A/N: Slightly delayed due to holidays wandering over hilltops, and other factors. A chapter is never late. Nor is it early. It lands precisely when it is meant to.
The Shadow of Angmar
Chapter 30: But the War Continued Still
In dreams, Harry was free. He could ride upon the currents of the smallest brook, and follow the crystal waters all the way out to sea. He could drift upon the breeze, or slide down faults in the stone beneath his feet.
Wings of thought bore him high over dark mountains. The moon was waning, and cast only a faint light over the land. Snowy mountaintops were little more than ghosts in the darkness, and soon were borne back into distant darkness. Faster and faster they slipped by, silent as a breathless wind, until he saw three more rear up high in the darkness, and beyond them a dark shape nestled in their shadow.
Then, from the south there came a voice. He could not hear it, for his ears lay still safe within his tent upon a rocky mountain-side, but he knew the words it spoke.
"You have drifted far," said the voice. He could not recognise the speaker, for the voice in his mind was alike to nothing he had ever known. There was a familiar power there, perhaps, but the source of that familiarity slipped through his grasp like water. "It is not wise to separate spirit and body at such a great distance."
Beneath pale moon and glittering stars, Harry stopped and tried to answer. Yet, his mouth resided also in the mountain valleys far to the north, and he could make no sound. He wanted to ask who it was that was speaking to him, but silence was his only response.
"Once, perhaps, it would have been safe to travel the world as you do now, but the days grow ever darker," said the voice, and Harry could feel the ominous note of prophecy in its tone. "You should return to yourself, for if you do not then senses far more terrible than mine will surely come to be aware of you so near to their domain."
As the voice spoke once more, Harry's attention was drawn to a light that had sprung into being atop the mountaintop below. It was little more than an orange spark, and yet it drew him closer. As he drifted lower, the spark kindled and grew into a flame. Soon, distant though it was, he could feel the heat of it.
"No!" said the voice, and Harry's attention was pulled from the growing flame to a new light, which shone clear and white from the dark shadow beneath the mountains.
As both lights grew in intensity, the voice spoke once more: "Remember yourself, Harry Potter. Remember who you are or risk learning the suffering of the first-born."
He drifted in the darkness for what could have been seconds, or minutes, or hours, as he tried to comprehend those words. Harry was who he was, of course. And yet Harry was also confined to the ground, asleep upon an uncomfortable bedroll, surrounded by an army of thousands. Harry could not fly upon the breeze, or drift upon the eddies of the world.
The heat upon his formless senses continued to grow. Though the cooling light of the unknown voice was a salve, it could not wholly vanquish the burning warmth of the glowing flame. It felt like rage, so long undirected, but now focused upon him and it began to burn.
Had he hair, it would have curled and charred. Had he still skin it would have bubbled and flaked. He had neither of those things, and yet the pain still came.
Then the voice spoke one last time, and no longer was it soft, veiled power and silk. Now it was iron-hard and commanding. "Harry. Awaken!"
Unseen power struck him, and it was as if a great spring had been released. It snapped back, and so too did he. Before the mountains had swum by beneath him, now they flashed by, too quick to follow.
"Harry, awaken!" said another voice, and this time his sluggish mind did recognise it, for it was Daewen, and he heard it through the earthly manner that had so long been familiar to him. "There is an attack being readied in the night. You are needed. Harry?"
Harry's eyes snapped open at last, and he saw Daewen's head poking through the flap of his tent, her expression hidden in darkness, and yet Harry already knew the worried expression it surely bore.
"I'm awake," he said as he pulled the thin blanket off and reached for his sword and staff. "Has Thráin been awoken too?"
"Elladan and Elrohir both are bearing the scouts' news to him," said Daewen, nodding and stepping into the tent now that Harry was upon his feet.
"How many are they?" he asked as he tightened the belt which bore his sword in a simple loop of leather. "From where do they come?"
"A few thousand, perhaps," Daewen answered, as she shifted impatiently upon her feet. "We outnumber them, but they have climbed up from the cliffs on the western side of the camp."
Harry immediately saw the reason for her concern. As the army marched south to the next lost hold, it had camped upon a fairly narrow promontory which extended out from the mountainside. It was bordered on one side by a sheer drop into the valley below, and on the other by a steep slope of heavy scree that would be impossible to pass for all but those of Elvish grace.
