Standard Bearer, The
25. Fall of Kings
The alarum sounded in the Alliance camp before dawn the next day. Forays had sallied forth from both gates of Barad-dûr, and the air was once more alive with the wrath of the Dark Lord. The noise of running feet, the shout of voices and the clashing of armour sounded throughout Gil-galad’s headquarters, as his warriors prepared for battle. Only Halmir sat still amid the bustle and scurry. He had prepared everything. His master’s armour lay cleaned and ready, his weapons sharp and bright, but of the Lord of Imladris there was no sign.
After their return the night before, from the aborted parlay at Sauron’s Fortress, and following his talk with the King, Elrond had shut himself away in the Lady Gildinwen’s chamber, and even the call to arms had not drawn him out.
A firm step and a clatter of arms announced Lord Gil-galad as he strode from his council chamber, gathering his entourage and guard as he went. Halmir stood mutely in the doorway as the King approached.
Gil-galad stopped beside the squire for a moment, and placed a hand on the lad’s shoulder. “Patience, Halmir.” He spoke quietly, “He will join us when he is ready.”
The boy nodded glumly, his face worried, and he took his lonely watch again as the war party moved off, taking most of the inhabitants with it.
Elrond had heard the trumpet call and the answering shouts of the warriors, but the sounds had no meaning for him. He sat defeated, motionless, head bowed over the table as he had been all night. In his hands he cradled his harp but the strings were as silent as his heart. The room was heavy with her, items of her clothing on pegs, papers written in her hand, the flower he had given her, the bed where they had shared so many nights. The scent and memory of her was an agony, a torment. Guilt and grief filled him, and in the long dark night he had wept many tears.
‘Oh Gil.’ He whispered. ‘Great is my sorrow that I have brought this upon you. If not for me, you would have already have returned to your home, to live the rest of your days in happy ignorance.’ Despair engulfed him, black and suffocating as he thought of her in that hellish place. Did she lie bound in some dark, foetid prison? Broken and hurt. Was she even now under the torturer’s knife? Had she gone from the world already? He railed uselessly against the dark walls of fate, as sheer and impenetrable as the Black Tower. He knew not if she were alive or dead. He knew not which he wished for. But his arms ached with emptiness and his heart had been torn open.
A sliver of dawn’s first light entered the room, falling across the table in front of him. He watched it in a deadened silence, unable even to think anymore, weariness pressing on him, a dark gulf pulling him down. Slowly the streak moved over, tracking the rising of the sun, and the passing of the morning. Still Elrond made no move, still nothing stirred in his scorched soul.
Now the light touched upon the tiny plant, the leaves turning slowly to greet it, and as Elrond watched, the bud burst, and the petals unfolded. White and delicate, the Elrhîw raised its newborn head to the morning light, a beacon of beauty in the midst of darkness.
He took a deep breath. Then another. A feeling stirred within him, breaking through the cloud of his despair. He recalled the words of comfort that had been spoken by his King, and by another, ‘She has the strength for it.’ A terrible anger formed within him, an iron rage, a white hot fury. He plunged it into the lake of his pain, tempering it, and from them forged a will of steel, edged with a deadly purpose.
He set aside his harp and rose to his feet, he had sat here too long already.
“Halmir!” Elrond’s voice roused the boy from his miserable wait, and he leapt up, his heart filling with joy.
His master entered the room, and headed for the wash table. He emptied the pitcher into the basin, and plunged his head into the icy water. Emerging he shook his wet hair from his eyes, and looked down at the peacemaker’s tabard that he still wore. With a snarl of disgust he ripped it off, and flung it, sodden, into the corner. Dragging his tunic over his head, he shrugged on the fresh one the boy held out.
As he fastened the heavy linen, Halmir was already holding up the padded aketon, helping him on with it, tightening the leather straps, then lifting his mail coat onto his shoulders and settling it into place. Elrond now raised his arms, and tears of pride were in the squire’s eyes as he fastened the green-gold plates around the limbs and shoulders of his lord.
