7. False Dawn: The Nirnaeth Arnoediad, 1
Doubt is an ugly thing for an army commander facing battle. Could they march, Maedhros wanted to know.
No, Uldor said. According to his scouts, orcs were heading southeast, ready to surge in through the Gap of Maglor and ravage the lands beyond. Where wives and children remained behind, unprotected and vulnerable. Those of the Eldar. Those of Bor's people. And of course, Uldor's own. If the Eastern army were to march now, what would stand between the orcs and their prey?
'Should we not send some troops? A small force?' Maglor wondered, after Uldor had left.
'We cannot miss even one warrior,' Maedhros replied grimly, trying to suppress the bloody images flooding his mind.
'No,' his younger brother said pensively. 'For that is not what we fight for, is it? To protect innocents from being eaten by these foul beasts, to keep the springs clean, the grass green and the woods untouched by evil. We have greater things to achieve.'
What ails you, brother? 'We have!' Maedhros growled. 'Such as overthrowing the Dark Lord. If we do that, all else will be achieved much more easily.'
Maglor's thought was plain to read: Such as regaining the Silmarils.
A good thing he did not say it aloud. 'We will wait a little longer yet,' Maedhros went on. 'Undoubtedly the orcs will swerve west when they see our numbers, and get caught between Fingon's host and ours.' He felt weary, a weariness not of the body but of the soul. One that he should not feel. One that could not be wished away, as it was the shadow of a Power that brought it about. And not necessarily Morgoth's.
His brother nodded, and left to rejoin his own troops.
Elven sight is not always an asset. A King of the Eldar who waits in the shadow of the Ered Wethrin and looks desperately for some dust rising in the East but sees it not, may lose heart sooner than a mortal whose short-sightedness leaves him time to cling to hope. Though one of those mortals, standing beside Fingon, would rather face grim reality. 'Nothing yet?' asked Húrin Thalion of Dor-lómin, peering needlessly and uselessly.
The High King shook his head, reaching out with his mind now, with no more result.
'But my mortal eyes perceive something else!' another voice cried suddenly. Húrin's younger brother, Huor, not far away. 'Look to the South!'
Slowly, Fingon turned his head, the cries and cheers rolling over him, waves crested by the clear notes of a trumpet. Never until now had he admitted to himself he had already given up on Turgon, and he laughed in shameless relief to see a sea of warriors and a forest of spears ablaze with the Midsummer sun emerge from the southern mountains. And on top of his lungs he sang that the day had dawned, and was answered by a ringing choir of voices exulting in the passing of the night.
Morgoth could come.
And come he did, and only too soon - yet not soon enough for the hotheaded, hot-hearted Noldor. Many of the Elvish warriors could hardly wait to rush to the attack once their foes, far advanced on the dusty plain of Anfauglith, came into full view. A large host it was, yet not beyond their capacity to vanquish, it seemed.
'Let us wipe this filth from the fair face of Arda!' Fingon heard one warrior shout loudly, followed by other, similar cries.
'Not yet, I deem,' said Húrin, a cautious man if ever there was one.
Fingon knew he was right. He could feel the familiar urge, as most of the Eldar did on encountering Morgoth's orcs. A desire to kill and destroy, a hatred beyond any reasonable thought, born from loathing and fury at this mockery of themselves, these hideously distorted images of Elves marred beyond repair in the deep, dark past beneath the stars.* Mortals would never feel it as keenly. They hated the orcs merely for what they did, and not also for what they were.
But vast as this army appeared, undoubtedly it was but part of what Morgoth could bring into the field. Let the orcs exhaust themselves for a while assailing the stronghold of the hills.
'We wait,' Fingon declared, and his messengers left to relay his command to the captains further down the lines. Once more, he looked East.
'We march,' Maedhros announced grimly. Ulfast - this time Uldor had sent his son to convey the warning message - could talk all he wanted, but delaying any longer was courting disaster. They were five days late already, and none knew the limits of Fingon's patience like he did.
'But, my lord...' The young Easterling's eyes boldly met his, something Uldor had always wisely avoided. Maedhros held them for a long moment, until Ulfast cringed in fear, and hurriedly removed himself from the Elf-lord's disturbing gaze.
'Insolent whelp,' Maglor muttered.
Maedhros liked the Easterlings no better than his brother did, but in times of need one cannot afford to be picky.
And so, they marched at last, Eldar, mortal Men, and Dwarves in ugly, horrid masks, their grim silence punctured by the beats of war drums. Touching his Elennar**, the stone of Starfire, Maedhros sought Fingon in his mind. But he was unable to reach him. It was as if an impenetrable cloud hovered between them, an awareness of evil condensed into vapours that suffocated thought and sense. Morgoth's work; Maedhros could sense the malice. He recoiled and withdrew his mind, lest the Enemy would perceive it and lay bare its designs.
The gasping dusts of Anfauglith would be the battlefield, and the eastern army the bait. Once it had engaged Morgoth's forces and the beacon in the hills of Dorthonion was lit, Fingon's host would fall upon them from the Mountains of Shadow, and they would be caught between hammer and anvil. The union of Maedhros and Fingon would be a deadly embrace, crushing the life from their enemies. After that, the road to Angband would lie open.
The road to two of the three Silmarils.
