The Pinch of Lossarnach
The Riders of Rohan sent to Gondor are gradually reduced to an infantry army as their horses succumb to the plague and die on the road. Only 250 mounted Rohirrim reach Minas Tirith. Elessar is shocked but firm in his resolve. He immediately sends these faltering nags east to join the irregular forces led by Faramir in Ithilien. They are to counter the Haradi outriders that run amok. It is a doomed but necessary mission. The depleted cavalry of Rohan drive off two lances of Haradi reavers, but are wiped out on only their third day in Ithilien. The surviving horses infect the southron mounts. Back on the west bank, scattered units of marching Rohirrim begin to pass the Rammas Echor but Elessar cannot wait. He marches south to assist at Pelargir.
Elessar’s relief army, a mere 1500 men out of Minas Tirith, are able to surprise the Haradrim in the woods north east of Pelargir. The bulk of the Haradrim move north to counter Elessar. Meanwhile, an army of nearly 3000 men from Lamedon and Anfalas led by the Prince of Dol Amroth approaches the besieged port from the southwest. The Corsairs south of Pelargir withdraw away from the city to avoid Amroth’s forces. Pelargir is temporarily relieved and able to bring in supplies.
Near the mouth of the Anduin the Corsairs re-embark and link up with the Haradrim north of Pelargir cutting the port city off from Minas Tirith and its relief army. The Corsairs also ferry more Haradrim from South Ithilien across the estuary to counter the army of Minas Tirith. Their reinforcements include Haradi horse who have been exposed to the plague.
In the face of this united foe Elessar quickly night-marches his force away from the Anduin. He manoeuvers northward for a week, keeping the high ground and avoiding encirclement whilst more reinforcements from Lossarnach, Erech and Rohan trickle in.
The Southrons entrench a sizeable force of Corsairs on the eastern bank of the Sirith to prevent a sortie from Pelargir. The army of Dol Amroth marches northward, up the Sirith’s west bank, looking for a crossing into the Southron’s flank. It hopes to link up with Elessar but the Haradi cavalry has other ideas.
After weeks of irregular fighting in the hills and forests of Ithilien, Faramir is forced to all but abandon the eastern province. He leads the forces of Gondor back to within a day’s march of Osgiliath and prepares to defend from the low walls of the eastern bank. Mumakil and several elated but tired Haradrim legions advance to the crossroads and take up positions preparing for a push towards the bridge city.
The smoke rising in Ithilien and Lossarnach can be seen from Minas Tirith. The complaints and nay-sayers grow louder. “How can the King have allowed the Dragons and then the Southrons to rise up?!”
Voices on the lower tiers cry out, “Diseases killing our horses – are we next?! Only the Moon Queen can save us from this mortal drudgery!” The Sons of Denethor gain new recruits and sharpen their knives.
Meanwhile to the east the earth rumbles and dust clouds billow into the sky. Bardings in the East Bight retreat into the forest and Dorwinion locks its gates and prepares for the worst. Word comes from Rhûn of a massive force of Wainriders approaching Dagorlad. Red Alatar has come!
The Southron cavalry ferried over from Ithilien begin to succumb to the plague brought from Rohan. The Swan Knights cross the Sirith and drive the weakened Haradi outriders south and away from their commanders. Some fifty miles inland from their ships, the Corsairs begin to feel uneasy as their supply lines lengthen and the Haradrim cavalry wilts.
Radagast arrives unexpected and unannounced in Lossarnach after having journeyed from the distant north over many weeks. The wizard provides Elessar with avian messengers to coordinate with his subjects as the Southron noose tightens. Elessar is finally brought to bay in the foothills of the White Mountains west of the River Erui. His army has swollen to 2000 men and early that morning is joined by more than 600 footsore Rohirrim and a company of Elvish Archers from Ithilien led by Legolas. By midday they are outflanked by fresh Southron Cavalry, so Elessar arrays his forces on a craggy hill. Behind him the hills rise in tiers to the mountains and far to the north east Mount Mindolluin is visible with the White Tower a pinnacle on the horizon.
The Southrons number more than 10000 foemen. Arrayed beneath Elessar, the Umbareans swarm to the west, the Southron cavalry to the east and Haradrim legions before him. Then, out of the misty Sirith valley to the west, emerges the army of Dol Amroth!
