The Eagle of Cair Andros

The island of Cair Andros split the waters of Anduin in two. The long, thin island’s northern banks were steep and rocky, with high cliffs, breaking through the currents like a ship forever sailing upriver. The rocks grew more sparse and interrupted a grass-covered hilly land that stood along the center of the island. Upon this rocky plain stood a great fortress of white stone, capped with red roofs. A wall surrounded a Citadel of many towers. The faces of the stone towers glistened in the morning light. To the south, the land sloped downwards and there were roads carved into the hillside, which ended into a wide plain of short grass. From there, the southern point of the island was a sandy bank, and there the rangers’ boats pulled ashore.

The boats pulled into a wooden quay and soldiers greeted the rangers happily. A small stone guard tower stood beside the quay as the only fortifications on the low end of the island. The rangers gathered their supplies and Aragorn stood gazing up the hill at the Citadel towers. Celador came up beside Aragorn, a pack slung over his shoulder, and he looked up the hill as well and smiled.

“It looks better from out here,” he said. Aragorn looked at him, puzzled. Celador simply smiled at him and nodded his head to the road as they followed the troop of rangers up the hill.

The road met another on the rocky plain and there Aragorn saw away to his right the Approach, a great stone causeway that crossed the river. On the near end of the causeway a stone tower stood and an archway over the road held a great wood and iron gate. The causeway marked the only place the enemy could cross without the use of boats or rafts. They walked up the hill to the citadel where the gate stood open and they passed through into a courtyard of stone.

Aragorn saw what Celador meant when they stood at the quay. Inside the great wall, the fortress was sparsely populated, and broken stone lay about as buildings and storehouses were laid open from past sieges. The work had been done in places to patch the holes or support the remaining stone with wood beams. Soldiers approached them and greeted the rangers. Aragorn saw a tight group of soldiers clad in silver plate approaching down a street to the left. The rangers and soldiers parted as the group came up to Celador and Aragorn. At the front of them stood a tall man with a dark grey coat over mail, a white tree emblazoned upon his chest. His shoulders and arms were covered in silver plate and his grey eyes were sharp. He smiled warmly as he approached.

“Celador!” He called, and the two embraced. The man held Celador’s shoulders and looked upon his face for a moment, a broad smile across both their faces.

“Tiror, I am glad to see you,” Celador said.

“As am I! Though, under better days, I wish,” Tiror, the lord of Cair Andros, said.

“I have brought forty rangers for your defense. And news of attack, though, by the smell of the air, the fires of the enemy are near already,” Celador said.

Tiror looked suddenly grave, “Indeed. I have pulled all men across the river, for a host has come from Cirith Gorgor. Men at Henneth Annun fled before them, and arrived here just two days ago, reporting on the host’s coming. I have since started preparing for our defense.”

Celador looked at Aragorn and said, “This is Thorongil. He came from Pelargir with a message from Lord Alcaron, warning of the attack. We had hoped to reach you before the attack, at the least.” Aragorn stepped forward and bowed to Tiror.

“Welcome, Thorongil,” Tiror said, nodding his head. “Though your errand is ended, you shall remain in Celador’s company for the defense.”

“I will do my part,” Aragorn said confidently.

“Any man is welcome who can carry a sword or shield,” Tiror said, grimly. “We number little more than two thousand here. Word of the host’s numbers is unclear, but some from Henneth Annun supposed they outnumbered us three-to-one.”

Celador rubbed his face worriedly, “At least we hold the Approach, and the island will not be easily taken, no matter the enemy’s strength.”

“That may prove true, and your presence here has brought renewed hope,” Tiror said, smiling. He put his arm around Celador and they walked up the hill.

Aragorn looked around and followed after them as Tiror’s guards did the same. The rangers and soldiers had dispersed into their own tasks and places of rest. A quiet doom hung over the Citadel, and Aragorn could sense the men’s grim mood, though it was mixed with the distracting pleasure of greeting friends and brothers. The sun rose high over the Citadel and Aragorn followed Tiror and Celador up to the lord’s chamber.

