Field of Battle, The: 6. Chapter Five: The Long Night

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6. Chapter Five: The Long Night



The enemy’s return was heralded by the signal of blaring horns sounded by the
guards who had taken watch across Lossarnach’s walls. For most of the day, they
had waited in place, certain that the enemy would return while within the city,
their comrades licked their wounds and prepared for the next wave of attack.
Though some deluded themselves into believing that the enemy’s departure the
night before was permanent, the more seasoned warriors in their number knew that
the retreat could be in no way seen as a victory. It was merely an interlude for
both sides to recoup their losses and rethink their strategy.

Aragorn had come to terms with the fact that the leader of the Easterling
Confederacy was an equal not merely in his kingship but as was very possibly a
warrior in his own right. After Gimli’s encounter with the man Aragorn was now
convinced was the architect of this entire war, the king of Gondor found himself
concerned that they had underestimated the enemy a great deal. All their
suppositions to date in regards to the enemy’s course were no longer valid. The
siege of Lossarnach was proof of that. Aragorn resolved that once the threat to
Lossarnach was dealt with, he would call another council of war between the
kings and lords of Middle earth in order to formalize a new plan of attack.
Clearly, the one they had was inadequate to the task of anticipating the enemy,
especially one who was proving to be as craft as this one.

The enemy appeared over the horizon and as Aragorn watch them approach the walls
of Lossarnach amidst the cacophony of voices mobilizing themselves throughout
the city for the ensuing battle, the king of Gondor with Legolas next to him,
ascertain quickly what would be the enemy’s plan of attack. In truth, there
could be no other alternative in the kind of war they were engaging for the
enemy knew just as well as Aragorn that they had to take Lossarnach before the
arrival of Gondor’s forces. The most expedient way to breach the walls of the
city was to burn it down around the heads of those defending it.

Aragorn’s breath caught when he saw the sky over the army of the Haradrim
emblazoned with amber light. There was no doubt in his mind what the enemy
intended when faced with the line of flame from one end of the battlefield to
another. Lossarnach was flanked on all sides save one by the mountains of Ered
Namrais. Part of its favour as an agrarian centre and a summer place for
Gondorian nobles was due to this protection. The mountains assured that
Lossarnach was always visited with pleasant weather but also ensured that an
invading army would have only one direction in which to assail the city.
Unfortunately, this direction was now barred with a wall of flame, to be
delivered upon the city by means of archers already taking up position.

It did Aragorn credit that the king had anticipated this and every drop of
water, save the barest minimum for drink had been marshalled into the resource
for the battling the inevitable tool of any siege, fire. Archers emblazoned the
field in a straight line that ran from one end of the horizon to the other. They
stood against a wall of soldiers armed with pikes that they were beating against
the ground in steady rhythm. Some were armed with ladders and ropes but what
caught Aragorn’s attention most was construction of wood that had been absent at
their first engagement. The reason for this was obvious enough; the Haradrim had
assumed they would have the element of surprise when taking Lossarnach.
Unfortunately, the fact that it was not so did not deter the Haradrim from a
more focussed attack.

During the battle of Pelennor, he had seen them employ the catapult like war
machine known as the trebuchet. It was easily built from good wood and required
the army wielding it to merely transport the components of elasticised ropes and
torsion springs instead of the complete device. Once the wood was found,
specialised engineers could construct it swiftly, often requiring little more
than a day to have the weapon ready for use. Once employed, it was a weapon
capable of devastating power. The enemy could burn Lossarnach around them while
battering its walls with rock until one or both methods forced them to yield.
Aragorn had expected the fire but he had not anticipated the use of the
trebuchet.

“We may not be able to keep them from entering the city,” Legolas declared,
staring at the device and the wagons carrying the heavy rocks that would make up
it ammunition in the rear of the army assembled before them. The archers were
the first of course and there was almost beauty in their formation on the front
lines but it was the beauty of watching some awesome phenomena doing its worst.
Its power could be admired but could not be mistaken for anything but terrible.

“We won’t,” Aragorn replied firmly, not deluding himself of this fact. “They may
breach the walls but there is still a good deal of city left for us to hold. If
it must be, we will find them in the streets and in the dwellings of Lossarnach.
The Haradrim are accustomed to fighting their battle on the open field where
else, we have enough experience fighting orcs and other foul things that we are
familiar in close quarters combat. They enter Lossarnach but they are going to
pay for every inch of city they invade with blood.”

Legolas did not speak because Aragorn was on the move again, this time rallying
the archers of Lossarnach to combat the new menace. Most of them had gathered at
the first sight of the enemy but it was clear arrows would not win this
engagement. Once again Legolas found himself facing an almost insurmountable
enemy, taking the line with other archers who tried to appear unaffected by what
was before them. His own mask remained aloof as he attempted to show them that
there was nothing to fear and even if there were, it would avail them nothing to
succumb to it. He could see their involuntary glimpses in his direction and that
of the other elves present and Legolas sensed that they looked to the Eldar to
bolster their spirit.

Not that Aragorn was not managing this quite efficiently, Legolas noted. The
king of Gondor stood at the edge of the wall, issuing orders, rallying his men
with words of praise at their courage, firing their spirit with his own iron
clad will. Despite the army preparing to attack, Legolas could see the faces of
Lossarnach’s defenders shifting from anxiety to angry determination not to fail
their king. There were kings who had ruled for a hundred years and never knew
the adulation Aragorn was inspiring in his troops as he held Anduril over his
head.

There was a moment of overwhelming silence when both armies waited across the
battlefield, sizing each other up in contest of scrutiny as old as the first
battle. None spoke during this curious limbo and even the drumming of spears and
pikes against the earth ceased for the duration. Aragorn searched the line of
the Haradrim for his nemesis but could not see him through the line of fire that
preceded the army before him. However, Aragorn was certain that he was there,
seeking his Gondorian opposite just as surely as Aragorn was trying to find him.
He abandoned his search when he saw the Haradrim archers preparing to shoot
their arrows.

