Thread: A Dark Threat from the North
A Dark Threat From The North
It is November, in Year 34 of the Fourth Age. King Elessar rules from Minas Tirith, and fourteen years ago he visited the Shire with his queen Arwen. Samwise Gamgee became Mayor of the Shire a year ago for the fifth time, and all seems happy and peaceful in Middle-Earth.
However, there is concern in Arnor. Orcs have been multiplying around Mount Gundabad in Angmar and have created a huge host, ten thousand strong, that is marching southwest towards the North Downs, Buckland and the Shire. A small company of Rangers, maybe a hundred or so, were sent to the North Downs. Their force was so small because the size of the orc horde was hugely underestimated. Now the Rangers have seen the size of the host and their captain - Fornad of the Dunedain - is calling for help. Here is a copy of the message he has sent out all over Arnor and east of the Misty Mountains.
Friends, I am Fornad, Captain of the Rangers of the North and one of the Dunedain. I have led a small force of Rangers into the wilderness to deal with what was previously thought to be a small party of orcs coming from Angmar. Now we have seen them, north of the North Downs and coming closer every day. The lands that they are planning to invade are innocent and defenceless, populated by hobbits and the like. This force is not just orcs, friends, it has brutal Uruks, it has goblins, it has traitorous wildmen from the North and it even has some trolls. Men, Elves, Dwarves and any that are friendly to the crown of Gondor and Arnor please come, and bring what men you can muster. We cannot fight this war alone. Yours sincerely, Fornad.
You can now see how desperate the situation is. The armies that you bring need to depend on your character's general rank, i.e if he is a wandering nomad he won't be able to bring ten thousand Elves all in mithril armour and all incredibly skilled in archery and swordsmanship. Don't bring an army that is too big, one thousand max, unless you are King Elessar (last paragraph).
Updated List of Roles (along with possible other vacant roles)
Fornad and one hundred Rangers (Fornad)
Thorin Oakenshield and eight hundred dwarves (Thorin Oakenshield)
King Elessar/Aragorn and seven thousand soldiers (possibly Grisnákh)
Possible Role: Elven captain in Grey Havens and two hundred elven archers.
Possible Role: Barhun, a mutinous and distrustful Dwarven captain under the command of Thorin.
1.Try to keep to the rough storyline, with no major deviations from the plot.
2. Grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc all have to be up to a reasonable level.
3. If a participating member in this RPG has an important post to make, and does not do so after ten days, then the GM will post for him/her.
4. Keep within Tolkien's world (if not sure, ask away on ADTFTN planning).
5. Have fun!
If you want to join this RPG, please request in this thread.
Thorin the Dwarf was at work in his smithy at Khazad-Dûm. His work was disturbed when a dwarf entered bearing a message from his lord summoning him to the chamber of Mazarbul. Cleaning himself, he set out with the messenger.
On reaching the chamber he saw that his king, Durin VII, was waiting for him. Giving leave to the messenger, his lord now addressed him in Khuzdul:
"I have a received a plea for help from the Dunedain of Arnor. It seems that they have met an army of Orcs and need reinforcement if the North is not to be overrun. I would that you lead a company of our warriors to help them."
"Unfortunately, that company will only consist of two hundred war-hardened dwarves, our Longbeards. I would have sent more but haste is needed and to assemble a larger company would take time that we do not have."
"The dwarves who will accompany you will be assembled in the first hall by nightfall. You will have more than enough supplies to last the journey to the North. Now go and get yourself ready and may Mahal help you. Farewell."
Thus it was that the dwarven host was now pressing north with all possible speed. They were now a day's march from Bree. Floi, a captain and friend of Thorin, fell back to where Thorin was and spoke:
"Do you know where we are supposed to meet the Rangers, Thorin?"
"No, I don’t know. The summons weren't clear enough. We'll make for Bree and gather what news we can. Though I'm hoping the Rangers have left someone to guide possible reinforcement to the meeting place in the North.'
Fornad stood at the edge of the camp, looking over the barren, fog-wreathed tops of the North Downs. He sighed. Two days he had been waiting now, and with no sign of help there seemed little hope for the Shire.
Suddenly, he saw a small black spot riding along the valley towards the hill on which his camp was located. He lifted his bow off his back and quickly strung it against a boulder, feeling slightly uneasy. It began to ride up the hill, and with his keen eyes Fornad spotted with relief that it was only his second-in-command, Harnol. After a few minutes, the man came riding up to him. He had long, dirty-blond hair, grey eyes and a dark green cloak that was wrapped around his shoulders to ward off the cold. He leapt down from his saddle.
"Hail, captain!" he said, bowing.
"No need to bow, Harnol," said Fornad, waving his hand. "This is hardly an formal occaision."
"Yes, sir," he said, straightening up. "I bring important news from Bree."
Fornad could see he was bursting to tell, so he didn't delay it any longer.
"What is it?"
"Two hundred dwarves have come from Moria, my captain!" said Harnol with a grin.
"Who leads them? Where are they?" asked Fornad, feeling the same elation.
"Thorin Oakenshield of Moria, my captain, a valiant warrior who has proved himself many times before in battle. They are south of Bree at the moment."
"Bree? Why haven't they come here yet?" asked Fornad, frowning.
"They're not entirely sure of your postion, captain. You weren't very specific in your message."
"Of course," he said. "I didn't want to be too explicit. Orc spies could have picked it up."
"A wise decision, sir, but now they're here they need to be told of where we are."
He thought about it for a moment. "Could you go, Harnol?" he asked. "I haven't got many men to spare and you know the surrounding lands best."
"Of course, sir," he said. He climbed back into the saddle and turned his horse around.
"Harnol - wait!" Fornad said.
"What is it?"
"Bring this message to him. Fornad of the Dunedain thanks Thorin Oakenshield of Moria for coming, and wishes him to know this information. Our camp is located twenty miles north-west of Fornost, on a hill which has a small ruin of a castle on the top. We will come to meet you once we see you in the valley. Fornad thanks Thorin again, and wishes him an easy journey from Bree."
"That is all, sir?"
"Yes, Harnol. Ride well, and return with the dwarves."
Harnol kicked the sides of his horse and they sped into action, galloping down the hill, avoiding boulders and rockslides, becoming smaller and smaller as the distance grew between them. Fornad smiled, and returned to the camp to tell his men the good news.
Far away in the north, there was a stain upon the frozen tundra. The black army had made its camp at the foot of a sheer mountain, jutting out in a long spur from the Misty Mountains. It was little more than rags propped on sticks and some heavy poles to tie the cave trolls to. Some orcs were having a fight at the edge of the camp, screaming and shouting as they butchered one another. Suddenly, with no apparent signal or order, they stopped, shivering as something dark passed over them. Whatever it was screamed, a dark, guttural sound that made the orcs cower in fear. It was their dark captain, the one that controlled them with no speech, just thoughts from its dark mind. It was the thing that had mustered this army. It was the one that commanded it. It was the terror that presented such a huge threat to Arnor.
A black dragon had come out of the North.
The dwarves reached the outskirts of Bree two hours after midday.
"Halt!," Thorin shouted as the village of Bree came in sight. "Floi, take two others with you and go to the Bree to get what information you may. Put some cloaks on your armor and do not let anyone know of the presence of the host here."
"At once, Lord," Floi replied. Picking two dwarves in the host, he departed.
Turning to Bain, his second captain he spoke:
"Get the soldiers to set our camp in those deep thickets there, south of the Greenway. Let the host be as silent as possible and no fires are to be lit. We do not know who the enemy is and we do not want to be discovered. Once the camp is set, have a ring of scouts around the camp and warn me of any that approaches hither. Particularly make sure none of the locals see us. You know how they like to let their tongues run."
With that the dwarves began to set up their camp, cunningly hidden among the thickets. Once the camp was set, those dwarves who had their first lookout duty went to their posts while the other dwarves went to rest. They knew that they should rest whenever possible - they never knew what tomorrow would bring. Once things had settled down he called Bain to him.
"I was pondering over this message Bain," Thorin said. "We don't know where we have to meet the Rangers. We'll stay here till sunset. If we don't get any news by then we will set out to Dead Man's Dike or Fornost as it is now called. What do you think?"
Before Bain could say anything, Floi entered the tent and bowing to his Lord he spoke:
"Thorin, we have done a quick investigation of Bree but found no Rangers there. It is as I thought. They must all have gone to the battle."
Thorin stood quiet and pondered the tidings.
"Well, if we receive no news by dawn we're moving to the North in search of the host ourselves."
Two Weeks Earlier
Wazt returned from the mountains, with a eagle he had killed in a sack behind him.
"We have food!" Wazt roared, pulling out his knife and opening the sack. "Twenty-five soldiers shall feed!"
Tirben, one of his secondary captains laughed, lighting the fire.
"I'm going to hunt more food!" said Wazt.
"I come too!" roared Tirben, following Wazt outside their cave.
One Hour Later
Tirben and Wazt quietly climbed to the eagle's nest, where Wazt had killed the young eagle earlier.
"Take its mother?" Tirben asked.
"Yes," Wazt demanded, pulling out his bow. He nocked an arrow to the string.
"Fire for head." Tirben advised.
Wazt nodded in reply, firing at the great bird. The eagle, however, had heard the two Uruks talking, and had jumped up seconds before Wazt fired, and began to fly at them.
"Team up!" Wazt ordered, pulling out his crude sword.
The eagle hovered and flapped its wings in front of the two Uruks, and Tirben lunged, missing and slipped behind the eagle. The eagle whipped round and picked up Tirben, and Wazt fired into the eagle's leg. It screeched in anger.
"Not again. Too risky!" shouted Tirben. The eagle dropped him and he rolled down the mountain. "You kill Tirben!" shouted Wazt, throwing his sword at the eagle, knocking it down. "Now you die!"
He stabbed the eagle, and he ran down the mountain, finding Tirben unconscious in a bush.
"Tirben still alive. Good Tirben," Wazt grunted, looking up. He saw a large crack in the side of a cliff quite a way up the mountain. "New cave. Tirben wake, we must investigate."
He began to shake him and a minute later, he revived. "Tirben hurry, new cave, Uruks look at it," Wazt said.
"Tirben coming," he groaned, climbing up. They entered the cave.
"Who is in my cave?" a voice hissed.
"Wazt, Uruk captain and Tirben, secondary captain. Who is you?" Wazt asked.
"A Goblin of the Caves." the voice cackled.
"Show yourself, we are soldiers of old Isengard." Tirben demanded.
"Very well, foul beasts..." it hissed at them. A goblin fell down from the ceiling.
"Kill it!" Wazt ordered, and Tirben lunged for it, but it ran from them. Wazt pulled out his bow and shot it before it entered the shadows, catching its leg. It skidded and fell on the stone.
"Put him in sack. I will put eagle in sack. Hurry." Wazt said, throwing Tirben a sack from his bag.
An Hour and a Half Later
They arrived back at their cave.
"Big eagle and prisoner! We have food!" roared Wazt as they arrived. He cut the rope on the goblin's sack, releasing it.
"Rope him to wall." Wazt ordered, kicking it. An Uruk grabbed the goblin, and tied it up with ropes.
