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The Face of the Enemy
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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2
Part Two

For disclaimer, rating, dedication, etc. see Part 1.

Author’s notes:
What will follow is basically the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, as seen through the eyes of the enemy. Originally it had been planned as one chapter, but I changed my mind during writing, for it was to become extremely long. Thus a few more short chapters and an even shorter epilogue can be expected.

Andrahar, too, is “played” by Márton Csókás, for obvious reasons. Imagine him as he appeared in the movie “Triple X”.

The scene where Imrahil bandages Faramir’s wound follows the lead Isabeau of Greenlea laid in her epic story “Captain, My Captain”, with her generous consent. Esteven is one of her original characters.


~~~

PART 2

23 Esfand in the year 3019 of the Third Age
The Pelennor Fields, in the early hours of the day


The next morn dawned in complete darkness again, as the Dark Power of Mordor kept the world under His mighty shadow. Only the campfires and torches provided some light – red and dim it was, but enough for the vast armies to arrange themselves for the final attack. Today, the White City would fall and Harad would conquer its oldest enemy.

Iskhandar emerged from the sanctum with renewed strength but a troubled mind, wrapped in the shadow of dark foreboding. That last vision had made him uneasy and only the battle rage would break the cold and clammy grip of fear on his heart.

He rode before the long rows of his dshigits as always, his long, dark hair in a tight knot on the top of his head to keep it out of his eyes and wearing his strongest leather jerkin, the one covered with scales of steel. He would not take any risks today. The fate of Bakshir, the fate of the whole Harad was at stake. He would not fail.

Thamuzaddad rode on his right, towering over him like a protective wall, ready and prepared to protect his kha-kan with his weapons, strength, and – if necessary – with his life. Nothing less would be acceptable. He had been born and raised to serve Iskhandar. He knew no other life, nor did he want one. And though his hair had turned grey already, not having the blood of Westernesse in his veins, age had not slowed his sword-arm yet, nor had it dimmed his wit or quenched the fire in his great heart.

On the other side of the kha-kan Erusha rode, the Bowman, the best archer of the Hiung-nu and one of the few mortal Men who ever entered the tower of Minas Morgul and been allowed to leave again – though not to tell the tale. Erusha had been selected by the Shadow Lord himself, brought to the tower while other allies were only allowed to camp inside the walls, and taught things no other Man had been taught for hundreds of years. The Shadow Lord had taken only his ability to speak in exchange.

Iskhandar considered that a bargain. Erusha had been a skilled archer – useful, but a mere slave, one of many useful slaves. Now he was a unique weapon in his kha-kan's hands. One that Iskhandar intended to use. With his ability to speak, Erusha had lost his ability to fear, too. He would face the pairiki themselves if ordered.

Four tumens of doughty Hiung-nu warriors followed, all clad in leather jerkins, carrying round shields – made of tough ox hide and strengthened by bronze ornaments – and strong, short bows and curved scimitars at their sides. Not a single one had remained to protect their camp. If they were victorious, there would be no need to do so. Should they by some evil fate lose the upcoming battle, no-one would be allowed to survive. In truth, they had no other choice than to win.

Iskhandar saw the banners of Zipangu on his right, with the black stallion upon it. Aside from the defenders of the White City, there was his worst enemy.

“Keep an eye on the Mahol,” he said to Thamuzaddad, and his blood-brother nodded. They both knew what a treacherous worm Dzhigitaj was. It was all too appropriate that he had chosen the black wolf as his symbol.

On their left, the daiva swarmed over every rock and every green hill like black ants. They had already won the passage of the Great River, forcing the defenders back towards the open, green fields that were called Pelennor by their inhabitants, the Fenced Lands. A fair and fertile land enclosed by the stone walls of the Rammas Echor.

Those walls would be breached today. The green fields would be drenched in blood and ash. And then the way to the White City would be free.

After the last defenders of the ruined western city fled beyond the Great River, the daiva brought forth floats and barges in great numbers that had been built amongst the ruins of the eastern city for days and followed them, swarming across the water like beetles. There was a long and brutal fight on the other river bank, for the Men of the White City knew what was at stake and did not give in easily. But they were ten times outnumbered, and finally their resistance broke under the sheer numbers and insane blood thirst of the daiva. The foul creatures were driven mad by their fear of the Shadow Lord and would not cease pursuing their prey, lest they be slain horribly by he who commanded them.

