|About Us News Resources Login Become a member Help Search|
The Dunedain, after weeks on the Road and in the Wild, were accustomed to the hardships of the trek they undertook. Even so, the toll was mounting on man and beast, to say nothing of their goods and stores. The water casks were refilled at every point where water was found. Cows and oxen pulled the carts and wagons, and could graze anywhere along the road, and the horses as well; but these only added to the stores of animal fodder already aboard the wagons. But the food for the folk was running critically low, even with the end of the trek in sight. Here was where the aid of the Elves came strongest, for food and fodder by the horse-load arrived at each encampment, of a virtue that nourished the weary travelers and gave the strength to go on.
But it was the carts and wagons where the damage was greatest felt. One wain had been lost in the fight before Weathertop, and that had been a blow enough. But as the journey went forward, more of the carts began cracking under the strain and the uncounted leagues they traveled. Wheels broke, axles cracked, and harnesses tore from their mountings. Items were patched and repaired, and patched over the first patches in several places, until the original material was gone and only the patches remained.
Still, the flight of the Dunedain wore on, the weary miles beating away beneath trudging feet and pounding hooves. Few complained, none bitterly so, nor did any speak against the wisdom of Galador and the resolve of his Rangers. Highest held in the esteem and the hopes of the folk was young Halrohir, the hero of Weathertop and a constant sight on the road, showing steel will astride the mightiest horse in the North. Even a few of the Elves were heard to remark about the young Dunadan who rode the unridden horse with the enchanted size and strength.
This day’s march saw the caravan leave on time before the sun rose, and miles down the Road covered before misfortune befell. The trailing wain driven by Angbrand threw a rear wheel and came crashing down, digging a great furrow into the earth and dumping part of its load onto the side of the Road. Several turned back to help, and a call was passed up the caravan line. Angbrand, recovering from the head wound due to Dorwin’s care, still did not chance trying to repair the wain himself, but wisely waited for help to arrive. Help soon came, as Halrohir and Cambeleg came riding down the line, coming to a stop and dismounting to see the damage themselves.
“If it were just the wheel, we’d be on our way shortly”, Angbrand said, “as we can repair it quickly. But see here, the axle has splintered when the wheel flew off. Even if we took off half the load, the axle couldn’t bear up. And to hew a new axle will take a long time. We have the tools to do it, but not the hours.”
“Then stop talking and start hewing,” Halrohir glowered. “Every minute you spend talking is a minute you could be fashioning the new axle. I’ll get you all the help you need.”
“And how are we supposed to get the wain back onto the Road?” Angbrand said hotly. “The axle has dug into the turf, and it’s already leaning too far over.”
Halrohir looked at the wain, then at Angbrand and said, “I always have an idea, haven’t you gotten that into your head yet? Maybe they don’t always work, but I always have ideas. Gather your tools and your people, I’ll see to the wain.” And as Angbrand called out to others to fetch what he needed, Halrohir looked long at the wain, then at Morindal, and smiled.
“What is in your head, Ranger?” Cambeleg said, seeing the look.
“As I said, an idea. Find us some ropes from the wain and see.” Halrohir grabbed Morindal’s reins and eased him up to straddle the broken axle. Cambeleg passed the ropes over the horse’s saddle, and Halrohir laced it around the axle then back up to the saddle. He handed one running end of the rope to Cambeleg, who by this time was smiling as he realized what the young Ranger was about to do.
Halrohir then grabbed large rocks and branches from the sides of the road and began stacking them under the axle. Nodding to Cambeleg, the Elf pulled the ropes taught, and Halrohir shoved a rock under the axle with each pull, lifting with his shoulder as well. Slowly, inch by inch, the wain began to rise, with Morindal being the prop needed to bear the weight. The axle cleared the furrow it had dug and was drawing nearer to being level again.
“There, I can find no more stones for leverage,” Halrohir said, “so now we must move. Cambeleg, lead the draft animal, I shall lead Morindal. We must ease the whole wain back up onto the roadbed. Call when you are ready.” Cambeleg moved to the front, while Halrohir whispered to Morindal, “Just walk forward, Morindal, just walk and pull this load. We are rescuing people, not hauling for them. We must get this back on the way, or some of the folk will die. Now, you walking appetite, pull!”
Morindal lowered his head as if dragging a heavy load behind him. His legs were stout and firm, his back even, bearing a load no normal horse could ever hope. Step by step, the entire partially-loaded wain lifted out of the ditch and back up onto the roadbed. It was at that moment that Angbrand and his work party returned, seeing the great black stallion lifting the impossible load. Halrohir and Cambeleg brought the animals to a stop, and Angbrand and his party dashed in to unfasten the broken axle and install the new. All the time they worked, Morindal silently bore the weight of the wain and its cargo, watching the frantic motions of the men working as fast as they could.
At last, the axle was fixed, a wedge lever beneath the axle so the wheel could be re-mounted, and Morindal finally released from his makeshift harness. Halrohir led him away from the working party and looked the great black over. He showed not a sign of strain or stress, in fact the horse looked around as if asking if there was more to do. Halrohir laughed and produced two apples from his bag, offering one to the horse and biting into the second.
