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Author: Himring
Title: Even So the Reeds Hissed in Serech at Sunset
Rating: PG13
Theme: Back Garden of a Dream
Elements: an islet
Author's Notes: The setting chosen is the Fens of Serech where the river Rivil flows into Sirion, in Beleriand. The fens partly bar the entry into the valley of Sirion at the northward end and hence are the (rather ominous) site of two canonical battles.
Summary: Canonically, they walked away from what was the worst defeat of the First Age: Beleg and Mablung, March Wardens of Doriath, escape southward through the fens of Serech from the Battle of Unnumbered Tears on the plain before Angband, in which many heroes of the North fell. The two March wardens are alive but hardly unscathed.
The story features two canonical battle cries in Elvish (Quenya): Utulie n'aure! (The day has come!) and Aure entuluva! (Day shall come again!). It also alludes to the fact that the use of the Quenya language had been banned by King Elu Thingol.
Rating is for canon events (see: worst defeat, battle)
Word Count: 1650 words

They stumbled through the fens of Serech in a manner that would have been shameful for Marchwardens of Doriath if their circumstances had been otherwise. However, Mablung was leaning hard on Beleg's arm, weakened by loss of blood and his wits apparently addled by the poison of the dragon fumes he had inhaled.

It was only one of Glaurung's brood they had encountered on the battle-field, not the great dragon himself. This creature had neither reached its full growth nor were its scales as fully hardened as its sire's, but it was deadly enough even so. Mablung and his company had born the brunt of its attack, until Beleg, off to the side, was lucky enough to get a clear shot at the dragon's left eye.
By then, they had been swept apart from the main force of King Fingon's troops. They had tried to fight their way back to join up with them again, even if it might be with Haldir and the Men of Brethil at the rear. But despite their efforts, each time they tried to regain their bearings after beating off another wave of the enemy, Fingon's banner had been farther and farther away. Orcs poured in between. They lost more ground--and even more of their men--until the last remaining handful was temporarily saved by a company from Gondolin who were themselves trying to fall back towards their own main force. Beleg and Mablung were left with no choice but to retreat together with  them and eventually with King Turgon's army. By that time, Mablung was wounded in the arm and, less severely, in the side.

Beleg and Mablung splashed, knee-deep, into a stinking muddy trough and out again, slipping and slithering on rotting blades of grass.

Beleg had been extraordinarily lucky and was largely unhurt, but he was distracted, his attention divided and drawn away from the tricky task of finding his path through clumps of reed and treacherous water.

He was concerned about Mablung, wondering whether they could afford to stop and check his wounds. Were the bandages he had hastily applied during the brief halt while Turgon was debating his course with the Men of Dor-lomin holding? Mablung was doggedly struggling on, silent, except for heavy, often laboured breathing, but he seemed so disoriented. He was in shock, too, of course. So was Beleg; so would all of those be who survived the battle. It also seemed to Beleg that Mablung might be running a fever. It would have been unexpected for wounds to fester so badly, so quickly, but there was no saying, with wounds taken today. Malice of all kinds had been strong, back out there, on the plain.

But even with all this on his mind, Beleg was listening. His hearing was keen and, despite his exhaustion, fear and grief seemed to have only sharpened it. Immediately around him the fens were deathly silent, as if every living being was terrified, down to the gnats, and the only sound was a soft hissing of reeds and dry grasses in the cooling air. In the distance, towards their right, the shadow of the Ered Wethrin was growing dark.

Behind their backs, where the main course of the river Rivil flowed, in the place they were fleeing from--there was a desperate last stand. The Men of Dor-lomin were falling one by one. Beleg had heard their battle cries, fewer and fewer, against the enemies'  horn calls and drum rolls, the howls of orcs and trolls.  And now...

Aure entuluva!

Beleg abruptly stopped. Mablung lurched painfully forward and Beleg grabbed him quickly to stop him from falling.

'What is it?' Mablung mumbled.

Beleg did not answer.

Aure entuluva!

Beleg was sure it was Hurin's, that last lone voice rising strongly above the enemies' triumph and derision.

Aure entuluva! Day shall come again!

Beleg found himself casting around, trying to think of a safe place where he could hide Mablung and go back...

Once before, he had failed Hurin, when the other was still a boy and he and his brother had been lost on the outskirts of another battle, at the Ford of Brithiach. Beleg and his people had spent days searching for the boys, after the battle, but they had vanished without trace and he had had to let the boys' relatives know that they were almost certainly dead. But miraculously, Hurin and Huor had turned up again, alive.

Not this time. Huor was surely already dead. Hurin was about to fall, would probably fall before Beleg could get to him, even if he just dropped Mablung in the mud and went racing back. The Men of Dor-lomin had known that none would survive, a price they had willingly paid for Turgon's escape.

Beleg could not afford to. He could not die in Serech. He had to get Mablung to safety, report to Elu Thingol, bear messages. Even if it filled him with burning shame to hear Hurin crying out and do nothing.

'Beleg?' Mablung asked. Clearly, his hearing was dulled as much as his other senses and he could not hear Hurin calling.

Aure entuluva! Day shall come again! Aure entuluva!

Beleg caught Mablung more firmly and went on, Hurin's calls echoing in his ears, stepping cautiously, guiding his friend through the mire. The sun poured out her gold across the mountain tops as if it was for the very last time, flashing on the surface of slimy puddles and gilding dead grass. Then, irrevocably, she set.

Beleg listened, listened, waiting for Hurin to call out just one more time, but now there was nothing. Behind them, that lone brave voice had fallen silent.

