In An Age Before – Part 22

Chapter Twenty-eight

The Defeat of Sauron in Eriador - The Second Age of the Sun


  The armies clashed at noon, twenty miles north of Mithlond and only six miles from the encampment of the allied host.  Helluin noted great companies of bowmen amongst the infantry of the Dúnedain.  These warriors wore mail shirts and bore longbows of five feet in height firing arrows of 30 inches in length with barbed heads of steel.  As the battle opened they stood forwardmost in the deployment, in a loose wall formation six deep and nearly two miles wide, a company of nearly 18,000 Men.  The archers began shooting while the enemy was still o'er a furlong away, firing their arrows up in great arcs to rain down upon their foes like an endless sleet of bitter fangs.  As their foes charged closer the bowmen lowered their trajectory until they were shooting past their fellows in the rows ahead, with each rank dropping onto one knees after letting fly their arrows.  The company displayed fine coordination between its ranks, obviously the result of long drilling, and their practice showed in the rapidity and consistency of their volleys.  Though their kill ratio was lower than the Laiquendi, their numbers caused devastating results.  In the short span ere the lines clashed, well ‘nigh an eighth part of Sauron's Host fell.  O’er 4,000 Yrch and Easterlings lay dead or wounded, yet still the enemy continued to advance, for the fear of their master was great upon them.

  Now when the foe drew near, the bowmen closed their ranks in companies of 600, and between those companies aisles opened separating every hundred files of archers.  Then through these aisles the cavalry galloped forward in shining lines, 12,000 strong, with bright plate and mail and helm.  Each bore a demi-shield affixed to their left bracer, leaving their left hands free, and at first, each bore a lance eight feet in length.  The bowmen ceased firing as the horsemen passed between them, their blue banners marking their passage onto the field where they slammed into the charging Yrch and Easterlings, running down many ‘neath the thundering hooves of their warhorses and planting their lances in the bodies of their foes.  Thereafter they hewed their enemies from horseback with bastard swords, wielding them sometimes with two hands and sometimes with one, in mighty sweeping strokes and vicious downward thrusts.

  Then the regular infantry, numbering 20,000 Men, passed through the archers and followed the cavalry to the battle bearing longswords and shields.  Smoothly their columns spread out and formed ranks as they advanced, backing the horsemen’s charge, and forcing the battle line to be drawn some thirty yards ahead of the bowmen.

  Helluin had joined the infantry and the frenzy of battle came upon her as her company engaged the Easterlings they had matched themselves against.  In her right hand Anguirel rejoiced in the bloodshed, hewing flesh and armor with equal ease as she strode forward, a feral glint in her flashing blue eyes.  The Men beside her watched in amazement as she fought with a ferocity and grace they knew no mortal could match.  She slew any who approached her, and in the press of bodies those foemen closest had little chance of escape.  With the Sarchram she laid low champions amongst the Easterlings who stood beyond the reach of her arm.  Ever she advanced, sneering, taunting her enemies, and laughing as they fell.  She hardly noticed that she outpaced the line of her allies, for her blood was heated with the press of combat and her wrath was unleashed as in the battles of old.  Soon Helluin was screaming "Beltho Huiniath", and leaving a trail of bodies in her wake.  To her sides, the Dúnedain struggled to keep up, astonished by her tireless violence and inspired by her prowess, and they took up her battle cry with a great voice.

  Now o’er the string of her slain one of the Dúnedain indeed rashly followed, hacking with limited success at those enemies to the sides, yet oft times stumbling o’er a hewn corpse or even his own boots.  This was the very same infantryman who had mistaken Helluin for the Lady Arindil at the Captain-Admiral’s board the very night before.  Chwesdrýn had vowed to make up for his gaff by guarding the dark Noldo’s back in the coming battle, and so he followed her as closely as avoidance of her blade would allow.  More than once Helluin slipped Anguirel into the guts of some Easterling behind her ere he could skewer the Man, for while Chwesdrýn was great of heart, as a swordsman he was well ‘nigh inept.  She saved his life thus many times in spite of herself and indeed without conscious thought, for in her wisdom, an enemy dead behind her rather than before was still dead.  This continued for some time until the other Dúnedain caught up and their ranks swallowed him and he was separated from Helluin.  Perhaps only thus did he survive vicious the opening moments of the battle to tell the tale long afterwards to any ear that would listen. 

  Now the companies of cavalry and infantry were fully engaged.  Men, Yrch, and horses screamed in fright and pain, or bellowed threats and yelled in anger.  But within the mass of the battle a bulge in the Númenórean line pressed forward, and those warriors were screaming, "Kill 'Em All" right along with Helluin.  They pushed ahead step by step and they forced Sauron's Host back.

  Behind them the archers had set aside their bows and quivers, and now they reinforced the lines of the infantry, pressing forward and wielding short swords and either long daggers or bucklers.  They came to the battle line quickly and slew any foe they could find, adding their momentum to the press.  Then o’er the din of the battle silver trumpets blew a fanfare, and at that signal the ranks of archers split, marching double-time to the flanks in a strategy that capitalized on the allies’ numerical superiority.

  The bowmen moved to enclose the battle and hem in their enemy’s flanks.  They pressed upon their foes from the sides and the front, and soon retreat was the only option left to Sauron's forces.  And retreat they did, yard by yard, back to the north and towards the river, back to their flotilla of barges and rafts, and back toward an escape across the Lune.  With every stride the Men of Westernesse hewed at them, whittling down their soldiery and trampling the bodies of the fallen beneath their lines as they advanced.