"Why you in Wazt's mountain?" Wazt asked.
"Heading for the Army of Angmar." it said.
"Who they?" Wazt demanded.
"I only know there is a great gathering." it replied. 'But it wouldn't want stupid beasts like you.'
"Kill him and move north, we start tomorrow!" Wazt ordered. Tirben fired an arrow into the goblin, laughing.
Harnol rode swiftly through the long grass in the valleys of the North Downs, lying low in the saddle to protect himself from the bitter wind. He had said goodbye to his captain only a few hours ago, yet it felt like a few days from the rough conditions. His chestnut-coloured horse, Fastred, relished these long gallops so Harnol expected to be out of the Downs by sunset. After a few hours, Fastred had slowed to a trot and was breathing heavily.
"Come on, Fastred," he whispered in his horse's ear. "Only a few more miles."
The horse could not of course understand, but perhaps it was some elvish charm, echoing out of the long years before any evil had befallen the world, that made Fastred's head stand a little higher and his pace a little faster.
They did indeed reach Fornost before sundown, and Harnol slid gratefully out of the saddle, his thighs aching. He had hardly taken the saddle and packs off his horses’ back before Fastred slid down onto the wet grass and rolled around on his back, making those little neighing noises that horses do when they're content.
Harnol smiled and then took a small axe out of his pack. He then walked into a small wood that they had stopped by for the night. He found several sticks and two dry logs and took them back to his shelter, arranging them and putting a spark to them. His fire was soon burning merrily and he took Fastred to a tree to tie him for the night. After spending an hour or so in front of the fire eating some of the rations he had taken with him, he stamped out the flames and crawled inside the shelter for the night.
He woke early the next morning, breaking his fast with a few pieces of bread and an apple and then saddling Fastred. They rode light and swift for the entire day, riding down the Greenway, and soon Harnol had reached Bree. The north gate of Bree was shut day and night, owing to the belief that dark spirits came out of the North. The guard at the gate knew better than to argue with a Ranger, though, so the gates swung open almost immediately at his coming. Harnol rode slowly through the streets of Bree, ignoring the stares some of the local people gave him. What they didn't know wouldn't hurt them.
Tying Fastred up outside the Prancing Pony, Harnol walked in and asked for Barliman at the bar.
"'Aven't seen 'im for ages, 'ave we?" said the barman. "Buggered off somewhere, 'asn't he?"
"Barliman? Leave Bree? That dosen't sound like him," said Harnol suspiciously.
"'E's got friends in 'igher places now," said the barman. "'Elped those 'obbits when they passed through 'ere, all those years ago. Now 'e's in the Shire, from what I 'eard tell."
Harnol nodded. He had heard of Butterbur's involvement in the War of the Ring.
"Well, what I really wanted to ask was about the dwarf army, the one from Moria."
"Dwarf army? Moria?" The barman seemed genuinely confused. I 'aven't seen a dwarf in years, leave alone a dwarf army."
"Thank you for the information," said Harnol, tipping him a coin and leaving the inn.
"For what I gave," he heard the man say before the door swung shut.
Harnol walked over to the stables and began to untie Fastred.
"Looks like we have a little more way to go yet," he said. Fastred neighed.
Harnol climbed on and tapped Fastred on his sides.
"Let's go!" he said.
They raced through Bree, avoiding carts and hay bales that were scattered across the road and going through spaces where some very startled people had been a few seconds before. In no time they had reached the south gate of Bree, and had rushed through it out onto the road beyond.
"Where to now?" Harnol wondered aloud.
He knew that the elusive army was somewhere near Bree, since the message they had sent to tell of their coming had been a few days ago and they would have reached Bree by now.
Harnol set Fastred to a trot along the southern road, looking to the left and right for any sign of a camp, hidden as it may have been. Suddenly, his quick eyes spotted something, off the road to the right. A footprint. Small, but with an indentation at the front that spoke of metal, and more distantly a soldier on guard duty. Harnol jumped down from his horse and walked over to it, the grass dewed under his leather boots. As he knelt down, he recognized it unmistakably to be the print of a dwarf. He looked up. A small forest lay ahead of him, thickets crowding around it. He smiled slightly. A perfect place for an army that did not wish to be seen.
He stood up, checked that Fastred was still, and then walked at an easy pace through the long grass, towards the forest. As he grew closer, his ears caught the tiniest of sounds. Someone shuffling, perhaps? They had seen him, that much was sure.
Then suddenly, a harsh voice cried out in a guttural tongue that Harnol recognised a moment later to be Dwarvish. He cried out in relief to them, speaking in the common tongue.
’I am Harnol, one of the Dunedain! I serve King Elessar! I have come to bring you to Fornad and to join our force!’
A few seconds later, dwarves, armed with axes and wearing heavy armour and face masks, began to edge cautiously out of the thickets. One walked more confidently ahead of the rest and beckoned for Harnol to come over.
Harnol stepped over a small bog and quickly made his way over to the dwarf. The dwarf lifted up his iron face-mask and regarded the Ranger, his face looking distrustful.
’I know that you are led by a great captain by the name of Thorin Oakenshield,’ said Harnol. ’I would speak to him and lead you dwarves to Fornad, my captain.’
’My... my master wait for you,’ replied the dwarf, the words unsteady. Harnol judged that he was not used to speaking in Westron. ’Come now.’
Harnol gratefully followed the dwarf over the grass towards the thickets, the guards’ kin tightening their holds on their axes when they saw the longbow tied to Harnol’s back. He ducked under a low-hanging branch, even though the dwarf had no need to do so, and suddenly he emerged into a small clearing where the thickets had been hacked away. Small tents were arranged in orderly rows along the raw ground, some having even been erected in the forest beyond.
’There,’ pointed the dwarf with one stubby finger.
At the head of the line of tents stood one large pavilion, woven of red cloth and with strange, geometric designs woven along the edges. Harnol walked through the camp, ignoring the slightly hostile stares the dwarves around the tents gave him, until he ducked under the flap at the front of the pavilion and walked in.
The air was hot and stuffy inside. Hangings were draped on the walls, depicting scenes of dwarves hacking at goblins with axes in dark caves, smithing at hot anvils, and feasting at long oak tables. A noble and tough-looking suit of armour stood to the left, thick veins of gold twisting over its surface and with an ornate mask under a helm. At a table stood two dwarves, both studying a complex map. One turned round to Harnol. It was Thorin.
One Week Earlier
Wazt's Uruk forces reached the River Bruinen, and Tirben raised his hand in a fist for the army to halt.
"Tirben, Wazt, Azhug look for bridge. The rest stay here!’ Wazt shouted, and his two secondary captains began to search the entire river within a kilometre for a bridge. Half an hour later, they returned.
"No bridge, follow river north tomorrow, stay for tonight," Wazt shouted. Tirben walked to their five bedraggled ponies that carried the rations.
"We out of food! Tirben shouted, looking through the saddlebags.
"Kill the pony," Wazt said. "Cut its throat! I'll finish it off."
He pulled out a knife and a bow.
"Take knife. Hurry. Azhug look for bridge," Wazt said, passing Tirben his knife.
Tirben jumped on the back of the animal, and cut its throat. The pony collapsed, breathing heavily, in fear and horrible pain. Wazt shot it in the stomach, and it kicked at the air with its legs, unable to scream. He shot it four more times, slowly killing it.
"Give Wazt knife, then we feed." Wazt ordered, taking the knife from Tirben. He stabbed the pony in the heart, finally killing it.
Ten Minutes Later
The Uruk army had each finished their individual chunk of the pony, and Azhug returned. "Master, I found bridge,’ said Azhug. ’One hour north. Hurry if Uruks cross before night-fall."
"We go now then," Tirben agreed, jumping on his horse.
Wazt ran to his and Azhug leapt onto his. The Uruk forces quickly got up and walked behind Wazt, Tirben and Azhug. As they marched, they sang an ancient, evil war chant that shook the trees and made animals flee for miles around.
One Hour Later
They reached the bridge, and Wazt signalled for them to cross. The Uruk force were in Arnor.
Thorin turned and studied the newcomer. His boots were mud-caked, his clothes weather-stained and his face told the stories of many journeys in the wild. He did not doubt the identity of the man at all.
"Welcome to my camp. Alas for the evil time that is upon us that I cannot give much time to courtesies as required. Let me introduce you to my captain Bain," Thorin said, pointing to the other dwarf.
"We were studying this map here and had resolved to move to the north tomorrow at sunset in search of your army. Earlier I had sent three of my dwarves to Bree but unfortunately we did not find any sign of the rangers."
"Oh! Excuse me," Thorin added. "I jump straight to the point and did not even ask your name. Pray, have a seat while I pour you a cup of wine to remove the weariness of your journey. Then you can tell me of your errands and plan."
'My lord, I am Harnol,' said the Ranger nodding respectfully and walking over to the map, surveying it. 'Time is short, and I cannot drink and be merry whilst my captain is in danger.'
The map showed Arnor and Eriador, as well as the Misty Mountains and in the very southeast, Moria. It was, however, around Bree and the North Downs where markers had been placed. One southwest of Bree, representing the Dwarves. One vaguely placed in the North Downs, for Harnol's kin. Finally, there was a large black marker, west of the Ettenmoors. Harnol shuddered. He knew what that meant.
'Our force is camped here, Lord Thorin,' said Harnol, stretching out a hand and shifting the North Downs marker slightly. 'Sir, perhaps it is not my place to judge in this situation, but might it not be wise to somehow reach King Elessar? If anyone can stop this force, it is he and the armies of Gondor.'
The Present - Weather Hills
Wazt, Tirben and Azhug reached the top of one of the largest hills in the Weather Hills. They had gone ahead from the plain where they had set up camp to scout the area.
"Tirben see people." Tirben said, pointing to the west. Climbing up the side of a hill in the distance, there were two riders moving slowly, with perhaps fifty or so people behind them.
"Uruks go chase," Wazt grunted back, riding his horse down the hill. Ten minutes later they arrived at the bottom.
"People to the west. Uruks attack!" Wazt roared to his soldiers, flourishing his banner with the White Hand of Isengard on it.
"Hurry, Uruks go west!" Tirben shouted, and the Uruks got up and began to roar and bellow, brandishing their shields and swords. The three captains set off, and the army followed them. Some time later, Tirben stopped,
"They running away, they see us. They head east before, now humans head west!" Tirben grunted.
"Uruks go faster, kill the cowards!" Wazt shouted, and they went quicker.
Five Minutes Later
Wazt and his soldiers were metres behind the humans in a small dell. The trees and bushes rushed past Wazt as he got ready to fight.
"Kill them all!" Wazt roared, and Tirben blew his horn. The Uruk crossbowmen began to fire at the humans, who pulled out their swords and bows, preparing to fight. Two were struck down by bolts, but the rest ran forward. Wazt pulled out his bow, and began to fire at them.
"Leave us, we are only a small clan, heading for Rivendell!" one of them shouted, and Wazt fired into his head.
The women and the children started to run while the men and soldiers defended them.
"You shall not pass, armies of evil!" shouted their chieftain, pulling out his bow.
