Standard Bearer, The
7. The Battlefield
The country they journeyed through was rough moorland. Windy and desolate. To the West, on their left, the land rolled down to the fens around the Mouths of the Entwash, and away to the East the ominous shadow of Ephel Dúath, the outer mountains of Mordor, reached out towards them. The further north-east they rode, the rougher the land became, the sparser the vegetation - even the very soil was grey and lifeless. As night drew in, and they made camp, the Mountains of Shadow seemed to loom closer, and evil things appeared to lurk at the edge of vision.
Gildinwen was sitting up late, gazing into the embers of the fire, when Falcred walked in from the perimeter of the camp where he had been checking with the sentries. He flung off his cloak and threw himself down beside her.
“Well, all seems quiet enough but I’ll be glad when we reach the rest of the army. All this spooky stuff makes me uncomfortable. I like to see my enemy plainly in front of me, where I can stick my sword in him.”
Gildinwen smiled. “I know what you mean, it is creepy here.”
“Do you think it’s just our imagination, or are there actually evil things about?”
They sat in silence for a while, then Falcred turned to face her. “Gildinwen,” her name sounded awkward on his tongue, “I want to ask you something.”
She looked at him questioningly, “What is it?”
“Well, this business with the banner and the prophecy, do you really believe it?”
“Believe that if I carry the banner on the field then we’ll be undefeated?” she shrugged, “I have to admit that it doesn’t seem very likely.”
“But you’re still going to take it to Gil-galad?”
He sat up, looking more serious. “But why take it to the Elves? Why don’t you bring it to my Father? He’s a Lord of Gondor after all.”
A worried frown creased Gildinwen’s forehead, “But the Banner has to be carried for Lord Gil-galad, that’s what my House is sworn to.”
Falcred looked cross. “Have you ever even met an Elf?”
She was forced to admit that she had not.
“They’re haughty, cold, supercilious beings. Always twittering away in their own tongue. They don’t give two hoots for the likes of us.” He sneered bitterly, “They’ve only joined this Alliance because the Dark was getting too close for comfort.”
Gildinwen was shocked. “Why are you saying such things?”
“It’s not just me, most of the Men in Gondor feel the same. Elves!” he snorted, “What do we really know about them? Very little, and I don’t trust that. So, how about it?”
“About what?” she asked confusedly.
“About bringing the banner to my father, instead of some Elf you know nothing about.”
Gildinwen drew in a sharp breath to tell Falcred just exactly what she did know about Gil-galad, but then she thought better of it.
“I’m sorry Falcred,” she smiled sweetly, “the truth is I’m only doing this for my father. He made me promise, on his deathbed, to bring the Banner to Gil-galad.” She shrugged, “so you see, I have to.”
“Oh well,” he sighed, with a rueful grin. “It was worth a shot.” He looked seriously at her for a moment, “You know you can always find a place with us if you need one.”
“Thanks.” She smiled. It was comforting to know.
“Alright then,” he rose to his feet and stretched mightily, “I’m off to bed now. Don’t sit up here all night.”
During the second day, the land began to slope downwards, the grey soil becoming black, the going rocky and treacherous, the air full of dust and strangely tainted.
When they stopped that night, campfires were visible on the plain ahead of them.
“That’s the army.” Falcred was excited. “They’re not more than a few hours away. We’ll leave before dawn.”
His friends were more subdued, and the soldiers quiet. Whether it was the oppressive atmosphere, or apprehension, Gildinwen couldn’t tell. She looked out at the flickering lights for a long time, before sleeping. Beside one of those fires sat Gil-galad. Legendary Elf-Lord. This time tomorrow she would have spoken to him. She felt herself assailed by doubt. Am I going to look like a fool? Falcred’s right, what do I know about Elves and battles, except what I’ve read in books. What am I doing here? Then she thought about her father, dying cold and sick, far from home. That’s why you’re doing this, remember? She touched the Banner, still safely wrapped in its covering, and then slid her fingers up under her headscarf to feel the mithril band snug about her forehead. A warm feeling rose in her, coalesced into an energy, a purpose, a pride. Filthy and ragged she might be, but her blood was that of Amarnon - Faithful to the Last. She would carry the Banner into battle tomorrow, as so many of her forebears had done before her. ‘Even unto the last of his line’ That had been the oath and she would see it fulfilled, not just for her father, but for all the House of Amarnon.
