Shadow and Silver: The Story of Aurelin - Chapter 31
The previous chapter - Chapter 29 .
Disclaimer: I am only borrowing from JRR Tolkien's wonderful work and making no money. I do however claim ownership of Aurelin, Laswing, Calenloth and Belegorn.
25 days later the Lindon two hundred and Imladris score plus Aurelin and Gilgaer entered the Greenwood between Carrock and the Mountains of Mirkwood and bore to the north-east towards the Halls. Not much is there to say of the ride for to Gilgaer it was unfortunately a familiar experience and Aurelin's feelings were shadowed by the more eventful and dangerous journey to Mithlond of hers. The Elves had chosen their road and times of rest and travel with care, avoiding being seen as much as it was possible because none wished for rumours to make them out to a huge army going against Sauron reborn or something similar. As of yet, the Elves saw Ennorís as someone they had to take care of in honour of the members of their kindred who, even after being twisted and dieing, had given to their descendants enough of themselves as they had been before they were captured by Morgoth to enable their rising up against their evil mistress.
The crossing of the Hithaeglir had been time-consuming for no one knew whether Ennorís had had the pass watched and therefore the going had been extremely careful with scouts riding to and fro on the look out for Orcs or the harpies. However the Elves had had to take the gamble because time was not on their side and every midday when the contingent rested their horses, Aurelin worriedly kept marking the days mentally from the day when she had set out from Eryn Lasgalen - there were too many of them and Aurelin was more and more hopeless as she got nearer to their destination. Clouding her head was a foreboding that evil would win this time although there had been no reason for this glumness. Laswing did his best to cheer her up and without him she would probably have given in to the despair. Even with his aid, she was barely able to keep up an appearance of confidence for the army she was (supposedly) leading but while alone at the head of the host, with only her love by her side, she let the mask fall and looked worse by the day.
The Forest was eerily empty, as if all the border-guards had been swallowed by the earth or by the huge boles of the beeches and elms. Every hoof-beat against the yellow and red leaf-covered path sounded like thunder to Aurelin's ears and she kept whipping her head left and right to catch sight of a green cloak or tunic or even a flash of a bow. Nothing! The allotted days that Bergil had believed the Elves had before Ennorís attacked were almost over. Could it be that she was late, despite all what she and Gilgaer, the Lindon and Imladris Elves had gone through to get here?
"I am certain you are tormenting yourself needlessly!" Gilgaer leant over to put his arm around Aurelin's waist when the sun vanished to turn the forest into a shadow-land, ominous because of the fears she had. A nod, the mood of which pronounced the gesture a lie was all he recieved for an answer and here eyes were huge and shining strangely. Gilgaer had to remind himself that for Aurelin these worries were relatively new, while he had needed to harden his resolve against them ages ago. You had to or every new threat to your people would keep taking something from you, leaving little of hope and lots of despair.
No challenge to the approach of the party came on the next day either but the air had become as taut as a bowstring. Clearly something was afoot. At the first glimpse of a hair of head hurrying down the same path a little way ahead produced an audible sigh from Aurelin and she thundered after the Elf, eager for any news.
When she returned to Laswing and the two hundred and twenty fighters, her face was certainly brighter that it had been awhile.
"What tidings did he have for you, Gwingloth?" Gilgaer asked for all of them and the two captains of the Elves from the two columns of riders crowded on the narrow path beside him to hear Aurelin's words and pass them on.
She came and put one hand on Gilgaer's wrist and the other on Magorluin's, one of the captains of Lindon who had ridden up.
"We are not late and that is a great relief. The battle will be fought the day after tomorrow. Her Orcs have been seen marching along the northern edge of the Forest and the Elves propose to attack once the Orcs get to where the forest curves south. Both the Glamhoth and the harpies are not overly enthusiastic about fighting in the midst of trees, knowing that we have the advantages there, so they try to avoid plunging into the forest as long as they can. All the people who are able to fight have gathered to the north-eastern corner of the forest while those unable have taken refuge in the Halls."
