20. At the North Gate
A rush of wind and rain announced a visitor, and she looked up to see Elrond enter. He was dressed for battle, armour and cloak, girded for the fray with blade and bow. In one hand he held a small wooden box.
“Here,” he said, placing the box on the table, “let me.”
She turned and he quickly fastened the remaining strap. He lifted her thick braid to lay a kiss lightly behind her ear. “My brave woman.” His voice rippled teasingly, but she could hear the undertow of concern.
“My warrior Elf,” she riposted with a laugh.
“Come,” he said, guiding her towards the bed and seating her on it. He pulled the chair forward to sit in front of her. His face was alight with a secret mischief.
“I have a gift for you.”
She looked up, a look of bashful delight spreading across her face.
He retrieved the box from the table and placed it in her hands.
She sat for a moment, cradling it with joy and wonder, then slowly lifted the lid, the elf’s eyes watching expectantly.
“Oh, Elrond.” She whispered, with tears in her eyes, “It is lovely.” She placed the lid on the floor and lifted the box to look more closely. The dark green, waxy leaves of a small plant nestled against damp soil, a single bud just tipped with white, lifted its head from the centre. “Is it truly an Elrhîw?”
“Yes indeed, although this one came not from Imladris, which is too far, but from the White Mountains.”
She looked up with astonishment, “You had this brought all the way from Gondor, just for me?”
He smiled fondly, “You said you wanted to see something green and growing.”
“Oh, my love.” She wiped her cheek, “Thank you.”
“Sit it in the light, and it will bloom in a day or two.”
She stood and cleared a space on the table for the plant, setting it where it would catch the morning sun.
She turned to him, as he stood.
“Thank you. I do not think I have ever seen anything more beautiful. “
“I have.” He smiled at her, lifting a finger to stroke her face.
Filled with happiness, she reached up to place her arms about his neck, and he held her as close as his war dress allowed. One kiss was all he would allow himself, before duty called. One long kiss.
“Now, my love.” He said, pulling back and disentangling himself. “I must to my king.”
She nodded, her eyes shining. “I will along in a little time.”
Of all the challenges she had faced because of her love of Elrond, this was always the most difficult. For her as for him. To go to war and face death with the one dearest to you only a few feet away, and to put that love aside and let duty take precedence. Not to look at them, not to think about what could happen at any moment, but to keep eyes and mind on the appointed task. Only afterwards could the fear be acknowledged, the spectre confronted and the relief at safe passage be welcomed. So far, always relief. She pushed away any other thoughts. Nothing could be gained by them.
“My lady! My lady!” Mardil’s voice was urgent as he hurried in the door, a howl of wet wind following him.
“What is it?”
“Look!” He produced a damp and stained piece of paper from beneath his cloak, and spread it on the table.
The code and the writing were unfamiliar.
“Where did this come from?”
“An enemy was caught trying to smuggle it into our camp.”
“Where is he? Did you find out who it was for?”
Mardil shook his head grimly, “No, he took poison as soon as he was discovered.”
“A plague on him.” She cursed. So near, and yet so far. “Where was he taken?”
“Near the west gate.”
“Hmm... and the spy Brith picked up the last time?”
He shook his head, “A good mile away.”
She sighed, rubbing her temple, and turned her attention back to the letter. The dark letters were meaningless.
From outside the sound of voices and the clash of arms rose through the wind and the rain.
She straightened. “I have to go, Mardil.” she said, hastily fastening on her belt, and grabbing her cloak. “Make what you can of it, it may be important.”
He nodded. “Be safe, my lady.”
She smiled, “And you also.” Then drawing up her hood, she stepped out into the storm.
The wind snatched the door from Gildinwen’s grasp, banging it against the wall, and stinging her with an onslaught of unkind rain. She fought to pull it closed behind her as she entered Gil-galad’s council chamber, grateful to be out of the howling gale. Wiping her wet face, she failed to prevent a trickle of water from seeping beneath her armour to soak the neck of her tunic.
“He has certainly chosen the night for it!” Anárion’s voice was grimly amused.
“Aye,” The High King was more suspicious, “Though it may be more than luck brought this storm.”
“Does the One Ring really give him power over the elements?”
“I know not for certain,” replied Gil-galad, “But it is likely, certainly this close to the seat of his power.”
Gildinwen shivered, and more than the weather was to blame.
“It will work to our advantage too.” Cirdan, as ever, was the pragmatist. “For he will not see us move up.”
“That is true.” nodded Anárion, his grin reflecting the keenness of his soldiers to be in action once again.
All the lords were arrayed for battle. Anárion's silver armour gleaming, the Elves in green-gold and blue. A clatter of steel and rattle of wood sounded, as blades were strapped on, bows strung and shields lifted.
Gil-galad’s countenance was clothed for war, in courage, power and ascendance, his bearing regal, his stature mighty and in his eyes, a light to lead both Men and Elves into the darkest places. Aeglos was ready in his hand, and at his side his battle colours were ready. Elrond stood silently by his King, his face grim above the livery of his lord’s house. Only Glorfindel was missing, the horses having been sent up during daylight.
“Are your men in place?” Gil-galad asked Anárion.
“Aye, my lord,” he replied, “I am keeping two companies to man the west road, the remainder go with Círdan.”
The Elven-King clapped a hand to the Man’s shoulder, meeting his eye with a deep look, and a wordless nod.
Anarion reached up a hand to briefly cover that of the Elf-Lord, before bowing deeply. “My Lord.”