“Shields!” Aragorn ordered and immediately the standing next to each archer on
the wall produced their shields and held them protectively over the bowmen and
themselves in tight, formation. Like a ripple on a pool, shields appeared like a
new wall of steel springing to live. Even Aragorn had produced one and held it
over himself and Legolas to protect them from the onslaught of fiery arrows.
There would be only a brief margin of time between the Haradrims’ first release
and their swift rearming. It was during that narrow gap that the archers of
Lossarnach would act.

Suddenly the battle cry of the Haradrim echoed through the night, shattering the
silence even further. A great wind of flame swept across the space between the
enemy and Lossarnach as the Haradrim line released their barrage of arrows after
long last. Fiery streaks of light shot through the dark sky like falling stars.
They did not fly towards the enemy on the wall but continued into the city where
its flames would do the most harm. The few that strayed from this predestined
course met the hard obstruction of steel and slid of the shields that guarded
the men behind it. As soon as the arrows were released, the defenders of
Lossarnach emerged from behind their shields and proceeded to deliver an equally
deadly attack in a return barrage of arrows.

A third of the Haradrim line collapsed beneath this deadly bombardment. The
death of their comrades did not slow the enemy and they resumed their assault
with similar vigour although the second wave of arrows was nowhere as numerous
as the first. This time however, the archers of Lossarnach did not retreat
behind their shields and continued to shoot, certain now that the enemy had
little interest in them and was determined to deliver as many flamed arrows to
the city in order to raze it. The Haradrim was in no way prepared to sacrifice
all its bowmen and an order in black speech sent the send wave of troops racing
forward, armed wit pikes and ladders.

Their advance had the desired effect upon the defenders who promptly directed
their arrows upon the warriors crossing the distance between Haradrim line and
the walls of the city. As the archers busied themselves with kerbing the advance
of the Haradrim, the rest of Lossarnach found their attention fixed upon the
fires that were breaking out throughout the city. The fires caused by the
arrows though small would soon find fuel to burn hotter and further out of
control. Roofs made of wood and thatched fibres were quick to ignite and a small
arrow if left to burn would soon bathed the whole building in flames.

Those who were not fighting the invasion on the walls were dispersing through
the innards of Lossarnach to combat the threat of fire that was spreading
quickly through the city. Smaller fires were being beaten to death with heavy
blankets in an effort to conserve water, while a human chain had formed from the
wells and water troughs to the fires that were raging beyond the capability of
any blanket to contain. They worked with great urgency amidst the thickening
smoke that was polluting the air around them and the clouds that were sweeping
through Lossarnach like an ill wind. Eyes watered and throats burned, the sound
of cackling fire was replaced by deep, whooping coughs of men determined to
prevail despite their assault by the flames.

Aragorn looked over his shoulder to see their progress and felt a swell of pride
in the fierceness of their determination. Some buildings were irrevocably lost,
their roof lighting like tinder, casting a fearsome glow of amber throughout the
place. Some were being beaten into submission, either by water or blanket. There
were people who were taking to using dirt to suffocate the flames, wielding
shovels as they fought desperately to keep the fires from spreading further.
Unfortunately, the king could allow his attention to stray but for only a moment
because the enemy had pushed forward, using their overwhelming numbers to reach
the walls.

However, Aragorn was conscious of an even worse threat as he stared at the army
before him. He paid little attention to the warriors attempting to scale the
wall with ladders and ropes because he knew that the defenders of Lossarnach
were cutting down any Haradrim making the attempt. No, his concern lay in the
weapon that had so far remained unused. He could see the engineers responsible
for its function swirling around the construct, loading it with the appropriate
ammunition. At first Aragorn thought that they were merely rocks but the
Haradrim had smeared them with something dark. He thought it might have been mud
but that made little sense to him.

“What are they doing?” Legolas asked, having caught Aragorn’s gaze.

“They are arming that thing,” Aragorn replied. “That much is certain but I am
uncertain of what they have treated the rocks.”

Their speculation ended but a moment later when one of the engineers raised a
torched to the seemingly mud encrusted boulder. It caught alight easily enough
and the fire spread across its irregular surface with surprising swiftness.

“Tar,” Aragorn exclaimed. “That is tar!”

The word had not left his lips when the mechanism was released and the boulder
encrusted with the black was hurled towards the city walls.

“Off the wall!” Aragorn was shouting, aware that in ordering the retreat, they
were leaving themselves to be over run. “Everyone, get off the wall!”
Unfortunately, once the boulder met its mark, it would make little difference
anyway.

Some had already seen what was coming and leapt off the high wall, not caring
that they might be injured in the leap but it was far wiser than remaining.
Others scurried down the steps away from the wall since it was difficult to
predict where the projectile would land. In the final analysis, such foresight
made little difference for when the bolder struck, the wall facing the enemy
shuddered and groaned as if it had voice to speak. The result was almost an
explosion as those who had not put sufficient distance between themselves and
the fall were flung outward like the debris of shattering rock. The impact of
the boulder immediately collapsed the section of wall in a cloud of smoke and
dust.

A fissure appeared through the wall as brick crumbled into dust. The boulder had
shattered when it had met the hard stone surface but its destruction produced an
even greater threat as fragments of rock, covered in tar sprayed the area with
fire. Those who had not died in the initial impact, who remained broken and
unable to move, were left to burn in unimaginable agony as they were covered
with fiery debris. Their comrades scrambled to aid them but there was little or
no time to draw breath before the newly created opening was spilling forth with
Haradrim warriors who had finally found their way inside Lossarnach’s perimeter.

And it was but the first strike from the insidious weapon.

