Chapter Twenty-Five

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Suddenly, a sound rent the air like thunder and shook the ground beneath their feet. Far in the East there appeared a great shadow that seemed to Estela comparable to a cloud, but darker than the night and greater than the heavens. It rolled across the sky and swallowed up the Sun like a devouring beast, plunging the world into darkness. It continued to spread, which Estela could only tell by the disappearance of more and more stars. She reached out, found Legolas' hand, and grasped it. Before anyone could take action, a fierce light appeared in the West, dazzling Estela's eyes. When her eyes adjusted somewhat to its light, it seemed to her a searing white flame. It assailed the shadow, which shrank back and fled into the West, whence the flame had come. Oromë spoke first.

"We must depart at once!" Estela saw the wrath filling his eyes as he spoke.

The next few moments passed in a blur for Estela. There was short rush to collect a few belongings. She had a vague memory of protesting at leaving Runniendal and the others behind. Suddenly they were riding, galloping into the West at full speed. Legolas rode behind Estela on Faerthúl's back. She leaned low over the mare's neck, and almost didn't have time to notice his strong hands on her waist.

Almost.

Nahar, Oromë's snow-white steed, galloped gracefully just ahead of them, holding back his power to accommodate Faerthúl's ability. Once more the great Huntsman raised Valaróma to his lips and blew a high clear blast. Suddenly, as they sped on, the light of the white flame seemed in Estela's eyes to grow greater and greater until it seemed to swallow them up. She gasped in alarm, but Faerthúl ran on eagerly. She felt Legolas' hands tighten on her waist in reassurance.

However, the feeling only quickened the beating of her heart.

At last a patch of color appeared ahead in the dazzling light as if through a mist. Suddenly they were among great trees of a kind unfamiliar to Estela. Before she knew it, they were galloping on a luscious green hillside beneath a clear bright blue sky. The forest was left behind them, and snow-capped mountains rose to their right.

"Where are we?" she gasped to Legolas.

"Valinor. The Undying Lands." His voice was tight, and, looking ahead, Estela saw the reason.

In the distance, a broil of darkness like a smothering cloud rose up over the beautiful land. Out from this poured countless dark hideous creatures of all kinds, some of which she recognized as Morierea, and others, from Feastald's descriptions, as Orcs, Trolls, Wargs, great spiders, Balrogs, and other demons and fell beasts. These charged furiously into the gathering ranks of Men, Elves, Dwarves, and Ainur. Great eagles met dragons and other winged fell beasts in the air with furious screeches. She felt Legolas stiffen, and glanced back long enough to see the manifest fury in his face.

Suddenly there emerged from the shadow a massive fiend wreathed in darkness and crowned with hideous horns. His wild hair was blacker than pitch and was almost undistinguishable from the darkness that hung about him like a cloak. In his hand was a spiked mace of immense size, and his chilling fiery eyes were lifted to the mountains in the East. At the sight of him, the light of battle came into the eyes of the Vala Huntsman, and with one last blood-chilling battle cry from Valaróma, his steed surged past Faerthúl and her two riders like a. white comet. As he rode on, he seemed to grow in stature until he entered the fray like a whirlwind of death.

However, Estela's attention was drawn away from him by a strange sound echoing across the plains from the snowy mountains in the East. It was even stranger to her when she discerned its nature. It was the sound of laughter, a rich deep laughter as terrible as it was mirthful. Before long, there came into view the tall brawny shape of a lordly man descending onto the plains of battle from the mountains. The muscles in his broad bare chest and massive arms rippled as he strode toward the black figure, his laughter ringing out across the plains. Golden hair and beard flowed down his neck and chest. It was Tulkas, the champion of the Valar, going to war.

After him came a stern-faced man, less extraordinary in comparison, bearing a banner, the design of which Estela could not make out. Yet another great man appeared next, and he was more lordly and majestic than any of the others. Glittering blue robes and a river of pure white hair swirled about him. His deep blue eyes flashed and burned like stars, but in her heart, Estela subconsciously decided she loved Legolas' more. This awesome being, she knew, was Manwë, the king of the Valar, and with him came the four winds of the earth in a furious gale of which there was no equal, as well as the lord of all eagles, who rallied his people afresh in a fierce attack against the dark beasts of the air.

At the sight of the three war-bound lords, the Lord of the Dark rose up, and his face contorted in a hideous manner which chilled Estela to the bone, and which, she realized, must be some monstrous grin.

It was then that she witnessed the most extraordinary wrestling match perhaps in the history of Eä. The Dark Lord and the Tulkas the Strong met in a clash of such fury and power and intensity that Estela suddenly realized she was clutching Faerthúl's mane with all her might, and did not notice Legolas' protective hand at her elbow until a moment later. The two combatants wielded tremendous visible strength against each other, but even more overwhelming was the presence of the invisible power with which they strove. Manwë was in the shadowy fray a little apart from them like a pillar of light in the spreading darkness.

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