The Battle Has Only Begun
The Battle Has Only Begun
He had seen too much, Iwar thought. Sometimes it was really as simple as that. He had seen far too much. He didn't often feel old, but these past few weeks had made him feel the full weight of his almost sixty winters. Some considered him too old to be here, citing his age and his undeniable skill at the anvil as good excuses for him not to join the battle.
Iwar disagreed. What else was there left for him in life but to try and kill as many Orcs as he could? He had no one left to go back to, and maybe his presence here could save one life, the life of someone who did have something or someone to return to after this impending battle. If he had voiced this intention to anyone around him, they would have said that he was suicidal, and that this was no attitude to enter a battle with. They might even consider him a risk, which was why he hadn't told them. His motivations were his own and no one else's.
And it felt good to stand here. For the first time since the dragon had come and had laid waste to his home, he felt like he was doing something, something that mattered. When Smaug had come and burned the house, which contained his wife, children and grandchildren, he had been away, in his forge, trying to finish an order. Only by pure chance had one of his customers had the presence of mind to drag him out and into a boat. In the darkest hours of the night, he sometimes cursed the unknown man who had saved his life. Without his family, life seemed utterly pointless.
There was little use in staying with the charred remains of a town he'd lived in his whole life, and so he had marched on the Lonely Mountain, like so many others had done. Most of them blamed the Dwarves for wakening the dragon and setting it on their town, but Iwar was too numb to feel anything. He just felt empty. There was no rage, no longing for bloody vengeance, as there was in so many of the younger men. And what did rage matter anyway? No amount of vengeance would bring his loved ones back, and neither would hoards of gold restore them to life. Of course he agreed that the Dwarves should pay. It would not right the wrongs, but it was a necessity of life that they paid. Winter was approaching all too fast and the survivors needed shelter, food, medicine, all of which could be purchased with the gold the so-called King under the Mountain was withholding for reasons far beyond Iwar's comprehension. But then, politics had always been far beyond him.
He was not even sure how it had come to this: him standing side by side with Dwarves, ready to face an army of Orcs that had seemingly come completely out of the blue. He could see the Dwarves nearby. Iwar had not seen many of their kind during his life, and somehow he was taken aback by just how dangerous they looked, despite their short statures. Not so long ago he had feared to face them on the battlefield as foes, but here they were, allies.
Iwar took it all in his stride. There were worse people to fight and die alongside with.
He was too young, Aennen had been told, and he had seen too little. He disagreed. He had seen more than three hundred summers and had faced more spiders than he cared to count. And he had come out victorious, had he not? He had not gotten as much as a single scratch in the last fifty years and that, he believed, was something he could indeed be proud of. Whichever way you sliced it, there was no denying that he was an experienced warrior of some skill. He believed he had more than earned a place in his king's army.
His captain had not agreed. Aennen had been treated to many arguments of how a battle was different from dealing with spiders. At first it had looked like the only foes he would need to fight would be Dwarves. Aennen didn't have a problem with that. His kin had known trouble with the Dwarves for as long as he had lived, and since long before that. They were greedy, and a bunch of backstabbing liars as well, not to mention that they were violent. Not all that long ago they had attacked his people at their merry-making in the woods, and then they had escaped captivity by a backdoor, which told Aennen all he needed to know about their characters. Suddenly the stories came to life, all the things he'd heard about Dwarves suddenly became real. The things they had done were unforgiveable. Unleashing a dragon on a town of defenceless people? That was something so low that Aennen didn't even have the words for it. Were they so selfish that they did not care for the consequences of their actions? The current situation seemed to be suggesting just that. But then, what was he expecting from the people who valued lifeless stones above everything else?
He could see them now, standing, waiting for the army of Orcs to arrive. They were so small, about the height of children, but far more dangerous. They were heavily armed, and rather grim-looking as well. Worthy opponents in a fight they would be, Aennen assumed, although it was unlikely he would ever find out the truth of that now. Instead he would be faced with Orcs. As much as Aennen disliked Dwarves – and with good reason – Orcs were an abomination, creatures that should never have existed to begin with, that should have been wiped from the face of the earth two ages ago, when Morgoth fell. Instead, unlike their master, they had endured and had been a stain on Middle Earth ever since. Fighting them was a good cause.
'They say there are many,' he remarked to his lifelong mentor, an Elf by the name of Caran. He had also been the one to try and stop Aennen from leaving the relative safety – if one disregarded the many spiders – of Mirkwood.