They assembled a council within a chamber with a large table in the center and a fireplace that sat empty and cold to the right. The daylight peered in through high windows and lanterns hung on the wall. A great map, rough along the edges and greatly worn and stained with dark patches was spread across the table, showing the island and all its defenses. Tiror stood over the map while Celador and a handful of other men stood around the table. Aragorn stood just slightly behind the men, letting those who know the land best determine how to defend it.

“The causeway gate is shut, and we have many men to defend the wall,” Tiror was saying. “I do not wish to commit many to the Approach, for the retreat to the wall is long and if the gate is breached, we would lose all defenders there. We must fortify the gate from behind, and hope to hold them on the causeway for as long as we can, harassing them with arrows and catapults from here.”

“What about the banks, my lord?” One of the men situated around the table asked.

“Yes, I think we can harass the enemy as they attempt to land there. It is the only place to put boats or rafts ashore. Though, defense would be limited for men on the beach. It is vulnerable to projectile attacks from both sides,” Tiror said.

“My company can defend it,” Celador spoke up. Tiror looked at him disapprovingly. “Would you strengthen us with one of your companies, for I have many skilled archers with me, and men light of foot,” Celador said.

“I know the strength you bring, Celador,” Tiror said. “But, I have not made up my mind where I wish to commit your rangers.”

Another of the defenders spoke, “Celador may be right. His men could fall back quickly, if the banks is overrun, and their archers could cover the landings.”

Tiror sighed. His men respected him and listened to him, not because he ordered them without care or counsel. He had their trust because he weighed their counsel against his own mind, and allowed them to speak openly in such settings. But, with Celador here, he wished that he could rule without taking into account the thoughts of others around the table. To do so now, on the verge of a siege, would diminish his men’s spirit, and thus he spoke gravely, “Celador’s rangers shall defend the banks. A company of my men will I give to you.”

The men around the table rapped their fists upon it in approval and Celador looked at Tiror, who avoided looking up at the ranger captain. The council continued with its business, though they could feel a slight nervous tension between Tiror and Celador, now. Tiror and his captains planned their defense along the walls and took stock of their supplies and weapons. The day grew long and the room began to dim with the falling sun. At last the council disbanded and went their separate ways, with captains leaving to prepare their men and Celador bid Aragorn to find the ranger company and relay their orders.

He found them in the dimming light of day, sitting among shadows cast by ruined towers and multi-storied buildings. The rangers were spread among the rock debris as if they were pausing in the shelter of a rocky field. However, they had built two fires around which many gathered. Only Tellagor noticed Aragon’s approach and he stood to intercept him, a piece of dry bread in his mouth.

“I have orders from Celador,” Aragorn said. Tellagor looked at Aragorn while chewing and narrowed his eyes, but motioned for Aragorn to pass him and speak to the company. “Rangers, I have orders from Celador,” he said. Barely any of them looked up or noticed his call.

Tellagor shouted with his mouth half full, “Rangers listen up!” All heads turned, and looked at him, but Tellagor pointed to Aragorn and then smiled a toothy grin, bread between his teeth.

Aragorn watched Tellagor walk away and sit on a broken stone near one of the fires. The rangers all looked at Aragorn, waiting for him to speak. “We are to defend the banks, and another company of Tiror’s men will join us.”

“The banks? That’s out in the open!” A ranger moaned.

“Indeed, but we will repel their boats and rafts upon the shore,” Aragorn said. “Archers will cover us from higher upon the hill behind.”

“We might as well just wave to them as they come ashore,” another ranger said.

Aragorn looked around as he lost the attention of the ranger company and they began breaking into conversations again. He did not know what else to say, and looked at Tellagor, who continued to stare at him, with a wry smile visible through the firelight on his face. Aragorn shook his head and walked to a spot of his own to sit and as the night grew, he fell into thought and a waking sleep.

