(v) The War of Darkness (Part 1)
The Alliance of Illuèn and Men
Daevàr watched as his people, despite their resilience, slowly withered under the darkness brought upon them by the Duithèn. Rumor grew of the gathering armies of Aélûr also, and the king began to fear the ruin of his kingdom, the downfall of his people, and the demise of all light in Erâth.
He appealed to the neighboring kingdom of Kiriün, and found them under the same spell of darkness. Long masters of the land, the crops of Kiriün were now withering, and their fruit failing. Daevàr spent long hours with Starüd, the king of Kiriün, speaking of the coming darkness, and the possibility of attack from the East. Daevàr was a strong king, and vowed not to let their lands be taken. He proposed that their armies should move upon the lands of the East while their armies were yet amassed, but Starüd did not agree. Refusing to accept that they might be attacked, he claimed instead that if their own kingdoms were already drowned in such fear of darkness, the lands of the East, long under the power of the Duithèn, must be incapacitated and unable to mount an assault of any kind. Kiriün would not move against the enemy; they might continue to live for many centuries, albeit under the shroud of the Duithèn, if they did not mount an offense. To bring war to the enemy in their own land, however, would be to invite open destruction.
Frustrated, Daevàr returned to Erârün in defeat. As time passed, the rumor of attack from Aélûr grew, and soon whispers of a great lord of darkness in that land called Goroth. It was said the Duithèn had given to him their power, and not just the Men but the beasts and dark creatures of Aélûr were now under his direct command. The people of Erârün lived now not just with the intangible fear arising from the darkness of the Duithèn, but the terrifying image of the armies of Goroth.
Soon, word reached Daevàr that Men of Aélûr, alongside skøltär, were descending upon the independent villages to the North, beyond the borders of their lands. He again appealed to Starüd, and again Starüd would not aid Erârün. Tales spread of wild Men and beasts roaming free across the lands, burning and killing as they went. Daevàr sent North scouts; few returned, and those that did often bore grievous wounds and died shortly thereafter. From these brave soldiers, Erârün learned the truth of the attacks from Aélûr. Fleeing villagers, seeking refuge behind the stone walls of Vira Weitor, capitol of Erârün, brought with them wild and inconsistent tales of armies of thousands, marching in great phalanxes across the hills and plains. Daevàr knew Erârün would not long last against a prolonged assault by such an army. In desperation, his thoughts turned to the last race of power that might yet come to their aid: the Illuèn.
The Illuèn were little more than legend in the realms of Thaeìn, despite their exile from Aélûr and Cathaï. Hiding among the forests and hills beyond the borders of any kingdom, they kept to themselves, and despaired for the fate of Erâth. Their memory was indelible, and the ruin of the great civilizations of Men, the spread of darkness and the corruption of the Men of the West by the Duithèn brought them no hope for the future of their world. They were not oblivious; aware of the march by the dark kingdoms of Men upon the remaining kingdoms of Men in Thaeìn, they saw in this terrible development the same mistrust and hate that had led to the downfall of the first age. In despair, they began to prepare to leave Erâth forever.
It was in the heart of this bleak view of Erâth that Daevàr approached the Illuèn, and beseeched their aid against the march of darkness. Daevàr had learned of the Illuèn’s role in driving back the forces of darkness, and knew if they would come to Erârün’s aid, they might yet stand a chance against the powers of Darkness. Despairing for so long of the courage of Men, the Illuèn were greatly surprised by Daevàr’s strength; perhaps if Men could bear kings of such ilk, there might yet be hope for the redemption of Erâth.
Encouraged by Daevàr’s boldness, the Illuèn sent swift messengers throughout their people, and gathered the wisest of their race to make the decision whether or not to once more fight back the powers of darkness. Daevàr, nervously awaiting their decision, made his boldest move yet. Mustering the soldiers of Erârün before hearing word from the Illuèn, he one final time approached Starüd with the news that the Illuèn might come to their aid in the fight against darkness. Knowing their only hope of victory lay in the alliance of both kingdoms, even with the aid of the Illuèn, Daevàr allowed Starüd to believe the Illuèn had already agreed to come to their aid.