  Through the afternoon and into the evening the battle raged.  The Host of Sauron seemed great beyond count, but the Host of the Dúnedain was even more numerous.  When the evening’s light fell to a deepening gloaming, Yrch and Easterling fought amongst themselves upon the shores of the Lune to be the first aboard their rafts and the first to escape the scene of their blood loss and their terror and their defeat.  Then upon the western shore, the Dúnedain raised a great cry of triumph that carried across the water to haunt their worsted enemies as they paddled to the far bank.  Only then, when the land west of the Lune was clear of foes, did Helluin’s battle fire abate and the flaring blue light of her eyes diminish, and she gave then attention to the cleaning of her weapons.

  Now as she wiped clean her blades, Anguirel spoke, saying, “Long it hast been since last I enjoyed the fruits of thy wrath, O Helluin, and greatly do I thank thee for sharing with me thy anointment of blood.”

  And the Sarchram too praised her saying, “Great is thy prowess, O Helluin, and honored am I to spill the blood of the enemy again in thy company.”

  But around her the Men of Westernesse stood in awe, for not in many generations had their kindred seen the wrath of the Calaquendi at war.  Some, knowing no better, thought that the prowess they had witnessed was common to all the Noldor, and then some amongst them gave thought to the tales of the great battles of their forefathers and the wars in Beleriand ere the Valar had delivered their people from the trials of Hither Shores.  All the stronger did they reverence the heroic Edain in the First Age, Haleth and Bregor, Barahir and Beren, Hurin and Huor, Turin and Tuor, and Earendil the Mariner.

  At dawn the next morning the Elven Host of Gil-galad made known its presence in the distance, ten miles off the enemy’s right flank to the south as they marched from Harlindon.  A fanfare they blew on their trumpets, recalling that of Fingolfin at the coming of his host to Mithrim with the first rising of the sun.  Many were the flares of light glinting from their armor, and their banners were unfurled by a breeze from the sea.  Then, seeing the advance of this fresh host and being still unready to offer battle following their defeat the day before, Sauron’s Host continued its retreat from the shores of the Lune.

  During the second day after their defeat, the Host of Sauron continued to withdraw away from the Elven Host, marching further to the east, and they retreated beyond the highlands that would one day be called the Tower Hills.  Then there High King ceased his pursuit for a time and his forces made a camp, and there he awaited the Númenóreans.

  On the day following the battle, while the wounded Dúnedain were tended and the dead gathered, the Lune was speckled with the myriad craft of Sindarin mariners out of Mithlond.  These were freshly come from the ferrying of Gil-galad’s host across the water to Harlindon.  Now the people of Cirdan brought transport for the Númenórean army and through the night conveyed them across the river to the eastern shore.  The Men of Westernesse marched the next day to meet with the Elven Host that had encamped twenty miles inland, and there they added their numbers and pitched their tents.  Then they took a rest from fighting and marching for another week while supplies were moved forward to the encampment, weapons and armor repaired, and horses rested.      

  The siege of the Lune was broken, the enemy driven back, and Lindon had a respite.  Half a week before it had been expected to fall.  It was the turning of the tide and the harbinger of the scourging of Eriador, for with the coming of the Dúnedain, it was only a matter of time until the land was freed.  For the first time in years the Noldor and Sindar felt that peace would be restored and victory lay within their grasp.  In but half a week everything had changed.

  When at last they marched forth again, the allies found that Sauron’s Host had continued their retreat to the River Baranduin.  The Elves and Men came after them, seeking battle.  After losing a number of small probing skirmishes, Gorthaur finally withdrew his forces beyond the Baranduin, ceding western Eriador.  Following them thither, it took o’er three weeks to move the entire combined host up to the river’s western bank.  Gil-galad and Ciryatur then debated how best to assail their foes, for the bridge at Sarn Athrad had been broken in Gil-galad’s retreat aforetime.  Any attack would force them to ford the river and win a bank held and entrenched against them, leaving them vulnerable during the transit, and then obligated to attack a position of strength from one much weaker.  In between the two hosts lay barely four score yards of water, and this neither deep nor overly swift, yet it might as well hath been a mile of ocean.  ‘Twas then 22 Gwirith, (April 22nd).   

  “My archers can drive them back from the eastern shore, giving the infantry perhaps 50 yards grace upon the thither banks for their attack,” Ciryatur told the council of war that had assembled in Gil-galad’s tent.

  “Yet when thy troops come thither, then must thy bowmen cease their firing,” Glorfindel said, “and then shalt those few upon the banks be swept away by the charge of their enemies.”

  “And what of the Yrch archers?”  Gil-galad asked.  “Many crossbows do they wield, and though poor in skill, still their numbers may serve to repel our forces.”

  “Then we shalt send the archers with the infantry advance, and they shalt fire while themselves crossing Baranduin,” Ciryatur proposed.

  “Then they shalt be firing up from the water to the land beyond the bank, and their targets shalt, by a slight withdrawal backwards, come out of their sights, yet still await them nearby,” Glorfindel replied.  “The bank is not high, but neither is it flat.”

  “Then we shalt send some forward and reserve some upon the hither shore,” Ciryatur said, “and in this way drive back the Yrch Host and keep them back once the infantry makes the far bank.  When those upon the western side must cease firing, those upon the eastern side shalt commence, and if the cavalry comes quickly across in their wake, then perhaps any enemies charging forward shalt be caught amidst arrows and horsemen.”

