3. Chapter 3
"My lord Steward," Aragorn said, crossing the room and bowing his head towards Ecthelion and then towards his son. "My lord Denethor."
Denethor made no reply, merely pursing his lips and turning back to the map. "I feel, father, that in this plan lies folly. We do not know that we can rout the Orcs."
"Battle plans are not made by feelings, my son," Ecthelion responded. "This is our best hope. Thorongil?"
Aragorn came and stood around the map spread out on a table, some of the other advisors standing back to make way for him. Looking at the plan, he saw it was of North Ithilien, the land nearest to the Land of Shadow, still, but barely, under Gondor's control.
"Orcs," Ecthelion said. "Last night, they invaded the woods and have caught my men unawares. I intend to send reinforcements today and engage them in battle till they are gone." He pointed with his fingers. "We can attack from here, and here. Will you go?"
Aragorn gazed at the map. "How many men are there already?" he asked.
"A hundred, perhaps."
"And how many are you proposing to send, my lord?"
"Another fifty, or maybe a hundred. As many as we can horse."
Aragorn frowned, and bent closer to the map. "This is forest?"
"Deciduous," one of the advisors said. "Quite dense."
"Then I would send fewer men," Aragorn said, "and choose those with some experience of warfare in the wild. Your hope, my lord steward, is to catch the Orcs without them being aware of our presence. Archers, but men capable of wielding a sword too. I would come upon them from this direction, and from this one," he pointed out the areas on the map.
"Father, this is ridiculous!" Denethor burst out. "Strength in numbers is our hope. We should crush the Orcs. Even then I doubt we can completely do this, but more chance lies in sending as many men as possible."
Ecthelion eyed Aragorn. "You have experience on horseback, Thorongil, we know that; but what of your knowledge of forested land?"
"My lord, I was raised in the North," Aragorn said. "The Northern people," he continued, choosing his words carefully, "are skilled in hunting in woodland, and I have some of that skill. And I know Orcs do not. They delight in crushing all life, but we must work with the forest and not against it."
"It is settled then," Ecthelion said. "I will select the men to travel with you, and you will leave as soon as the horses and provisions are ready."
"When you near Ithilien," an advisor said, "send a runner to our forces already there."
Ecthelion grasped Aragorn's hand. "Fare well, and may the luck of the Valar go with you. Return swiftly."
Aragorn assented with a nod, and then bowed. "My lords."
Once in his chambers, he began to pack the small amount of things he would need. Before long the order came to see to the horses, and a short while after that the other twenty men selected by Ecthelion arrived at the stables. Some of them were clad in the green and brown favoured by those who served in Ithilien, but a small number had come in the silver and sable of the Tower, and Aragorn sent them away to change into duller clothing that would blend into the countryside. The others he set to checking the horses, and before long, the company had set out.
The Steward had sent a number of men knowledgeable of Ithilien, and as they rode, Aragorn talked to these and before nightfall he felt that he had a workable battle plan in his mind. That night they slept by Anduin, taking it in turns to watch.
They rose early and were riding before sunrise, and before the sun was high in the sky had reached the beginnings of the forested part of North Ithilien. Aragorn halted the company and bade them tether their steeds in a sheltered, hidden clearing, where he set two men to guard them. The rest he told to leave the heavy items of their packs, keeping only essential food and water, and take their weapons, and briefly he outlined the route they would take and their means of attack.
In the forest, the temperature was cool and moist, and birdsong filled the air. It was a peaceful place, and as Aragorn softly led the way he reflected that the woods of Ithilien resembled more than anything else the green valleys around Imladris. But he pushed the pang of nostalgia away and centred his mind and his senses on the environment around him.
After a short distance, he came upon tracks, and signalled for the company to stop. They did so, immediately and silently, and he bent to the earth to examine the prints. There were several, large, heavy, and the branches around were broken and bent. Some had been slashed at by a blade. Aragorn narrowed his eyes at the evidence; Orcs had been this way. He beckoned to his men and softly they followed him as he tracked the prints onwards through the wood.
