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1
The Last War Council

Disclaimer: The characters, the context and the main plot belong to Professor Tolkien, whom I greatly admire. I’m only trying to fill in the gaps he so graciously left for us, fanfic writers, to have some fun.

Rating is for the horrors of war.

Author’s notes:
This is a Haldir story, taking place shortly before the final battle upon Dagorlad. Haldir’s background, as shown here, is not canon, just the product of my overactive imagination. For further details, see the Appendix with all the notes and background trivia.

Dedication: This story is for Casey, my dear and faithful friend. Happy birthday, Casey!


~~~

“Despite the desire of the Silvan Elves to meddle as little as might be in the affairs of the Noldor and Sindar, or of any other peoples…, Oropher had the wisdom to foresee that peace would not return unless Sauron was overcome. He therefore assembled a great army of his now numerous people, and joining with the lesser army of Malgalad of Lórien he led the host of the Silvan elves to battle.

The Silvan Elves were hardy and valiant, but ill-equipped with armour and weapons in comparison with the Eldar of the West; also they were independent, and not disposed to place themselves under the supreme command of Gil-galad. Their losses were thus more grievous than they need have been, even in that terrible war.

Malgalad and more than half of his following perished in the great battle of the Dagorlad, being cut off from the main host and driven into the Dead Marshes. Oropher was slain in the first assault upon Mordor, rushing forward at the head of his most doughty warriors before Gil-galad had given the signal for the advance. Thranduil, his son, survived, but when the war ended and Sauron was slain (as it seemed) he led back home barely a third of the army that had marched to war.”

(Unfinished Tales, pp. 270-271)


CHAPTER ONE: THE LAST WAR COUNCIL

[The Dead Marshes, in the 3434 of the Second Age]

The massacre had been terrible. For the first time since this whole war had started, Hathaldir began to doubt whether any of them would survive it. It seemed that they had seriously underestimated Sauron’s strength. Even with the help of the Men of Westernesse, there was little hope left.

Trying to find at least some of his archers on the abandoned battlefield, now covered with corpses, the exhausted Elf tried to remember when hope finally was lost after all those years of fruitless struggling.

Was it when Oropher, King of the Greenwood, had been slain upon the northernmost slopes of the Ephel Dúath, right at the beginning of the war, together with his own grandsons and the doughtiest of his warriors? Or was it when Amdír, King of Lórinand, fell under the axes of the cave trolls, less than a year ago? Or was it when he saw the remaining troops of Lórinand, now led by his own father, being cut off from the main Silvan host (or what was still left of them) and driven into the marshes that had been creeping wider and wider with every passing year of this cursed war?

So many dead. So many of the simple, badly-armed, valiant Silvan folk, whose only wish had been to dwell under their trees in peace. They never wanted riches, never tried to build vast kingdoms, never harmed anyone. They just wanted to be left alone. By the Dark Lord and by their Noldorin kindred.

But the war between the Noldor and Sauron led to the perishing of the great forests in Eriador – they were burned to the ground, the once fertile earth laid barren and scorched and the small settlements of the Tree People gone. The Elves were forced to seek out new dwelling places in what remained from the once vast forests: Greenwood and Lórinand. And when those, too, were threatened by Mordor’s minions, the Silvan folk chose to fight.

Alas, the Elves were divided among themselves! Hathaldir was still too young to attend the war council, but from the grumblings of his father, who had been part of it in his fallen King’s stead, he could form a clear enough picture of the goings-on among their leaders.

It seemed that the Noldor had not learned from their mistakes.

Truth be told, Hathaldir actually liked their High King. Gil-galad was a decent enough Elf for a Noldorin prince, and he even had the common sense to choose counsellors like Círdan and Glorfindel – even Elrond. Having been born in Lindon where he had also spent the first hundred years of his life, Hathaldir could see with his own eyes how much that Noldorin realm blossomed under Gil-galad’s leadership.

The problem was, however, that the King of Lindon did not understand that he was just that – the King of Lindon. High King of the Noldor he was, no question about that, but he behaved as if he were the High King of all Elves in Middle-earth. And that he was not.

