Forest of the Ancients - (Part III in the Banner of Doom trilogy)
Zyanar slipped through the plains of Eriador as secretly and as silently as a snake, darting from tree to rock with unbelievable dexterity. In daylight one might have a chance of glimpsing him, but at night it was virtually impossible. And as the moon hung luminous in the black sky, the Assassin King tracked his prey.
He had hunted Elves before, and had found them to be worthy opponents. But the skill or canniness of the victim did not matter to Zyanar, it only gave him more of a challenge that added to the experience of the hunt. To him, assassination was no more than a game. But he was very good at this game, and would always win in the end.
Elrond was as good as dead. It was only a matter of time.
Then the sound of hushed voices stopped the Assassin King dead in his tracks. They sounded Elvish, and came from a small batch of trees nearby. Zyanar unsheathed his blade and delicately crept up to the voices' position, as stealthy as a fox.
"Where are you from then, Milhad?" asked one of the voices.
"I came from one of Eregion's western villages. We were attacked by a great host of Orcs and were unprepared for their onset. We slew many in the sun, but then a trio of Trolls flanked us, and razed the village. As far as I know, I was the only one who escaped."
Zyanar hid behind a large rock, his jagged dagger poised to strike. From what he guessed, the two Elves he heard had found each other by chance.
"Well I was in a scouting party from Tharbad, but when my companions and I returned we found it taken by the army from the east. Many of us were shot down by arrows, and the survivors scattered in different directions. I know not of any survivors, but I fear they are all dead."
The Assassin King was eager to crush the little Elves, but decided to stay his wrath a little longer and see if he could learn something from them.
"Well Opmir, we should not tarry here, evil is afoot in the wilderness."
"But where shall we go? Eregion is in ruins, Lindon is miles away and our foes block us from the woodland realms."
"I believe there is somewhere we could go. I heard word that Lord Elrond is creating a sanctuary for the Eregion survivors."
Zyanar sat up eagerly. This was the information he was waiting for.
"Well where is this haven?"
"To the north, I believe. If Iluvatar is willing, we shall find it."
This news gave Zyanar a new plan. He would follow the Elves to Elrond, stalking their every move. Then he would kill them in the most inventive way he could think up, watch them scream to death in absolute glee, then he would descend on Elrond like a hawk of the night . . .
Durin III marched to the armouries of Khazad-dum with his son at his side. It had long been the tradition of the Dwarf kings to name their eldest son with their own name, for
Durin's father and grandfather had shared the same names as he. Racks of armour and weaponry hung on the walls of the corridoors they walked down, and Durin IIII gazed at them with admiration. He was already trained in war, but his father did not deem him old enough to march with the army of Khazad-dum yet.
The armoury was full of Dwarves, hurrying here and there. In the midst of Dwarf soldiers preparing for battle, King Durin found Farin talking to a pair of Khazad Guard, which Durin had leant to him from his royal guard.
"Ah, Farin," spoke Durin, "You look ready to cut off many an Orc head!"
Farin smiled, holding his axe at his side, with a sturdy shortbow and a quiver of arrows at his back. His armour was much finer than the other Dwarf soldiers, for captains were honoured with such armoury for their prowess in battle.
"Thankyou, my lord," said Farin.
Durin's son began to speak, but his father cut him off.
"I know that you're about to ask me to go with Farin, lad, and I appreciate that you want to fight for me. But you know I won't let you."
Durin IIII looked disappointed and slumped out of the armoury.
"Ha, Durin! You have to admit the lad's got spirit!"
"Of course he has, Farin. He is my son, after all!"
Farin was leading a contingent of Dwarves to harass the flanks of Sauron's army, but also to scout and save any threatened villages. Durin was sure his best captain would be successful.
Gil-galad stood with Cirdan at the shores of the Grey Havens, the Elven rings of fire and water on his fingers. The sun glistened in the sky, and the sea in turn reflected its bright rays of light across the water. Cirdan watched the horizon like a statue, his thoughtful mind quieted by the beautiful view. Gil-galad, however, stood keen and alert, with Aeglos shining in his hand. An Elf vessel was released from the harbour and began sailing to Númenor.