For just as the bells of day rang out in the White City – though to what end Iskhandar could only wonder, as there was no day to dawn any time soon – the twice four brethren of the Shadow Lord rose into the dark skies, riding their winged beasts. Fire sprang up across the dim spaces where the walls of the Pelennor stood. The daiva pulled their great war machines to the wall and started blasting breaches in it.

And still, the armies of Harad were told to wait. As they were mounted warriors mostly, they needed room to charge. So they waited, listening to the rumbling of the machines and the sounds of breaking and falling stone impatiently.

In the middle of the morning the walls and the Causeway Forts that had defended them were taken. The Men of the White City retreated, fleeing still in a close, remarkably ordered mass back to their main fortress.

To their last refuge. To their death trap.

Once they had closed the Gate behind themselves, there would be no escape for them.

And still the Shadow Lord had not yet allowed the armies of Harad to enter the fight. The dshigits murmured angrily, but Iskhandar understood the cunning plan that was about to unfold. There would be a great battle on the fields – they were needed for that. The Rammas had been breached far and wide, and soon they would enter in at many points.

“Get ready to cross the River,” he said to Thamuzaddad. “As soon as the daiva have cleared the way before us, the order will come. And then I want us to be the first ones on that battlefield.”

Thamuzaddad nodded and sent messengers to the lesser khans to keep the wooden bridges, erected across the Great River three days earlier, under surveillance. They needed to reach them before other Haradric armies if they wanted to be first in battle.

Sitting upon his great mount motionlessly, Iskhandar listened to the battle cries and the dull rumbles of the war machines with only half an ear. Like a predator, he was intent upon his prey, ready to strike.

Time passed. The battle noises were quieting. Finally the signal from above came, in the form of a long, bone-shattering screech of the wraiths. The well-trained Hiung-nu dshigits lunged forward at once, reaching the bridges in closed rows, ere any other army could make its move. By the time other ka-khans had finished swimming their horses across the River, Iskhandar’s men were already entering the green fields of Pelennor through the southern breech in the wall. That was the widest entrance, and it provided the shortest way to the White City.

“Set the houses along the way on fire,” said Iskhandar. “We need no-one behind our backs. Let no-one escape.”

Thamuzaddad delivered the orders and soon the houses and barns scattered over the southwestern part of the Pelennor were burning, providing a dim, reddish light for the dark armies that crept slowly towards the besieged city. Yet it was still too dark, even for the keen eyes of the Hiung-nu, and thus Iskhandar allowed his dshigits to light some torches, so that they would not slay each other by accident. Like a river of blood, the long line of little fires poured along the broad road that led from the broken gate of the Rammas towards the White City.

The lines of fire grew in length and speed steadily as the armies of other Haradric realms poured through the wall breaches and towards their final goal. Less then a mile from the White City Iskhandar spotted a more ordered mass of men, marching not running, still holding together – the rest of the retreat from the Causeway Forts, apparently led by a strong khan who was able to resist the terror of the wraiths.

That could not be allowed. They needed to panic and scatter – or die, ere they could reach the City Gate and encourage the defenders inside by their deed.

“Thamuzaddad,” the kha-kan said, “they must not reach the City. Let our dshigits move faster.”

Thamuzaddad signalled the herald. One short, hoarse horn signal sounded. The dshigits leapt into attack, their well-fed, well-rested horses sweeping along the road after the weary defenders like a black wind.

The main retreat was now barely two furlongs from the City Gate, but the distance between them and the Hiung-nu diminished rapidly. Iskhandar could see clearly the small company of horsemen – all that was left of the enemy’s rearguard – galloping behind. Some sign must have been given, for all of a sudden they turned at bay, facing their followers.

Iskhandar now could see the face of the young khan – it was pale and haggard, though it showed grim determination. The raven hair and the icy grey eyes reminded the kha-kan of those worshippers of the pairiki who dwelt with the Swan Lord in the southern haven. This one was not easily frightened, though his eyes revealed that he had come under the Shadow before. Mayhap he needed not much more to break after all.

