Standard Bearer, The
15. The Siege of Barad-dur
He bowed an acknowledgment.
“You are welcome.” She bowed slightly in return. “Have you everything with you? We move out within the hour.”
“Yes, my lady.”
She threw her old cloak over her light armour, hefted up her own bundle, heavy enough despite containing only a few clothes and some blankets, and picked up her unwieldy wooden shield. She found this device most cumbersome, but knew that it would have to become her constant companion. Farin’s men had worked ceaselessly to provide cover for the besieging troops, but the defenders watched with sleepless eyes to exploit any momentary weakness. Deanor’s much-used sword was at her side, and a long knife tucked into her belt.
“Then let us go.” She pulled up her hood, and wound her scarf about her face as they stepped out of the tent into the dismal, choking morning.
It would be a dangerous day. Although the vanguard held the route to the new camp, no-one expected the Lord Sauron to allow them to occupy it without a fight.
Two great columns were formed up on the road, side-by-side, two mighty arms of war ready to encircle the Dark Lord. Elendil and Isildur’s great knights and proud men-at-arms for the North and East, the Elven warriors and Anárion’s fierce soldiers for the West and South. A ring of steel and courage with which to cut him off, to strangle him, isolate him and finally to force him from his impenetrable citadel.
Spirits were high, and an air of anticipation in the air. Gildinwen took her place behind Lord Gil-galad, the standard of her father’s house in her hand. The Elf-Lord was proud and fearsome in his battle armour, his helm shining and deadly spear at the ready. Tall he stood at the head of his army, and high were his banners lifted that all might see them and follow.
The trumpets sounded, and at the shouts of the sergeants, a cry rose from the company, and the hosts rumbled into motion. Glorfindel’s guard of horse provided outriders, and rode on the flanks, alert, quick and ready to give aid where ever they might be needed. Elrond’s archers held the high ground along the route of the march, their golden arrows a glinting beacon of comfort in the murky light. The tramp of ten thousand feet was loud in the ear, and the bitter taste of ash acrid in the mouth. The dust was terrible, even here at the head of the column, Gildinwen could not imagine the foulness which must be endured by those soldiers in the rearguard. Beside her, Mardil was striding out bravely, his limp noticeable but not pronounced, his face set in old lines of pain.
She watched with silent dread as their destination drew nearer, stride by stride. The Dark Tower loomed menacingly in the sky already, and they were still several miles away. She knew exactly how many feet the awful walls measured, and every detail of the wicked defences and crenellations. She had studied all the maps and reports, there should be no surprises for her. But knowing that the Fortress was almost one mile across, and that the curtain walls rose hundreds of sheer feet into the air, surrounded by a dreadful pit filled with fire and smoke, was a far cry from being in the shadow of that great and terrible fastness. And yet, even a few short months ago she could never have envisioned such a hellish place as this plain of nightmares.
‘It is surprising how much horror we can stand’, she thought, ‘providing it is added to but a little at a time.’ Then her heart felt warm as she thought of Elrond, and she knew that strength came also from love, fierce, bright and strong. Deep rooted and untaintable.
Underfoot the ground became thick with ash, and Mardil stumbled beside her. She caught herself just in time from reaching out to him, knowing such an action would cause him shame here in the ranks of the soldiers.
For many hours they trudged onward, their dreadful destination growing ever larger, the sky ever darker. The road grew broader, and the air hot and stinking. Gildinwen knew that it would not be far now to where, about a league from the terrible Western gate, the road became in effect a causeway as great chasms opened up on either side, isolating it from the surrounding land. The armies would have to separate at this point, with Elendil and Isildur going North of the road, while Gil-galad and Anárion went south. It was here that attack was most likely. Barricades had been erected across both the roads that issued from Sauron’s fortress, but they would not hold his forces for long. Hopefully just enough to allow the armies to take cover. Once inside their new defences the besiegers would be very difficult to root out.