  “Yet though our host outnumbers theirs, still we must attack with overwhelming force to take and hold the thither shore and then drive them back,” Glorfindel said.  “In a direct frontal assault the battle line shalt be very wide, and many must come ashore simultaneously for the landing to succeed.  Perhaps we should assail their left flank only with our whole strength, pitting our numbers against but a part of theirs.  We should then compose a host they shalt be unable to withstand, the easier to secure a foothold ashore amongst them.  Then, using that front as a base, we can move both upstream and inland in a sweeping movement and force them east.”

  Around the table, heads nodded in agreement.  They could visualize the action.  60,000 would fall upon the 15,000 or less upon the downstream flank of Sauron’s Host, driving into it with arrows, swords, and cavalry.  And once their forces had crossed Baranduin, it would be a contest of numbers and grit.  The Easterlings and Yrch would be sure to give way.  They could chase them all the way to the Glanduin.

  “We shalt marshal our forces by the river along our entire front,” Ciryatur said, “but concentrate the bowmen to the south and the cavalry to the north with the infantry between.  As soon as they step into the river they shalt advance downstream against the enemy’s left flank.  Into that position shalt our arrows pour and a landing space shalt be cleared.  Some bowmen shalt advance with the infantry and the horsemen shalt charge south as well.  All shalt reach the thither shore together, and under cover of those of our archers then upon the thither bank, take and hold the front and fight their way inland and upstream.  Our remaining archers can still assail those of the enemy upstream beyond our troops, driving them yet further north ere our host follows to attack.”

  They continued to refine the plan, judging their strength and the speed with which they could cross Baranduin.  They made contingency plans in case the enemy troops attempted compensating movements.  They timed their own troop movements and then decided on trumpet signals for them.  They sent forth scouts to survey the banks and the position of their enemies.  And finally they informed their officers of the plan, and the officers their sergeants, and the sergeants their troops.  In the hours of darkness they moved the bowmen south to the place they’d chosen, while cavalrymen, Dúnedain and Eldar, quietly shifted their mounts north.  An added benefit of the plan was that the infantry remained in their camp, their campfires seen and ignored by the enemy, while the movements of the others went unmarked in the darkness.

  A single trumpet note greeted the dawn.  In the growing light, 18,000 bowmen prepared for war upon the western bank.  Upon the eastern bank the Yrch and Easterlings scrambled to their battle lines and readied themselves for the onslaught.  Word had come to their commanders that the Lord Sauron would accept no further defeats.  They could either die in battle against the Eldar and the Dúnedain, or they could die at his own hands.  For most, a death in battle was preferable, for it would be quicker and come with less pain.  In under half an hour their companies were formed up and stood awaiting their foes with the light of Anor brightening behind them.

  At the report that the enemy had formed up, the trumpets blew two blasts and now the archers of Númenor took their places upon the western bank.  Across the water they could see the black host of Sauron, and it seemed to many that a shadow stood over their enemies and confused their sight.  Then the Yrch gave a great cry of challenge and the Easterlings yelled in their unintelligible tongue some oath or curse, the Númenóreans knew not which.  Instead, of answering, they drew arrows from their quivers and set them to their bowstrings.

  All along the banks to their north, 26,000 infantry and 18,000 cavalry, all the host of the Eldar and the Dúnedain, stood forth upon the shore, gazing in a menacing silence towards the eyes of their foes.  Across from the hooting and stamping Host of Sauron they stood motionless.  Their enemies brandished their weapons, shouted threats and insults, but the allies of the west seemed to flash and sparkle with the rays of bright Anor reflecting off their shining armor.

  The trumpets of the west blew three notes, and ere their ringing call had passed away it was drowned in the twanging of bowstrings in their thousands, the hissing flight of arrows, and the screams of the dying on the thither bank.  The shower of arrows from the Númenórean bows ceased not, but continued on and on, the air filled with the falling hail of deadly shafts.  Volley after volley the Dúnedain sent against their enemy and they marked the fall of bodies across the water and the recoiling of the lines of troops.  They gave back a few strides and then a few more.  The arrows shifted back with them as the bowmen adjusted their aim, driving their foes from the bank.  Space opened along the water where none but the fallen lay, stilled or crawling aimlessly and crying out in pain.  Back the arrowfall drove them, 10 yards and then 20, then 30, and then 40.  None upon their flank dared advance to take their place.  Instead they too shied back, knowing themselves to also be within range of the deadly longbows of Westernesse.

  50 yards from the shore stood now the closest foes.  The trumpets played a fanfare of four notes that rent the air.  And now the infantry plunged down the western banks and into the Baranduin, the water reaching mid-thigh as they swiftly strode, weapons drawn in a flashing of light.  Further north, a great cry went up and the cavalry leapt into the river, horses neighing and then surging forward in a churning mass.  The enemies across the river taunted them, challenged and reviled them, but the allies heeded them not.  Instead they moved across the river, but always equally to the south. 

  Now half the bowmen moved into the churning flow as well, yet these aimed their arrows north, into the enemies who stood upstream, unassailed aforetime, and now these too backpedaled, seeking safety in distance through retreat.  The other half of the archers continued to hold the opposing flank at bay as their footmen and cavalry drew across the Baranduin and converged on the cleared bank.

