See here for the playthrough report.
Merry shifted in his saddle. It had been six days since the Host of the West had marched from Minas Tirith to make war on the very doorstep of Sauron’s realm, and each day had been filled with long and hard marches. They had gone openly but heedfully, with mounted scouts of the Dunedain and Rohan before them on the road, and others on foot upon either side, especially on the eastward flank; for there lay dark thickets, and a tumbled land of rocky gulls and crags, behind which the long grim slopes of the Ephel Duath clambered up. The weather of the world remained fair and the wind held in the west, but nothing could waft away the glooms and the sad mists that clung about the Mountains of Shadow.
Ever and anon their heralds had let blow the trumpets, and they would cry: “The King Elessar has come! Let all leave this land or yield them up!” Aragorn had not yet been crowned in truth, but at the insistence of the Steward of Gondor that cry was given, so as to give the Enemy more thought. It was the elder brother of Faramir who now held the White Rod of the Steward; Boromir II of the House of Anarion. His father Denethor had been driven to take his own life at the sight of his eldest son nearing death in the Houses of Healing, but the hands of the healers were skilled and Boromir now rode with the Host of the West, seated on his horse by the King’s side though not yet recovered to his full strength. On awaking from his slumber Boromir hailed Aragorn as the King returned, and with Prince Imrahil and Hurin the Tall, Warden of the Keys, greeted Aragorn at the gates of the City. He had knelt there, and said: “The last Steward of Gondor begs leave to surrender his office.” And he held out the white rod; but Aragorn took the rod and gave it back, saying: “That office is not ended, and it shall be thine and thy heirs’ as long as my line shall last. Do now thy office!”
And so Boromir prepared the hosts of the City and of Gondor, and now, leaving Minas Tirith under the charge of Hurin, they marched upon the Gates of Morannon. With them went a mighty host of Captains and men out of the city: Eomer, King of Rohan went with his Marshalls; Prince Imrahil of Dol Amroth; Idraen, Warden of Arnor; Legolas Greenleaf; Glorfindel and the twin sons of Elrond Halfelven, Elladan and Elrohir.
But foremost in Aragorn’s retinue and counsel was Gandalf, who arrived at the gates of Minas Tirith two days after the battle on the fields of the Pelennor. On his arrival he and Aragorn spent many hours in congress with one another, shut away in the Tower of Ecthelion. The next morning a great council was called, and all the Lords and chief men of the West were in attendance.
As a member of the Fellowship Merry had been there also, and he beheld as they argued and discussed their next course of action. During this meeting, it was revealed to all there the purpose of their struggle, that they might distract Saurin long enough to allow the Ringbearer to complete his quest. Aragorn also made it know that he had taken the Palantir of Orthanc, and in the Hornburg revealed himself to Sauron, and showed the blade that had been broken but was reforged. It was deemed that this might be enough to draw the Enemy’s attention west, away from his own lands that the Ringbearer might achieve his purpose and journey to Orodruin unnoticed.
“We have not the Ring.” Gandalf had said. “In wisdom or great folly it has been sent away to be destroyed, lest it destroy us. Without it we cannot by force defeat his force. But we must at all costs keep his Eye from his true peril. We cannot achieve victory by arms, but by arms we can give the Ring-bearer his only chance, frail though it be.
“As Aragorn has begun, so we must go on. We must push Sauron to his last throw. We must call out his hidden strength, so that he shall empty his land. We must march out to meet him at once. We must make ourselves the bait, though his jaws should close on us. We must walk open-eyed into that trap, with courage, but small hope for ourselves. For, my lords, it may well prove that we ourselves shall perish utterly in a black battle far from the living lands; so that even if Barad-dûr be thrown down, we shall not live to see a new age. But this, I deem, is our duty.”
One by one the great lords and captains assented, and secure in the knowledge that Angbor the Fearless was drawing nigh unto the city, two days later they departed with six thousand foot and one thousand horse. Through Ithilien they had come, turning north at the Cross-roads onto the road that led to the Morannon.
Upon the fourth day from the Cross-roads they began to pass into the desolation that lay before the gates of the Pass of Cirith Gorgor So deep was the horror that lay on them that some of the host were unmanned, and they could neither walk nor ride further north.
Aragorn looked at them, and there was pity in his eyes rather than wrath; for these were young men from Rohan, from Westfold far away, or husbandmen from Lossarnach, and to them Mordor had been from childhood a name of evil, and yet unreal, a legend that had no part in their simple life; and now they walked like men in a hideous dream made true, and they understood not this war nor why fate should lead them to such a pass. And so under the command of Idraen and Halbarad, he sent them to Cair Andros, to take it back from the forces of Mordor and hold to the last in defense of Gondor and Rohan, leaving a little under six thousand to march on The Black Gate.
Within his heart Merry had wished to depart then, but bound by bonds of friendship and loyalty, his courage had quickened and he remained with the host. In truth none knew he travelled with the host, for Aragorn had forbidden his riding with them, saying he could not bear to see the halfling slain before the Towers of Teeth in this great gamble. But even as the Men of the West departed the White City, and Merry stood by the broken gate in his armour fashioned for him watching them ride through, unnoticed a Rider of Eomer’s company came up and spoke softly in the hobbit’s ear.
“You wish to go whither the Lord of the City goes: I see it in your face. You shall go with me,” said the Rider. ‘I will bear you before me, under my cloak until we are far afield, and this darkness is yet darker. Such good will should not be denied.”
“Thank you, sir, though I do not know your name.”
“Do you not?” said the Rider softly. “Then call me Dernhelm.”
