14. The Muster
"My lords." Gil-galad stood to face the crowd, and his deep voice reached every corner of the packed company. "This morning we begin preparation for the Siege of Barad-dûr. We cannot attack and take the Lord Sauron in his stronghold, so we must force him from it. He can hold out long, but not forever. Nothing shall be allowed into that Citadel, and nothing shall pass out."
He pointed to the map.
"Mount Orodruin. Less than ten leagues from the western gate of Barad-dûr. The seat of the Dark Lord's power. In the cracks of fire at the summit of this mountain he forged the Ruling Ring with which he holds sway, and it is here that its power is greatest. We can be sure that he will attempt to reach it. He must not do so."
He looked round slowly, and with great gravity. "At all costs, Sauron must be kept from Orodruin." He turned back to the map. "There are two great gates to the Black Tower, one to the North, and the other facing West. From the Western gate issues the road that leads to Orodruin. For almost a league on either side, it is protected by great pits filled with fire and smoke. The North gate meets the road from the Isenmouthe. Barad-dûr must be surrounded on all sides by our forces. They must be vigilant and impenetrable. The gates and the roads in particular must be watched. Lord Elendil, and his son Isildur will command the army to guard the North and East. I, with Anárion, will hold the West and South."
As he spoke their names, each of the sons of Elendil stepped forward and bowed to the assembly.
"Círdan will be my second-in-command."
The tall Elf lifted his head proudly, his white hair gleaming against the colours of Gil-galad's house.
"Defences must be constructed to protect our soldiers against bombardments from the walls and towers of the fortress. For the task of undertaking these siegeworks, I have appointed Farin, son of Thrain, from the land of Moria."
He stretched out his hand, and from between the tall Elven warriors a sturdy dwarf strode forth. His knotted black beard was streaked with grey, and his marvellously crafted armour looked as though is was grown on. A great shield was slung from his shoulder, a heavy leather apron covered his thighs, and from his belt hung both a great, sharp axe and a heavy hammer. He looked about himself proudly, before giving a curt bow and moving to stand beside Círdan.
"Master Farin tells me," continued Gil-galad, "that although the ground does not easily lend itself to digging, there are many natural features that can be utilised for defences, and within a matter of weeks he and his artificers can create a suitable network of mines and trenches." He turned to the dwarf, "The supplies of tools and building materials that you have requested are on their way as we speak."
The sturdy miner again silently nodded his acknowledgement.
"The dwarves and the men assigned to help them will need protection during the building of the earthworks. This task will be undertaken by the Elven archers, who will be under the command of my Herald, the Lord Elrond."
Master Elrond stepped up to take his place, and Gildinwen's heart filled with pride and joy to see him. His burnished armour shone, his dark hair and blue cloak snapped in the wind. Across his back were slung a great bow and a quiver of golden arrows, at his side his long blade hung ready. His body spoke of power, his limbs of speed, his brow of wisdom and his eyes, catching hers for a fleeting moment, of love.
"Most of the horses will be sent away. We cannot fodder them here, and the terrain is too rough. Only one contingent of Elven cavalry will remain, besides those mounts required for messengers. Glofindel will be my Master of Horse."
The lithe golden-haired Elf leapt forward to stand with the others, his slender limbs, and graceful body making light of his armour and weapons.
"The Lady Galeria will have the setting up of a hospital, and the care of the wounded."
She bowed shyly from the sidelines.
"Gildor will be the Master of Arms, responsible for the supply and maintenance of weapons. Enemy archers will be a great danger, the soldiers must carry shields at all times. To Galdor I give the running of the camp, to supply it and keep it secure." The two brothers came forward as one, their young faces flush with pride, bowing to their lord and the assembled company.
"And to the Lady Gildinwen, who carries the Banner of Amarnon," The Elf- Lord turned to her with a hint of an indulgent smile, and her eyes widened in surprise. "Trusted by both Man and Elf, I give charge of the intelligences. Let all reports and communications of the enemy come to her."
Feeling as though her heart would burst with pride, she bowed deeply to her Liege, and stood forward to be counted with the Company of Gil-galad.
"And now, my Lords!" cried Gil-galad, lifting his arms and casting his proud gaze upon the enraptured assembly, "My warriors, my people! Let each go to his appointed task, and in the long, dark days to come, let us fight as brothers. Elves, Men and Dwarves, united against the Shadow."
Elendil rose to stand beside the Elf-Lord, and together they lifted their helms and placed them upon their heads. Two hands reached for the legendary weapons, and together they raised them defiantly, Aeglos gleaming eagerly, while the light of the sun and the moon shone from the blade of Narsil.
