The Battle of Dagorlad - Part II
Author - Fornad
Written on - Monday 25th August 2014 (02:15pm)
The very air sucked at Tarcion’s lungs like a poison.
They had been marching over this thrice-be-damned plain for almost four hours now – enough time for the sun to have risen high in the sky, if it had not been obscured by the roiling, shadowy clouds above them. This place will not have seen daylight for years, he thought as he looked at the dark, volcanic rocks that were strewn everywhere, and at the poisoned, slick ponds that were collected in the deep pits.
‘I’d always imagined battles tiring themselves out on green plains,’ said Athelan beside him, then coughed. ‘Not barren wastelands.’
‘It’s not the land that worries me,’ he replied, eyeing the sheer-faced mountains ahead. ‘It’s what will take place upon it.’
‘Keep your courage, and never turn back,’ Athelan said. ‘That’s what the old commander used to tell us, wasn’t it?’
Years and years ago, now. I was young then.
‘Aye, that he did. He also used to tell you to stop telling every maiden who passed under the gates how fair she was.’
Athelan grinned. ‘None of them minded, as I recall.’
Armas, who walked ahead of Tarcion, looked behind at Athelan. ‘I don’t feel that the time before a battle is right for a recital of the long list of women who’ve stumbled into your arms.’
‘I haven’t mentioned a single name,’ replied Athelan.
‘Too likely that you can’t remember a single one.’
They kept going, the trudging sound of the army ever constant in his ears. The ground was dusty and covered with small rocks and stones, and rose and fell in small rises and cliffs, making it difficult to walk over. More than once, Tarcion had to help a brother-in-arms back to his feet after a fall, or be helped up the side of a small crag by another. It was tough going, and even some of the hardiest were beginning to tire. They kept on, relentlessly.
It was as the afternoon was coming to a close that he saw the rider.
The man rode desperately over the plain, urging his horse on, coming closer to their army by the second. Tarcion began to feel uneasy. The man wore the clothing of a Gondorian scout – leather chaps and tunic, dark brown cloak – but for that, his riding looked unsteady, and there looked to be more thanks due to the horse than to the rider that they were moving at all.
When he was barely a few feet from the front line of men, some three hundred yards from Tarcion, they slowed, and without a sound the man slid from the saddle and fell to the parched earth.
Soldiers began to gather around him, as well as a messenger upon another horse, who dismounted and ran to kneel at the man’s side.
‘Armas,’ said Tarcion, tapping his friend on the shoulder. ‘You have sharp eyes – what ails him?’
‘An arrow in the back,’ replied Armas without turning. ‘He doesn’t look to have long.’
Tarcion quickly touched his forehead in respect. Athelan did the same.
Suddenly, the messenger leaped back up onto his horse, and spurring it forward he disappeared into the ranks. Soon afterward, the fallen rider was slung over the back of his horse and led away.
‘I have a feeling that he brought dark news,’ said Tarcion.
‘The darkest,’ replied Hadhod shortly, stepping over a dried streambed.
They slowly drew closer to where the rider had fallen. He looked away. There was a wide patch of scarlet blood slowly sinking into the dust there, and small droplets were spattered over the rocks which he now walked over.
It won’t be the last of this day.
They had barely taken more than two hundred paces more when the warhorns of both the Elven and Númenorean forces began to blow wildly, sounding up and down the front of the armies like the calls of flitting starlings. Armas stopped ahead of him, and Tarcion did the same a moment later as the footsteps died down around them.
‘What troubles them?’ asked Athelan beside him.
It suddenly became dreadfully clear. A great creak split the air around them, echoing through the wide plain like the dying cry of some terrible beast.
The Black Gate was opening.
‘Athelan!’ Tarcion hissed, his view blocked by the ranks of silenced men in front of him. ‘Climb up that boulder there and tell me what you see!’
Athelan nodded. He threw down his shield and stepped up on the rock, nimbly climbing it until he perched on the top like a hawk, looking out to the southeast. After a few moments, he looked downward at Tarcion. His face was grey.
