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Of the Fifth Battle: Nirnaeth Arnoediad

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"We have a long way to go, and there is time ahead for thought." — Treebeard
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The Silmarillion chapters
  1. Ainulindalë
  2. Valaquenta
  3. Quenta Silmarillion
    1. Of the Beginning of Days
    2. Of Aulë and Yavanna
    3. Of the Coming of the Elves
    4. Of Thingol and Melian
    5. Of Eldamar
    6. Of Fëanor
    7. Of the Silmarils
    8. Of the Darkening of Valinor
    9. Of the Flight of the Noldor
    10. Of the Sindar
    11. Of the Sun and Moon
    12. Of Men
    13. Of the Return of the Noldor
    14. Of Beleriand and its Realms
    15. Of the Noldor in Beleriand
    16. Of Maeglin
    17. Of the Coming of Men into the West
    18. Of the Ruin of Beleriand
    19. Of Beren and Lúthien
    20. Of the Fifth Battle
    21. Of Túrin Turambar
    22. Of the Ruin of Doriath
    23. Of Tuor and the Fall of Gondolin
    24. Of the Voyage of Eärendil
  4. Akallabêth
  5. Of the Rings of Power

Of the Fifth Battle: Nirnaeth Arnoediad is the twentieth chapter of the Quenta Silmarillion section within The Silmarillion.

Summary

Almost twenty years after the defeat of the Elves and their Edain allies in the Dagor Bragollach, the Ñoldor had lost control over the entire north of Beleriand, and were for the most part reduced to holding on defensively in Hithlum, Himring and Nargothrond. Gondolin was still hidden and could not yet be assailed. However, the deeds of Beren and Lúthien, defeating Sauron at Tol-in-Gaurhoth and retrieving a Silmaril from Angband, convinced Maedhros that Morgoth was not invincible. In the year 468 of the Years of the Sun in the First Age, Maedhros began building an alliance that he believed capable of taking the war to Thangorodrim, known as the Union of Maedhros.

Under the command of Maedhros, all the Elves of Beleriand, as well as the Edain, Dwarves, and the newly arrived Easterlings were invited to combine in arms and fight against Morgoth. Unfortunately, the Oath of Fëanor and the evil deeds done by the Sons of Fëanor to fulfill it caused the Union to have less strength than it could have had. For Orodreth, the Lord of Nargothrond, remembering the deeds of Celegorm and Curufin that indirectly resulted in the death of Lord Finrod Felagund, sent no aid to the alliance. Against Orodreth's will however, a small company under the command of Gwindor went from Nargothrond. Their hope was to avenge the capture of Gwindor's brother Gelmir during the Dagor Bragollach. Worse yet, from Doriath there came only Mablung and Beleg, who wished to take part in the great deeds they knew were to come. For Thingol, King of Doriath, had in his possession the Silmaril recovered by Beren and Lúthien, and the Sons of Fëanor sent to him a haughty demand for its surrender. Thingol however, was both insulted by the demand and had begun to lust for the Silmaril. Thus, against the counsel of Melian, he refused to surrender it. As a result, Celegorm and Curufin vowed openly to destroy Doriath should they emerge victorious from the battle against Morgoth. Therefore Thingol enhanced the guard at his borders and sent no troops to aid Maedhros.

The Union divided its strength into two separate forces to attack Angband. Under Maedhros in the east were gathered the remainder of the Sons of Fëanor, the Elves and Men of Himring under Maedhros and Bór, the men of Amon ereb under Caranthir and Ulfang, and the Dwarves of Nogrod and Belegost. Under Fingon in the west were gathered the Elves and Men of Hithlum, the Elves of the Falas, the Haladin of Brethil, the companies sent from Nargothrond and the two Elves of Doriath, Beleg and Mablung. The plan was for Maedhros's host, the slightly greater of the two, to march openly across Anfauglith and draw out the main army of Angband, after which Fingon's host would attack from the Ered Wethrin and crush the armies of Morgoth between the two forces. They would then seal the doors of Angband and, hopefully, drive Morgoth underground forever. The Union first cleared Beleriand and Dorthonion from the Orcs, and then gathered to assault Angband. However, these attacks alerted Morgoth to the existence of the Union, and he took counsel against it.

Morgoth learned of the battle plan of the Eldar from his spies, and sought to prevent Maedhros's forces from meeting with Fingon's. To that end, he sent a gigantic force of his own, one which included Glaurung and his numerous fire-breathing brood, to destroy Maedhros's host. Fingon's troops eventually settled in the woods of Ered Wethrin to await the coming of Maedhros's forces, not knowing that they had been attacked. Upon the arrival of Fingon's forces to Ered Wethrin, smoke and fire poured forth from Thangorodrim and the Iron Mountains. Fingon thus knew that Morgoth had become aware of his forces, and doubt began to grow on him. Just at that moment however, Turgon arrived unexpectedly with an army ten thousand strong from Gondolin, and hope was renewed in the heart of the Elven host.