Elrond flung back his hair and secured it roughly with a strip of cloth. He threw his cloak about his shoulders, then he held out his hands for his weapons. Weeping unashamedly the boy handed him first the quiver of golden arrows. Slinging it on his back, the Elf-Lord then reached out to take his long sword, sliding it home in its scabbard with one decisive sweep of his arm. Lastly he took his great bow in his hand, and with the fire of a thousand warriors blazing from his face he strode from the room.
Straight onto the field of battle, Halmir following at a run, past the ready ranks of warriors, both Elf and Man. The air was thick with the arrows and bolts of the Enemy but he heeded them not. Here was the Elf- Lord, fearless and mighty, with courage and a terrible purpose shining in his face, strength and power in every stride that took him to the side of his King.
“My Lord!” The soldier had to shout to make himself heard above the howling gale.
Gil-galad turned, dark hair whipped about his face by the wind. He stood atop a jagged protrusion, while below and around him a battle raged to rival the storm. For weeks now the Dark Lord had sent forth his soldiers. Driving them relentlessly, day and night, against those of the Alliance. Desperate now, and cornered, he flung everything at the besiegers in an attempt to break free.
The sky was dark with roiling clouds and from behind them Orodruin’s fury shook the ground, and filled the air with a fell and stinking ash. The dead littered the ground, while the living fought on, ankle-deep in the blood- soaked mud. The Alliance were holding, Gil-galad at the West Gate, and Elendil at the North, but the High King feared that the Dark Lord, with nothing to lose and all to gain, would fight to the last of his thinning, gaunt-faced troops.
“What is it?” he turned to the messenger, cupping an ear against the scream of the wind.
“Lord Elendil sends to say that Sauron has withdrawn his forces within the North Gate. He wishes to know whether he should reinforce you here, or remain in position?”
Gil-galad thought for a time. What was he up to? Was it a trick, so they would leave the North Gate unprotected and allow his escape that way? Or would he concentrate all at the West Gate, in an attempt to force his way out?
The wind blew a foul smattering of wet ash into his face, and he wiped it away with the edge of his cloak. Orodruin. That was the key. Sauron’s forces were depleted now, he could not hope to win against them in open battle, but if he reached the slopes of Mount Doom, the Ring would give him great power. The Elven-king had his decision.
“Tell your King to bring two thirds of his force here, with all haste, and leave the rest at the North Gate.” That should be enough to hold an attempt at breakout until they could reinforce. Here at the West Gate, where the road led to Orodruin, was where the greatest danger lay.
“Círdan!” The High King turned to his lieutenant with a grim and determined look. “It is time. The last hours are upon us.” A look of fearsome purpose was on Gil-galad’s face. “Summon all the reserves. We must prepare to face Sauron himself.” And raising Aeglos he leapt with great strides down to the field of slaughter, making his way through the melee, to the front of the army. His squire followed at his shoulder, the proud battlestandard of the High King drawing his warriors together, uniting them in body and spirit.
Forcing back the remnants of the Dark Lord’s troop, Gil-galad’s army took its place in front of the West Gate. Every soldier was on the field. Many with injuries, both bound and fresh, all with a bone-aching weariness, and yet every weapon was sharp and ready, and in every face a proud defiance shone. From behind them a great cheer arose, and the sound of horses heralded the arrival of Elendil and Isildur, their soldiers taking up the flanks.
“Hail! My lords!” cried the King of Men, leaping from his steed to join them, a look of terrible joy on his worn face. “At last we are come to it.” He drew Narsil, the light of the blade dazzling in the gloom, “I will not leave this field till it be finished, one way or the other.”
Isildur, grim-faced and silent, took his place at his father’s side, and together, Elf and Man, they awaited the approach of Darkness.
At the right hand of Lord Gil-galad stood the Shipwright, and to his left Lord Elrond. Glorfindel was beside him, his white horse waiting, ears pricked and nostrils flaring, for his master’s command. A trumpeter was at the shoulder of the High King and above them all their colours were alive against the angry sky - battle standards of Arnor and Gondor, and the silver stars of Gil-galad. But the Banner of Amarnon was absent, standing folded and silent in the council chamber, for the hand that should carry it was chained in the Fortress of Barad-dûr.