Drums awoke Aragorn suddenly. There followed calls from horns, spread across the walls of the Citadel, and their calls faded; but the drums continued. He leapt to his feet and the rangers were gathering. Celador arrived there as well and as a company they marched through a postern door in the wall that led to the south and to the banks. Celador and Tellagor stood along the road as the company walked down the hill. Aragorn stopped beside them and watched as the darkly-clad rangers moved like shadows in the night; the silver plate and mail of the Cair Andros defenders shined in the moonlight and the light of torches that they carried. Their heavy feet hit the dirt road in a low rumble and their raiments clattered.

“Tellagor, fall in with the archers, and take your positions,” Celador said to the man on his left. Tellagor bowed his head and put a hand on his chest. Then, he walked through the line of soldiers and rangers and disappeared among them. “Thorongil, you shall be with the men of Cair Andros. They will form the center, and my rangers will be on your flanks.”

“Aye,” was all that Aragorn could say.

The host of Cair Andros and Ithilien marched by, and Aragorn and Celador reached the banks with them. Officers walked along the bank of fine rocks and sand and the men shaped up into tight groups. Aragorn stood at the fore of the men who defended Cair Andros. He could see down the line the rangers divided to his left and right. The clattering of weapons and armor fell quiet as all stood still and stared across the dark waters of Anduin.

Across the river, there stood a thin line of red and orange light, like a cruel sunrise. Dark figures flickered by, as the orc war camp prepared their assault. The drumming went on like a deep, ticking clock. They heard shouts and calls in harsh voices, and the roars of unseen beasts. Shrill orc trumpets blared. Over the distant noise, and the soft rushing of Anduin, Aragorn began to hear the rhythmic rush of water as paddles in the river pushed boats along.

They could not see the craft, for they carried no lights, and Aragorn looked up to see a great, dark cloud moving from the east, slowly covering the moon overhead. At last, a silver trumpet rang out from the Citadel, then another answered from Tellagor’s position behind them. A fiery arrow pierced the sky, then fell sharply to the river, where its flame was doused. Men drew their swords with a great ringing. Celador’s voice was heard off in the distance. Aragorn drew Narsil, and the men to either side of him glanced sideways at the broken blade, which still seemed as if it reflected the moonlight, though the darkness covered its face entirely.

The orc rafts slid ashore and the host of Cair Andros heard the beating of feet upon wood and then footsteps in the sand and mud. Orcs howled and their eyes pierced the dark; the defenders threw forward their torches to light the bank ahead of them and the orc blades glistened. How many rafts pulled ashore, they could not tell, but the men stood firm. With a shout from Celador and a trumpet’s call, the men rushed forward in a great roar. Aragorn sprinted ahead of the heavier-clad soldiers and he met with the orcs first. He moved among them as swiftly and smoothly as the river current. Bodies fell in his wake, and the blade of Elendil became wet with their dark blood.

The men of gondor roared and shouted as they slew, and many fell at the feet of the orc vanguard. Arrows from Tellagor and his archers whistled overhead and Aragorn heard them hitting the siege rafts with sudden thuds. Soon the soldiers caught up with him as orcs fled before them, and they pushed the attackers back upon the waters. Aragorn found himself splashing in the river up to his ankles, and with a call from behind, he and the others backed away from the river and rallied together again as a wave receded from the shore.

But the strange tongues of the Southrons and their horns echoed in the dark over the water. Aragorn peered through the dark and saw more rafts there, and he heard the tightening of bowstrings.

“Get down! Cover!” He shouted, and men around him raised their shields and huddled together. He fell upon his face on the dirt and arrows whistled overhead. Many found their marks in men who wailed and died in surprise. More arrows came after, and the men of Gondor held shields aloft and scrambled about, tripping over fallen companions.

Tellagor and his archers answered with quick volleys, but the rafts landed, still, and this time men rushed upon the bank. They shouted and chanted, and instead of racing forward they crowded together and marched in order. Arrows came again; Tellagor’s company responded with a clearer sight on their targets. Aragorn climbed to his feet and the men around him looked at him and the bodies that lay around them.