  Just a short time later the first of them clambered ashore and immediately advanced inland.  They were followed by an unending stream of horsemen and infantry, in wave upon wave, who could hardly wait to engage their bright steel against their enemies.  In the van of the press of footmen came Helluin, and by now those who surrounded her were screaming her battle cry, “Kill ‘Em All!”  Time and again the Sarchram flew, careening amongst the Yrch and returning again to her hand.  Then the fighting closed in and she wielded Anguirel without mercy, smiting any of the Host of Sauron she could lay steel too.  And the black blade rejoiced in the bloodshed.

  “More, more,” its cold voice rang o’er the din of battle; the blade’s bloodlust raged unchecked in its every word and stroke, “Yea, more blood shalt I drink; for this was’t I created and ever doth I thirst for more.”

  And Helluin granted the sword’s request a hundred times in the opening hour alone.  In the Battle of Baranduin her wrath peaked, o’ertopping even her slaughter upon the banks of the Lune.  Indeed not since the Nirnaeth Arnoediad had she entered such a pure state of mayhem.

  It took well nigh a half hour ere all the Host of the Allies stood upon the eastern bank of the Baranduin.  By then the front of battle had passed a furlong to the east.  The Dúnedain and the Eldar drove their foes before them without pause.  Though some fell to the blades and arrows of the enemy, still they came on, unstoppable as a tide rushing upon the shores of Belegaer.  Even as they moved inland the Númenórean archers continued firing o’er their heads into the ranks of the enemy beyond the battle lines.  For the Yrch and Easterlings there was no respite.  No place in their line was spared the threat of assault, but all shied away from Helluin who strode against them on foot.  They couldn’t flee her presence fast enough.

  By the second hour of the battle none of the enemy would face her, instead recoiling away from the terror of the blue fire in her eyes and the light that surrounded her.  Not since she had manifested the Light of the Blessed Realm upon Tórferedir at their first meeting had she become so incandescent.  Friend and foe alike could not abide the glare she projected.  If the Men of Westernesse had been impressed in the Battle of the Lune, now they stood in awe of her rampage.  For a while it appeared, even to their mortal eyes, as if a whirling figure of brilliance clove through their foes, leaving in its wake the dead and the dying, and those who had been driven hence into the Void.  Ere long the terror of her caused the enemy to flee before her in abject panic, and thus the rout began. 

  Two others amongst the allies shone with unnatural brilliance for those eyes that could see.  Upon horseback to Helluin’s north, where the cavalry had ridden to secure the road from Sarn Athrad, a figure of light charged against the mounted companies of the Easterlings who had gathered there.  The very Light of Aman outshone the reflections of Anor upon his polished armor, while the twinkling reflections on his swift sword came as a flicker-flash of deadly lightning.  From beyond the grave and the Halls of Mandos had Glorfindel come, Valarauko’s Bane, alive and riding to war again in this latter day, and bringing the wrath of the Eldar of old upon the minions of Morgoth’s Lieutenant.  Now, with naught but Men and Yrch to oppose him, he was’t unstoppable.

  In the First Age few had eclipsed the hatred reserved for Sauron Gorthaur by the Noldor of Beleriand, and of those who had approached him, no other survived.  Now Glorfindel sought the Master of the Black Tower, for the Lord of the House of the Golden Flower of Gondolin had come back to Middle Earth with this intention, to lay low the last of Morgoth’s servants who could still jeopardize the peace of the Mortal Shores.

  With him rode Ereinion son of Fingon, Gil-galad, 3rd High King of the Exiled Noldor, blazing with the reflections from his mirror polished armor o’erlain with silver.  Upon his shield bright gems twinkled, and upon the point of his spear did flashes of sunlight flare.  With bitter thrusts he slew his enemies, driving the point of Aeglos¹ deep to spill their black blood.  About him a great press of the Noldor rode, and to his banner, silver star on blue, did they rally.  Yet no light of Aman brightened his figure, for he had been born in Beleriand and had never left the Hither Shores.  ¹(Aeglos, Snow Point, Gil-galad’s spear.  Sindarin)

  It was for the death of his father that Gil-galad sought redress, for in the Nirnaeth Arnoediad it had been Sauron who had prosecuted his master’s western flank against the 2nd High King of the Noldor.  Even though it had Gothmog who had dealt Fingon’s death stroke, Sauron had done his master’s bidding in provoking untimely the charge of the Elven Host and ruining the battle plan of the Eldar.  Now no Balrog marched in Sauron’s Host, and on this day no Man or Orch could withstand the king’s wrath or hold at bay his desire for vengeance.

  From his place far to the rear of the battle, Sauron marked the failure of his soldiery and he was filled with wrath.  Though he had bent the power of his ring against the allies and assayed to give strength to his own, still his host had been worsted.  The terror that his presence instilled in others was o’erwhelmed by the hatred and battlelust of his foes.  With his sight did he mark that many amongst the Eldar’s eyes shone with the Light of Aman, for these were the remnant of the Noldor that had come in Exile to Mortal Lands in the dawntime of the sun, and they had seen the Trees.  They were bitter enemies, beyond his mortal soldiers’ ability to withstand, and he hated them now as he always had.