Aragorn lost sight of Legolas after he had issued his warning but soon found the
elf helping one of the injured to his feet. The man had fortunately survived the
initial impact but was surrounded by fragments of burning debris and lay in the
path of the invading Haradrim. Gimli was already facing the enemy and was
bringing down anyone who came across his way with typical gusto. The elves had
also abandoned their bows and were now fighting with swords, engaging the enemy
with almost grace like skill. Nunaur was proving why he was the march warden of
Eden Ardhon for he was a terror to watch on the battlefield. His moves were
subtle and graceful, no over extensions or clumsy attempts at brute force but
rather short, controlled strikes that made the most impact and rarely needed to
deliver more than two before his opponent was a thing of the past.

It was of no surprise to Aragorn who had battled alongside of elves in one arena
or another through most of his life. During the War of the Ring, Legolas had
been one of his greatest assets on the field of battle; Gimli and he had made a
formidable team indeed. Aragorn watched briefly as the elf removed the wounded
warrior to a place of safety, though how long it remained that way was
debatable. The outcome he had feared was taking place – the battle for
Lossarnach would be fought within its walls, not beyond it.

Aragorn was prompted into moving when he saw a Haradrim warrior making his way
across the debris covered dirt towards Legolas, who was still busy with his
injured comrade and appeared not to have noticed the advance. A slight
stiffening in Legolas’ posture told Aragorn otherwise and he released one hand
to grope for his sword in order to defend himself. Aragorn could see that he
would not be able to react in time, especially when Legolas’ attention was half
given to the danger coming at him and the fate of the man in the grip of his
other hand.

Before he could think twice, Aragorn had launched himself off the edge of the
wall on top of the would-be assassin of his best friend. His weight brought down
the Haradrim warrior like a felled boar and Aragorn wasted no time smashing his
head against the ground, where he struggled no more. Legolas released a breath
at the near miss and acknowledged Aragorn’s aid with a slight nod of his head.
They had been comrades far too long to require any more than that. Aragorn rose
to his feet as Legolas left the injured man beneath the awning of a building
that had somehow managed to escape the onslaught of fire around them. The
structure seemed relatively safe and the men offered his thanks to the elf
before Legolas turned away to join Aragorn in battling the invading hordes
spilling through the orifice.

He had no more than taken two steps when suddenly, his ears filled with an
explosion of sound. A force that was not unlike that of a gale threw Legolas
forward. The elf face’s scraped dirt as his head swirled with disorientation and
the business of hearing become a muffled affair of dull pelting against the
ground. He opened his eyes and saw Aragorn running towards him, the king’s
expression one of fear. Legolas was confused for a moment, feeling no injury
except this odd heat upon his back. Only when Aragorn pulled off his coat and
draped it over the elf, did Legolas realise that his back was on fire. That his
hair had not ignited was a testament to Aragorn’s speed that prevented that
horrific outcome from taking place with his speedy action.

“Are you alright?” Aragorn demanded as he pulled the leather pack where Legolas
normally house his bow and his weapons. Fortunately, the pouch carrying the
arrows had bore the brunt of the damage which would have been a source of
intense gratitude to Legolas who would have surely grieved if Galadriel’s gift
to him were damaged.

“What happened?” Legolas asked only because his head was still spinning, though
if he had given it more thought the answer would have been fairly obvious.

Looking over his shoulder, Legolas saw the house when he had left the injured
man he rescued had been completely levelled. The Haradrim weapon had smashed
through its foundations and what it did not set ablaze, it crumbled around the
man’s ears in a swift and final end. All there was in place of a building was a
pile of flaming debris, almost like a funeral pyre. Of the man, there as no sign
and Legolas felt a sliver of pain knowing that his body was buried beneath the
destruction. The elf only hoped that his death had been quick.

“That is twice you have saved me,” Legolas said softly, his voice somewhat dazed
as Aragorn helped him to his feet.

“I am certain that there will be ample opportunity this day for you to return
that debt,” the king replied as his eyes surveyed the damage being caused by the
Haradrim construct beyond the walls of the city. Enemy warriors were flooding
into Lossarnach with fierce fighting taking place in almost every corner.
Amidst this already difficult battle, another was being waged against the fires
that were quickly enveloping anything in its path. The militia was battling this
equally dangerous enemy with every resource at their disposal and the division
of forces was hurting the defence of Lossnarch.

“We have to stop that accursed device,” Legolas declared once he had recovered
sufficiently. The bombardment continued relentlessly, until the explosion of
sound with each impacting boulder was something they were becoming accustomed
to. This barrage was proving to be more detrimental than the great numbers of
Haradrim they were facing. Walls were crumbling with each impact, buildings
destroyed in spectacular explosions that promised everyone present that if the
Haradrim did not take Lossarnach, they would still leave it in ruins.

Aragorn considered that and searched the bodies around him to note that there
was a great deal of Haradrim warriors fighting their way into the city. Their
thoughts seemed focussed on little else. He made a swift calculation of how
many were within his city and wondered if the idea forming in his mind was
sensible or not. As king, he should be here leading his people but if this
bombardment continued, there would be nothing left of Lossarnach or its people
to defend.

“I think you are right,” Aragorn met his gaze. “Care to join me?”

Legolas’ dirt smeared face broke into a smile and he stared at the opening where
more and more warriors were making their way into the city. “It is a perilous
course,” he advised, “we should tread cautiously.”

“You are correct Master Elf,” Aragorn retorted, grasping his meaning
immediately. “We should make Gimli come with us.”

*************


The destruction that had seemed overwhelming when one was within the walls of
Lossarnach, seemed even worst when the three of the nine walkers slipped past
the bodies of Haradrim racing to take the city, oblivious to everything else. Of
course it did help that all three were accustomed to stealth and travelling
unseen through the most hostile of places. If it were not for this talent, none
of them would have survived the Quest of the Ring even if it had ended
prematurely at the falls of Rauros. They moved in darkness, taking advantage of
the fact that all eyes were drawn naturally to the illumination of the fires
that were running rife through Lossarnach and not the surrounding darkness.