"Do you think King Melendur will answer the summons?" asked Gil-galad, breaking the long silence.
Cirdan looked blank for a minute, then replied, "Of course. My foresight senses so. And even if it was incorrect, I think Meneldur would not forget our alliance."
They became silent again for a long time, watching the ship as it crossed the horizon. As they turned to depart, a nobly-dressed Elf captain ran to meet them, a note of urgency in his expression.
"Ah, Gilros," began Cirdan. But Gilros did not give him chance to finish his sentance.
"My lords, Sauron has destroyed every village in Eriador the east side of the river Lhun. Elrond has been unheard from, but a handful of survivors have reached us."
Gil-galad looked concerned. He had of course heard the news of Eregion's downfall and the Battle of Ost-in-Edhil weeks ago, but this fresh news agitated him.
"No word from Elrond you say?" he spoke. "That is indeed strange, after all this time."
"Do you fear he is dead?" questioned Cirdan, speaking to both Gilros and Gil-galad.
"Yea, I fear it so," said Gilros very gravely.
"I do not. I can still feel his prescence. Nay, I think he can survive this at least."
"That may be so," stated Gilros, "But I still fear for my son."
"I am sure Glorfindel will be fine. He is a valiant soldier, and has shown his worth many times before," reassured Cirdan.
"We shall now put these matters of doubt aside and take council of them later. But anyway Gilros, are your men ready to move out?"
"Of course," he adressed. "At your command we go out in your name, lord."
It was true Gilros was leading a company into the midst of Eriador, searching for survivors and harassing Sauron's force.
"Very good," said Gil-galad. "You shall march forth at sunrise tomorrow."
Khamul rode on his black steed with a host of his best Kataphrakts - Easterling veterans that rode on mighty armoured horses. He sat upright, proud and content, for soon he would recieve one of the nine, and possibly, the greatest of them. He smiled darkly.
The rest of the Easterling army remained with the bulk of Sauron's forces, watched over by Captain Yakul. Khamul was making one final check before the hosts of Mordor marched on Lindon, scouring the last villages. Khamul was interrupted in his self-pride by one of his men.
"My lord, I can see a group of warriors on foot heading in our direction, but they are not Elves, Orcs or any type of men I have seen."
Khamul rode to the top of the hill they were crossing over and indeed saw a company of figures. He could only make out twenty forms, but they looked unarmoured and overall helpless to the wrath of his Kataphrakts.
"We shall speak with their leader," commanded the Easterling general. "If he is in allegiance with the Dark Lord we shall spare them. If not, you will have good practice for the battles ahead."
The Kataphrakts remained silent, but Khamul knew they all had a small grin on their face behind their golden masks.
The Easterlings galloped up to the dark figures, with Khamul at their head, his blade usheathed and hungry for blood. As the Kataphrakts approached, the dark figures stopped, and could be more clearly made out. They were indeed men, but their skin was pale from years of hiding from the sun. They were all clothed in black robes and had a scimitar at their side, but some held daggers as well. Khamul approached the silent figures warily, eyeing each one with question and malice.
"Who is your leader?" he cried out.
The figures shifted slightly, then a towering form emerged from them. He was dressed in black like his counterparts, but wore rusted gauntlets and boots and had a pair of thin shoulder plates. He wore a malicious helm which had spikes across the top, like some kind of evil crown. Shadows hid his face, but his glowering red eyes could be seen, staring at Khamul like a cobra poised to strike.
"Who are you and where does your allegiance lie?" asked Khamul.
The dark form considered this for a moment, then in a threatening whisper he spoke,
"I am the Witch-King of Carn Dum, and these are my loyal followers, the Witches."
At that the Witches glowered at the Kataphrakts with absolute hatred in their eyes.
"We come to aid the great power that comes to purge this land, for I have forseen he is a great lord of complete might, whose coming will herald the rise of darkness."