They had been on the march for several hours by the time the sun started to peer feebly over the Mountains of Shadow. The wind was harsh and the dust terrible. Gildinwen’s mouth was coated with it, but her throat was too dry to spit. She sipped a mouthful from her waterskin, but there was very little left. They had passed no water fit to drink since leaving the river, and she had given most of what she had left to Loreglin that morning, along with one of the last two apples. He had nuzzled for the other one, smelling it in her pocket, but she told him it was for later. The light started to spread over the plain in front of them just as they descended the last of the slope. At the sight of the armies massed on the field a gasp went up from the company.
To their front was assembled the great force of the Alliance. On the flanks were the mighty armies of Men. The battle standards of Isildur and Arnor to the left, those of Anárion and Gondor to the right. Forests of silver spearheads glinted, the air above them alive with pennants. The sunlight span from bright helms and silver armour, soldiers shouted and clashed their weapons, while powerful war horses snorted and pawed the ground. In the centre was arrayed the full splendour of the Elven host – tall warriors with bright swords and armour green-gold in the dawnlight; horsemen on fast, light mounts, lances gleaming sharply; and archers, their arrows fletched with gold, and tipped with steel. On a rise overlooking all, two great banners lifted side by side in the breeze: the blood-red of Elendil, and the blue with silver stars of Gil-galad.
On the other side of the field, still in shadow, the dark mass of the enemy troops eddied and seethed. Banners flapped like hideous rags above the hidden faces of men whose armour and weapons shone only with blackness. Beside them, frightful bands of Orcs capered and slavered, their evil blades no less eager than their tongues for the taste of blood, their captains keeping them in line with biting whips and savage kicks. Horses they had also, black as night with eyes wild and teeth bared, and snarling wolves baying and straining at the lease. All around them an evil mist swirled, and over their heads ominous clouds gathered and roiled.
They had just finished their descent and were headed towards the rear of the right flank when the silver trumpets of the Elven host sounded, and a great roar went up from the multitude.
“They sound the charge!” shouted Falcred, slipping his fine helm over his head, and drawing his magnificent sword. “To arms! Follow me!” and he urged his horse forward between the ranks of soldiers, his entourage close behind. Lacking any other direction Gildinwen guided Loreglin to follow, Tom and his friends hard on their heels. The noise was deafening, all around the tramp of feet, the jangle of harness and the shouts of the men, as they pushed forward. The dust was bad and the light poor, and even from horseback Gildinwen could not make out much more than the soldiers in front of her. At first the going was difficult, a great crush amid terrible confusion, but soon the men began to spread out a bit and they advanced more quickly. From up ahead they could hear, although not yet see, the sound of combat. A dreadful cacophony of screaming and yelling, clashing and tearing. Over all the call of the trumpets again.
“What do I do now?” thought Gildinwen, bewildered. She looked around for Falcred but had lost sight of him in the heaving tumult.
Loreglin was having difficulty making way again, and she stuggled to press him on. The soldiers in front had stopped, and some of them had started to fall back.
“What’s happening?” she shouted to Tom. “Did they sound the retreat?”
“No!” he yelled back, “They’re wavering! Losing their nerve! The enemy is pressing us back!”
‘If you believe, they’ll believe’ The words of Sergeant Gillow sounded in her head. Then she seemed to hear her father’s voice. “Now is the time.”
Fear clawed at the walls of her stomach but she forced it down. This is what you came here for, Gil. Too late to change your mind now.
She hurried to undo the bindings holding the Banner to Loreglin’s saddle, fumbling with the heavy wrapping and tearing her nails further as she fought to strip off the thick cover. The sections of the staff were easily fitted together, and wrapping the strap securely around her left hand, she braced the end firmly against her thigh, all the while trying to push her horse forward through the melee.
She pulled open the tapes that held the banner folded, and its beautiful silk sighed open. There were no militia to march behind it, and it was left to the arm of a woman to carry it, but the battle standard of Amarnon was once more riding to war.
Tom and his friends looked at each other with awe. “It’s true.” they whispered.
In front of her a space opened. She dug her heels into Loreglin’s sides and he sprang forward at a gallop. She lifted the Banner, and as it caught the wind, it snapped open above her head, the ancient colours bright against the dark sky. She flung her cloak off behind her, tore the scarf from her head and ripped her sword from its scabbard. Her blood rose within her, as if crying out for the days of past glory when those of her house were counted among the heros of the land. Doubt was banished from her mind, and fear from her heart.
“Amarnon!” she cried, as Loreglin charged towards the front line. “Faithful to the Last!”
