See here for playthrough report.
Four days and nights, and on into a fifth, the Company rode from the Black Stone. And as the darkness of Mordor grew, the Shadow Host seemed to grow stronger and more terrible to look upon. When his courage allowed, Merry saw riding, some striding, yet all moving with the same great speed. Silent they were, but there was a gleam in their eyes.
In the uplands of Lamedon they overtook the horses of the Dunedain, and swept round them, and would have passed on by, if Aragorn had not forbidden them.
At his command they fell back. “Even the shades of Men are obedient to his will,” Merry wondered at the stature of Aragorn. “They may serve his needs yet!”
Another day of light they rode, and then came a day without dawn, and still they rode on, and Ciril and Ringlo they crossed, though Merry knew not their names; and on the third day they 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 they came, crying out that the King of the Dead was upon them. Only Angbor, Lord of Lamedon, had the heart to abide them; and he approached the Company.
Alone and on foot he came, for his mount could not abide the terror of that Shadow Host, and in his left hand he wielded a claymore whose length would come up to the shoulder of a horse. Wearied he came, stained with the toils of battle and in his eyes of coal was seen a dark determination to face those who had now come with the terror of death, and his head was without helm. Silent he came, and his jaw was set, and his hand by his side shook not but rather the fingers of his right moved as though plucking at the strings of some unseen harp.
And Aragorn bade the Company halt and dismounted from his horse. Leaving Anduril in its sheath, he took down his hood and held open the palm of his hands open toward the Lord of Lamedon.
“Hail, and well met.” Aragorn stood still and called in greeting to Angbor. “Son of Gondor, take heart for the shadow of the Dark Lord has reached its height, and shall do naught but recede from this time.”
But Angbor was undaunted, but called back as he continued to approach. “Worry yourself not, stranger. For in my heart is no fear. But would I do well not to trust the words of those who come unbidden and unheralded from the Vale of Morthond.”
“Unbidden we come, this is the truth. But not unheralded, for if you would behold the standard that you see behind me, you might see who is it that has come unto you.”
And Angbor looked and he discerned the device that was upon the black banner held aloft by the hand of Halbarad. And he saw then too the Elessar upon Aragorn’s breast, and the Elendilmir worn upon his brow. And his hand trembled, and his eyes brimmed with tears. And falling to one knee before Aragorn, the Lord of Morthond declared in a loud voice that all might hear:
“Hail son of Isildur, heir to the king most renowned, the looked for that cometh at unawares, the longed for that cometh beyond hope! Hail bearer of hope brought before the dawn of this age! Splendour of the Children of Numenor, star in the darkness and joybringer in the morning! My sword and my strength, my faith and my fealty are all yours. Command me lord!”
Aragorn spake no word, but went to Angbor and, taking the supplicant’s hands in him, drew him up to his feet, and only then did he speak. “Your fealty is not owed to me lord, for the Stewardship is yet held by Denethor, son of Ecthelion. And it is not until I am welcomed by the Steward of Gondor and the Warden of Keys that the Heir of Isildur should have authority over you, being but a Captain of the Dunedain.”
Angbor made to speak as though in protest but Aragorn would not allow any word to be spoken in subversion of the Steward. “Peace friend and hear me, for I would beg a boon of you.”
“Name it lord.”
“Gather your folk, your brave and courageous, and come behind us when we have passed, all who would dare. But take no man who has not fathered a son, for I would not see any line blotted out from the world on this day. The work begun here is far from complete, and at Pelargir the Heir of Isildur will have need of you.”
So it was that the Grey Company crossed over Gilrain, driving the allies of Mordor in rout before them; and then they rested a while. But soon Aragorn arose, saying: “Lo! already Minas Tirith is assailed. I fear that it will fall ere we come to its aid.” And so they were mounted again before night had passed and went on with all the speed that their horses could endure over the plains of Lebennin.
And as they went Merry heard Legolas humming a melody, for they rode together upon Arod, and soon a soft song could be heard in the Common Speech, no doubt so the hobbit might hear and understand.
Silver flow the streams from Celos to Erui
In the green fields of Lebennin!