"Our horses cannot well fight amongst trees either," Magorluin softly prompted.
"That is why it does seem that the place that has been appointed now as the battle-ground suits us." Gilgaer was drawing the map with his finger on Elthoron's silvery neck. "The horse will be waiting at the corner the forest forms and then will fan out to circle the enemies. That way those who stay to fight will fall under the swords of the riders and the rest will be forced to flee under the eaves of the forest where the archers and the rest of the warriors on foot will be ready to despatch them."
Magorluin was eyeing the invisible map in deep thought and finally spoke his agreement of the plan.
Aurelin shrugged from atop Alagos. "I am sure you know better than I and it does seem like the most obvious thing to do. With luck Ennorís will not expect our cavalry and therefore our task will be easier."
The four decided that they would continue at a slower pace to the appointed meeting-place to rest the horses and then, if Ennorís' army would arrive when predicted, they all would still have half a day's rest. It was not much, but better than charging to battle immediately after arrival.
Gilgaer handed Aurelin a loaf of lembas and a flask that contained the cordial of Imladris when they began to move.
"Aurelin, take these! I know you have not eaten in three days and you need the strength. You cannot claim lack of knowledge of what has become of the people of Eryn Lasgalen now."
She looked as if about to turn the offering down but after Alagos had thrown his head back in annoyance at Aurelin's silliness and Laswing had nudged her arm with the flask, she gave in resignedly.
"I cannot eat when you watch my every mouthful!" Aurelin's retort at Gilgaer's intense gaze on her was the first indication of her lightened mood. Not long after she was trying her best to play the host to Gilgaer and her other companions who were in hearing range as she (re)acquainted them with the Forest, bearing in mind their purpose and showing the guard-trees and line of beacon-fire flets, grazing clearings for the horses (though the Greenwood's people had never had very many of them) and old spider-grounds.
"Now!" Aurelin and Gilgaer yelled together and the double column of the riders spurred their horses, from where they had hidden in a wide bowl under the eaves of the Forest, to form a big curving line around their enemy.
Well, Ennorís had had the luck of the time of day for it was evening when her army reached the spot that the Elves had designated as the ambushing area. It was surprising to see that she herself had come with the Orcs and harpies, riding a big and ugly white horse, the colour of the beast mocked by its tormented and twisted form and malicious eyes. The thing on top was a black cloaked and fierce slit-eyed woman-shaped being. On closer view it would have been evident that the "cloak" was her wings that were stunted and shredded - the bite of the ages had not spared the woman of the secret shadow and she could not fly anymore. Unfortunately she was still a formidable adversary nonetheless.
Aurelin motioned Alagos to stop by Gilgaer's side at the centre of the half-circle while the line of riders that had followed her thundered past to close the curve. When the last rider in the column brought his horse to a halt beside Aurelin, the circle was complete. The army of Ennorís' made Aurelin nauseous and she could felt she was not the only one - Orcs she could see without a flinch anymore, however the harpies were horrible in their twisted-ness for the Men their forefathers had been were more evident than in the more transformed faces of the Glamhoth. Clawed hands and legs, lustreless and dull murky grey wings were not even the most warped parts of the creatures' bodies, that title went to the too human faces and the dull yellow bird-eyes burning with hate.
Ennorís let out an enraged cry as she saw her army surrounded. Both sides waited, the Orcs hefting the weapons and growling to whip up their bloodlust while the harpies times more unsettlingly hovered a foot from the ground in utter silence.