The heavens lowered, clouds blackening and boiling above the Citadel, lightening thrashing the tops of the towers, and thunder cracking through the sky. Beneath their feet the very ground shuddered and quaked, and from the pits flanking the West Road, fire spat and flared. Ash began to rain in with a vengeance, falling hot and hissing to the ground, choking and stinking. Ahead of them the Black Gates opened again, and this time the Black Horsemen were seven in number, the thunder of their misbegotten mounts rivalling the fire mountain behind. Behind them poured the full might of the Enemy, Orcs and Men, black and foul, corrupted and enslaved. Pressed by fear, hate and desperation, they would feel no pity and give no quarter. Headlong they rushed at the Alliance, driving forward, all their force in a single thrust to punch into the host, and win a way through for their Master.
Elrond stepped forward, plucking an arrow from his quiver. Notching it, he drew back his great bow, and waited. Beside him, each of the mighty warriors drew his weapon, sword, lance and spear gleaming and ready. The hooves hammered down the road, the hideous flapping creatures riding the crest of the black wave. The Lord of Imladris took aim at the leader, closing his vision until he saw only his target, was joined with him in that sure promise of a strike, then he let fly. True and straight, flinging down the Wraith with a screech of rage. Less than a second later, Glorfindel’s lance struck, unhorsing a second foul creature.
There was no time to draw again, however, as the Black horde were upon them. Elrond flung aside his bow, and drew his sword, as the Nazgûl rode towards that line of gleaming points. Slashing and hacking at the demonic mounts, parrying and thrusting at the evil riders, each warrior was pinned down by a Wraith. Glorfindel, Elendil and Isildur. Each leader locked in his own fight, his own battle for life. Gil-galad swiftly unhorsed his opponent, and kept him at bay with Aeglos. Elrond had laid open the side of his Wraith’s mount, and the horse stumbled, throwing the creature to the ground. With a cry, the Elf-lord was upon him, slashing with his sword, spilling that black blood upon the ground, but the fell creatures had a power over death, and the Nazgûl raised himself to fight on.
Slowly, slowly, the creatures of the Darkness pushed against the army of the light, pressing them inexorably, foot by foot down that road. Down to the barricade, and past it. When they reached the end of the causeway the force of the Enemy would spill out. The trumpets sounded a rally, and the soldiers of the Alliance made ready to catch the horde, to contain the advance. Still backward, each step a bitter failure, a desperately fought action. They neared the end of the causeway, and as they did, a terrible shout went up from the Black Horde, a cry that echoed the thunderous sky and the rumble of the mountain. The sound of horses again, and from the darkness, two more Wraiths appeared. Their black mounts galloped heedlessly through the melee, while between them a third horse, more fiendish than any yet seen, carried a shape so awful, a black darkness so deep that the eye could scarce look upon it. A cloak of terror was about him, and a crown of fearfulness upon his awful head. In his hand a great sword shone with the blackest fire, and upon his dreadful hand shone the might of the One Ring. Ignoring the leaders of the Alliance, so effectively pinned down by his lieutenants, the Lord Sauron set his demonic horse at the fiery pit and with a single great leap, crossed it and was away, carrying the source of his power back to its wellspring.
Exhausted and filthy, the soldiers of the Alliance again drew up their lines. But this time the battlefield was not of their choosing. Sauron’s troops occupied the slopes of Orodruin, his hordes clustered about the skirts of that fierce mountain. A rain of jeers and a hail of searing ash fell upon the weary lines of Men and Elves, as they surrounded the force of the Dark Lord. This would be the last stand. Whoever won this day would win the War. The fate of all of Middle Earth rode upon it, and the knowledge was etched deep on the faces and hearts of all who stood there.
At the centre of the Alliance, Gil-galad and Elendil stood side by side, Man and Elf together against the Darkness. The High King turned to face his warriors, lifting his voice, a silver trumpet cutting through the roar of the storm and the shouts of the enemy.
“My warriors, my allies!” He cried. “This shall be the last day of battle. Only hold fast this one last time and we shall be free. I know you are weary, but the enemy is weak and desperate. He has nothing left but what we see. Let us see this blight wiped from our land once and for all. Fight with me!” He raised Aeglos, a defiant gleam. “For I shall not leave this field alive unless we have victory!”