Tall grows the grass there. In the wind from the Sea The white lilies sway,
And the golden bells are shaken of mallos and alfirin In the green fields of Lebennin,
In the wind from the Sea!
Then he fell silent, and held his peace for a good while before speaking again. “Ah Meriadoc, green are these fields in the songs of my people, and though I had no desire to see them, their beauty in song could not fail to stir my heart. But now they are dark, grey wastes in the blackness before us. And over the wide land, we trample unheeded the grass and the flowers of song. War has made invisible the beauty of the world.”
Merry did not know what to say, and so said nothing. Instead he watched as the land rolled past beneath them, and even as the day waxed the sun did not break through the cloud of darkness sent forth from Mordor. And in the gloom they went, and even the sun began her descent that company rode on.
The hobbit did not know when he had drifted into slumber, but he awoke with a start to the crying of gulls and the smell of salt. And as he looked through eyes of sleep, Merry thought that they had come to the Sea. Indeed in the gloom, the water before them seemed to stretch almost to the horizon, and wheeling above were crying gulls, though Merry had never before heard their call.
“Behold,” Thurindir gave poor Merry such a start the young hobbit nearly fell from his perch, for the ranger had drawn alongside them almost as silent as night. “Behold the Great River of Wilderland, the Anduin.”
Merry stared in wonder, for when he last rode the currents of this river above Rauros it had been strong, though not near as wide. Indeed a great many rivers and streams had fed into the Anduin since that point, flowing from as far as Fangorn at the foot of the Misty Mountains where the Entwash began and traveled across many miles until it lent its strength to the Anduin. Dark streams too joined into it from the Ephel Dúath, the Mountains of Shadow, not least the Morgulduin whose polluted and corrupted waters have long stained the banks of its course with blight and sickness and disease. And yet even that taint was washed clean by the waters flowing south toward the Sea, their putridity purified by the power gone into the Great River from the Celebrant and the Nimrodel far to the north. And ever southward it had flowed, nourished by rivers coming down from the White Mountains, and onward it would yet go to the Bay of Belfalas, swollen at the last by the mighty Poros whose swift currents marked the border between Harondor, that was once the southmost part of Gondor’s realm, and Near Harad from whence came the Mumakil.
Merry knew little of this, though had he been more studious in the House of Imladris he might have found one of several books or loremasters all too eager to divulge that information. What he did know was what lay before them. He saw a great city, not built after the craft of Edoras with its thatch and timber but with stone and slate. And at the docks and quays on the riverside there lay a vast fleet of black sails. Out of Umbar they had come, crewed by Corsairs and cruel Haradrim, fifty great ships of tall masts and long, sleek hulls. Swarming around them were smaller vessels beyond count, so that on the river they appeared as many flies.
It seemed to The Company that many of their prey had reached these havens before them, and had brought their fear with them, for some of these ships had put off seeking to escape downriver or reach the far shore. But the tall ships were as hounds guarding the flock, and all the smaller craft that tried to pass found themselves either set ablaze or hooked and boarded by their escorts.
Their quarry were driven to the brink of the river, crowded upon quays and piers, crushing into skiffs and dinghies making for the ships further away from the shore. But now they turned, and were fierce in their despair; and they laughed when they looked upon the Grey Company, for they were a great army still.
But Aragorn halted and cried with a great voice: “Now come! By the Black Stone I call you!“ And suddenly the Shadow Host that had hung back at the last came up like a grey tide, sweeping all away before it. Faint cries were heard, and dim horns blowing, and a murmur as of countless far voices: it was like the echo of some forgotten battle in the Dark Years long ago. Pale swords were drawn and wisp; but it was known not whether their blades would still bite, for the Dead needed no longer any weapon but fear. None would withstand them.
In three parts the Dunedain followed, the centremost led by Aragorn, wielding aloft Anduril and crying aloud the name of Elendil. Behind him came Halbarad holding aloft that black banner, and also Legolas with Merry. On the left went Amarthiul, Guardian of Rhuduar and on the right was Idraen, Warden of Arnor. A fourth band, only a half-dozen or so, led by Thurundir did not follow down after the others, but instead went alone toward the north part of the city.