Thamuzaddad’s herald blew the horn again. With fierce cries, the Hiung-nu lunged. From the right side, the mounted dshigits of Zipangu swept up like a tidal wave under the yellow banner of Dzhigitaj, surging up, overtaking the retreat. From the other side, waves upon waves of the daiva surged, bearing flames. The lines of fire became flowing torrents. The wraiths upon their winged mounts stooped down from the dim sky with bone-shattering shrieks, ready to kill.

The horror of their coming finally broke the order of the retreat. Men fell to the ground, maddened by fear, all but begging to be slain, to be put out of their misery. The familiar heat of battle rage rose in Iskhandar’s breast as he urged on his mount, eager to catch up with the khan of the enemy’s horsemen – the only one who still could withstand the dread sent by the wraiths. If he managed to slay that one, this part of the battle would be won. The retreat would never make it back to the city.

But ere he could reach the enemy, the clear sound of a silver trumpet rang from the White City. From within the shadow of the Gate, under the looming walls, a host of mounted Men sprang forward, formed, quickened to a gallop, and charged, shouting in clear, ringing voices. And from the walls an answering shout went up, full of renewed hope.

“Amroth for Gondor!” they cried in their hateful tongue. “Amroth to Faramir!”

And Iskhandar’s heart grew cold, for he recognized the pehlevi from the southern haven, just as he had seen them in his vision, in their glittering hauberks and blank breastplates and shining helms, with the Swan Lord himself before their rows and his blue banner at their head.

Like thunder they broke forth on either flank of the retreat, and before them all a lone rider galloped upon a great, silver horse, clad in shining white like the mages of the Hallowed Fire. A long spear of pure light shot from his upraised hand, slicing into the dim skies, and the vassals of the Shadow Lord tumbled in the foul air, screeched like wounded animals and swept away. Iskhandar could feel the abrupt change of their luck and his heart filled with dread.

“Pull our forces back!” he shouted hoarsely, and Thamuzaddad, the ever-vigilant, obeyed without delay. Now was not the time to be foolishly brave. There would be another attack, of that Iskhandar was sure, moreso for the Shadow Lord had not yet shown himself. Thus he needed to spare his dshigits for the true battle.

But there was one thing he needed to take care of first. Looking around, he waved Erusha closer.

“Kill the young khan of the retreat,” he said. “We might be driven back for the moment, but I want him dead. At any cost.”

The Bowman nodded simply. Being a former slave from Far-Harad, his dark face and almost white eyes had never shown much feeling. And since he had spent his time in Minas Morgul he had no feelings left to show, none at all.

He raised his black bow, notching one of the special arrows provided by the Shadow Lord himself, drenched with the foul magic of Minas Morgul. Only a handful of these arrows had ever been made, but Erusha was the best Southron archer and an assassin taught by the sorcerer-wraith. He never missed his target.

The daiva and the dshigits of Zipangu, taken at unawares – for they had been too intent on their prey to notice the peril in time – broke, scattering like sparks in a gale, and the half-bred pehlevi of the Swan Lord pursued them mercilessly. The onslaught was crueller than Iskhandar would have expected from any Western warrior. The field soon was strewn with the stricken corpses of the daiva and the Mahol dshigits. A reek arose of torches cast away, sputtering out in swirling smoke. And still they rode on, determined to bring back the young khan of the retreat safely.

Iskhandar was not going to allow that.

“Now!” he said in a low, cold voice, and Erusha released the arrow.

The young man, as he held at bay one of the huge lesser khans of Dzhigitaj’s personal guard, was hit in the shoulder and fell to the earth. Dozens of Mahol warriors lunged forward to hew him to pieces as he lay, but the Swan Lord had seen him fall and urged his pehlevi to charge.

The grey eyes of the abomination were ice-cold and terrible in his wrath, and Iskhandar hurriedly murmured the oldest and strongest warding words he knew for his own protection. He was close enough now to see the likeness between the Swan Lord and the fallen one, and he understood that in this moment he had made himself a dreadful enemy. One that would not tire until it had hunted him and all his progeny down until the seventh generation.

Fortunately for him, the great forces that were flowing in behind his men finally reached the battlefield. The trumpet high up in the White City rang again, sounding the retreat. The pehlevi of Westernesse halted. Behind their protecting shield-wall, the out-companies of the enemy re-formed and were marching back steadily towards the City Gate.