“Another feat of strength, you big heap”, he said to the horse. “You’re becoming the legend you deserve to be.” And Halrohir hugged the black horse’s neck, with Morindal returning the embrace by pulling him closer with his muzzle. A crunching sound broke the embrace, when Halrohir pulled away laughing, for he saw the horse had simply brought him close enough to reach the second apple!
Even with the broken axle delay, the wains caught up into their formation and resumed the march in good order. The sun was just past noon when a pair of Elven scouts came galloping wildly from the west calling for Cambeleg, not even reining up when they drew even with Angbrand, who waved them on to the head of the column. Only when they found the lead wain did they slow, others riding up to hear the news. They spoke rapidly and desperately in the Elven-tongue, and Cambeleg’s eyes widened, then he turned to the Rangers.
“News of woe! The Last Bridge has been thrown down by the enemy! They brought with them some devilry of Saruman, a blasting fire that shook the very ground. The scouts describe a terrible roar, then smoke and flame; they saw stones from the Bridge go flying. The whole center span of the Bridge is in rubble and is choking the stream, turning it into a rough ford, impassable by wheels of any kind.
“When the Bridge fell, the enemy poured across in force, and swept all the defense away. The last thing the scouts saw was a force of half-orcs leaping from stone to stone, and worse: Wargs were in their company, and they’re pounding east along the Road like the wind!”
“How far back before they lost them?” Halrohir said.
“Not a league or more, such was their speed,” Cambeleg said.
Halrohir reacted without thought. “Riders, to me! To the rear and prepare for battle! The Enemy is upon us!” To Galador, he said “I and these shall stall the pursuit. Please, Captain, urge the folk on to greater speed. Cambeleg, tell your people to scout ahead and make sure that camp is secure. Riders, Go!” And spurring Morindal, he sped away at a gallop to meet the approaching Warg-riders, a dozen or so riders in his wake including Ercolindo and Cormadin, and Cenion and Meldor joining them. Galador looked back, shaking his head at Halrohir’s rashness, but passed the orders to make haste and why. The Dunedain caravan began creeping along the Road at a faster pace, not panicked but determined.
Halrohir and his riders thundered west along the Road, husbanding their mounts’ strength for the time needed. Rising in his stirrups, Halrohir used Morindal’s great height to spy out ahead, and there moving toward them rapidly was a host of Warg-riders about twice their number. Halrohir gave his party orders and turned off the road slightly to use a fold in the land to their advantage. Just as the Warg-riders topped a rise in the road, the Rangers exploded from their hiding place at a full gallop, spears set and swords out. Halrohir and Cormadin led a column of twos that roared straight into the enemy line, shattering them into two groups. The Dunedain riders clove through the Warg-riders, rode out about fifty yards, peeled into two groups and wheeled and charged again.
The shock of the sudden onset had thrown the half-orcs into confusion, but the Dunedain gave them no chance to organize as they came upon them again. They formed up to meet the charge, only to see the terror of the great black stallion and his dark rider bearing down upon them, both horse and rider bellowing as they came. The charge worked, and the half-orcs could not mount a counter-charge of their own. The fighting became hand-to-hand, spear to spear and sword to sword. Staying mounted was life, anyone who fought on foot was ridden down by the other side. Many of the half-orcs had fallen, but so did a few of the Dunedain who stayed on their feet. Halrohir rode in circles, trying to offer the dismounted men some protection from charging Wargs.
But the half-orcs had cunning as well. They realized that the great dark rider was the core of the defense and fought to bring him down. What they did not count on was Morindal’s tremendous strength and Halrohir’s mindless battle-rage. Man and mount fought with an unmatched fury, Halrohir’s sword flailing left and right, Morindal’s hooves striking anything in range. When twenty or more of the enemy had fallen, they fled back west along the Road, the Dunedain moving across the field killing any wounded half-orc and Warg they found.
The Dunedain took stock in the cost of the sharp fight. Twenty-four of the half-orcs were dead upon the field, along with nineteen Wargs. Of the fourteen Dunedain that Halrohir led into battle, six were wounded, two lay dead, and three horses were slain. Cormadin was cradling his shield-arm, a savage cut leaking with blood. Ercolindo’s cloak was slashed to ribbons as he used it as a shield, but his sword-arm bled from multiple small cuts.
A cry from Cenion called Halrohir to his side. There in his arms lay Meldor, a mass of gore from where a Warg’s jaws wrapped around his torso as he fought unhorsed. Halrohir looked over the blood and the torn clothing and flesh, keeping his face impassive but in turmoil beneath.
“Is… is this… our parting, my captain?” Meldor weakly asked.