Tirben pulled out his jagged sword, jumped off the horse and ran for the man. The chieftain fired, but the arrow ricocheted off Tirben’s shoulder plate. He fired again, and Tirben dodged it. He shot once more, and the arrow went through Tirben’s neck. The Uruk gasped, slowing down only metres away from the chieftain. Wazt smirked. The chieftain fired a few times more, knocking down Tirben.
"Tirben useless, annoying, fat Uruk anyway," Wazt grunted, riding up to the chieftain and knocking his head off with his sword. The Uruks quickly killed the rest of the humans and surrounded the surviving children and women.
"Your turn to meet death," Azhug grunted, throwing the flag-pole like a spear. It stabbed the stomach of the already-dead chieftain. Tirben rolled over, seeing their flag poking out of the man who killed him. He grinned, and then died.
There were less than four hundred Uruks left. They charged into the circle of women and children, slaughtering them and laughing as they did so. Screams echoed up into the sky.
Unbeknown to the Uruks, one of the humans, a surviving soldier, dragged a dead Uruk into a nearby bush and pulled on its armour. Checking around to make sure none were watching, he ran from the battle.
Minutes later, the entire tribe was dead.
"Wazt!’ shouted Azhug, pointing to the horizon. ’Man running to the east! Breelands there!"
"Leave him. Stupid human get army. Army get slaughtered. Uruk army wait in Weather Hills to kill stupid man's army," Wazt replied.
"Stay here tonight!" Azhug shouted.
"Alas, I have none of my dwarves to spare for the long journey to the South. Our only hope is that the White Tower will look north and see the threat drawing near. But for your comfort I will add this: We are the first company to be dispatched here. Unless I am wrong, My Lord Durin will be sending another company of about six hundred axes to reinforce us in a week," Thorin said.
"But our main objective for now is to reach your camp unseen. We do not want our enemies to know that we are gathering an army against them. Further plans I cannot make until I meet your captain."
Thorin stood for a moment, silent in thought.
"Bain," he said turning to his captain. "Take Harnol with you and give him some food. Also, make word that we will set off at midnight. Everything is to be packed and ready in an hour. We will leave Bree under cover of darkness."
Turning to Harnol he added:
"Go with him Harnol, you should eat while we get ready. I will have to arm myself," he said, gesturing to the ornate armour to the side. "You will need all your strength to guide us to your camp in all haste."
With that, the man and the dwarf departed the tent and orders for the departure were given.
One Day Later
The Uruks were hiding in small caves and shelters along the Weather Hills, preparing for an attack.
"Azhug see army," Azhug grunted to Wazt, looking through the trees.
"Wait to attack," Wazt replied. "Kill the humans’ horses. We have no horses alive."
"Yes, master," said Azhug.
One Hour Later
The human army entered the middle of the four hills the Uruks were hiding in, then Azhug blew Tirben's Horn, and they charged out of the forest, fired their crossbows and ambushed the men.
"Now humans die!" Wazt roared in anger. The humans pulled out their swords, and started to fight the Uruks. The leader of the human forces saw Wazt and Azhug watching from the side-lines. He yelled a battle-cry and charged at them.
"I am Artin’rn, Captain of Bree’s forces! Die in the name of Elessar!’ he cried.
"Me is Wazt, Captain of Uruks!’ roared Wazt. ’I kill you!" He ran at Artin’rn, then at the last moment leapt forward and chopped at the throat of his horse with his war axe. Beast and rider tumbled to the ground.
"You killed 'The White Shadow'!" Artin’rn yelled, getting up with his sword in hand. ’Die, foul beast!’
"We are the Death Shadow!’ Azhug howled, running at Artin’rn and entering combat. Wazt pulled out his sword, and joined in the fight.
"Artin’rn human; humans are bad; humans die; he dead!" Wazt bellowed, meeting Artin’rn's sword with his own, giving Azhug time to swing a sword into Artin’rn's shoulder, knocking him over.
"You die now!" Wazt screamed, stabbing Artin’rn in the stomach. Azhug and Wazt ran back to the fray and rejoined the battle.
Half an hour later
Wazt, Azhug and their army circled the surviving four soldiers of Bree.
"You die now!" Wazt shouted for the sixty-seventh time that day, shooting one of the men through the neck. He fell the ground with a gurgle.
"You die too!" Wazt added, pulling his sword out and chopping the head off another soldier.
"Kill the two others!" Azhug shouted, and the Uruks charged forward and slaughtered the two final men in a press of stinking bodies.
"We head for the Northern Greenway," Wazt ordered. "First, count who's dead."
"Ur... forty-seven and a half Uruks dead," Azhug said.
"Half-Uruk not count. Where is other half? Kill it for cowardice!" Wazt roared, shaking his huge axe in the air.
"Uruk is half-dead. Not Uruk split in half." Azhug explained.
"Bring him to Wazt. Wazt kill him and then we go to Greenway." Wazt ordered. Azhug dragged a dying Uruk to Wazt, and pulled him up.
"Now you die!" Wazt shouted, chopping off the Uruk's head. The others roared in approval. Within minutes the Uruks had piled the bodies, set them alight, and left the battlefield.
The dwarves pulled down their tents, doused their campfires and were geared and ready to march in a surprisingly short space of time. Harnol had gone to collect Fastred from the road some time earlier, and now he sat on the horse amongst the grim warriors, feeling almost like a giant. They waited for Thorin's order.
Suddenly the moon slipped behind a black cloud, and they were all plunged into total darkness.
'Move!' he heard Thorin say from the front.
The army slunk through the thickets and out onto the grassy plain between the forest and the road. Harnol kicked Fastred's sides lightly and he moved through the orderly ranks to the front, where Thorin marched proudly with the rest. They reached the road, and turned towards Bree.
The Uruks reached the Greenway, and Wazt stamped down their flagpole. The White Hand fluttered in the wind.
"Uruks rest here tonight!" he shouted.
"Wazt and Azhug find food," Azhug said, and they began to search the area for animals.
Ten minutes later they returned.
"Wazt and Azhug not find food. Kill pony!" Wazt shouted, firing an arrow into their fourth pony. The animal slumped, the life ebbing out of it, and Azhug quickly broke its neck.
"Cut it up, boys!" Wazt roared. The Uruks rushed towards the carcass, hacking at it with swords and knives and fighting to get a piece of the meat or innards.
Harnol, Thorin and the army marched with haste along the muddy southern road.
'We should get to Bree fairly soon,' said Harnol to the dwarven lord beside him. ’It lies over this hill, and across a few acres of farmland.'
Thorin nodded without saying anything. Harnol kicked Fastred into a trot, quickly coming to the summit of the knoll. In the faint moonlight, he could just make out the dark shape of the town a few miles away with his sharp eyes. No torches were lit, making it very difficult to see. An old tradition from the days when people knew of the threat from outside.
Harnol blew into his hands and rubbed them together from the cold, then laid them back on the reins and turned Fastred to wait for the army. He had thought the dwarves loud when he had been among them, but now he realised their sound quickly faded in the night air, and he had to strain his ears to hear the clinking of armour and weapons.
Thorin and the front line of the army reached the top. Harnol could see the dwarf struggling to see the town in the darkness.
’It lies only a few miles away,’ said Harnol. Thorin looked up to him.
’I think it wise that you go ahead and inform the guards of Bree of our coming,’ he said. ’Arrows often are let fly without knowing their targets.’
’Of course, lord,’ said Harnol. There was no need of casualties before any encounters with the enemy. He spurred Fastred into a fast canter down the hill towards Bree.
After a few minutes of riding, Bree’s southern gate formed out of the darkness. As he grew nearer, a torch was struck on the wall, and a voice hailed him.
’Halt! Who wishes to enter Bree?’
’A Ranger of the north!’ called back Harnol. ’Many are behind me, allies from the south. I request that you allow us through the town.’
’One of the King’s kin I will open to, but not some supposed allies. Who are they?’
Harnol could now see the guard’s helmed head, lit by the flickering light of the torch.
’Dwarves! Two hundred, fully armed. They come to ward off an enemy from Angmar.’
The guard paused for a moment, seemingly deliberating with himself.
’If what you say is true, then... I will let you through.’
Harnol sighed in relief. He hadn’t wanted to use force.
Soon enough, the dwarven army arrived, their line stretching back a few hundred metres.
’They do seem to be dwarves. Beards, and all that,’ said the guard, peering down. ’Right, then.’
He turned back from the wall, the light of the torch snuffed out, and after a few moments the doors groaned open.
As Harnol rode through, the guard, standing to the side, widened his eyes.
’You won’t be wanting to stay anywhere, will you?’ he whispered.
’No,’ said Harnol, smiling briefly. ’We’ll get out of sight of Bree before we make camp.’
They got through the town without incident, such was the quiet of the dwarves, and after a quick, confused conversation with the guard at the north gate they were through, and out onto the Northern Greenway.
The small forest of Chetwood passed on their left, and soon enough they turned off the road to make camp in the trees, the soldiers lifting heavy packs from their backs with audible sighs of relief. Within the hour, the dwarves had made a few fires and had cooked an easy supper. Harnol ate a quick supper of stew and thick bread away from the laughing and drinking dwarves, then climbed inside his tent for a quick rest before they set off again.
All in the camp were ready and quietly waiting for their journey to Fornost to get underway. Also, Thorin, Bain and another dwarf lord were away holding a council. Soon they could be seen coming back to the host.
"We will set out now," Thorin said. "We'll take the Greenway, but first we will go through what remains of this forest to avoid being seen by unfriendly eyes close to Bree. Fornost is two days away, but we'll have to cover the distance in one day only. We will march all night and all day tomorrow."
"I also have good news. One of the Ravens, friendly to our people, has brought me news that reinforcement is three days behind us. They are marching here as fast as they can. However, we cannot tarry here. They will meet us at Fornost."
With that, Thorin gave the signal and the host took the Road to Fornost.
Harnol and the dwarves rode silently along the darkened road, its condition steadily becoming worse until it was barely distinguishable from the brown, barren terrain around it. A few pine and birch trees grew here and there, some even coming together to form small copses and woods, but mostly the landscape waited for the green of spring.
After many hours of riding, Harnol looked down for a moment, and his heart stopped.
An Uruk footprint, barely two hours old. Many more went off towards the north.
He spurred Fastred round and came back to the dwarves.
'My Lord Thorin!' he exclaimed. 'I have discovered footprints of orcs, on the path ahead.'
Thorin nodded grimly and quickly ran to where Harnol had pointed. The Ranger came after him.
'Fresh,' commented the dwarf, kneeling down to have a closer look. 'These are not normal orcs.'
'I agree, sir,' said Harnol. 'Uruk-hai. I had thought that this foul breed had all been killed in the War, but evidently they cling on with tenacity.'
'They make for the North Downs,' said Thorin, looking up. He then stood, and seemed to think for a while. He then turned to Harnol. 'Do you know if your steed could reach your captain before the Uruks?'
'If I stay on the road for as long as possible, then turn northeast and continue up the east bank of the Downs, then I might just make it,' said Harnol. 'It will be close.'
'Alert your captain of our coming,' said Thorin. 'My dwarves will not be far behind.'
Harnol nodded, turned Fastred north and kicked him into a fast canter, keeping the horse's stamina up for the journey into the hills.