As such the defences for the camps were primarily around the two narrow approaches, to the fore and to the rear. Harry's own tent was near the cliff, as was Thráin's and many of those in the King's closest counsel.
It was not hard to see why the goblins might have chosen that moment to attack. The army had been split almost in half to traverse the Southward Way. King Haleth and his riders could not navigate the high, rocky paths of the Way, and had been forced to take a lower, longer route. A contingent of Dwarves had joined them, led by Nari, to ensure their safe passage through the mountains.
He darted by Daewen and out into the night beyond. The camp was well lit by fire and by brazier, though only a watchful few had remained awake to tend them. Concealed by the mountains that blocked the eastwards view, the horizon was surely starting to blaze with the brilliance sun, soon-to-rise.
"How long do we have?" Harry asked Daewen as he started jogging in the direction of Thráin's tent.
Her eyes turned towards the cliff edge that was not so very far away. In the darkness, Harry could make out little, but her eyes saw through it with ease. "Some have made the precipice," she said, her gaze scanning back and forth, "though they yet remain in waiting. Doubtless they wish for greater numbers to join them, but they could attack at any moment."
Without stopping, Harry turned away from the tents, and instead started running, faster now directly towards the cliff-edge. The camp was being slowly roused, but they needed more time to form up. "We need to buy them more time!" he said to Daewen as she ran behind him.
As they ran, Harry reached out with his staff to touch each and every tent they passed. When it touched, the tents started to ring like warning bells, rousing all those nearby from their slumber. "To arms!" Harry cried for all to hear, uncaring that the Goblins too might also hear him.
Their sight in the dark was every bit as clear as that of the Elves, and there was little chance that the host of the Dwarves could be assembled without them seeing. They had not the time for secrecy.
Soon he neared the closest point of the cliff-edge, and against the deep darkness beyond he could see inky silhouettes pulling themselves silently over the lip. There were dozens of them, then hundreds. As Harry looked down the length of the cliff and the camp, he realised that more than a thousand goblins had made the climb, and more still were rising from out of the dark abyss that was the valley below.
He swept his staff in a wide arc, and it flashed a brilliant white, the spider-web filigree blooming in the dark. A wall of wind threw the nearest goblins back, and the silence of their attack was broken by their cries of surprise. Soon those cries disappeared over the cliff-edge, and were lost upon the winds that scoured the valley-edges.
Yet silence did not fall again. Instead, new cries went up as the assembled goblins realised their concealment was at an end, and their wordless howls filled the night. Horns, rough and terrible, sounded in their dozens all along the cliff-edge, echoing off the mountains beyond, and the goblins charged forward towards the camp.
A small clear border had been left between the outermost tents and the cliff edge, for fear that the unstable face might collapse beneath them, but it was no more than a dozen metres. It was only seconds before the goblins were amongst the camp. Worse, though, was that the echoes of the horns did not abate.
There were more upon the scree-slopes above the camp.
With the goblins already upon him, Harry didn't have time to see more than that. Mere seconds before the first of the charging enemy reached him, he slid the sword from his belt, and raised it to meet the crude, curved blade sweeping towards him.
Fearsome though goblins weapons were, their primitive metallurgy stood no chance against Anguirel. The black blade of meteoric iron, forged in the first age by perhaps the greatest weaponsmith of the Elves, sliced through the pot-iron of the goblin's sword, and deep into the creature's rib-cage. Perhaps it was the surprise of it, but the goblin did not die immediately and instead clutched at Harry even as the strength went from its limbs.
Another attacker lunged at him, but fell to the ground at his feet, the shining tip of an arrow protruding from one destroyed eye. Behind the felled goblin, Daewen caught his eye even as she started readying another arrow.
There was no time for words. In the time it had taken them to fell two, a dozen more had taken their place. Harry spun, ripping his sword free from the dead goblin. As he spun he brought his staff around, and there was a flash of light in the darkness as it hit another goblin over the head, throwing it into two others and sending them tumbling.
Moments later, both tripped goblins joined their fellow in death, an arrow embedded in each of their skulls.