Their cavalry crossed the river the day before and caught the blocking force off-guard, driving it to the south and allowing the Southern Gondorian infantry across the river. Marching late into the night the Amrothi ascended the gentle foothills and arrive the morning of the battle, tired but eager. The Swan Knights espy the discomfited and outflanked sailors and quickly charge the Corsairs. Meanwhile the Prince arrays the spearmen of Linhir in the centre and lighter missile units to the flanks.
Many of the Corsairs are ridden down and their formations begin to break up. The Haradrim order their cavalry to the western flank while they reposition their legions. Elessar advances and brings his archery into range, concentrating on the disordered Corsairs until the Haradrim swordsmen assault the hill. It is now that the soldiers of Gondor earn their pay. Their disciplined spear hedge on high ground exacts a fearful toll. The legions of Harad repeatedly charge and the Gondorian spearmen soon revert to sword work in the tight packed shield walls. On the slopes of Lossarnach the Haradrim pay a high cost for little gain. A large Southron cavalry force attempts a flanking manoeuvre on the eastern slope but the newly arrived Rohirrim and Elves hold their ground and drive them off in welter of deadly arrow fire from behind locked shields.
The bulk of the Haradrim cavalry circles around to the south west and charges the men of Amroth and Lebennin. The Gondorian levies fall back and are ridden down or retreat into spear hedges. The Swan Knights are recalled from harrying the Corsairs and charge across the face of the advancing legions towards the flank of the Haradi horse. The southerners wheel to meet the charge but the knights of Dol Amroth are on larger, healthy horses with better armour. The collision is brutal but within minutes the haggard Southron cavalry is broken and fleeing.
The men of Linhir are hard put to hold off the well trained legions of Harad and many a farmhand of the Ringlo valley or fisherman of the Gilrain will not see his loved ones again. Amrothi regulars hold the line giving time for their knights to return to the fray. King Elessar joins units from his freed-up right flank and charges down the hill, putting the legions of Harad to the test. Anduril cuts a terrible swathe through the Iron-Snake Banner of Half Trolls but the southerners refuse to yield easily. The day is a bitter slog in dust and blood, but with the high ground, superior archery and effective cavalry the field is eventually won by the men of Westernesse. Many of the swarthy Haradrim prefer to fight to the end despite the odds. But most sense the day is lost – the Corsairs flee in a circuitous route toward the Anduin whilst a good few Haradrim ride, run or stagger out of, what comes to be known as, the Pinch of Lossarnach.
Return of the Balchoth and the Assassination of the King
Aelindur observes the rout of the Southrons dispassionately. Many escape the Pinch of Lossarnach and regroup with the blocking force at Pelargir. The surviving Corsairs retire to their ships and ferry the remaining Haradrim back across the estuary to link up with Mumakil units entering North Ithilien. The Corsairs then depart south before Elessar even sets eyes upon their fleet. Aelindur is satisfied – Gondor is weakened and the folk of Minas Tirith unsettled. All is well with that part of her plan. There are two problems yet. The house of Telcontar is yet to fall and then there is Red Alatar. The fallen Maia has been cryptic in replies to Aelindur as she attempts to coordinate his attack. She suspects he intends to keep Gondor as his own.
The horse plague infects the Swan Knights. They are an infantry force by the time the messengers from Minas Tirith arrive with dreadful news from Ithilien: a horde of Balchoth are swarming out of Dagorlad into Gondor. Faramir and the small army of Ithilien fall back to Osgiliath – only the river slows the inexorable advance of the Balchoth. They have assimilated the wain-riding culture as well as expanded upon their cavalry. Their vanguard is tens of thousands of horse archers par excellence, followed by vast numbers of levied slingers and spearmen. Gondorian units in Ithilien and east Osgiliath are soon fully evacuated and the bridge over the Anduin fortified. The central span has been dropped into the river – only easily removed wooden planks cover the gap.
The skeleton force at Cair Andros is swamped and overrun as the Balchoth swarm troops across the river on makeshift rafts and inflatable bladders. The few remaining Elves in Ithilien can only snipe from the shadows as the horde lumbers southward. The main road is a line of wagons and chariots and the grass is stripped bare by the multitude of horses. The horse plague in Ithilien has burned out barely two weeks before.
Unbeknownst to Gondor there is a battle near the crossroads when the vanguard of Balchoth runs into the camp of the eastern Haradi force including a dozen Mumakil. The vanguard is driven off but then the Haradrim are in turn forced to retreat when the main body of the Balchoth approaches. A second engagement is prevented by the clever words of Alatar. The wizard brokers a peace with the Haradrim and makes overtures for an alliance.