Reckless, the Dunedain rode among their foes, driving them as leaves, cutting down cruel Haradrim and the fell folk of Umbar alike, until at last they came to the shore. There still tied to the docks was a great Dromon, a galley with great triangular lateen sails. And on its deck were many men weilding short bows and hooked spears and curved swords, But these armaments availed them little, for the men of the north were upon them, and more than that the dread of the Dead Men of Dunharrow had confused their senses with terror so that they were cut down as tall grass after a long summe
Such was the speed with which they took this first vessel that before any other ship of the fleet could react, grappling hooks were found and a nearby war galley was ensnared and pulled alongside. For so concerned were the sailors on board with setting the sails and sheets that not enough noticed their situation until it was too late.
And Aragorn lept from the dromon onto the deck of this new galley, and was met with a curse and a laugh as the nearest corsair rushed him. The Chieftain of the Dunedain need not have raised his sword to block the blow however, for just before the corsair came within a sword length of his quarry, he stumbled and sprawled upon the deck before Aragorn, an arrow sent from the bow of Legolas jutting out from his neck.
A second member of the crew took his place and fell upon Aragorn, who took a step back, such was the ferocity of the assault. But it was quickly spent, and the corsair was driven back and struck down. As this happened another Dunedain boarded the galley, and a second, and another pair, and some fighting broke out across the deck of the ship.
All across the waterfront the same scene was playing out as rangers and hunters leapt onto the decks of galleys, dromons and triremes. All before them corsairs and Haradrim fled and fell. Some cast themselves overboard in terror and desperation, others more brave or foolish clung to their weapons and were slain.
Merry followed Amarthiul throughout the battle, keeping up with the ranger’s long strides as best he could. Initially the hobbit had sought to stay be Legolas, but the elven light-footedness proved too quick for Merry and he was soon left behind as Legolas ascended their ship’s rigging and leapt from one ship to the next. Amarthiul took pity on the halfling left behind, and together to two made their way across the deck of the ship.
Merry has his blade drawn, carried with him all the long way from the Barrow Downs in the north, but it was not used to draw blood during all that time and the steel remained clean throughout. But it was not lack of ability nor of courage that stayed his hand, for his mettle had been proven time and again, from the ruins of Khazad-Dum to the Battle of the Hornburg. Rather the skill with sword and spear and bow was such that those of the fleet were driven away before the reach of Merry’s arm.
Seeing his efforts above deck would be wasted, the hobbit stole below decks to see what he could achieve there. The sight that met him there staggered his heart, for seated in chains in three banks on either side of the galley were rank upon rank of rowers, manacled
Before long the slave-drivers and sailors had been driven off, and the captives beneath the decks were liberated. From many places they had been taken, not only from the shores of Gondor, from Anfalas and the Ethir Anduil, some captured as recently as the entering of this great fleet into the mouth of the Great River.
Indeed that was not the chief portion of their number, for a great many Haradrim and Umbarians had been ripped from hearth and home, pressed into the galleys against their will. From all corners of Harad they hailed, some with skin as light and fallow as Merry’s own, others swarthy and dark-skinned, once proud but all reduced to the strength of their arms and the endurance of their backs. Some were captured at random, while those opposed to a subservience under The Dark Tower were particularly persecuted. Long-standing blood feuds between families and tribes fed the greedy appetite for slaves. Political rivalries between the rulers of Umbar’s Duumverate saw many disappear in the night. The forsaken and the destitute, the outcast and pariah, all easy prey for the grasping traders of flesh.
And among those Merry beheld came from even further afield than the shores of the Bay of Belfalas. Men from the land by Lindon there were, and a clutch clad in the tattered remains of fur that hailed from the Ice Bays of Forochel to the far north. Toward the rear of the ship Merry even spied a brace of dwarves, taken from an excavation of the ruins of Belegost, though not without some protest.
