During the final moments of the Nírnaeth Arnoediad, a captain and his men rescue two elves during their last and desperate stand. This was written for the Silmarillion Anniversary Writing Contest.
Turgon’s trumpet resounds over the battlefield and calls me for council. Once I summon my lieutenants to accompany me to the heart of the troops, I gaze to the field where Maedhros’ shortly before fell before.” Amidst the flurry of cloaks and red plummets, I can see that his banner is up again. It tells me of their apparent recovery, but in their renowned swiftness, they flee in a split moment and take with them the remnant of his host that could be of our aid. Only until this moment, I can comprehend this forced decision: Let more than one heir of Finwë live to defend all of the Eldar. The deep waters of the fens of Serech are close now: its bloody history tells us of valiant battles fought and friendships forged. I wish I could predict what history we would write here with victory nearly in our grasp, the needless deaths of the men of Nargothrond and Fingon almost avenged. I need to answer to Turgon’s call, yet two elves who fight back to back, clothed in grey cloaks draw my attention.
Their faces are determined and grim; they appear to be so out of place to me. The way they defend themselves, the wayward hand that from time to time reaches for something behind them. Wood-elves, I suddenly realise, but with whom did they march? I know I cannot wait for this knowledge to come to me; their desperate stand could be finished within moments now that our enemy regroups and will turn their attention to us. There cannot be any delay.
“I want those two elves rescued and be counted amongst my ranks,” I order my men and without any hesitation.
“I know. Tell him I will be there as soon as I can,” I answer the scout without looking at him, feeling proud of the efficient manner my men are handling the specific order. I know them all, trained them to form a tight knitted formation, their shields raised high while their long spears will kill any foolish enemy that wishes for a death by impalement. Their movements are fast, precise. I have seen it in their eyes so often, that question of why I hammered so much about timing and learning to trust the comrade next to them. I know that it was hard for them to accept the training as foot soldiers at first, but in Gondolin there is hardly any need for cavalry with its narrow streets and high buildings. I drilled them long and hard as if I knew this moment would come. Now we clearly reap the rewards of this and I wonder if this will be the greatest test of all.
“With whom did they fight?” I wonder aloud.
“There was a delegation from Brethil, my lord,” my aide answers.
“But Haldir and his men were slain the day Fingon broke away from Angband. How did they survive? Why would these two wood-elves fight with the men of Brethil?” This riddle of these two elves, it is simply an enigma to me. However, as the warriors retreat slowly to close ranks with my main host, they offer shelter to the seemingly two worn-down elves by giving them rations and warm cloaks. The tallest does not allow me to prompt the question though: he is fierce and proud. A quality that I have seen before by those elves who left the battlefield earlier today.
“Well met,” the tall elf greets me. “My name is Beleg Cúthalion and this is my fellow march warden Mablung. We hail from Doriath and we thank you for your apt rescue.”
“You were in dire need for one,” I politely answer, as I try to recall where I heard those names before. I know Turgon spoke of Maedhros approaching all the Elven realms to join his union, but Doriath was not amongst them.
“Where is the remainder of the Doriath host?” I ask Beleg while my aide provides them with some of our spare water skins.
“Our lord only allowed us to go to war. We met Haldir and his men on our way,” Mablung answers, his sharp gaze takes in every detail of our armour and faces.
“My name is Ecthelion of the Fountain and the fine men who came to your aide belong to the Gondolindrim house of the Fountain. I am Turgon’s captain and march under his command, leading one third of the noble houses of our realm.” I explain and register the look of wonder on their faces.
“I realise that now you will have no banner to be counted amongst, but will you accept my offer of protection while you are willing to join the ranks of my warriors?” I kindly suggest, hearing the trumpet of Turgon once more. The two elves exchange quick glances; there is something about my offer that does not land well with Beleg.
“You can place us where you need us,” Mablung answers while he steps forward, “Our bowmanship is great, so mayhap we can provide the much needed strength there.”
“Any noble man is welcome in this host,” I reply as I nod to Beleg, understanding that he would assume the leadership over the archers without any order. I realise that we understand each other, but urgent duty awaits me.
