In An Age Before – Part 47

  The month of Gwaeron, (March), brought the lengthening of the days, and with it came the first warming of spring.  Ice thinned and finally failed upon the pools of the swamp to the north and frozen ground gave way to mud.  ‘Neath the Black Gate the thaw worked its fingers deeper and deeper.  Water dripped from the ceiling of the Dwarf hewn chamber and upon 13 Gwaeron Durin’s engineers proclaimed the chamber and tunnel no longer safe.  The army massed and weapons were prepared in anticipation.  Men and Elves and Dwarves readied themselves for war.  Upon 18 Gwaeron the columns failed.

  ‘Twas mid-afternoon and a warmer day following a week of warming weather.  The trend had not been stayed by either a snap frost or a night’s freeze.  Upon the Morannon Yrch strode their watches and Tor fondled boulders seeking any target within their range.  All stood as it had since the prior fall, yet all felt the impending return of battle.  Anor reached and passed his zenith as upon each day before.  Then with a groan that grew quickly to an earth-shaking tremor, the gate shivered, shook, and finally toppled, crashing down into a pit just vast enough to swallow it.  When ‘twas gone, swallowed whole by the earth, all that remained was’t a surprisingly shallow sink, somewhat rough at the surface, but not so treacherous as to preclude its crossing.

  At first neither side did aught but stand staring in amazement at the ruin of the Black Gate.  Then o’er the settling of the wreckage the howls and shrieks of the wounded could be heard.  Silver trumpets blew a fanfare, and as the dust began to settle it revealed the charging Host of the Alliance. 

  Ere the Glamhoth or the Easterlings could move to guard the gap, the cavalry of Lindon and Arnor slammed through their rent defenses, riding down any in their way.  Behind them came the Nandor, of all the host, the most anxious to redress their earlier defeat, while close by on their heels came the Noldor, the Sindar, the Dúnedain, and last of all, the Naugrim.  The allies flooded through the gap in the wall and struck their disorganized foes like the wave front of some deadly tide.  Men and Elves hewed anything that moved.  Dwarves slaughtered their enemies.  The Nandor shot every enemy they found, even firing through the cloth of their tents.  Many had not even the time to flee ere they were cut down.  ‘Twas a slaughter even worse than upon Dagorlad, for none of Sauron’s Host had expected to fight that day.  Indeed, none had expected to fight ere orders came to them from the Black Tower.

  Now despite the o’erwhelming victory the Host of the Last Alliance won that day, one tragedy bears special mention, for it wrought heavily upon the history of a great realm in latter days.  As hast been told, the Nandor followed first upon the heels of the cavalry, outpacing all other kindreds upon foot.  Hot was’t their wrath and deep their grievance for their losses upon Dagorlad.  Thither had Amdír been slain and Oropher o’erwhelmed amidst the retainers of his household, and surviving, he bore a most bitter thirst for vengeance.  Thus when the charge of his remaining folk penetrated deep within the ranks of the Yrch of Udûn, he slacked not his pace, but rather pursued the foe with abandon, his bowmen slaying all who fled before them.

  ‘Twas in the hellish depths of that land whence chance rose against him, for the king of Greenwood came with but a company against a larger company of Yrch, trapping them for slaughter in a defile, but they themselves had been followed thither.  As the bowmen of Calenglad fired upon their penned enemies, at their backs came another company of the Glam, and with them several Tor.  These new foes were upon them ere they realized their peril.  Now amidst the ranks of the Nandor strode the great club-wielding monsters and the desperate armored Yrch.  With swords and clubs these broke in amongst the Elves, and engaged them hand to hand.  Though Oropher’s troops fought fiercely they were now outnumbered and outclassed in arms.  Many fell to the swings of the Tor’s iron studded clubs, long as a Man’s body and just as heavy.  Many more fell to the blades of the Yrch.  In the end the Nandor were slaughtered to a one, and there upon Udûn did the King of Calenglad i’Dhaer fall at the last.  His rent body and the partially eaten remains of his warriors were only later found, and Thranduil his son was’t racked with sorrow ever after as the sight of his mutilated body burnt itself into his memory.