Still the brooding Tower grew in their sight, and now they could begin to make out details through the grimy air. Towering, massive walls of slick black stone. Smooth and impenetrable, rising seamless from the living rock. A fortress of stone, a fortress of iron, built with the sheer power of evil. Crenellations of steel crowned the tallest towers, scraping the sky with their vicious points. Deep-set, slitted windows held watchers and keen- eyed bowmen. Great halls and barracks echoed with the squabbles of countless Men and Orcs. Foundations plunged within the depths of the earth, sunk with the power of the Ring, rumours of filthy pits and forgotten dungeons - nameless and unspeakable. Terrible black entrances like dark, hungry maws, protected by iron-bound gates and steel-toothed portcullis. Drawbridges raised and made fast from over the great moat, filled with fire and smoke, to be lowered only to spew forth enemy troops, or to snatch in unfortunate captives.
From the road ahead came a terrible sound, shrieking and screeching, the thunder of feet and hooves, and underpinning all, the thump of dreadful drums.
“Here they come!” Glorfindel’s horse flashed past them, his warriors close behind, and the trumpets rang out a warning.
“Lead company with me!” cried Gil-galad to his Elves, “To the barricade! Anárion! Bring your hand-picked men! Cirdan, get the rest of them under cover.” He sprang forward, Aeglos raised, his squire following with his battle standard.
Gildinwen shed her bedroll and heavy shield, and pushed them at Mardil. “Go with the others!” she shouted.
“But, my lady..”
“Do as I tell you!” She snatched out her sword, lifted her banner and leapt after Lord Gil-galad.
“I do believe I’m getting a bit of taste for this,” she thought, in a tiny moment of clarity before the madness began.
Elrond’s archers were already defending the barricade, their arrows flying thick and fast, picking off the leading ranks of the enemy as they poured down the causeway, a black and terrible force. The Elf-lord himself wielded his great bow, sending arrow after arrow into the foul stream, the power of his presence and might of his voice welding his warriors together. The sheer numbers of the enemy were too great to stop by arrows alone, and soon the bowmen had to fall back as the dark tide broke against the barrier, and flowed over it. Gil-galad’s warriors and Anárion’s crack company were there to meet it. The foul air filled with the sound of battle, sword on sword, steel on flesh, screams of death and of victory. Gil-galad was as a warrior from legend, seemingly everywhere at once, striding larger-than-life amidst the turmoil and confusion, his terrible spear wreaking a dreadful havoc, his shouts of encouragement empowering his men. Gildinwen matched his pace, her duty to keep the standard with him at all times. An enemy sword thrust at her, and she parried without thinking, hitting the wielder in the face with the butt of the banner staff, slicing open his belly with her sword, and moving on without even looking at him. Her vision reduced to a narrow field, the apex of which was Lord Gil-galad. She felt a heavy blow on her left shoulder, deflected by the Elven armour but enough to push her to her knees. Her sword became trapped under the banner staff, and as she struggled to free it, her antagonist raised his blade. Dropping her sword she tugged the knife from her belt and slashed at him. He hopped back yelling, giving her just enough time to retrieve her sword and finish him off.
The ground was thick and sticky where blood soaked into the dust, the bodies of friend and foe alike piling up underfoot. Still the archers felled Sauron’s forces as they came, still the foot soldiers hacked at them, and still Lord Gil-galad blazed like a star in the centre of the maelstrom. Gradually the enemy slowed, now only a few at a time clambered over the barricade.
“To me!” cried the Elf-Lord, striding forward and cutting down the foes as they appeared. He sprang up onto the top of the barrier, his great spear rising and falling. His squire leapt up after him, the battle standard proud, and a great cry sang out from the Elven throats to see it. Gildinwen was less nimble, but managed to scramble up, the sight of the Banner of Amarnon raising a shout among Anárion’s soldiers. Now their forces flowed over the barricade as those of Mordor turned tail and ran back to the gate.
“Hold here!” shouted Lord Gil-galad, once they were routed, “Our purpose today is to invest the fortress, let us not be drawn on.”
Gildinwen turned to look from her position of advantage. The forces of the Alliance were pouring into the trenches, those of Elendil and Isildur to the right, Elves and Anárion to the left. Gil-galad and Anárion stood side- by-side atop the barricade, weapons raised in salute as the troops arrived. Cheers rose as they passed. By nightfall the investment would be complete, and Sauron surrounded.
The siege of Barad-dúr had begun.
