored to prepare some new sorcery, some fell devilry to afflict them with. A very few wondered if Helluin had indeed succeeded, against all odds, in engaging the enemy in combat at last, and these prayed to the Valar that she prevail.

Sauron wielded his great black mace, long as a ship's oar, and flanged upon its head with twelve jagged plates. In his physical form he was't three fathoms tall and stronger than the Tor who dwelt in the deep caves of the Hithaeglir. About him lay the vapors of his malice, as an all enshrouding cloak of shadow that draped about and flared out behind him like a Valarauko's wings, and from his being radiated terror.

Helluin faced him with Anguirél, clad in her blackened mithril armor and hauberk and barely topping a fathom in height, but her figure blazed with the Holy Light of the Two Trees. Harshly did it assail the eyes of the Dark Lord, half-blinding and confounding him. No fear of him bit upon her soul, for Helluin was't consumed in spirit by her bloodlust and rage and there remained no capacity in her to host his terror. Ever the black sword cried out for his blood, and ever the Grave Wing sang in hopes of taking his spirit as it sliced back and forth across the room.

Now Helluin soon noted that the great size of Sauron's body was't as much a hindrance to his efforts as a blessing. Having created a physical presence, he was't subject in that shape to such laws as govern all things of the flesh upon the Hither Shores. He could move but only so fast, change direction with only so much agility, and though monumentally strong, he was't constrained by gravity and inertia, and by the sinews and muscles and bones of his constructed form. Therefore, though he tirelessly aimed his blows at her, never was't he fast enough in letting them fall, and ever was't Helluin able to avoid them, dodging to and fro, even 'twixt his very feet. Again and again did his mace slam into the floor whither she had stood but a moment aforetime, or swept the air in great strokes, striking nothing.

Great grew the frustration of the Dark Lord. Unlike the combat long aforetime of his master with the High King Fingolfin, no shield had he with which to bear Helluin down, and never did she tire. And Sauron perceived that greater was't the Light shining forth from her than had been seen in the son of Finwe in an Age before, when he had been slain in combat with Morgoth before the gates of Angband, for Helluin was't both older and more powerful than the high king had been, and he himself was't no Vala.

Now eventually both came to realize that their combat could continue long, yet come to no decision, and each sought for some way to seize an advantage. Sauron contemplated forsaking his body, thereby to assail her in a more pure form, for in potency of the spirit, he might prevail. He was't still Maia and she an Elda, and greatly did he desire to defeat her and constrain her to his will. Yet to do so would make him all the more easy a target for the Sarchram. This he could not chance, for fear had seized and constrained him long ago when considering that weapon in Ost-in-Edhil.

For her part, Helluin grudgingly accepted that she might not slay him as she had hoped, and the words of her friend Glorfindel came to her from long before; I feel his doom lies far ahead and not from the hands of the Eldar shalt come his fall. If she could not slay him outright, then what other grievous detriment to him could she achieve?

With her own ears Helluin had heard that Sauron intended not to partake of the war. Rather he intended to outlast his enemies while'st locked within the fastness of his vast fortress, but his strategy implied an unspoken horror. The immortal Maia could well afford to wait out the life spans of his mortal foes, but what of his own troops? Yrch, Men, and Tor, all Sauron's soldiers and servants save the Úlairi were mortal. Helluin had no doubt that the Master of Cruelty cared 'naught for his own, yet they would take their own survival into their own hands long ere the host disbanded. What wealth of provisions stood laid up in the Black Tower for to withstand a siege of decades on end? No farms or gardens supplied the Black Land save perhaps far to the south where maybe some crops struggled for growth about the distant Sea of Nurnen. But Yrch, Men, and Tor would all eat flesh, and though no game wandered the Plain of Gorgoroth, nor livestock sheltered in the Barad-dúr, the dungeons were filled with prisoners and these would be regarded as meat afoot. Some that she had already seen amongst the captives were indeed breeding stock. Of all those in Sauron's service, perhaps only the Black Númenóreans might object to that diet. Helluin felt sick.

In the split seconds it took for this grisly realization to come upon her, Helluin decided that would drive Sauron forth from the Barad-dúr; forcing him into combat with the Host of the Alliance, and perhaps thereby encompass his doom. If he had no intention of facing his enemies in combat, then Helluin resolved to change his counsels.

Sauron swung again his mace and Helluin evaded him. With a spinning movement too quick for his great form to follow, she swept 'twixt Sauron's legs, taking the opportunity to slice his calf with Anguirél as she passed. As he bellowed in pain, she sheathed the black blade and then collected the Sarchram from mid-air. In three strides she dashed to the pedestal at the room's center. The Dark Lord turned to face her, only to see Helluin snatch the palantír of Minas Ithil with one hand and flung the Sarchram straight for his neck with the other. Her cast with the Grave Wing forced him to dive aside with such sudden desperation that he lost his balance and toppled to the floor. Indeed he barely managed to retain his grasp on his mace.

In the time it took Sauron to roll clear and regain his feet, Helluin passed him. She bolted for the doorway leading to the descending stairs. Behind her the enraged Maia struggled to his knees but was't again forced to duck the returning Sarchram. He could only watch as she caught the Ring, leapt o'er the body of the slain Mouth, and fled.