"Then it seems we are on the same side, Witch-King," stated Khamul. "It is the Dark Lord Sauron you seek. We will take you to him, if you tell us whether or not any villages remain further north."
"Any villages we found are no more," gloated the Witch-King.
"Very well. Follow us, your majesty," taunted Khamul.
Elrond, Celeborn and Glorfindel marvelled at the magnificent haven they had created. The Elf builders were overjoyed with the beauty they had created, and they were right to feel so. Rivendell was complete, or Imladris in the Elven tongue, and now this haven of sanctuary would shelter the Elves from the grasp of darkness.
"I have seen the cities of Lindon and Eregion, the tree platforms of Lorien and the halls of Mirkwood and I believe this construct rivals them all!" proclaimed Celeborn.
Some Elf minstrels began to sing, and in this valley of splendour they sounded like the singers of the gods.
White and silver shelters and buildings shined in the sun, clear fountains stood proud and pathways of stone lay in gardens of beauty.
"Magnificent," murmured Glorfindel.
General Haitamu of Khand led the Variags through the mists of of would one day be the Barrow Downs, the cold fog so utterly consuming some men would trip on a stone or other rugged piece of terrain. Such silence made the Khands wary, but Haitamu led them on with an iron fist. They would find another village to pilage and loot, and hopefully that might raise their spirits. Suddenly, the fog came to an end, and the air was much clearer. Haitamu let out a great laugh of victory, which was taken up by his followers. They continued to march, and soon found themselves against a great wall of trees.
The Variags suddenly stopped, seemingly daunted by this strange forest. Haitamu smirked at the hearts of his men, and raising his axe chopped down one of the thinner trees.
"You dogs! We are the Variags of Khand! We shall not be daunted by a few old trees. Now get your forsaken hides moving!"
The Khands unwillingly followed Haitamu into the forest, their axes at the ready and their bows prepared to fire. Suddenly, a tree creaked, making many of the Variags pause and look with fear. Even Haitamu felt a sense of fear. But he soon mastered himself and bellowed,
Haitamu was becoming annoyed with the stupidity of his followers - he would be telling them how to breathe next! A long branch stood in his way, but in no effort at all he chopped it down. Then a root emerged from the ground, tripping over the general.
A startled Haitamu stared at the root, for it had not been there when he last looked. What place was this? Many of the Variags had laughed at their mighty leader's fall, and the rest had worried looks on their faces. Standing up again, Haitamu shouted,
The Khands suddenly looked shocked. Not because of their general's rage, but because of something else . . .
Suddenly Haitamu saw a branch crash down on a cluster of his men. Another one swooped a pair of archers away.
The trees were moving!
Haitamu could hardly believe his eyes. But his battle instincts kicked in and he bellowed, "Stand and fight! Chop those cursed trees down! They're made of wood and you have axes! So for pity's sake USE THEM!"
But the Khands continued to be crushed by the possessed trees, some made swings but failed to hit the dexterous branches. No more than a few Variags remained. Haitamu couldn't believe this - his entire army was being decimated by trees!
He began to run deeper into the wood, deeper into the darkness. The last blood curdling scream echoed through the wood. All was silent apart from the sound of Haitamu desperately crashing through the undergrowth. But once again, he tripped, and fell down a slope and straight into the shore of a shallow river. And he saw the thing he most least expected to see. A small man in a blue coat, wearing a feathered hat and carrying a bundle of water lilies stared down at him with no expression of shock whatsoever.
"You should not be a-trespassing on old Tom's land."
Then a heavy branch fell on Haitamu, and he saw no more.
Zyanar wiped the blood of the two Elves he slaughtered off his short sword. Peering down into the valley where the Elf haven stood, he observed the land with great curiosity. One of the Elves tried gasping for air, blood pouring out his mouth and chest. He looked desperate, and stared at the Assassin King with absolute fear. Any man should have felt remorse for the dying Elf, but Zyanar stared with uncaring eyes, stamping his foot onto the Elf's head and slicing open the fair neck.