A group of goblins were approaching Daewen from the side, and she whirled around, sending an arrow into their midst as she did, but they did not stop. Harry brought his staff around, and filled his mind with the beauty that he had seen reflected in the cave beneath Gundabad. Light erupted from his staff, powerful enough to blind him, and yet it did not. He could see clearly through the night as the beam of pure light landed on the goblins. As one, they cried out in terror and pain, and their charge was broken.
Their fight was not going unnoticed. Around them many Dwarves had started to gather. Each of them roused from their dreams by his shouting, and drawn to the sound and light of their fight. They descended upon the broken goblin charge, axes flashing in the rapidly dwindling light.
"The King!" cried one of the Dwarves, and it took Harry only a moment to recognise the speaker as Thorin. "Where is the King?"
"He was roused," Daewen shouted back, her voice cutting through the din with ease. "The sons of Elrond will be by his side."
Thorin did not look comforted by that knowledge, but there was little more he could do than accept it, for another attack was soon upon them.
Axe, sword and arrow flashed in the darkness, and more goblins fell before them until soon the fighting began to die down. There was still no shortage of foes, but their group had grown to such a level that few were willing to attempt such a foolhardy attack.
"We need to find the King," said Harry as the fighting moved further away once again. The clash of steel, and cries of Dwarf and Goblin could be easily heard, but it was not so close now that they needed to shout to be heard. "His tent was not so far, and it worries me that I have seen no sign of him in this battle."
"King Thráin was called out to some issue at the northern end of the camp," said one of the Dwarves that had rallied to them. "I know not what it was concerning, but I saw him leave shortly before the alarm was raised."
That was a small salve upon Harry's worries. Had the King still been in his tent when their attackers had fallen upon them, then surely they would have come upon him. However, if he was not at his tent, then it was possible that warning of the attack did not reach him in time. What then had become of the sons of Elrond?
"Thorin, Daewen, with me," said Harry, already moving in the direction of the drop-off. He pointed at a dozen of the Dwarves that had gathered to him. "You all too. We move north along the cliff edge. We will see if we can reach the King easier that way. The rest of you, gather up any more warriors you can find and make for the eastern slopes. I fear that the battle may have gone worse for us there than here."
None raised any objection to his plan, and the Dwarves split off exactly as commanded.
"Watch for fire from the mountainside," Harry called to the other group as they moved off. "Goblin bows may be short in range, but with the height advantage, they will still be dangerous."
He hoped they took his advice, but he had concerns of his own. He and his company ran through the clear ground between the edge of the encampment and the cliff. Those few Goblin stragglers that remained were quickly dispatched by Daewen's bow before the company even had to slow.
As they made their way along the cliff, Harry realised that many ropes had been secured into cracks in the stone. A few still had Goblins making the climb, and they were soon cast down screaming to the distant valley floor. It quickly became apparent as they moved further northwards that the bulk of the attacking goblins had made the climb there.
There was little value to them in attacking the northern end of the camp. The climb was, if anything, even harder than to the south, and yet attack in the north they had. Perhaps it was their natural predilection to treachery that had seen them opt to attack towards the rear of the army as it made its way south.
Regardless of the reason for it, they soon found far more goblins still upon the ropes. There were even a few who were climbing the bare stone, like fell spiders they held fast to the broken stone through some means unknown to Harry. The groups of Dwarves who had formed up to repel the attacks also looked different. They were smaller in number, and Harry could tell by their tired movements that it had not been an easy night for them.
So, though they could not delay in trying to reach the King, Harry did what he could to help them. Without breaking stride, he spun his staff around and touched the mithril tip of it to the earth as he ran. After a good distance, he turned once more, and reached out to the stone to be heard.
The cliff-face was craggy and inhospitable, and yet the Goblins climbed over it like ants atop a mound. Like a grumpy old man, it wished for nothing more than to send them away and Harry's whispers lent it the power it needed to do just that.
A great cracking noise rent the night, and where Harry had run his staff a cleft opened in the rock, and extended even further, all down the cliff-face in both directions.
"Away from the cliff!" Harry called, though it was unnecessary. A moment later, the entire cliff-edge came away in a great slab, and all down the valley it was repeated even into the distant darkness beyond Harry's sight.
The thunder of falling earth and stone drowned out everything else. Harry was sure that he would not even have been able to hear himself had he shouted, but the tumult soon faded enough that he could hear the swearing of the Dwarves who accompanied him.
