Ducking his head, Peldirion felt his bones quake as a foul voice ripped through the air. Gritting his teeth as he heard Grond being pulled back for a third swing he caught sight of a few of the men cower then move to flee. Growling, he snatched the first man by the arm and threw him back in line. “Hold!” he bellowed, bashing the cross guard of his sword against his shield as the others fell back into formation. You will not die with your backs to the enemy! The thuderous crash sounded behind him, and Peldirion turned to face the gate. It creaked, groaned… and fell with a deafening clatter.
Here they come.
Orcs clambered into the gaping wound, flinging themselves through the gap, flooding into the courtyard, driven mad to fight. A line turned and charged at the cluster of Pelargir soldiers, raising sword, mace, crossbow, and club. Some of the men of other companies and provinces, overtaken by the dread of the Captain of the Nazgul, turned and fled. “Cowards,” Peldirion muttered, thankful for the sounds and smells of death and fire that ignited his blood. Adjusting his grip on his sword, Peldirion gave a shout, and he, along with several dozen Pelargir soldiers, rushed forward to meet the advancing enemy.
The orcs were mad, fighting even as they died, clinging and tripping up men as they trod over them. A young man, little more than a page, shrieked and fell, kicking at the mouth of a slavering, bleeding orc. Forming a line, the soldiers pressed against the orcs that crashed against their bright shields like black waves. Halethon, fighting to Peldirion’s right, drove back a screeching orc, and the two men served as an anchor to the thin wall of soldiers.
Behind the first line of orcs rose a mountain range. Or so it seemed. Cave trolls, five, eight, perhaps more, thundered through the gate. Some of them did not stop, bowling through the lines like boulders, into the fires beyond. One ugly lout fixed his only good eye upon Peldirion and roared, charging. Wrenching his sword out of an orc, Peldirion turned in time to see the troll face him. Caught up in the rush of battle, he roared back, his voice deep and filled with fury. He dodged past a group of fighters, and ran to meet his foe.
Already, men were dragging bodies back out of the clash to the shadowed edges of the courtyard. Some begged for their mothers, others screamed in agony, dying. The troll raised a spiked club the size of a horse and swung, intent on crushing his prey like a bug. Diving within the reach of the troll, Peldirion sliced out to drag his sword across the creature’s gut. The troll screamed, enraged, though not much slowed, as thick greenish blood oozed from his glutted belly. He flailed his club side to side, sweeping at the bug which dared to bite back. Either too focused on slaying the beast, or blinded by the blood that dripped down his visor, one could not be sure, but as he swung his sword again the the club crashed into Peldirion’s shield, throwing him back like a rag doll.
Time, and light, and gravity seem to shift. The red burning flames took on a cool blue cast, and shadows and light leapt out in contrast. Around the perimeter of the courtyard, a grey shadow flited in and out, hovering over fallen men.
Fighting now to breathe as the wind had been knocked out of him, Peldirion lay stunned, sword arm unable to move from being pinned down by the body of a fallen orc. Gasping, he struggled for a moment before he could wrench his sword arm free. He rolled over onto his shield, chest heaving, and forced himself up to his knees. Yanking the helm from his head, he wiped at his eyes to clear them of the blood when the shadow caught his attention. A grey robe and veil formed a slender silhouette in the shadows, but the image seemed to flicker, as if insubstantial. He stared, still dazed. What tricks of light… she cannot be…. Cool grey light trailed after the ghostly form, as if pale little stars slowly gathered around her.
An orc some distance away had stopped, and paused in his horse eating when he realized something much more delicious was nearby. Manflesh– or more precisely, woman-flesh. The orc snarled and began to stalk over to the grey figure. The woman knelt, caressing the brow of a dying soldier. He stilled, breathing his last, and another star joined the constellation forming about her. She rose and moved to another fallen body, seemingly ignorant of the stalking orc. Wiping again at his eyes, a snarl curled the man’s lips as he caught sight of the orc. Ramming the helmet back onto his head, he snatched up his sword and charged at the fiend.
As Peldirion rose, the figure of the woman flickered out, disappearing. Flames and blood reddened, and time jerked back into full motion. The orc paused at the sight of the strange light-show happening with the slim figure in front of him. Before he could fully regain his senses, he was split straight onto Peldirion’s sword. It died with black blood gushing out of its chest. Nearly stumbling, Peldirion stared at the foul body hanging from his blade. How in the… What in the pit is going on?! Kicking it angrily away he looked around wildy in search of the vanished form. For a moment he saw it, a grey light in the corner of his vision. Whirling about as he hunted for the source of the light a hand grasped his elbow.
“Sir! Sir!” Halethon cried above the chaos, the fear on his face telling that he had seen his commander get tossed by the troll. “Are you all right?!”
Feeling life rush back into him as he fully regained his breath, Peldirion shook his head as the world ceased sounding so distant. “What? Yes. Yes, I’m all right!” He motioned to the wall with his sword. “I will gather the remaining men. See how the Swan Knights are faring up the-”
Suddenly, a blast of cold air and sheer dread blew through the Gate. No more orcs. No more trolls. Something worse. Through the archway rode the Lord of the Nazgûl, and those nearest the gate fled before him. Even on the opposite end of the great court did both men stumble away, whirling around to look to the terror beneath the gateway. But one approached the fallen man. The wizard that had ridden out with the Prince the day before now paced forward on his white steed to oppose the wraith.
As the two spoke and unbidden dread welled in his chest, the grey light flickered again, a few meters to Peldirions left. The man tore his eyes from the scene to look. Halethon saw nothing but the stand-off at the gate.
Lalaith, for surely it was her, knelt, bowed over a dying soldier, her hand raised as if against a great and terrible wind. The image of her even bent and flowed as a banner in a typhoon as she struggled. He did not understand, but a chill ran though his limbs as he saw her ghostly form in the midst of the bodies. She should not be here! Forcing his feet to move, Peldirion rushed towards her. The metal of his knee guards ground against the stone as he dropped to his knees beside her. Half blinded by blood, half by a wave of panic, he quickly brought his shield arm around her, guarding her from the sight of the Black Rider.
Her face blooming with recognition, she suddenly looked to the soldier she knelt over, opened her mouth to cry out….Then she was gone again. Peldirion gaped at the void between him and his shield. Forgetting the terrible conference across the court, frustration and rage began to shadow his features but stopped when he saw the soldier he knelt beside. It was a recruit from Imloth Melui. A man no older than Halethon that had driven Peldirion half mad before the Captain had allowed him to join his ranks. He was a good boy, a strong young man. He was dead. Peldirion’s shoulders sank, his head bowed, and a minute passed before he closed the lad’s eyes and rose once more to his feet.
Looking up, Peldirion saw the Black Rider lift his sword above his head, and flames ran down the blade. The wizard did not move. It was the strangest thing, in that moment, when the sound of a rooster heralded the dawn, and filled the dreadful silence with it’s crow. Peldirion could hear his heart beating in his ears. Horns.
Out of the darkness beyond the walls sounded great horns. He knew that sound… It was Rohirrim!
“Lieutenant!” Peldirion boomed, regaining the mask of command as he stode back towards Halethon. “The Prince and his knights!” he called, reminding the man of his orders. Halethon, face alight from the sound of morning, quickly saluted and dashed for the stairs. Peldirion could feel the fire surge back to life in his veins. “There is a war to be won!”