There were enemies encountered on the way, opponents who did not look too
closely at them or wonder in depth why they had ventured so far from their other
comrades, recognising only that they were the enemy. The three walkers dealt
with these swiftly, allowing nothing to deter them in their journey. Aragorn
cast his gaze over his shoulder during the advance and felt his stomach hollow
at the sight of the Lossarnach whose wounds seemed even more grievous from the
distance. Columns of thick smoke rose into the night sky, pillars of grey that
pierce the heavens themselves. In the brief glimpse he could hear the cries of
the wounded amidst the clanging of steel and found that it was necessary to
harden his heart or else he could not do what must be done if they were to
survive the night, let alone the siege.

The weapon that had allowed the enemy its great advantage was still sending
fireball towards the city and with impact and exploding sound, defeat inched
even closer than before. If the three of them did not put an end to the
accursed device, there would be no Lossarnach to defend, just demolished ruins
breathed in fire. Aragorn could accept it if they were defeated by overwhelming
numbers for he knew that each any every one of Lossarnach’s defenders were
fighting with honour. However, losing because a construct of wood and steel left
a sour taste in his mouth.

It was not difficult to find the weapon or its masters once the Haradrim
warriors had dispersed into the conquest of Lossarnach. Unmistakable in its
construction, they saw at least a dozen men gathered around the weapon, either
taking part in its operation or preparing the ammunition with tar and fire for
its eventual release upon the beleaguered city. The enemy did not pay much heed
to their approach at first, assuming that they were part of the Haradrim number.
The darkness aided in this confusion and three walkers were quite adept at
stealthy approaches to be able to remain anonymous until the last possible
moment.

However, the moment was brief because the Haradrim gathered around the weapon
may have been engineers but they were also warriors and it was inevitable that
they recognised the three men approaching were not of their own. All abandoned
what they were doing as they raced forward to deal with this sudden threat and
found that their opponents were more than accustomed to waging a three man army
when the mood took them. Sword, bow and axe were proven to be formidable
weapons in the hands of master wielders as Aragorn dispatched the first Haradrim
to reach him with a swift slice across his belly. Armour or not, Anduril saw
little difficulty in penetrating it and dropped the Haradrim in midstep. The
king of Gondor did not even pause before moving on to the next challenger.

Legolas who was capable of arming a bow and killing his enemy when he was but a
few paces away, made swift work of any Haradrim who might have attempted to
accost Aragorn while he was defending himself. The king had done him several
good turns this evening and Legolas intended to see that debt paid. With almost
flawless grace, he repeated the motion of rearming his bow and shooting arrows
in almost cyclical rhythm. Within minutes, Legolas had formed a circle of bodies
around him all the way to the trebuchet.

While Aragorn and Legolas battled the machine’s masters, Gimli approached the
device itself. Like Aragorn, he had recognised the construct from the battle of
the Pelennor. To a dwarf, the weapon was functional but hardly sophisticated.
He examined it as one would examine the crude efforts of a novice smith, seeing
potential in the flaws but obviously in need of greater instruction. Dwarves,
who were unimaginably gifted when it came to working either metal or wood, had
little time to build weapons. Of course their axes and blades were the finest to
be crafted anywhere in Middle earth. Some were even considered works of art but
their innovation seldom lent itself to their weapons. Though they enjoyed battle
and relished victory, they did not actively seek it out.

Gimli required only a few moments of examination to come to the conclusion that
the weapon was easy enough to disable. He had to admire its simplicity but in
that asset was also its weakness. As easy as it was for it to perform its
function, it was also ludicrously easy to render ineffective. Stepping forward,
he examined the elasticised ropes that acted as the levering mechanism for the
construct and knew that this was the pivotal component. Swinging his axe, the
blade made a neat arc through the air before it struck the fibres of the rope,
snapping it with such force that they recoiled like whips. The main arm of the
catapult suddenly gave way and slammed hard against the ground, unearthing tufts
of soil in its landing. Gimli repeated this action on the hinges as well until
all the components that made the device work lay in ruins.

“Is it done?” Legolas asked after Gimli had concluded his task.

“It will menace Lossarnach no further,” the dwarf retorted grimly.

“It did enough,” Aragorn said unable to be grateful when all he could see in the
distance was the damage done to the city. The fires were raging out of control
and even if they manage to defend Lossarnach until Faramir arrived with the rest
of Gondor’s forces, there was every possibility that there may be little left of
the city.

”Come,” he ushered his companions, “we must get back. There is still much to
do.”

To this, none of his companions could disagree. Despite the destruction of the
device that was causing so much damage to Lossarnach, the danger was by no small
means ended. There were still too many Haradrim warriors in the city and the
fires ensured that the men who should be fighting them were otherwise occupied
in trying to save the city. Aragorn led the journey back to Lossarnach,
satisfied that his absence away from its defence had been well worth the effort.


However, as they made their returned to the city, a dozen or more Haradrim
warriors emerged from the breach in the wall with great speed. It took no feat
of genius to discern that the reason for their hasty departure was due to the
fact that the construct was no longer bombarding Lossarnach with its fiery
ammunition nor did it take them long to discover who was responsible for it.
The enemy fixed their eyes upon the trio whose return path ensured that they
could not have from any other direction other than the weapon. The realisation
inspired the warriors to rush forward, brandishing their weapons in readiness to
strike.

Legolas halted in midstep, seeing no reason to wait until the enemy reached them
to attack. The elf was already arming his bow and taking aim when the first of
the Haradrim swung his blade to strike. The arrow struck him in the chest,
forcing him to stagger back in pain and impending death for Legolas knew where
the arrow would do its worst. The lord of Eden Ardhon wasted no time in
releasing another arrow and with the skill for which he had become renowned
throughout Middle earth, dispatched a further three before his companions were
forced to engage the enemy themselves.