Thus it came to pass that when the king set out, before Dernhelm sat Meriadoc the hobbit, and the great grey steed Windfola made little of the burden; for Dernhelm was less in weight than many men.
At nightfall of the fifth day of the march from the Crossroads they made their last camp, and set fires about it of such dead wood and heath as they could find. They passed the hours of night in wakefulness and they were aware of many things half-seen that walked and prowled all about them, and they heard the howling of wolves. The wind had died and all the air seemed still.
It grew cold. As morning came the land seemed empty. North amid their noisome pits lay the first of the great heaps of slag and broken rock and blasted earth, the vomit of the maggot-folk of Mordor; but south and now near loomed the great rampart of Cirith Gorgor, and the Black Gate amidst, and the two Towers of the Teeth tall and dark upon either side. For in their last march the Captains had turned away from the old road as it bent east, and so now they were approaching the Morannon from the north-west.
The two vast iron doors of the Black Gate were fast closed. Upon the battlement nothing could be seen. All was silent but watchful. They stood forlorn and chill before towers and walls which their army could not assault with hope. Yet they knew that all the hills and rocks about the Morannon were filled with hidden foes, and the shadowy defile beyond was bored and tunnelled by teeming broods of evil things. And as they stood they saw all the Nazgul gathered together, hovering above the Towers of the Teeth like vultures; and they knew that they were watched. But still the Enemy made no sign.
No choice was left them but to play their part to its end. Therefore Aragorn now set the host in such array as could best be contrived; and they were drawn up on two great hills of blasted stone and earth that orcs had piled in years of labour. Before them towards Mordor lay like a moat a great mire of reeking mud and foul-smelling pools.
When all was ordered, the Captains rode forth towards the Black Gate with a great guard of horsemen and the banner and heralds and trumpeters. There was Gandalf as chief herald, and Aragorn with Glorfindel and the sons of Elrond, and Éomer of Rohan, and Boromir and Imrahil; and Legolas were bidden to go also, so that all the enemies of Mordor gathered there should have a witness.
They came within cry of the Morannon, and unfurled the banner, and blew upon their trumpets; and the heralds stood out and sent their voices up over the battlement of Mordor.
“Come forth!” they cried. “Let the Lord of the Black Land come forth! Justice shall be done upon him. For wrongfully he has made war upon Gondor and wrested its lands. Therefore the King of Gondor demands that he should atone for his evils, and depart then for ever. Come forth!”
There was a long silence, and from wall and gate no cry or sound was heard in answer. As they waited Aragorn’s hands went to the elf-stone that hung from his neck, gifted to him by Arwen in Imladris, and his thoughts dwelt of she whom he loved. But then there came a long rolling of great drums like thunder in the mountains, and then a braying of horns that shook the very stones and stunned men’s ears. And thereupon the middle door of the Black Gate was thrown open with a great clang, and out of it there came an embassy from the Dark Tower.
At its head there rode a tall and evil shape, mounted upon a black horse, if horse it was; for it was huge and hideous, and in the sockets of its eyes and in its nostrils there burned a flame. The rider was robed all in black, and black was his lofty helm; yet this was no Ringwraith but a living man. The Lieutenant of the Tower of Barad-dûr he was, and his name is remembered in no tale; for he himself had forgotten it, and he said: “I am the Mouth of Sauron.” With him came only a small company of black-harnessed soldiery, and a single banner, black but bearing on it in red the Evil Eye. Now halting a few paces before the Captains of the West he looked them up and down and laughed.
“Is there anyone in this rout with authority to treat with me?” he asked. “Or indeed with wit to understand me? Not thou at least!” he mocked, turning to Aragorn with scorn. “It needs more to make a king than a piece of elvish glass, or a rabble such as this. Why, any brigand of the hills can show as good a following!”
Aragorn said naught in answer, but he took the other’s eye and held it, and for a moment they strove thus; but soon, though Aragorn did not stir nor move hand to weapon, the other quailed and gave back as if menaced with a blow. “I am a herald and ambassador, and may not be assailed!” he cried.
“Where such laws hold,” said Gandalf, “it is also the custom for ambassadors to use less insolence. But no one has threatened you. You have naught to fear from us, until your errand is done. But unless your master has come to new wisdom, then with all his servants you will be in great peril.”
“So!” said the Messenger. “Then thou art the spokesman, old greybeard? I have tokens that I was bidden to show to thee – to thee in especial, if thou shouldst dare to come.” He signed to one of his guards, and he came forward bearing a bundle swathed in black cloths.
The Messenger put these aside, and there to the wonder and dismay of all the Captains he held up first the short sword that Sam had carried, and next a grey cloak with an elven-brooch, and then the coat of mithril-mail that Frodo had worn wrapped in his tattered garments. Last of all he flung the black clothes at their feet, and out rolled a phial of crystal that shone dimly before them. A blackness came before their eyes, and it seemed to them in a moment of silence that the world stood still
“I know them all,” said Gandalf. “But why do you bring them here?”
“Dwarf-coat, elf-cloak, blade of the downfallen West and star-light from a corrupted Silmaril. And bearing them all: spy from the little rat-land of the Shire. Here are the marks of a conspiracy. Now, maybe he that bore these things was a creature that you would not grieve to lose, perhaps? If so, take swift counsel with what little wit is left to you. For Sauron does not love spies, and what his fate shall be depends now on your choice.”
No one answered him; but he saw their faces grey with fear and the horror in their eyes, and he laughed again, for it seemed to him that his sport went well. “Good, good!” he said. “He was dear to you, I see. And now he shall endure the slow torment of years, as long and slow as our arts in the Great Tower can contrive, and never be released, unless maybe when he is changed and broken, so that he may come to you, and you shall see what you have done. This shall surely be – unless you accept my Lord’s terms.”