In a show of ages long gone, the Elves raised their bright flapping banners that one Elf in three was carrying - dozens and dozens of standards of individual Houses and the banners of their Lords, some of those long gone from these shores. Gilgaer was holding Círdan's while Aurelin had one with a split image of Elrond's standard and Elwë's. Dust that had been kicked up by the hooves was settling in silver and gold specks and the tension was palpable. Aurelin took a deep breath and steeled herself for the battle, banishing all other thoughts, and kept her eyes ahead, blazing green fire on Ennorís' form. The latter gracefully motioned with her hand and the harpies settled on the ground and spread their wings to return the challenge.
Gilgaer lifted his banner as high as he could, held it there for a moment and then brought it down with full force to drive the spear it was attached to firmly into the ground. Aurelin and the Elf beside Gilgaer did the same and the next ones and so on, until the banners came down like a row of cards falling down in two directions from a centre point.
"For the Eldar!" two hundred and twenty two voices cried as one, while their horses stamped their feet impatiently, making Orcs closest to the Elves visibly flinch before they recovered themselves and roared their defiance to the horses and riders who had taken off when the last syllable had faded into the autumn evening of soft light to charge at them.
The half-circle of banners served another purpose besides making a gesture to put fear into the enemies and strength to the riders themselves. They served as the perimeter out of which no Orc or harpy would be admitted to escape by the twenty five of the fastest horses and their riders who had been assigned to stay close to the edge of the ring and cut down any who tried to take off.
The battle immersed all Aurelin's senses like a fierce lover - distantly she noticed that Ennorís was surrounded by what must have been her guard of harpies while most of the others of the flying horrors seemed to turn to the Forest. It did make a twisted kind of sense - Orcs could be dispensed with to battle the riders while the harpies would then have time to fan out in the forest and do more damage if they could push to the Halls while the cavalry of the Elves would in the end still need to come under the eaves and loose their advantage of open ground.
Gilgaer had managed to down more Orcs in the initial charge and Aurelin had seen him cutting swathes through their rows while she had had to bring Alagos around and evade the spear that had been pointed at her horse's side. Not realising it, she was crying "Menegroth!" at the top of her lungs as she had had in many play-battles with his mother and father. Whirl the horse to take the Orc with the spear from its back, swing, move on and do not stop to brush the black blood droplets from your cheeks!
Crunch, crunch - Alagos brought its front hooves down on the head of a stumbling Orc and snapped in fury at the one beside it who had rent the horse's nose with its claws before rolling away and intending to bury an axe in Aurelin's leg. Instead it got the foot attached to the leg it had wished to sever smacked in its face with another sickening crunch. Aurelin urged Alagos on, changing sword-hands for a moment to brush the palm of her left clean of the slick blood against her pants. It almost cost her her ear when an arrow whizzed out of nowhere but she had the knife beneath her wrist-guard in hand and deflected the arrow at the last moment so that it thudded into a trashing horse on the ground, ending its suffering. Wild-eyed, Aurelin let Alagos rear up against two bellowing Orcs coming towards them, while she tried to locate the Elf to whom the dead horse belonged to. The elleth was being driven to her knees by a wounded and furious harpy who tried to gouge her eyes out.
"Come on, Alagos!" Aurelin nudged the horse to the aid of the silver-haired elleth, changing her sword back to her left hand and tightening her grip. Blood shone in beads on the pale face of the maiden who was finding it impossible protect her face and swing her sword at the same time. Aurelin leant low on Alagos' back and felt air stir over her - from the corner of her eye she saw an axe land harmlessly in the dirt - she swung her sword and took the harpy in its wing, cutting off half of it cleanly, provoking a terrible cry from its owner and a swipe of its claws before it faltered and landed awkwardly on the ground. The silver-haired maiden scrambled out of its way and took up her sword again to lurch after an Orc who had its bow aimed at an Elf from Imladris who was battling to regain control over his horse.