While not quite possessing Legolas’ finesse in defending himself, Aragorn did
strike fear into the hearts of his opponents by the brutal and precise wielding
of his sword. Blade met blade with such force that the enemy was driven back.
It was not that Aragorn was stronger or more imposing in stature, he merely knew
how to strike with great effect. While his rancour in battle might be confused
for a frenzied attack, those who knew him and were accustomed to this
swordsmanship knew that every strike had a purpose that would ultimately
demolish whatever defence position his opponent may deign to take.

Unfortunately, during the course of the battle the triumvirate which had thus so
far proved so useful was unwittingly divided. While each were able to hold their
own against the enemy, Aragorn found himself drifting further and further away
from his companions. Deciding that this was not entirely the best time to become
divided, the king defeated his latest opponent and sought to rejoin his comrades
when suddenly a dark shape slipped in front of him almost as if he had stepped
out of the shadows.

Aragorn knew immediately whom he was facing, remembering Gimli’s description all
too well. He was taller than Aragorn but the king was able to say with some
measure of satisfaction that the man was nowhere as large as a troll, though he
was sizeable to say the least. He stared at Aragorn with flinty eyes, trying to
dissect his counterpart in a few seconds of scrutiny. He was not of the race of
Haradrim but certainly originated from the Sunlands.

Gimli had been correct when he said that Melia was a hybrid of two races. This
man before him was the pure product without question. Like the Haradrim
warriors, he wore the customary spiked helmet and corselet of bronze. However,
Aragorn noticed the symbol of the black serpent was adorned upon the alloy of
the breastplate. Unlike the other Haradrim, this one wore no paint upon his face
and his dark hair, tight with curls was worn short against his scalp, save for a
thick braid of hair that was held in place by gold running down the back of his
neck.

“You lead this army?” Aragorn asked with absolute certainty that this man was
king.

“I do,” he nodded sombrely, the weapon in his hand brandished and ready.

“You have proven to be most elusive,” Aragorn remarked, noting the action and
making the same preparations.

“I intended it to be as such,” the tall, dark man of the Sunlands answered.

”Now that you are here, may I know to whom I speak?” The king of Gondor asked of
his Haradrim counterpart.

The enemy’s brow arched at the question, “is that so important?”

“To me it is,” Aragorn replied.

“Then I refuse because it matters to you so much,” he sneered, his eyes
narrowing at Aragorn in contempt.

“It does not have to come to this,” Aragorn replied unperturbed, thinking
himself remiss if he did not at least try to talk peace now that he finally had
the leader of the Easterling Confederacy before him. In truth, he knew it would
make little difference but he had been the responsible leader for too long to
not even try.

“I expected better from you King of Gondor,” the warrior king glared at Aragorn
with something akin to impatience, “not this pathetic grovelling.”

Aragorn stiffened at the inference but allowed the man’s words to slide off him
like water upon a fowl’s back. “I do not grovel for my sake,” he stared at the
Haradrim king with a hint of contempt, “but rather for yours. Your people cannot
afford to wage war against mine.”

“And yet we have managed well enough this evening,” his opponent retorted.

“You have only managed because you have employed the element of surprise and
caught us unprepared. We will not make the same mistake again,” Aragorn replied
firmly.

“Your arrogance will be your undoing,” the enemy hissed and raised his scimitar
to strike. “It will be my pleasure to teach you how.”

With that, the civilities, what little there were, ended when the Haradrim swung
his weapon at Aragorn who immediately deflected the blade with Anduril’s own
formidable strength. Steel clanged loudly as the two warriors met on the field,
prepared to fight to the death if necessary. In the darkness of twilight, their
kingly titles were stripped away and they faced each other in the only way two
men of differing loyalties could. Initially, both opponents met each other with
exploratory strikes to determine skill and ability. Aragorn found that his
opponent was stronger and preferred to end his engagements swiftly through brute
force. It was very much a Haradrim characteristic but it was tempered with the
skill of a master swordsman, which made him very dangerous indeed.
Aragorn preferred to strike defensively, until he had a better inkling of the
Haradrim’s strategy. He parried a sharp thrust of the enemy’s blade and riposte
swiftly, forcing the man to take a few steps backwards. Rage flared in his as
Aragorn saw how much he loathed being forced to withdraw for any reason. This
retreat only forced the Haradrim to swing even more powerfully at Aragorn who
once again caught the blow before it could do any real harm. However, as their
swords made contact, Aragorn lashed out with his foot, the ball of it connecting
to the enemy’s stomach.

A groan of pain escaped the Haradrim king whose response to this was to swing
wildly and with such power that if Aragorn had not dropped, he would have lost
his head there and then. Forcing to avoid such a savage attack had placed him in
a position of disadvantage that his opponent was quick to exploit. A knee
slammed into Aragorn’s chest, driving the wind out of him as he landed flat on
his back. He looked up just in time to see a blade coming down upon him and
Aragorn rolled quickly out of the way before he kicked hard against his enemy’s
knee and scrambled to his feet. Giving him little time to react, Aragorn took
the offensive and swung Anduril with all the might he could manage.

The Haradrim deflected the blow but just barely. Aragorn did not allow him time
to recover and threw a fist in his face. The man shook of the strike and then
leapt to his feet with surprising agility to face Aragorn again. Once again,
they came together in the dance of clashing steel. Both were well matched and as
they battled each other alone and far away from the eyes of their warriors, it
felt as if the war had suddenly contracted to this singular engagement.

However, Aragorn could see that the Haradrim was unaccustomed to a protracted
swordfight while he had been in situations where he had been called to continue
fighting for days. It was understandable of course. Even during the War of the
Ring, the enemy was accustomed to striking in numbers where a swift victory was
anticipated. Sauron only used his orcs and Uruk Hai for sustained warfare.
Having battled them for so long, Gondor and Rohan knew how to last in such
tournaments and now more than ever, it was a skill worth its weight in gold.