  But his eyes also marked the presence of the three who were deadliest to his cause.  Gil-galad the High King, son of Fingon whom he had faced aforetime, was the least of them, Noldor by birth, but not a true Calaquende.  Many upon the field rallied to him and he held their allegiance.  But Sauron swore that on some day in a year yet to come, he would fell this lesser king of greater forefathers.  Next was Glorfindel, resurrected from the dead, whom he would not choose to assail, for no figure who blazed with such inner light could he any longer withstand, not since passing so much of his personal power into his Ring.  And last there was Helluin, blazing just as brightly as Glorfindel, though she had never died!  It should not hath been possible.  Worse, within her light he beheld a darkness that he had never seen in any of the Eldar, a power that inspired those around her to ever greater acts of violence.  In this her nature was’t akin to his own and at that he marveled the more.  But yet more disturbing still was the blue fire flaring from her eyes.  From whence had such a ril of sapphire in a Child of Iluvatar come? 

  From the depths of his memory Sauron dredged up an image that still made him shiver.  In the earliest days of his cleaving to his dark master’s will he had remained amongst the Maiar of Aule, and upon the Isle of Almaren he had seen such aforetime.  Of all those he had ever known since the singing of the Ainur’s Song, only the Elder King had such eyes¹.  They had once glanced upon him with disappointment and pity, and he had shrunken ‘neath the weight of them and fled.  ¹(“Manwë has no thought for his own honor, and is not jealous of his power, but rules all to peace…His raiment is blue, and blue is the fire of his eyes…”  The Sil, Ch. I, OTBOD, pg. 35.)

  Even as he thought it and his gaze was focused yet upon Helluin, marking her slaughter of his soldiery at a tireless rate of about 100 an hour, she sought him across all the miles that lay between them.  Maybe she felt his thought upon her; maybe having defeated him during his attack in 1600 she had somehow become aware of his malevolence ever after.  He was astonished.  And from that great distance of no less than a dozen miles, with the sight of a fallen but deathless spirit, he clearly saw the sneer she cast his way.  And then she returned to the battle, pursuing and slaying her enemies with the same glee and abandon that he himself would hath shown if only he dared.

  The Battle of Baranduin continued through the day and the Host of Sauron was driven ten miles east in disarray.  Many companies of Yrch fled outright, while others fought their way back in a more orderly retreat.  Some companies of the Easterlings were grim and gave way only after vicious combat, and these earned a grudging respect from the Eldar and the Dúnedain for they laid down their lives like any soldiers fighting for their lord.  But all gave ground before the Host of the Allies.  In the night that followed, none of Gorthaur’s officers commanded more than their own company, for order had broken down and chaos reigned amongst them, and so Sauron’s forces failed to regroup.

  The next day the fighting continued, and then the next.  Ever the battle line drew further east and the losses amongst the Yrch and the Easterlings were very great.  By the fourth day the cavalry of the allies was seeking Gorthaur’s scattered companies, hunting them and driving them towards the Glanduin, while the infantry swept in behind to secure the land and finish off the stragglers.  Few were the actual counterattacks against them and these were quickly quashed.

  By the morning of the fifth day Sauron’s Host was broken and it had been driven back a hundred miles from the River Baranduin.  Indeed they were now two-thirds of the way to Tharbad, where the Road crossed the River Glanduin.  Over the next week the rout continued until the River Glanduin was visible as a ribbon of bright water disappearing into the cover of forest to the south.  It lay but a few miles behind the enemy lines.  ‘Twas then that Sauron’s forces received reinforcements at last.  The third host out of Mordor arrived upon the field, 50,000 fresh troops out of Khand.  Now the enemy had a respite at last and stood a chance of reversing their losses.  By order of their master they would engage the allies the next morning and drive them back to Baranduin.

  Now for the first time since the Men of Westernesse had arrived in Lindon, there was real jeopardy again.  The Host of Sauron outnumbered the Host of the Allies, but most of Sauron’s troops were untried in battle.  This lack of real experience, and the fact that they had just completed the march from Mordor, gave Gil-galad great hope for the outcome of the next few days.  This time Ciryatur was less optimistic.

  “The forces I ordered to Lond Daer should hath halted the advance of this army,” the Ship Lord said that night after a quick check of the phase of the moon.  “Never should they hath come even to Tharbad, but rather they should hath met their fate, waylaid enroute and slaughtered.”  A month had passed since last he had seen his troops.

  Gil-galad noted Ciryatur’s concern, but he believed they could overcome their enemy.  Reports had come to him of the preparations of Sauron’s forces.  The host had arrived but set no camp, built no palisades or defensive works around their position, and had barely unpacked their kits.  They were going to march to battle without pause.  Most likely they would attack in the morning.  Despite the fact that Ciryatur’s second army hadn’t appeared, the High King had faith that his troops were far superior to the soldiers from Khand.  When the fighting started, the change in numbers wouldn’t matter.

  “I want all awake and fed ere dawn,” Gil-galad announced, “all the signs speak of an attack in the morning.  We must be ready.  Only by taking us at unawares can they win a victory.  Ours art the advantages of morale, prowess, and inspiration.”

  “We shalt be armed and ready,” Ciryatur said, if a bit grimly, “and we shalt test their measure, for if they art to win a victory, dearly bought with their blood shalt it be.”

  “Then when they come hither we shalt march forth to meet them,” Gil-galad declared, “and together we shalt drive them back.  We shalt drive them back to Glanduin…nay, we shalt drive them back all the way to Mordor.”

