February 14, TA 3019/AD 1200
It was a battle like few others, before or since, both in scale and in impact upon the world. This was not because of the armies that clashed there, no: The meeting of arms was little different than any of the thousands of others fought between elves and orcs down through the centuries. It was, though, without doubt a tremendous clash, notable even among all the millennials of war between the Children of Illuvatar and Morgoth’s twisted mockeries of them: the dark denizens of Moria, their numbers like the leaves in the forest, surged forwards like a tidal wave of darkness, seeking to drown their foes in a sea of blood, flesh and metal. They were like so many wild beasts, snarling and howling as they charged without regard for their own lives, thirsty for blood and battle.
They were met first with volley after volley of precise arrows that plunged into gaps in their shoddy armor, tearing holes into their surging ranks, the elven archers calmy firing shot after shot after shot. The foot soldiers of Lorien met the charging horde with spear thrusts and the hacking of swords, quick and precise and extremely deadly, hundreds or even thousands of years of training and skill put to good use against the raging black horde.
The melee would only grow from there. The Cave Trolls of Moria, with their great clubs and hide like leather and sheer size and strength, came forth, charging the lines of the elves like living battering rams, and with them other creatures of the dark: the wolves of the mountains, hungry and wild and with their teeth and claws like daggers, howling as they pounced on their prey; spiders of Mirkwood, taken from their homes long ago and bred in the crags of the Black Pit for war and war alone, now unleashed against the foes of Moria. These twisted beasts joined the other denizens of that dark place, and with club and fist and tooth and claw they tried to push into the forest, hacking and clawing and biting at all that stood against them.
But this was Lothlorien. This was the Golden Wood. This was the Heart of Elvendom itself, the realm of Galadriel and Celeborn, and the light that shone here would not be easily extinguished.
The people of Lorien knew well the ways of war: wedged between the dark forest of Mirkwood on one side and the Black Pit of Moria on the other, the elves knew that they were a tempting target for Sauron’s thralls, largely isolated from their allies by the Misty Mountains to the west and Dol Guldur to the east. They had long known that the day would dawn when the armies of the Enemy would march upon their lands, known that the time would come for them to take up arms and defend their homes, and for centuries, nay, millennia, they had prepared, building hidden fortifications and laying snares and traps wherever they could, spending whatever waking hours they had to spare training for the battle that was to come. As the shadow in the east had grown darker, as the passes over the mountains and the road through Mirkwood had become ever harder to walk, the people of Lorien had seen that the day they dreaded had been drawing near, and they had steeled themselves for the storm to come.
And so it was that when the battle did come, and all the dark and twisted inhabitants of Moria climbed out of their hiding places, took up arms and assailed themselves against the Golden Wood, descending this dark night from the Mirrormere like a flood of shadow from a burst damn, the elves of Lorien were ready. The forest had no wall or fence around it, no barrier against which the black tide could break. It did not matter: The elves built a barricade of wood and metal and flesh, of spears and shields and swords, and the walls of Minas Tirith could not have been stronger. High in the trees, their archers picked off their targets at will, while the infantry below formed an unbreaking line against the charging horde. Again and again, the endless waves of orcs and goblins and wolves and trolls broke against the lines of the elves, screaming and roaring and howling, fighting with blade and tooth and claw to break through into the forest: again and again, the lines held, a great dam holding back a raging black river.
Screams and shouts and the clanging of metal pierced the night as the wave and the wall smashed against each other, numbers and wild abandon favoring one side and skill and the terrain on the side of the other. Arrows rained down upon the field, from elves high in the trees or orcs on the dark ground below, the line of battle flexing and bending and even occasionally being pierced, but refusing to break in either direction. Blood bathed the ground, orcish and elven alike, and a winding ridge of dead and dying flesh began to pile up at the feet of the combatants. And still they fought, standing atop a slowly rising hill of corpses, both sides refusing to yield.
But for all the courage and valor of the elves, for all the savagery and strength of the orcs, it was not they who would decide the battle. The great armies, both thousands strong, for all their arms and skill in the arts of war, would not, could not, claim the victory this night. It was not they, those mere soldiers, who would determine the fate of Lorien. For on the west bank of the Silverlode, between the mighty river and the stream known as Nimrodel, stood those that would. The two great armies of elves and orcs, for all the blood they spilled, all the actions they took to defeat each other, were a skirmish, a distraction, a sideshow, a schoolboy’s fight compared to the duel besides the River Celebrant.
For it was here, on the western edge of the field of battle, that Galadriel, Lady of the Golden Wood would meet with Durin’s Bane, the Last of the Balrogs.