Caran, a veteran of more wars than Aennen knew about, permitted himself a small smile. 'Yes,' he said. 'There always are with Orcs.' The look he bestowed on his protégé was almost sympathetic.
'I can do what needs to be done,' Aennen said. 'You know me. My aim is true.' And it was. Caran would be foolish to deny that when he had been the one to offer him training. 'It will not err today.' It never did when he was chasing down spiders.
'You have never seen battle before,' Caran gently reminded him. 'It is not the same.'
Everyone told him that. Battles were bloody, people perished, but Elves had the advantage of superior skill and speed. Orcs had no advantages at all. They only had numbers and strength. They could be easily outwitted. Besides, as much as Aennen valued Caran's advice and guidance, it was also widely known that Caran was a more solemn soul than was good for him. Rumour had it that he had been in the Nirnaeth Arnoediad, before he had somehow ended up with King Thranduil's retinue. But battles like that were not fought in the world today, not anymore.
'But similar enough,' he insisted.
Caran's grey eyes regarded him calmly, with just a hint of sympathy in them. 'I hope you won't have cause to think differently, mellon.'
Some would call him arrogant. Aennen preferred confident. After all, would it not be an insult to his people if he doubted their ultimate victory? It simply would not be right. And they had allies, people who fought this battle with them. The Orcs would not have anticipated such an alliance, such an unlikely alliance. Had something like this – Elves, Men and Dwarves fighting for a single cause – even been seen in this age? No, they would never see this coming.
'I won't have such cause,' he responded, feeling his bow in his hand. The familiar feel of his weapon in his hand made him feel safe, made him feel invincible. He may be inexperienced, but he didn't doubt his skills, not even for a second.
The sight of the enormous army of Orcs made him lose heart immediately, though.
Lóni remembered. As the masses of Orcs chased the light rear-guard, intended to lure the enemy into the trap that had been set for them, he remembered. And in his head he went back, back to a very similar day more than a century ago, when he had faced the hordes of Orcs in the valley of Azanulbizar. He could still see his brother's face, determined and excited in equal measure, gripping his axe tightly. It was Róni's first battle, and he had been determined to prove himself. And he had done exactly that. Róni was the only reason Lóni was standing here today, while his brother's flesh had long since been burned on the pyres they had been forced to make after the battle, along with their father's.
He had cut off his beard in grief then, had sworn never to set foot on another battlefield again, not ever again. Yet here he was, gripping his axe with all the determination he could muster. When the war call came, he could not stay behind. It was in his blood. It was loyalty. Dwarves did not leave kin to fend for themselves when they were set upon by Elves and Men and Orcs. Dwarves were loyal. It was true, it was not a trait they were most commonly known for. Men and Elves thought them greedy and stubborn, the latter of which they undoubtedly were, no mistake about that. But they were loyal, first and foremost. They had come when King Thrór had been so brutally murdered and defiled as well, no matter what the cost may be, to avenge their king. And so when Lord Dáin had called his people to arms, he had answered the call.
But he had more reasons to be here than mere loyalty to kin. No, he needed to correct that. Loyalty to his close kin was what really led him to be here on this day. Dari, his son, was standing next to him, axe in hand, eyes sparking with determination and excitement in equal measure. The rest of him was as unmoving as the rock from which their race was rumoured to be carved. He couldn't fool his father though. It was as clear as daylight to Lóni that his son was only waiting for the sign to throw himself into the fray.
Loyalty was not as much of an issue for Dari as it was for Lóni, he knew. Dari was burning with indignation for the wrongs done to their kin. He had been prepared to kill as many Elves as it took to have justice, and now he was just as passionate about slaying Orcs. He had been ranting about making nice with Elves, but there had not been much choice. Orcs were the enemies of every living being on and under the earth. Elves were capable of goodness, Orcs were not. It was as simple as that. Azanulbizar had driven that lesson home to him.
'We can't trust them,' Dari muttered, eyes fixed on the elves rather than on the Orcs, something Lóni recognised as a dangerous and often fatal mistake. As justified as Dari's distrust was, it would be fatal if they did not trust their own allies. The only ones to benefit from such a thing were the Orcs.
