Sometime after the dragon died
They say that the turning point in any given battle, is the loss of a single warrior. The chroniclers would tell you it is a king who leads great armies, or a great knight, or a great beast who has slaughtered dozens. But the truth is, that it is usually one nameless man who is known only to his few companions, sometimes not even that. And they do not die in some duel, they die unnoticed except by those around them. They start a cascade, and if it spreads, it will destroy all it touches. Once this unamed and unmarked soldier falls the battle is lost or won, the battle lines crumble and the rout begins. And with the rout, empires fall.
The elf lay on a stone pillar, as he had for two days. He watched the army gather around him on his pillar that had been cast onto the torn land of Arda when the lamps fell. Now only the stumps remained to tell what had happened here, like the long line of broken stone that led to the horizon and through which men marched.
The stone was worn by millennia of rain and sun which had fallen on the plains of Hawas’Hio. This morning bright sunlight fell around the rubble on the long lines of soldiers marching tall in their finely painted lamella, their banners snapping against tall poles which floated above a sea of spears. The noise surrounded the elf; the snorts of the Asdig’s horses, and the low grumble of the Kuric mercenaries who would fight for money not for honour, the creak of leather and the scrape as men shuffled and waited for the fight. In the centre in a block around their great King Mi'san Wo who sat in his armoured palanquin and gazed at the enemy ahead. He had a reputation for fear, stories of his cruelty controlled the plains nations. Since he had returned from the west at the head of his army after the Dark Lord's War, he had never told his people that the Dark Lord was no more. About him marched the remains of his housemen, the warriors who had returned from the west who dressed in the colours of the clans. The host stopped when Mi'san Wo did, his guard stood in tidy silent ranks; staunchly professional. And around them stood his other soldires, the men of Hawas'Hio who had trained to keep silent, the need to exclaim whipped out of them as boys, but the sheen of naked fear could be seen in the whites of their eyes and the sweaty grips of their hands.
The land was silent, as they gazed at their foe ahead. Barely a fifth of thier number, armed only lightly with bow and spear, with long curved shields laid at thier feet.
Mi'san Wo smiled, and waved Not'cha Ka, his ceremonial mace..
A single voice screamed, a single word. "Mi'Shaaaaw"..
The army bellowed a reply. "Mi'Shaw Wo!" The five thousand men of the plains started to bang their spears into the dusty soil or crash huge curved knives against their wicker shields. The beat of drums took up the tempo, and the host started forward. The elf looked down across it as it surged around the pillar of stone, and not one of the men of the east looked up. The sounds of the army changed, the careful tread of feet, the sounds of thousands of scabbards rubbing against armour like the waves on a sea, or shields tapping that was like rain falling on a city made of wood. There were the calls of the leaders of units of men, the occasional curse of a man who slipped or just felt fear. The smell was of leather, and sweat, and of fear. And it was overwhelming, but the elf knew it would pass. Men sent to die for a cause they could not understand, they would soon be lost, and forgotten.
On either sides of the host, the Asdig cavalry started to surge forward . Grim little men on their short shaggy ponies with re-curved bows and a quiver of short brutal-looking arrows. And following slower behind them rode heavy cataphracti cavalry in a great armoured wedge. Heavy warhorses with armour that fell to their knees, ridden by men in fine mail shirts that reached from the tops of their heads where plumes flew in the light wind as they started to gather speed. The grunts and heavy hoof -all of the horses added to the dull cacophony of war as the army crashed towards their foes, unstoppable and heading straight for the fine silken banners on the ridge line ahead.
The Asdigs filled the air with the thunder of their hooves and the stench of defecating horses as they rode towards their foe with drawn bows. They took aim at random, and the thin arrows were loosed ahead of the horde and fell against the thin line that stood against them. The figures on the ridge bent down as they came, pulling up their beautifully carved shield which looked like so many leaves . The arrows thudded into the solid shields that rose on the ridge, only occasionally slipping through. The horsemen jeered and on his palenquin mighty Mi'san Wo stood and shouted his anger as he watched the horsemen peel off. Then the leaf shield fell and the whistle of returning arrows split the sky. Cloth yard arrows sliced into the retreating horse archers, scattering them and the small forms shrieked as they fell under thier own ponies' hooves. Riders cried out in terror as they were catapulted from the saddles. Or were pinned to them. The Asdigs bent backwards on their small mounts and loosed further arrows, the small bolts fell amongst their tormentors and this time some figures fell, but more of the long arrows were sent horizontally into the Asdigs, and they had no protection. With a shrill cry the archer who bore their standard, a cross of wood from which hung skulls and the wings of an eagle, fell. And the Asdigs scattered. They ran into the approaching cataphracti who could not stop and who crushed the smaller horses and riders under nearly a tonne of armour and beast. But the bigger horses were tripped, and many fell shrieking as legs snapped, the riders thrown into the ground where bones snapped and men died lost in a sea of sound. And behind them more horse rode on, and more men fell, and the cloth yard arrows surged in and toppled riders who had stopped.