Simple as their accommodation had been previously, it was positively luxurious compared to that they now came to. Living quarters had been hewn into the crumbling black rock, dark, cramped and airless. Rough timbers supported the roofs, and formed walls and partitions. Space was very tight. Gil-galad’s headquarters were in a large chamber, excavated from a natural cave in the wall of a large gully. At the back, partitioned sleeping areas were provided for himself and Cirdan. Their attendants and squires slept on the floor, finding a space as best they could amid the clutter of maps, tables, weapons and equipment.
A similar but much smaller arrangement had been provided for the officers of his company, with Glorfindel, Elrond and Galeria’s two brothers assigned a single living and working area. Raw boards partitioned cramped bunks, with blankets hung up to provide a semblance of privacy. Weapons, clothes and accoutrements crowded the walls. There being no room in the main chamber, the squires and pages were to be bedded down in a rough dugout next door. Gildinwen was relieved to find that there was at least one advantage to being the only human female in the group, when she was assigned a place of her own. Much as she enjoyed the company of the others, there were some things that would be just too impractical amid a group of male Elves.
“Well,” she tried to keep the dismay from her voice as she looked around the poky room. A narrow box bed had been built into the back, and a large work table squeezed against one wall. “Not much space to swing a cat in here, is there Mardil?”
The boy grinned at such an outrageous suggestion, but she could see the exhaustion behind his eyes.
“Sit down,” she told him, pointing to the only chair.
“But my lady, should I not help you unpack the things.”
“No, that can all wait until tomorrow. You need some food and a good sleep.”
She was just wondering whether it was expected that Mardil would also share this cramped space, when Elrond ducked under the lintel.
“Good evening, my lady.” He spoke formally.
“My lord.” She nodded.
“Is this your new assistant?”
“Indeed it is. Master Mardil, this is the Lord Elrond.”
He rose to his feet, and bowed.
“How old are you?” The Elf-lord’s voice was kindly.
“Ten years, my lord.” He was small for ten, but his face looked older.
“You have seen a lot of battle for such a young age.”
Mardil matched the Elf-Lord’s gaze respectfully, but he did not reply.
“And now we should see about getting you a billet.” He looked up at Gildinwen, “There is a place with our squires should you wish it.”
She looked at the lad, “Mardil, you may choose for yourself, whether you shall stay here with me, or bunk with the other boys.”
“If it please you, my lady, I should prefer to be with the others.”
She smiled, “You may change your mind if you find it does not suit you.”
“Halmir!” called Elrond, and his squire, a lanky, blond elf-lad with a permanently worried look, appeared in the doorway.
“This is Master Mardil, page to the Lady Gildinwen, he is to billet with you. Show him where he will sleep, and make sure he gets some food.”
“Yes, my lord.”
Once the boys had gone, Elrond approached her, concern in his grey eyes. “Were you injured today?”
“Only some bruises, fortunately.”
He looked worried, “I do not like you being in danger.”
“Nor I you, my lord,” she countered, “but we are at war, and have duties to perform, danger or no.”
He smiled grimly, then kissed her lightly. “Come next door and have some food with us.” His face lightened, “We have a guest I think you will want to see.”
After quickly washing and changing out of her battle-soiled clothes, Gildinwen ducked under the blanket covering the door of the Elves’ new residence and was delighted to be met by a smile from their guest.
“Galeria!” she hurried over to give her a hug.
“I have missed you so much.”
The Elf smiled fondly, “And I you, my friend.”
Elrond was already at the table but happily moved up a seat so she that she could sit down between them. The cloth was set with food and drink, with Galeria’s two brothers eyeing it ravenously.
“So what is the new hospital like?” Gil asked, “I have been meaning to come by and see you.”
“Today is our first busy day,” laughed Galeria, a touch ruefully, “but thankfully we have not too many wounded.”
A rustle at the door announced the arrival of Glorfindel, the last member of the party.
“At last!” cried Gildor. “I though I might pass out from hunger, waiting on you.”
“And I!” grinned Galdor wickedly, as the golden-haired elf took his seat, “One would have thought he would show us a little more courtesy, all things considered.” He waggled his eyebrows meaningfully at his sister, causing her to burst out with laughter, and nearly spill the wine she was pouring.