A roar and a great drumming of arms surged through the ranks, as both Man and Elf raised his weapon and his voice, in a single shout of defiance and challenge. The trumpets sounded the advance and with a terrible cry the two sides sprang at each other, to clash in blood and gore for the final time.
Elf and Orc, Man and Dwarf, each found himself in a space on the field, a weapon in his hand, an enemy to the front and a death to be dealt between them.
From the ranks of Sauron’s forces a warrior fought his way towards the battlestandard of Gondor. Reaching it he found Man and Elf, shoulder to shoulder, piling the dead around them in a bloody brotherhood. He pushed back the visor of his helm, and no other challenge was required. Elrond turned his blade towards him with a snarl, but Brith bowed slightly.
“Forgive me, Elf-Lord.” His voice was calm, as though he desired nothing more than to be in this place. “But I believe that Prince Isildur has the prior claim.”
Elrond snatched a furious glance at the Man, who nodded with a grim satisfaction, “Aye, my lord.” He growled, “‘Tis true. Though I would be glad for you to act as my second in this matter.”
“Indeed,” Brith continued, “If I prevail over the pride of Gondor, I shall be honoured to meet the Master of Imladris.”
“Either way.” Spat Isildur. “You will see your death here.”
With a roar the Men set to. Heavy swords, two handed and massive, they hacked and slashed at each other. Blade on blade. Hew and cleave. Attack and defend. It would be a contest of endurance. Blade on armour, denting and smashing. Blow upon blow. Forward and back. Steps stumbling and leaden. Brith landed a heavy hit on his opponent’s shoulder, forcing him to one knee. Then he lifted his sword to hack at the exposed neck, but with a cry of utter rage, Isildur pushed himself upwards, ramming an armoured shoulder into the other man, pushing him backwards. Not giving Brith a moment to recover, the Prince slashed with his sword, cutting under the arm, the mighty steel slicing through the mail links and into flesh and bone. Blood gushed from the wound, spurting brightly, the red messenger of death, and the traitor fell to his knees, sword loose in his nerveless hand. With a terrible cry, Isildur swung his great blade again, and swept the head from the body with a single mighty blow. The steel helm, with its gory contents, rolled down the slope to come to rest at Elrond’s feet. He looked down upon it for a moment, his mouth twisted with a bitter satisfaction, then he stepped over it, as though it were naught but a piece of rubbish on the ground, and clapping Isildur upon the shoulder, raised his sword to meet the next enemy.
For hour upon hour the battle raged. To and fro the sides heaved across that filthy field, time and again they clashed, bloodying and blunting their weapons. The dead piled up, the ash rained down, and the gore thickened upon the ground, still neither side would give.
At last Sauron himself came forth. His dark and fiery sword vanquished mortal warriors with a single blow, and around him the darkness flowed and coiled like a living thing. Terror was struck into the souls of Men and Elves at his approach, and he cut a swathe through their host like a scythe of death. But the heart of the Alliance was of the sternest stuff, and five of the mightiest warriors of the Age stood fast to meet him. Two were Men, and three were of the Firstborn, and between them they were strong in power and might, steadfastness and wisdom, courage and honour.
The Dark Lord faced them, and turned his deadly gaze upon each in turn. Those of the Firstborn had encountered him before, but his face had been fair then, whereas now it was terrible to behold, and behind the swirling dark within which he hid, a great heat burned. Black fire leapt from his sword and a nameless fear surrounded him. On his finger gleamed the heartstone of his terrible power, the Ring, with which he had enslaved his people and corrupted the hearts of Men, sunk the foundations of his terrible Tower and with which he would bring apocalypse on all the lands of Middle Earth.