Aurelin eyed the harpy, her as ever unusually pale face shining with light and she saw the harpy cower and beginning to clamber away supporting itself with the one whole and the mutilated wing. Its faint worked for Aurelin urged Alagos up to finish the creature, who instead made a flop to the right and drove its claws deep into Aurelin's right thigh, dragging her from Alagos' back and producing long rents for the effort. She tried to twist herself while she was half way between the ground and the horse but only managed to fall hard on the already wounded thigh. Aurelin felt a weight land on her and Alagos swerved a few steps from the battling couple. Knowing she was the lighter one, she squirmed like an eel to evade being trapped, she dragged and kicked her foot free and rose to falteringly to her knees. Twisting and attempting to rise to her feet, she found herself face to face with the harpy who brought its claws around her neck, squeezing and driving them in. Desperately Aurelin head-butted and discarded her sword to grab a knife into each of her hands. Head ringing, she drove one into the sagging and spotted throat of the harpy while the other she rammed into its temple.
Wearily she kicked the body away from her and took up her sword again, yelling for Alagos before another harpy or Orc could decide she was easy catch. Which she would be if she remained on the ground with her throbbing and bleeding thigh. The black shoulder of her horse under her hand was close to bring tears of relief into her eyes and she scrambled awkwardly on Alagos' back, leaving a smear of her blood on its flank.
Ennorís had been forced to retreat almost to the edge of the forest and from under the eaves came cries, curses and clang of weapons, announcing that the Nandor were just as busy now as the Sindar and Noldor.
"Go right, Alagos! Right!" Aurelin brandished her sword while Alagos was able to build up speed for a short charge at a group of Orcs who had crowded together into a little group. She saw that from the other side a very tall Noldo was doing the same and she had to swerve her horse so to leave room enough to use her sword. The two horses were giving all they had and Alagos raised its head at the last moment before driving his rock-hard breast at the Orcs. In the middle Aurelin and the Noldo met and he brought his horse around so that side by side he and Aurelin had one of their sides guarded by each other while their swords claimed the heads of the seven Orcs who had survived the charge of the horses.
"Well done!" the Noldo gave Aurelin a small nod as they finished and looking into his face she understood all the stories of the terrible sight of an Exile in battle, eyes blazing like a wild-fire and making hers look like a candle-flame in comparison. The next moment the Noldo urged his horse with a cry of "For Beleriand!" to another direction as Aurelin tried to use the little moment of respite to see how the battle was going and where Laswing was. However the survey was cut short as a spear came arching through the sky, forcing Aurelin to duck and the next moment she found herself assailed by a one handed Orc who had a huge mace in its only remaining fist.
The object of Aurelin's (short-lived) attention was well. He had had in mind to reach Ennorís but had been brought short by a firm line of Orc with long spears, intent on shredding the flesh of the horses of him and of the two others who had gotten as far as he had. It had not been that hard to despatch them, but by the time they had finished, Gilgaer had seen Ennorís was too far for him to reach. Instead, he had made his best to drive the Orcs toward the trees, cutting down those who were too slow to flee him. Twice a throwing axe had barely missed him, one grazing Elthoron's flank, the other taking with it a long strand of Laswing's flying hair. He let Elthoron disengage itself from the course of the forest and took a curving arc back out to the centre of the battlefield, keeping an eye on whether the perimeter held. It had so far.
Aurelin had not even noticed but Gilgaer had passed by her right after she had climbed back on Alagos' back after her battle with the harpy. She was able to move and that was as far as he had allowed himself to think. She never heard him cry her name for she had already nudged Alagos into a charge. An Orc half its face shredded away, possibly by a maddened harpy, had raised itself from where it had sprawled on the ground and impossibly finding strength amongst the pooling blood and its left eye running out to draw a bow, had aimed it at Aurelin's back. Heart leaping inside, Laswing had vaulted from Elthoron's back and charged into the half-dead creature, to send the arrow on the wrong course, and had rolled to his feet to take its head off. As smoothly as he had gotten to the Orc, he was back again on Elthoron and going after a trashing and screaming harpy who was attempting to bring Magorluin from his horse by lodging onto his shoulders.