“These we will take!” said Gandalf. He cast aside his cloak and a white light shone forth like a sword in that black place. Before his upraised hand the foul Messenger recoiled, and Gandalf coming seized and took from him the tokens: coat, cloak, phial and sword. “These we will take in memory of our friend,” he cried. “But as for terms, we reject them utterly. Get you gone, for your embassy is over and death is near to you. We did not come here to waste words in treating with Sauron, faithless and accursed. Begone!”
Then the Messenger of Mordor laughed no more. His face was twisted with amazement and anger to the likeness of some wild beast that, as it crouches on its prey, is smitten on the muzzle with a stinging rod. He turned, leaped upon his steed, and with his company galloped madly back to Cirith Gorgor. But as they went his soldiers blew their horns in signal long arranged; and even before they came to the gate Sauron sprang his trap.
Drums rolled and fires leaped up. The great doors of the Black Gate swung back wide. Out of it streamed a great host as swiftly as swirling waters when a sluice is lifted.
The Captains mounted again and rode back, and from the host of Mordor there went up a jeering yell. Dust rose smothering the air, as from nearby there marched up an army of Easterlings that had waited for the signal in the shadows of Ered Lithui beyond the further Tower. Down from the hills on either side of the Morannon poured Orcs innumerable. The men of the West were trapped, and soon, all about the grey mounds where they stood, forces ten times and more than ten times their match would ring them in a sea of enemies. Sauron had taken the proffered bait in jaws of steel.
Little time was left to Aragorn for the ordering of his battle. Upon the one hill he stood with Gandalf and Boromir, and there fair and desperate was raised the banner of the Tree and Stars. Upon the other hill hard by stood the banners of Rohan and Dol Amroth, White Horse and Silver Swan. And about each hill a ring was made facing all ways, bristling with spear and sword. But in the front towards Mordor where the first bitter assault would come there stood the sons of Elrond on the left with Glorfindel and the Dúnedain about them, and on the right the Prince Imrahil with the men of Dol Amroth tall and fair, and picked men of the Tower of Guard.
Then before the Enemy’s forces could array themselves into their order, Aragorn let loose his cavalry. The ranks upon each hill opened, and forth rode the Riders of Rohan and Knights of Dol Amroth, and at their forefront was the King Elessar. Aragorn no longer, for upon his head sat the Elendilmir glittering in the gloom, and in his hand he hand aloft Anduril. Without spoken order the Knights of the Swan formed up behind him into a spear’s head, with their King at the tip.
With a severity that caught the assembling Orcs unawares, like a scythe through dry corn the Knights cut into the loose formation, driving many to the ground with their steel-tipped lances. Then as they wheeled back and around, the Riders of Rohan let loose a volley of javelins and arrows into the exposed ranks, allowing the Knights to make good their retreat. Many darts were sent back in reply and more than a few men were unhorsed, but relatively unscathed the horsemen reformed and charged again.
Atop Windfola, Merry clung to the saddle’s pommel and reins as Dernhelm hurled another spear into the closing ranks of Orcs. So tightly packed were they now that he could not fail to strike true, and a creature was hurled backward with a long shaft jutting out from his shoulder. Twice more they followed the Knights of the Swan and twice more the Riders of Rohan sent arrow and dart into the host of Mordor. But each time they charged, ever more men and horses were slain. And for every man slain their strength was diminished and fewer enemies were slain with each charge.
Then as the Knights charged yet again, the shields of their foes opened and a space opened before them. And before they could wheel about their horses the Knights of the Swan were carried into that opening, and found themselves hemmed in on all sides by sword and spear. Then from the midst of their enemies, forth came the Mouth of Sauron once again, his face filled with rage and his mouth slavering, and shapeless sounds of fury came strangling from his throat. In his hand he held a wicked blade of cold dark steel, and at his back came a double-echelcon of men clad in black armour, riding dark horses in like manner as their Captain. Seeing their approach, Aragorn spurred his horse forward to meet them and Anduril met the dark steel of Mordor. And the Knights of the White Swan clashed with the Knights of the Dark Tower, and while the former were more skilled with sword and lance, the latter were greater in number and fresher in strength and the Knights of Dol Amroth soon found themselves surrounded and hard-pressed on all sides.
The first assault crashed into the hill on the left. The orcs hindered by the mires that lay before the hills halted and poured their arrows into the defending ranks, but then surging forth once more as a river bursting forth from the dam that held it back, they charged into those upon the hill. Foremost among those that met the initial wave were the sons of Elrond, and their blades rose and flashed and fell as foe after foe were cut down before them. As one they fought, having trained for many decades under the war-captains of the wars of Eregion, and blooded across many encounters with orcs out of Angmar and the Misty Mountains. As one parried a blow, the brother would strike down the attacker, only then to catch the blade of the next enemy while the first would thrust into the orc’s exposed belly. Together into the midst of the assault they fought, blunting the onslaught as a rock breaking the rushing tide allowing the shieldwall behind to absorb the broken and disorganised attack. The spears of Rohan thrust forth from their shields while the bows of the Dunedain sent darts singing overhead into the mass that assailed them.
On the other hill the shields of Gondor and Dol Amorth locked together as a wall of burnished steel and azure, and the horde of Mordor broke upon it. Over their shields the swords of Gondor stabbed down, as set shoulder held back the tide, supported by the men behind pushing back. As they stood, their courage bolstered by the words of Gandalf carried above the clash and screams of battle, the enemy could find no purchase on their lines and the men of Gondor took heart.