  Now the ruin of the gate and the assault upon Udûn was’t just as strong a shock to Sauron as to the least of his foot soldiers.  He had anticipated nothing, had seen nothing, and had prepared for nothing.  For many weeks all he had sought to view was’t the continuing battle within Orodruin.  To the exclusion of aught else had he laid thither his undivided attention.  When he was’t finally aware of the debacle at the Black Gate, ‘twas as before, the shrieking and wailing of his defeated forces that begged him harken.

  He whirled north in shock to see the great gap in the impenetrable gateway to his land, the dead that lay upon the harsh stone being trampled underfoot, and the fleeing of his remaining companies.  Wrath exploded in him, as at the fore of his enemies, riding toward his tower in triumph, he saw two figures flashing bright in the now late afternoon sun.  ‘Twas Ereinion son of Fingon in his silver armor, and Glorfindel blazing with the hideous Light of Aman.  A shriek came from Sauron’s throat that shook the foundations of the Barad-dúr and set the lake of magma in Orodruin restlessly percolating.

  In that moment, for the first time in weeks, Sauron’s mind and power pulled wholly free of the battle in Mt. Doom.  He forgot utterly his archenemy Helluin and his Nazgûl.  The power he gifted them through his Ring was’t withdrawn.  For one moment they faltered in their attack, and seizing immediately the advantage, Helluin lunged forward with the Grave Wing.  The Sarchram clove the black robe and hewed the undead neck of the third of the Úlairi, and with a horrifying howl, she who had traded her natural life and death for her service unto the Dark Lord disintegrated and was’t no more upon the Hither Shores.  Her accursed spirit was’t driven from Ea into the eternal darkness of the Void. 

  Helluin raised her weapons and the light in her eyes flared as he cast her glance upon the remaining two.  Tindomul and Khamûl regarded her, then each other.  As three they had but maintained a stalemate.  As two they would fall.  And in no way did they believe they could accomplish their mission.  In the next moment their swords dropped from their hands and their empty robes fluttered to the ground.  They had given up the battle and fled unclothed, back to their master in disgrace. 

  At their disappearance, Helluin looked about herself and exhaled a great breath.  For the first time in months she stood completely still.  After a moment she sat down upon the causeway and rested her sword across her knees.  She took in great gulps of air and noted for the first time how hot was’t that chamber and how sickening were the fumes.  She realized that she had no idea how long had passed since she had commenced the battle.  As she sat, Helluin idly watched the Nazgûl’s swords writhe and wither and turn to ash.

  Mórgúl blades, wound ‘bout and empowered by sorcery, she thought, but now bereft of their source, reduced to ‘naught but shadows of malice and cruelty.

  Finally she stood again and appraised her situation.  Her bow and quiver lay on the rocks below, far out of reach.  Anguirél she had sheathed and now Helluin resigned herself to spending some time escaping from the fiery mountain.  With a vicious cast, sent the Sarchram against the rockslide that had sealed the Sammath Naur.  Boulders shattered and sparks flew.  Again and again she flung her weapon.  Bit by bit the barricade fell.  Each time, the Grave Wing returned to her hand.  Slowly she made progress.  She wondered what she would find when she left; food and water for one thing, she hoped, for indeed she felt famished.

  Now the two remaining Úlairi, the captain and the lieutenant of the Nazgûl, came thither to the chamber of their master in the Barad-dúr.  Their timing could not hath been worse.  Sauron had just taken the measure of his defeat at the Morannon, counted the losses sustained by his soldiery in Udûn, and marked the destruction of the spirit of the third wraith.  When the two surviving Nazgûl presented themselves, having fled the contest and achieved not their errand, he erupted in a rage.  Sauron surrounded the naked spirits of his failed servants with several kinds of fire and then tormented them mercilessly until the remnant of his northern host encamped themselves beyond the iron bridge leading to his tower.  Then he left Tindomul and Khamûl for a time, constrained and whimpering in despair, to attend to the chastisement of his mortal captains, Herumor and Fuinur.