Gildinwen moved to take her Banner from its place, furling it carefully until it should be needed. Tonight she was to go with Círdan, her standard to rally Anárion’s men to him. Her cloak, already wet, hung limply from her shoulders and Deanor’s blade was a familiar and comforting weight at her hip. She carried no shield, since her left arm could no longer bear the weight of it, but her eyes were bright and ready, and the mithril band shone proudly on her brow.
“Are we ready, my lords?” Gil-galad’s rich voice filled the room.
A chorus of assent.
“Then let us move out, and may this night bring us victory.” He strode forth into the storm, head high, heeding neither wind nor rain, his hair and cloak streaming behind him, his spear a bright beacon.
It took them the best part of two hours to reach their positions. Two hours of splashing and wading through water, mud and filth. Soaked and buffeted by the storm, stumbling and groping through the darkness. They passed many soldiers, both Elves and Men, already in place. Crammed together in trenches and hides, waiting wet and cold for the call to arms. Gil-galad came as a light before them, igniting their courage, lifting their spirits and the warmth of his presence radiated back through the lines, heartening and rousing the warriors.
The final position was right by the barrier on the North Road. Up ahead lookouts were ready placed to give warning when the gates should open. Elendil and Isildur were waiting for them, battle eager and hungry, their soldiers crouching, alert, in the dugouts to the east of the road. War trumpeters and battledrums stood ready to sound the attack.
“My Lords.” Gil-galad greeted his allies with a clasp of his powerful hand.
“Gil-galad.” Elendil’s face shone with a grim light.
“All is ready?”
“Then now we wait.”
Wait they did. Crouching shoulder to shoulder in the cold ditches. Gil huddled, shivering, between Halmir and Círdan’s squire, her shoulder ached with the cold and her feet were numb. Around them the rain lashed, whipped into a stinging fury by the wind that snapped and leapt, over and through the trenches and shelters. Above, the blackest of clouds twisted and fled against the dark sky, drenching them with sheets of icy rain, the noise of the storm howling and screaming above the gatehouse and towers of the Fortress. No star, no moon, no light to be seen save the reddish glow from the fiery pit at the base of the Tower, serving only to lift and darken the shadow of the awful citadel.
When the black gates finally opened, the cry of the lookout was almost lost amid the wail of the tempest. But the alarum sounded as the messengers of death issued forth, and was taken up throughout the camp, alerting and readying the troops for the call to attack.
Gil-galad and Elendil leapt up onto the road, crossing in front of the barrier, their entourage hard on their heels. Gildinwen loosed the Banner, the staff slick with rain and the silk waterlogged, as she slid and skidded after Círdan. The same fierce wind that snatched his white hair like a flag in the dark night, lifted the heavy folds of the standard, whipping and lashing them above her head. Boldly they stood forth - kings, princes and noble lords, and behind them the faithful squires and brave warriors of their personal household. The war instruments awaited only the signal to give the cry to arms and loose a terrible army of Elves and Men.
From out of the howling darkness came the sound of hooves and a drumming of many feet. Heart-chilling war cries sounded to the beat of deadly drums, and from the sky, lightening cracked, blazing for a long, harsh instant over the nightmarish horde pouring down on them. At the head a black and terrible horse screamed defiance as he hammered his way down the road, his rider a fearsome shadow, darkness flapping about him, his face a pit of cold emptiness. The light extinguished with a crash of thunder and he was plunged again into the night, only their fearful imagination now could see his advance.
“Úlairi.” breathed Halmir from beside her, his face white.
From beside them the wardrums rolled their voices, the trumpets gave a call of defiance and a great cry arose as the warriors of the Alliance, weather and discomfort forgotten, rose from their cover to roar defiance at Sauron’s minions.
Gil-galad himself cut down the mount of the Ringwraith, Aeglos slashing open its belly with a single thrust. As the horse fell the Alliance soldiers surged forward with a shout, and once more dark and light ebbed and flowed over the field of battle.
“Elf-lord!” the shadow hissed, drawing his deadly blade on the High King.
Gil-galad’s face was shining, power in his arms, courage and truth in his heart. Wasting no time with words, his great spear flashed, pushing his enemy back.
“With me!” Círdan shouted, and they charged up the western side of the road, Anárion’s companies at their back. Over their heads a hail of golden arrows spat death at the advancing enemy, but still they came, men and orcs, howling and spitting, trampling their fallen comrades into the mud. Their faces were gaunt, the eyes dark with hate, fear and desperation. Save for the unnatural mount of the Ringwraith, no horses or dogs were to be seen.
Soon battle was closed, and thought could be given to nothing but the enemy in front, his blade hungry for blood. Slash and parry. Attack and riposte. Time after time. Slipping and lurching on the foul and filthy ground. Rain mixing with blood, sweat and gore. Hack and push. Stab and recoil. Wind whipping up the sounds of death and conflict. Fell one, and another steps up. Kill him before he kills you. On and on.
Finally the enemy on the west side broke and ran, stopping a little way up the road to regroup. Círdan looked round to gather his men.
“My lady Gildinwen!”
The voice was Mardil’s.
She looked round confused, trying to see through the rain swept darkness and listen over the tumult of battle.
“My lady!” he was closer now.
“Here!” She shouted.
The Elf-Lord was readying his men for another attack.
Mardil appeared out of the storm, hair plastered to his skull, sodden cloak clinging to his shoulders.
“What is it?” she cried.
“The message!” he gasped. “All this!” he gestured about him. “It’s a feint!”
Her face blanched.
“The breakout will be by the West gate!”
She grabbed him by the shoulders. “Are you absolutely sure, Mardil?” her voice was intense.
“Yes!” he cried, “I’ll stake my life on it.”
“It is all our lives that will be staked on it.” she replied grimly as she headed towards Círdan. “My lord!”
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.