“You are not given leave to go,” Halrohir said with mock seriousness. “All you need is a bath and a change of clothes, and then I expect you back in the saddle. Get the wounded mounted,” he said to the others, “Meldor shall ride with me, if Morindal will allow. We can do nothing for the dead, just leave them – but strip all of weapons. Make ready to ride.” They helped Meldor to his feet, only to learn that Morindal was hopelessly too tall for the wounded man to ride. Cenion offered to do it and took Meldor before him.
The party rode off at a reduced pace, but still fast enough to overtake the Dunedain column while it was still daylight. Halrohir reined up next to Angbrand and called for healers to tend the wounded in the wain while he rode forward to find Galador and report. But when he found the old Ranger, Galador was livid.
“You took all of them into battle head on, against numbers you didn’t know!? What were you thinking! You led our strongest into a small fight, which could have developed into an ambush, and then what? All my lieutenants, not just you, would have been dead! Your rashness will be our undoing – not yours, but ours as well!”
“The way to stop a snarling dog is to smack its nose”, Halrohir countered, “and we just gave them pause to think before striking us again. I just bought us time, Captain, where we might make it over the Fords before their main force arrives.”
“And do you know where their main force is, Lieutenant? We are relying on the Elves for scouting and even though I’m not ungrateful, we still have yet to hear anything useful.”
“I will tell you what we know already. We know they’re using Warg-scouts, as well as outriders. We know they have Saruman’s devices to use against us, but how long does it take to launch them? If that beacon fire the other night shows where their weapons are, then we know how fast their march will be. Yes, they are less than half a day behind us, and if we halt for camp in the night, they’ll come down on us in the night, and it will make Weathertop look like a child’s brawl.”
“Then, what would the son of Haladan do that I, the Captain of the Ride, would not think of?”
“We march on, through the night, and arrive at the Fords as the sun rises. As the Captain has said, I am the only Lieutenant left standing, so to repair the fault falls upon my shoulders.”
“No, Halrohir, I forbid it! The folk are weary after two forced marches and after the news of the attack at the Bridge, their morale is as thin as a bride’s veil. Fear is slowing them once again.”
“Then let fear spur them on! They will move when the Warg howls, we simply keep them to the Road, and keep the enemy off it until the Fords.”
“Halrohir, you’re mad! Governing the people by fear of attack – “
“An attack that cost us lives, that’s not fear, that’s a threat! And it’s a threat I am working to protect them from!”
“Please, Dunedain, stay these words! I bear news!” Cambeleg called out as he rode up. The Elf reined up next to the wain, walking alongside as they rode.
“The Fords of Bruinen were held against us: I say were, because the force of the enemy left there has been routed and driven off. Halrohir’s fears were right; the scouts we had set to watch the Fords were overborne by the foe. But our own force coming west out of Imladris fell upon their meager garrison and scattered them. We have retaken the Fords and now hold them in strength.”
“Cambeleg, how many did you see?” Halrohir asked.
“We counted thirty of the half-orcs dead,” the Elf replied, “with only the loss of four Elves to their credit. Their weapons are no match for ours, and they have few archers to be seen. In that, you have the advantage.”
“So, thirty by your hand, twenty-four by mine”, Halrohir reckoned, “and we slew thirty or more at Weathertop. If your reckoning is firm, Cambeleg, between us they have lost a third of their troops.”
“And, as your Captain has said, you cannot afford the loss of a single man, dead or wounded,” Cambeleg replied, “for the wounded will slow you further. Your fighting strength is hurt worse than theirs. But there is hope, because you have not only the strength of your people to reckon with. The Elves of Rivendell stand with you, and this is our counsel: there must be no more Dunedain patrols away from the main body of the caravan. Only Elven-scouts and riders should go forth into the Wild. Stay to your course, and halt at the guarded camp we have prepared for you. Tomorrow the Dunedain shall cross the Fords in safety, and your journey shall end in one more day.”
Galador weighed these words in silence, glancing at Halrohir, then back to Cambeleg. “If such is your counsel, then it seems good. Have your guides bring our people in. I shall urge as early a departure come the dawn as can be contrived.” Cambeleg nodded and wheeled around to ride off.
Galador and Halrohir rode on in silence, each staring forward without a word. Galador was first to break the silence. “So, Ranger, though you have passed the Trials and earned your star, you still have lessons. What was your mistake this day? And son, look at your actions, not with a mirror, but with a glass.”
Halrohir recognized this as a lesson from the Trials, for to look at your mistakes in the mirror still shows only you – but to look through the window, through the glass, you are seeing it through another’s eyes and not your own. “I led our men into a fight, thinking it was only ourselves to be relied upon, forgetting our allies who watch the flanks as well.”
“Just so. Focusing on the fight before you is right. Failing to focus on the fight around you is not so right. There will come a time when you shall be alone, Halrohir. This is not one of those times. Try to remember that.”
“Now, I see the time to leave the Road is upon us. I want off this buckboard, and onto the ground again. That Elvish bread does fortify you.” Galador steered the wain across the Road and into the brush beyond, and the rest of the caravan followed him in. The day had been done.
|<< Back||Next >>|
|Home Search Chapter List|