The Uruks reached the southernmost hill of the North Downs at dawn, and Wazt blew his horn, signalling for them to stop.
"Uruks rest near hill for a while! Wazt and Azhug go to top of hill, get directions!" Wazt shouted, signalling Azhug and they began to climb the hill.
Half a Hour Later
Wazt and Azhug arrived at the top of the hill, and looked around. They saw a slight bit of smoke far in the distance.
"Smoke no obstacle. Smoke not annoying Wazt yet. Leave smoke for now," Wazt grunted to Azhug, before they began to go down.
Half a Hour Later
They arrived at the bottom.
"Kill final pony!" shouted Wazt, and an Uruk bashed the animal on the head with a rock, breaking its skull. The pony toppled to the scrubby ground.
"We eat it now!" Wazt shouted, and Azhug began to skin it.
Fornad walked through the Ranger's camp, nodding to the occasional man on guard duty. Most were out hunting or keeping an lookout for the army on other hills. He sighed, and walked up the side of the hill to the blackened, ruined castle. Harnol was taking too long. The scout should have returned by now, but there had been no report or sight of him. If he had been captured... or killed, there would be no hope of getting the dwarves here on time.
He sat down heavily on a boulder, and looked to the southern horizon. What had he been thinking? Fornad had seen it in his men's eyes, that knowledge of certain doom. Three hundred men and dwarves could not possibly take on ten thousand orcs and expect anything but slaughter. The only possible help lay in Rohan or Gondor, places which he had sent messengers to weeks ago, and had no reply.
He cursed. The War of the Ring was finished! But now...
His thread of thought was cut short when suddenly the sighting horn was blown from the camp below him. He got up and jumped onto the boulder, looking into the valley. There! A solitary rider, going quickly.
‘Harnol…?’ he said to himself. He leaped down from the boulder and ran lithely down the hill, dodging round the tents in the camp and coming to the edge of a short cliff, from which he could see the rider better. The man was wearing a green cloak, at least…
The rider galloped up the hill with seeming great urgency, suddenly entering the trees and disappearing. Some more of his men were coming up beside him now, and he quickly gave the order for them to string their bows and be ready to shoot.
Suddenly, the rider came out from between the trees, and Fornad relaxed. It was Harnol. Without order, the men around him put their arrows back and unstrung their bows. Fornad ran round to the side of the rocky precipice and came over to Harnol, who dismounted and began to stroke his horse’s head, breathing words of calming into its ear.
Fornad almost jolted in surprise. Fastred’s mouth was foaming with dried saliva, and the horse was quivering. The captain ran over.
‘Harnol! What happened? Where are the dwarves? What was the hurry to get here?’ A thousand more questions were bursting to come forth.
Harnol turned, noticing his captain. He quickly saluted.
‘Sir, the dwarves are coming. They know where we are.’
‘But why did you not stay with them?’
‘I bring grave news,’ Harnol said. ‘A party of Uruk-hai, more than a hundred, come close to our postion. When I began my journey, they were still more than two hours ahead of me, owing to my great hurry.’
Fornad reacted with the speed of a seasoned leader. He turned and shouted to his men.
‘Baruín! Sound the gathering horn! Torblas! Take Harnol’s horse to feed and water!’ He made his way back up the hill, men scattering at his commands. ‘Comned! Organise the men for battle!’
Fornad made his way through the camp as a great, ear-shattering blast came from the top of the hill. The gathering horn. Now, Fornad knew that his men would be turning back to the hill and making their way there as fast as possible through the forests.
Harnol came up to him.
‘Sir,’ he said, ‘there is yet more news.’
‘Go on,’ replied Fornad.
‘Six hundred more dwarves come from Moria, my lord,’ he said. ‘They should be here in about three days.’
Fornad smiled briefly. ‘More fighters are always welcome. But nine hundred is nowhere near enough to counter ten thousand. I fear that we will have to retreat until further, far greater help can come from the south.’
Harnol nodded. His captain was right.
Within half an hour, all his men were gathered in camp, bows strung, arrows feathered and sheathed swords freshly sharpened.
Fornad stood above them on a boulder.
‘Battle has come quicker than expected,’ he said, looking at each of them in turn. ‘These creatures that you will fight are not normal orcs. They are Uruk-hai, of the traitor Saruman’s breed. They wear armour, and carry shields, crude swords, and crossbows. Make no mistake. They are as strong as you. We will kill them with arrows, but if you have to fight them at close quarters, be wary, and go for the neck.’ He paused. ‘Get to your positions. We make an ambush!’
The Rangers scattered and filtered into the trees, making as little noise as wolves. Fornad quickly went after them.
The Dunedain waited in the trees as the sun slowly set behind the hills. All had arrows on strings, all waited in complete silence. Fornad stayed behind an oak. He could just see Harnol crouched behind a boulder a few metres away, though it was difficult. In this state, someone could brush past one of the Dunedain and not notice.
Time went by slowly. Harnol had assured him that they were coming, but could he have...
Then the sound of heavy, tramping boots came to his ears, along with raucous shouts and the clanging of metal. They were here. Fornad slowly peered form behind the oak. The brutes marched only a few hundred metres away, and were all well within range of the arrows of his men. But he waited. The Rangers waited for his first shot.
He breathed in quickly, came out from behind a tree and fired, hitting one of the Uruks in the chest. They roared in surprise as their comrade fell over, and then suddenly a deadly rain of arrows fell upon their ranks, Uruks toppling and snarling in pain.
Wazt growled, watching arrows fly from the trees into his forces.
"Uruk use crossbows! Advance on tree-men!" Azhug howled, drawing his sword.
"Show yourselves, tree-cowards!" Wazt roared. "We shall light trees if you do not show!"
"Shut up! Charge!" Azhug shouted, holding up their banner, and the Uruk forces ran at the trees. More arrows began to fall, knocking down a few more Uruks. Wazt pulled out his battleaxe, and ran at a Ranger who had shown himself. The man desperately fired an arrow, but it simply dented Wazt’s thick armour. The Uruk kicked him over.
"Stinky man die now!" Wazt grunted, swinging the axe into the Ranger’s stomach.
"Advance!" shouted Azhug to the three hundred remaining Uruks, who charged into the forest and up the hill. Azhug was suddenly caught in the shoulder by an arrow, and slipped backwards, sliding back down the slope.
"Clumsy Azhug will die soon if Azhug still clumsy!" Wazt shouted as he was separated from him in the fighting. Wazt roared, and advanced into the forest, walking through the many dead Uruks and the few dead Rangers. His Uruks formed up behind him and together they ran, looking for the Rangers that still fired at them, unseen, from between the trees.
Through the night and dawn the dwarves had advanced rapidly towards Fornost. Four hours after sunrise, they were allowed a brief rest before marching on again. All the time, the tall, dark hills kept crawling nearer and nearer in the distance.
Soon enough, they had could see the small town in the distance, but knowing that the Rangers were stationed farther north, they gave the place a wide berth and headed into the hills.
It was not more than two hours of marching through the wide, hidden valleys and occasional ruins when Thorin heard a cry coming from ahead. He ordered his host to stop and they remained silent listening for any suspicious noise.
"These sound like the harsh cries of orcs," Bain breathed to Thorin who nodded back to him. Signalling to two of his dwarves he sent them on a scouting mission.
Meanwhile, he gave sign to the dwarves to make ready for battle. Five minutes later the two dwarves crept stealthily back to the host and announced that a battle was under way further ahead.
"The air is full of arrows, my Lord,” said one of the scouts. “Though we have seen the Uruks, we did not see who they were fighting against. Their rear is unprotected as they seek their enemies."
"Any enemy of orcs are likely to be our friends," Thorin said.
"Balin!" he called to one of the nearby dwarves. "You and twenty-five warriors will stay here and guard our provisions. You will also look to crush anyone than gets past us or any reinforcement coming.”
With that he and the remainder of the host crept forward to the battle. Reaching roughly twenty metres from the battle scene, Thorin peered from behind a tree. He saw a huge Uruk with an axe moving amongst dead bodies of men and orcs and advancing towards the trees. Behind him his Uruks were hewing at trees and shooting at unseen foes with crossbows. They had no heed for their rear.
"BARUK KHAZÂD! KHAZÂD AI MÊNU!" Thorin roared in an ear-splitting cry, and charged his foes. Seeing their Lord charge, the other dwarf warriors followed with terrifying shouts of "Moria! Moria! Uzbad Durin!" The orcs were taken at unawares and the crossbow wielders were the first to feel the fury of dwarven axes, having no time to sweep out their swords.
The Uruks were utterly confused, being shot at from the front and hewed into by dwarves at the rear. They turned from death to death and all those who were found were mercilessly slaughtered.
Soon there were no Uruks left alive visible to the dwarves. The surprise element had led to no deaths but a few minor wounds to a few dwarves.
Fornad ducked under the sword of an Uruk and stepped back, unsheathing his own, razor-sharp steel glinting in the setting sunlight. He parried, struck at the Uruk's shield, blocked, and in a flash of steel and black blood beheaded it. Looking around, he saw a few of his kin standing, ready for another wave of the monsters.
The captain quickly wiped his sword clean, sheathed it and drew out his bow, nocking an arrow to the string. He began to hear crashing and shouting in the trees as the Uruk-hai grew closer, then he heard another sound, one he had not expected. A deep, throbbing horn, being blown with force. A Dwarven horn! They had come! He smiled, and he saw some of the Rangers laughing and cheering. It was over.
Then a throng of Uruks almost twenty-strong came roaring and snarling out of the trees, led by a massive one almost six foot tall wielding a great battleaxe, and Fornad quickly changed his mind. It wasn't over.
He drew the bow-string to his eye, aimed for a second, then sent an arrow straight into the neck of one of the Uruks, felling him like a blade of wheat. Two more Uruks were slain by his hand and five by the other Rangers until their charge forced him to throw his bow to the side and draw his sword.
'Githoniel! A Elbereth!' he cried, before blocking a swing from one of the Uruks' swords and stabbing him under the arm.
He whirled around, stabbing a stunned Uruk through the neck and out into the air beyond, before hearing the whine of metal and the swoosh as a weapon flew over his ducking head. He yanked the sword out from the dying Uruk before stepping back, ready to face this new enemy.
It was the six-foot one. His battleaxe at the ready, the Uruk pointed to his breastplate.
'Me Wazt,' he said, grinning stupidly. Then he pointed at Fornad. 'Now you die!'
The Uruk swung the battleaxe in an arc that would have sliced the captain in two if he hadn't leaped out of the way. As he moved back, breathing heavily, he realised that he couldn't possibly block those heavy swings. All he could hope to do was get a lucky shot in. Which dosen't look likely, he thought.
The Uruk roared and charged like a bull, getting ready for another swing. Fornad gritted his teeth, and with a cry, leaped between Wazt's legs, taking the monster by surprise. As the Ranger scrambled to his feet, pulling a sharp stone from the needle-strewn ground as he did, he heard the unmistakable sound of the Uruk crashing to the ground.
Fornad smiled and turned, ready to strike with his sword. The Uruk turned over and growled at him. On second thoughts, Fornad shrugged and threw the rock at the monster's head, knocking it out cold.
