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The Face of the Enemy
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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5
Part Five

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

Author’s notes:
The all-deciding moment for Iskhandar has come. Some descriptions, as before, are quoted from “The Return of the King”, with subtle alterations.

My heartfelt thanks go to Isabeau of Greenlea once again, for cleaning out my grammar and deleting my continuity errors. Also, thanks for lending me Liahan. :)


~~~

PART 5

24 Esfand in the year 3019 of the Third Age
The Pelennor Fields – late morning to sunset


Having seen their King fall and grown reckless with the perishing of the Shadow Lord, the Men of the Riddermark gathered around their new, young King, crying out with one voice, loud and terrible as the rolling thunder, and gathering speed like a great tide their host swept about, roaring away southwards. The fighting flared up on both sides with new fury, fuelled by the battle cries of men and daiva, the neighing of horses, the deep sounds of horns and the ringing of trumpets, and the bellow of the mûmakil, maddened by the stench of blood.

Under the south walls of the City the footmen of Gondor drove steadily against the daiva from Minas Morgul that were still gathering there in strength though severely shaken by the fall of the wraith. But the horsemen of the City rode eastward to the aid of the strawheads; and with them rode the Swan Lord and all his pehlevi.

“There,” Iskhandar pointed out to Basthvaray, and the four tumens of Hiung-nu finally launched into the battle, eager to show their strength and skills.

For Iskhandar had realized that the fury of the young Northern leader could decide the fate of the whole battle. In his wrath, the young man had led his riders too deep into the rows of Jarkend’s cowardly dshigits, driving great wedges into their ranks. But behind the useless mob of Jarkend, the fresh hosts of Khambaluk stood, calling the Southern troops about their mûmakil as if they were towers of defense; and the horses of the strawheads were frightened by the great beasts and would not go near them.

Not only were the Northmen thrice outnumbered from their onset on, but now Gothmog, the khan of Minas Morgul, who had taken over the leading of the hosts after the Shadow Lord’s fall, sent into battle all the hand-picked forces mustered for the sack of the City in advance. Stocky Easterlings there were from Rhûn, clad in animal hides and bronze hauberks, armed with heavy battle-axes. Variags of Khand followed them, with their long spears and narrow, lozenge-shaped shields. The elite forces of Khambaluk, wearing scarlet and gold and bent scimitars followed, riding well-trained war-horses. And there were landsmen of Erusha out of Far-Harad, too, dark-skinned archers with white eyes and shaved heads.

Some of those new troops now pressed up behind the strawheads, while others held westward to hold off the forces of the City and prevent their joining with the Northmen. Iskhandar and his tumens pressed towards the blue banner of Dol Amroth with grim determination.

On the battle raged, neither side expecting mercy from the other – or granting it. The Men of the Mark and those of Westernesse proved tougher than Iskhandar had expected. But they were also outnumbered hopelessly, the strawheads now cut off from the forces of the abomination and pressed towards the haven that the men of the City called the Harlond, ‘til they were scarcely a mile from it and from being driven into the River. Once that was accomplished, they had no chance to survive.

Basthvaray, who fought alongside Iskhandar against the armour-clad warriors of the abomination, suddenly reigned his horse and pointed with his outstretched arm towards the bend of a Great River, crying out joyously.

“See, o kha-kan! My people have come!”

Iskhandar followed his arm and lo! black against the glittering stream he beheld the most beauteous sight he could have imagined at this very moment. A fleet he saw, as he had often seen it while travelling in his father’s errand to the seaside. A fleet of dromunds and ships of great draught, with many oars and with black sails bellying in the recently-upcome wind.

The Corsairs of Umbar had come. And as much as Iskhandar hated the treacherous, mixed-up peoples of Umbar or their twisted worshipping of Westernesse, he was now overjoyed to see the approach of the black ships. For their coming could mean but one thing: that the havens on the southwest had been taken, and the lands south from the City were fallen, and the last stronghold of Westernesse lay now open for them. Soon, the plundering would begin. Soon, Iskhandar would return to Bashidra, loaded heavily with bounty, and long rows of chained slaves would follow him to make up for all his losses.