  Indeed Sauron spent two weeks conveying his displeasure at the outcome of the war.  He found it did him good to threaten and cow his minions; there was’t always an up side to defeat.  When at last Herumor and Fuinur were properly intimidated, and the new commander of the Glamhoth sufficiently terrified, he flung several thousand soldiers of mixed kinds into the rivers of fire ‘neath his iron bridge to emphasize his points and then retired again to his tower.  Almost he gave in to the temptation to linger yet longer, for the scent of fear in the air had been intoxicating.

  When at last he returned to his chamber, Sauron inspected his underlings.  Tindomul and Khamûl had remained as he’d left them, their insubstantial beings peeled to their cores by his sleepless eye.  He had constrained them thus, wreathed in fires that seemed to scorch those most vulnerable aspects of their psyches.  Now he couldn’t resist taunting them apace.  Yet eventually he even grew tired of his sport and he released them to lick their wounds and recover such of their self esteem as he would allow them.

  In the meantime, the Host of the Last Alliance had encamped in a cordon about Gorgoroth, beleaguering the Barad-dúr and threatening the remnants of the host that Sauron had left cowering outside his walls.  Now the Dark Lord surveyed the deployment of the allies of the west and smirked.  No such rabble, no matter what their count, could lay a successful siege to his tower.  They would grow old and die ere they breached his defenses.  And he and his most trusted servants could wait through generations of mortal lives, until even the grandsons of those now bringing war to his land were old and grey.  He ignored them and turned again his attentions to Orodruin.

  The Dark Lord’s eye pierced distance and darkness and stone.  He saw the threshold of his causeway and looked within the tunnel.  Within the mountain his sight showed him the discarded robes of his Úlairi and he sneered at them so that they cowered yet afresh.  There stood his altar and his forge.  But something was’t missing.  The way from the ascending road to the Cracks of Doom lay clear and empty of life.  Helluin had gone!  In his time of distraction she had escaped!  Back and forth his eye searched with increasing desperation.  He bent the full power of his will and his Ring upon her and was’t thwarted.

  His enemy had come into his land, challenged him, defeated his servants, and then she had gone as easily as she had come.  And more.  She had fed him lies aforetime, constrained his attention thereafter, and thereby engineered the defeat of his host.  A new howl of rage rose from the topmost chamber of the Barad-dúr and it filled all the Host of the Black Land with terror.

  It had taken Helluin two weeks to clear the passage from the Sammath Naur so that she could finally stagger out into the dark of night upon the side of Mt. Doom.  Below her the panorama of Gorgoroth stretched out in a tableau of inky black, dotted in places by the campfires of two armies and the orange-red glow of the lava river ‘neath the bridge to the west gate of the Dark Tower.  For some time she merely stood breathing the air and absorbing the night.  When she focused her ears she could hear far off, the wailing and shrieking of Yrch and Men in terror.  Her sight revealed Sauron striding amongst his hapless thralls, slaughtering one here and another there ere he flung whole companies off the precipice ‘nigh his bridge.  She turned away from this scenario in disgust and began walking down the ascending road.  ‘Twas 8 Gwirith, (April 8th), S.A. 3435.

  After passing the skeletons of the Nazgûl’s horses and making thence another two leagues, she could go no further.  Now that the imperative of the fight had ended and her bloodlust had fled, Helluin was’t stricken by her exhaustion at last.  She staggered downslope from the road, finding thence a place hidden amongst the boulders that made up the sides of the volcano, and there she hunkered down ‘neath her cloak and fell at last into a rejuvenating rest.  Alone in the lee of the sheltering rock, she gazed sightlessly upwards as day passed into night and then to day again.  For a fortnight she didn’t move.  Scarcely did she breath.