It seemed as if the distant roar of tumbling death would last forever, but eventually the night became silent once more. Harry did not know if the sound had simply deafened him, or if the battle was beginning to wane, but he pressed onwards.
"There!" said Daewen, pointing away from the new, closer, cliff face and into the camp. Harry turned to look in the direction she pointed, but could see nothing but broken tents and a few Dwarves and Goblins rejoining battle after the surprise of Harry's most recent spell. "The King's standard is flying there. It looks like they are still under the arrows of the Goblins upon the mountainside."
No command was needed. Thorin and his company, each of them breathing hard from the run, turned in the direction Daewen had pointed, and together they all pushed through the sporadic fighting towards the King's standard.
The group of Dwarves that had gathered there was large, but it was easy to see that many had been injured. The arrows of the Goblins above were only rarely able to find a weak-point in the armour of the Dwarvish warriors, but enough had been fired that more than a few had found some mark.
Náin, cousin to the King, and Lord of Ironhills stood in the centre of the formation, booming out orders to all who would listen.
"Shields! Shields to the east," he roared in a voice loud enough to carry over the cries of the wounded, and the clashing of steel and clank of armour. "Any newcomer with a shield, join with one who has none. Those arrows are still coming in!"
When Harry and his group reached the King's company, Harry realised how badly they'd had it.
Some nefarious mind was behind the goblins' attack. Somehow they had managed to move their forces into position, unseen by the ever vigilant Elves who tirelessly scouted the ground ahead of the army's march. Not only that, but their attack was much heavier in the area of the camp which Thráin had been called to. By their numbers, they had never had much chance of defeating the Dwarvish host, but that had clearly not been their intent.
They had sought to kill the King, for surely they hoped that his host would melt away like morning dew. It was perhaps the greatest strategic failing of the Enemy, that though they might have great cunning and malice, rarely could they fathom the thoughts of their foes. Their plan surely would not have worked as they hoped; Thorin would not have hesitated to take up his father's war, and his allies would not have abandoned him after such a blow. It would have served only to strengthen their resolve.
"Where is my father?" Thorin's voice, stronger and more authoritative than Harry had ever known it rung across the field. "Where is the King?"
As Thorin was led away by another Dwarf, his company surrounding him with their shields held high, protecting their prince from harm, Harry turned his own attention to the battle at hand.
Even as he watched, another flurry of arrows fell upon the defenders. Most of them missed their marks, for goblins made poor marksmen, but there were enough that Harry saw at least one more Dwarf struck down. As he heard the arrows pelt down around him, he realised that he was exposed, away from the main shield wall that was making its slow and arduous and costly advance towards their distant attackers. Daewen, her sharp eyes able to pick out the paths of the incoming missiles, sidestepped one that would have hit her in the chest.
Less than a second later she had unslung her bow, and returned an arrow of her own into the darkness. Harry did not need to be able to see their foe to know that her shot had found its mark. She seldom missed.
Moments later, two Dwarves broke away from the perimeter, each holding a long shield, almost as tall as them.
"Take cover!" one said urgently.
Harry did not need to be told twice, and darted behind the relative safety of the Dwarf's shield. Daewen did the same, but not before she loosed another arrow into the darkness.
"Great Wizard," said the Dwarf who had offered Harry the protection of his shield. His dark hair and short, braided beard was familiar, though Harry could not place him. "What are we to do?"
It was clear that Náin's strategy was one of attrition. Their defensive perimeter was strong, and the number of goblins attacking on the ground had fallen away to almost none after Harry had collapsed the cliff on the western side of the camp. Harry heard him give the command to start moving up, in the direction of their remaining attackers.
It would be better, though, if they did not have to worry about the incoming fire. Perhaps there was something Harry could do about that.
"Follow Náin's command," said Harry as he began to focus on the harsh wind which had long scoured that barren mountainside, "but stay close to me. I am going to see if I can grant us some respite."
With that said, he returned his sword to its place at his waist, and placed both hands upon his staff. He raised it high over his head and into the air. There was a small chance that one of the incoming arrows might hit his exposed hands, but it was simply a risk he had to accept.