Perhaps it was the influence of the Duithèn that lead Daevàr, a king of truth and integrity, to such deceit, or perhaps it was merely despair at the weakened position of their kingdoms. Either way, his intention was to let Kiriün gather their own armies along side his own, while he returned to the Illuèn to learn of their decision. To his dismay, at the last moment Starüd chose to ride with Daevàr to confer with the leaders of the Illuèn. The Illuèn had indeed agreed to fight alongside Men, but when Starüd learned of Daevàr’s deceit, he vowed that no alliance would ever again exist between Kiriün and Erârün. So it was that Erârün became no longer known as the Kingdom of Stone, but the Kingdom of Shame.
The Illuèn, too, had a promise to Men. This would be the last time the Illuèn would defend Men against the forces of darkness. Should they prove victorious, the Illuèn would once more retreat and diminish, still to decide whether to remain in Erâth or not. Should they not triumph, there would be no refuge in Erâth for Men or Illuèn.
So it was that, with bitterness and regret, Daevàr made preparations to lead his kingdom to war.
Prelude to War
The combined forces of Erârün, Kiriün and the Illuèn formed a great army of nearly ten thousand Men. The armies of Urkûl would cross the seas between their two lands by the vast Bridge of Aélûr. This monumental structure, spanning some hundred leagues between Aélûr and Thaeìn, was one of the few great structures of the First Age remaining in Erâth, and its breadth allowed for the passage of five hundred Men side by side with ease. This would be Urkûl’s way into Thaeìn, and it was here that there defense would have to be strongest.
Daevàr called upon the villagers of Erârün to fight, and spoke of the demise that was imminent upon their lands. Many took up weapons and joined the great march, and so did many of the farmers of Kiriün. The swiftest riders were sent forth ahead of the army of Thaeìn, seeking to learn of the true strength of Urkûl. For days they rode, over lands that became ever darker and blacker. The tales from the outlying settlements of Thaeìn had not been false; many villages lay still smoldering in ruins, and here and there parties of Men and skøltär from Urkûl were to be seen.
The lead scouts, a small group of Men and Illuèn, made their way with stealth through the forests, avoiding where possible the wider plains of the land. Large parties of skøltär were seen crossing these plains, and the Men, unused to these creatures, passed in horror and disgust. Though vile to look upon, far worse were the terrible deeds these scouts witnessed. Bereft of villagers and Men of Thaeìn to butcher, the skøltär would turn upon the very Men of Urkûl with whom they were fighting along side, draining them of life or tearing them limb from limb and consuming their very flesh. The Men of Thaeìn were sickened, but the Illuèn, who had witnessed such terrible deeds for the thousands of years of the Second Age, passed on in silence.
Soon, the scouts emerged from the forest on the East coast of Thaeìn, and beheld in the distance the great, stretching structure of the Bridge of Aélûr. The sight that met their eyes was terrible: the armies of Urkûl were already advancing. Legions of Men and other creatures, in battalions of some hundred or so, could be seen in the distance, moving slowly towards Thaeìn. They were spread out, and the nearest were yet a day’s march from the shores of Thaeìn, but back towards the horizon, as far as the eye could see, more of the creatures and Men of darkness could be seen.
It seemed the alliance of Men and Illuèn, and their march northward, was too late. The hope of confronting the armies of Aélûr as they passed over the Bridge itself were shattered: the armies of Thaeìn were some three days from that point at least, and it seemed the armies would meet in battle on the open fields, and not at the bottleneck of the Bridge as the soldiers of darkness emerged into the lands of Thaeìn.
Their only hope lay in the number of soldiers that had yet to cross into Thaeìn, and the great distance separating the two lands. Even the relentless army of Urkûl, reinforced by the tireless skøltär, would take some weeks to cross the Bridge of Aélûr in their entirety, and until the might of their army was in the land of Thaeìn, they would not pursue a course South towards the kingdoms of Men.
Daevàr and Starüd urged their fastest riders forward faster. Some thousand riders of Erârün, Kiriün and the Illuèn advanced on before the main body of their army, passing over the mountains of Reinkrag, moved swiftly north, covered an unthinkable fifty leagues in less than four days, arriving at the Bridge of Aélûr as slightly more than two thousand of the armies of darkness had passed over the Bridge and formed their encampment in the fields. They were not expecting an assault by the armies of Thaeìn – Goroth had been certain their attack would come as a surprise to the Men of that land. They swiftly regrouped themselves, taking up their swords and axes, and prepared for battle. In the gathering dark, the two armies faced each other, Men and beast on one side, and Men and Illuèn on the other. The War of Darkness had begun.