  Each morn the meager condensation of the desert night provided a scant dozen drops of water that trickled down a furrow in the boulder o’erhanging her face and dripped thence into her mouth.  Thus by the grace of Ulmo, Lord of All Waters, she was’t sustained.

  ‘Twas 22 Gwirith when finally Helluin stirred from her rest.  She shook her head and slowly rose from her place of concealment.  Weakness she felt, and a sensation almost as of floating, and some time passed ere her legs would reliably bear her hence.  Well ‘nigh a year of constant fighting had sapped her reserves and now she had a deficit to assuage, not of the fëa which had sustained her, but rather of her hroa, which clamored now for sustenance.  Food and drink Helluin sought, and this she discerned would be most easily found in the camp of the Allied Host that had encircled the Barad-dúr.  Indeed the nearest of their bivouacs lay but 23 miles east of Orodruin.  

  Thither Helluin set out, rejoining the road encircling the fiery mount and proceeding hence under cover of night.  In the cooler darkness she walked at a respectable pace, fearing not to meet any enemies, and guessing that the Eye of Sauron sought her not, but rather cast its glare upon the enemy host outside his walls.

  Glad am I to be walking downhill this night, Helluin thought as she made her way ‘round the west side of Mt. Doom, for I feel now little better than the wraith’s horses

  Above her the night lay black as ink, yet the stars burned the brighter for it, though in Mordor they seemed farther away.  Ithil stood in the eastern sky, a crescent only, with but a couple nights remaining on the wane.  ‘Twas early still.  For a moment Helluin stood unmoving, facing the shadow of the Ephel Duath, darker even than the sky and blocking out the stars.  Somewhere beyond those peaks in Ithilien her beloved Beinvír fought.  She tried to reach out to her, to sense her wellbeing across their bond.  Weak she was’t in body, yet even so a spark of warmth did she perceive in the west.  With eyes closed she could almost see her soulmate as she kept watch upon the Imlad Ithil with the Rangers of Ithilien.  Focused and wary Beinvír was’t, yet neither afraid nor in danger.  For a moment Helluin sensed Beinvír as one watching another from concealment might, and then she was’t discovered and an outpouring of love struck her heart as the Green Elf perceived her as well.  And the most deadly of the Noldor welcomed that warmth more joyously than a feast.  Heart to heart they spoke in joyous communion.

  Thou art well, meldanya, Helluin whispered, and I rejoice in thee.

  I rejoice in thee as well, anamelda¹, Beinvír replied, surprising Helluin by using a term of endearment in Quenya, yet I feel thou art weary.  Art thy enemies fallen? ¹(anamelda, most beloved, = ana-(superlative pref, most) + melda(beloved)  Quenya)

  Indeed I am weary, but the last of the Úlairi hath fled, Helluin reported.  One only fell, yet it shalt be many years ere any of them art again a threat.  I seek now sustenance from the camp of the allies.  Barad-dúr is besieged.

  So too is Imlad Ithil, Beinvír told her, and so it seems we hath yet each our own wars to fight.

  ‘Tis so, though I wish greatly ‘twas not, Helluin mentally sighed, I should rejoin thee with joy.

  And I would greet thee with joy.  Yet thou hast missed many meals this year past.  Go thou now to thy board, my love, ere thou collapse.  There was’t a grin to be heard in the Green Elf’s thoughts and it warmed Helluin’s spirit to hear it.  I love thee ‘till world’s ending.

  As I love thee.  Be well ‘till next we meet.

  Then Helluin turned away from the west and continued down Sauron’s Road around the mountain.  Through the night she walked, and by slow increments the campfires of the allied host grew closer in her sight.  They had waylaid the road and encamped upon either side of it.  Now the warrior had but to follow the track to come to the allied camp.

  ‘Twas two hours ere dawn when Helluin came at last to the outermost sentries and she found them upon the road, a company of six Naugrim of Khazad-dûm.  These were unknown to her, and she to them, and indeed they had expected none to approach them from the west.  At once they recovered from their shock and grasped tightly their axes, forming in a wedge formation and facing her undaunted.

