The images flashed by like murals upon a wall as Eldriun ran, the undulating boil of war swaying back and forth like a snake eagerly pursuing its prey. That the Alliance had carried the day none could not argue, but far too many of the enemy’s forces remained on the field to celebrate. Eldriun resisted every instinct to stop and direct the men, as he had but one mission now and all else was secondary to it.
Out of the corner of his eye he caught sight of orcs crashing into the Alliance lines, faces skewered on pikes and bodies piled so high that they were beginning to form a small bit of cover on their own. The lines held fast, but even the assurance of death was not enough to persuade the enemy’s forces that the battle was futile. They came at them like waves upon a beach, the air a cauldron of snarls and cries.
Eldriun only stopped when an onrushing enemy gave him no choice in the matter. But they were dispatched quickly, troubling him little as never more than a lone wolf was able to get by the Alliance soldiers.
Further in the distance the hulking sight of trolls stood tall over the low horizon, the scattering fires dancing streams of twisted light on their makeshift armors. Here and there a body would suddenly becoming visible in the air it was sent reeling, undoubtedly knocked upward by the force of their mighty blows. Eldriun caught sight of a small bridge formed by collapsing siege equipment just ahead…when a voice struck him like a bold of lighting out of the blue sky.
“Remember this day, El.”
He nearly stopped in his tracks. But his brother was not here, could not possibly be here. He lived as all things eventually do, in the sweet recess of memory. Eldriun shrugged it off and continued to run, his eyes darting to and fro for signs of his quarry. But the voice came again, stronger this time. He could see his brother’s face as if it were yesterday. A day perhaps like this one, that would change Middle Earth forever.
“Remember this day, El.”
Eldriun gave a slight nod to his brother and took a heavy, careful breath. Around them the bustling torrent of preparation had begun all over Gondolin. The fragile peace, so long sought and so carefully held, was nearing its end. They stood silently for a moment that seemed to stretch out in resistance of time, their thoughts lost amidst the swelling chorus of activity around them. It was his brother who broke the silence once again.
“Light still remains in the House of Ecthelion. Try not to count our losses before they even begin.”
Eldriun stared down at Verdic and smiled. His little brother had always believed…in both himself and the cause of his people. It was the kind belief born through purity of faith. He possessed a resolute will to defend that which he loved to his dying breath, to lay down all pretense of his own desire and never think of asking why. Though a bit headstrong, Verdic was undoubtedly a fierce warrior.
Sworn to defend the King as a member of the House of Ecthelion, his sword was known across Tumladen to be as deft as his tongue. Though secretly, much of his own fortitude came from a curious feeling of not measuring up to those who came before…a desire to prove himself…perhaps more to his own mind that anyone else around him. For the respect he engendered from his kin in Gondolin was without question.
As the two brothers stared out over the city walls and down to the flat grasslands below, the calming serenity of the surrounding plains had begun to darken. Gondolin stood proud and tall above the land around it, and beyond the grateful protection of the Encircling Mountains had kept the city safe from any who might seek to discover its presence. But on this day rumors swirled of a massive force that was marshaling nearby, and whispers of the name “Morgoth” spilled from the lips like water down a drain. If true, it meant that somehow…some way…he had found them. It was a possibility almost too terrible to entertain, thought Eldriun.
“Keep your lines clean, no gaps, remember those first days at camp. The early lessons will serve you well. If it is Morgoth who attacks us, there will be little room for failures,” Eldriun cautioned.
“I’ll believe it’s Morgoth when I see him with my own eyes. What betrayal could have brought this down upon us?”
Eldriun sighed and placed a soft hand upon Verdic’s shoulder.
“Love cuts many ways, little brother. Before the end it can consume you, for good or ill if you let it.”
“You sound like mother after six days in Ered Luin.”
Eldriun’s laugh was something that he never held back, and in this moment it serenaded the air like a balm for the restless soul.
“She never did like traveling through the mountains, did she?”
“Many moons ago,” trailed Verdic’s voice.
El nodded slowly as their eyes met and communicated. Little else was said between them then, the fading grip of dusk giving way to the crisp embrace of the evening air. On this night the cold seemed almost alive, siphoning its way through the armor with a will of its own, rendering a chill through skin and bone alike.
It was Verdic who caught sight of it first, taking a step forward near the edge of the high walls as he gazed in disbelief. A spark against the dim sky erupted into a deluge of onrushing flame that scaled the crown of the mountain tops in the distance. It was the sign of some sort of battle or spell, he couldn’t be sure. Not long thereafter, they witnessed the last flight of one of the Eagles of Thorondor, the guardians of the only passage through the surrounding mountains. It was they who kept any foes from locating the city therein, and for years they had done their job well.
