Once again, many thanks to the busy but tireless Docmon for beta efforts. Just FYI, this story was written for the HASA Tiny AU challenge, which asked for an AU in less than 1500 words. For better or worse (possibly the latter) here is my offering.
The Eagles are coming
"The Eagles! The Eagles!" Bilbo shouted. "The Eagles are coming!"
His voice caught the attention of the beleaguered Elves, and with sudden hope, they took up the cry, their voices spreading the tidings throughout the battlefield. Soon many eyes were turning skyward, and high above, the mighty birds could be seen soaring about in wide circles, preparing to dive.
Fairly dancing with excitement, Bilbo gave one more shout: "The Eagles!" Yet even as he did so, a rock came crashing down from the heights of the Lonely Mountain and fell hard upon his helm. Bilbo crumpled beneath the blow, collapsing before he realized what had happened. Darkness overtook his thoughts, but ere the light faded entirely, his mind was suddenly drawn to one finger on his right hand where an encircling gold band loosened, twisted, and fell away.
The Ring rolled down the slopes of Raven Hill, skipping around pebbles and across debris before plunging down an embankment to land in a fierce melee of Orcs and Dwarves. In the midst of his bodyguards, Bolg, son of the Great Goblin King, caught a glimmer of gold. Suddenly heedless of the arrows that flew overhead and the axes that beat against his protectors' shields, Bolg stopped to pick it up.
And far away to the south, retreating from his stronghold of Dol Guldur at the onslaught of the White Council, the Necromancer paused in his flight and turned his attention northward…
Protective mists hung heavy over Imladris. In happier times, the sun would have burned them away by now, but for once, the Enemy's darkness worked in the Elves' favor. The mists were the valley's only concealment now that Vilya was lost, and the Enemy had ensured that there would be no sun to part this veiling fog. There had been no sun for many days. Thick, murky clouds boiled through the skies, choking all light and casting a withering gloom over every land from Mordor to Mithlond. No more light for Middle-earth. No more sun. No more moon. No more stars.
But there were the mists. Always, there were the mists…
Upon a high balcony overlooking Elrond's realm, Erestor dragged his attention back from the shadows and tried to focus upon sharpening his spear. Elrond had emptied the armory the moment Sauron had regained the One Ring, and the Elves of Imladris were now vigilant in the care of their chosen weapons. But Elrond himself was gone, having left in the hopes that if Vilya were removed from Imladris, it would prove more difficult for Sauron to find the valley. The ploy seemed to be working, but in his heart, Erestor knew it was only a matter of time. Much of Elrond's mind had been revealed to Sauron ere he could remove Vilya, and the Enemy now closed quickly. A month ago, Lindir and his scouts had discovered Elrond's broken body just west of the Ford, and even amidst his grief, Erestor was too shrewd not to recognize this for the omen it was—Sauron's forces were nearly upon them.
His hands tightening upon his spear shaft, Erestor stared at the sky and willed the Valar to appear. To respond to the plight of Elrond's people as they had responded to the plight of Eärendil's. To give some sign that Middle-earth had not been forsaken! But there was nothing. Only the mists.
Sometimes, Erestor found himself envying Elrond; the peredhil would not be forced to witness Imladris's fall.
Unable to stomach the thought that the Doom of Mandos had now spread its reach across all of Middle-earth, Erestor turned instead to watch the grounds of the Last Homely House, dimly seen through the shroud of fog. Just outside the Hall of Fire, a lone figure stood straight and tall, his face turned upward and his hair golden in the firelight. Glorfindel was watching the sky. The last scions of Thorondor had pledged to defend the last scions of Turgon, and unseen in the clouds above, the Eagles patrolled, alert for signs that the Enemy had defeated the mists. They would be the heralds of the Elves' last stand.
Movement just beyond Glorfindel caught Erestor's attention, and he watched as three figures emerged from the Hall. They moved slowly, for one leaned heavily upon the other two, unable to support his own weight. Erestor shivered, recalling the expression of pain that had clouded Legolas's face ever since he and a handful of Elves had staggered into Imladris, bearing tidings that Thranduil was dead. That Mithrandir and Radagast were missing. That the Iron Hills had fallen, that Laketown had burned, and that both Mirkwood and Lothlórien had been reduced to ash. Such tidings had darkened Imladris over a year ago, and Legolas's wounds had still not healed.
His thoughts now turning to other wounds that would not heal, Erestor shifted his attention to Legolas's twin supporters, and he shivered again. When Celebrían had been captured years ago, Elladan and Elrohir had sworn vengeance against all Orcs, expending their rage in brash hunts and fey battles that carried them throughout Middle-earth. But when Lindir had returned from the Ford bearing Elrond's body, their efforts to meet the Enemy in open combat came to an end. Now they spent their time in grim brooding, their eyes hooded and their weapons always close at hand. They had become quiet and curt, avoided by all save for the last Mirkwood survivors and—
Erestor frowned. Where was their shadow? Elladan and Elrohir rarely went anywhere without… Ah. There he was. A fourth figure could now be seen trailing behind the other three. He was small and slight, and he moved with impatience, as though longing to run and play and do all the things that a boy of ten ought to do. Estel, they still called him, and Erestor shut his eyes with the pain of that thought. What hope was there now?
And as though cued by his musings, a shout came to Erestor's ears. Wrenching his eyes open, he snapped his gaze back to Glorfindel, who had lifted his hand to the sky and raised the warning: "The Eagles! The Eagles!"
Fear curled tightly within Erestor, settling somewhere beneath his stomach. The Enemy had broken through! They had been found! Seizing his spear, he turned his attention to the murky clouds above and saw the Eagles descending, their downward spirals focused upon the heights that surrounded Imladris.
"The Eagles are coming!"
Shouts sounded up and down the valley, the echoes of despair choking the music of river and falls. Turning his eyes to the sheltering cliffs, Erestor began to see shapes within the mists. Orcs. Wargs. Trolls. They came in great numbers, and already the harsh braying of their horns soured the air.
"The Eagles!" rang the cry throughout the Last Homely House, the last refuge in Middle-earth after Círdan had fallen to the corsairs. The one beacon of light in an ever-darkening world. And now it, too, would fade. There would be no brave charge. No gallant rush against the forces of evil. The last of the Elves would meet the Enemy here in a final stand, and then there would be nothing.
His face twisting with anguish, Erestor raised his spear above his head in a gesture of hopeless defiance. Imladris was now a cacophony of bitter heralds, and knowing that this would be the last time for elven voices to unite, Erestor added his own keen to the growing wail.
"The Eagles!" he cried, closing his eyes against his tears. "The Eagles are coming!"
And into darkness they fell.