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The Battle of Dagorlad - Part I

Author - Fornad

Written on - Saturday 9th August 2014 (01:10am)

March the Sixth, the Year 3434 of the Second Age of Middle-earth.
It seems a lifetime to me since I looked back at the walls of Tharbad and the Swanfleet flowing under the northern sun. How long has it truly been now? Years? Days? In my heart, I could never say. They call this place the Brown Lands, and it is truly apt. This wasted place seems to dampen my very soul.


The tent was dark, and the brown-bearded man strained his eyes to read by the light of his guttering candle. A short entry, but fitting. His mind felt dulled by the endless days and days of marching and camping, eating too little food and getting too little sleep. Driving himself to his death, he felt sure.
Tarcion flicked the end of his quill and laid it down beside his inkpot, reading over the parchment once again before dusting salt over it and leaving it to dry. He pushed back his chair from the table and stood, wincing at the legacy of the days of marching in his feet and legs. The ache had been growing worse of late. After a while, it settled down into a dull throb, and he kneaded the side of his thigh to get the blood flowing.
He became aware of the sound of slow trudging and quiet voices drifting past outside his tent - men heading to their supper before the cold night settled in. His stomach rumbled in response. Food was hardly an endless resource in the vast camp of Elendil, and though his eyes were heavy – incredibly so – he knew he would regret missing it by the next day.
A heavy woollen cloak lay folded over the chair, and he shrugged it on, stepping outside into the chill dusk. Men walked past his tent in small groups, talking quietly. He could see nobody he recognised amongst the dim faces, but his hunger led him down towards the drifting smell of the cooking-pots.
‘Ho, Tarcion!’ someone called from behind him.
He smiled, turning to greet the man who rushed over to him. ‘Armas!’ he exclaimed, planting his hands on the shoulders of his old friend. ‘I haven’t seen you since we turned from the banks of the Anduin. Where’ve you been?’
‘I was commissioned to the rear patrol for a while,’ he replied. Tarcion frowned, taking his hands away. The rearguard of Elendil’s army were infamous for their heavy discipline and long night forays out into the wilderness behind the trail of the great force. ‘I didn’t have the time to tell anyone.’
‘How was it?’ They began to walk.
‘As bad they say. The men in there are silent and grim, and I never heard one of them laugh. They come from near the northern borders.’
‘They’ve probably seen more fights than we’ve had hot suppers, I can imagine.’
‘I’ll certainly try to even the score tonight.’
Tarcion laughed, stepping around a patch of mud.
‘Did you hear any news of the Enemy’s movements?’
‘Nay, we heard and saw nothing,’ replied Armas, looking troubled.
‘Strange.’
‘That it is. Judging by what has happened in the past, we’d have expected ambushes everywhere – cutting off our supply lines, killing scouts – but there was nothing. You would almost think this place wasn’t under the shadow of evil if it wasn’t for its look.’
Tarcion looked beyond the camp at the cracked earth and stunted trees, and shivered.
‘I’d drink to that.’
‘And you shall tonight, and many more to it afterward!’ someone cried.
Tarcion looked at the man who stumbled towards them, holding a half-drunk tankard of ale in his hand. He grew a dark beard that matched his shaggy hair, and wore a mud-spattered cloak over a leather tunic with the Tree of Elendil upon it. A dark scar ran from under his right eye to his lip.
‘Begun the festivities already, Centhon?’ asked Armas sharply. Tarcion could remember seeing the man a few times before, but Armas evidently knew him better.
‘Only had a few,’ Centhon replied, gesturing to his mug. ‘But it matters not - this is a night to remember!
‘Why would that be?’ Tarcion asked.
Centhon halted, an expression of slight surprise flitting over his features.
‘Then you have not heard the news?’
‘I would be celebrating otherwise.’ But Tarcion had noticed that Centhon’s festive mood had not rubbed off on those around – those stony-faced men waiting for a ladle of broth, those talking in huddled circles, those walking past alone and dark-humoured.
‘The enemy has been seen moving toward the Black Gate!’ Centhon said, grinning. ‘Battle will be joined on the morrow!’
Tarcion felt his stomach drop. So soon.
‘Who did you hear this from?’ demanded Armas, striding forward and grabbing Centhon by the collar. Tarcion saw that his friend’s face was drawn and pale.
‘It – it’s been passed on from the commanders!’ Centhon spluttered, holding Armas’s arm as if to push it away. The men around were beginning to look. Night was drawing in above them.
Armas pushed him away in disgust.
‘The thought of food does not call to me as it did before,’ he said. ‘I’ll be at the training ground.’
He walked past Tarcion and into the tents.
Centhon spat.
‘Son of a dog,’ he said, taking a swig of ale. Tarcion made no sign of his disdain, and went to join the supper line.