“Give them what they want,” I command my aide, “join me afterward at the council as soon as you can.” Then I turn to the two march wardens. “Thank you for offering your strength in arms, brothers of Doriath; I shall inform Turgon of this.” I cannot ignore this urgent calling any longer now that I can see that the enemy is gaining more ground on the right side of the host: Glorfindel’s men, I realise with a tinge of guilt. All diplomacy aside, the enemy did assail us somewhere else because of this sudden move to spare the lives of these two. While cursing inwardly I know there is no time to waste, the elves that bear the brunt now need their captain. Knowing him, Glorfindel would be at Turgon’s side at this very moment, probably cursing my lateness.
“May the blessing of the Valar rest upon your council with Turgon, Ecthelion. We shall pass on the same words of bravery and kinship to our lord.” Beleg suddenly calls after me and I know that just now we overcame another hurdle. Eldar politics aside, the grimness of this day reminds us that there is no assurance of our lives yet. For if we do not act now, none of us shall see the sun rise in the morn.
Often I wondered how the strength of the Noldor could have prevailed for so long against Morgoth. A folk of pride and treason, slayers of their own kind, nonetheless valiant deeds mark their existence the moment they returned. Upon their homecoming, Luthien and Beren told us of the brave Finrod, yet there was the treason of Nargothrond where the thirst for power overshadowed a quest taken on out of love. My decision to march to this battlefield is still making me quiz my sanity, I cannot tell if it was my heart speaking or wisdom guiding me upon hearing the request to form a union coming from one of the Fëanorians. Who was to say if they would remain true to their promises if they could – once again – turn so easily on their own? Was it the thirst for adventure or the desire to fight against the Bauglir, or was it Mablung who desired this even more than I did? I recall the sacrifice of Denethor as we fought under the stars so long ago. Was it this memory that made me stand up and plea for a release from duty to take up arms in this devastating fight? I wonder how in every decision I seem to make, I have to choose from a lesser danger or evil. Until now, once we met their leader who had ordered our rescue, Ecthelion’s eyes held compassion unmeasured and his words carried wisdom. How could two outer characteristics keep the other in balance?
Aye, I will freely admit that it was my distrust of the Noldor that made us join the ranks of Brethil. They promised their arms and men to Fingon, this way it would not matter for whom we fought since we would not bow for any of Fëanor’s sons. Who would be better to follow than Haldir, Halmir’s son? It was with Halmir whom I once fought beside at the banks of the Teiglin. It was this alliance that nearly killed us days ago, the brave axe men who would not have chosen otherwise than to form the rearguard of the allies they had learnt to trust. I do wish that when years have passed that their deeds will outrank the treachery of the swarthy men we had moments before, although, I fear that many will blame the men for the failure of this day where many valiant men shed tears unnumbered for leaders and lives lost to them.
Ecthelion returned just shortly, and his men are moving, regrouping in thick rows to guard the left of this great host. The men of Dor-lómin hold the captain’s stern gaze, fixed on their movements as they take up the same place as Haldir’s men took days ago. I fear for their survival and I wondered what alliance this house has with Turgon, the newly appointed High King. What folly is this, have we not learnt from this day betrayal at the hands of men?
Just as I prepare myself to leave the ranks I have joined to tell this captain of my doubts, I feel a familiar weapon pressed in my hand. A young golden-haired man smiles at me before he takes his leave to say: “The house of Marach wishes to return this to you. My lord Húrin wishes to tell you that this famous bow and quiver that once came to our aid should be returned to his mighty owner with our eternal thanks.”
Before I can answer, the young warrior hands me the quiver with my arrows I considered lost on the battlefield once the enemy urgently pressed on, forcing me to draw my sword. As much as we could, Mablung and I searched for it, knowing it could be of no use to anyone else except to me. How can this be, that at my hour of doubt regarding the house of Men, such a simple action reminds me of the loyalty and faith that once was? How could I have forgotten about Hareth’s son who will do whatever he can to protect this army in its dire need?
“Give him my thanks and my promise to repay him for this honourable deed!” I shout after the young man who races back to his people while he breaks ranks in dazzling speed, but manages to make it.
“I will honour you when this day is over,” I whisper in thanks.
“His house are honourable people,” I hear Ecthelion’s voice nearby; “Both Huor and Húrin lived with us for a while. They removed any doubt or mistrust we possibly could have had upon our first meeting with the Edain. They will hold true, Turgon would not trust anyone else.”
“I know. I had the honour once to fight at their sides. Once they wet their axes with this dangerous sharpness, any Orc will fear running into them,” I confirm. “His grandfather was steadfast, if he has an inkling of that bravery, none of our enemy will dare to cross these fens.”