The wind blew, and the trumpets sang, and arrows whined; but the sun now climbing towards the South was veiled in the reeks of Mordor, and through a threatening haze it gleamed, remote, a sullen red, as if it were the ending of the day, or the end maybe of all the world of light. And out of the gathering mirk the Nazgûl came with their cold voices crying words of death; and then all hope was quenched.
Down plummeted the Lord of the Nine toward the horsemen now enveloped within the ranks of Mordor, and the terror of his coming scattered friend and foe alike. Horses screamed in madness, men fled in panic and orcs wailed in terror as the hell-hawk upon which he sat astride touched down upon the ground. All turned tail and fled as his coming was filled with such wrath and dread as to shatter the courage of all but the strongest of hearts. And so it was that Aragorn alone stood before the Witch-king, though thrown from his mount as it panicked and ran.
With a cold laugh the Chief of the Nazgul mocked Aragorn. “You are alone, foolish and forsaken. The world of Men will fall. This is my hour.” And as he spoke he held aloft a great black mace, and the fell beast upon which he sat astride took a pace forward and lunged for Aragorn.
Yet he was not alone. For as the creature lunged, extending its neck forthwith, a Rider upon their mount charged into it, and the force of that crash threw the Rider and a small bundle of clothes upon the ground, staggering the beast. Seizing his moment, Aragorn stepped forward and plunged Anduril into its head. Shrieking in pain it thrashed and writhed as a worm in the midst of a great flame, and was still.
But from the ruin thereof arose the Witch-king, and exuding hence a fierce terror arose, thick and dark such as might even be felt. He paced forth toward the King, and the ground smouldered and smoked whereupon his iron boots fell. But as he strode, the Rider arose from where they lay and stood between Aragorn and the Witch-king. And a voice rang out through the blackness, yet it seemed strange, recalling some other voice that he had known in a time and place far removed from here.
“Get thee hence from here, lord of carrion. The time of your Master is at an end, and your power with it.”
A cold voice answered: “Come not between the Nazgûl and his prey! Or he will slay thee in thy turn, if he is inclined unto mercy.”
A sword rang as it was drawn. “Do what you will; but I will hinder it, if I may.”
“Hinder me? Thou fool. No living man may hinder me!”
Then Aragorn heard in wonder of all sounds in that hour the strangest. It seemed that Dernhelm laughed, and the clear voice was like the ring of steel. ‘But no living man am I! You look upon a woman. Eowyn I am, Eomund’s daughter. Begone, if you be not deathless! For living or dark undead, I will smite you should you remain.”
All seemed dark about them, and in the midst of it loomed the Nazgûl Lord like a shadow of despair. But the helm of the Rider’s secrecy fell from her, and her bright hair, released from its bonds, gleamed with pale gold upon her shoulders. Her eyes grey as the sea were hard and fell, and yet tears were on her cheek. A sword was in her hand, and she raised her shield against the horror of her enemy’s eyes.
With a cry of hatred that stung the very ears like venom the Lord of the Nine let fall his mace. Her shield was shivered in many pieces, and her arm was broken; she stumbled to her knees. He bent over her like a cloud, and his eyes glittered; he raised his mace to kill.
But suddenly he too stumbled forward with a cry of bitter pain, and his stroke went wide,
driving into the ground. For the bundle of clothes had crawled behind him, and so unseen in the midst of his arrogance, Merry’s sword had stabbed him from behind, shearing through the black mantle, and passing up beneath the hauberk had pierced the sinew behind his mighty knee.
Then tottering, struggling up, with her last strength she drove her sword between crown and mantle, as the great shoulders bowed before her. The sword broke sparkling into many shards. The crown rolled away with a clang. Eowyn fell forward upon her fallen foe. But lo! the mantle and hauberk were empty. Shapeless they lay now on the ground, torn and tumbled; and a cry went up into the shuddering air, and faded to a shrill wailing, passing with the wind, a voice bodiless and thin that died, and was swallowed up, and was never heard again in that age of this world.
A deathly pall settled over the area and all was still. Shaken free from the terror that drove them, the orcs round about quailed before the scene before them, and as Aragorn stepped forward, setting himself between them and the fallen bodies of Eowyn and Merry they gave way and turned to flee, such was the ferocity of his countenance.
But a cry of rage went up behind them, and Aragorn saw there sat upon his steed of pitch hide was the Emissary of Mordor, he who called himself The Mouth of Sauron. In harsh, guttural screams he cursed the orcs in the Black Speech and spurred his horse forward, and striding behind him came a great Hill-troll of Gorgoroth, clad in iron plates strapped to his forearms and chest and holding a wicked and notched blade in his great hand. Seeing this, the orcs were emboldened and surged past the Emissary, each eager to be the first to draw the blood of this Man who so defied them.
Before the broiling seething mass of orcs stood Elessar alone, holding Anduril now in both hands with feet set apart. On his breast glittered the Elfstone from which he had taken his kingly name, and upon his brow shone the Elendilmir, casting a red glimmer upon all that were before him. Upon his lips there came unbidden the song of Tinuviel, and as he stood he sang of the love shared between her and Beren the Man, and of her singing, and of her casting down of Tol-in-Gaurhoth, wherein Sauron had dwelt in Ages past.
At the hearing of this song, carried over the gnashing and shrieking and snarling of the host now between them, The Mouth of Sauron’s rage multiplied sevenfold. Into a frenzy he whipped the orcs, who howled toward Aragorn, blades and teeth bared for wicked design.