Meanwhile Aelindur uses magic to change her form to that of a Dunadan lady. She enters Minas Tirith two days before Elessar’s return and primes the Sons of Denethor to assassinate the King and his family. The Moon Princess cult has been spreading the word that the time of her rising is at hand.
“She comes to Gondor in its hour of need. Her hands are those of the royal line- she heals the sick and brings hope to the lost. She will save us in this dreadful hour, and succour us after its passing.”
Aelindur makes brief appearances, healing the injured, calming the stricken, and casting mental boons upon all present. The word of the heavenly Moon Princess spreads as the Sons of Denethor sharpen their knives for the Telcontar family. Aelindur’s son Fytaris is already within the city too. His job is to slay Radagast, should the Wizard turn up. The Half Breed is clad in a simple disguise rather than using detectable masking spells. He bears a potent blade sourced from the ruin of Angband itself, and a (poisoned) dagger from Gondolin should the former prove inefficient.
Elessar gathers the armies of Dol Amroth, Pelargir and Minas Tirith and marches north. He judges the Southron threat to be mostly spent and leaves token garrisons in the southern cities and sends out the call to Anfalas and Morthond vale for reinforcements. Information from Radagast suggests covering the river approaches at Cair Andros and Osgiliath, but the lack of any cavalry versus the mobile Balchoth makes splitting the army dangerous in the extreme.
Imrahil recommends the Rammas Echor as a likely holding point versus the cavalry, while Faramir suggests a stoic defence of Minas Tirith will see off anything the Easterlings can offer. Elessar is loath to abandon the lush Pelennor and knows that the cities stores are already partially depleted from the war in the north. Radagast warns that the city may hold but a mobile force could strip Gondor and its numerous villages bare. A city without land to support it will soon be a tomb. Radagast suspects the Balchoth will happily conduct a lengthy siege now that the Rohirrim are spent. Sauron would have wanted the city taken immediately but a less impatient opponent like Alatar will conduct the long game.
Aelindurs’s spies reveal the council’s thoughts and she is inclined to agree with Radagast. Her scrying has revealed Alatar camped in Ithilien and conducting himself like a god emperor. The fallen Istari orders swathes of forest cut down to prepare a fleet of rafts. Elessar’s seers also see this and assumes the Shadow Queen is behind it all. A not completely invalid assumption, save that now Alatar refuses to treat with Aelindur. He wants Gondor for himself.
Elessar arrives in Minas Tirith whilst dispatching forces towards Osgiliath and Cair Andros. Another 1000 Rohirrim march into Minas Tirith and are gratefully sent east to the river. Elessar uses the palantir to divine the Balchoth’s intentions.
Aelindur places the Sons of Denethor on high alert. She primes the assassination teams. While much of the military is out of the city, now is her best chance to take out the Telcontar family. But the threat from Red Alatar makes even her waver. The camp fires of their army rival that seen during the War of the Ring. And after the Battles of Gundalok and the Pinch of Lossarnach, the Allied forces are stretched even thinner than in 3019. If Alatar wins, all the planning of the Shadow Queen will have been for naught.
The Queen of Shadows makes the crucial decision to assist the Gondorian forces in holding the Anduin line, whilst her minions assassinate the King. She even plans on revealing herself during the battle and thus appear blameless when the king and his family are killed by treachery.
Aelindur wings north seeking a draconic ally. Hraunfile is still deep within Mirkwood and is wingless to boot. However she knows that the Urulokë Ruingurth, formerly of the Iron Hills, has not returned to the Withered Heath. The lazy old Wyrm decided that the eternal enmity of Dwarves was not worth the hassle. It decamped from the smouldering halls of Barak-Shathur one dark night and flew south to a forest on the lower Celduin just north of Dorwinion. Plundering an occasional shipment of wine was an easier lifestyle than living near vengeful Dwarves. After 3 days aloft Aelindur finds Ruingurth in a muddy glade asleep upon a pile of empty barrels. Using a sorcerous mind noose, baited with a fermenting memory clamp, she flies the stuporous beast to the south west.
