32. The Battle of Dagorlad
It was madness, pure and simple. Annihilate the army, Sauron said. Simple enough. Orcs shot down attackers as they approached the Black Gate, causing mass casualties among the invaders. And then the dwarves – the cursed dwarves who shouldn't have been in the battle in the first place! – approached, using a maneuver known as the turtle, rendering them impenetrable to the orcs' arrows. Shielded by their comrades, several dwarves set to work on the Morannon, before the entire group hurried away.
"What is going on?" Khamul roared, leaning over the edge of the Black Gate in order to see for herself what the dwarves had been up to.
A tremendous explosion rocked the gate, the explosives the dwarves had installed doing their work perfectly.
Khamul landed with a hard thud on the ground, sixty feet from the ruins of the Morannon.
"What happened?" she muttered groggily.
"Are you all right?" Ceure asked, bending over her.
"What happened?" she asked again.
"They blew up the Morannon."
"What? All of it?"
Ceure nodded, and Khamul swore, stumbling to her feet. She was disoriented and dizzy from her fall of…what? several hundred feet. But no broken bones or anything other than a few bruises. What a remarkable ring, Khamul thought, not for the first, or last, time.
"Right, what's happening now?"
"All the orcs stationed on the Morannon, and a good number of those around it, are dead," Ceure said. "And it appears that a band of elves are charging."
Khamul swore. "I need a horse," she snarled, looking around, but could see no steeds in the dust and chaos.
"I don't see any around," Ceure said.
"Fine," Khamul said, drawing her sword. "Then we won't have the pleasure of trampling down these elves."
"I don't see that that's necessary," Ceure said, drawing her own short sword. "They are Silvan Elves."
"Lightly armed from Greenwood. Their sole skill lies in archery. If we can avoid their arrows and get close enough so they can't use their bows, then they are utterly vulnerable."
"Excellent," Khamul hissed, dodging an arrow. "Where's Vorea? We could use her right now."
"I am pleased to hear it," the one-eyed ringbearer said, running up, twisting her metal spear in her hands.
"We need to give Morion and the others time to rally the army," Khamul said. "Damn dwarves took us completely by surprise."
"Indeed. What is your plan?"
"What's that? About two hundred elves?" Khamul asked, nodding towards the approaching band.
"Led by Oropher himself, unless I am much mistaken," Vorea said.
"Kill him," Khamul said. "I see the rest of the army hasn't followed them. We'll teach these elves the lesson of obeying their commander."
"Undisciplined," Vorea said, shaking her head in disgust.
"Don't give them a good target!" Khamul hissed. "We may be immortal, but I don't want to test it!"
"You already have," Ceure said.
"I know, I know, but listen to me! Scatter! Hurry!"
The arrows were beginning to fly, and Khamul startled the elves and dove straight into their midst, hacking with her sword. It was like slaughtering chickens, she decided. They were simply defenseless if they couldn't use their bows. A few were skilled with a knife, but she killed them quickly.
Soon there was a wide circle around Khamul, and she could see a smaller one around Ceure, who had carved a swath of her own through the elves.
Ducking an arrow carelessly shot by an elf, Khamul grinned with glee as she heard it impale and kill another elf. They're killing each other, she thought with joy. I hardly have to do anything.
There was a terrible scream and all heads turned, and then quite a few fell off as Khamul took advantage of the elves' distraction to kill a few more.
Five elves fell in rapid succession in front of Khamul, and Vorea stepped through the carnage.
"It is done," she said.
The elves melted away like clouds on a bright summer day.
"Cowards!" Khamul cried after them as they fled Mordor for the safety of the waiting army.
"They will blame Gil-galad for this," Vorea said. "Thranduil will, at least."
"Yes," Khamul said, nodding. "That ghastly wail him?"
Vorea nodded and gestured to where an elf lay, his fine armor no protection against the eight-foot spear that had run him through.