“He told me of that battle once long ago, and it was difficult to convince him to shoot a bow or wield a sword. I can assure you: both will do their grandfather proud.” Ecthelion says, “We have to move on, Beleg. They will guard us and they shall stand firmly. Turgon wants to retreat into the passes of Sirion. From there we will have to leave you, but I feel reassured the two of you will make it home.”
“We shall make use of this guise and will find our way to our realm.” I assure him.
“Beleg? I do know that your lord has no love for our kindred, but when we disappear from the eye of this world, none shall be able to protect the houses of Brethil and Dor-lómin with their warriors gone. Will you urge your king to take their fate into consideration?”
“Thingol has never failed Brethil before and now that I know that the House of Marach is connected with them, I shall tell him of this and will convince him as much as I can. You have my promise.”
“Then the House of the Fountain frees you from any kind of repayment for today my friend.” Ecthelion answers as he clasps my arm. “The houses of the Eldar will remain standing strong, be assured of that. While our realms still stand, strong and guarded, Morgoth shall still know fear in his heart.”
I cannot help but wonder why a sudden gloom surrounds my heart and I merely nod in agreement. The tall captain walks away from me, rallying his men here and there, encouraging as they fight to hold the ranks. Within any moment now we will fall behind the guard of the men of Dor-lómin and this thought strengthens the sorrow, which I already felt when I grieved for my friends who fell during this battle. However, we are not safe yet and we must hold true to our promises, even if it is just a mere tale to tell to my lordship, for I will not obey or swear an oath to a man. It is his oath to swear, even though I now dread that the Valar will call me witness of such a promise by making me the king’s chosen champion.
The silence of the mist is unsettling and yet I welcome the small droplets as a balm for my aggrieved soul. The quiet stream of the Sirion cannot help me shake off the last firm battle cries I heard, yet the tears will not come since I know that too many have fallen already. The moment the mist shrouded the pass to give us cover, many Gondolindrim praised Ulmo for his much appreciated gift and shelter.
It is so hard to forget the sounds of battle: the cries of the fallen and the bravery of those who repeatedly engaged our dark enemy with regained strength. ‘Aurë entuluva!’ I did not know why so many brave men cried as we marched down the river, but they were all grief-stricken, the captain the most. Beleg would say naught, but I knew that he understood these foreign words. So far we always conversed with my newfound comrades in my native tongue, for Quenya still is a forbidden language in our realm. As I pressed on, I learnt that the words of bravery rang through; indeed the day shall come again!
An hour ago they bade us to cover our eyes, at first I objected but Beleg pressed on that we would honour their request. Once the valley grew quiet and we could hear ourselves breathe again, we removed the blindfolds and found ourselves alone. After days of battling on the plains, it felt awkward to be so close to the green forest again even though none of its wildlife would make itself known just yet.
“We cannot wait too long, the night is nearly gone and we cannot be assured how long the men will hold the pass of Sirion.” Beleg informs me as he strings his bow. I questioned long about this, especially since we risked our lives finding Belthronding amidst danger. At first he would not tell me, the weariness in his eyes apparent. Never before would I have thought that these valiant men would risk their lives for his weapon.
“Mablung. It is time to go home.” Beleg reminds me before he emerges in the thicket. Leave it up to him to press on as if we just have been away on a small adventure. Yet we leave this behind us with a promise to fulfil and two Elven realms destroyed by those we thought we could trust. Let this be a lesson to the Eldar that only the houses of Bëor, Haleth and Hador can be trusted with our lives. Once more I turn around to whence we came. I shall not forget, I will remember the words of the last stand. Raising my axe in front of me I salute the fallen: “Aurë entuluva, my brave comrades. I promise the day shall come again!”
Many many thanks to Trekqueen, for combing through this so thoroughly and her great suggestions. This was written for the Silmarillion Anniversary Writing Contest.
Chapter 20 from the Silmarillion which is about the Nírnaeth Arnoediad, mentions the following:
Then Thingol fortified the marches of his realm, and went not to war, nor any out of Doriath save Mablung and Beleg, who were unwilling to have no part in these great deeds. To them Thingol gave leave to go, so long as they served not the sons of Fëanor; and they joined themselves to the host of Fingon.
However the professor never mentioned in his works how these two elves returned home once the battle was over. I explored this idea, weaving in the final events of the Nírnaeth as it came to its heartbreaking conclusion.