To Iskhandar’s awe, the Swan Lord dismounted in the middle of the raging battle and knelt beside the lifeless body of his young kin. His pehlevi pressed up, surrounding him protectively like a living wall of blue and silver, yet, strangely, leaving a wide breech open in the front, as if not wanting to disturb his free view.

After a quick examination of the shoulder wound, the abomination glanced up and his gaze swept the battlefield briefly before it fell upon Iskhandar. Those bright and cruel eyes, glittering coldly even in the dim darkness, held the kha-kan’s, and Iskhandar knew that he was marked for death, unless the mages found an even stronger spell to remove the curse. Hurriedly, he made the warding sign with his free hand, and could feel more than see Thamuzaddad and the other guards move up to his side.

One of the pehlevi dismounted as well, handing some bandages to the abomination. Another soldier, wearing the green garb of the hunters from the deserted lands, held the hands of the fallen one down, and the Swan Lord broke the shaft of Erusha’s arrow off. The white eyes of the Bowman widened in surprise, for those special arrows had been warded with the foul wizardry of Minas Morgul and were considered unbreakable by mere Men. But mayhap the blood of the pairiki that flowed in the veins of the abomination protected him against the Morgul-spell.

Whatever the reason might have been, the arrow did not harm him. Calmly, as if he were not in the midst of a murderous battle, he pulled the mail shirt from the wounded shoulder, grasped the reminder of Erusha’s arrow and tore it out with a single move that was as brutal as it was efficient. The fallen one groaned and his eyes went dark.

Removing the arrow was of little importance, of course. The evil spell of Minas Morgul worked in the wound already. They might get him back to the City, but the young khan would die nonetheless, and his passing would be prolonged and painful.

The Swan Lord finished bandaging the wound and swung back into his saddle. The dismounted pehlevan and the green-clad hunter lifted the fallen one with great care and handed him up to the abomination.

The silver trumpet from the City sounded the retreat again, waking Iskhandar from his stunned state. He realized all of a sudden that his prey was about to escape him.

He was not going to let that happen!

Yet ere he could give the order to attack, the Swan Lord, already turning to retreat himself, spoke one single word, his clear, hard voice slicing through the battle noise like a hot knife.

“Andrahar!”

One of the pehlevi moved on to his side. A bright-burnished vambrance glinted for a moment, as the man raised his arm with an almost invisible speed. In the next moment Erusha, the Bowman fell from his horse, the handle of a throwing knife protruding from his white eye.

Iskhandar was enraged by the quick and unavoidable death of his Bowman. Unlike common archers or dshigitis or even khans, Erusha could not be easily replaced. The mute Bowman had been the kha-kan's deadliest weapon, used for very important tasks only – and now he was lost, forever.

And yet it was not the loss of Erusha alone that filled Iskhandar’s heart with rage and hatred such as he had not known for a very long time.

‘Twas the face of that pehlevan who had thrown that knife with a skill and strength known among Hiung-nu warriors only.

A face that was so very like his own and yet so very different. A face that was not pale and fine-boned like the others around the abomination, but swarthy and strong-featured. With eyes that were dark like Iskhandar’s, and like Iskhandar’s, full of cold, unforgiving hatred.

A name that he had not heard for more than fifty summers.

A name that he had hoped never to hear again.

“Andrahar!” the abomination called again, and the bastard son of that Umbar whore, the spawn of foul Westernesse whom Iskhandar’s older brothers had removed from their father’s noble house, turned his horse to follow his new master back to the White City.

Blinded by rage, Iskhandar gave a hissing sound, and Thamuzaddad’s big horse sprang forth at his side. They would not let the abomination or the foul bastard escape. This time they would slay them for good.

Thamuzaddad pushed forward to protect his kha-kan as was his duty. He directed his attack towards the Swan Lord, for according to custom, the slaying of the bastard was Iskhandar’s right alone. Being the only remaining son of his great House, Iskhandar was entitled, and indeed compelled, to remove from it the shame of the bastard’s continued existence. Thamuzaddad would kill the abomination for him, and thus the retreat would never reach the City.

But the abomination did not turn back to face Thamuzaddad, fleeing instead with great speed towards the Gate, carrying the one shot by Erusha’s enchanted arrow in his arms before him on his horse. Apparently, bringing the fallen one to safety was more important to him than an honourable fight to the death. But he was an abomination. What could be expected of him?