  The sun rose red in the morning, bathing all the land with the hue of blood.  Before the allied camp, the 52,000 surviving Elves and Men stood ready to do battle.  Across a scorched mile of no man’s land, 73,000 Yrch and Men began their advance and the ground trembled at the coming of their feet.  For the first time since their defeat at the River Lune, they marched west.  After a quarter-hour they could see the lines of the Dúnedain and Eldar awaiting them in silent ranks and files, infantry straight ahead, cavalry upon their right flank, the ruddy light of the rising sun reflecting like fire from their polished armor. Above the troops a forest of blue banners bearing either a silver star, or a rayed star above a white tree, fluttered in the morning breeze though it felt as if all of Arda was’t holding its breath.  Not a bird chirped; only the tramp of marching boots was to be heard.  It was 2 Lothron, (May 2nd) S.A. 1700.

  For a while longer the lines held as they converged, a quarter-mile, then a furlong; the Host of Mordor came on as the Allies stood still, waiting, silent, and ready.  The distance between them diminished; now one hundred yards, now seventy-five, now fifty.  Then came the single ringing note of a silver trumpet calling forth in greeting to the sun, and still no longer, the infantry of the Allies charged forward at last.  As one, the tide of warriors came with the morning’s light flaring blood red on their plate and mail, their polished swords drawn in a hiss from a multitude of scabbards.  The Host of Sauron hastened forward to meet them, screaming challenges and cursing in many tongues, their blood heated with lust of mayhem.  But now as they drew ‘nigh for battle, over all the dim of the charge, from the throats of the Men of Westernesse came the cry, “Kill ‘Em All!”  And then the hosts slammed together.

  The clash of their lines resounded across the land of central Eriador; steel met steel, bodies collided, voices were raised, and blood was spilled.  The cries of the dying rose to the heavens.  The lines blurred into a press of fighters, each an individual seeking survival and victory.  A million glints of light shone reflected upon weapons, flashing and flickering with deadly slashes and bitter thrusts.  Dust rose from the tumult of combat as 200,000 boots milled the earth, seeking purchase, striving to drive back the enemy.  The very world seemed to groan aloud ‘neath the weight of so much wrath.

  Then over all the din there came the pounding of the hooves of 16,000 war horses.  The very ground shook in their passage upon the field.  The cavalry of the Eldar and the Dúnedain smashed headlong into the right flank of Sauron’s Host, driving a wedge deep into their ranks with a thicket of lances and spears.  Before them the bodies of their enemies were flung airborne by the impacts, or impaled upon the blades of their weapons.  Hard and bitter was their ride, and deep amidst their foes did they penetrate, and there they hewed the host from within the press of its ranks.

  Upon the frontlines the battle seesawed, with fighting constant across a mile of land.  There Helluin, with a great company of Dúnedain about her, again forced back the Yrch and Easterlings she faced.  In that place the line bulged forward, for the enemy could not withstand her.  Rather they gave way, unable to match her ferocity or the wrath that she inspired amongst those Men who fought beside her.

  Then, though the first hour had yet to pass, from the north came the army that Sauron had called back to battle from its siege outside Imladris.  These he threw into the fray upon the rearguard of the cavalry, and soon the riders were cut off from retreat, surrounded by foes on all sides and hemmed in by the press of their attackers.  The circle of enemies tightened about them and the fighting grew more desperate.

  Seeing this, the enemy was greatly heartened and they fought with increased vigor.  And Sauron, from his campsite set upon a bluff o’erlooking Tharbad, bent now thither all his thought and all his power, and with his Ring did he set lust for blood and fear of failure deep in the hearts of his soldiers.  Thus for a time they were strengthened in will and hand and they stemmed the advance of the allies and then slowly turned them back. 

  Now Sauron’s legions moved forward, concentrating themselves more closely to widen the distance between the battle line and the trapped cavalry.  The enemies took advantage of their numerical superiority, crowding together in a dense press to force the allies west.  Despite Helluin and the Dúnedain about her, the mass of fighters beyond them was driven slowly back until they too were in jeopardy of being enveloped.  Then their only choice was to slowly withdraw with the rest of their forces, one grudging step at a time, while leaving in their wake a litter of bodies.  For Helluin, any retreat while under the influence of the rage that burned in her blood was as bitter as it had been in the Nirnaeth, when, save for the entreaty of the brethren of Dor-lomin, she would hath continued in her rampage though she be left alone upon the field facing all the Host of Angband.  Yet she was older now and less reckless even in her wrath, and though the fire burned no less hotly in her veins, she found herself moving back, her sword and ring blade warding off the blows of her enemies to protect those beside her as much as herself.

  So the fighting continued to the second hour, both sides whittling down the count of their foes’ hosts.  But now a hundred yards lay between Helluin and the cavalry and there was naught that she could do against so many who stood between.  The battle had turned against the Allies, and the thought of Sauron Gorthaur gloating o’er the outcome made his name bitter upon her tongue.  She had already slain well ‘nigh 150, yet on this day she could slay 1,000 and little difference would it make.  She watched the banners of blue draw yet another pace further away, and in anger she hewed off the heads of three of the Rhûnwaith who stood before her.  Anguirel, as ever, was pleased with the taste of their blood.  But the fighting continued unto the third hour and then the fourth and ever the infantry and cavalry were driven further asunder.

  Helluin blinked the sweat and sprayed blood from her eyes, and for a moment she cast her gaze to the sky.  Anor stood high, ‘nigh the zenith, and noon lay but a short span away.  The blue banners of her friends and king were far away.  O’er an hour before, the infantry had been forced back beyond the place of their encampment and that familiar ground lay littered with the bodies of the dead, both their own and the enemy’s.  They had been forced back o’er half a mile.  Now a new mood came upon Helluin, something beyond the rage of battle that was her custom, and for the first time since she had stood amidst the Fall of Gondolin, she committed herself to meeting her death with her hands well stained in the blood of her enemies.