“You fight well King of Gondor,” the enemy hissed. “The tales of your skill are
not unfounded.”

“If this is your attempt to curry favour for mercy, I am afraid that you
exhausted that possibility when you butchered the people of Lebethron.”

“A means to an end,” he grinned, white teeth contrasting starkly against dark
lips. He swung again with Aragorn blocking the strike easily, however the
Haradrim also lashed out with a massive hand and struck the king across the jaw.


Aragorn staggered a little but did not suffer any ill effects other than pain
and momentary disorientation. He shook off the pain and weaved neatly past the
Haradrim when the enemy came at him again. Slamming an elbow into the man’s rib,
he felt some measure of satisfaction in the groan of pain that was produced.
Allowing himself no break in his relentless attack, Aragorn kicked him in the
back and sent the enemy sprawling into the dirt. The Haradrim landed face first,
his body causing a small cloud of dust as he landed. Aragorn hurried forward
preparing to end this battle once and for all when suddenly a fist full of dirt
was flung in his face.

The king of Gondor cursed indignantly as his eyes reacted instinctively to the
unwanted invasion by clamping shut, locking out sight. Aragorn retreated
hastily, aware that he had a precious few seconds to recover this cowardly
attack or else as far as he was concerned, the war would well and truly be over.
It was difficult to see through the welling moisture in his eyes but he was
able to make out the shape of the Haradrim king approaching him, sword
brandished and ready to deliver a killing blow. Aragorn struggled to offer some
kind of defense despite his handicap when suddenly, he saw the enemy groan in
pain. An arrow had suddenly speared through this arm, its sharp point jutting
out through flesh in Aragorn’s direction. The Haradrim king swung around and
saw the approach of Legolas and Gimli who had despatched their opponents and
then realised quite to their shock that Aragorn was nowhere in sight.

“This is not done,” the enemy hissed as he glared hatefully at Aragorn and then
at Legolas, “my people will bathe Middle earth in blood before this is over and
I promise your pet elf is going to pay dearly for his part in this.”

With that, the king of the Easterlings fled into the darkness.

************

When Legolas and Gimli finally arrived at Aragorn’s side, the king of Gondor had
sufficiently regained most of his vision, though his eyes still stung from the
invasion by dirt. The Easterling leader had fled, obviously unwilling to face
the combined strength of Aragorn and his companions. Aragorn searched the field
and saw little sign of the man who had most likely hurried back to the battle of
Lossarnach where he could lose himself in the numbers of his people.

“Did you see where he went?” Aragorn demanded of Legolas whose vision and senses
were far superior to his own, even when it was not half blind from sand.

“I saw him return to the city,” Legolas replied smoothly.

“We must find him!” Aragorn exclaimed and started making forceful strides
towards Lossarnach.

“Why?” Legolas asked with some measure of confusion.

“I think he may have been the opponent I faced earlier,” Gimli answered for
Aragorn, grasping the truth far swifter because the shape that had hurried away
after Legolas had put an arrow in it was decidedly familiar.

“The Haradrim king?” Legolas declared with surprise. He had been so concerned
with stopping the man from killing Aragorn that he had thought of little else
except halting the progress of that swinging blade. Perhaps he should not have
been more final in his action.

“It was him,” Aragorn hissed almost inaudibly. “He would not do me the courtesy
of giving me his name.”

Legolas could sense the fury in his friend as Aragorn hurried back to the
beleaguered city. He wondered what had transpired during the engagement between
the two rivals that could incense the King of Gondor so. After all, war despite
its ability to spear through the heart of everyone it touched was still a highly
impersonal affair between kings. It was often based on issues that had little to
do with the men who wore the crowns but rather the events that transpired
between them. Yet there was something personal in the manner Aragorn had emerged
from his encounter with the Haradrim king. He hastened his pace to catch up
with Aragorn but the king was moving rapidly off the field, fired by anger and
matters that Legolas was not privy.

“Let him go,” Gimli advised. “He will tell us later what took place between
them.”

Legolas nodded sombrely and was about to comment further when his senses were
drawn elsewhere. He could feel it pressing against his awareness but it lacked
the edge of danger. He drifted away from Gimli for a moment, staring into the
horizon, watching in anticipation. Gimli saw the gleam in his eye, having
travelled long enough at the side of the Prince to know what significance it
had.

“What is it?” Gimli asked, following Legolas’ gaze.

“Someone is coming,” Legolas replied, still staring.

A few more seconds elapsed and it bore into Gimli’s patience when it appeared
that they were staring at nothingness but then like a soft rumble against the
ground, the dwarf felt the resonance travel through the soles of his boots into
his bones. It was soft at first. Barely discernible because of the noise coming
from the battle within Lossarnach was overwhelming all other sound. However, it
soon took on a life of its own and grew until it matched easily the commotion
emanating from the battle. When it became loud enough to hear clearly, Gimli
recognised it immediately for what it was.

Horses.

Leading the way on the darkened horizon, Faramir appeared with the Rohirrim and
Gondorian cavalry behind him. It was difficult to tell how many they were but
their numbers were many, enough to fill both Legolas and Gimli with gratitude
because at last they reinforcements they needed so badly would help turn the
tide of the battle. The defenders had been holding their own for almost two
nights and while they had fought bravely, the losses that the Haradrim had
inflicted upon them were considerable. The fires were threatening to consume
the whole of Lossarnach and not even their valiant efforts could save the city
when they being were assailed by two enemies.

It did not take long for the reinforcements to reach the city and once they did,
the battle ended swiftly. The Haradrim, realising that the defenders were now
aided with the support of the Rohirrim and the Gondorian cavalry had bade a
hasty retreat. Although a sizeable number of them had been killed in the battle,
there were still enough of them to cause considerable mischief if they were not
pursued. Unfortunately, the arrival of Faramir had only brought enough support
to drive away the invaders, not to give chase. That action could wait until
Imrahil arrived with the ground troops.