Eldriun saw it now too and gasped, as the eagle shot out from its low flight pattern and arched upward like a rocket, it’s voice emitting a long, crestfallen lament. It soared higher than any he had ever seen before, desperate to get away from something unseen. Then to their horror, after another brief moment the creature erupted into sheathes of all consuming fire and in a blink it was gone.
The earth shook beneath their feet, the city walls moaning in response to the terror that approached. From beyond the edges of the mountains a host began to emerge, not just from one direction but from all of them. A perfect circle of enclosing doom was fashioned around the hidden city that was secret no more. Into Tumladen strode the armies of Morgoth, where no foreign host had passed before or since.
At the head were beasts and horrors of every shape and size. But chief among them were the Valaraukar, Maiar spirits corrupted into fiery demons of the ancient world…more commonly known as Balrogs. As the two brothers drew their swords, El turned to Verdic and repeated his own words back to him.
“Remember, little brother.”
Verdic gave the faintest of smiles.
And then the approaching sound of gaping, terrible wings shattered Eldriun’s life forever. A huge felbeast swooped up from below, its lower body and legs crashing into the top of the wall, sending cracked shafts and debris spraying into the air in all directions. The impact knocked both brothers off their feet, but the collision with the wall only slowed the beast down for a few seconds. It continued it’s flight, roaring in hellish fury as it passed over them. With terrifying speed it reached down with its huge, black claws and tore into Verdic’s chest piece. Eldriun dove forward and clasped his brother’s hand, their wide eyes meeting as they struggled in vain to hold on to each other. But with little effort the felbeast ripped Verdic from his grasp, lifting him into the air with it.
The blur of the next few moments were lost to him even today. Eldriun leapt to his feet and darted through the streets with reckless abandon, shouting warnings to his kin as some fled and others joined in the chase. But just as it looked as though the beast would carry Verdic into the dark of night and never return, the creature abruptly made an about face, swooping back towards El as he scrambled in their direction. Arrows spiraled to and fro as his kin desperately tried to bring the creature down, but the arrows fell harmlessly against the rigorous scales of its hide.
The felbeast darted low as El ran to meet it, the feet between them closing rapidly. He was almost there, his sword brandished high and his heart churning like a vibrating string upon a harp. Then with a wide flap of its wings, the felbeast lurched its body high and with force unimaginable, it slammed Verdic’s body down into the marble streets, leaving only an indent of blood and broken armor pieces behind. The howl of anguish caught in Eldriun’s throat as he was only a few feet away from the impact. Then, without a seeming care in the world, the beast hoisted itself back into the air as it sailed just above Eldriun’s grasp, arching to its right and releasing the body just at the edge of the walls.
Verdic tumbled in midair without a hint of grace, the kiss of death neither caring for his heroism or concerned with his prior deeds. As tears stained the lines of Eldriun’s face, he helplessly watched his brother’s body vanish from view and plummet down into the eternal night below.
He spoke to himself as a way to quiet the feelings. I remember, little brother, always…I will remember what you stood for and who you tried to be. But the present gave little more time for flights of fancy, as two more orcs emerged from the hillside. With a quick duck and sidestep he was by them, his weapon turning to deliver a shot to the kidney followed by another to the back as the first orc crashed to the earth. The other was raining blows down from on high mere seconds after, but El patiently parried each one and then promptly removed the creature’s head from its body.
Another voice reached him then, but this it was no memory at all.
“One of the Nine! The Rider has him! Come quickly!”
Eldriun turned to his right and saw a group of soldiers desperately fending off a trio of orcs as they retreated towards a cave. Uncertain if the Sons of Lindon had any part in this, Eldriun raced to their side only to witness all three fall before he could get there. But their foes went with him, all wounded gravely as they crawled to the gruff embrace of the dirt that would soon claim them. As El surveyed the carnage, one of the elves caught sight of him before passing out, his draining blood a pool of thick blackness in the pale moonlight above.
“Prince Thranduil lives…but the Rider has him…”
Eldriun cursed as he bent over to examine the wounds. The close inspection left little doubt. The elf twitched, his eyes fluttering.
“I remember. I….can see…her face…”
Only stillness followed.
Eldriun closed his eyes. Having already watched so many die during his pursuit, the knowledge that the Prince of the Woodland Realm had been captured by one of the Nine proved too grave to ignore. There had been no sign of Gil-gilad’s men thus far and he couldn’t allow more people to die while he ran by and left them to their fate. El gathered himself and placed a comforting hand on the elf’s shoulder. His voice was gentle though the dead would never hear it.
He glanced back at the skirmishes raging behind him. Like every other soldier on the battlefield, he was a prisoner to the thrall of fate’s voice. Once engaged there was no way to the break the bond other than victory. He resolved to do as his brother had once said. Once a battle is joined the objective is not to die for your cause, the objective is to live for it. With no more delays, he quickly stepped forward into the cave as shrill voices could be heard within. The Prince and the Nazgul were face to face.