And then, just as the tide of Mordor would have swept over the King, a clear voice rang out behind him, deep and sonorous as a bell. “Soldiers of Gondor, defend your King! Stand firm against this tide of darkness.” Even as the words rose above the clamour and tumult of surrounding them, a rank of long spears pushed forward past Aragorn, followed by a second and a third before the men wielding them advanced past him also, marching slowly in lockstep toward the onslaught. Six ranks of sable and steel held firm while the enemy dashed themselves against their long spears out of terror and madness. Aragorn felt a strong hand grasp at his arm, and turned to find Gandalf pulling him back from the fray.
But he could not be prevailed upon to depart, not without the recovery of Eowyn and Merry who yet lay there. And so the three were taken to the cadre of healers and men skilled in the treatment of wounds who had departed from Minas Tirith with them. Many were being tended to on the slag heaps, covered by a canopy of shields erected as soon as darts began to fall among them. Glorfindel was there also, having been struck in the shoulder by an Easterling arrow.
From his vantage on the heap, Aragorn saw as the sea of foes frothed and boiled around them. Even as he beheld, the Gorgoroth Hill-troll crashed into the phalanx of Gondorian spears, pulling shafts out from the hands of those who wielded them, then casting their bearers into the mass behind him. It was only by the many wounds he sustained from his efforts that he was brought down, as Gandalf dealt the final blow with a flash of his sword. Seeing the stout resistance before him, the Mouth of Sauron wheeled and turned toward the other hill, urging his steed on with call and curse toward the sons of Elrond. It was only at the last moment, seizing the shield of a fallen Citadel Guard, that Elrohir turned aside his fell blade. With a snarl the dark Emissary withdrew, though the tide abated not and began to encircle the heaps so that the fighting grew thick on all sides.
The sun climbed in the sky as the battle raged, though such was the canopy of gloom that none could see it. Upon the slopes of the slag heaps fell men and orc too many to number, such that climbing those slopes became treacherous which the slain choke upon the ground underfoot. To the rear forces of Easterlings that had hidden in the shadows of Ered Lithui began to cross the reeking moat that snaked round the heaps, heedless of arrow or dart that struck many. Before their ranks could form up several Dunedain and champions of the House of Eorl stepped forth, men of renown and honour among their lands and peoples. With sword and spear and axe did they lay low many men out of Rhun before enough had crossed to force back those warriors who had hindered their approach. There was now no avenue by which the men of the West might make their escape.
The jaws of steel had now closed and their grip was beginning to tighten. To the north swords rang and shields splintered. To the south arrows whined and men cried aloud. To the west spears were shaken and helms were broken. And to the east, there was darkness. For vomiting forth from Orodruin was a new cloud of menace, and a looming shadow crept over the valley of Udûn toward them. And here and there amidst the gloom the shape of Hell-hawks could be seen, darker than night they seemed, such that light would have naught to do with them.
It was as Merry lay under the attention of the healers that this new darkness descended. And the air grew thick and heavy and still. Despair loomed within his breast, but he fought it. The Halfling cast his mind back to the Shire, to the hills of Buckland, the smell of Old Tobey and the laughter of his friends. A smile crept over his face and the foreboding in his heart was no more.
Even as he lay there looking up into the gloom through the gaps in the canopy of shields, he saw a pair of dark wings descending. Fear and terror smote him, but Merry would never again feel the cold hand of despair upon his shoulder.
And then while Merry’s vision filled with the winged shadow, he heard voices that seemed to be crying in some forgotten world far above, though he could not discern their words.
Then piecing through the thick canopy of gloom above as a spear thrust through thin silk, a shaft of light bright and pure illuminated the field of the Morannon. The hosts of Mordor looked up and wondered what this sign might mean.
Out of the beam of daylight came then Gwaihir the Windlord, greatest of all the Eagles of the North, mightiest of the descendants of old Thorondor, who built his eyries in the inaccessible peaks of the Encircling Mountains when Middle-earth was young. Behind them in long swift lines came Meneldor the young and swift, with all the vassals from the northern mountains, speeding on a gathering wind. Straight down upon the Nazgul they bore, stooping suddenly out of the high airs, and the rush of their wide wings as they passed over was like a gale. With beak and talon they rent the fell steeds of the Black Riders, and grasped any of Mordor’s host that could be reached, carrying them high into the air only to be dashed upon the rocks of the Ephel Duath and the Ered Lithui. But Gwaihir did not tarry for long, hastening beyond the Morannon and passing over like a tempest he flew on to the fires of Orodruin.
“The Eagles are coming! The Eagles are coming!” The cry went up across the hills, and at this sign the sons of Elrond drove into the ranks of the Easterlings, pushing them back across the reeking moat once again as their blades flashed in the fresh light. The sons of Elrond took up the call.
“The day has come! The Eagles! The Eagles! Auta i lome! The night is passing!” The host of Mordor wavered in a sudden moment of doubt as this new fortune broke over them like the rolling waves upon the shore. The Captains of the West were filled with a sudden hope in the midst of darkness and cried aloud as one.
“The Eagles! The Eagles have come! The day has come!” Out from the beleaguered hills knights of Gondor, Riders of Rohan, Dúnedain of the North, close-serried companies, drove against their wavering foes, piercing the press with the thrust of bitter spears.
At his belt Aragorn felt the Keys of Orthanc, taken as a symbol of his new authority over the domain that had betrayed both sides of this war. In that moment he wondered how things may have proceeded according to a different path had Saruman’s faith remained true. How many lives might have been spared, and how many must now be lost in their absence. But there was no time for such contemplations, there were lives that needed to be fought for here and now, and they could ill afford to lose anyone lest their strength be diminished and the remainder more swiftly overcome.
