1. The Riders From Erech
It may have been morning or perhaps noon, but Angbor, Lord of Lamedon could not say. None could. Over Linhir, where he stood now, as elsewhere, the sun remained unseen that day - as it had a day earlier. Instead, a brown mist enveloped the fields and rivers, still and unchanging, as sombre as the mood of the men who were battling through it to retain the fords of the Gilraen. Little was visible in the failing light, least of all the faces of the foe they fought. Yet, Angbor’s men strove valiantly to defend their land.
The gravity of the situation reflected clearly on their captain’s face as they charged down on a new influx of Corsairs. What appeared to be a never-ending parade of black ships was sailing upriver in order to get a foothold into Gondor. All that stood in their path was this small band of men. But while the enemy was continually strengthened by new arrivals, the men of Lamedon had no more to fall back on. All capable of wielding a weapon had been pressed into service. Normally they would have turned to Minas Tirith for succour. But these were no ordinary times, and Angbor did not need the advent of dawnless days to tell him that. Minas Tirith, he knew, was under attack too. They had requested reinforcements earlier, and he had sent a small troop of hillmen.
Those by his side fought on courageously, but the undercurrent of fear in their actions was not hard to deduce. The sudden, unknown darkness that had settled on them a day prior appeared never to dissipate. It seemed to have covered everything in its wake and the very land lay shrouded under a shadowy veil.
In the stern faces of his men he could see the yearning for the sun’s light and warmth. He was not immune to that desire either. The icy tentacles of a nameless fear clutched at his heart too. But he was a captain of men, and he stood now on a battlefield. He could not afford to display such dread as he felt for so unknown an enemy. So, he turned his attention to the known foe, wielding his sword with dexterity as he led his men.
The flow of invaders continued unabated. More black sails appeared in view. War against the south was upon them. It had been expected. What had not been expected was the manner of the onslaught from the east, if it could be called such. And even if anticipated, what could one do against an attack that could deprive them of the very sun in the skies above?
A volley of shouts cut through his worried thoughts. They came from the periphery of the fighting and he was almost inclined to ignore them as battle cries. Then they rang out frantically louder and clearer, and soon he, and his men closer to the water, had realised that their compatriots were now running - not away from the thick of battle but towards it, and in great haste.
He heard the words clearly now, as they tripped out of fearful mouths, above the sounds of weapons clanging and men shouting.
‘The King of the Dead! The King of the Dead is upon us!’
The cries resonated over the repeated clash of metal against metal, carrying in them a terror so convincing as to distract even seasoned soldiers. Years of fighting experience should have dictated otherwise, yet all eyes turned westward, anxious to see that which had so terrified their fellow soldiers, and more so, that which could be more frightening than a darkness without dawn?
To Angbor it seemed that time had frozen. A sudden, swift wind wafted in, bringing the chill of the far mountains with it. The frenzy of battle gave way to an eerie quiet; and silence descended upon Linhir.
Despite the failing light, he could see them - a company shrouded in grey, some on horseback, some on foot; all moving at great speed. In the background, pale banners swirled in the wind, as the mass of shapes came closer and closer. Through the brown mist they advanced, towards the battleground, their movement swift and terrifyingly fluid.
The shocked silence lasted but a tiny fraction of time, before it was replaced by chaos and confusion. Horses screamed in terror. So did men as they discarded treasured weapons and backed away. Angbor dismounted off his rearing steed, and stood sword in hand, helplessly watching the new unknown terror attacking his land. A shield crashed to the ground near his feet, but he ignored it. His eyes were fixed firmly on the shadowy group that rode furiously on. He tightened his grip on the handle of his sword, taking comfort from the familiar feel of the carved hilt. The shapes were clearer now, materialising into distinct entities as they neared. He knew now without having to be told that the cries of his men had not been without reason.
Upfront were riders in grey, some two score perhaps, warrior-like in bearing and in horsemanship. Behind them came what seemed mere shadows; grey shapes blurred in dimness - the Dead - the same that he knew from tales oft related to frighten young children. And now, it seemed, they were capable of affecting grown men too. It was not just his men who had dropped their arms; the Corsairs had done likewise.
‘Stay!’ he cried out, but it seemed all were assailed by an unshakeable dread, for none would follow his command. Fear set them fleeing away from the shadow riders. He shouted again, unwilling to lay down his arms, trying to ignore his own fear that increased with each advancing step that the strange army took. Other men - friends and foe - continued to scatter and run.
But Angbor stood where he was, determined to be ready to face anyone, or anything. For he knew that as the captain in command there, if he had not the strength to stand up to an enemy, no matter how foul, he could not expect his men to do so. He stood still and waited and watched the riders approach. In the distance, he could hear some of his lieutenants bark out near futile orders to regroup, for they had seen him stay his ground. The cold wind continued to blow undiminished as the grey, moving mass neared him.
And then he saw the standard that was proudly raised foremost. He had missed it earlier for it was black, and had thus remained unseen in the surrounding darkness. Silence seemed to descend around him once again as the dark banner came closer and closer. Behind it bobbed a sea of pale flags.
The leader of the company rode up to him, even as he stood ready in defence, clutching his weapon with practised ease and yet a hint of nervousness. He maintained an outward calm as the horseman who rode for the black banner halted in front of him. Standing erect and proud, he looked up to meet his adversary’s eyes fearlessly.
As he did, the dread that had engulfed his heart seemed to seep away. The rider’s grey hued face may have appeared as grim as the day, but Angbor knew that it was no shadow, no unknown foe, that his eyes beheld.
He glanced towards the banner, and saw for the first time the devices on it – a tree, seven stars, and a crown. Then he turned his eyes back to a king of the living, and hope replaced despair.
‘… on the third day we came to Linhir above the mouth of Gilrain. And there men of Lamedon contested the fords with fell folk of Umbar and Harad who had sailed up the river. But defenders and foes alike gave up the battle and fled when we came, crying out that the King of the Dead was upon them. Only Angbor, Lord of Lamedon, had the heart to abide us; and Aragorn bade him gather his folk and come behind, if they dared, when the Grey Host had passed.’ – The Last Debate, Return of the King
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.