Perhaps it was destined that they should meet, now, in this new world, far beyond the bounds of Arda and Valinor, the lands of their births. Here were two monuments to the glories and dreads of bygone ages: The Nameless Terror, the final remnant of the terrors of Thangorodrim, last echo of the First Age; and the Lady of the Golden Wood, who’s people had long turned their hearts towards the west and the sea, who had slowly watched the fading of the Third. A new Age was dawning, one of light or darkness yet to be determined but dawning nonetheless. The Age of Balrogs was long passed; the Age of Elves was passing. But before the time of the new world could begin, the old still had a few final gasps to give. It was fitting, then, that these two pinnacles of their Ages would face each other now, in these strange times when the whole world seemed to have been change. They stood at the turning of the Age, almost as if to give the old a proper send-off. The Third Age of Middle-earth, it seemed, had saved its best for last.
None dared draw close to them, and rightly so: to do so was to court instant death, not at the hands of either combatant but from the collateral effects of their attacks and defenses alone. Very few had even the courage to so much as look upon them from afar, to gaze upon the mightiest of their respective kinds, to witness for themselves the full power of Elf and Balrog. This was not a simple duel or a battle between two warriors, oh no: here was a meeting of two forces of nature, each stoppable only by the other.
The earth shook like a toy in the hands of an infant, the ground trembling beneath their feet. The winds howled and roared, as if they had come alive and were screaming their battlecry to the heavens. With every assault, every defense, every action and reaction, the fabric of the world itself seemed to tear and fray around them, for as they moved and struck at each other, the very air through which they moved seemed to distort and bend to their wills. The whole atmosphere was charged with energy and power, building by the second. Two beacons burned in the black night, the storm around them ever growing, twisting, roaring, the twin hearts at its center aglow like the noonday sun.
A towering pillar of red fire and black smoke was one of these hearts, threatening to consume all things. Theirs was the flame of destruction and death, of approaching doom and torturous agony. This was the Master of the Black Pit, that Nameless Terror which had stormed hidden Gondolin in the First Age, laid low the mightiest of the Dwarves in the Third, and had fought against the Istari Olorin until the world itself had been broken. They stood as tall as even the oldest trees of the forest, and its black flesh was aflame, cracks of fire glowing in its skin like veins of magma. A twisted, dark flame of pure wrath and malice glowed in its heart, like unending hatred given form, a black heart pumping raw, unstoppable fury through the shadowy flesh. The waters of Nimrodel and Celebrant boiled at the mere presence of the beast, and all around the ancient trees of the Golden Wood warped and cracked and burst into flame, the waves of heat erupting from the creature igniting the timbers like dried leaves in a hearth. Wherever it steeped, the earth beneath its feet was fused into glass, and in its hands it held two terrible weapons, one in each hand: a great whip of fire, which cackled like lightning and shattered whatever it struck and a black, towering sword, wreathed in flames, which cleaved through ancient wood and earth and stone like so much air. They were like an unstoppable wildfire, an erupting volcano, their flame an all-devouring conflagration that threatened to burn all things to ash.
Among all the peoples of Lorien, all the warriors and wise of the Heart of Elvendom, there was but one that could stand against the inferno, one who could hope to contain the blaze. They stood before the Balrog, unbowed and unbent, standing tall and fair. This was the Lady Galadriel, Guardian of the Golden Wood, Ruler of Lorien. This was the Sister of Finrod, savior of Beren; the Daughter of Finarfin, veteran of the War of Wrath; Granddaughter of Finwe, High King of the Noldor. This was one born in the Years of the Trees in Valinor itself, one who had seen the first sunrise with her own eyes, one who marched across the Grinding Ice into Beleriand of old. This was the founder of the Realm of Lothlorien, the Heart of Elvendom in Middle-earth, the bearer of Nenya, one of the Three Rings of Power untainted by Sauron’s touch, the one who had banished Sauron himself from his fortress of Dol Guldur. She stood tall before the Flame in the Shadow, unarmed and unarmored, without so much as a walking stick for use as a weapon. Galadriel had no need of such meager things: every one of the Balrog’s strikes, by fire or sword or whip, was met not with steel or mithril, but with the magic of, perhaps, the greatest elf who yet remained east of the Sea. The Lady of Light lived up to her moniker, shining like the Star of Earendil in the moonlit night as the ancient lands of Lorien, so familiar to her touch, bent to her power and will. Her light was like that of all the stars together turning the black gloom of night into the brightest day as she turned away every strike that the Nameless Terror made against her. The winds bowed to her whim, and a great whirlwind swirled around the Lady of the Golden Wood, shielding her from harm and striking at the beast before her: lightning cracking from the sky, boulders and trees torn from the ground and hurled at her foe. Galadriel stood at the center of a small hurricane, daring her opponent to strike at her.