A moment too late Sauron flung his mace with all his strength and watched as it slammed into the door posts a heartbeat after she'd passed. The great posts were shattered and chips of stone exploded into the air. The lintel fell and the threshold collapsed so that rubble blocked the way making pursuit impossible. Sauron's bellow of hatred shook the very stones of the tower as Helluin leapt down the stairs, barely keeping her footing as she took them three and four at a time. Though it had not been her primary goal, returning the seeing stone to Isildur had been part of her intended quest. She had hinted at it when they had last met in Elendil's tent, saying, Perhaps even I shalt hath a prize for thee.

'Twas long ere Helluin slowed her pace. Having seen once the way, she called it forth now from her memories and made her flight down the tower directly. On the way she clasped the Grave Wing to her belt and drew again her sword. Moving in haste upon silent feet, she slew any she came upon ere they even realized their peril. And the whole way, the Noldo fought to hold back her glee. In his lumbering physical form, there was't no possible way that Sauron could pursue her down the stairs. The treads and risers had been sized for feet much smaller than his own.

Now though she fled directly to ground level, sacrificing stealth for speed, still so great was't the height of Sauron's tower that the trip took Helluin four hours ere she passed through the gallery with its broken victims and made her way again underground.

All through the tower above her a hue and cry had broken out. From the topmost chamber to the courtyard within the gates in an ever advancing wave, Sauron's soldiery took up the cries of 'intruder' and 'thief'! Well 'nigh every accursed soul in the Barad-dúr was't seeking for her.

Indeed Sauron was't livid; she had invaded his citadel, slain his Mouth, dared to threaten him directly, and escaped with the palantír. Atop all the mayhem she had achieved aforetime, 'twas far more than he could countenance, and he swore that he would catch her if he had to raze his own tower to its foundations. The malice of the Dark Lord flowed down the steps he could not tread, as a floodtide of vitriol that tainted the very air and beat upon her heart, following her where he could not, all the way to his dungeons.

Down through the foul but now familiar passages Helluin fled. Past dark galleries and echoing halls, past reeking cells and pits, hearing the rising wailing of prisoners agitated by the activity of their captors and the pervasive aura of hatred projected by Sauron. She had gone but a little ways when she realized that such desperate and doomed victims might offer her some aid, while'st she might provide a chance to them, even if slight. 'Twas not as though most had much to lose, she reasoned, and some might even find their way to freedom and escape becoming rations for the Glamhoth. So she sheathed again her sword and drew the Sarchram. Then at each barred and fastened door she passed thereafter, Helluin sheared off the iron bolts or riveted hasps, the creaking hinges or rusty locks, throwing open doors and leaving a multitude of thralls and prisoners with the opportunity to escape.

Thence did many wailing souls stagger from their places of confinement in desperate surprise, halt and lame and trailing their manacles, yet for a time liberated from their accustomed places of suffering. Their numbers were very great, for very many had Sauron constrained thither for their torment. They wrought an appalling level of confusion in the subterranean precincts of the Dark Tower, milling about in their confusion, hindering the pursuit of the guards, and befuddling the trackers. 'Twas a melee indeed, and t'would take Sauron's gaolers many a day to recapture their thralls.

Now Helluin slackened not her pace as she fled the dungeons, clutching in one hand the Sarchram and in the other the palantír. She ran as she had once run long aforetime, racing for to stay the Sack of Avernien at the command of the Vala Ulmo. Fleet and silent were her feet upon the foul cobbles. In the end, no Orch or Man hindered her passing and she won free to the enchanted entrance of the hidden tunnel at last.

Thither Helluin stood a moment catching her breath and listening with glee to the shrieks and cries broadcast from the dismal precincts behind her. But now she marked yet more to be heard from that direction. The sounds of confusion rose higher, for along with the yammering of Yrch, the howls of the Tor, and the cries of many prisoners, there came to her ears the deep booming and the rumbling concussions of great impacts. The Host of the Alliance was't bombarding the Barad-dúr! The siege of the Dark Tower had begun at last!

When finally Helluin made her way again from the hidden door, she stood and watched from the spur of the Ered Lithui as in the distance she saw many missiles crash against the walls of Sauron's fortress. Flung from great catapults ringing the black walls, shot slammed into masonry or o'ertopped the battlements, to crash down amongst the soldiery within. She noted that the firing was't returned from inside the fortress as well, but that whatever artillery the defenders commanded, its range was't the lesser and its rate of fire the slower. Much to Helluin's joy 'twas an uneven duel that favored the alliance.

As she watched, a great stone cast from the trenches due west of the tower slammed into the topmost course of stones 'nigh the great gate, spilling a rain of rubble down upon the iron bridge. Another shot fell amongst the Yrch encamped along Sauron's causeway.

For some time Helluin sat, chuckling as she continued to enjoy the bombardment, but as dusk fell and the host switched to fiery missiles, she gathered herself and began making her way yet again back southwards from the spur. She was't as yet unsure if she would even return to the camps of the host. 'Twas 7 Norui, (June 7th), S.A. 3435.

To Be Continued

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