However, the true cause of ongoing enmity between Noldorin and Sindarin rulers was not the High King himself. ‘Twas the Lady Galadriel – the only one of the Exiles still in Middle-earth, now that Celebrimbor was gone. Galadriel, who dwelt at Lake Evendim as a queen, even though it was Celeborn whose rule the wandering Nandor companies accepted, not hers.

It had been because of her that Amdír left Lindon for Lórinand to rule over the Silvan folk there. It had been because of her intrusion to Eregion and Lórinand that Oropher moved his entire Kingdom beyond the Gladden River in dismay. And it had been because of the mistrust against Noldorin royalty, stirred first by her trespassings, that both Amdír and Oropher refused to accept Gil-galad’s leadership. They had become distrustful of the Noldor during the current Age, and their mistrust clouded their judgement.

Thus, they made a wrong decision, and the Silvan folk paid the price.

A horrible one.

Even if by some miracle the rest of them should survive this accursed war, it would take hundreds of years for the Silvan folk to recover from their losses, despite their Ages-old custom of having large families.

A recovery Hathaldir would not be part of. For though his mother had arranged a marriage for him with another Nandor family shortly after they had moved to Lórinand, Silith did not wish to have children as long as the war between Sauron and the Elves was still raging – a war in which she was slain at a rather young age. Hathaldir had grieved for a time, but as their marriage was based on mutual respect rather than on true passion, after a while he moved on. He knew that, according the laws of Valinor, he was bound to his late wife ‘til the end of Arda, but it mattered little to him. He never intended to leave Middle-earth, unless he should be slain in battle.

Which was yet another thing the Noldor seemed unable to understand. This was his home. He was a Green-Elf with his roots deep in the soil of Middle-earth. And he was needed here.

Especially now that his own father was gone.

No-one could tell him what happened to Malgalad after he had taken over the leadership of Lórinand’s small remaining forces at the beginning of the recent battle, replacing their fallen King. More than half of that host had perished during the fight in the Marshes. Those who survived knew not what fate their leader had encountered. And there were just too many dead bodies lying around to permit a thorough search.

Trying half-heartedly to cleanse his hands of the black blood of his enemies, Hathaldir sighed in defeat. There was no hope of finding his father, dead or alive, the less so because the battle was not over yet. All they had at the moment was some breathing time – no-one knew how much. And should he survive the next wave of fighting, the care and protection of his much younger siblings would be his responsibility from now on.

Not that it would be completely new for him. Being the chief counsellor of King Amdír and the Captain of his Home Guard, Malgalad played a crucial role in the ruling and guarding of the Golden Wood, hence he had become a rather infrequent visitor in his own home. It had been Hathaldir who helped their mother to raise his brothers – first Rhimbron, then Orfin, and it would be his duty to do the same for their baby sister, Fimbrethil, born after he had left with his father for the war. He only knew of her from the messenger birds. Poor elfling, she will never know their father.

For their mother, it would be a hard blow to learn of Malgalad’s passing. Their bond was strong, regardless of the circumstances, and they loved each other dearly. But Gwenethlin, one of the Wise Women of the Silvan folk, could shoulder any burden fate laid upon her. Still, she would miss her husband terribly and would need the support of her eldest son.

If he made it back, that is.

Someone called out his name. He turned and saw Danuin, one of his few surviving archers – an older Elf, one of the Nandorim of Ossiriand who made it to the eastern lands after the War of Wrath. He was also an old friend of Malgalad’s father and the one who taught Malgalad and his sons how to handle a bow.

“You are wanted in Gil-galad’s council,” the older Elf said; “as you are our leader now. I shall take over for you here.”

Hathaldir nodded his thanks tiredly – he knew Danuin would probably handle things much better than he could hope to himself – and followed the young, dark-haired Noldo who had been sent to look for him. He found that pale, determined face vaguely familiar, though he would not have associated it with armour and weapons.

“Have we met?” he asked tentatively. The Noldo nodded.

“I am called Erestor,” he answered simply. “I have been Lord Elrond’s fosterling and his squire for quite some time and have visited the Golden Wood with him often.”