The captain heaved Wazt into the clearing where a few other surviving Uruk-hai were tied to the ground, watched over by Rangers and dwarves alike. With a final tug, he dumped the Uruk onto the ground with the rest of them.
'I think this one's the captain,' he said. 'I need to speak to him. Wake-'
And then a red-bearded dwarf, wearing finely crafted armour and flanked by two guards, arrived in the clearing. Fornad heard Harnol whisper:
'He's Thorin Oakenshield, sir,' from behind him.
Fornad nodded, and then walked over to the dwarf.
'Greetings, lord,' he said, bowing low. 'I am humbled to meet such a great dwarven noble, and am honoured that you have come to aid us in our time of need. I could only have wished that our meeting could have taken place somewhere more... peaceful.'
He heard a slosh of water behind him, spluttering, and Orcish curses. They'd woken Wazt up.
Wazt slowly began to revive, and looked up. A red-bearded dwarf and a Ranger turned around, hearing his movements.
"You stinky man! You made things go black!" Wazt shouted, grabbing his sheathed sword that lay by his side. "No Ranger make head Uruk go black!"
The Ranger pulled out his sword and swiped at Wazt, knocking his scabbard to the ground, and picked up Wazt's sword.
"You wouldn't try that again, 'head Uruk'. I am Fornad, I am not just a Ranger - I am a strong one," Fornad said, and moved his sword away.
"Uruk, if you don't want us to kill you like the scum you are, I will ask something of you. Go north and join the army, and when you reach it, send us messages of its location and number of soldiers. Then you will kill orc captains in the final battle.'
'Wazt won't help stupid Ranger!' the Uruk growled. 'Wazt kill Ranger!'
Wazt began to get up, then felt a cold sharpness at his neck. The Ranger's sword.
'Then you die,' the man said coolly. 'But you can help us and live. If you do what I ask of you, then when you return to us we will brand you with the Tree of Elendil, and set you free. You will not be harmed by any of the Free Peoples for the rest of your life. But if you do not, I swear to all the Valar that I will find you and make you suffer until you wish you'd never come out of your birth-pit. Do I make myself clear?" Fornad threatened.
"Yes, stupid..." Wazt began, before Fornad kicked him.
"You will do as I say." Fornad said calmly.
"Yes, Master Ranger. Wazt will help people now," Wazt agreed, before Fornad kicked him in the head, knocking him unconscious.
Wazt woke up slouched over his horse's saddle. He pushed himself up with his arms, and saw Fornad standing beside him, sword ready.
'You will do one final thing for me to prove your loyalty,' said Fornad. He ordered two men to come forward with Azhug. 'Kill your comrade.'
Wazt thought for a moment, then shrugged, pulled out his sword and lopped Azhug's head off.
The Ranger looked faintly surprised.
'Very well,' he said. 'Ride north, and send messages with this pigeon.'
He handed Wazt a grey, speckled pigeon, which Wazt looked at, confused.
'Wazt no eat?' he said, showing Fornad the pigeon.
'No,' said the Ranger. 'You write messages and tie them to it's leg. Can you write?'
'Wazt writes,' said the Uruk proudly. 'Wazt one of old white wizard's favourite Uruks.'
'Good,' said the Ranger. 'Ride north, and join the army.'
The Uruk kicked his horse's sides and rode away, amazed that he wasn't dead.
Three Weeks Earlier...
The large chamber was echoing with soft, polite conversation. No one was aroused, excited or irritated, all residing within were conversing amiably with one another. The good King sat, leaning towards his lovely wife, the two of them sharing hushed words. Their son, sitting proudly in the chair to his father's other side, gave an inward sigh. His parents, after years, were still completely transfixed with one another. They would continue this whispered discussion until any number of the many courtiers, pages, nobles, and servants would manage to find their way to the feet of the royal family.
These folk wanted all sorts of things, though many seemed to want recognition, through flattery. Prince Eldarion had sat and groaned to himself many a time while nobleman's daughters, nieces, cousins, and younger sisters had fawned over him. What young woman wouldn't want to woo the prince of Minas Tirith? While the prince contemplated the latest contingent of girls that were eyeing him from the other side of the room, the large doors at the end of the hall burst open.
An exhausted messenger stumbled through them, crying, "An urgent message for the king!" The young man nearly collapsed; King Elessar rushed to him, while the occupants of the hall stared on.
Queen Arwen came up behind him, concerned. The king read over the note, which read:
Friends, I am Fornad, Captain of the Rangers of the North and one of the Dunedain. I have led a small force of Rangers into the wilderness to deal with what was previously thought to be a small party of orcs coming from Angmar. Now we have seen them, north of the North Downs and coming closer every day. The lands that they are planning to invade are innocent and defenceless, populated by hobbits and the like. This force is not just orcs, friends, it has brutal Uruks, it has goblins, it has traitorous wildmen from the North and it even has some trolls. Men, Elves, Dwarves and any that are friendly to the crown of Gondor and Arnor please come, and bring what men you can muster. We cannot fight this war alone. Yours sincerely, Fornad
The King's eyes reflected the dark feeling in his heart. He knew the letter was authentic and that there was much planning to be done.
Turning round, he announced: "My people, loyal subjects and friends. Let it be known to you that war is once again at our backs. Our city will be protected, and I'll make it formerly known to the public within the hour."
His dark eyes meeting each of his generals around the chamber, they wordlessly followed him as he strode to the war room. The Lady went to their son, wraps her arm round his shoulders and gently but firmly steered him toward the war room after the King. Inside this much smaller room than the hall of the throne, Aragorn's captains waited with bated breath for their King to explain what exactly was going on.
The King allowed a servant to pass the letter round and for each to read it, their growing more grim by the second. Aragorn waited patiently for each to read, then stated calmly:
"Each of you are to gather soldiers from all corners of Gondor. I will bring a regiment of the palace guard, seventy strong, as my vanguard. We will gather in Anorien. Now go, friends, and may the winds of luck and fortune be at your backs."
Each man in the room was reminded of the strength within their King as he told them all, without needing any words, that they were all his trusted friends. The men rushed out, shouting orders as they went, gathering forces before the palace was even at their backs. King Elessar took the letter from the table, folded it neatly, and tucked it into his doublet.
As the doors to the room slowly swing close, Arwen slipped inside. Her knowing expression told much, as her bright eyes showed nothing but sadness.
"What has happened, my king?" she asked softly, stepping next to him.
"Something is stirring in the north."
Wazt’s horse skidded to a halt. He was far northeast of the North Downs, and on the slope of a small hill, dead trees and boulders everywhere. The cold bit at every area of exposed skin. He quickly pulled out his crossbow, loaded it, and fired a shot into a small bush. A dead rabbit rolled out.
"Lunch," Wazt announced to himself, grinning. He leapt off and picked up the rabbit. He had had no food for the last two days of his journey, and he was staving. He pulled the crossbow bolt out and ripped the skin off, savouring its heat, then ate it raw. Ten minutes later he climbed back on his horse and continued up the hill.
One Hour Later
Wazt reached the peak of the hill, and scanned the area around them. He saw smoke on the horizon, and a vast, fenced campsite.
"People! Or orcs, probably," Wazt muttered, kicking his horse’s sides. They sped down the hill.
Two Hours Later
Wazt reached the wooden fence, and quickly headed for the entrance. Two orcs were stood by the gate, and stopped him.
"State yer name and rank," the biggest one ordered.
"Big, bad Captain Wazt from Misty Mountains."
"Sligo, check the List."
"Captain Wazt is on the list."
"Sligo, alert boss, show the captain his tent."
"Not Just Uruk captain! Big, powerful one! One of master Saruman's best!"
"Shut up and come in!"
"Sorry, guard orc people."
The smaller orc and Wazt walked in. It took a long time to walk to the centre of the camp. Orcs and goblins were everywhere, eating, walking around, or having fights. The guard orc walked to one of the slightly larger tents which circled a huge, empty space in the middle of the camp.
"You get this tent for being one of the captains of the Uruk-hai." Sligo explained, and then walked off.
Wazt leapt off his horse, and tied him to a pole to the side of his fence. He decided to look around. He walked along a path with many small, grubby tents and shelters scattered all over the place, and watched a couple of orcs roasting an unidentifiable creature over a small fire, cackling and hissing to one another in a northern dialect of Orcish.
He then walked towards another clearing, and saw a few dozen mountain trolls, tied to tree stumps. As he headed back to his tent, he noticed another small clearing, with orcs, Uruks and goblins training with straw dummies, some of which had battered pieces of armour on. He arrived at his tent and pulled the flag of his army out of a bag tied to his horse, and then hung it over the side of his tent.
He noticed more orcs, goblins and Uruks heading to the main clearing. He guessed that the animal had probably been cooked. As he looked over the camp, he realised that there were thousands of them, preparing for war. He hoped the message had reached Fornad, then decided to head for dinner.
Thorin stood looking at the orc disappearing away in the distance, gripping his axe and hatred in his eyes. He would rather have beheaded the orc than let him get away so easily. Muttering in his beard, he returned to his soldiers.
"Bain!" he shouted. "Get the dwarves together, have the wounded tended and the others ready for marching. We will move to the cover of the hills in a couple of hours."
With that he walked towards the Rangers. They had suffered many casualties, as they had faced the brunt of the assault. He looked to both sides as he made his way to Fornad. There were many wounded and dead dwarves too. His heart was softened seeing the pain in the eyes of these valiant men. Yet they kept their suffering to themselves and few were complaining.
Finding Fornad, he touched his arm to gain his attention and spoke:
"Captain, we should get back to the cover of the hills. Only keep a few men as scouts to warn us if another force descends on this place - and to guide our reinforcements. Once we reach the hills I will have part of my men build a camp for us where we will tend the wounded, bury our dead and draw counsel for future plans."
"It is four hours after sunrise. If we set out in three hours' time we should reach the cover of the hills by nightfall."
'I agree,' he said, turning to look at the pale sun rising behind dismal cloud. 'The deeper hills and forests within will provide greater cover. We must plan what to do.'
He cast a final glance at the dwindling dot, then went back to his men. Spotting Harnol tending a gash on a man's arm with a poultice, he walked over.
'How many dead?' he asked, swallowing a feeling of dreadful remorse.
Harnol looked up for a moment.
'Eight, my lord,' he said, wrapping a clean bandage over the man's arm and poultice. 'Better than I had feared. We fought well.'
Fornad gripped his hand tightly to his hilt.
'Their funerals will be tonight?'
'Yes, lord. With the proper rites and herbs.'
Fornad nodded again, not trusting himself to say any more, then after a few moments clapped Harnol on the back and walked away.
Eight. Eight souls. Eight families who had to be told, leaving them to their grief. This was the harsh reality of war, Fornad realised, as he looked down at the men and dwarves taking down the tents, stamping out the fires, packing away in silence. He noticed that the dwarves all wore rags of black cloth tied to their right arms, a sign of mourning. He understood that. It was a way of tribute, respect, a gesture to their fallen kin... there would be much more of it in the future.
He inhaled slowly, then shouted to his men.