‘What do you see?’
The young soldier shook his head and climbed back down, almost slipping in his haste. As soon as his feet landed on the rocks, though, he bent over and gripped his knees, staring at the ground as though unable to think about what he had seen.
‘There are thousands of them,’ he muttered, almost too quietly to hear. ‘It’s like a swarm of flies.’
‘What is it?’ asked Armas, looking down at the young soldier and then at Tarcion.
‘Orcs are coming from the Gate,’ he replied. ‘It won’t be long now.’
Armas said nothing, only nodding his head slightly and turning back. Athelan snorted, then picked up his shield and shrugged it on.
They stood, waiting. Tarcion flexed his hands inside their leather gloves, keeping them nimble. None talked. The silence of so many was unnerving, and though he made no sound, his heart was beating like he had run a league. The chainmail and armour were beginning to weigh down uncomfortably on his shoulders and back, and he shifted a little. His sword hand clenched tightly.
And then he began to hear the sound.
It reminded of him of when he had visited the ruins and beaches of Lond Daer as a child – the deep swell and pull of the waves against the shoreline, and the sound they had made, like the breaths of a giant. He had run into those waves, delighting at the power of the water as it had fallen around him.
The orcs were chanting.
It was too far away to make out any words, but the slow, ominous beat, rising and falling in volume but never losing speed, was unmistakeable. A chant of war.
And so many throats to make such a noise, Tarcion thought dimly. The Númenóreans remained silent.
‘Men! Left turn!’
Surprised by the sudden order, Tarcion quickly straightened himself and spun.
As they moved forward, he saw that others in the back of the army moved with them – archers, some of them northern Rangers. The king is spreading out his lines, he realised. Preventing a flank. The tall standards of the southern knights were moving too; but the other way, towards a long rise that headed southeast towards the mountains. Of the Elves he could see nothing, his view to the north blocked by ranks of men moving up the side of a hill.
They marched on. As his company came near to the top of the ridge, Tarcion took a quick glance southwest – and the world stopped dead.
The armies of Sauron the Betrayer covered the land like fallen stormclouds. Vast swathes of orcs inched over the shadowy plain, their brutality and malevolence almost tangible as they continued their chant.
‘Athelan had it right,’ he said. ‘They must outnumber us two to one.’
Tarcion didn’t reply as he began to walk down the slope, dust puffing out from benath his feet. He was sure now, more than anything, that he would never see his home again.
As they stopped, he looked around at their surroundings. The battalion stood in a wide, rocky valley between two low rises that had been carved out by the stream that had once run through it. He could just make out some Elves to the north of them, their ranks disappearing behind the ridge of another knoll. They were lightly armoured, he could see – adorned only with leather and scaled plates. Perhaps from the Greenwood, or one of the other forested realms.
The chanting was growing louder.
‘How long will it be, do you think?’ asked Athelan.
‘I can’t tell,’ he replied, adjusting his weight from one foot to another. The ache of the long marches still hadn’t left him. ‘It won’t be long.’
The grating voices of the orcs grew ever closer.
‘If fate deals us death this day, none will say that we did not die in glory.’ Hadhod fell silent.
Unbidden, a man began to sing from somewhere ahead of Tarcion - he knew not who, but the words and tune were well known to him. Some began to join in.
Stones crack and trees wither,
Men are slain and women shiver,
Evil has risen again.
He launched into the song and joined the ever-loudening choir, their voices rising into the dark skies.
Children play and laugh today,
Tommorow the town is empty and burnt,
Evil comes again.
The fields are full and earth is rich,
Razed and scorched they lie in death,
Evil has conquered again.
As he sang, he began to realise that the orcs’ chanting was being drowned out by their voices. He sang louder.
Pick up your sword,
Hold the line,
Sing as you raise your bow!
Fight in the darkness!
Stand by the fire!
Draw your strength from the flames!
Dark figures began to spill over the edge of the rise ahead of them.