But seated just before the hobbit in rags of faded black and crimson sat a haggard man with a straw beard. There was a black boar stitched into the breast of his tattered raiment, and Meriadoc breath was stolen. And he beheld in his mind’s eye the white horse of Theoden floundering before the Black Boar, the bright spears of Dunland piercing the flank of Snowmane and the golden armour of the king split and rent. All this he saw in anger before raising his sword. As for the Dunlending, seeing the Rohirric style of the halfling’s helm and hauberk, he flinched not from the blow as he saw the shade of his eternal foe before him.
Down came the blade of the Barrow Downs, and the steel of Westernesse struck true and the sound of its striking caused those around them to recoil. But the warrior from Dunland was not harmed, and he looked down and saw the manacles from about his hands loosened from their chains securing him to the oar of his bondage. A second blow saw the Numenorean steel sheer through the iron of Umbar fastening his feet and he found he could stand. No word was spoken between the hobbit and man, but an unspoken allegiance was declared then and, taking up such tools as they could find, the two set about their task.
High above them the bow of Legolas was not lacking for targets, and the rigging of that ship was soon cleansed of foes with one well-placed arrow after another. Those who came upon him, Legolas swiftly dispatched with his long knife. As his work was completed a great shout was heard from below, and bursting forth from the bowels of the vessel cane the rowers and slaves imprisoned therein. Howling and baying, they flung themselves reckless at the corsairs, armed only with iron chains and bared teeth. Heedless of their safety, consumed with rage and vengeance, they grappled with their captors, some hurling their own selves overboard with their enemies, clutching at them as they both sank beneath the waters.
Before a moment had passed the ship was taken, and the former slaves put themselves under the command of the Dunedain. Together they guided the vessel toward the nearest ship, and drawing alongside they swarmed across and overwhelmed those on board. As for Legolas, he leapt from his perch to the next vessel’s mast and continued his work there. And once that galley too had been taken they thus continued, and with every captured a new ship was added to their fleet.
From the vantage of his position, Legolas beheld the state of the day, and he saw that the first of the great Black Ships has fallen, and there upon the prow of it was stood Aragorn, proud and noble as a great king out of lost Numenor. A star shone on his brow and on his chest, and as his cloak billowed around him in the wind from the sea, he held aloft Anduril and called in a voice clear and loud that all who would surrender and cast down their arms would be spared their lives.
A harsh laugh rose to meet his call, though Legolas saw some of those on the ships closest dropped their weapons, casting sword and spear into the waters. Others prepared their ships as best they could and set sail up the Anduin, fueled in equal parts fear and determination, looking to escape their foes and achieve their goal of reaching the White City.
But even as their dark prows turned north they were undone. For Thurindir, leading a clutch of rangers north, had secured the banks of the Anduin to the north that ran past the walls of the city, and even now great scorpions and bolt throwers were being made ready against the oncoming corsairs. And so even as the first vessel drew level with them it was met with such a hail of iron and stone that the side of its hull crumbled as paper in the rain, and it listed and it sank. Seeing this, the ships behind would not risk the north passage, and many surrendered themselves to the Rangers of the North.
And then to each of the great ships that remained Aragorn sent one of the Dúnedain, and they comforted the captives that were aboard, and bade them put aside fear and be free. Before that dark day ended none of the enemy were left to resist the Dunedain. All were drowned or slain, or were flying south in the hope to find their own lands upon foot.
So it was that in that hour all who looked on Aragorn thought how great and terrible a Lord he he was, and Merry wondered how he might have become in the strength of his will, had he taken the Ring to himself. And thus all the black fleet was in his hands; and he chose the greatest ship to be his own, and he went up into it. Then he let sound a great blowing of trumpets taken from the enemy; and the Shadow Host withdrew to the shore. There they stood silent, hardly to be seen, save for a red gleam in their eyes that caught the glare of the ships that were burning. And Aragorn spoke in a loud voice to the Dead Men, crying:
“Hear now the words of the Heir of Isildur! Your oath is fulfilled. Go back and trouble not the valleys ever again! Depart and be at rest!“
Merry looked and he saw the King of the Dead stand out before the host and brake his spear and cast it down. Then he bowed low and turned away; and swiftly the whole grey host drew off and vanished like a mist that is driven back by a sudden wind; and it seemed to the hobbit that he awoke from a dream.