Durin’s Bane accepted the challenge, and so the two fought, in the heart of a storm of fire and wind and and light. Oh, how they fought. How could one possibly described the scene? What words could be used that so justice? No writer in the history of the world could tell the full truth. Homer, the greatest writer of the Greeks of old, would have perhaps seen the goddess Artemis, locked in battle with a monster from the deepest, darkest crag of Tartarus, but even all his skill with prose could not give proper justice to the scene. The compilers of the Poetic Edda, those Vikings of the far north, might have sung a song of Surtur himself, come forth from Muspelheim to bring about the end of Asgard, confronted by a great Valkyrie, or perhaps Freyja herself, but their songs and poems could not describe what occurred between Nimrodel and the Celebrant.
To merely say that the ground shuddered and buckled with every step that the Balrog took cannot possibly described the way that the earth shook that night: It cannot convey how the ground shifted and moved beneath their feet, cannot truthfully tell of how much the very foundation of the earth felt as if they were coming apart. The words are not enough. Likewise, to say that the wind roared like ten thousand dragons as the Lady of the Golden Wood molded it to her will, the dirt and broken branches carried on it flying so fast that they cut like Elven swords into the shadowy flesh of Durin’s bane is folly, because such words are not enough to describe the truth of what was happening. Language itself has failed: this duel is beyond its capacity to describe with accuracy. Even the word ‘duel’ is a lie, for it implies a small, personal battle between two foes; it is too small of a term to describe the truth. There is no word, in english or any other tongue that could be used for the showdown of the Nameless Terror and the Lady of Light. It was more than a mere confrontation, more than a simple duel, more even than an epic battle. To use such meager words is to lie and deceive, for such words are not enough to describe the truth.
What can be done to tell of what happened besides the Celebrant that night? What tongue holds the terms that are needed? To describe the scene would be an impossible task. An attempt could be made, of course: It could be said that what happened near the confluence of Nimrodel and Silverlode was the like a clash of two gods, one of light and the other of shadow, both working to bend the world to their will. It could be said that the winds were so strong that they became a wall of solid steel, unyielding and hard as the gates of Erebor or Minas Tirith. It could be said that the blade and whip of fire crashed against this wall like falling stars, burning as hot as the heart of Mount Doom. It could be said that every piece of stray debris caught in the storm, from the stones and trees down to the smallest leaves and flecks of dirt bit and cut like the teeth of dragons wherever they struck. It could be said that the foundations of the earth shuddered and groaned with every step taken, every blow and parry, threatening to break under the strain. All of this could be said, and every word would be untrue, for the mere words cannot come close to describing the meeting besides the Celebrant.
Here is what is true: there were two great lanterns burning in the night, terrible and awesome to all that witnessed them, a spectacle not seen before or since. One light was an all-consuming blaze seeking to devour all, fueled by hate and malice and pure, unrelenting wrath; the other a beacon of ancient power and wisdom, the light of the firstborn Children of Illuvatar. The legacies of Morgoth and Gothmog of Thangorodrim and of Feanor and Fingolfin were pitted against each other, the final spawn of Angband facing one that could well claim to be the greatest Elf that had not yet gone over the sea. Here was the culmination of the Balrogs, as the last of their kind, that Master of the Black Pit, that final veteran of the Battle of Unnumbered Tears fought with a savagery and fell might that even Gothmog, Captain of Angband would have been proud to claim as their own. Here was the zenith of the elves, as the kin of so many heroes of Ages past sood tall and upheld that lofty legacy will skill and valor and might that even Feanor would have noticed. One last time, the histories of the Balrogs and the Elves had intersected, and this last and desperate battle would be near the pinnacle of the legacies of both kinds.
