Written for Purimgifts 2018.


Aegnor's Elvish messenger had a rough bandage wrapped around her forehead, and she limped when she dismounted. Her face was smeared with ash and blood, and her voice was hoarse from breathing in smoke. "My lord has had word that his brother Finrod is coming up from Nargothrond with reinforcements. But Morgoth has sent great strength of Orcs and Balrogs toward the Pass of Sirion, and my lord fears Finrod's people will be cut off. He has no one to spare who can come in time. He bids you send what strength you can to meet Finrod, and join forces as it seems best to you."

Barahir nodded, glancing about to assess their numbers and what could be spared.

"And the fort here?" Emeldir asked. "What are his orders?"

"He has the same orders for all: Hold, if you can."

"We will hold," Emeldir said with the weight of a promise.

Barahir rode out within the hour with a picked band, further depleting their numbers. Emeldir urged the messenger to stay and rest, or have her wounds seen to, but she only stayed long enough to drink a few swallows of water before she was ahorse again. "I must return to my lord," she said in her smoke-roughened voice. There was a wild light in her eyes. The messenger was not hoping to save Aegnor, Emeldir realized with an odd sense of detachment, but only to die with him. She did not expect them to win.

Emeldir would not think of that now, of the fighting in the Pass of Sirion to the west or Ladros to the east. Her battle was here.

The first danger was not from the enemy's swords or spears, but from fire. Emeldir took a horse and rode as close to the northern slopes as she dared. Her horse rolled his eyes and pranced nervously, scenting the smoke. Emeldir fastened his reins to a branch and climbed the hill on foot.

As she neared the top, the air was bitter with smoke that stung her eyes and throat. She wrapped a fold of her cloak around her nose and mouth and continued upward through the snow-covered pines.

She looked down into a sea of fire. The plain of Ard-galen was veiled in a smoky haze. At the foot of the hill, flashes of flame leapt upward where the oncoming fire broke on the rocky slopes and dissolved in showers of sparks. She waited to see whether the pinewoods on the ridge would catch.

There was water running underfoot, water dripping down onto her head and shoulders. The snow that lay thickly over tree and hill was melting in the heat, pattering down like rain from the branches. Tongues of flame licked up the hill, but could find no hold on rocky ground and damp earth. She could feel the heat on her face; what had been rich grassland was a tossing sea of fire and ash. But the fire would come no farther.

Not even an Orc could go through that, Emeldir thought as she went down the hill again. They would have time, until the flames died down. Or until Morgoth's forces found a way around. Perhaps they had left a path unburned where they wished to march.

They had the remaining watches of the night and the next day to prepare, and then at twilight there were troops with black banners coming out of the haze of smoke. The hill-fort was strongly built, with Noldorin stonework; but the Orcs had ladders, and fire, and vast numbers.

"We will hold," Emeldir said as they fought by torchlight, as wraiths circled about their walls and called from the darkness with chilling voices.

"We will hold," she said again at dawn, her voice grown hoarse with shouting, as daylight showed the enemy's ranks seemingly undiminished.

"We will hold-" as night fell again.

She tried at first to keep Beren close to her, where they could ward each other with sword and shield. But he moved away from her, dashing to the other side to meet an attack. Their need was desperate, and she could not hold anything back. She still felt a flash of anger, an inner protest, each time she sent her son to fill a gap in the defenses.

They snatched food and drink and brief rest when they could. With the fourth day's dawn, there was a raucous series of horn-calls, and Morgoth's troops began to pull back. To prepare for another assault, Emeldir thought, or to reveal some new horror - She barely trusted it when she saw that they were marching away.

When it was clear that the Orcs were withdrawing, a ragged cheer went up from the defenders. Emeldir lowered her sword, feeling a bone-deep weariness settle over her. Beren grinned at her, and Emeldir managed a smile in return. He was young; let him keep hope while he could. She knew well that this was not the end, only a breathing space. She suspected that Morgoth was moving his troops in order to complete the destruction of some other fort or knot of defenders, somewhere along the line of what had been the Leaguer of Angband. But it gave them time, and she would use it. To tend to the wounded, to shore up the gates and the walls, to bring in more supplies while they could.

Barahir returned later in the morning, once it was possible to win through in safety; Emeldir saw his riders from the walls. Fewer came back than had set out. There was no Elf-lord with him, and Emeldir feared his mission might have failed. She raised a hand in greeting. Barahir returned the gesture, with the hand-signal that meant all is well. The morning light caught an unfamiliar ring on his hand, a flash of gold and the glint of green gems. Emeldir's heart felt lighter, in spite of everything. She ordered the gates to be opened and went down to meet him.