"To Battle and Victory!" they cried. The trumpets sounded, the drums thundered, and as one the company raised their weapons, while from every throat assembled, came the warcry of their own house.
"Elbereth! Gilthoniel!" chorused the Elvish voices, save for the Lord of Rivendell, whose cry was, "Imaladris!"
"Baruk Khazâd!" roared the dwarf Farin.
"Númenor!" shouted the Men, "Annúminas!"
"Amarnon! Faithful to the Last!" Gildinwen sang out clear and strong, the last voice of her house.
The next few weeks were intensely busy. The Dwarf Farin laboured to prepare the defences. A small army of miners and sappers excavated and burrowed, digging down and piling up, creating the beginnings of a vast network of interlinked trenches and tunnels. Complete with bastions, and ramparts, providing points from which to attack the enemy as well as lodgements and defensive works. Living and sleeping quarters. Armouries and storehouses. Cookshops and barracks. The work was difficult at first as they were obliged to crawl along under cover across the sharp rock and through the black slag. It was also dangerous, despite the constant vigilance of Lord Elrond's archers and sharpshooters. Their keen eyes were alert to any movement on the enemy's battlements, their duty to prevent the enemy bowmen from even taking aim, but still losses could not be prevented. Sauron's forces had other, more terrible weapons in their arsenal, than bowmen. Rocks, fire and missiles would fly from the walls and towers, launched by great catapults, to land shattering and scorching among the workers. Nor did the black gates stay closed. Sorties were sent out, fearful companies of Orcs and Men sallied forth only to meet their deaths at the hands of Anárion's soldiers, Glorfindel's horsemen and Elrond's archers. The Dark Lord himself was not idle. Behind them, Mount Orodruin rumbled into life. The thin, sooty air to which they had become accustomed was now filled with a rain of heavy ash. Thick and choking, it clogged the eyes, filled the mouth and hindered the feet.
Despite this the investment grew daily, a shackle about the feet of the Lord Sauron. This subterranean city, hewn and hammered from the black rock, dwarfed beneath the shadow of the great and terrible Fortress of Barad-dûr, once ready, would be their home for as long as it took to finish the dreadful business.
Gildinwen had much to do with her new duties. She found herself everywhere. From the very outskirts of the camp, dispatching scouts and surveyors to reconnoitre the land and the enemy defences. To the great tables under the lightest of awnings where the maps were drawn up, carefully detailing every land feature, every new addition to the defences, noting the enemy's positions as well as his lines of sight and of fire. Informing and readying Gil-galad's messengers, interrogating prisoners in the Men's camp, and debriefing spies under cover of darkness. Mountains of reports and documents were collected, translated and collated, until she felt herself at the centre of a great web of information, ready at any time to provide the information and answers needed by Elendil and Gil-galad in order to plan their campaign.
She felt more alive and complete than at any time in her life. Even saying goodbye to Loreglin was not as difficult as she had feared. He had been so miserable on the dusty plateau that it was a relief to know he would soon be on grass again.
"Be good." She whispered to him, "I'll come for you when I can."
Despite the dead and evil land about her, life pulsed heady in her veins. During the day she was happy and fulfilled, cheerfully going about her tasks. At night she would return alone to her tent, usually solitary now since Galeria was busy with the new hospital. Rarely would she sleep there though, rather she would cloak herself with obscurity and walk silently through the camp to a more welcoming bed.
Day had long faded and she was just thinking of extinguishing the lamps and leaving the rest of the work till the morrow, when coughing at the flap announced a visitor. She looked up to see a tall man unwinding a filthy cloth from around his head to reveal a bright smile.
"My Lord Anárion," she rose to greet him, "You are welcome."
"Thank you," he took off his cloak and dropped its ash-soiled folds to the ground. "Ugh!" he wiped his face, "What a dreadful place this is."
"Indeed it is, my lord," she smiled, "Please, won't you be seated?"
He settled himself into the proffered chair.
"Some wine?" she lifted a flask and goblets from a table behind her.
"Yes, please!" he grinned, "Get the taste of this foul dust out of my mouth."
She poured for both of them, before passing his over, and reseating herself.
He took a deep draught. "Ah, much better."
"So," she sat back in her chair, cradling her goblet, "What can I do for you, my lord."
"Well," he sat forward to lean his elbows on the table, "I have a small problem, and Isildur suggested that you might be the person to help me with it."
Gildinwen's mind boggled, but she kept her face neutral, and motioned to him to continue.
"It's a small someone actually. His name is Mardil, and he's a page in my retinue." He looked up at her, "You know how these things are, well born boys are sent to the household of another lord when they're eight or nine years old to serve a few years as page, and then onto squire before achieving their own knighthood."