They walked for perhaps an hour, not one man speaking a word, until Aragorn thought he heard voices ahead. He halted the group again and crept on, gliding as noiselessly as he could through the trees, using all his skill. Peering through branches, he saw an encampment of Orcs. The trees had been hacked to pieces for fuel, and they were burning the wood and roasting some meat. Aragorn did not pause to wonder what their food was, but counted the number and then turned and made his way back to his company.
The attack was simpler than he had hoped. He and his company formed a circle around the Orcs, keeping downwind of them as long as possible, and then silently, with a gesture, Aragorn ordered the assault and a rain of arrows met the Orcs from above. About half of them fell; the others, startled, jumped up and looked around, speaking in their harsh variation of the Common Tongue. Aragorn ordered another volley of arrows and another ten of the Orcs fell, reducing their group to only a score. Taking a deep breath, Aragorn swept out his sword from the sheath.
"Now!" he cried, and taking no more heed for stealth, he ran down the slight slope into the clearing and set to. Behind him, he felt rather than saw his men follow him, and the battle was now joined. Man and Orc fought, the Orcs with their curved blades and the Gondorian forces with their long broadswords, metal hitting metal. Aragorn ducked a slicing blow and countered it with one of his own, taking off the Orc's head, and now getting into the rhythm of the fight. He heard a scream in the clear voice of a Man, and grimaced, but did not let the sound stop his own fight.
In a short while, though it seemed an Age, the fight was over. Looking around, Aragorn saw that all the Orcs were dead, and that two of his men lay still on the ground. Another four or so appeared to be badly injured. He wiped his sword on his coat and sheathed it, before crossing to the injured men and bending to tend their wounds. His companions who were unscathed moved around the clearing piling the Orc corpses into a heap and collecting weapons and arrows.
He sent two men back to the encampment with the four badly injured men, leaving him a group of a dozen, and after they had eaten and drunk, they continued through the forest.
As the afternoon wore on, Aragorn found more tracks indicating the presence of Orcs, and they shot five of the creatures, unwary and alone, before darkness fell. That night they made camp in a clearing, and took it in turns to watch. Aragorn's hour passed slowly and uneventfully, as he sat with his legs stretched out, gazing into the darkness.
In the morning they pressed onwards, and caught another trail leading to a group of twelve or thirteen Orcs ahead of them. Knowing his company's weaknesses now, Aragorn set five of them to circle ahead of the enemy, and kept the other six with him, tracking noiselessly behind. When he judged they were close enough to the Orcs, who made a racket as they pressed on, he ordered the attack with a whistle.
The five men ahead let loose a volley of arrows and Aragorn's rearguard did the same, and several of the Orcs lay dead. The others turned, snarling, and with a cry of "Elendil!" Aragorn rushed them.
This second battle was briefer and kinder than the first, slaying the Orcs and leaving no men dead. Mixed with the tiredness on his company's faces, Aragorn saw elation, and he used the adrenalin to keep the group going. He had lost one of the men who had served before in Ithilien during the first attack, but now he walked close by another and ascertained their route onwards. They joined a stream running gently and musically down a slope, and after a while came upon a narrow but distinct track.
After an hour's walking, they paused, and the Ithilien veteran hooted twice like an owl. "Wait!" he said, with a grin at Aragorn, and shortly two men clad in green appeared.
"Amrath!" one of them said, softly but with a note of pleasure in his voice, and he came forwards to clasp hands with Amrath. "We received the message you were coming only yesterday, captain," he continued, turning to Aragorn. "How goes it?"
"Good," Aragorn said. "By my count, we've killed about forty Orcs and wind of our arrival should have spread amongst the others. But we are in need of rest and refreshment, if you can provide that."
The other nodded. "Our refuge is not far. You are sure you are not being followed?"
"Absolutely," Aragorn said.
The men in green led Aragorn and his company through a closely grown thicket of trees, and thence down a narrow and barely-discernible path. In the sky the sun was westering, and their guide glanced up at it and hurried them on. And even as the sun began to set, sending rays of golden light over the forest. The company passed down steps, and rounded a corner, and then the men stood still in amazement and wonder.
Aragorn gazed, his eyes filled with beauty such as he had never seen before: a curtain of silver threads, lit by the sun into a rainbow of colours.
"The Window on the West," breathed Amrath. "I have indeed missed this sight."
