Nírnaeth Arnoediad - The Fifth Battle As Told in The Silmarillion

The Fifth Battle As Told in The Silmarillion

In the almost two decades since their defeat in the Dagor Bragollach, the Noldor 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 shut and unknown. The great deeds of Beren and Lúthien in defeating Sauron, overthrowing his fortress of Tol-in-Gaurhoth and wresting a Silmaril from Morgoth's Crown, as well as the military victories of Thingol on all the borders of his realm of Doriath, gave hope to the Noldor that Morgoth could still be defeated. In the year 468 of the Years of the Sun in the First Age, Maedhros began building an alliance capable of taking the war to Angband and regaining the lands of the Noldor.

Under the Union 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 Morgoth. The Union first cleared Beleriand and Dorthonion from the Orcs, and at Midsummer of 472 gathered to assault Thangorodrim. Due to the prideful attitude and words of Maedhros' brothers, Celegorm and Curufin, and their sedition against Orodreth, no significant armies from Nargothrond or Doriath joined the Union.

Maedhros' plan was for his main host to attack and draw out the army of Angband and engage their front, after which Fingon's host would attack from the Ered Wethrin in the west, striking the forces of Angband on the flank. Led by Maedhros in the east were gathered the Sons of Fëanor, the Elves and Men of Himring under Maedhros and Maglor, the Elves of Amon Ereb under Caranthir, the Easterlings of Bór and Ulfang and the Dwarves of Belegost. Under Fingon in the west were gathered the Elves and Men of Hithlum, the Elves of the Falas, the Folk of Haleth from Brethil and the companies sent from Nargothrond.

Other potential allies of great strength would not join the Union because of the evil deeds of Celegorm and Curufin, two of Maedhros' brothers. Nargothrond would send only a small company of elves under Gwindor because of their part in the death of Finrod Felagund, King of Nargothrond. From Doriath, Thingol had sworn never to support any son of Fëanor after they kidnapped his daughter Lúthien and treacherously wounded Beren. Only Mablung and Beleg, two of Thingol's great captains, who did not wish to remain behind, came and joined the western army. On the other hand, Turgon unexpectedly appeared with an army of ten thousand Elves from Gondolin.

Maedhros had mustered the largest force of Elves and allies ever, but his failures in statesmanship and diplomacy, along with the ill deeds of his brothers, alienated one of the largest Elven force in Beleriand, King Thingol's army of Doriath, some 30,000–45,000 strong. The actions of Celegorm and Curufin deprived the Union of a further 15,000–20,000 Elves of the army of Nargothrond. None doubted that Morgoth had not been idle, and when every sword would be needed the loss of potentially 45,000 to 65,000 more warriors would prove crippling to Maedhros' plan.

Morgoth had learned of the battle plan through his spies and his agent Uldor son of Ulfang, who proved to be a traitor, delaying Maedhros with false information and preventing the lighting of the signal beacon on Dorthonion. To further disrupt the coordination of Maedhros' plan a large detachment of Orcs was sent west from Angband with orders to provoke Fingon's host in the west into a premature attack. When Fingon's host stayed in position, the Captains of the Orc-host brought a prisoner, Gelmir, the brother of Gwindor, and he was mutilated and beheaded in sight of the Elves. Tragically, though Fingon's army was concealed in the Shadowy Mountains over a very long front, the Orc captain killed Gelmir in front of Gwindor's position. Enraged, Gwindor and his company of Elves from Nargothrond broke ranks and charged, killing the heralds and driving into the bulk of the Angband army, and Fingon promptly ordered his entire army to charge. The Army of Hithlum in this first encounter nearly managed to disrupt Morgoth's plans by destroying his western army on the plains of Anfauglith.

Gwindor and his small company led the charge all the way from Eithel Sirion to Angband, to the extent of breaking through the front gates and killing the guards on the stairs; it is said that Morgoth trembled as Gwindor's company pounded on his doors. Once inside, though, they were surrounded and killed, except Gwindor, who was captured and imprisoned. Fingon and the main Army of Hithlum could not come to their rescue, as Morgoth had by this time ordered his main army, many thousands strong, to emerge from a large number of hidden entrances in Thangorodrim. Fingon suffered great losses as his army was beaten back from the walls of Thangorodrim, and soon ordered a general retreat back towards Hithlum. Many Men of Brethil fell in the rearguard during the retreat, including their Chieftain Haldir. For two days and the intervening night, Fingon's army continued its retreat, until on the second night they were surrounded on the plains of Anfauglith, and they fought desperately through the night.

Turgon had restrained the Army of Gondolin from joining in the first attack, and was able to come to his brother's assistance. Attacking the Orc army from the south, the phalanx of Turgon's guard broke through the Angband lines, and Turgon's army linked up with Fingon's. At this time, Húrin and Turgon had a friendly meeting with each other.