“On your feet! Shields up! Hold the line. For Gondor!” Aragorn shouted at them. The soldiers formed a tight line and they saw the Haradrim move forward, swiftly, now, to close the gap. Aragorn stood tall and the small company beside and behind him met the enemy, swords and shields clashing. The banks became a roar of metal and desperate shouting.

Amid the fray, Aragorn heard high whistles and shouts and suddenly a rush of men crashed into them from the south. Celador’s rangers sprang in from the flank, and only the hardiest of the Haradrim stood defiant. Aragorn and Celador met on the field and Celador at last saw the strength and valor of Thorongil as they danced around one another until the bodies of the slain piled around them and they were forced to find safer footing.

In that moment a crack of thunder from far overhead shook the defenders and a red glow in the clouds above like distant lightning lit the island in repeated flashes. A powerful streak split the sky and struck the banks not far from Celador and Aragorn and the earth beneath them rattled and shook. Men and orc alike fell to their feet and flew from the place where the lightning had struck. They wailed and burned, and Aragorn’s ears were ringing and his eyes could see nothing but a bright light and shapes beyond, as if he emerged from a dark room into bright daylight.

He staggered to his feet and shook his head, rubbing his eyes to clear away the light. Through the sharp ringing in his ears he heard another great boom to the north and looked up at the hill, and could see only a great flash and plume of smoke, and rocks and stones from the causeway began to fall upon the banks and the men and orcs there. As the ringing in his ears began to fade he heard a faint cry, “Thorongil…”

Looking down he saw Celador upon the ground, lying with his back upon a fallen Southron mercenary. His face was darkened and an arrow protruded from his leg. Aragorn rushed to him and knelt beside him. “Be still, Celador. We must get you off the bank,” he said. He looked around as the battle had calmed for a moment around them as both sides scrambled from the sudden strike and explosion upon the hill above.

“You there!” Aragorn called to men nearby. “Take your captain up the hill, to the Citadel, quick!”

The mix of soldiers and rangers came to Celador’s side immediately and began to lift him up gently, but Celador gripped Aragorn’s shoulder and refused to move. Celador’s eyes were wet, but flashed still with light, and fire reflected within them. “The power of Mordor has broken the Approach. We must fall back, Thorongil!”

“You must go. Either I, or the host of Mordor will die upon this bank,” Aragorn said, taking Celador’s hand firmly in his own. Celador nodded, and drifted into an overwhelming sleep. Aragorn looked at the soldiers and rangers standing around them, “Take him! Quick!”

They suddenly snapped to and lifted Celador gently and carried him off the bank, toward the hill. Aragorn stood and looked around. A great company of men stood before him, and behind, toward the water’s edge, the legions of the enemy regrouped as more rafts landed upon the shore. Aragorn lifted his broken blade and held it aloft.

“Men of Gondor! I am Thorongil, and from far North have I come, where the bones of Arnor lay silent. Yet here I am, and in Gondor I hear no silence, and I see no bones laid bare! Let the legions of Mordor hear your voices, and feel your strength!” Aragorn turned and a great line of orcs and Southrons charged upon them, but the men of Gondor shouted as one and clashed their swords upon their shields. The two sides met once more and the foes of Gondor crashed like water upon the northern rocks of Cair Andros. The men pushed and strove until the orcs wailed and fled and the Southrons backed into cold Anduin, where the currents took them.

A great cheer and cry filled the bank as Aragorn stood up to his knees in the cold water. He turned and the men looked at him and shouted and raised their weapons. For a moment Aragorn smiled, but the sight across the river of the orc war camp, and the still burning torches there filled him with resolve once more and he came back upon the shore and the men gathered around him.

“You men, at the quay, you have pitch and other fuel for fire?” He asked those assembled with him.

“Aye, we do my lord,” a soldier answered.

“Take a handful of men with you and bring back all you can carry. We will fall back from the bank, but we will not leave it free for them to return!”