Around her the soldiers gasped and shouted as she appeared as if from nowhere. On her brow the band of mithril shone with its legendary starlight, her dark hair tossed about her head, in her hand Deanor’s sword glinted, and overhead streamed the colours of her House.
“The Banner of Prophecy!” she heard a cry.
Loreglin streaked like a flight of red-gold flame, his ears flat, his teeth bared - fierce as any warhorse.
Behind her she could hear more shouting, and the drumming of hooves.
“They’re coming!” yelled Tom from her shoulder.
She could spare no time to look back, the enemy lines were approaching fast. Out in front, a dark bearded man armed with a heavy axe was leading the assault. She set her horse straight for him and rode him down, slashing at his head as he fell. A shout went up from the ranks behind her. More enemy were now beneath her blade. She hacked and stabbed at them, seeing neither who nor what they were, while Loreglin plunged and kicked, screaming and snapping. Beside her Tom and his fellows were giving an equally good account of themselves. In their ears sang an awful storm of sound; in their nostrils cloyed the stink of blood, sweat and fear; and under their feet the cries of the injured were crushed on a ground foul with gore.
Gildinwen felt Loreglin lose his footing, and quickly kicked her feet from the stirrups, just managing to spring clear as he went down. Landing, she slid to her knees on the slick earth. A sword twitched narrowly above her head. Spinning round she disembowelled its owner, his blood soaking her. A second enemy soldier lunged for her, but fell with Tom’s lance in his chest. She lurched to her feet, levering herself up with the Banner, and planted it upright. Beside her was Will, also unhorsed, and together they faced the next two attackers. He cut his fellow down quickly, scarlet blood bright on the dark livery, and turned to aid her. She was facing a short heavyset man, his face hidden by a hideous mask, his weapons a lumpy mace and a flickering sword. He turned to Will, feinted with the sword, then brought the club down hard on his head.
“No!” Gildinwen screamed and thrust her blade deep under his arm. The blood sprayed out, covering her, as she wrenched her sword back.
Between one breath and the next it was over. Those of the enemy that were left alive fled back across the field. A cheer of victory tore through the ranks of the Alliance.
Gildinwen stood for a long moment, shell-shocked, her bloody sword limp in her hand. A moan from behind brought her to herself and she turned to see Tom, his jerkin dark with blood. Hastily she knelt beside him. His left leg was trapped under his fallen mount. He groaned horribly when she touched the thigh.
“It’s broken Tom, try not to move it.”
A nasty sword wound had pierced his shoulder, and he was weak from the loss of blood but it didn’t look to be life-threatening. Opening her medicine bag, she packed it with herbs to stem the bleeding and placed a wad of cloth over it.
“Hold that there,” she smiled reassuringly at him, “and don’t worry it’ll heal just fine.”
“What about the others?”
She looked about. Rufus was lying nearby. He was dead.
“I’m sorry Tom.”
His face was anguished. “He lived in my village. What am I going to say to his mother?”
Gildinwen felt tears in her own eyes. “Tell her that he died a hero, died saving his friends and fighting against the Dark.” ‘Small comfort though it might be’, she thought.
She found Will underneath the body of the masked man. He was unconscious, his scalp sticky with blood, and his breathing shallow – but he was alive. She dragged what coverings she could find from the corpses around her and wrapped him up as best she could. Of Loreglin there was no sign. She stood up to look back towards the lines of the Alliance, to see how best to get help for her injured comrades. There were few others nearby, their foray had been the furthest forward and they were almost isolated on the field, the enemy corpses being their most numerous companions.
Behind her, she heard a thundering. The last of those soldiers still at close quarters turned and ran. Just as she whirled to look she heard Tom scream.
It was. A band of about a dozen, mounted and riding straight for them.
“Run, my lady.” Tom’s voice was strangled with fear. She looked down at him, his eyes were wide, his face ghostly white.
She looked up. The enemy came on. At their head, a fearsome Captain crouched low over the neck of his obscene steed. A foul red tongue licked the scabrous lips of his snaggle-toothed mouth, and from the sides of his mangy skull sprouted pointed ears, hideous parodies of their Elven counterparts. By his side two loathsome lieutenants leered and slabbered.
Tom was sobbing with terror.
Strangely calm, she stepped forward and took up her blade again. Without a mount she had no hope to outrun the horses. Better to die here with her friends.
The awful horsemen were close enough to hear now, hissing and spitting. She stood tall, holding her sword at the ready, and stared defiantly into those terrible eyes. Let them see how the Amarnon die.
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.