More than 10,000 years of combined wisdom and power were theirs to command, and command it they did, every ounce of skill, wisdom and strength within both being used. Hours passed in stalemate, if such a meager word as ‘stalemate’ could have ever described how Galadriel turned aside each strike with a wall of solid wind, making the sky howl like an army who’s numbers were beyond reckoning, could have described how the earth beneath the Balrog had slowly turned into a sea of molten glass and rock, the debris in the wind igniting and turning their surrounding into a storm of fire, how every blow and parry sounded and felt as if a thousand bolts of lightning had struck the same spot, each one seeming to pound into the fabric of the world itself, cutting and slicing at the cloth…
But neither had yet to give even a single step. Each attack and counter was met, an endless dance that neither could take control of. The Balrog’s fire refused to slacken, and in fact grew hotter by the minute, their roars and bellows growing louder and more enraged with each failed attack. Galadriel, too, was yet unscratched, her defenses still beyond the Nameless Terror’s power to breach. For hours and hours, long after the setting of the moon and the rising of the sun, long after both their armies had ceased to battle each other, exhausted, and could now do little more than watch their duel in awe, long after day had broken and the winter sun had climbed feebly into the sky, they had fought, both unable to break the other.
As the battle raged on, Durin’s Bane felt the world around it beginning to warp and tear, and their anger burned even hotter as the too-familiar feeling began to return to them. All too well did they recall their duel with the one who had stood against them upon the Bridge of Khazad-Dum: the days of flight and pursuit, the endless running battle from the deeps below the Silvertine, up the Endless Stair and to Durin’s Tower. The Nameless Terror recalled the feeling of the world fraying, remembered unleashing all their rage and power on the peak, when the fight had reached total stalemate, could feel once more the wounds they had taken when reality had been shattered and they had fallen back into the darkness. This battle, it seemed, was set to follow the same path.
The Last of the Balrogs snarled, continuing to lash out, each blow a thunderstrike, all met and turned aside by the she-elf. The Nameless Terror could feel the fabric of reality continuing to fray with every movement and counter, but they continued the assault regardless, hacking away at the elf’s defenses with strokes that could have cleaved open a mountain. Perhaps they would have worried about such things once, would have feared the consequences of repeating the duel atop Zirakzigil, but no more. The sheer anger and malice of the Master of the Black Pit would no longer be contained. What cared they for the world? Hatred and wrath had long since consumed Durin’s Bane: all they desired was the annihilation of the one they had faced on the Peak. To accomplish that, they would happily burn down the entire world.
They would start with this one, this one who defied them, who had turned away strikes that would have laid low dragons, who still stood tall and seemingly without a scratch upon them. As they had atop Silvertine, the Last of the Balrogs pressed their attack without relent, the black fire of raw, unstoppable rage burning within them like the Forge of Aule, the dark power of Morgoth flowing through them like magma within a volcano.
And the volcano was erupting. The burning, melted ground beneath their feet churned and boiled as the Nameless Terror swung blow after blow after blow at their opponent, even as the walls of wind closed in around them, the air becoming like chains of solid mithril binding the Balrog’s limbs. The flames only burned hotter in response, burning through the barriers as quickly as they came, the unquenchable wrath of Durin’s Bane driving them to strike faster and faster.
But still the Lady of the Golden Wood was unyielding. The Balrog was like a second sun, the fires of their anger hotter and brighter than the breath of even Smaug the Golden, the heat rivaling perhaps even that of the fire of Glaurung, the Father of Dragons. Galadriel, though, shone even brighter, her whole body aglow with the power of the Eldar. The Ring of Adamant shone like a Silmaril, its light seeming to form an unbreachable shield around its bearer. Even under the Balrog’s unceasing attacks, strikes that were like falling stars smashing against the earth, her defense could not be broken. The Lady of Lothlorien, for hours, long after all but a handful yet in the world of the living would have been obliterated, had held her ground, taking not a single step back, refusing to allow the Nameless Terror to defile her realm.
But she, too, could feel the world around them beginning to warp and tear. She felt the Great Music, already so badly changed, building towards something dreadful, a dissonant chord even worse than before. It was a terrible crescendo, a rising sound and feeling of oncoming catastrophe. If this battle continued much longer, the whole world would lose. In horror, the Lady of the Golden Wood thought of what damage had already been done to the Music. Already, her home had been torn from its place and sent into this new world. Galadriel dreaded what might happen if the Music changed again.
The Balrog, for their part, had no such concerns. Their attack continued without the slightest hint of hesitation, their whip and sword two churning whirlwinds of fire and rage, twin instruments of destruction blazing with power as they hammered against Galadriel’s barriers. To the naked eye, they were no longer any sort of creature of the flesh, even one produced by Morgoth’s twisted works. No, their appearance was now only that of a towering inferno, orange and red and black, a living firestorm that strove to consume all that it touched. Again and again and again the flames leapt forwards, as fast or faster than the eye could track, blazing power slamming itself against Galadriel’s defenses, uncaring of the possible harm they might inflict upon the whole world. They had no love for this world, not even out of desire to rule it. They wanted only for those that opposed them to burn.