  If ‘tis my time to come unto thy house, O Namo, then so be it, she thought grimly, but not for naught shalt I take my leave, of life, of love for these lands, and of my beloved’s heart. Unto the waiting place of my fëa shalt I go hence, and therein I shalt await thee, meldis meldwain nin, even if it be until the ending of days.  Yet before me shalt I send a thousand times my count unto the Void.

  Her resolve had changed in the blink of an eye, and in the outer world not a heartbeat had passed, but within, it was a different Helluin who lived and fought, for now she had accepted the loss of her ties to the Mortal Shores.  She would fight to the last, and then come again to Aman and whatever welcome awaited her there.  If she had been fell before, inspiring her fellows and terrifying her foes, now she astonished both anew.  And forgetting the lines of battle or the strategy of war, she merely fought, seeing only the enemy before her and feeling only the desire to shed their blood.  Indeed this was not a thing different in kind to her usual rage, but rather it differed in degree and speed.  She strode forward, retreating no longer, slaying any she could reach, oblivious to anything save her rage, her sword, and her enemy.

  Now the Dúnedain looked upon her onslaught, and followed behind the wake of her destruction.  Never had they seen arms wielded with such blinding speed or such deadly precision.  She wasted not a stroke, one motion blending into the next, and with every thrust and swing, another foe fell before her.  Helluin strode amongst her mortal enemies as if walking through a field of tall weeds, hewing them down mercilessly, heedless of their attempts to take her, and erring never in the mastery of her swordplay.  The trail of bodies behind her lengthened, marking her passage forward, and Men surged forward behind her.  One company and then another moved into the gap, keeping clear the way and driving aside the Yrch and Easterlings upon either flank.  More and more followed, forming an ever lengthening and widening wedge amidst the host of their enemies.  And at its apex spearheading the counterattack, came Helluin Maeg-mormenel, eyes blazing with blue flames, a brilliance shining about her that eclipsed the noonday sun.

  “To the Admiral!  To the King!” cried out the soldiers who followed her, thinking that her goal was the relief of the cavalry.  In the host behind, others took up their cry and surged forward with renewed vigor.

  “I am coming for thee, O Gorthaur,” Helluin whispered, “and ere I let go this life, I shalt repay thee for thy trespasses.  I doth owe thee blood and more.  Fear me if thou wilt, fight me if thou can.  Flee me if thou can’st.”  And without a backward glance she hewed her way forward stride by stride.

  Across a handful of miles, Sauron Gorthaur heard her words though all the din of battle that lay between them.  He looked nervously towards the fighting, seeking to pinpoint from whence those fell words had come, for they had struck upon his spirit as a splash of bitter acid and he marked the burn of them gravely.  Few upon Middle Earth could make a threat that he would take seriously, but she was one, and though he doubted truly that she could o’ercome him, he would not choose to face her willingly.  Too many things might go awry in such a contest.  From his vantage point he noted that she had fought her way deep into his host, recouping almost fifty yards so far, while behind her a spearhead of Men had followed, creating a dangerous division in his forces.  As he watched, more and more of the Dúnedain poured into the wedge of counter attackers, widening the cleft in the battle front.  This was not acceptable.

  Again he bent his will upon his soldiers, and with his Ring he projected power for them to withstand the onslaught of the Dúnedain.  But his power was’t balanced by the inspiration the Dúnedain felt when they followed in Helluin’s wake and partook of her mayhem.  Every soldier of Westernesse sought to share in the mythic events she brought to pass; they sought to share in her immortality by becoming a part of the future written by her hand; they sought to write themselves a place in the legend this day would become.  Without conscious thought, Helluin’s example strengthened her allies’ hearts to match the fell power their enemy projected.

  As Sauron had foreseen, Helluin’s darkness drew forth the darkness of others.  Her violence incited violence in those of lesser power about her and they clove to her.  He watched her closely and never had he desired to seduce one more to his will; could he only corrupt her to his side, he would gladly make such a dark spirit his regent and the Viceroy of Barad-dúr.  He would make her Supreme Battle Commander of all his armies, for upon the field she had no peer.  Such was’t his fantasy.  Helluin excited him.  The useless thing between his legs throbbed and hardened at the thought of perverting her to his evil and so he resented her, for her power had affected him and even he was’t subject to it.  Oh how he desired and hated her.  Thus distracted by the tension within himself, his concentration on his Ring faltered and his reinforcement of his soldiers faltered as well.

  Now Sauron Gorthaur awaited the last of his companies and their tardiness irked him, though he knew them to be the least reliable of all his subjects.  Long had he known of the growing hatred between the Men of Westernesse and the Enedwaith in the southern forests about the Glanduin.  These savages, he had also learned, held a longstanding animosity towards the Eldar.  ‘Twas only natural that he enlist them in his war against their mutual enemies, and they had reluctantly agreed, though they had maintained that, though thou be an enemy of our enemies, thou art not our friend.  He had merely nodded in agreement.  He detested them, wanted little from them, and certainly not their friendship.  They were barbarian primitives, cannibals, ‘twas rumored, fit only for slavery under the lash and then death.  I am not thy friend, true, he had thought, but for a time I shalt be thy master.  So where were they now?  Ciryatur was not alone in his expectations of forces that had not yet arrived.