He then released his mind into the same air currents that had borne him south in his dreams, only this time he did not ride them south. Instead, he let them bear him upwards, until the Dwarvish camp was nothing more than countless pinpricks of light upon a black firmament. Then he felt something more. Quietly, beyond the sight and knowledge of the attacking goblins, the sons of Elrond and a small company of Elves had gained the upper slopes. As soon as they saw their opening, they would surely rain death down upon the goblins.
Harry would give them that opening. So high up, the strong winds were even more powerful. Even the Great Eagles would struggle in such winds, and Harry called to them, and drew them to him. His voiceless words drew the winds in, and a great gale grew up around his disembodied awareness, spinning and swirling into a vortex, hidden amongst the thick clouds.
Then Harry returned to himself. He felt as light as a feather, and could feel the very eddies in the air as they toyed with the free edges of his clothes. He brought his staff down in a single, smooth motion, and with it came the winds.
The corralled winds howled and bayed in the night as they found themselves constrained between the stone fences of the valley sides. Like a wild animal, it tore at the walls that confined it, and the goblins that had set themselves upon it.
The sound of it filled the night, drowning out all others. Harry had never known a hurricane, or a tornado, but he imagined they did not sound so different to what he had called down upon the enemy on the mountainside. The rage of the winds was so great that it took all of his focus to direct them away from his allies. The Dwarves below, and the Elves above. He hoped that none of them tried to advance too close to the wild winds. He was not sure he would be able to save them from the wind's wrath if they did.
As the winds scoured the lower slopes, the Dwarves around Harry soon realised that the arrows had stopped. Even those goblins who were able to find shelter from the vicious winds could do little more than wait them out, but most were not so lucky.
The winds lasted only for a minute or two, but that was long enough. Hundreds of goblins had been ripped from the mountain face, lifted high into the air before being released from the gale's hold. None of those who were picked up survived the fall, and those who did manage to keep their feet upon the ground were soon picked off by the Elves further up the mountainside.
With that, the battle was largely done. The few goblins who remained, soon realised that their assault had failed utterly, and every one of them tried to flee into the darkness which had birthed them. Very few managed to make good their escape. The arrows of the Elves, and the pursuit of the Dwarves saw to that.
A cheer went up from the beleaguered Dwarves when they realised that the battle had been won. Soon, though, it died away, for it was clear to all that the toll of the dead would be worse than their previous battle.
Even before the cheer had died away, a Dwarf ran up to where Harry was standing. He called out to Harry: "Darjûn! The King has been injured."
"Where?" Harry asked, but the Dwarf had not heard him.
Already, he had turned to lead Harry to the King, waving him onwards with great urgency. With Daewen close upon his heels, it was not far to the place where Thráin had been hidden away. One of the many tents had been commandeered for his use, and was surrounded by Dwarves bearing tall shields.
Harry was ushered through the closely packed Dwarves, still alert for any threat that might come, and into the tent.
It was clear that the battle had, at some point, come to the tent, for the whole interior was in disarray. Not only that, but the small space was packed. With the exception of Náin, who still commanded outside, most of Thráin's council was present, so far as Harry could see, and they were all locked in a dozen different heated arguments.
The interior of the tent was so busy, that Harry could not even see where the King had been laid.
"Where is Thráin?" Harry asked, but his attempt to be heard over the din was insufficient. His voice was almost completely drowned out by the shouting that filled the tent.
So Harry rapped his staff upon the ground smartly, and from his staff a great peal sounded, long, deep, and true. Instantly, silence fell within the tent, and the only noise to be heard was the sound of frantic activity outside.
"Where is Thráin?" Harry asked again, this time his voice much softer, and yet time amid the shocked silence he got his response.
The crowds parted, with only a few muttered words being spoken by the Dwarves there, and Harry's eye at last found the King, laid upon a partially broken camp-bed. He was lying awkwardly, half on his side and half on his front. A long, black-shafted arrow with dirty fletching stuck out from his back at an awkward angle, buried in the gap beneath his spaulder.
Quickly, Harry made his way to the King's side, and knelt to get a better look at the injury. It did not look altogether deep, but it was in a dangerous location. More concerning, however, would be the goblin poison that was surely upon the arrow-head. It would already be taking root in Thráin's flesh.