And Hi'san Wo cursed again and his footmen started to canter towards thier enemy. And behind him now, on the pillar of stone, the elf watched.
The charge of the cavalry was over, they had not even reached their foe. But in the centre, the footmen were gaining momentum. They started to jog, then run, and spears lowered like rain as they ran towards the huddled foe. A multi-coloured wave of men lost in anger, lost in fear.
The elf now stood, he could see his target now. An unnamed standard bearer on the right, who kept the flank steady. The elf took aim, and loosed, the arrow flying true and splitting the man’s spine from behind. He fell, into the surge, and men ran over him, and fell, and the discord ran like a flame through the bodies of men. Another standard fell, and a third. Men stopped running, and were crushed from the momentum behind. At the edges, men just ran. Along, in small groups, in whole households. They ran.
And those that had stood against them took aim, and loosed arrow after arrow into the broken ranks.Men died in droves, they had no armour on thier backs. And others fell under the mass of men who routed, or under riderless horses, or were cut down by groups of men who still banded together in single units.
Hi'san Wo fell from his palenquin as the elf watched. He had stood for a moment, then fell in the seething morass and did not surface again. If he died in the crush, or to the blade of one of his subjects, it would never be known, except to Mandos who knows how all die. It did not matter now, his army had broken, his little empire would be dust as his spirited but stupid offspring would slaughter each other to regain the fragments of kingdoms and they too would fade to dust.
On his pillar, Dindraug looked at the chaos around him, and took a drink from his flask. He could see the last traces of the army of men staggering below him to escape. The wounded, the broken, men who would probably not see the night out. One man he saw carried the tattered standard of the Hi'san Wo, and his companion held the mace that had united the men of the plains. Dindraug loosed a pair of arrows into them, so they fell in the dust and were lost amongst the throng.
As the sun rose, and the scavenger beasts started to appear out of the wilderness, and the vultures from the sky, Dindraug climed down from the pillar. He walked towards the group of figures who were riding now amongst the uncounted dead, and dying. They were tall, like him, with long black or red hair which hung in plaits tied with feathers, and charms and ties of gold. They sat on the backs of tall riding birds, with exquisite black and white plumage and tall necks. The leader road up to Dindraug, and slipped from his mount, running his hand through his auburn hair to push it away from his upswept ears.
"My friend Alvaric," he said to Dindraug in his ancient tongue.
"My brother Kansturi" said Dindraug, in the same tongue. It sounded as old as the hills, and as wild as the woods, but it gave hints of what it later became when the Eldar travelled west.
"We appear to have broken this human king. I hope he will be last to trouble us here". Smiled Kansturi. He inclined his head, then focused on a small brown bird that skirted the battlefield. It circled three times, then flew down to the Avari, alighting on Kansturi's shoulder.
"It would appear that another great wyrm has finally died, killed in battle it would seem".
"Yes, and it would appear that I must travel west".
"You knew this man, this warrior who died?"
"I have travelled with him, and I have fought with him once". Dindraug smiled, a momentary deluge of emotions crossing his face.
"Was he worthy, this human, was he worthy of your honour?" the Avari leader looked at Dindraug, his eyes showing surprise.
"He was worthy of many things, and my work here is finished for now. I will travel west, and see him buried. I have some unfinished buisness there. Maybe I will return to our lands, in time."
"Then seek us out, where the gates of the morning shine down upon the last tarn, where once we were born in the light of only the stars. We will be there, or we will not." Kansturi turned, and alighted on his mount, turning away from Dindraug. The elf watched them go, as they slowly rejoined the other Avari who still lived in this land and the jungles and wild forest beyond, since the dawn of the firstborn. They numbered less than a thousand, these warriors, and he could see that they bore a dozen bodies of those who had fallen. A dozen whose spirts would even now be travelling to Mandos, and be reunited with thier long lost kin. Every time they fought like this, thier people were diminshed, and one day they would be gone from this place. Dindraug bowed his head for that lost dozen, a great sadness filling him.
Then he turned and walked through the fields where two thousand broken human forms lay in the grass. He looked around for one of the loose horses, and found one of the shaggy Asdig ponies. He whispered a few words, calming the beast, then mounted. It was three hundred leagues to Dale, across the endless plains of Rhun. He could see no reason to walk it, Dirk of Esgaroth was not that worthy of his honour.