'We must be out of here in a half-hour!' he ordered. 'Take your weapons, most essential equipment, and food! Take the dead and the injured that cannot walk on stretchers.'
Seeing his orders being followed, the Ranger went to his tent to pack his own belongings.
Thorin was a trifle surprised when he heard that the host was to move in half an hour. But when he had looked up to Fornad's face he had understood why. The captain was thinking first and foremost of his men.
Going back to his troops, he told them that they would be moving soon. He then called to Bain:
"Take our dead on biers of wooden branches. Keep them covered." He sighed. He had fought with and commanded dwarves for many a year, and had seen - too often, it seemed - them die. Yet still, a hand seemed to grip his heart in his sadness. "See where help is needed and bestow it there."
Fornad moved to where his men were assembling, their packs slung on to their weary backs. The armoured dwarves were also forming ranks, behind the Rangers. Harnol and two of his other lieutenants sat on horses at the front. A few of the injured lay on stretchers.
Then, in silence, a column of men and dwarves, each four carrying a black-shrouded stretcher, moved slowly to the front.
'Move out!' Fornad ordered, and the two armies moved forward, the cacophony of boots and hooves soon settling into a steady march as they turned towards the taller hills and forests of the North Downs. Fornad walked to his horse, and after making sure that his packs were secure at its sides he pulled himself up on onto the saddle.
Looking to the dwarves, Fornad could see that Thorin marched at the front of them. He spurred his horse down the slope to the rough track on which the armies marched. He came to the dwarven lord's side.
'Where have you ordered the six hundred reinforcements to meet us?' he asked. 'We will be difficult to find once we get into the deeper forests.'
As Wazt finished his meal of roasted, half-burnt meat, he ripped off a small piece for the pigeon. He suddenly noticed that some orcs near him here chattering nevously and pointing up to the sky. Wazt looked up, and almost choked on the piece of meat he was chewing. A massive black shadow passed over him with a defeaning roar, and a great black dragon landed in the clearing in the middle of the camp, the ground shudder as it touched down. Wazt had never been so in awe amd so terrified of something in his life.
Then it spoke. No words were audible from its mouth, but somehow the voice echoed inside Wazt's head. It slithered and hissed, rasping out each word.
"We shall head for the land of halflings soon, to track down the slayer of my lord and wreak our vengeance upon that weak land, my orcs. it said. "First, three hundred worthy warriors will go out and scout the lands ahead. Go, creatures of Sauron!'
It's speech over, the terrible beast curled up on the ground, keeping a single blood-red eye open. Howls of war and excitement erupted from all over the camp.
Wazt quickly went back to his tent. Checking that nobody was looking, he pulled out a knife and sawed at one edge until he had a small triangular piece of cloth.
He took it inside the tent, got a quill and a small pot of orc-blood that he had collected earlier from a fight, and began to write on it.
Fernud, ther is a big blak dragun in contul! he big and scery! boss is sendung 300 orks, goblens and Uruk-hi as skowts. Ther is 10,000 of us i think with nasti trols!
Do not riply. - Yur spi. (Wazt no puting name in cese sumon finds wazt letur.)
He gave the pigeon some meat, then ripped a piece of cloth from his dirty tunic and tied it around the bird's leg with the note safely inside it.
He took the pigeon outside, then threw it into the air. It flew away quickly to the southwest.
"Bye nice birdey, big boss no eat you, birdey is birdey, not dragon birdey food sandwiches," Wazt muttered to himself.
"I am troubled by the same thing, captain. For we have been delayed by that battle, and I am now unsure how far away the host are from us. Yet we have seen that it is of no use and quite dangerous for all of us to stay here waiting for them."
"My advice is to establish a camp and then send out scouts in search of them," Thorin ended.
An hour later, the’host was moving slowly towards the hill. Fornad was still at the front, but Thorin had dropped a few paces back and was talking with one of the Rangers. All of a sudden, war cries were heard all around. The host had fallen into an ambush!
A great voice went up in a harsh war cry and from the thickets and trees issued dwarvish soldiers. But first and foremost came a dwarf bearing a black helm and black beard. He charged straight for the vanguard of the host.
Thorin strode in front of him and shouted: "Halt!" in a great voice. The dwarf stopped and his eyes showed great surprise.
"What is the meaning of all this?" Thorin asked in a menacing tone, looking darkly at the dwarf. He needed not the black helm to know who was leading the reinforcement. Barhun of the Blacklocks was a captain of the Iron Hills. He was making a powerful name for himself in his homeland, and it was rumoured that he was first in line for lordship of one of the eastern realms in that region.’Thorin knew him of old, and disliked his quick temper and recklessness.
"We thought it was the enemy," Barhun replied sullenly. He made no attempt to show any respect to the noble of Moria. "And it is likely that they are so! Never trust a man," he said, looking darkly at the Rangers.
"You thought they were the enemy?" Thorin thundered in his native language of Khuzdul. "Didn't you listen to the orders from our King?’We are to fight alongside men, not against them!’And do I need to remind you who leads this army?" he shouted so that all the dwarves could hear him. He then lowered his voice.’
"I will not take any insubordination from yourself. This is no orc raid that we are after. You'd better watch your tone and actions, or it's likely that the High Lord of the Iron Hills will hear of what you have done," Thorin ended in a menacing tone. Barhun looked frightened by this outburst. He knew better, though, than to disobey Thorin openly. Yet his hatred for the dwarf lord and the men that went with him was still unabated.
"Fall in the ranks, company!"’Thorin shouted to the rest of the dwarves. "We will resume the march." Watching the reinforcement join the host, Thorin noticed Floi, another of his captains. Signalling to him, both of them fell to the rear of the host and talked in a low voice.
"Why has Barhun been sent on this mission?" Thorin asked.
"I do not rightly know, sir, but it seems that he was able to have several of the Iron Hills nobles to entreat in his favour. It is a pity that the other leaders were not present. But all speed was needed, so the descision was probably rushed. It seems he was placed in command of the reinforcement until he met us,"’Floi said.
"It seems that it was a mistake to give him a taste of that power," replied Thorin.
He nodded to Floi and made his way next to Fornad.
"I apologise for the action of the captain. He is a valiant fighter but hot-headed. I hope that you can forgive his indiscretion."
Fornad nodded grimly.
'I can,' he said. 'But I could have wished for someone less belligerent. This mission is going to take all the luck that we can get, and a loud-mouthed captain will make it all the harder.’
He rubbed his hands and blew into them from the cold.
After a few more minutes of travelling on the winding, broken track, they entered the forests of the North Downs. Birch and elm dominated, their leaves cast everywhere in a thick brown and red blanket, but as they rose higher into the hills the deciduous trees dwindled and were replaced by pines and spruce. The path was little more than single file now, and the greatly increased army had to spread out in a long chain, four men or dwarves across. This would make it far more vulnerable to attack, Fornad knew, and his eyes flicked from side to side constantly, watching the darkening trees.
An hour more passed, and now they had passed through a valley and had almost reached the top of the next rise. The captain held up his hand in a fist, a sign of halt. The tramping behind him stopped. Turning his horse, he came to face the army, the chain of men passing down the hill and out of his sight.
’We make camp further up the hill!’ he barked. ’It plateaus there, and the trees will shelter us!’ Before his men made a move, he shouted: ’And I want a dike around the edge of camp as well!’
He heard grumblings from amongst the men, but he took no notice. They had faced far harder.
The Ranger spurred his horse off the path and into the forest, which rose steeply then abruptly flattened out. He surveyed the area, noting how the trees were well spaced and provided a thick canopy. He nodded to himself in approval, then swung down from his horse and tied him to a nearby pine.
The men and dwarves rushed past, each going to set up their tents or to begin the digging of the dike. Orders were occasionally shouted out by his or dwarven lieutenants, but all in all they were performing quickly and efficiently. The captain allowed himself a brief moment of hope. What chance did any babbling orc horde have against battle-hardened, elite soldiers?
Presently Thorin came to him, his golden-veined armour glittering in a ray of dusk sunlight that had filtered through the canopy.
’Greetings, Thorin,’ he said. ’I trust you gave your men the same orders as I?’
"Greetings to you too, Fornad," Thorin replied. "I gave the same orders, but on advice from some of the engineers in my host we will improve the fortifications, considering that we might be here for some time."
"I have sent a part of my folk into the forest for wood. We will build a seven-foot tall palisade behind the dikes with slits for your archers to shoot, if the need arises."
"However, considering the natural defensive position offered by the hill, we will not need the blockades everywhere. I believe that it might take at least two days for the camp and its fortifications to be full wrought, if my dwarves work to their best. We should make this place our main outpost."
"Oh! And the tents for the host have already been pulled up. Ours are in the middle of the camp. The only detail I have so far not attended to is the watchmen and tour of guard. I believe you will be better suited for this job than my dwarves are because of your knowledge of the surrounding lands. My soldiers will man the walls and defend the camp until we get to know the land better."
’I thank you, Thorin,’ replied Fornad. ’Yes, I will send my men out into the surrounding woods and hills. If they spot any enemies, it will be relayed fairly quickly back to me. Then we can make a decision on the course of action.’
’The funerals of my men and yours will be soon. I shall retire to my tent for the while.’
Half an hour later ’ Nightfall
Fornad walked slowly out of camp, followed by his silent men in the darkness. As they came closer to the burial site, he could discern fifteen pits, dug hastily in the cold earth. The dwarves already stood there, their ranks disappearing back into the forest all around them. He went to where Thorin stood, stone-faced, at the other side of the graves.
The Rangers and dwarves had formed a long corridor, along which Fornad could see, and he saw torches being struck in the night, and the black-shrouded biers beginning to move forward, each carried by four men or dwarves. Their slow procession seemed to take hours, even though it was but a minute, such was Fornad’s regret and sorrow for his men’s deaths.
The bearers moved around the graves, and gradually lowered their burdens into them. The Rangers took out small sprigs of athelas, lit them from their torches, and cast them down upon the bodies. The dwarves dropped a shard of gemstone into each of the graves, muttered a few words in Dwarvish, and stepped back into the crowd.
It was his time. Fornad stepped forward.
’Berntar, Genad, Haturin, Baliarn, Itraid, Torblan, Dacan, Lauron,’ he recited, keeping his voice steady. ’You have all fallen, in a time of peace, to foes unlooked for. Your spirits fly on, to Eldamar and the Halls of Mandos, and to none know where beyond. We remain here, in mourning.’ He paused. ’But I shall tell you this; something as sure as the sunrise. We shall avenge you! None of the foul creatures whose kin shed your souls shall survive.
You shall be remembered.’
’Remembered,’ echoed the Rangers.
Fornad stepped back, and waited for Thorin to make his speech.
Thorin stepped forward and looked at his dead soldiers. He was in sorrow - angry at himself, even - yet he always found it hard to say a lot on these occasions. After a few minutes of silence he spoke in Khuzdul:
"It is a grief that warrriors who still had so much to live for should pass away so soon. But mourn not much, for they have passed away with honour, and may now sit proudly amongst their fathers in the halls of awaiting. Aul’ wiill find them, and Aul’ will bless them."