Looking up he saw the men of the West pressing forth on all fronts, putting the enemy to flight and setting them into a rout. Orcs and Easterlings fled the onslaught, ever being harried by the arrows and darts sent into their backs. They were being set upon by the Eagles passing overhead who would circle overhead before plummeting down with wings folded and talons outstretched.Such horsemen as yet remained were loosened upon them, cutting down as many as they might, and Eomer King of Rohan was at their forefront. In that moment none would stand before the Lord of the Mark, for fierce and bright was his anger, having seen the fall of his sister, and the men of his house were about him. “Death!” he cried, and all that were with him cried alike. “Death! Ride to ruin and to the world’s ending!” But there was no song on their lips, nor was the joy of battle upon them, and as they fey fought they grew careless in their attack, and pressed too far and too fast.
For already fresh hosts were swift coming up out of the valley of Udun, led from the forefront by another band of hill-trolls carrying long and thick shafts with wicked blades upon their heads. Seeing their approach Aragorn held aloft Anduril and cried aloud in a clear voice:
“Stand fast, Men of the West! Stand and wait! This is the hour of doom!”
He signalled for the recall to be sounded, but even as he spoke the trolls broke upon the Kingsguard of Rohan, and many men of valour and renown fell beneath their blades in that moment. From atop his own horse Imrahil saw the plight of Eomer, and spurred forward his mount followed swiftly by his Knights of the Swan. They had been held back from the battle for such a time as this, and even as those Rohirrim as were with Eomer became encircled about they crashed upon the lines of the Enemy. They were few in number, but were peerless in martial prowess among all the lands of mortal men, and as they wheeled and charged again and again, a gap sufficiently wide was made for the best part of the trapped Rohirrim to make good their escape.
As swift as they could ride they returned to the slag-heaps, with those who had lost their mounts being pulled up alongside those that still remained. Veterans of many battles fought within the ruins of Osgiliath met their retreat, and opened gaps in their wall of round shields to allow the refugees to pass through. The lines now held firm once again, but swift behind the retreating horsemen came the trolls and their following of fresh forces.
The knights of Dol Amorth served as a vanguard for the retreat, slowing the advancing host with wheeling charges. Last of all came Imrahil bearing Eomer upon his own horse, who unconscious and overborn had been plucked from beneath the descending blade of the Hill-trolls’ chief by the Prince himself. Together now they came toward the hills upon which their banners had been set, and drew nigh unto the shields of Gondor. And the Nazgul descended.
With a cry the Hell-hawk plummeted as a stone upon them, driving them bodily into the ground with its weight. Their horse screamed and writhed in pain but could not escape. The Wraith upon its back looked toward Aragorn and seemed to give a noise akin to a hiss, though whether in anger or mirth could not be said. Then by some unspoken command, the fell beast stretched forth its wings and ascended into the air, leaving behind only the fallen horse and a stench beneath its outstretched pinions that caused throat to constrict and eyes to water. It was not before the Nazgul had departed some way, near to the pass that lay between the Towers of Teeth, that Aragorn saw two shapes fall from the beasts talons into broiling mass below.
Seeing this, Aragorn knew that all this was a result of the sins of Numenor, and his heart grew heavy within him. Had his forebears not paid heed to the deceptions of Sauron, that people so blessed by the Valar might not have fallen, and even now would stand in resistance to the Dark Lord. But hubris and pride had been their greater part, and so reaped the harvest of their folly. Had those same flaws taken root within himself, and in his own pride thought they could withstand against the might of Barad-dur, even for a moment? Willingly had he led these men into this trap, full well knowing it would be doom of many that rode with him to meet their end beneath the shadow of Mordor. But perhaps this doom may have been avoided had they chosen some other path. A fighting retreat may have drawn out the hordes of the Land of Shadow, and still given Frodo his chance to cross the plains of Gorgoroth.
But as he considered this he felt once again on his belt the Keys of Orthanc, and knew it was not so. For this was the fate of all who opposed the Dark Lord should he go unchecked, and this was their chance to do so. And if their lives needs be spent to see the Tower of Barad-dur fall, even should they not live to see it, then it would be a price that all there would gladly pay. For the legacy of Numenor was indeed weakness and failure, but strength and resilience also. Just as Orthanc was built in the latter days of the Second Age to protect against the darkness, so too would they continue in their course to guard the realms of Middle-Earth against that same darkness. Just as Elendil had given his very life to ensure a future for those that would come after, so too would he do the same.
With a crash the host of Mordor assailed the shield wall, Orcs and Uruks innumerable falling beneath spear and sword and arrow as yet more came over them, heedless of the wounded they now crushed and trampled beneath their feet. Sore pressed were the forces of the West on all sides once again, and wherever the fighting was the thickest there went Boromir, Steward of Gondor holding the Banner of the restored King Elessar, and with him was Gandalf and Legolas. Upon their steeds they went that more may see them above the press of battle and take hope. From atop Arod Legolas picked out the sergeants and captains of the enemy host and silenced them where he could with his bow, while Gandalf directed their efforts seeing where the need for their presence was the greatest.
This time the tide did not abate, and slowly the rings upon the hills contracted inch by inch. Laying under the protection of the healers, Eowyn stirred in her fever dream as it seemed to her as a voice spoke to her through the fog of darkness and confusion. It was one that she had never heard before, yet knew immediately to whom it belonged. She recoiled from that hated voice in her mind, yet it drew closer and as it spoke in a tongue that she did not recognise the darkness surrounding her mind lifted and she found herself able to collect her scattered thoughts.