Men ran off to the quay where Aragorn and the rangers landed upon the island. In minutes they returned carrying small barrels and buckets. Aragorn took a bucket himself and he ordered the men to begin pouring the pitch upon the orc rafts that sat scattered on the shore and floating still in the shallow water. Aragorn took a brand from a soldier and tossed it upon a raft, which burst into bright flame. Along the bank, the men lit fires on the rafts and soon a great wall of flame defended the beach of Cair Andros. From the Citadel high upon the hill, the men along the walls could see the light and they saw in the shimmering beside the flames their brothers, and cheers lifted their spirits and the men on the bank returned the cheers.

“Now, fall back, up the hill! We must join those in defense of the Citadel, for the Approach has fallen, and the enemy will lay siege to the walls and great gates,” Aragorn cried.

He and the soldiers and rangers regrouped and marched up the hill. Tellagor’s archers, their numbers thin from opposing volleys, sat on the roadside, tending to wounded men and retrieving arrows nearby. Tellagor stood as Aragorn walked at the head of the column returning from the bank.

“I saw Celador,” Tellagor said, his voice filled with doubt.

“Do not fear! Celador’s fate is not yet sealed. But, it may be if we despair and falter at the defense,” Aragorn said. He put a hand on Tellagor’s shoulder and the once-steely ranger looked at him with a distant stare, “Come, your archers will be of use upon the wall. We have saved the bank as best we can! Now, the last battle begins.”

Upon the walls of the Citadel, two thousand men stood, peering across the plain at a great, dark mass of orcs, Southrons, and all their beasts and machinery marching toward them. Behind the wall, hundreds of men prepared catapults and loaded them with projectiles of broken stone and pots filled with Gondorian Fire. Archers raced about to their positions, and a great company of men awaited behind the great gate. The steady doom, boom of drums from the orc army filled the air.

Aragorn and what remained of the company at his back reached the postern door and they filed in, taking a brief moment to catch their breath and their spirits were high. Aragorn stood to the side as the men came through the door and it was only then that he noticed their dwindling numbers. Men came through carrying their injured brethren, or walked through the door with no weapons in hand and a blank stare upon their face. The few guards at the postern door closed it behind them and dropped a great beam across it. Aragorn stood and stared at only five men guarding the door, and they sat down again upon barrels, or on the ground, their weapons leaning against the stone walls.

Tellagor walked up to Aragorn, his face still sunken and pale, “I do not count more than fifty. We have lost nearly half our number, it seems. More, still, came back injured, though some are still able and willing to fight.”

Aragorn nodded, “We lost much more than I could count on the field. But, still, we have done our jobs well.” Aragorn clapped Tellagor on the shoulder, “Let us go! Lead your men. In Celador’s absence, I shall follow your lead. You have the strength to guide them, to rally them. I have been at the point of your arrows. The enemy still has reason to fear you, Tellagor.”

The ranger’s face changed and once again Aragorn saw in it the steel and fire that he had witnessed in Ithilien. Tellagor then smiled at him and turned away to his men, shouting, “Company! We must away! To the wall, where our brothers now stand against the shadow!”

The rangers and soldiers of Cair Andros all cheered and raised their weapons, or hands, and their spirits were rallied. The depleted company followed Tellagor and Aragorn through the Citadel, and they stopped only to replenish their arrows and swords and shields for those who lost them upon the banks. Many men split off towards the healing houses, and though their ranks dwindled further, when they reached the based of the wall near the great gate, they were greeted with cheers and trumpet calls from the men awaiting the siege on the ground in the courtyard before the gate.

The company waited there, mingling with those men as Tellagor and Aragorn climbed great stone steps up the ramparts where Tiror stood with guards on either side of him, and the great many soldiers away in both directions. There was a wind from the east, and the banners of Gondor fluttered above Tiror, who stood at the parapet, only looking away from the host of Mordor as he heard his guards stop Tellagor and Aragorn.

“Let them through,” Tiror said, turning to greet them. “How goes the banks? We saw a great firelight and black smoke rise behind the hills.”

“We have stopped their advance, though at great cost,” Tellagor said.

The truth of what Tellagor said finally landed upon Tiror’s face, and it grew dark and his eyes watered. Though he steeled himself, his voice still wavered, “Celador?”