Aragorn had searched desperately for the leader of the Haradrim but upon his
return to Lossarnach, he saw no sign of the man whom he had battled to
stalemate. Their encounter had proven to Aragorn that unless this formidable
warrior was either reasoned with or killed, the war would never end. The hatred
in his eyes told Aragorn that he would never cease to consider the Reunified
Kingdom and its allies as anything but enemies. As the enemy left the walls of
Lossarnach, Aragorn was determined that as soon as it was possible, they would
set out after the Haradrim army. He had not said to Legolas the threat made by
the Easterling king regarding Legolas and his people because he intended to
engage the army before they could take out their vengeance on Eden Ardhon for
their defeat at Lossarnach.

Despite the end of the fighting, the battle was by no means ended. Once Faramir
and the riders with him had ensured that the Haradrim had gone completely from
the area, they returned to join the equally important battle to save Lossarnach
from the flames caused by the siege. They worked long and hard into the night,
salvaging what they could but unfortunately, the destruction was far too grave
and insidious to prevent the loss of many of Lossarnach’s homes. By the time
the dawn broke over the horizon, much of Lossarnach appeared decimated. Very
little still stood even though they could claim the charred ground the city
stood upon as still being a home for one of Gondor’s older fiefdoms.

“The people of Lossarnach will not have much of a homecoming,” Aragorn lamented
as he stood with Faramir at one of the structures that had been made into a
place of rest following the breaking of dawn when the flames had finally been
quelled.

Faramir swept his gaze around his immediate surroundings and was sad to find
agreement with his king. The air smelt of smoke and cinders, while the walls of
the Lossarnach were charred black. There was not an inch of space on the ground
that was not covered with ash or charred cinders. The blackened framework was
all that was left of some buildings. Its determination to stand was a monument
to futility when all else around it had been burned away. Men wandered about,
their heads bent low and their faces a gamut of emotions, shock, anger, despair
and relief, a veritable cornucopia of feelings that Faramir could empathise
with.

“At least it is still here,” Faramir replied, trying to soothe his king’s
inevitable feeling of failure. Aragorn took defeats much too hard, particularly
when it was to the detriment of his people. “They can rebuild.”

Aragorn stared at the destruction and swallowed away the feelings of guilt that
were climbing up his throat from his insides, threatening to make him useless to
all who needed him. “As soon as Imrahil is here, we will leave here and find
them.”

“Find them or him?” Faramir asked slyly, aware of the encounter with the
Haradrim king.

Aragorn looked at him sharply, “we have to find him and we have to kill him. If
we do not, this will never end. They will never be satisfied with peace.”

“How can you be sure?” Faramir inquired, sensing some unspoken anxiety that
Aragorn was reluctant to voice.

“I can be sure because I looked into his eyes Faramir and what I saw there
concerns me greatly. This whole invasion is because of him. They love him and
they will follow him into any battle, do anything that they ask of him. Do you
know how great such power is?”

“Yes,” Faramir nodded, often thinking that Aragorn had that kind of strength
that naturally drew people to him. “I do.”

“His hate for us is personal and I do not think that he be willing to endure any
peace, so long as the Reunified Kingdom exists and this defeat will only make
that rage burn even greater. What I feared the most for Legolas has come to
pass, the enemy had decided that the elves are to be warred upon like the rest
of us.”

“You think that they will move upon Eden Ardhon?” Faramir asked, wishing he
could say something that dispelled Aragorn’s fears but he could not.

“I do not think,” Aragorn said with a sigh, “I know.”

*************

Lothiriel had made a difficult choice when she had elected to remain in Edoras
instead of returning home to Dol Amroth.

Because she was neither wife nor the betrothed of King Eomer, her status was
regarded with some measure of confusion within the Golden Hall. As it was, she
was under some ignominy because she had ignored the protocols that required her
to be at home with her parents instead of unchaperoned in the realm of a
potential suitor. However, Lothiriel knew in her heart that she loved Eomer and
saw no reason to be cloistered away from him when he needed her most. Edoras,
like the rest of the Reunified Kingdom was under threat and she saw no reason to
leave the place she may some day dwell permanently as its queen.

During Eomer’s absence, Lothiriel spent much of her time in the suite of rooms
that had become her home away from home since her arrival in Edoras. While the
people in the palace treated her well enough, she knew that they viewed her with
deep scrutiny as they tried to decide whether or not she was a proper match for
their beloved king. Until Eomer returned and her position in his life more
secure, Lothiriel was content to remain out of their purview, even though she
ventured occasionally from the palace to see for herself how life progressed in
Edoras.

It was a very different place from Dol Amroth and yet so alike at the same time.
The chief business in Edoras was the sale of horses. Much of the commerce that
took place in the city involved the cottage industry that had blossomed in the
wake of Rohan’s fame as the breeding ground for Middle earth’s best horses.
During the dark years when Sauron still walked among them, even Mordor had
desired the horses of Rohan and had stolen them when the Golden Hall had refused
to sell them to such a terrible fate. Since the fall of Sauron and Mordor, the
security afforded by the Reunified Kingdom had prompted people’s desire to see
lands that were once forbidden to them. This need for travel had caused people
to seek out swifter means of travel and to that end; Rohan’s horses were eagerly
sought.

Lothiriel had never been much of a rider which was part of the reason she seldom
left home and was virtually unknown to her cousins in Gondor. However, if she
were to be Eomer’s wife, Lothiriel realised she would have to learn. Her first
few weeks in Edoras had been spent riding and now she was comfortable enough to
ride alone. Since Eomer had left Edoras, Lothiriel had continued her efforts to
become more comfortable in the saddle and one of her practices had in the
morning was to take a ride in the magnificent horse plains surrounding Edoras.