“Fear not, Eowyn Theodwyn’s daughter. You have done valiant things this day that shall not be forgotten in all the days of Men. Renown you have won, and honour besides. But do not descend into this darkness that now assails you. See now that it lifts, and your thoughts are once again your own. It is within my power to grant you this passing respite, but you must fight it’s power on your own strength and expel it from you. You are strong of will and mighty of mind, and would be a wise and just queen, ruling with the authority and nobility befitting of your lineage. Such grievances as lay between us must be put aside, for the hour is upon us when all must stand or succumb to the darkness that arises in the East. I say to you now daughter of Eorl, stand and free yourself from the bonds of despair that now cloud your mind. Your people need you. Take heart, and stand.”
As the words faded, the enchantment that held back the darkness from Eowyn’s thoughts went also. Yet the darkness did not return and a newfound life coursed through her limbs, her will giving strength to her feet as she arose and beheld all around her. Standing over her were the remaining members of the Household Guard, all that had survived the charge of Eomer into the ranks of the enemy. Upon their return they had taken position around their queen, last living scion of the House of Eorl, and they beheld in amazement as their ward now came to her feet, rising as one would from a gentle sleep though she had lain as one dead.
Grimbold, captain of those that yet remained, fell to his knees beneath the banner of Eorl and proclaimed in a loud voice, “Hail Eowyn Queen, daughter of the House of Eorl!” He offered up his sword to her, pledging his life to her service. Taking up the cry, the Rohirrim that stood about also knelt and unsheathed their swords. Wordless she took the proffered sword and their oaths, and saw the battle raging beneath them.
Seeing Eowyn rise, Aragorn came to her. “It gladdens my heart to see you yet live, Eowyn Queen, especially in such dark times. I owe you my life, and more besides, and should we live through this day then we shall renew the Oaths sworn between Eorl and Cirion. But come now, for your aid is needed, should you have the strength for it.”
“I have. Lead on.” she simply said, taking her helm under her arm and her sword by her side.
But before they could depart that place, a scream was heard high above them. And all who looked up saw Meneldor the swift and strong assailed by a Nazgul upon their winged mount, and the two rent each other with beak and claw and talon. In their struggle they fell, and in their ferocity neither relinquished the other in their descent, for in their bitter struggle each creature held the other in such loathing that they did not wish their own escape over the other’s demise.
With gathering speed now they fell, neither gaining the upper hand on the other and each becoming more desperate and frantic in their strikes to slay the other. And then at the point where they had fallen too far and too fast to arrest their descent, a second Eagle latched onto the accursed Hell-hawk and with a heave of his mighty wings pulled the beast from Meneldor. But still they fell, all three crashing into the ground scattering men and orc alike in their ruin. The winged guardian had born down upon the Nazgul as they fell, so that his fell steed was crushed between the talons of the Eagle and the hard ground below. The Eagle called out in its triumph and take to the air once more.
Meneldor was stunned by the fall and was slower to rise. Yet such was the awe and terror of his coming that he found his feet no orc or troll came near unto him. Meneldor spread out his wings and made to take once more to the air, but as he did so he shrieked in pain and fell heavily to the ground and did not rise. For as he had stretched out his wings there stepped under him that Black Numenorean, the Emissary of the Dark Tower, and with a snarl had he thrust a long and wicked blade into the side of Meneldor, and it drank greedily of his blood.
Across the body of the Eagle came the forces of Mordor, led by a large Hill-troll with a heavy mace in his hand. Aragorn met this advance with Anduril held aloft, and by his side were Eowyn and the Knights of her house. But even as he did so, the troll leapt forward with a bound and brought down his mace heavily upon the King.
And behold! Aragorn brought up the mighty blade Anduril, reforged from the very shards of Narsil itself, and brought to this place as a sure and certain sign of defiance against the Dark Lord, and sought to deflect the savage blow that surely would have laid him low, and the mace of the troll was turned aside, and the noise of their meeting was bitter and harsh, and Aragorn and the troll both were staggered. And Anduril was shattered.
Up from the ruin of his winged steed arose the Black Rider, armour and cloak rent by the strokes of Meneldor while he had yet lived. And with him arose such a cloud of terror and despair that none stood before him, and gave way. Toward Aragorn he came, seeing the blade of Anduril shatter beneath the troll, and sought to make the calamity of the West complete by the slaying of their King.
But Eowyn, seeing this, called to the guard of her house, and such was the love they bore for her, last of the line of Eorl, that their terror forsook them and with their swords and spears and shields they pressed against the Nazgul, bearing him back with their charge, though many fell. And Grimbold, captain of Eowyn’s guard was then slain, and many that went with him.
Near won through was the fell Wraith, when his dark blade was turned aside by one flashing with bright steel. And Elrohir stood himself between the Nazgul and Aragorn, joined swiftly by Elladan his brother, and the twain set their faces against their foe and were unafraid.
And Aragorn was amazed, for their coming, though fortuitous, was unlooked for at this time, and he looked to see what had brought them from their own hill. What he saw dismayed him, for it had been completely overcome by the jaws of steel that now had it in its grasp, and the men of that hill were withdrawing to the other, still held by their fellows. The tide that had followed the doomed ride of Imrahil had driven all before it from that hill, and Boromir, seeing that they were in danger of being overrun and lost to a man, led forth a sortie of his chiefest warriors, guards of the Fountain Court and Custodians of the Citadel clad in black and silver, and Gandalf went with them.