*
He rolled out of his bed, bleary-eyed and confused. He could smell burning. It was still dark outside.
Checking that his wife was still asleep, he stumbled towards the door and opened it. The smell was stronger out on the top of the stairs. Smoke hung in the air.
He came to his senses. He shouted. Shouted again. She came out, asking where the flames were. His children.
He ran to their room. It was hotter here. Tried to open the door, but it was locked. Kicked and kicked. It fell back.
Fire.
‘Men!’ a man yelled. ‘Get up! Get up!’
Where was he? He – rolled over in his tent. It was cold, but he was drenched with sweat. A dream.
‘Men!’
The battle. He felt hollow. He had been in scuffles, fights, skirmishes – he had been trained for this. But never a battle.
You must fight, Tarcion – for realm and king.
He threw his blankets off. His clothes lay neatly folded beside him, his armour stacked on his shield in a corner. He began to get dressed – layering wool and then leather over his thin cotton undershirt and hose. The leather of the old coif he pulled on was supple and thick; it had been his father’s once. He went to the armour. His hands had done this a thousand times before, but the links of chainmail felt odd as he pulled them over his head, the surcoat with the White Tree embroidered on it unsuited to his body. He buckled on his shoulder plate, greaves on his lower legs and vambraces on his forearms, and then picked up his helm.
It was dented and scratched from the times he had fought in the city’s guard, but its two long brass wings at each side still stood tall. He remembered telling his son that every polished scratch was a bad man caught, every hammered-out dent a thug taken off the streets. He remembered his son.
‘Tarcion!’ someone called, snapping him out of his reverie. He looked up. Armas had folded open the flap of his tent, and Tarcion shivered slightly at the cold air that curled around his neck. ‘Come to break your fast before it is gone!’
‘I come,’ he grunted, pulling the helm down over his coif. He picked up his sword, still sheathed and belted, and buckled it to his waist. Finally, he pulled on his cloak and picked up his shield. Its weight and solidity comforted him.
I shall need it before this day is done. He was ready.


*

The Tree was everywhere. It snapped on pennons at the end of standards, it stood tall on men’s surcoats, and its seven stars, branches and trunk were carefully painted onto each oaken shield.
Its ancestors had fallen into darkness. What was there to stop it happening again?
‘Soldiers of Arnor! Stand to attention!’
His feet shunted together, and he lifted his shield to his side. Men were closely packed in tight lines all around him, but this did nothing to ease the cold in his numb fingers – or to calm his beating heart.
‘Company! By the standard! Quick march!’
In unison, they stepped forward. One, two, left, right, marching up the darkened rise. The sound of clanking metal and hundreds – no, thousands of footsteps was deafening, and though he could not see far, he knew that the last great army of Men had begun to move.
He looked around, his vision restricted by the edges of his helmet. His friends walked beside him as always, men he had known since his time in the Tharbad City Watch. Athelan the joker to his left - always the one to break icy moods, old Hadhod to his right, his grizzled face unreadable as hefted his shield a little higher, and Armas to the front, Armas the fighter, Armas the flirt – Tarcion smiled at the memories, though they seemed an age and a half away.
He walked up the last few feet of slope, nearly at the summit.
‘Company! Halt!’
They stopped, the sudden loss of sound eerie. Up here the wind blew hard into their eyes, carrying with it grit, and he had to squint to see what lay before them.
Under the dark sky there lay a plain as desolate as he had ever seen. Shadowy, smoking pits were scattered about the landscape, boulders strewn everywhere as if giants had thrown stones the size of houses into it in some terrible war. The vastness was smothered by a thick haze from the pits, choking all hope of growth and life. On the horizon, stark mountains with sheer rocky sides ended the great expanse with a dreadful finality. Even at a glance, Tarcion knew them – the Ered Lithui, the forbidding peaks that guarded the northern borders of Mordor. In their midst he could see a wide valley opening out into the Morannon and the Plateau of Gorgoroth, but this too was guarded, sheltered by tall, imposing walls built by the minions of Sauron - the Black Gates.
‘This is a place of death,’ Hadhod growled.
‘Aye,’ Tarcion agreed. It was all he could say as he looked upon the Dark Lord’s destruction.
They stood for a while. Men spoke to one another in hushed whispers all around him, until the sergeant called for silence. They stood, waiting.
Huuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu. Huuuuuu. Huuuuuu.
A warhorn broke the silence, and Tarcion looked in the direction it had come from. It called again.
‘Is it the enemy?’ Athelan said in confusion.
‘They could not be coming from the north,’ Tarcion replied. ‘And that sound…’
He stopped. It suddenly became clear who came.
Over the thousands of gleaming ranks of men who now covered the slopes around him, Tarcion could see a single, shining gold banner rise above the edge of the hills to the north.
The warhorn blew again, as clear as a birdsong at dawn. Sunlight spilled upon the polished armour of the cavalry who rose to the edge of the hills, more and more of them coming until the once-dark knolls now seemed to have a shining cloth of resplendent silver and gold being pulled over them. Foot soldiers came too, their spears and curved swords a great forest over lands that had not seen one for centuries.
Tarcion’s heart lifted with an inexplicable delight.
‘The Elves,’ someone called. ‘The Elves have come!’
The army rose their shields up in the air, a great cheer of approval splitting the air like thunder, louder and more powerful than anything he had ever heard before. The sight of the Firstborn moving to their side awoke some great awe and joy together within him, and he felt strengthened.
A new day will come.
Riders hurried between the ranks around him, carrying messages and orders to the army. One stopped before the sergeant leading Tarcion’s company, and after exchanging some quick words with him turned his horse and moved off again.
‘Men of Arnor!’ the sergeant called out. ‘Ready yourselves to march!’
Tarcion quickly cinched his swordbelt a little tighter, and flexed his shield arm. His heart began to beat faster. It was time.
The horns of Elendil’s army, deeper and harsher than those of the elves, sounded, and like some vast dragon from the tales of old the Last Alliance started forward. Drums started to beat out the time of their steps as they came down out of the hills and into the plain, their measured blows almost ominous as they declared their defiance to the Enemy.
The ground began to level out beneath his feet, and Tarcion chanced a look over his shoulder. A long while had passed since he had looked out upon the plain, and yet tiny figures still spilled over the ridge where he had stood, all detail obscured by distance. There was still at least five battalions’ worth of men beyond him too, going to left and right as far as he could see, and a three-thousand strong legion of cavalry led by the famed knights of Dol Amroth ahead of them. This army of armies was truly vast.
Athelan laughed beside him.
‘I’ll enjoy seeing what Sauron thinks he can throw against this!’ he shouted, his voice barely rising above the sound.
Tarcion made no reply. I dread to think, my friend.