“I am more than capable of riding on my own captain,” Lothiriel said impatiently
as she rode through the field of tall grass with three Rohirrim guards.

“I am more than aware of that my lady,” Vorigen, the captain of the guard at the
Golden Hall replied smoothly. He remembered with some fondness how his
predecessor would have the same conversation with Lady Eowyn when she resided in
Edoras and considered himself fortunate that Lothiriel was nowhere that
spirited. “However, we have not received any word from the king in a number of
days and following the intelligence of the Rangers that there is something odd
in the behaviour of the Dunlendings they observed, I would prefer not to risk
your safety.”

“He is well,” Lothiriel stated firmly, determined not to take Vorigen’s words
about Eomer’s silence as a sign of ill tidings regarding her love’s fate.

“Of course he is,” Vorigen answered with genuine belief. “I do not believe that
the King could survive the War of the Ring only to fall prey to Dunlendings
rogues. He will return soon enough with their heads at the end of his sword.”

“A disturbing picture,” Lothiriel said with a slight frown, “but I think you are
right.”

They rode through the idyllic terrain, admiring the majesty of the White
Mountains in the background of Edoras as it sat high upon the hill, overlooking
the horse plains and the grasslands. It was a pleasant day with the sun shining
enough warmth for it to be enjoyable but not uncomfortable. There was a faint
trace of dried grass and pollen in the air which did not affect her as much as
she thought it would. Lothiriel ran her hand over the neck of her horse, earning
a slight nicker of satisfaction from the steed and was pleased that she was
developing something of a relationship with the best who was called Star because
of the white flare shaped in a star on the bridge of his nose.

“I have been in the service of the Golden Halls for almost a decade my lady,”
Vorigen smiled, “I am accustomed to seeing the king returning when we believed
the worst.”

“I will trust your judgement….”Lothiriel started to say but never managed to
finish the sentence because a spear burst through Vorigen’s chest and splattered
Lothiriel with blood. Lothiriel screamed in fright as Vorigen tumbled from the
saddle, dead before he even touched the ground. They appeared out of the grass
as if they had been hiding there waiting. Her other two escorts immediately
unsheathed their swords to attack but were of little match for the scouting
party that had unwittingly crossed their path. Lothiriel counted at least six
men who were obviously Dunlending tribesmen. She had never seen one before but
the descriptions of this warlike barbarian race left no doubt in her mind of
their identity.

“It’s a scouting party!” One of the Rohirrim warriors exclaimed.

They felled the two warriors with her easy enough and turned their gaze to the
young women, their eyes narrowing with sinister intent. It was all the incentive
Lothiriel needed to dig her heels into the flanks of her anxious horse and set
the beast running. However, they were anticipating her flight and as she felt
the wind in her hair at her sudden departure and dared to hope at her escape,
Star’s head reared up in pain. Lothiriel last thought before she was thrown out
of the saddle was the arrow that had embedded itself into the animal’s hide.

She hit the dirt hard and felt her shoulder ache in pain at the landing but
suffered no more injuries than that. The lady was grateful for that one
consolation though she did not believe for an instant that she was safe.
Scrambling to her feet, she saw them approach her slowly, stalking her like a
pack of wolves about to converge upon a helpless fawn. She saw them lick their
lips in anticipation, the sneers across their dirt covered face and knew that it
was a far worse fate then death that awaited her if she did not get away from
them this instant.

“This can be done with great pain or this can be done easily my pretty,” one of
them spoke as he leered at her with blatant lust.

“Cur,” Lothiriel hissed feeling a surge of venom coursing through her. “You will
not lay one hand upon me, not unless you wish to die.”

“You are a spirited one,” he grinned and Lothiriel’s cheeks flamed with outrage
when the others laughed.

She saw them approaching and knew her window of opportunity was dwindling
quickly. Closing her eyes, she could think of only one way to protect herself.
Since the incident with the shape shifters, her devotion to magic had lessened
because she knew how dangerous the world of spells could be after seeing its
mischief first hand. However, she had also been responsible for breaking the
terrible spell that had overcome the minds of Middle Earth’s rulers. Following
that day, she found her ability had improved much and while she would never be
an Istar like Gandalf or Pallando, Lothiriel knew enough to save herself from
situations like this.

She searched her mind quickly for the spell required and spoke the incantation
quickly, all the time preparing herself to run because she did not know how much
of a delay it would provide, if any at all if she failed. The words halted the
Dunlending in their tracks because they were a superstitious lot and they
recognised its substance even if they did not understand its content. They
started to retreat in fear but Lothiriel was no longer paying attention; her
mind was too fixed upon the spell she was reciting.

She heard them scream and did not listen, hardening her heart to their cries as
they became more desperate. Even Star, who lay wounded on the ground was
neighing in distress, its animal senses more attuned to the magic than even
Lothiriel herself. The lady of Dol Amroth continued her invocation until the
voices were silent and the spell had finally spoken its last. When she opened
her eyes, she found herself alone.

Aware that there could be only one cause of this, she ambled forward shakily,
her eyes searching the grassy plains until she caught sight of the new patches
of bare dirt. Fingers protruded from the newly turned soil, clawing at the air
like a man drowning in a lake, only this one was made of sand not water.
Lothiriel felt as if she would retch, knowing that she had killed these men but
the guilt over their deaths passed by quickly when she remembered what one of
her escorts had said before he was killed.

A scouting party.

If these men were the scouts, where then were the rest of their company?

Lothiriel started running, leaving her injured horse behind because she realised
unless she returned to the Golden Hall and warn them of what she knew, Edoras
was going to learn the hard way.







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.

Story Information

Author: Scribe

Status: General

Completion: Complete

Era: 3rd Age - Post-Ring War

Genre: Action

Rating: Adult

Last Updated: 04/07/03

Original Post: 04/03/03

Go to Field of Battle, The overview

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