But first he needed to honour the ancient law of blood fealty. To remove the shame from his House. To slay that bastard, avenge the death of faithful Thamuzaddad and free the earth from the abomination.

Determined to fulfill his destiny, Iskhandar pressed eastwards, where the pehlevi of the Swan Lord fought the Variags and Erusha’s people. His tumens – or what was left of them, for they had suffered severe losses in the battle already – raced after him, filled with the intoxicating foretaste of victory.

Yet at the same moment as they finally reached the vanguard of Dol Amroth, the ships of Umbar turned towards the Harlond, and upon the foremost ship a great standard was enrolled. And though black it was, it bore not the sign of Umbar but the White Tree of Gondor, with a high crown above it and seven stars about it, glittering in the sunlight like gemstones.

Having some traces of the blood of Westernesse in his veins, Iskhandar had heard of those symbols, of course. He also knew that a banner like this had not been borne for years beyond count. Not since the two realms of Westernesse had been broken apart. He knew not what was portended by the standard being raised again, but he felt that it was not good for him and his allies.

The other hosts of Mordor were seized with great fear, seeing that their own ships were now filled with their foes; and dread overcame them, feeling that the tides of fate had turned against them and that their doom was near. Already, the daiva were fleeing in mindless terror from the brightening sunlight and the pehlevi of Dol Amroth who drove them mercilessly. And now men leaped from the ships to the quays of the Harlond and swept north like a storm. And Iskhandar’s heart, too, filled with dread, seeing two tall, dark-haired figures among them, clad in white and in blank armour, with pale, identical faces and with stars on their brows.

The pairiki had come to the White City’s aid, turning ally into foe with their foul wizardry.

But not all the men of Dol Amroth rode forth after the daiva. The abomination himself remained back, surrounded by his most faithful pehlevi, and now they turned against Iskhandar’s forces. Ere the battle could rear up between them again, though, the shield-wall of the pehlevi parted for a heartbeat’s time, and forth rode Andrahar, the living shame of Iskhandar’s House. A shield and a sword he wore, but no spear, unlike the others, and his sword was not the broad kind the Men of Westernesse preferred but much thinner, its blade slightly been and wider at the end than at the hilt.

It was a Hiung-nu scimitar. One made by the hands of an excellent swordsmith, by the look of it.

Andrahar held his steed – a great, silver-coated war-horse from Dol Amroth – and looked straight into Iskhandar’s eyes.

“The time has come to settle our old quarrel…brother,” he said, his voice oddly amused. “Just you and me. An honest fight to the death, between two warriors.”

Iskhandar scowled. How dared the bastard call him ‘brother’?

“You are not my brother,” he answered in heavily accented Westron. “You are but a handful of grime that has soiled the proud name of my House for too long. I shall be glad to remove that shame. But how can you speak of an honest fight? Your armour is far better than mine.”

Andrahar did not even wince at the insult. The bastard had no shame, no pride. Never had. He simply nodded.

“That can be helped,” he said, calling out to his fellow pehlevi. “Liahan!”

One on the left end of the shield-wall stepped forth. “Aye, Master Andrahar?”

Master? They called that bastard Master?

“Remove my breastplate and vambrances,” ordered Andrahar, never turning his eyes from Iskhandar, “and take my helm, too, That will even our chances out, as no mail shirt can resist a Hiung-nu scimitar.

That was very true, and Iskhandar had no further objections. The man named Liahan removed Andrahar’s breastplate, carefully to remain behind him all the time, as for not to block his view; then the vambrances, and finally the helm. Iskhandar noticed with dismay that the bastard had the cheek to braid his hair in Hiung-nu fashion – and that though he was greying, there was still much dark hair in that mane, though they were of roughly the same age. But Andrahar had the blood of Westernesse from both his mother and from Iskhandar’s father who had sired him.

“Now we are even,” the bastard said. “Let us settle this once and for all.”

And without wasting any more words, he charged headlong to meet Iskhandar. Iskhandar gave his mount the spurs too, and the big horses raced towards each other as if each wanted to ram the other and trample him to the ground. Yet it was Iskhandar’s horse that broke first and swerved away; and Andrahar, galloping by, dealt a swift stroke with his scimitar, severing Iskhandar’s bridle. Then he turned by, prepared for the next charge.