  “Stay thy advance and declare thyself,” the foremost of them called out.

  Helluin stopped walking and faced them at a dozen paces.  When one uncovered a lantern she blinked and squinted as its beam found her.

  “Hold fast thy blades, O stalwart soldiers of Khazad-dûm,” Helluin said in Sindarin, “I am Helluin Maeg-mórmenel, long a friend and ally of the House of Durin.  I hath come afresh from battle in yonder mount.  I pray thee, direct me thither to such as art charged as quartermasters of provisions.  I seek after food and drink.”

  “Ahhh, one of the bright-eyed Eldar,” the guard remarked as he regarded her closely in the light of his lamp.  “I knew not that thy folk hath deployed unto Orodruin.  Thy host stands foremost ‘nigh the bridge.  Surely thou must report thither?”

  “Indeed so.” Helluin said, humoring them.  She had no desire to join Gil-galad’s army.  “Yet I beseech thee, ere I make my way hence to lord and king, would it be not possible to partake somewhat of refreshment?  I swear, I feel as if I hath supped not in a year.”

  At this the Naugrim chuckled knowingly.  So far as they had heard tell, the Elven Host supped not nearly so well as themselves.  And being Khazâd, they all reveled in feasting.  A day without food indeed felt like a year, and after a battle every soldier craved his company’s board.  ‘Twas nearly another fifteen miles to the camp of the Eldar.  Helluin’s desire for a snack was readily understandable to them all.

  “Go thou hence a furlong and then make thy way off the road to the right.  Thou shalt soon come to the soldier’s mess.  Tell Bâget that the guards sent thee thither ere thou collapse before thou can’st report to thy lord.”

  Helluin laughed and thanked the guards and went upon her way.  When she turned off the road she found herself surrounded by the encampment of the Naugrim, and as usual, much of it consisted of trenches and these she entered, being forced to stoop to pass some of the covered areas ere she came to a great mess tent with only its peak above ground.  A sentry met her at the entrance.

  “Whyfore hast one of the Eldar come hither?”  He asked, eyeing her with only curiosity as she stood stooped over at the waist.

  “Indeed the guards upon the road sent me hither for they discerned rightly that I might succumb to hunger following battle ere I report to my lord,” Helluin told him, adding, “and once there I should rue the missed opportunity.  Such reports tend to be o’er wordy and long winded.”  She sighed theatrically.  The guard smiled sympathetically and nodded.  All foot soldiers knew that reporting to officers could be tedious when one was’t hungry.  “I was’t told to seek after one Bâget, Officer of the Board.”  She looked at him hopefully.

  With a chuckle he nodded o’er his shoulder and stood aside for her to pass.  As she entered, he called out past her, “Yo Bâget!  Ladle up a bowl of stew and draw ale, we’ve a hungry Elf just come from fierce fighting to save from starvation at the hands of her officers.”  Helluin favored him with a nod and a wide smile as she passed.  Already the scent of food was’t making her stomach grumble and her mouth water.

  Bâget ‘twas fat even for a Dwarf and no doubt finished off all the leftovers.  He set a bowl of stew before her so large that it appeared more like a cauldron.  Helluin could nearly hath bathed in the goblet of ale.  Obviously he assumed her height demanded a portion sized for the appetite of a Dwarf of her stature.  In the past it would hath left her so bloated as to be immobile for days.  For once Helluin complained not but set to the feast.  For once she actually managed to finish what had been set before her without discomfort. 

  With a groan of satisfaction she sat back from the table and closed her eyes.  She was’t full and for the moment content.  Indeed, she wondered after her chances of joining the Dwarves’ army.  The meal had been much better than waybread and dried meat and fruit.  Ere she left, Bâget pressed upon her a smallish sack containing some loaves and a flagon of ale, noting that her peoples’ camp was’t still well ‘nigh five leagues to the east.

To be continued

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