“He is wounded, my lord, but not gravely. He is with your healers, now,” Aragorn said.

“Right. Right,” Tiror muttered. Then he looked back at them with grim resolve, “So, the banks are saved?”

“For now,” Tellagor said.

“My lord, this may not be the time, but I noticed few men guarding the postern door to the south. And, with such a host now before us, why would the enemy devote forces to the banks, if not to attempt to encircle us through such a weakly-defended entrance?” Aragorn said.

Tiror thought for a moment. “You are right, Thorongil, that must have been their plan. But, you have made the banks safe again. So I do not think we must worry about that. Their thrust was turned aside, and now, the hammer stroke falls upon us.”

Aragorn pushed the point no further, and he and Tellagor awaited further orders. After conferring with his other captains nearby on the parapet, Tiror sent Tellagor and his remaining archers away to their right. Where Tiror stood was a parapet that stood directly over the gate, and higher than the rest of the wall by ten feet. Tellagor and Aragorn exchanged words and the ranger was gone.

Aragorn now stood beside Tiror as they both looked out over the plain. The army of Mordor was near, and Tiror awaited them to enter range of his catapults. Never had Aragorn seen such a host, and he quaked slightly at the sight of it. Though he had fought and slain many orcs in the wild, never had he faced down such a number in a battle that would soon begin. The mass moved like slow, dark water running over a dry river bed. The torches they carried bounced against the darkness, and the great boom, doom, of their drums seemed to catch the rhythm of his heart beating in his chest.

“Thorongil,” Tiror said to him. “You saw Celador on the banks?”

“I did, my lord. He suffered an arrow, and I called for your men to carry him to safety,” Aragorn said. “You are close to him, I know. I did what I could in the moment.”

Tiror sighed and his armor seemed to swallow him as his shoulders fell and he put his hands on the parapet in front of him. “Celador and I have known one another since we were young. It broke my heart when our paths diverged, though, we have stayed tethered by more than friendship since youth. I dare not think of what I would do were he to fall. I thank you for what you have done, here. Not only for Gondor, but for me.”

Aragorn struggled to find the words for the Lord of Cair Andros, who in the moment did not seem like a stalwart defender of his people, but merely a man, worried for the one he loved. Aragorn stepped forward and stood beside Tiror. “I will stand beside you, and if I may protect you to reunite you with Celador, then I shall have saved more than just Gondor, tonight.”

“Nothing would bring me greater joy,” Tiror said, a hint of a laugh in his voice.

A great drumming brought their attention quickly up and over the parapet. The host of Mordor had halted briefly, and they could see across the dark plain their own catapults being loaded. Tiror looked out and his face hardened. He turned to one of his guards standing behind and nodded. The guard brought a horn to his lips and blew a great blast that rang out across the night, drowning out the orcs’ drums for a moment. Then, he turned and waved a banner and the men of Cair Andros sprang into action.

With a great roar, the catapults launched overhead and Aragorn ducked as projectiles flew over him, though far enough to pose no danger to himself. Tiror, used to the sensation of such warfare, did not flinch. The flaming pots burst upon the orcs, their shields, and the ground around them. Stone crashed into the ranks and felled many. But, the cruel masters whipped and growled at their thrall, and the orcs stood firm. Again the catapults launched and stone struck the orc catapults, shattering two into splinters. Flames erupted again where the pots fell, and orcs scrambled, shrieking while they burned.

At last, a cruel, deep horn sounded, and the orc drums quickened pace, doom, boom boom, doom, and the great host charged ahead. Tiror roared and another of his guards blew a horn blast, and waved. Then, with a snap as one, hundreds of archers launched their arrows, which flew high, and fell upon the advancing host. The whips of their masters were greater than the fear of the weapons of Gondor, and the Orc Vanguard did not halt. The force reached the wall, and a great mass of bodies piled at its foot.