This one, they decided, had opposed them long enough. The Nameless Terror, Durin’s Bane, the Master of the Black Pit and Last of the Balrogs raised up their terrible blade and whip together, and two pillars of fire seeming to wrap around each other, fusing together, and with a final, terrible roar, one that shook the very foundations of the earth, they brought the entwined weapons down as one, as a singular, terrible strike, driven downwards with all their malice, all their wrath, all their hatred and dark powers, in a blow that could have cleaved a new pass into the Misty Mountains. It struck into the barriers that the elf had raised, burning through them like a wildfire consuming a dry field. Fire exploded outwards from the point of impact as the blade found its mark, a wall of terrible flame that fused and melted the earth below and scoured clear the air. The winds, which had for so long howled and roared like a hurricane, ceased, the remaining debris and shrapnel they carried crashing to the ground, aflame. Total silence fell, and the spawn of Morgoth took a moment to rest, their hands heavy upon the hilt of their blade. Even the storm of fire had died down: The Balrog’s flames had been expended, and now they stood as creature of smoke and stone only, their whole blaze put behind the final blow. After a long moment, they looked down upon their prey.
There stood Galadriel, tall and unbowed, her eyes ablaze with defiance. Her hands were raised above her head, Nenya ablaze with light upon her finger, and she was completely unscathed, with not so much as a speck of dust upon her. The Balrog’s blade strained against her hand, an impassable barrier of power and will standing between it and its target. For a moment, the two foes simply stared each other down, both breathing heavily, waiting for the next move to be made. Then Galadriel spoke.
“Enough,” The Lady of Light said. “This. Ends. Now!”
The Balrog roared in fury, their fire in an instant growing back to full blaze, even hotter than before, and they tried to draw back their blade to strike again, but already the winds had returned to hurricane strength, the air again turning solid and forming binding chains around the Nameless Terror.
“YOU HAVE NO POWER HERE, BEAST OF THANGORODRIM!” Galadriel called, her whole body radiating pure energy as the winds continued to build, her hands raised up in a gesture of banishment. “THIS IS MY DOMAIN!”
The Balrog bellowed in rage, the earth shaking as struggled against the forming bonds of wind, magic and light. Their flames burned like the heart of the sun, and once again they began to burn their way through Galadriel’s barriers, swinging their blade and whip against the invisible bonds. More appeared as quickly as they had vanished, though, and the Nameless Terror roared and thrashed as the Lady of the Golden Wood began to glow even brighter.
“GO BACK TO THE PIT FROM WHENCE YOU CAME!” the Lady of Light roared, her light glowing even brighter. “RETURN TO THE SHADOWS, SLAVE OF MORGOTH!”
Galadriel’s hands were outstretched, posed as if she were trying to physically push Durin’s Bane away. Like it had all those years ago in Dol Guldur, her voice began to twist and distort as she worked to banish the fell creature before her. A dark shadow seemed to fall upon her, as if she were absorbing the very light around her and was directing it against the monster before her. The Ring of Adamant was a point of pure light before her, light shining from her hand like a lance of power, directed at the Balrog’s heart.
“YOU ARE NOTHING! YOU ARE THE DUST OF A BYGONE AGE! BEGONE FROM THIS PLACE!”
The Master of the Black Pit roared in defiance, ablaze with a light of its own, a light of unrelenting pure hate, sheer rage pushing its flame hotter than ever before, driving them forwards once more, step by step, even as the winds began to tear away the Balrog’s very flesh. They staggered forwards, using their massive blade like a cane, digging their feet into the ground, the melted ground below warping and melting, pure, terrible will spurring the beast on, even as lines of blazing white light began to dig their way into its flesh.
“BEGONE, SPAWN OF ANGBAND!” Galadriel ordered, her voice like that of a Valar, her features almost impossible to see in the brightness of her light. “JOIN THE REST OF YOUR MASTER’S REFUSE IN OBLIVION!”
There were no longer an elf and a balrog, no longer a servant of Morgoth and a child of Illuvatar, no longer two beings of flesh. There were only two fonts of pure, unstoppable power, both threatening to consume the other, in the center of a maelstrom of fire and wind. No more words or roars could be heard from either, the winds and flames too loud for anything to be heard. None could look upon them for more than a few moments without risking blindness. The armies of Moria and Lorien could only stare, transfixed, at the sight, all the remaining thousands, orcish and elven alike, watching as the two points in the heart of the storm seemed to draw closer together, beginning to merge and fuse…
And then, existence itself seemed to crack.