Gildinwen smiled, but a little sadness tugged at her too.
“Hey.” Galeria touched her on the arm. “What is it?”
“Oh, nothing.” She reached for some bread, “Just that my brother Argilin would probably have said something quite similar.”
“Do you miss him very much?” Galeria passed her a cup.
“Not as much as I should,” replied Gildinwen a little shamefaced, “but occasionally something will happen to remind me, and bring it all back.” She took a bite of bread.
“You both have Elven names.” Glorfindel leaned forward to help himself to some food. “How did you come by them?”
Gildinwen smiled, “That was a very long held tradition in the family. There was always a ‘Gil’ element of course, in honour of Lord Gil-galad, and in my case the rest was a joke of my father’s - I was a very noisy baby.” [i]
A ripple of amused laughter followed.
“Are you the eldest?” mumbled Galdor through a mouthful.
“Galdor!” admonished his sister, causing Gil another painful laugh.
She nodded, swallowing, “Yes, by a sad twist of fate I am the firstborn.” She took a sip of wine, “There would have been a child before me but his mother died of a virulent fever before he was brought to term.”
There was suddenly a silence. Galdor had frozen with a piece of bread halfway to his mouth, Galeria’s face was shocked, “You mean, your father had two wives?”
Gildinwen laughed, “Not at the same time! He was a widower for two years before marrying my mother.”
This did not seem to improve matters. Galeria whispered aghast, “Your mother was his second wife?”
“Yes,” Gildinwen was puzzled, “That is considered quite usual among humans.”
Galdor swallowed his bread, “Well, you learn something new everyday.”
“Did you know about this?” Galeria turned to Elrond.
“That it was usual among humans, or that Gil was the daughter of a second wife?” his voice was displeased.
“Either!” the Elf’s voice rose.
Elrond glowered, “Yes, I knew it was common among humans. No, I did not know of Gil’s particular circumstance. Not that I see it matters.” His voice was firm and adamant.
“Will someone please tell me what is going on?” Gildinwen’s voice was tight with annoyance, “I do not greatly appreciate being talked about as though I was not even here.”
“I am sorry, Gil.” Galeria collected herself with a smile. “It is just a shock to us that is all. Such an arrangement would be considered most..,” she paused, searching for the right word, “...unorthodox, among Elves.”
“Was your mother of much lower rank than your father’s first wife?” asked Glorfindel curiously.
“No, she was not!” retorted Gildinwen vehemently, “If anything she was from a better family.”
Galeria shook her head in disbelief, “How very strange! No Elf-lady of quality would ever stoop to the ignominy of becoming a second wife, it would be considered most demeaning. Even her children would bear the stigma of it, being unable to assume the status of either parent.”
“Well,” replied Gil, stiffly, “my mother taught me that a person should be valued for their own qualities regardless of rank or position.”
“She would!” snickered Gildor, only half under his breath.
Elrond laid a hand on her arm, “Peace,” he whispered. But Gil was not to be so easily mollified.
She drew herself up very tall. “Here I am, still the very same Gil who sat here a moment ago, only now you are all looking down on me because it turns out I am the daughter of a second wife?”
“Oh, no, no!” Galeria hurried to reassure her, “For friendship, and er...” she glanced involuntarily at Elrond, and at least had the grace to look a little embarrassed, “these things do not matter at all. It is only for marriage that they are important,” her voice tailed off as she caught the look on Gildinwen’s face.
Glorfindel looked from Gildinwen to Elrond and back again, an astonished realisation dawning on his face.
“I see.” Gildinwen pushed back her chair, and rose very deliberately to her feet. “If you will excuse me.”
“How long has this been going on?” Glorfindel asked the brothers, his voice astounded.
“Gil!” Elrond reached for her arm, but she evaded him.
“Oh, just about as long as you have been too distracted to notice.” smirked one of the two elves.
“Elrond!” grinned the golden Elf. “You dark fox.”
Gil snatched up her cloak, and pushed her way angrily out the doorway.
----------------------- [i] Gildinwen means Silent Star Maiden.
Author’s notes: Yes, yes, this whole business of second wives is a total inference on my part, and it will be explained further in the next chapter. I repeat: the story is LotR and Silmarillion based.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.