Iskhandar was seething with anger. That bastard dared to make fun of him! But he would not feel like laughing much longer! The kha-kan turned his horse around as well, and now it was he who charged first. This time he would not allow his horse to break out.

Andrahar rose to the challenge without hesitation, and once again, the great mounts were thundering towards each other. They were of the same size, more or less, so it was of little surprise that when they actually collided – for this time Iskhandar managed to keep his steed under control, despite the loss of his bridle – they both were able to keep their balance. Of course, both riders were thrown to the ground by the force of the impact.

Iskhandar sprang to his feet, but so did Andrahar, too, and now they began circling each other carefully like big hunting cats. Iskhandar was stronger, mayhap – he was certainly heavier – but Andrahar was as quick as lightning and dangerously fast on his feet.

And yet it was Iskhandar who managed to draw first blood. His long arm sneaked out like a striking cobra, his razor-sharp scimitar cutting trough Andrahar’s mail shirt as if it were mere silk. He had tried to gut the bastard, but Andrahar moved his shield into the way of the stroke, so that the scimitar slid off and he was only hit on his side. Then the bastard whirled around with the same move and his scimitar hit Iskhandar clean on the shoulder of his shield arm. But then Andrahar had to spring backward again; Iskhandar was fast, too, and his arm was longer.

The kha-kan discarded his shield; with his wounded shoulder, he could not use it properly anyway. To his surprise, Andrahar threw away his shield as well. Did he want to even their chances out again? That was fine with Iskhandar – it made his task easier.

They began their slow dance around each other once more. Weapons sneaked out, blood was drawn, again and again. They both fought in Hiung-nu fashion, and their strength was almost equal. Yet after a time Iskhandar felt himself wearying. He no longer had the endurance of his youth, and time was working against him.

With an unexpected leap, he sprang forward to end this fight ere he lost it. But Andrahar did not move away when the kha-kan’s weapon cut a deep slash on the left side of his face. Why had he let himself be wounded without defending himself?

Something pierced the middle of Iskhandar’s body. He felt almost no pain, so sharp Andrahar’s blade had been, so quick his stroke, skilled and deadly. The kha-kan felt a strange weariness overcoming him. He looked up into those dark, unforgiving eyes, cold and hard like pieces of obsidian, and shivered.

“Finish it,” he murmured.

And as the knights of Dol Amroth and what was left of the warriors of Bakshir watched in stunned fascination, Andrahar, Armsmaster of the Prince, took the face of the Haradric chieftain in his bloody hands, and throwing back his head he let out a long, keening wail. Calling the gods he no longer believed in and the forefathers he had denied decades ago, to witness the departure of his brother’s soul – the brother who had never accepted him.

Then he loosened the ceremonial knife from the kha-kan’s belt and rammed it into Iskhandar’s heart with a steady hand.

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

The battle raged on for many hours yet, and the fight was hard. For the dshigits of Bakshir and the warriors of Khambaluk were bred for war, vengeful of the deaths of their leaders and fierce in their despair. And the Easterlings of Rhûn were strong and war-hardened and full of hatred for the Men of the West. And so here and there, upon hillock or mound, under wall or on field, they gathered around the one or other khan or chieftain and fought until the day wore away.

Then the Sun finally sank behind the mountain-peaks and dyed the sky and the hills, the mountainsides and the Great River blood red. And in that hour at last the horrible battle was over; and not one living foe was left within the circuit of the Rammas. All were slain, save those who fled to die, or to drown in the red foam of the River.

Basthvaray, though, miraculously escaped, with only a handful of dshigits, and under the protection of the night they headed home. Long and arduous was their way back to Bakshir, and bitter the tale they had to tell – a tale of the wrath and terror of the Men of Westernesse.

TBC

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

Li-ao & Jarkend – another realm of Harad. Li-ao has a vague similarity to Medieval China, while Jarkend is a realm populated by semi-nomadic warriors.

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