"Through his gut, too. Very nasty."
"I do as you command," Vorea said.
"Loyal to a fault," Khamul said with a grin. "Right, where's Morion? Here they come!"
The main force of the invading army came charging towards the ruins of the Morannon, swords flashing in the light, horns raised in challenge.
Behind Khamul and the others, and quickly reaching and then passing them, a massive tide of orcs and other creatures swept towards the army, bristling with weapons, bloodlust clear in their red eyes and drooling mouths.
"Just in time, I'd say," Morion said from a black horse.
"You wouldn't happen to have anymore of those horses around?" Khamul asked.
"I'm afraid not," Morion said. "Was that Oropher you killed?" he asked Vorea.
Vorea nodded once, and then pulled her spear out of the elf and turned to face the main force.
"Try to drive them back to Dagorlad," Morion shouted above the chaos. "If we can drive them back that far, we may be able to trap them between the Anduin and our army!"
Khamul nodded once and then raced towards the battle.
The noise as the armies clashed was so loud and powerful it nearly knocked Khamul off her feet. Elf-wrought steel met the factory-forged blades of Mordor in a flash of sparks and thunder of metal.
They were pushing them back, Khamul thought with a savage grin as the day wore on. It was evening now, but no stars shone. The black clouds of Mordor covered all.
We're going to win this, Khamul convinced herself. They were past the ruins of the Morannon now, and into Dagorlad itself. The army's former camp was now a scene of bloodshed and terror. Orcs and elves, ogres and men, trolls and dwarves alike fell screaming to the ground, or simply fell and lay still, never to move again. Still, they were pushing the elves and men back. They were winning.
And then, another explosion rocked the land. The dwarves had detonated their last few explosives, killing hundreds of orcs and more than a few of their own.
It may have been the turning point, or it may have been inevitable, but slowly Khamul found that the Black Gate's ruins were all around her, and then they were in front of her.
"What is this madness?" she hissed.
"We're retreating," Morion said. His horse was long dead, and he fought alongside his lieutenant.
"There are too many! If we stayed there, we would die!"
Khamul cursed and snarled, cutting down the elves and men with reckless abandon. If only we had struck sooner! she thought angrily. If only more ogres had come! If only, if only…
"Come on, Khamul!" Morion yelled, grabbing her by the arm and dragging her towards the Barad-dur.
"No!" Khamul shouted. "There are still more to kill! We can't surrender! We can't stop now!"
Vorea took her other arm and together they hauled Khamul into the Barad-dur's waiting gates, before the mighty doors slammed shut in the face of the advancing army.
"Sauron's forces have retreated to the Barad-dur," Elrond reported. "The field is ours."
Gil-galad nodded, looking out over the scene. Orcs and elves alike lay in the field, side by side, still for now and forever.
"We won then?" he whispered.
"Yes, my king."
Gil-galad nodded, still awash in horror. How many thousands of elves had died? How many thousands of humans as well? And of the dwarves only Durin and two dozen warriors remained.
"So many dead," he whispered.
"Lord Elendil and his sons survived the battle," Elrond said. "Lord Isildur's son, Lord Elendur, received a minor wound, but he is fine."
Gil-galad nodded again, still taking in the devastation.
"Thranduil is now the commander of the Silvan Elves."
"Fool!" Gil-galad snarled, the rashness of Oropher stirring him back to reality. "If he had not struck, the Silvan Elves would not have lost so many! They are down to half their force now!"
"Oropher is dead," Elrond said.
Instantly, Gil-galad regretted his words. "Yes," he said. "I feared it would be so. Why else, after all, would Thranduil take command? Forgive me, I am not myself today."
"No one is, my king."
"Victory," Gil-galad scoffed, looking at the battle one last time. "Victory, ha! I see no victory."
"Yet Sauron has been driven back, sire," Elrond pointed out.
"Yes," Gil-galad said. "But at what price? At what great price?"