"It is likely that we may yet suffer the same fate but it is better to go away with great nobility than to live as thralls and slaves for a lifetime. May they find peace beyond the sea."
Bowing in a final farewell to his warriors, he stepped back into the ranks of men and dwarves.
Fornad bowed his head after the dwarf's speech, then his men and Thorin's dwarves began to bury the bodies. In a few short minutes it was over, and the dwarves began to filter back to the camp, rank by rank, soon followed by the Rangers.
None would sleep easy that night, he knew. The sudden, brutal deaths had affected all of the soldiers.
Except, perhaps, for that new dwarf captain. Fornad had seen him whispering to another dwarf in the service, and knew that his respect to the fallen was not as it should have been. He will prove troublesome in the future, he thought, casting a glance over to where the dwarf walked, grinning and quietly joking with some other of his kin.
Soon enough he arrived back at the camp, now shrouded under a cover of darkness. A few fires were lit as he made his way to his tent, though they were small and shielded from unfriendly eyes. Men and dwarves alike gathered around them, trying to escape from the cold.
He knelt to untie the entrance of his tent; but at that moment there was a cry of alarm from the tall guard-platform at the edge of the camp. With a curse, Fornad got up and raced through the huddled tents to where the shout had come from. Men and dwarves with torches were already thronging around the base, and one had even taken out an axe.
'What's happening up there, soldier?' called Farin into the darkness above.
A helmed head came to the side, visible in the torchlight.
'Sorry for that, sir,' came the reply, sounding slightly abashed. 'A pigeon. With a message, sir. It came at me quick, if you know what I mean. Wasn't expecting it, sir.'
There were a few muffled chuckles from around Fornad.
'That's fine, Ranger,' said Fornad, giving a hard stare to those around him. 'Pass it down.'
A grey-speckled pigeon was thrown from the side, and Fornad gave a few muffled hoots out into the air. The bird circled a few times, then came down to land on the captain's wrist. He pulled out a blotched rag of cloth tied to its leg, and read with difficulty:
Fernud, ther is a big blak dragun in contul! he big and scery! boss is sendung 300 orks, goblens and Uruk-hi as skots. Ther is 10,000 of us, with nasti trols!
Do not riply. - Yur spi. (Wazt no puting name in cese sumon finds wazt letur.)
At the word 'dragon', Fornad had gasped out loud, then had read the rest with a terrible sense of emptiness inside him. He sighed, and passed a hand over his eyes.
'Sir?' asked one of his men, stepping forward. 'What has occured?'
Fornad looked up.
'I cannot tell you now, Calgin,' he replied. 'Later.'
Then a thought flashed through his mind. Thorin! The dwarven leader had to be told!
With a quick nod to Calgin and the rest, he turned and ran back to the billowing scarlet tent in the centre of the camp. Without heed to the door guard, he burst in and confronted Thorin in a rough grey nightgown.
'My lord!' he exclaimed to a bemused dwarf. 'I apologise for coming in at a time like this, but an urgent message has reached us from the Uruk.' He took the letter out and gave it to Thorin.
The horn for lunch sounded. Wazt grunted, and barged out of his tent, running towards the large side of meat hanging over the fire with his stolen knife, but two large goblins grabbed him as he left his tent.
"Double agent!" the goblin shouted.
"We saw you release a pigeon!" the other Goblin hissed, pushing Wazt and catching him off balance. He fell to the frozen earth with a thump.
"Why would I?" Wazt grunted angrily, climbing up.
"We will tell boss!" The first goblin grunted, heading to leave. Wazt whipped out his sword, and in one stroke severed the two goblins' heads.
More careful in future, he told himself, dragging the bodies out of sight and then heading for lunch.
Thorin, recovering from the initial shock of the sudden entrance, took the letter from Fornad wondering incredulously why he was being disturbed at this hour.
A few seconds later his face told another story as the words sunk in. He stood up and paced to and fro in silence for a couple of minutes. His thoughts were wandering back to the ancient history of his race. How often had dragons afflicted them? Their age he had thought had ended with the death of Smaug.
With a heavy sigh he looked up to Fornad.
"This changes all our plans. Indeed we now need to rethink all of our strategy. If the dragon should descend on us so soon we will be ruined. We are in a place which favours it; the forest and all our fortifcation and tents made of wood and cloth."
"We will need, I suppose, to find somewhere safer, preferably with water near us. But I counsel, lord, that the men be told nothing unless we can confirm this. Such dreadful news would badly affect their morale."
"My race is familiar with these beasts and we have suffered grievously from them, but we dwarves will be more ready to face them because of the armor we wear."
"What do you think we should do next?
Fornad nodded as Thorin spoke, but at the last shook his head.
'I feel that here remains the best place,' he said. 'It seems unlikely to me that the dragon would risk its life so early on for so little gain. We are still well sheltered and defended here, and it seems the real threat are these orcs-' he pointed to the part about scouts in the letter '-whose numbers might overwhelm us if we do not have a strategy and a main outpost.'
An irresistible smell of meaty stew had reached Fornad from outside, and he shook himself to get rid of the temptation to run out and get some. Supper could wait.
'What do you say, lord?' he asked.
"Having a strategy and an outpost will not be sufficient if we do not receive any help. Whatever plan we will contrive for the present must be to gain time."
Thorin paced to and fro as he continued.
"We must avoid being discovered at all costs. If the enemy gets to know of where we are they will come down on us too soon, before we are ready to meet their threat."
"In the morning we must organise a system for scouting parties. All the lands around us must be kept under constant watch. No one can discover where we are or what our numbers are!"
"Other plans will have to wait, captain. For now, I will take your leave and visit my dwarves on the other side of the camp."
Bowing to Fornad, Thorin left his tent and went outside.
Fornad watched Thorin go, then waited for a while, looking around the dimly lit interior of the dwarven tent. A brooding presence seemed to filter into him as he looked at the dark tapestries, but with a snort he shook himself and went out into the far cooler night air.
The looming, thin silhouettes of the pines stretched out across the camp, the moonlight illuminating tents and shying away from the bright, crackling fires that burned here and there. Men and dwarves sat around them, talking amiably and eating with one other.
At least they're getting along, Fornad thought to himself. That Barhun doesn't seem to have dimmed their spirits.
But the captain felt in no mood to eat. The news of the dragon had shaken him, thrown him even further into the abyss of hopelessness that he now found himself in. Nine hundred. That was all he had against ten thousand.
If only Gondor could come...
It was too late now. Fornad bowed his head, darkness covering his face, and went to his tent.
Wazt woke up the next morning, his tent constantly barged by orcs running past. He heard shouts and roars, and headed for the entrance flap of his tent. The large clearing in the centre of the camp was being flooded by the scout party. He stepped outside, and was abruptly knocked into a large crowd by a couple of goblins. The black dragon was circling above, stirring its troops into a frenzy of bloodlust and it shot jets of flame into the air. It began to circle lower down, and the huge draft from its wings put out the camp-fire moments before it landed on it. The entire camp-site went quiet, and Wazt climbed up onto a rock to watch.
"Our invasion is about to begin!" the dragon roared in their minds.
"The first of our scout parties, led by Captain Raghat of the Ironclaws, is departing!"
A huge goblin, wielding a long, serrated sword near the gate roared, and a group of around three hundred goblins and orcs who surrounded him raised their own weapons and cheered. Moments later, the rest of the army began to bellow and shout in excitement, until the dragon roared again. It flapped its wings a few times and soared into the sky, circling the campsite again.
"For Angmar!" yelled the goblin, raising his sword.
"For Angmar!" the army roared back, raising their own swords. The dragon swept over the campsite and into the north, releasing a huge jet of flame from between its jaws.
The scouts then all turned, and headed towards the gate. Wazt snuck back into his tent, and grabbed his crossbow. He then left, and ran towards the large wooden fence, and climbed to the top. He watched the soldiers leave, and got a rough estimate of how many archers and warriors there were with them, along with a few wargs.
After a few hours of watching their sky, he saw their pigeon, and pulled out a fletched dart, smearing a concoction he had haggled from goblins from the Withered Heath earlier onto it. Moments later, he fired, and it collapsed a few hundred metres from the gate.
He jumped down from the fence, and saw the orcs, goblins and Uruks slowly head back to what they had been doing. An orc knocked into him from behind, and Wazt grabbed him by the neck.
"Oi, orc, why is weak coward orc in Wazt’s way?" Wazt demanded, pushing him against the wooden wall.
"Sorry!" grunted the orc, trying to get out from under Wazt's grip.
"Orc should go with scout cowards!" Wazt continued, punching the orc.
"I am sorry! It’s only sending them out to look around. No fighting!" the orc replied.
"You are useless anyway!" Wazt shouted, knocking the orc out and then walking into the guard tower.
‘Any more after this?’ he asked a guard-orc, who was watching the scouts leave.
"There’ll be two more scout parties, one lead by Argigoth of the White-Hand and the other by Yakgnath of Mount Gundabad," the orc said.
"Sign up for them! Gundabad Goblins are stupid anyway," Wazt said, kicking open another door in the guard tower.
It was that night. As soon as most of the forces had gone back to their tents, he snuck out of his, and headed to the gate. The entrance was guarded, so he went around the two guards, and knocked them both out with a two punches without a sound. He pulled on one of their helmets, and ran through. The pigeon was still paralysed, and it had rolled down the small hill that was a few metres from the gate.
He grabbed it and went back to his tent. As soon as he got back in, he dipped a leaf in the antidote, and wiped it where the arrow had hit the pigeon, reviving it. He pulled out a piece of cloth, and then picked up his quill.
"Stupid Ranger give Wazt not enough paper!" Wazt grumbled, dipping the feather in some more orc-blood. He began to scribble on the paper.
The Skots hav hedid wist i think. ter is mosly goblens, a few orks and wergs. ter is also an big capten, wich I havunt noteced befur. Ter is alsow tuw mur grups of skots, heding in difrent places.
~ Yur Spi
He tied it around the pigeon's leg, and walked outside. He threw it into the air, and went back inside, and heard it fly away.
The voice came to Fornad in his dreams as if far away, muffled.
’Sir! You must wake!’
This was clearer. He grunted and rolled over. After a few moments of confusion, he dimly recognised the voice as belonging to Harnol.
’What is it?’ he mumbled.
’Lord Thorin and his captains call for a meeting to discuss plans in his pavilion,’ said Harnol from outside his tent. ’They wait for you to begin.’
Fornad drew his hand through his hair, slowly sat up and winced. A thousand aches had slowly worked their way into his muscles during the night. His eyes cracked open reluctantly, revealing his messy tent interior dimly lit by the filtered morning light.
’I’m coming, Harnol,’ he said, pulling on a rough tunic and loose hose.
’Very good, my Lord,’ replied Harnol.
After a few minutes, Fornad crawled outside, his hands reaching bare earth and needles. The sudden sunlight made him wince.
’I’m ready.’ he said to the attentive lieutenant, standing up and brushing down his clothes.
’Then let us go. These dwarves are not a patient folk.’
The two Rangers quickly made their way through the tents and trees, passing men and dwarves quietly eating their breakfast. Fornad’s men saluted to him as he went by, and he gave a brief smile and nod back. As he looked around, Fornad noticed that the dwarves had started to continue the construction of the tall wooden barricades. He nodded to himself in approval, then went to the entrance flap of Thorin’s pavilion.