They walked on into the dark, into rising wind. There was, for now, no sound of further pursuit or advance behind them, as if this last effort, at the end of six days of battle, had exhausted even their inexhaustible Enemy. Turgon and his army would probably get clean away, back to Gondolin. At least the sacrifice of the Men of Dor-lomin would not have been in vain.

In the darkest hours of the night, Beleg and Mablung came to an islet, hidden among the rushes, some time after the marshes of Rivil had gradually merged into the marshy banks of Sirion. They took the advantage of drier, safer ground to allow themselves a short period of rest. Beleg checked and rebandaged Mablung's wounds and gave him a sip of potion from a small flask that Queen Melian had given him before they both left Menegroth. Mablung still seemed ill, beyond even the effects of exhaustion and blood loss, but the potion seemed to revive him a little. Beleg fed him a little waybread and wished they could risk a fire.

'Beleg', Mablung suddenly said, clutching the hand that held the waybread, 'do you remember? That morning, King Fingon and... Utulie n'aure! Do you?'

'Yes, well,' replied Beleg numbly, 'we will have to leave that out when we report to Elu, won't we?'

'We what?' said Mablung bewildered, blinking, and after a while: 'You're criticizing Fingon for using Quenya at that moment?'

'Not me,' said Beleg.

It was not so long ago, that morning before the battle, before Fingon was lost and all the North along with it, but the day that had come was now gone.

Beleg urged a bit more waybread on Mablung and then ordered him to rest. He should have forced himself to rest, too. But when he lay down, thoughts went round and round in his head and he sat up again.

Messages. He would need to send messages--report to Thingol, of course, and alert his March Wardens, and by no means only those on the northwest borders, for he doubted there was any border even in the South now that would remain safe. But he would also have to send messages to Brethil--could it really be the case that none of Haldir's men had survived? But remembering what that hell of a battlefield had been like, he did not doubt that it could. He would have to send messages to Nargothrond. There was no doubt at all that none of Gwindor's men could have escaped, he had glimpsed them being sucked right into the iron maw of Angband. Cirdan--maybe some of his people had survived, fleeing west into the shadow of the mountains, but he could not be sure of that, he would send messengers to the Havens, too, and hope they arrived there before the Enemy's troops did. And Ossiriand--if things on the eastern front had gone as he guessed, the Green Elves'  northern flank would be exposed now, too, although they would probably find out before he could let them know. But he would send messages in any case, because there might not be anyone else left to send them. They would need to be wary. They would need to make plans.

They would need to make any plans they could still make.

The sky was getting lighter again, but it was cold. There seemed something wrong with it, with his view of the sky, with the very air around him. Was he just imagining it? Was it because he was still in shock and grieving--and so, so tired, after six days of fighting? But no, he was not imagining it. Something had leached out of the light, out of the air, out of the sound of Sirion's waters. A barrier had broken, exposing them to the North. A subtle malice seemed to have invaded the hiss of the reeds.

It would be a harsh awakening, for any who had believed they could stay safe if they stayed at home.

Nevertheless, they would just have to do the best they could, Beleg thought, and went to rouse Mablung, for their journey onwards.


Author's Note: I've been meaning to write this scene for quite a while for the last chapter of my story "Such Great Deeds" and I used this challenge prompt to push myself into doing it. The version posted here, however, does not contain any references to events or people that are only found in my story, but is based largely on canon accounts. The idea that Beleg and Mablung were saved in the battle by troops from Gondolin is drawn from Rhapsody's excellent story "The last stand", but seems logical and may well have been used by others independently. The title is adapted from canon (later said by Hurin in front of the concealed Gates of Gondolin)

Comments

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
silver_trails
May. 16th, 2017 02:54 am (UTC)
Loved this! The subtle change in the light after the battle was chilling.
hhimring
May. 19th, 2017 07:32 am (UTC)
Thank you very much!
I'm glad that detail worked.
lignota
May. 17th, 2017 12:02 am (UTC)
This is wonderful and heartbreaking. Beleg hearing Hurin's last battle-cries made me shiver. I can see how Beleg's guilt over leaving Hurin behind, and over failing to find him after the battle in Brethil, might play a part in his dedication to finding Turin later.

I like your use of the setting/scenery descriptions. The broken barrier that Beleg senses -- is that the fall of Barad Eithel, when the source of the Sirion is no longer protected from Morgoth's power?

I'll have to go read this as the final chapter in context of the longer story.
hhimring
May. 20th, 2017 04:56 pm (UTC)
Thank you very much!
I very much wanted the long story (Such Great Deeds) to suggest explanations why Beleg later acts as he does when he gets involved with Turin, without being too explicit about it. I hadn't quite made the link in my mind between going to look for Hurin and Huor after the Battle of Brethil and going to look for Turin after his flight from Doriath--so thank you very much for pointing that out!
And yes, what Beleg senses is partly the fall of Barad Eithel and the way Ulmo's powers are beginning to withdraw down Sirion (canonically so) and also has partly to do with my feeling as a reader that some sort of fateful barrier indeed falls at this point--perhaps that is what gives Morgoth the power to curse Hurin's family as well as actively pursue them, for instance...
blslarner
May. 17th, 2017 05:54 am (UTC)
The telling of the retreat is so well done, complete to the exhaustion and the indications that Morgoth is already living up to his name, sucking the light out of what illumination there might have been, now that his forces have managed to tear the allied forces of Men and Elves to pieces.
hhimring
May. 20th, 2017 04:59 pm (UTC)
Thank you very much, Larner!
Yes, Morgoth is indeed the Dark Foe and how difficult it had become to defend the light against him!
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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