Aragorn said nothing, watching as the sun sank below the distant horizon, her light dying. Before turning to follow his company into the cave beyond, he murmured a brief thanks to the Lords of the West.
Inside a fire was lit and the table was being laid for the evening meal. The cave bustled with activity, men all going about their individual businesses and clearly at ease in each other's presence. Their guide showed Aragorn's company to a corner and distributed bedding, before turning to Aragorn respectfully.
"Captain, our captain here would like to speak with you."
"Lead the way!" Aragorn said, throwing down his pack and following the guide to a recessed alcove with two chairs and a small table, and pen and ink lying on the table. Behind it sat a middle-aged but fit looking man wearing the green of Ithilien, a frown on his face. He glanced up as Aragorn and his guide approached. "Ah, Bor. Is the party from Minas Tirith settled?"
"Aye, captain. This is their captain."
The other's eyes fell on Aragorn and he smiled. "Welcome to Henneth Annûn. I am Saeros, captain here."
"Thorongil," Aragorn introduced himself with a brief bow. "We are glad to be here. it has been a weary day."
"But successful, I trust?" Saeros said, pouring a goblet of wine for Aragorn.
"My thanks," Aragorn said, taking the drink. "We destroyed three companies of Orcs. But I believe that is not the half of it. Yesterday I lost two men. Some of the others are with our steeds, away south of the forest. We are a dozen, but they are stout men, and one, Amrath, has served here before."
"Three companies of Orcs is a mighty prize," Saeros returned. "Today we broke up one other company, but some of the beasts escaped. How well do you know Ithilien, Thorongil?"
"Not well," Aragorn admitted. "Indeed I would not be here save for the grace of the lord Ecthelion, who had confidence in my woodcraft. But Amrath has counselled me well on our route, and we have been lucky."
Saeros nodded. "Woodcraft can account for much. But in truth I do not remember you from the last time I was in the White City, my friend. Which company do you serve in?"
"I am in the Third Company," Aragorn said. "Though I have been in Minas Tirith only a year or so. Before that I served in Rohan under Thengel King, until he by his grace gave me leave to move on."
"Precious lack of forests in Rohan!" laughed Saeros. "Where did you ."
There was a tinkling of a bell and they were called to table, Aragorn saved from having to explain his origins to the captain. After the Standing Silence, they sat and began to eat. The food was simple but plentiful and Aragorn's company started to relax, discussing the city with those who had been long in Ithilien. Saeros asked no more awkward questions and the two captains commenced planning the forays for the next few days.
With the combined forces of the guard of Ithilien and Aragorn's company, and the renewed optimism that the arrival of the latter had brought to the beleaguered foresters, the Orc invasion was reduced by the day. In under a week Saeros declared himself satisfied that his men would be able to tighten guard on the borders of the land, and that should another invasion happen, he would immediately send to the City for help. Aragorn bade him farewell, and led his dozen men back south.
They found the encampment where the injured men and those guarding the horses were; untouched despite one brief altercation with three marauding Orcs who had been dealt with. One horse had escaped, but the others were in good health. The injured were faring better, and Aragorn looked at their wounds as the rest of the company saddled the horses.
It took them two days of riding to reach the city, and the weary group were greeted with smiles and waves from those going home after a day's work. Leaving the horses at the stables to be tended by the stablehands, the company climbed the remaining streets to the tower, where the men dispersed to their respective lodgings. Aragorn, stretching his limbs and longing for sleep, turned in the direction of Ecthelion's chambers.
The Steward looked weary, bent over papers and heatedly discussing something with an advisor. But he broke off as Aragorn was announced, and managed a smile when he heard the tidings from Ithilien. Much to Aragorn's relief, he was not asked to stay long or give much news, instead sent to his rooms where he fell into a deep and dreamless sleep.
* * *
Author's notes: Naturally I owe a debt to Tolkien's magnificent description of the Window on the West in the chapter of the same name in Book 4 of 'The Two Towers':
"It faced westward. The level shafts of the setting sun behind beat upon it, and the red light was broken into many flickering beams of ever- changing colour. It was as if they stood at the window of some elven-tower, curtained with threaded jewels of silver and gold, and ruby, sapphire and amethyst, all kindled with an unconsuming fire."
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.