Along the river the Balchoth horde prepare for the crossing. They have ranged far afield and outflank Gondor’s forces both north and south. A thousand horsemen attempt to swim their small mounts across the Anduin on the edges of Wetwang. Half drown but the remaining 500 horsemen land unopposed. They recover then move to outflank the Gondorians opposite Cair Andros. Alatar has negotiated an alliance with the Easterlings occupying southern Ithilien. Half a dozen Mumakil and two legions of Haradrim join the Balchoth. They position themselves with the forces ready to cross at Osgiliath should the bridge be captured.
From the White Tower, Elessar and Radagast see the danger via the palantir. They send out hurried messages to warn the armies. Mixed companies of archers and spearmen are assembled as a counter to the mobile Balchoth armies. Orders are sent to hold the river line. Reinforcements are dispatched post haste to Cair Andros and other likely crossings.
It is now that the assassins of Minas Tirith strike.
Two Guards of the White Tower have been turned by Aelindur. They come upon the unsuspecting king in an antechamber to the throne room. It is over in seconds. They stand above the bloodied body of the King of Gondor astounded at the ease of their fell deed! They gleefully shout that the King is dead!
More Tower guards and Radagast enter, dumbstruck as the traitorous assassins declare their deed and announce that the Sons of Denethor will not be denied immortality. Then King Elessar enters the bloody chamber! The traitors have slain a courageous body double.
The guard/assassins flee and join one of the roving bands seeking the royal family. The Sons of Denethor have gained entry to the Royal Chambers and come upon Arwen and her children. Luckily the Queen’s Elven chambermaids are secret bodyguards trained by Elrond himself. They slay one of the would-be assassins, drive back the surprised intruders, and then barricade the door. Guards of the White Tower intercept the remainder and a nasty running battle erupts. A furious Aragorn joins the fight, wreaking havoc with Anduril.
The fleeing traitors lead the king down to the 6th level of the city and into an ambush of more cultists. A black-powder explosion slays many of Elessar’s guards and only the intervention of Radagast, and several adventurers from the northern wilds, averts disaster in the furious swordplay that follows. The cultists are struck down and the king catches his breath. But now the Half Orc child of Aelindur sees his chance and steps out of the shadows.
Fytaris is behind both Aragorn and Radagast. Deciding who should die first, he mouths an incantation of slaying, then swoops upon Radagast with a poisoned blade. The wizard has a fraction of a second’s warning. He takes a deep stab to the shoulder and falls. Aragorn is caught off guard and retreats before the blinding sword and dagger work of the Half Orc. The birds of Radagast peck at Fytaris, buying Aragorn a second to recover. He takes the offensive as Fytaris’s blades ignite and drive off the birds. Anduril meets the sword of Angband.
Their skills and armaments are near equal and neither can prevail, which suits the King as his guards drawn near. The assassin incants a paralytic spell, learned from the Nazgul, but Radagast gasps out a counter and negates the sorcery. Guards of the White Tower rush in. Fytaris hurls his cloak to delay them, drops a smoking orb and leaps out of a window. The orb explodes. Ragadast’s shielding spell protects them from the worst of the blast but he swoons from the poisoned wound and Aragorn is concussed.
Convenient cries in the street warn of Easterling assassins. Others prematurely wail that the king and all his family are dead and pray for the return of the Moon Queen.
Spy game 3
The adventurers had marched from Rohan to Minas Tirith in the company of a merchant. They followed the merchant into Minas Tirith amid rumours of battles fought in Ithilien and Pelargir. They arrive in the city to hear of the victory at the Pinch of Lossarnach, and the subsequent dismay at the Balchoth invasion.
The courier delivered one letter to Beregorl, a merchant and army sutler. They did not see where the second letter was delivered to. Surveillance revealed that Beregorl belongs to a strange cult called the ‘Sons of Denethor’ who desire immortality for the Dunedain. He meets with assorted guardsmen who are planning to kill someone very soon. The penny drops when most of the army is redeployed to defend the Anduin, and then Elessar enters the city.
After much intrigue and rejected petitioning to see the King, the adventurers find Radagast and warn him an hour before the guardsmen strike. The King’s body double volunteers to lure the traitors out and dies for his efforts. After the assassination attempt, the adventurers joined the confused running battle on the highest levels of the city. When the fires are extinguished, prisoners taken away and the bodies examined there remains the lingering doubt as to the recipient of the second letter.
The weary adventurers find the merchant they had followed, dying in a stable on the third circle. He gasps “…Seers…” and then expires. Then word reaches the city of the Balchoth crossing the Anduin and it is all hands on deck…
Continued and concluded on page 9- New World Order