Hathaldir nodded. Now he remembered this young Elf, aloof and solitary and such an easy target for the pranks of his brothers whenever he visited Lórinand as a part of Elrond’s escort. Rhimbron especially loved to embarrass him whenever given the chance, until their mother decided to interfere and forbade her younger sons to harass the visitor.

They made their way in silence to the large tent that served as the High King’s temporary home and his council chamber among the dead. There was naught else they could have said, and Erestor was never the chatty one anyway. And right now, neither were any of the other Elves. The only sounds that could be heard over the battlefield were the short, sharp instructions of the healers and the slow, barely audible mourning songs of the survivors.

But even those were subdued. There was no time for a proper mourning – that would come after this interrupted battle had reached its end. If there was anyone left to mourn for the dead. Right now, it was but an expression of personal grief.

The great, grey tent of Gil-galad had stood upon that same naked hill ever since the hosts of Elves and Men crossed the Morannon and besieged Barad-dûr. Once it had been beautiful, with its silver-embroidered flaps and the King’s emblem above the entrance, silver stars upon a deep blue lozenge. Now it was covered with dust and ash and the gore of all the recent fights, the silver adornments of its poles blackened long ago. But it was large enough to offer room for at least a dozen people around the long council table in the front and for the King’s bedchamber, separated by a heavy curtain only. A long bench for the guards on duty run along both long sides of the tent, and around the table a dozen or so light field chairs stood for the other leaders. Several large leather caskets of excellent craftsmanship stood near the bedchamber entrance, containing the King’s weapons, spare clothes, dishes and other necessary items.

When Hathaldir and Erestor arrived, the remaining leaders of the Elven host were already there. Thranduil, now King of the Greenwood, sat leaning wearily with his elbows on the chair closest to the entrance, as if he tried to keep free a path of escape. Unlike the Noldor, he wore flexible torso armour with small plates of mithril riveted inside a covering of strong leather, which allowed greater freedom of movement than a mail shirt yet still gave him sufficient protection – save for his arms. His helmet was fashioned in the same manner, and – unlike the Noldor again – he wore his golden hair, now nearly black from Orc blood and battle gore, in one tight braid at the back of his head, to keep it out of his face. His only son who accompanied him to battle and survived – a young, auburn-haired Elf named Enadar, sat on the bench with the guards, barely able to keep upright from sheer exhaustion.

Glorfindel, though as dirty as everyone else, seemed to bear the trials of battle the best of all. Of course, for a living legend of the First Age this war might not be as trying as for the rest of them. Another golden-haired Elf, his golden armour glittering even under the crust of gore, sat next to him, his cold and beautiful face reflecting grim determination: Gildor Inglorion, the Lord of Edhellond, who had sailed up the Anduin with his small, but fierce army to join the war. ‘Twas said that he had some long grudge against both the King and Elrond, yet it did not prevent him from fighting like a dragon against their common enemy.

The High King himself was sitting on a chair before his bedchamber, naked from the waist up, dishevelled and dirty, while a stern-looking, dark-haired Noldorin woman tended to his injuries. Hathaldir remembered meeting her in the King’s tent many times during the war. She was called Fíriel, and people held her in high esteem, for she was the best healer in the whole camp, right after Elrond himself. But then no amount of knowledge and experience could equal the Peredhel’s natural healing ability. ‘Twas a gift Elrond had been born with, not something one could learn.

Fíriel was finishing her task when Hathaldir entered the tent. She gave the newcomer a measuring look that vaguely reminded him of his mother’s manner when he had managed to break something with his too-vigorous childhood play.

“Are you wounded? Can I do something for you?”

“I am not certain.” Hathaldir tried to remember if indeed he had been wounded during the battle, but found he could not.

“'Twould be best if I took a look myself”, declared Fíriel, and without waiting for an answer, she opened the fastenings of the archer’s simple leather jerkin to pull it off his shoulders. His rough linen tunic followed, and finally his soft grey undershirt. Fíriel looked him over with a critical eye.