Finally, Maedhros and the Eastern Army joined the battle, causing many Orcs to flee in terror. But before he could cut through to Fingon and Turgon, the last reserves of Angband under Glaurung the Dragon attacked, preventing the two armies from joining. However, Uldor and a large contingent of Easterlings turned traitor and attacked the Eastern Army from within, nearly approaching Maedhros' banner before they were cut down. But further forces of Easterlings, summoned by Uldor, joined the battle against Maedhros, and the Eastern Army, attacked from three sides, broke and fled in disorder. The seven Sons of Fëanor gathered a remnant of the Noldor and Dwarves, cut a way out of the battle and escaped towards East Beleriand, eventually establishing themselves on Amon Ereb. The Dwarves of Belegost helped them escape, as their forces formed a sort of rearguard, holding off Glaurung. Glaurung was vulnerable to the Dwarves' axes, while the Dwarves themselves wore fire-resistant iron masks and were naturally able to resist fire better than Elves or Men. When Glaurung found himself surrounded he crushed Azaghâl, the King of Belegost, but Azaghâl stabbed Glaurung in the stomach, and the dragon fled back to Angband, along with the beasts of the host of Morgoth. In solemn ceremony the Dwarves picked up their fallen leader, and, leaving the battle, they marched his corpse home singing a funeral dirge; no-one attempted to stop them.

The Eastern Army having been utterly defeated, Fingon and Turgon found themselves surrounded and vastly outnumbered. The Balrog Gothmog, High-Captain of Angband, cut a path between Fingon and Turgon, isolating Fingon and forcing Turgon and his army to retreat towards the Fen of Serech. Turning his attention to Fingon, Gothmog killed all Fingon's personal guard, and Fingon duelled with Gothmog until a second Balrog caught Fingon in a fiery whip. Gothmog took the opportunity this presented to strike a killing blow at Fingon's head.

The battle was now thoroughly lost, with Turgon reduced to maintaining a defensive line guarding the entrance to the Pass of Sirion. Húrin and Huor urged Turgon to retreat to Gondolin. During this discussion, Huor prophesied to Turgon that out of Gondolin the hope of Elves and Men would come, and that from both their houses a new star would arise, a reference to Eärendil the Mariner. Huor, Húrin and the remaining Men of Dor-lómin formed the rearguard, desperately fighting and only gradually conceding ground, thus buying time for Turgon to escape with his surviving forces and as many Elves of Fingon's former Army as could safely be gathered. Retreating behind the Fens of Serech, the Men of Dor-lómin positioned themselves with the Fen of Serech to their front, forming a natural defence, and with their backs to the Stream of Rivil, intending to fight there to the death. The Silmarillion says that "...of all the deeds of war that the fathers of Men wrought on behalf of the Eldar, the last stand of the Men of Dor-lómin was most renowned."

The Men of Dor-lómin indeed fought to the death. Late in the afternoon, Huor was killed, shot through the eye with a poisoned arrow, and all the others were killed; the Orcs chopped the heads off the bodies and piled them "as a mound of gold in the sunset". Finally, Húrin was the only one left, and during this very last phase of the battle he killed no fewer than seventy of Morgoth's soldiers. But Morgoth gave orders that Húrin was to be taken alive, and the corpses of Orcs eventually became so numerous that at the end he fell trapped beneath a pile of them. The battle thus ending, Gothmog bound him and dragged him to Angband.

This was Morgoth's greatest victory in the wars. Before the Battle, he controlled Anfauglith, with Lothlann, Dorthonion and the Pass of Sirion more or less secure. With the conclusion of the battle, Morgoth gained Hithlum, which he gave to the Easterlings to occupy, securing the entire North. Also, his control over the passes into Beleriand, both in the west (the Pass of Sirion) and the east (the Pass of Aglon and Maglor's Gap) was unquestioned. Shortly afterwards, Morgoth's Orcs would sack Himring and the East Marches, and the next year Morgoth defeated and destroyed the seaside towns of the Falas. Within a few years, Morgoth came to control virtually all of Beleriand, the principal exceptions being Nargothrond, Doriath and Gondolin; and these three kingdoms knew that, even all together, they were no longer capable of resisting Morgoth, so they turned to secrecy and stealth. Elsewhere, the Dwarves of the Blue Mountains survived, as did the Green-elves of Ossiriand, and a few refugees from the Falas who escaped to the Isle of Balar.

The saddest and most heart-rending aftereffect of the Fifth Battle was its effective destruction of the relationship between the races of Elves and Men. In the Quenta Silmarillion Tolkien wrote, "From that day the hearts of the Elves were estranged from Men, save only those of the Three Houses of the Edain."

Morgoth betrayed his servants, the Easterlings, trapping them in Hithlum under penalty of death, and denied them the fertile lands of Beleriand. Still Morgoth knew fear, for Turgon, now High King of the Noldor after the death of Fingon in the battle, had survived, and his city Gondolin was still unknown to Morgoth. Also, while Morgoth had achieved a crushing and decisive victory over his enemies, his own forces had suffered heavy losses to achieve it, and it would be some time before his forces recovered to their full strength.

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