’That captain Barhun has not arrived as of yet, my Lord,’ Harnol quickly whispered to him before they stepped inside.
’I will be wary of him.’
The atmosphere in the tent was a little cooler than the night before. Thorin and his assorted captains and advisors stood around the central map-table. Fornad and Harnol bowed to them, and came forward.
’Greetings, Thorin, Lord of Moria, who serves King Durin the Seventh,’ said Fornad. ’My lieutenant, Harnol, a man who you know of already, is here also. I trust I find your lordship in good health and spirits?’
Thorin looked up gravely to Fornad.
"Greetings, captain. I am as well as I can be in the present situation. Before you arrived my generals and I were discussing several ideas. We have been able to agree on several major points, as now we will lay them before you and your lieutenant."
"Oh! And before we start, have you seen Barhun? He is the dwarf with whom, shall we say, you had a rather unfortunate incident. I haven't seen him for a while. In any case he was told that we would be carrying out this meeting, and if he is not present, then that is his own fault," Thorin said in a calm voice, though his face betrayed his anger towards his subordinate.
One of the dwarves stood up and brought a large map of the northen regions. Harnol recognised it as the one he had seen before, in the camp south of Bree.
"We are here," Thorin pointed to the hills beyond Fornost. "And I deem that the enemy is somewhere between the Ettenmoors and the Northern Arm of the Misty Mountains. It is a strategic advantage for them, because a host big enough to challenge then for battle will have to circle the hills of the Ettenmoors and concealment is impossible."
"But that is not our main concern," he continued. "We need scouts on the Weather Hills and the lands to the north and east of our position. The enemy may yet send small parties to these parts and if they are not spied out in time, who knows what damage they might do to us and to the locals? We do not know the lands around well. If you agree with our plans, captain,then..."
The dwarven Lord was interrupted in the midst of his speech by his tent flap being violently tossed aside. In came Barhun. He took a single look at Fornad and Harnol and rudely shouted:
"What are you doing here? This is a dwarven council and men such as yourself have no place here. Go to wait outside! I will not tolerate such-"
"Barhun!" Thorin roared, cutting short the dwarf in the midst of his insults. All the men and dwarves who were having breakfast outside were startled, and stared at Thorin's tent. They were shocked when they saw Barhun roughly thrown out by the scuff of his collar with a very angry Thorin behind him.
"How dare you disrupt my Council and insult our allies?" he spoke in a low, daunting tine. "Your ill manners have reached their peak and you shall suffer my wrath. Whatever rank you may be, you aren't beyond my authority!"
He signaled to two of his guards. "Throw this fool in his tent and let him lie there for two days until he is himself again!"
Taking several deep breaths, he turned back inside and apologised to Fornad. "I hope you will forgive me for this, captain. I have no fitting word to describe my embarrassment. If you wish for it, let us go back and continue with the council."
'Let us continue,' said Fornad, watching the cursing Barhun being dragged away by two dwarven guards. 'The meeting is too important to be broken by an insubordinate.'
Thorin nodded, and as they went back inside to the waiting dwarves Fornad spoke to him under his breath.
'If he should do anything of the sort again, I should take him down to a private. You cannot afford to have captains you mistrust.'
Thorin nodded to Fornad, and then spoke to the council.
"I am sorry for that incident," he said. "But such bickering cannot march on our meeting. Let us forget what has just happened, and continue with our plan."
"I have already made clear our concerns earlier, but there is an even greater piece of information that must be told. This news is only know so far by myself and Fornad," Thorin spoke with a nod towards Fornad.
"But that news must be known only to us here or we run the risk of upsetting our own plans."
Thorin paced to and fro slowly, and held the eyes of all those present for a few seconds to make sure they got his orders.
"Alas my friends, it seems that Smaug was not the last Great Wyrm in Middle Earth. The northern army is led by another of this dreadful breed!"
Those present stared at Thorin in disbelief and after several moments a babble of voices rose from the captains.
"This changes everything," one of Thorin's lieutenants spoke out. "What will happen if the troops get to know of this?"
"Peace!" the dwarven Lord spoke, raising one hand. "This news must not be known of by our warriors, for it will badly affect their morale. It is for this reason that I urge that scout parties be sent out today itself to the various watch points in the North Downs. We must have an early warning if that cursed beast rises against us."
"We dwarves have a long history with these beasts and can resist their fire to a certain extent, but unaided we are no match for them. But these things we will leave for later. Our main concern now is to have an effective scouting system in place."
"What does Captain Fornad have to say to that?"
"I agree that scouts must be sent out," said Fornad. "However, we should not send them too far. Any warning of the dragon coming to our camp would be far too late; dragons fly quickly, and even a Dunadan could not outpace one on foot.
"That brings me to the real, and far more imminent matter of the scouting parties that the horde has sent to clear the hills. It is very likely that they will find us here, and fighting them - while our numbers may be more than each party and our skill far greater - will result in deaths, and we need to keep those to a minimum if any of us are to survive this."
The dwarven captains talked amongst themselves for a few moments, then a brown-bearded, stout dwarf to the left spoke.
"So how, Captain, do you propose to fight them in such a manner? I do not like to say it, but my dwarves would much rather stand and fight to the death instead of... crouching behind walls and locked gates like cowards."
Fornad clenched his jaw for a moment.
"I understand what you mean. Believe me, the Dunedain are not a cowardly folk. For generations, we have fought for freedom and peace, with not a thought to fear, pain, or even our own lives. But you must think rationally. From what the Uruk has told us-"
"Like you can trust an orc-"
"-their total number triples ours," Fornad continued, ignoring the remark. "Fighting them in open battle would only lead to many deaths, and the end of our hopes. But fighting them strategically will work." He paused. "My voice grows weary. My lord Thorin, do you have any proposals for tactics in these battles?"
Posted for Thorin after a long while of no posts.
’I have thought over it for a while,’ said Thorin, ’and I think that I do have the beginnings of a plan.’
The other dwarves became attentive.
’As the captain says, we want to keep casualties to a minimum. So I propose an ambush.’
Some of the dwarves nodded, but one coughed as if to speak.
’Yes, Rakd’l?’ said Thorin.
’Lord,’ said the red-bearded dwarf, holding his fist to his breastplate in a sign of respect, ’not to go against your thoughts, but the advantage of an ambush can only last so long. Even though we will succeed, our losses will still figure above fifty, perhaps more, if we attack a force of three hundred with nine hundred warriors.’
’Your point is well-made, Rakd’l, and I would be a fool to ignore it,’ said Thorin. ’However, my plan does not finish there. Once we have made the ambush, and once the beasts begin to reform and to fight back, we retreat back to the camp. Fornad’s rangers and our axe-throwers will keep them at bay, and once we all get back to the camp, they will take down the brutes from a distance, on top of the barricade we are now building.’
There were murmurs of assent from around the tent.
’Good,’ said Thorin. He looked at Fornad. ’Do you know how far away the raiding parties are from us now?’
’They’re not far,’ said Fornad. ’It is fortunate that this meeting has been resolved quickly, since I must send scouts out to watch for them. The battle will take place by tommorow evening at the very latest.’
’Then I must make my men work harder,’ said Nain, captain of the military craftsmen and builders that were creating the fortifications. ’Though I am confident that they will be finished by then.’
’Good,’ replied Fornad. ’Is there any more to be said?’
A few shook their heads.
’Then I must leave and command my men. Good day.’ Fornad touched his forehead with two fingers and then held it out to the room in a dwarven gesture of parting, and then left the tent. Harnol came after him.
’The situation was well dealt with, my captain,’ said his second-in-command as they walked through the camp.
’The dark-bearded dwarf ’ what was his name? ’ Barhun,’ said Fornad, ducking under a branch, ’he must be watched in the future. I am not sure Thorin understands the full effect of what that dwarf could do within the short space of time.’
’What could he do?’ asked Harnol, lowering his voice so as not to let their conversation be heard by a group of passing dwarves. ’Full command has passed over to Thorin. Barhun only commands a small force of his own people now, the Blacklocks, from the eastern Iron Hills.’
’And is that clan not known to be a vicious group?’ he asked. ’I have heard stories of them tearing the arms of goblins off with their bare hands. We should not underestimate them. And I feel that he alone could quite easily turn the hearts of the soldiers against Thorin.’
Harnol said nothing, but Fornad saw that he was troubled.
’But we cannot think of these things now,’ he said. ’Come. Bring the best scouts from amongst our men to me. I have to give them their orders.’
Harnol nodded and went from his captain’s side into the camp. Fornad watched him go, then looked to the fortifications, where a platform was being raised for archers.
Tommorow would be a hard day.
Aragorn looked out from the flap of his tent. The air was cool, and snow-capped mountains stood high on the horizon, but he wasn’t interested in the view. He watched from the tall promontory his tent was situated on, looking at the large camp spread out below him. Soldiers marched in files throughout the camp. Some were training, while others listened to their sergeants and captains giving orders. It was a well-ordered camp, and while Aragorn was happy with it, he knew that their numbers might not be enough to totally overwhelm the enemy in the north, as he had once hoped. Much of his armies were fighting in the south, laying siege to Umbar and other places in Harad as they tried to subdue the wild southern lands to Gondor’s will.
Turning back from the horizon, he went inside his tent. His son Eldarion sat in a chair, poring over some old maps of the north. At the back of the tent was a cushioned throne, with Andúril leaning against it in its sheath.
‘How are you?’ he asked, looking over his son’s shoulder. The prince had placed markers on some of the cities and towns of the north, and was laying pieces of string between them. Aragorn knew well that his son had a better strategic mind than some of his generals, and also knew that most of the plan would already have been made in his head, even though they were still in Anórien.
‘I’m well,’ he said, turning to his father. ‘How many more have come today?’
‘Two hundred from Tarnost, six hundred and fifty from Lamedon and a hundred from Linhir,’ he replied. ‘I fear that more from further west will not be able to reach us in time. We must depart within the next few days.’
‘Lamedon?’ asked Eldarion. ‘I thought that they were farmers. Why haven’t the knights of Dol Amroth come?’
‘Dol Amroth is still yet too far, even for cavalry,’ said Aragorn. ‘And do not be too dismissive of the folk of Lamedon. Many of them fought in the War, and many returned. They are a strong people.’
‘I’m sorry, father,’ he said. After a moment, he said: ‘What about the Rohirrim? Have they answered your messenger?’
‘Not yet,’ he said. ‘Though when we pass through Rohan and by Edoras, we should pick up many. Éomer is too hot-blooded to pass up the chance of a battle.’
He smiled at the memory of his friend.
‘But come. Soon we must move, lest the north be overrun. The Ranger and his company cannot be expected to stop any kind of advance by that army, if the numbers are as he suggested.’
Eldarion agreed, and turned back to his map for a while.
Aragorn went back to the flap of his tent, opened it, and walked outside. The wind blew in his hair as he watched yet another small force of men come in through the entrance of the camp.
Will there be enough? he thought with a heavy heart.
Aragorn's son's name is Eldarion I think, not Etharion.