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Last week, Maedhros gathered Elves, Men, and Dwarves to confront Morgoth once more. Now, for the beginning of the battle known in English as “Unnumbered Tears.”
Quenta Silmarillion: Chapter 20 part 2
The time for plotting is over. The time for the newest assault on Morgoth has begun. Instead of detailing the battle blow by blow, as described in the chapter, this post will focus on the highlights. If you want to read the whole battle in detail, check out Chapter 20 in The Silmarillion. In either case, this war is so devastating that it is named Nirnaeth Arnoediad, “Unnumbered Tears.”
The first important event that happens is Turgon and his army from the secret land of Gondolin arrive. No one has known Gondolin’s location since its founding, so it’s a huge surprise to find Turgon roaming around after spending countless years cloistered away in his secret palace. (For all anyone knew, he had just fallen off the face of Middle-earth.) This certainly excites everyone, especially Fingon, Turgon’s brother who hasn’t seen him for years.
Speaking of Fingon, he has been with Gwindor, the Elf from Nargothrond whose brother had been captured during Dagor Bragollach (the last major war with Morgoth). In an attempt to lure Fingon into making a hasty move, the Orcs bring out Gwindor’s captured brother, Gelmir. Poor Gelmir has been blinded and tortured while in Morgoth’s prisons. And in this moment when it looks like they might bargain for his freedom, the Orcs instead execute him in front of everyone. Gwindor loses control of himself. Weapons blazing, he leads a charge straight to Angband’s gates. Fingon follows, hoping to help, but it’s too late. By the time he gets close, everyone but Gwindor is dead, Gwindor is captured, and Fingon is so overwhelmed that he has to withdraw.
After this, Fingon withdraws, where he meets with Turgon and his forces. This bolsters Fingon’s troops, which is good because they’ll need it. In the next breath, Morgoth fires everything he has, including Glaurung the dragon.
Unfortunately, Glaurung isn’t Morgoth’s only secret weapon. Throughout the years, Morgoth has used manipulation and lies to separate people. (After all, that’s why the Noldor became exiles in the first place.) In Middle-earth, he’s applied these tactics on Men, specifically the Easterlings (a familiar name from The Lord of the Rings) among other tribes. Now, in this moment when they need to stand together to face the dragon, a whole group of Men withdraws, abandoning Maedhros on the battlefield.
With a fraction of the army gone, there is no choice but to retreat. While it’s devastating, a few brave folk keep it from becoming a complete disaster.
The first: Azgahal, the Dwarven Lord of Belegost. When the dragon attacks, he and his armies fight back, and to the death. In fact, as Glaurung the dragon manages to kill Azgahal, Azgahal wounds the dragon so badly that it has no choice but to flee. This saves countless lives.
The second: Fingon himself. While he is with Turgon, they are faced with Gothmog, Lord of the Balrogs. Unfortunately for the Elvish brothers, they’re separated by enemy forces, leaving Fingon to fight Gothmog himself. And while Fingon is a formidable foe, he’s eventually slain. While this is a terrible blow, Turgon does survive.
The third: Hurin. He and his brother, Huor, have been among the forces of Turgon, their old friend. (Yes, Maeglin still hates Hurin and Huor as much as ever.) Now that the battle has gone south, the brothers give Turgon a chance to flee. They offer to hold a bridge, allowing Turgon and the folk from Gondolin to cross, and the brothers will basically fight Morgoth’s forces to the death. At first, Turgon isn’t fond of this idea. However, Hurin convinces him that it’s for the best. He and his brother have lost everything. Their people have been devastated, their land is gone, they have nothing to return to. They want to go down fighting.
So that’s what they do. After Turgon and his forces escape, Hurin, Huor, and their men hold the bridge. Unfortunately, Huor is badly wounded by a venomed arrow to the eye and all of the men are killed, leaving Hurin to fight alone. But even then, Hurin never stops. He picks up an axe and starts swinging it, shouting, “Day shall come again!” (233) (By the way, if someone ever makes movies/tv miniseries of The Silmarillion, I hope they make this moment as epic as I imagine it. Slow motion and everything.) Eventually, Hurin is overwhelmed and captured, but not before he keeps his promise to Turgon and protects Gondolin’s location from Morgoth.
Once the battle is over, Morogth is quite pleased with himself. Sure, he’s bummed that Gondolin is still hidden and Turgon escaped, but at least the Orcs and wolves have the run of the place and the Elves won’t be banding together to bother him again for a while. Also, fortunately for him, he has Hurin in his custody. But back to this in a moment.
You see, in the aftermath of the war, many of the Elves flee to the Havens, where Cirdan the Shipwright has been for the longest time. Among them is Gil-galad, Fingon’s son. (He will be very important later.) Turgon and the other Elves try to send ships West to ask for help from Valinor, but none of them return, save one that was saved by Ulmo.
This action does, however, catch Morgoth’s attention. After attacking the Havens, Morgoth turns to the captured Hurin for information about Gondolin. After all, he’s been there before. But Hurin refuses to help. As punishment, Morgoth takes Hurin to a “high seat” where he’s forced to watch the fate of his family. As the events that follow take place, he never asks for mercy or death. He just watches, probably stealing much of the twisted pleasure out of the experience for Morgoth.
Next week, the things Hurin had to watch, part 1.