Harry looked up when he felt himself jostled by the crowd of Dwarves who were clustering around, each trying to gain a better view.
"Everyone out," said Harry, and his tone of voice brooked no argument. He turned his gaze to Fundin. "I need the supplies from my tent," he said. "Whatever can be salvaged, if the battle destroyed it."
As the thronging Dwarves hastened to obey, Fundin nodded. He grabbed his son, and another Dwarf whom Harry did not recognize before heading out to complete his assigned task. A momentary silent glance to Daewen had her following Fundin too. Harry hoped they were quick. He carried a few mixtures and ingredients with him at all times, but with the battle coming as such a surprise, most of it had been left behind in his tent.
"What casualties?" Thráin asked. His voice was strained, but still strong. He was not yet old by the count of Dwarves, just 150 if Harry's memory served, and his people were a hardy sort. The injury should not be life-threatening, if he could counteract the poison quickly.
"I do not know," said Harry, as he felt carefully around the wound. He drove his staff into the ground at his side, and with a whispered word the tent was lit up by a warming light. "There must have been some undiscovered goblin hole nearby. Surely they would not have attacked us so boldly if we were not close to one of their lairs."
Travellers through the High Pass, perhaps a few days to the south, had spoken of Goblin raids but none had thought they would be able to muster the numbers to contest the Dwarf army's crossing of the Southwards Way. It seemed they had been mistaken, and that their mistake had been a costly one.
"Much of the attack was focused on the rear," said Harry. He looked closely at the wound, and was gratified to see that it was shallow as he hoped. It might even be possible, with some effort and care, to remove the arrowhead. Despite the disadvantage that it gave them in battle against opponents armoured like Dwarves, they could not resist the cruel urge to use the most wickedly barbed arrowheads they could forge. "Even here, though, I do not think it went too poorly for us. Your people are disciplined, even in the face of a surprise attack."
Thráin coughed, then grimaced in pain. The shock of it certainly wouldn't help his wound. "Not only on the rear, but on me," he said, and Harry could hear the edge of anger in his tone. "I was not far from the eastern slopes when they launched their attack. More than one good Dwarf surely died in our efforts to get into more cover. They are a cunning foe indeed.
"They freed the pack ponies in the night, when our guards were not watching," Thráin continued. "I thought it was merely a mischance. Goblins would surely have killed the creatures, and yet these did not. There was an uncommon cunning behind this attack."
The arrowhead would need to be removed, Harry decided. He could scour it of all Goblin foulness and leave it in, but it's position would surely cause the King discomfort when he moved. Better it be experienced in the safety of his tent than upon the battlefield. He pulled out a simple potion: a mild numbing draught.
"Uncommon or no," said Harry as he carefully spread the salve around the King's wound. "They have tipped their hand. Before this, we knew of no large goblin settlements in this part of the mountains. We will find them."
The numbing potion quickly took effect, and Thráin untensed as much of the pain he was experiencing melted away. Then, quickly and without warning, Harry tore the arrow from him, and pressed a clean linen against the wound to staunch the resulting blood flow.
Thráin barely seemed to feel it as the arrow was pulled from his side. Whether that was thanks to Harry's numbing concoction, or the King's own anger, Harry did not know. "We will find them, and they will answer for the blood they have spilled here. By the Axe of Durin I swear it."
Harry did not doubt him.
A/N: Not much to clear up here. The Southward Way is not in any canon source, but I have added it as an overland, fairly hard-to-traverse path running down a section of the Misty Mountains just north of the High Pass. It is an old Dwarven Way that has been left pretty much unused after the Holds in that region of the mountains were overrun.
One of the reasons this chapter was a little delayed was that I was intent on completing the finishing touches for my newest story, Toppling Heroes. It's a HP/DC Superheroes crossover, and a sequel to my previous HP/DC story, Kicking Gotham. Kicking Gotham is complete and posted, while Toppling Heroes will be seeing weekly updates until it is all posted but so that it writing those doesn't impact SoA too much, I made sure to pre-write them. As a result there's zero chance of Toppling Heroes not seeing its conclusion.
If you've enjoyed what I'm doing here, maybe you'd like to take a look at those two stories too. HP/DC is an under-loved crossover category, but I'm doing what I can to write some of the kind of stories I'd love to see more of. Both can be found on my profile.