Aware of both the location of Fingon's troops and the strategy the elves hoped to employ, Morgoth sent a great force of Orcs from Angband to meet Fingon's host. In actuality, this force was but a small portion of the armies Morgoth had prepared, and was ultimately little more than bait. For Morgoth intended for this decoying force to draw out Fingon's army, and then to strengthen it when Fingon came from the hills to meet it. But Fingon, wary of the guile of Morgoth, ignored the taunts of the Orcs and kept his forces hidden. Seeing this, the captain of the Orcish host sent out riders with tokens of parley. With them was Gelmir, Gwindor's brother of Nargothrond, whom the Orcs had blinded. To provoke the Elvish host, they dismembered Gelmir within sight of the Ered Wethrin and then killed him, threatening to do the same with their other Elvish thralls. Unfortunately, Gwindor himself was in the forefront of the Elvish host, and he witnessed the cruel murder of his brother. Insane with grief and rage, he broke ranks and charged the heralds with the company from Nargothrond and slew them, driving deep into the center of the Orcish host. Seeing that his troops could not be restrained, Fingon sounded the charge, and committed his entire force to the battle. Here, Morgoth's designs nearly went astray, for the onset of the Noldor charge was so swift and terrible that the Orcish host was destroyed before it could be strengthened. At the forefront of the battle were Gwindor and his company, and their wrath was so great that they burst through Morgoth's outer gates and slew the guard in the very courts of Angband.

It was said that Morgoth trembled as Gwindor's company pounded upon his gates, but surrounded by a sea of enemies they became trapped in the court, and all were slain except Gwindor who was taken, for Fingon could not come to their aid. Then, from many hidden doors in Thangorodrim, Morgoth let forth his main host. Fingon's army was driven back from the walls of Angband with great loss. The Men of Brethil that comprised the rearguard were nearly all slain, along with Haldir, Lord of the Haladin. The fourth day of the conflict was the official beginning of Nírnaeth Arnoediad, and Fingon's forces continued to retreat with their casualties mounting. At the start of the fifth day however, Fingon's forces were joined by Turgon, who had withheld most of his troops from the foolhardy assault. The phalanx of Turgon broke through the lines of the Enemy, and met with the guard of Fingon, along with Húrin son of Galdor. With Turgon's help, Fingon's forces managed to beat back the host of Angband enough to begin an orderly retreat.

However, the fortune of the Eldar then took another turn for the worse. For while Fingon's armies had been fighting Morgoth's forces on the plains of Anfauglith, Maedhros had been defeated by the armies that Morgoth had sent against his host. To make matters worse, Maedhros had been betrayed by Ulfang, one of the sons of Uldor, who had summoned a great force of evil men from the surrounding hills to attack the elven host. Reeling from the unexpected treachery and the continual assault of Morgoth's dragons, the eastern host would have been utterly destroyed if not for the valor of the Dwarves of Belegost. For they were naturally able to withstand the dragons' fire better than Elves or Men, and moreover they wore great iron masks that gave them additional protection. These dwarves formed the rearguard of the eastern host, and allowed the remaining Elves and Men to escape the dragons. Azaghâl, King of the Dwarves of Belegost, gathered his forces and formed a ring around Glaurung to keep him at bay. Such was their strength and the keenness of their axes that even Glaurung's armored hide was not invulnerable to their blows. Enraged, Glaurung struck down Azaghâl and crawled over him, but with his last strength Azaghâl ran a dagger through Glaurung's belly, and the dragon fled in pain. With him fled all the beasts of Morgoth. In a solemn ceremony the Dwarves picked up their fallen leader, forgetting about the battle, and they marched his corpse home. Their wrath was so great that none troubled them. Their sacrifice allowed all seven of the Sons of Fëanor to escape, though their host was routed and scattered throughout Ossiriand.

After defeating Maedhros, Morgoth's eastern host had made haste to to join the battle against Fingon's forces, and arrived as the elven forces had begun to withdraw. As they engaged the retreating Elves, Gothmog himself arrived on the field with his Troll guard and engaged Fingon in single combat. The High Elven King managed to hold his own against the High Captain of Angband until another Balrog restrained Fingon from behind. Gothmog then clove Fingon's head with his Black Axe, and the field of battle was soon utterly lost. Seeing this, Húrin begged Turgon to return to Gondolin, and told the King that he and his men would cover the Elven retreat. Huor, Húrin and the remaining Men of Dor-lómin then formed a living wall across the Fens of Serech, buying time for Turgon to escape with most of the surviving Elves of the north. The warriors of Dor-lómin were all slain, and Huor fell with his eye pierced by a poisoned arrow. Finally Húrin was left to fight alone, wielding the great axe of an Orc captain two handed. He managed to slay seventy of his foes, including a great number of Gothmog's troll guard, falling at last after his axe withered away from the caustic troll blood upon it. Gothmog then pulled Húrin out from under the mountain of Orcs and Trolls that he had slain, bound him, and dragged him to Angband with mockery.

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