As a keen knife through old wood they cut a swathe through the host of the East, until at last, with Boromir at the tip of their spear, they had thrust their way to the ranks of the beleaguered hill. Then turning outward they formed a shieldwall two ranks deep on each facing, and so the men of that hill were able to pass between the two walls, as wanderers betwixt two tall hedges, and so make their escape to the stronger hill. Their passing was not without peril, for sore pressed were the two shieldwalls by the ferocity of the enemy, and many darts and javelins were sent over the shields of those who secured their passage. Notwithstanding, many lives of the Rohirrim and of Dol Amroth and the Dunedain were spared their fate aop the besieged hilltop, and at the command of their captains the defenses of that last hill were bolstered by those who escaped the destruction of the other. Last came the Dunedain, for with long years in conflict with the Orcs of the North had they honed their swordcraft and skill with bow and spear, and so they caused the Easterlings to pay a bitter toll for their assault upon that hill. And when all who could be saved were within the protection of the assailed walls and coming nigh unto the remaining hill, the champions of Boromir withdrew, keeping at bay the clutchings of the enemy with sword and spear. And Boromir was at the apex of their line, thrusting aside sword-stroke with his mighty shield and cutting down all who came at him with his warrior sword.
It was by this means that Elladan and Elrohir came now to the defense of Aragorn, having seen the approaching relief, and so pushing forth into the enemy met them even as Boromir drew nigh unto the assailed hill. Before the Nazgul they now stood, and with defiance met his fell sword with their blades. And such strokes of the enemy’s as slipped past their defenses, for he was quick and subtle of swordmanship, was turned aside by the shining armour that they wore openly, as their plate had been forged in the Houses of Imladris by such smiths as yet dwelt there who had studied under the tutelage of Celebrimbor and the smiths of Eregion.
And for each stroke they allowed the Nazgul to glance off their armour, the brother of him smitten would smite the Wraith, until the raiment of that foul dwimmerlaik was so damaged and tattered that with one final stroke of Elladan’s blade, his spirit fled his physical vestments and the armour and cloak inhabited by the Ringwraith fell to the ground in a heap.
But they could not savour their victory, for even as the Nazgul fell the Dark Emissary came up with a fresh host. And the guard of Eowyn was overcome and put to the sword, and she too would have fallen if not at the last moment, even as she stood alone before the Mouth of Sauron, defiant and unbroken as a young holly tree before a great tempest, that she was snatched up and borne away. For Landroval, brother of Gwaihir and commander of the Eagles in his stead, had seen her plight, and so heedless of arrow and dart had swooped down upon her, and snatching her up from the very midst of her foes, within his great talons herescued her from the clutches of the Enemy.
Now the wrath of Mordor burned hot, and rage filled the hearts of their foes. On all sides the Host of the West were beset, and their doom seemed to press ever closer. Little by little the circle drew ever inward, and all the darts of them that were upon the hill were spent.
It was at this time that Aragorn drew forth the Palantir of Orthanc, and he held it aloft before him facing the Dark Tower of Barad-dur. At first the globe was dark, black as jet. Then there came a faint glow and stir in the heart of it, and it held his eyes, and a voice there seemed to be in the midst of it calling out unto him, so that now he could not look away. Soon all the inside seemed on fire; the ball was spinning, or the lights within were revolving. And Aragorn strove with the will of Sauron, and it was a bitter struggle. But in the end, having ownership of the Stone by right, the King was able to wrest away Sauron’s grip upon it, and upon himself.
Within the Stone he thought he espied a mountain, dark and terrible even amidst the shadows it dwelt amongst. And upon its face were three figures, one tall though withered and the other two small and frail. Upward they climbed, slowly and painfully, and the vision faded.
Then all was fire and smoke, and through it he saw Frodo standing upon the edge of a precipice, though but a shadow of the friend he once knew, drawn and gaunt, and below him was a great lake of fire. He had his hand before him, gazing down at it in sorrow and anguish, and Aragorn knew what lay therein. After what seemed as an age, the hobbit closed his fist and turned so that it seemed he beheld Aragorn himself before him, though the King it could not be so. Frodo opened his mouth to speak, but before his lips could form words, the vision ended and Aragorn saw no more.
A great wailing went up from the Nazgul, and the two that were yet above them turned and fled toward Mordor’s shadows, hearing a sudden terrible call out of the Dark Tower; and even at that moment all the hosts of Mordor trembled. Their hands shook and their limbs were loosed. The Power that drove them on and filled them with hate and fury was wavering, its will was removed from them; and now looking in the eyes of their enemies they saw a deadly light and were afraid.
Aragorn looked and saw between the two Towers of Teeth the brace of Nazgul winging their way toward Orodruin with the speed of the wind before a great tempest, and they vanished into the shadows of Mordor. And even as they fled, they were pursued by the Eagles, who would not let their quarry escape with such ease.
But to the West Aragorn beheld one Eagle going, and in his claws was a figure, small and frail it seemed in the clutches of the Eagle’s great talons, though Aragorn knew otherwise. And the King knew that the House of Eorl endured.
Seeing then that this moment may not last long, Aragorn held aloft the sword of Anduril, whose blade had been shattered but one foot from the hilt, and with a loud voice he cried aloud “Auta i lome! The night is passing!”
And the Host of the West answered, and pressed forth into the confused ranks of their foes. Aragorn was at the forefront of their onslaught, and with him Elladan and Elrohir and all the Captains of the West, and as dry leaves before the winter winds they drove the forces of Mordor. None withstood their fury, which burned hot within the blood of the Men of the West, and all before them were afraid of it.
“Auta i lome!”