Tiror and Aragorn leaned over the parapet and from among the mass of orcs below, they saw great ladders being lifted. Behind the orc vanguard assault, more orderly troops advanced, and Aragorn recognized the chanting and singing and blowing horns of the Southrons and Haradrim soldiers. The orc catapults began launching stone that flew over the wall and crashed into the towers and buildings behind them. More found closer marks and struck the wall on its face, sending crumbling fragments down upon their own forces.

Flaming projectiles also flew and exploded behind the wall, fire catching across the defense. Horns blew behind them, and Aragorn looked below as men raced about to put out the fires or tend to their wounded brethren. The catapults of Cair Andros no longer fired rapidly, and their volleys became slow and fewer in number.

Orc ladders fell against the parapet all along the wall, and they began pouring up the sides, and over the parapet. They at last clashed with the Men of Gondor. Aragorn looked to his right along the wall, and back at Tiror, who stood overlooking the siege, but was focused on the gate below. A column of orcs and beasts followed the road to the gate. Tiror shouted orders as archers on the wall near the gate began turning their arrows upon the approaching column. But Aragorn watched as the orcs along the wall sowed chaos, and the archer volleys slowed as men fell.

“Tiror! I must do more than stand here,” Aragorn shouted at last.

Tiror turned to him and decisively said, “I give you leave. Find relief for those archers, and men above the gate! A ram approaches.”

Aragorn drew Narsil and it flashed and Tiror gazed upon it with awe and confusion as he saw that the blade was broken, but Aragorn wielded it with confidence. He gave one last nod to Tiror before turning to the right and, instead of following the steps, he simply leaped over the parapet, shouting, and Tiror and his guards watched and shared strange and surprised looks as they saw him disappear below.

With a great crash, Aragorn landed and rolled upon the stone below, the jump not only knocking him off kilter, but also knocking a number of orcs to their feet. He stood quickly and fell many around him. The men looked upon him with wide eyes as he pushed to the fore and cut his way to an orc ladder. There, he saw many orcs still climbing, and at the bottom, still, Southrons awaiting to make their ascent. With a great swing he cut an orc that reached the parapet, and it tumbled down, knocking others off the ladder as it fell.

“You there! Lend a hand!” Aragorn shouted at two nearby soldiers. They rushed to his side and the three of them pushed with all their strength and the orc ladder fell back, the weight of the orcs upon it doing the rest of the work as it fell and cracked upon the ground below. Aragorn turned to the men, “We must knock down as many ladders as we can! Spread the word!”

The two soldiers nodded and deferred to Aragorn’s word. He turned the other way and went back toward the gate, and a doorway that led into an enclosed hall, with windows looking out over the road. Along the way he helped archers to their feet and they returned volleys down upon the orc column approaching the gate. Inside the hallway, archers fired down upon the enemy, and men readied pitch and flame, as well as baskets of stone. He passed behind them freely and on the other side he found Tellagor, his bow abandoned, fighting for his life beside rangers and plate-clad soldiers. Many orc bodies lay on the walkway, but the defenders struggled against the Southrons and Haradrim elite who now came over the parapet.

Aragorn rushed in and fell the men who surrounded Tellagor, and then he continued, as he cut a path for the defenders to regain their footing and stand together. Tellagor shouted to him as more Haradrim came over the side. Aragorn reached the ladder and crossed his blade with a cloaked Haradrim soldier, whose face was covered. Another came over the ladder, but quickly fell as Tellagor had picked up his bow and shot the soldier through the chest, his body falling back over the wall. Tellagor and the rangers ran up beside Aragorn and they slew the Haradrim soldier.

“Good to see you,” Tellagor said, a dark smile on his face, which was black and red with the blood of men and orcs.

“You, too, my friend,” Aragorn said. “We must get rid of this ladder! Tell your men to do the same down the line!” Thus Tellagor and Aragorn pushed the ladder back and it fell upon the men and orcs below. As they turned to go their separate ways, the rhythming boom, boom, boom of the ram upon the gate below rose above all other noise.