The swarthy pehlevan avoided Iskhandar’s attack with the skill and speed of a striking cobra, throwing himself between the Swan Lord and Thamuzaddad instead. His glittering armour made his quick moves seem like lightning. His broadsword was made in the fashion of Westernesse, but he fought like a Hiung-nu warrior: recklessly and not following any rules.

Thamuzaddad had the advantage of mass and brute strength, but the pehlevan more than made up for it with his unbelievable speed. Iskhandar saw with dread that his blood brother had no chance against the bastard. If he did not slay Andrahar at once, Thamuzaddad would be worn out and slaughtered in no time.

The kha-kan called out to two other large guards to cut off Andrahar’s escape, for the bastard had fallen back to secure his master’s retreat and was now all but surrounded by the Hiung-nu. Only one of the pehlevi was still with him, trying to keep his back free.

“Give me one more moment, Esteven,” he said, calm indeed for a man who was surrounded and outnumbered. His manner was that of a man used to giving orders and having them obeyed, and Thamuzaddad shivered, for even his voice was eerily alike Iskhandar’s.

The pehlevan named Esteven nodded. A cruel smile appeared on Andrahar’s face as he looked over to Iskhandar (who was desperately trying to reach him in time) while easily avoiding Thamuzaddad’s attacks.

“You took everything from me, you and the others, son of Isfandijar,” he said. “Now I can finally begin to pay my debt to you.”

He urged his mount forward. The well-trained warhorse leapt like a sure-footed deer. Then the armour-clad right arm of Andrahar shot forth again. Steel glinted, and faithful Thamuzaddad, sworn shieldmate and blood brother of the kha-kan, fell heavily forward onto the neck of his mount, his life blood gushing out from his chest where the armour had been punctured by the bastard’s blade.

There could be no doubt that the bastard had recognized Thamuzaddad. He knew who the faithful guard was and what he meant to Iskhandar. He had chosen to kill him for that very reason. With a last, cold look at Iskhandar’s stricken face, he and Esteven turned their horses and raced after the retreat, the Hiung-nu too stunned from having seen their khan falling to even pursue.

He would pay. He would pay horribly, Iskhandar swore. By the Dark Fire of Udűn, he would pay!

Now he understood why Haôma had told him in the vision that he would need to conquer his own blood ere he could conquer the White City. And he would. He would do what he and his brothers should have done fifty summers ago. He would remove the shame of their House, permanently.

But for now the bastard was beyond his reach, gone back to the White City with the abomination he had chosen to serve. That had been a proper choice indeed. And proper it was too that they now were sitting together beyond the closed Gate of the White City, like rats in a trap.

As soon as the Gate was broken, Iskhandar would deal with them. For the moment, though, he needed to regroup. He needed to witness Thamuzaddad’s last moments, to send his friend’s soul on the way of the warrior. The camp of the Hiung-nu needed to be moved onto the Pelennor, as close to the beleaguered city as possible, so that they would be able to launch the attack first, as soon as the Shadow Lord gave the order. It would come on this very day.

He turned to Basthvaray who would take Thamuzaddad’s place as soon as he had sent his friend on his way and gave him some urgent instructions. Then he laid Thamuzaddad onto the blood-drenched grass. It saddened him that he would not be able to bury his blood brother as custom demanded, that he should have to free him here amidst the battle gore, but there was no time to do otherwise. The big man barely held onto his life as it was, gathering all of his remaining strength in order to die properly.

Kardash,” he said with the horrible, gurgling noise of a blood-filled lung in his voice, “hurry up…”

Iskhandar kissed the clammy brow of the one who had been more than a brother to him for almost seventy summers, and throwing his head back, he called out to the gods and the spirits of their forefathers to witness. Then he drew the long, thin, ceremonial knife that never left the belt of a true Hiung-nu warrior, and rammed it with an unwavering hand into Thamuzaddad’s heart, setting his friend’s soul free to soar up to the seventh heaven where their ancestors dwelt in the halls of the Fire God.

TBC

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Translations:

dshigit – nomadic warrior

Mahol – the nomadic people of Zipangu

a tumen – a troop, containing a thousand mounted warriors

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