'What is going on there?' Húrin asked with a frown. But surely he saw as much as Fingon did. The orcs were so close to Barad Eithel that the yellow of their eyes and fangs could be clearly seen. They were leading a prisoner towards the outworks, one of Morgoth's pitiable thralls. Fingon did not know him, but his fists and jaws clenched when he saw the empty sockets where the bright Elven eyes should have been. He cursed under his breath and heard the hissing and mutters of those around him, guessing what to expect.
It was worse. And it was disastrous. When the Elf's mutilated corpse dropped into the dust, hands, feet and head all mercilessly lopped off, someone went mad. Fingon caught a glimpse of a face contorted in fury and insanely blazing eyes at the head of a company of horsemen thundering towards the enemy from the outworks of the Barad.
'Stay, you fools!' he heard Húrin cry, but he was wasting his breath; and even as the Man spoke, the High King of the Noldor felt the madness overtake him.
'Sound the trumpets!' he shouted. Slamming his helm onto his head he drew his blade and raised it. Led by their King, his whole host leapt from the hills in a blaze of swords. The battle had begun.
Rushing forward, Fingon began to sing. His warriors joined their voices to his, and their song echoed from the hillsides, beautiful and terrible.
Had he always been wading through so much blood, and had the smell always been so oppressive? Had the noise of battle always been so deafening? His ears still rang with cries of exhortation and defiance, the thundering of hooves, the screams of the dying, the screeches of metal against metal. Was it Húrin he saw swinging his blade from the corner of his eye? Was it the haze in his eyes that turned the sky red, or did the sun set once more - and if so, what day was it?
Fingon removed his helm and shook his head, trying to clear it. The noises rang inside his head alone; around him, they had stopped. Though the sun was going down indeed, half eaten by the western mountains, it was not red but a dirty grey, veiled as it was by the smoke spreading from Angband. He felt as if his mind and body were disjoined, each fighting their own battle. He ordered them to unite. The leader of the army could not afford to be half crazed, half dazed, certainly not now that the tide had turned.
He looked about him, knowing that if Húrin was still alive, he would be near. And indeed there he was, beside the blue and silver banner of the House of Fingolfin drooping in the desolation of Anfauglith. He stood talking to a man of the Haladin.
Fingon stepped closer. 'What news from the People of Haleth?'
'Lord Haldir is slain with most of our men,' was the curt reply. No courtesy there, but Fingon remembered the blunt ways of the Haladin, and it would not do to rebuke a survivor. These men had given more than their due. All the Edain were fighting a war that was their own by choice, not by fate.
'I regret their passing,' he said, bending his head. 'I am forever indebted to them.' The next moment he realised there was no way to repay these dead the lives they had spent so freely - except by giving all, like they had done.
The Haladin warrior nodded briefly, and left.
Húrin's grim eyes sought Fingon's. 'Flame light!' was all he said, even as the sun disappeared behind the rim of the Ered Wethrin.
'Flee night!' Fingon replied.
When it was fully dark and they had heard all the dismal reports, they stretched on the ground, just as they were, dirty and weary, wrapping themselves in foul-smelling, tattered, bloodstained cloaks.
Yesterday, for a moment, victory had seemed within reach. The orc troops were beaten back to the very gates of Angband, and the Elves who had precipitated the onslaught came as far as Morgoth's doorstep. But none of them returned, and no one was able to follow them inside, for it was then the Enemy's main host issued forth and Elves and Edain alike began to see how hollow their hopes had been. The rest of the day, and the whole of the next, had been one long retreat. Yesterday, for the first time none raised their voices in song. As none sang tonight.
Staring up at the distant stars, Fingon remembered at last, which night it was, and what day it had been. The fourth.
Maedhros, he thought, too tired to feel despair. Why has he not come?
He dreamed. They were together again, their bodies joined; Fingon thrust inside his lover, riding him hard, but all the while he knew they were being watched. When he felt his climax approach, oddly enough he opened his eyes, which had been shut until then, and saw that the watcher was Morgoth. Or not Morgoth, for his appearance was that of Melkor as he had walked the roads of the Blessed Realm in fair semblance. But his mouth was a red, bleeding wound, his face was scarred, and when he took a step closer Fingon saw that he limped.
'Good,' Melkor said, smiling. 'Defy their laws. They are constricting. Sing your own song, as I did, and the world is yours - and his. Or be separated from him forever.' And he raised his voice, but all he sang was a terrible silence.
Fingon woke up with a pounding heart, sweating, and painfully erect, his whole body screaming for release. But despite the burning torment he would and could not let himself go, and he willed his arousal to subside. Lies, he told himself. Filthy lies. After a while, he rose and went to the Elf who kept watch beside the banner. 'Go and rest,' he told him. 'I shall take over for the remainder of the night.'
'Thank you, my lord,' the sentinel whispered, and Fingon was met by a surge of undeserved gratitude. He surveyed the plain with its flickering night fires, orange in the gloom, theirs hardly different from the Enemy's. Then, he turned his face to the sky, and seeing a faint streak of red in the east he briefly took it for the herald of sunrise - until he realised it was but a false dawn.
*That's right. I stick to the version of the published Silmarillion, ignoring Tolkien's second thoughts.
**TM Cirdan (the ff.net writer)
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.