Aragorn rushed back to the hall above the gate and the men there poured fire and stone down upon the column, but the ram was well-guarded, and the stones bounced off shields to the ground. Aragorn ducked as orc arrows came at the windows and rang off the stone walls around him. When the ram struck the gate, the stone beneath his feet seemed to shudder. But, the screaming of men away to the right caught his ear, and he turned to see men fleeing into the hallway, and fire behind them.

But, Aragorn pushed through the men, and came out of the hallway as orcs leapt over the parapet from ladders, newly tossed upon the wall. But Aragorn saw the orcs wielding torches and tossing them over the wall, setting fire to things behind, and men upon the rampart. Aragorn charged into them and slew many, and their torches fell to the ground. The men rallied and returned to their posts around him, and he picked up several of the orc torches and set fire to the ladder upon which they climbed, They shrieked and fell, and the ladder, as well as the orcs climbing it, caught fire.

Looking over the parapet, he saw the ram swing out from the gate and crash against it, and with each swing, the gate surrendered, and he knew it would soon fall. But, as the ram flew again, Aragorn saw at its rear, as orcs gathered, a strange sight. He quickly ran across the rampart, and found Tellagor, bow in-hand once more, his section of the wall clear of the enemy and his quiver of arrows fast dwindling.

“Tellagor!” Aragorn shouted. The ranger stopped and held onto the arrow on his string, and looked back. “I need your eye. Can you bring two men, quickly, to the other side!”

Tellagor did not hesitate and called to two of his fellow rangers, who all followed Aragorn to the other side of the gate and there, he pointed down to the rear of the ram and the orcs gathered there. “Look! The orcs have blundered. I saw these arsonists upon the wall, and see there, fuel for their fire is gathered near to the ram! In their haste to breach the gate and set fire to the Citadel, they have stockpiled their arms too close to their ram.”

“I see it! Though, what do you plan to do about it? Certainly we cannot climb down and assault them on the ground,” Tellagor said.

Aragorn picked up a torch, which still flickered as its fuel burned low. “The men in the hall above the gate have your Gondorian fire, or fuel for it, and we can light your arrows, if your aim is true enough!”

Tellagor took minor offense at the comment, but he took the jab in stride as Aragorn smiled at him, “Light my arrows, and we shall do the work!”

Aragorn quickly gathered strips of cloth from his cloak and those of fallen men and Tellagor and his rangers tied them at the base of their arrowheads. Aragorn brought a small pot of pitch and the rangers dipped their arrows in the liquid, and Aragorn lit them aflame. Tellagor stood with one foot upon the parapet, his bow drawn as his two companions stood behind him as well, with all three steady. At last Tellagor’s arrow flew, and quickly thereafter, so too did those of his companions. Aragorn leaned over the parapet and watched as the arrows struck true, and for a moment, he waited and began to despair.

But, in a great flash that nearly threw him back from the wall, he shielded his eyes as the fuel for the orcs’ fires erupted and all around the ram were stricken with panic. The pots and gathered munitions of Mordor erupted in another great blast, and the ram shook and caught fire as well. Orcs ran in all directions, flames on their backs, and a great wreckage of wood, metal, and flame blocked the road just before the gate.

Tellagor clapped Aragorn across his shoulders and gripped him tightly, laughing as men along the wall began to cheer. “You’ve done it again, Thorongil! A real firebrand, you are!”

The great fireball burned brightly, lifting thick black smoke high into the air, and against the glowing flames, morning dawned in the east. The arm of Mordor was not yet strong enough to hold back the day, and with the fire before them, and the Sun rising at their backs, the orcs wailed, and fled back across the Approach. The Men of Gondor cheered along the wall, and as they slew the remaining enemy on the ramparts, Tiror’s guards blew clear ringing blasts on their horns. The banners of Gondor caught high in the morning breeze around him, Tiror waved down to Aragorn and Tellagor.

And though the day rose clear and bright, all cheer mixed with grief and the slow, growing sounds of cries and laments, as men sought out their brethren among the dead and wounded. Aragorn walked along the rampart, his body and mind weary from the night. Many lay fallen all around him, yet Cair Andros stood.