  The sun fell from the noon.  Helluin had recouped o’er a hundred yards.  Behind her the Dúnedain had held and widened her path, and now a cleft of equal width and length split the battle front asunder.  A furlong still separated her from the cavalry.  She considered it not at all.  Such goal as she had lay beyond the lines of battle, past the rearguard of the enemy host, and far behind their encampment.

  The battle continued in its ferocity though hours had passed since the initial clash.  The mortals on both sides grew weary, indeed well ‘nigh exhausted, and though their blows came neither so hard nor so swift as aforetime, terror and rage and stubborn conviction kept them fighting.  The field was still undecided and neither army could withdraw ere a conclusion was reached. In her single minded frenzy Helluin knew no fatigue and her speed was all the more evident as those of mortal blood about her slowed down.

  Helluin had lost track of time. The host of enemies about her had ceased to trouble her.  Indeed their weapons bit not upon her armor and she slew them as one would swat a midge.  By now she had lost any tally of the count of her vanquished.  She cared naught for them at all.  In a corner of her awareness was the sense that pointed the way towards her real enemy.  She could feel him like a dark beacon calling softly to her, unerringly drawing her footsteps thither.  She slew another half-dozen and kept to her course.

  By mid-afternoon, Helluin was within thirty yards of the cavalry, but to the dismay of the Men in her wake, she appeared to be aiming to skirt them.  She was forging ahead in a direction that would bring her past the embattled riders by several dozen yards to their south.  None marked that she had been ever headed in a beeline towards a bluff beside Tharbad, three miles beyond the rear of the battle, upon which a commander’s tent had been set, and above which fluttered a black pennant bearing the device of a yellow eye.  The Dúnedain were also too preoccupied with the fighting to note that from a direction yet some degrees further south, a great cloud of dust was’t rising in the near distance.

  Throughout the afternoon, Helluin had periodically vented her rage in dire curses and threats, whispered with venomous vitriol against the master of her enemies.  Again and again she had challenged and upbraided Sauron, somehow knowing that he was aware of her.  It had kept him focused on the battle, and more precisely on her.  Indeed, Maia though he was, he too had failed to mark the gravity of the new approach from the south, dismissing it without investigation as his long truant allies from Enedwaith.  Had he realized the danger, he could hath foreseen the disaster that was about to unfold.

  In the fourth hour past noon, the wedge with Helluin at its head had cloven the Host of Sauron very nearly in half.  It was then that the approaching army unfurled its banners, deep blue, and bearing a rayed star above a white tree.  Thus the expeditionary force Ciryatur had sent to Lond Daer came up at last to the battle.  They drove against the southern fraction of the enemy, loosing first a hail of arrows and then charging afoot, and quickly it was o’errun.

  The Men and Elves who had followed Helluin turned on their enemies to the north, and having seen the banners of their friends, fought with renewed vigor and drove those standing against them in a rout to the north with much slaughter. But a few of the enemy, some thousand from mixed companies, escaped the carnage.

  At last the press upon the cavalry was relieved, and there came Gil-galad, and Ciryatur, and Glorfindel, and the other knights of the Allied Host, able at last to ride against their foes.  To them galloped the cavalry from Lond Daer, reinforcing them and breaking the encirclement about them with a charge of lances.  Many of the foe they ran down and slaughtered as they fled the field.  For the next two hours the bloodbath continued and the Host of Sauron was’t swept away as so many parched stalks of hay before a firestorm.  By day’s ending so few remained that rather than pursue them through the night, the High King and the Admiral ordered their troops to stand down and return to camp.

  Now when the battle had been broken by the arrival of the host from Lond Daer, the path before Helluin had been quickly laid opened.  Then she had made her way southeast in haste, Anguirel in one hand, the Sarchram in the other.  Across the miles she ran, fleet as a deer, seeking to come against the Dark Lord in his tent upon the bluff ‘nigh Tharbad.  She covered the distance quickly, but not quite quickly enough, for Sauron Gorthaur had kept his eye upon her and knew when would come the moment of her arrival.

  Not this day, Helluin, he thought, not in the hour of my host’s defeat do I choose to face thee.  Another time, another place perhaps…and time we both hath.  But I salute thy darkness nonetheless.  No Child of the One hath slain in a day more foes than thou.  Yet I woulds’t rather seduce thee than slay thee.  No, we shalt not meet this day.

  When Helluin arrived, Sauron was but recently fled; the dust from the hooves of his horses still hung in the air.  He had left a company of guards to waylay or delay her, but these she slew in a few minutes.  He had not left a single horse.  With every heartbeat her enemy raced further away in the gathering gloom and she was powerless to pursue him.  She could feel his receding presence as a taunt upon her spirit. 

  Sauron had left one further token of his passing from Eriador.  Beside the entrance to his tent stood the pole standard of his Glamhoth, the shriveled and smoke blackened remains of Celebrimbor, all the worse for six years of being carried before his armies.  The arrow shafts still hung from the desiccated shreds of his flesh.  In anger and frustration, Helluin hewed the black pennant from the top of Gorthaur’s tent, carrying off the standard to present as a trophy of victory to her king.  Then she took every other item in the campsite, stacked them high, and laid the mummified body of her friend atop it as a funeral pyre.  With its black smoke rising to the heavens behind her, Helluin left the bluff and made her way back to the victorious army.

To be continued

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