‘Archers! Draw!’ he heard someone cry. ‘Loose! Loose!’
Hundreds of bowstrings strummed as a cloud of arrows soared over them and fell into the orcs like hail. Hundreds fell, but more came, treading over the bodies of their brethren as if they were no more than rocks.
Arnor shall stand!
Arnor shall fight!
Arnor shall triumph again!
Hold to our land and we rise,
Stand by our country and we come,
Fight for our King and we conquer!
Scores more tumbled to the ground with shrieks of agony. He could already hear the sounds of clashing metal and screams from the front lines of the rest of the army. His heart beat faster and faster.
‘Fire at will!’
The desperate order to the archers was given as the seething mass of orcs and wildmen swarmed up the slope towards their ranks, their guttural voices bellowing cries of war.
‘Hold the line!’ the commander yelled. ‘Brace!’
It was barely a second after Tarcion had set his shield against the back of Armas in front of him that a great jolt ran through the battalion, followed a moment later by yells and cries of pain from the front ranks. The sheer force of the hundreds of bodies pushing against them was driving them back, and it was all Tarcion could do to stop his feet from sliding over the ground. He leant even harder against his shield.
More flights of arrows swept over him, landing in the orcs like rain, but he hardly noticed as he pressed forward with all his strength. The sounds of battle were incredibly loud in his ears – men grunting as they fought for every inch, orcs yelling and screaming, metal ringing on metal, and the light, almost bird-like sound of arrows above. Tarcion gritted his teeth as his back and legs began to ache. Keep your courage, and never turn back.
He suddenly realised that their efforts had yielded a stalemate, the force of both armies equal for a moment. His boots found some purchase on the dusty ground. Slowly – like they were pushing a mountain, the Númenoreans moved forward, forcing the screaming brutes ahead of them backward, throwing them to the earth, and ending their lives with flashes of bloodstained steel.
‘They’re retreating!’ he dimly heard someone cry. ‘The beasts are running!’
Men began to cheer, shouting and mocking the terrified orcs that ran from them – the beasts tripping and falling, some being shot down by arrows from the rear lines. The White Tree was brandished victoriously ahead, and horns blew airs of triumph all around him.
It’s not over, he thought. It cannot be.
Suddenly, the brutes stopped at the call of a brash warhorn and turned in mid-stride, raising their shields above their heads.
‘What-’ Athelan began – and then stopped.
A coarse roar rose into the sky from behind the hill.
A rounded head the size of a boulder rose above the ridge, followed by a neck thicker than a bull’s and shoulders wider than a man’s body. Two more appeared. The blood drained from his cheeks as he saw the orcs screaming in rage, charging.
‘TROLLS!’ their commander bellowed. ‘Archers, draw! Loose!’
Arrows flew above them as before, arcing towards the monsters as they began to run, slowly at first, but soon gaining momentum as they pounded towards the ranks of Westernesse. Many of the barbed shafts found their mark, but skittered off the iron armour that the giants wore or lodged uselessly in their thick skin.
Tarcion only then realised that they wielded tree trunks.
‘Men! Stand your ground! Stand! STAND!’ It was the commander’s last order.
Like a wedge being driven through mud, the trolls ripped into the front line with great blows of their weapons, sending broken men flying through the air like dolls. One stumbled forward with a spear driven through its belly, roaring in agony and thrashing about it with arms like masts.
‘Tarcion!’ Armas yelled from beside him. He could barely hear. ‘We must retreat!’
The orcs slammed into their shattered ranks, taking the soldiers at unawares and slaying freely, slashing necks, bashing in faces with crude morningstars and using hands, feet and teeth to tear the life out of the Númenoreans’ bodies. Their battle-rage was fearful.
An arrow suddenly streaked wildly overhead and drove itself into one of the trolls’ eyes. The creature moaned and clutched at its face, stumbling backward, and like a felled tree it crashed to the ground with a thump that Tarcion felt through the soles of his boots. They are weakening, he thought.
‘No!’ he shouted back to Armas. ‘We attack!’