'As much as they dislike us, they hate Orcs more,' Lóni said, but he knew that he was not truly denying what his son was saying, and Dari was bright enough to know that. They both knew the tale of how King Thranduil had turned his back on the exiles of Erebor when the dragon came, and the fact that he was now here with the Men of Lake-town to demand a share of the treasure, that did not raise him any higher in Lóni's esteem. But a common enemy could unite even the oldest of foes. Lóni didn't trust the Elves, not with his life or those of his kin, but he trusted them not to turn against them during the battle to side with the Orcs. That was enough to be getting on with. He said as much to his son.
Dari gave him a curt nod. 'Aye, they wouldn't,' he agreed. 'But who's to say what will happen after.'
Lóni shared those concerns. After the battle, all the issues that had brought them to the brink of war with Thranduil and his Elves would still be there, would still need to be resolved, and Lóni could not see any party budge. And he would think his king lesser for giving in, too. This was the wealth of their people, and Elves and Men deserved no part of it.
But now was not then. Now they were in an uneasy alliance, and there was a battle to be fought. So, when the command came, he gave a battle cry and threw himself into the fray.
Caran was calm. Outwardly, at the very least. He had seen many battles, and this would not be the worst he had ever lived through. He had lived through the Nirnaeth Arnoediad, the Sack of Doriath and the battles fought by the Last Alliance. This was no great battle where the fate of the world would be decided. This was a host of Orcs under the command of one other Orc. It was different. There was no Morgoth, no Sauron. All would be well.
But there would be casualties. There always were in a battle, and this would not be an exception. It was the very nature of warfare. And the ones to die would be the young, old and inexperienced. He looked at Aennen, his protégé. It was true what he had said; he had killed many spiders and his aim was good. But he had never killed people. Not that Caran would ever make the mistake of calling Orcs people. Yes, they were sentient beings that resembled the form of the Free Folk somewhat, which put them at least a bit above spiders, but they were cleverer, and maybe even capable of emotions. Caran could not know for sure that they were capable of anything other than hatred and bloodlust, though.
He held his sword, looking out over the scene. The Orcs were close now, here and there people were fighting. It were mostly Dwarves and Men on the field, but his people were joining in now. The number of the enemy was greater than he had anticipated, much greater, and even despite the alliance of the Free Folk, they were outnumbered. This did not mean anything in and out of itself; to be true, he had seen worse odds. But people would die.
He let his eyes wander to the Men and Dwarves. The Dwarves did not show any emotion. If there was anything to be seen, there was determination, defiance. They were not to be defeated, as strong as the rocks they preferred to live under. But not as endurable as those rocks, he observed. They could be wounded and killed, the same as Caran and his kin.
It were the Men who never ceased to amaze him. They were short-lived and so very, very fragile. Sixty, seventy years was their lifespan, if they weren't taken beforehand by battle, illness or accident, and then their life was extinguished. For them to risk their lives was something Caran had always counted as a braver thing than for Elves and Dwarves. Some of the faces of the Men he saw betrayed that they had not even yet reached adulthood. Other faces were old, too old to be here.
And yet they were here, Elves, Dwarves and Men united in a single goal. The likes of this Caran had not seen since the Last Alliance. Memories stirred and for a moment he was not standing in the desolation of a dead dragon, but at the Black Gates of Mordor. So long ago, and yet this day had the same feel to it.
Caran had come here, expecting war with the Dwarves. A war, he believed, they had all but asked for. Did they not know how much the dragon had taken from his home, only to hoard it jealously under the Lonely Mountain until the day of its death? Did they not think the Elves too had suffered under Smaug's reign of the region? Were they really as arrogant as to believe that their people were the only ones to lose things they held dear?
Dwarves were greedy. It was a fact commonly known. They had proven that they'd rather starve to death than to hand over a single coin in reparation for the damage Smaug had done to the town of Men when they had driven it out of its lair. Caran had never held the Dwarves in very high esteem, even less so after King Thingol had been murdered by them. But they were better than Orcs, and able fighters in a battle. There were worse allies to have in a war.
'Are you ready?' he asked Aennen. The blonde Elf may have seen three hundred summers, but in essence he was as innocent as a child.
Aennen had demonstrated minimal signs of shock when he had seen the enormity of the enemy army, but he had schooled his expression back into one of solemnness. 'I have been ready for more than a century,' he replied. That was the cheek Caran had gotten used to.
Caran only nodded. He was not an Elf of many words, nor was he a poet that he could find the right words that would help his pupil through this battle. And there was no time for such things anymore either. The enemy had walked into the trap blindly and now the trap had sprung. The battle had begun.
The story title is taken from the song of the same name by Karliene. The chapter titles come from the lyrics of that song. It seems to suit the story.