Gil-galad and Elendil strode forward, Aeglos gleaming with a deadly purpose, and Narsil sharp with the light of the stars. No words were spoken, their weapons said all as they struck in unison. To their flanks, Elrond, Círdan and Isildur circled with swords drawn, ready to attack any tiny opening, to exploit any momentary weakness. But there were none. The Dark Lord’s evil blade was fast and deadly. Thrust after thrust of Aeglos was turned aside, swipe after swipe of Narsil effortlessly parried. And between each defence, his fearful blade attacked, pressing back upon the two, flickering and probing for any weakness, any lapse in concentration. The heat from the weapon was palpable as it hissed through the air.
Elendil fell first. The terrible black blade piercing his sword arm so that he dropped the point of the weapon, embedding it in the ground. Pain rushed across the Man’s face and he sobbed out with a heart wrenching sound, pitching forward. A terrible crack was heard, as Narsil, weakened by the impacts of the Dark Lord, broke beneath his master. Isildur fell back with a cry to take his father in his arms. Círdan stepped up to take the King’s place beside Lord Gil-galad, and together they pressed Sauron back.
“Father.” Isildur’s voice was urgent as he lifted Elendil’s head to cradle it. The wound in the King’s arm smouldered and smoked, slowly consuming itself in a dreadful agony, working a terrible path to his heart.
“My son.” His voice trembled with pain, but there was no fear in it. “I go to the Doom of Men.”
“No!” the word tore from Isildur’s throat.
“You are King now.” Elendil’s voice was fading with his body. “All rests on you my son.” His hand scrabbled for the hilt of Narsil as his eyes darkened. “Take my sword. It is yours now.” His breath rattled and then fled away into the ash-filled air.
The Prince of Gondor, King now, laid his head upon his father’s breast and wept aloud, while beside him, his squire Ohtar looked on in despair.
The Elves held the ground against Sauron, who of old had tried to corrupt them. Gil-galad struck and thrust with Aeglos, while Círdan and Elrond wielded their swords on either side. But even Elves can weary, and they had fought many days and hours already, besides which the fall of Elendil was a sad blow for Gil-galad. Slowly and inexorably the Dark Lord gained upon them. The power of the Ring invincible in this place of its making. With every step that they gave, a little of the heart went out of them.
“Where is Isildur?” cried Elrond, knowing that one more blade might make all the difference.
“I know not.” Replied Círdan bitterly, “He has his own burden to bear.” He stumbled, catching his foot on the uneven rock, and fell to one knee. Sauron’s blade snaked in for a bite, but Gil-galad turned it with Aeglos, thrusting it out of the way. Alas, in doing so he exposed himself, just for a moment, but it was enough. The Dark Lord struck, his sword thrust a great smoking wound through the body of the Elven King.
“No!” Elrond’s cry was torn from his heart, and he cast aside his sword to catch the falling body of his Lord, his King, his friend. But the light had already gone out. He that had been the High King of the Elves was no more, and even as Elrond clutched the corpse in his arms, the dark fire consumed it all so that only ash was left, to be lifted and borne away on the wind. Círdan looked on aghast, his sword arm lifeless, his eyes bereft.
A laugh came from behind them, a great, black, evil laugh. One that would fill the world with pain and bind its people in Darkness for ever. Sauron dropped his sword point to the ground and lifted his hand, the Ring glowing bright and golden as he revelled in its power, gloating over the death of the mightiest of the Elves.
Suddenly the ground shook about them, not a rumbling quake such as they had felt all day, but a rhythmic pounding. From out of the darkness of the left flank a horse appeared, a great black beast, a warhorse fierce and brave, screaming defiance as he charged at full tilt. Upon his back rode the Prince of Gondor, King now of all free Men. On his face a searing rage was etched and his eyes burned in fearless revenge. In his left hand was couched a mighty lance, its point sharp and deadly, and in his right was raised the hilt-shard of Narsil. Straight at the Dark Lord he rode, veering neither to the left nor the right, and skewered his dark body through with the lance. Sauron screamed a terrible curse of rage and ripped the lance from his body, casting it aside, but as he did Isildur leapt from his horse, and with a flash of starry steel he cut the Ring from Sauron’s hand so that it fell to the ground. The scream turned to a wail of despair as the Dark Lord’s body crumpled to the ground, lifeless, and his spirit fled away into the darkness.
AN: Phew! That was exhausting. So, a little different from the movie, let me know what you think.
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