He drew his sword. His battalion were still fighting, he saw, but were unordered, and all were avoiding the terror of the last troll.
‘Forward!’ he heard Athelan shout, and ran ahead of Tarcion, brandishing his sword.
He looked back for a moment at the others and then went after him, over bodies and the still-warm blood on the ground. A snarling orc broke free of the melee just ahead and charged him, swinging its mace above its head and bringing it crashing down upon his shield. The blow was almost enough to knock him off balance, but he bashed the head of the weapon down with the edge of his shield before it could strike again and plunged his blade through its neck. The creature sank to the ground as he pulled the sword out, blood bubbling from its maw. Athelan killed another ahead of him, forcing his own weapon through a tear in its mail.
He looked around, his heart pumping from the heat of battle. Men were moving forward and driving the orcs back, the archers had begun constant volleys, and he could now hear more of the enemy screaming than his own – but the last troll still stood, blood pouring from a dozen different wounds and its dull eyes alight with fury. He looked to his left, and – more of them were upon him.
Tarcion roared, ducking under the slash of the first and sticking it through the belly like a pig at slaughter. The creature above him shrieked as Tarcion’s hands were soaked with hot blood, but he paid no heed to its cries as he heaved forward and fell to the ground with his victim. Its reeking smell filled his nostrils. More were around him – a missed stab sliced his cheek, and another bounced off his upraised shield. He couldn’t pull his sword out. Acting on instinct, he drew his dagger and slashed the back of one’s leg, feeling the muscle tear beneath his blade. It screamed and fell, and expecting a blow at any moment he crawled out of the way on his hands and knees.
‘Get up, you fool!’ a man shouted. He heard the sound of running feet, and a moment later the sound of clashing metal and shrieks above his head. Someone grabbed him by the arm and pulled him to his feet. It was Hadhod. His eyes met the older man’s for a fraction of a moment in a silent gesture of thanks, then without a pause Tarcion shouldered his way back into the fray, dragging his sword from the corpse of the orc he had killed and stopping a weak blow from another dead with his shield. His blade darted out, rewarding his attacker with a sliced arm, and the creature fled after seeing two more of its kin cut down by his fellows.
‘Kill the beast!’ Armas shouted, his blood running high from the fight and his sword gleaming black. Tarcion was the first to move. Mine was his only thought as he raced over the rocks, his armour weighing him down and his battered body sweating under his smallclothes. His quarry was not far ahead, and he gained on it with every step, his boots kicking up dust. He could hear its frantic breathing. Tarcion roared triumphantly and swung his blade into its neck, its blood spraying out in a great arc as the creature tottered sideways and fell.
The ground shuddered.
He looked up into a sight that blocked out the sun.
His mind froze as the troll bellowed and swung its ponderous weapon towards him, and -acting on some soldier’s instinct - he dropped to the rocks as a blow that would have cracked a castle wall swept over his head. To your feet. He pushed himself up and stumbled backward, his body trembling from shock. The troll growled deep in its throat, its grey skin oozing blood from a hundred wounds, its eyes showing nothing but rage and lifelong torture.
‘Run, you fool! Run!’
He took another step back. His heel touched against something, and slowly, without ever taking his eyes from the danger barely ten feet ahead, he knelt down and searched around behind him. His fingers brushed over the steel of a breastplate, the cold, dead hand of a brother-in-arms, and closed around the smooth ash wood of a spear. He stood.
As if his movement had stirred it, the troll stepped forward, gripped the trunk with both hands and brought it slamming down upon the spot where Tarcion had been a second before. He pushed himself to his feet and ran towards the monster, ducking under another swing that would have broken him. He was below it. With a cry he drove his spear blindly towards one of its legs and felt it sink deep through its reeking fat and muscle. The troll screamed, the agonising sound ripping through his head as he stumbled underneath it.
His foot caught against a rock and he fell with a crash. He tried to stand. There was a long groan from above him, ending in a hacking sigh, and a moment later something hit him and all was darkness.