"Well, Mardil is a great lad, helpful, hardworking and intelligent, but he is finding life here very tough."
"He has a small physical defect. A twisted foot. The terrain here is so treacherous, and the situation so dangerous, that I fear for his life everyday." He reached for the flask, and helped himself to some more wine. "I cannot send him home. His father is a very influential member of my father's court, and besides which the boy does not deserve such a dishonour." He looked up at her, his blue gaze open and direct. "I had hoped that you might accept him into your service. That way he would be out of the direct conflict, but still be with the company."
Gildinwen pursed her lips thoughtfully, "It is true that I have no page, and such a lad would be most helpful." She frowned slightly, "But how would he feel, coming from the household of a Prince of the land to serve a nobody like me?"
AnÃ rion chuckled loudly, "You do yourself a great dis-service to call yourself a nobody, my Lady of Amarnon. You have become like a legend among my soldiers. Since your banner appeared on the battlefield, we have had only victories. Besides, you are a handpicked member of Lord Gil-galad's company. I doubt there is any other on this battlefield who could claim both honours, save perhaps the mighty Elf-Lord himself.
"You flatter me, my lord," she laughed, then nodded, "I will be pleased to accept the young master Mardil, provided he is happy to come."
"Excellent!" he drained his wine, and pushing his chair back, rose to his feet, "I will arrange for him to join you."
It was very late, the hour of midnight well past, when Gildinwen finally made her nightly walk. Usually she would arrive first, and wrap herself in the warm coverlets to sleep, sometimes to be roused later by his soft voice and gentle touch. At other times she would awake in the morning to find he had curled himself silently about her while she slept. This night Elrond was already waiting for her. Slipping noiselessly through the entrance, his tent was in silence. The lamp had burned very low, leaving just enough light to see him at rest upon the couch. His feet were bare, his fine undertunic unfastened, and his hair loose. His eyes were open but unfocused, one long hand hanging down, his face peaceful. On tiptoe, she moved toward him very slowly. As she came into his line of sight, a soft smile gradually came over his face, and he whispered, "Ah, my love. Are you real, or am I only dreaming?"
"Definitely dreaming, my lord," she murmured, letting the cloak fall from her shoulders.
"What is it like?" she whispered afterwards, as they lay together contentedly. "Dreaming while awake?"
"Do not humans do it also?"
"Well, we daydream." She chuckled softly , "Which is really thinking about things you would rather be doing as opposed to the task at hand."
"Thinking about you, instead of concentrating on reading a message."
She indolently scribed a pattern on his chest with her fingers. "Do you never think about me, instead of what you are supposed to be doing?"
"Certainly not." He tried in vain to suppress a smile, "However, I do think about you while still attending to my duties."
"Oh you Elf!" she poked him gently. "You always have to be so perfect!"
"Ah! But is that not one of the things you like about me so much?"
Anticipating the second poke he caught her hand, defusing it with a kiss on the wrist before trapping against his chest. "It is rather like listening to a good storyteller, one who brings the ballad to life in front of your eyes, except that it is your story, and you may have in it whatever you desire. Whether it be what you see, what you remember or just what you wish."
"It sounds a little like just being on the very edge of sleep, a blending of thought and dream."
"Dreaming is not like that for you?"
She smiled, heavy-eyed, "Oh no. We have no control over our dreams, we cannot say where we will go, or what we will see. Sometimes it is a lovely adventure, but most of the time it is just somewhat confusing."
"I have heard that your dreams can also be premonitions, showing the future to come."
She thought for a while, "That may be true, although I think it more likely that the dream reveals hidden longings or secret fears, particularly those one is trying to hide from oneself . We do not dream the whole time we sleep though, a large part of the time we are in a deep slumber." She laid her head on his chest, the steady heartbeat comforting.
He stroked her hair, "It warms my heart to watch you sleeping. So trusting, so abandoned, so at peace, just like a little child. We sleep when we are very young but I cannot remember it."
"I do not know that it is possible to describe. It is not something that you are conscious of while it takes place, only when you wake up." She yawned. "It is a warm, soft, dark, endless place, that you can only experience by the memory of it, never while you are there."
He mused, "How like us, our dreaming is. We Elves must create a thing of beauty, perfect, delightful, and carefully made to order, while you humans will throw yourselves unheeding into the realms of sleep, tossed on the wild storm of night to whatever shore, good or bad, that it takes you to."
She murmured a drowsy agreement.
He kissed the top of her head, wrapping his arms about her. "Good night, my little Sleeper. I will watch over you."
She burrowed deeper into his warmth, "Good night, my beautiful Dreamer."