“Hmmm….” Oddly enough, she sounded just like his mother in similar situations; though mayhap he should not been so surprised, as Fíriel was older than most others present, being one of the few who had escaped the sack of Tol Sirion. “No open wounds that I can see… but you are badly bruised. Any pain when breathing?”

Hathaldir shook his head mutely.

“That is good,” she said. “No broken ribs, then. But you need better armour. This… thing of yours is no good against swords or spears.”

“It has to suffice.” Hathaldir waited patiently ‘til the healing salve was applied to his bruises, then put on his clothes again. “’Tis all I have.”

“Which might be one of the reasons for your grave losses,” commented Gil-galad softly, while Elrond helped him back into his shining armour. “Among other things.”

Hathaldir looked at the High King of the Noldor tiredly. Gil-galad had tried to handle the many different factions that participated in this war properly, he really did. ‘Twas not his fault that he was a Noldo and – despite having been fostered by Círdan, whom Hathaldir thought the wisest Elf on Middle-earth – shared a certain amount of the narrow-mindedness of his kin. Like all Noldor, he tended to think his plans and ideas better than those of other Elven rulers and expected the other Elves to follow his rule.

The fact that, though born in the First Age, Gil-galad was fairly young for the heavy burden of kingship he was forced to bear, only added to the tension between him and the other Elven Kings. While close in age, he was very different from the fallen King of Lórinand – and definitely no match for the ancient, short-tempered, war-hardened Oropher, born before the rising of Anor and Ithil in the First City of Elves.

Hathaldir gave Gil-galad another good, long look. There was an ever-present sadness lingering upon the King’s fair face, caused not by the slightly too-long nose alone. He seemed weary of the war and its consequences, and Hathaldir thought him to be brooding and pensive – though there were tales of his quickly flaring tempers as well. ‘Twas said that Elrond always acted as some sort of mediator between the High King and his court, using his considerable diplomatic skills to smooth the waves whenever Gil-galad’s tempers got the better of him, whether in his dealings with his own court or in his encounters with other leaders.

Apparently, this was one of those times, or else Elrond felt that antagonising the Silvan leaders would be a bad idea, for he spoke quietly.

“There is no use assigning blame, my King. We should see first how we can finally end this war, ere no one remains of us to fight.”

Thranduil raised an elegant eyebrow. Despite his personal losses, no outward sign marred his beautiful face – only in his eyes could one see the dim shadow of forcibly suppressed grief. He emanated a power few could equal, even among Elves.

“What do you suggest, Peredhel?” he asked in a calm voice that belied his legendary, volatile temper. Hathaldir, who had witnessed the tantrums of the then-Prince of the Greenwood, could not resist an approving nod. The son of Oropher had grown considerably under the added burden of kingship during the short time since his father's death.

“We should gather whatever strength we still have left,” replied Elrond, “and launch a final attack against Barad-dûr at once – before Sauron has time to regroup. It is our only chance. We cannot continue the siege any longer. We simply have not warriors enough to do so.”

“We would need the war machines of the Númenórean army,” Gil-galad objected tiredly. “Do you believe Elendil would be able to bring them into position on time?”

“Men can perform amazing deeds if the need arises,” answered Elrond, “and I am certain that Elendil wishes to end this war as much as we do – or even more so. He does not have infinite time as we do, after all.”

“Thranduil?” Gil-galad turned to the King of the Greenwood. “What do you think? Have you enough warriors left to support our flank?”

The son of Oropher nodded with grim determination, his eyes cold as ice.

“We came here to protect our homes. We shall not leave ere this war ends – one way or another.”

“What about the archers of Lórinand?” asked Glorfindel. “How many of your people are left?”

“Half of the army that followed our King to war,” answered Hathaldir grimly, “mayhap even less. But we shall do all that we can. Elrond is right. This war has to end, here and now. We do not have the strength to drag it out any longer.”

“Agreed,” said Gil-galad wearily. “It has gone on much too long. Even if none of us comes out of it alive, ‘tis time to end it. I only hope the Men agree, too.”

“Leave them to me,” said Elrond simply. “Elendil is kin. I shall talk to him.”

TBC

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