3. Chapter 3
They had set off riding hard toward the old city, but Wulgof could sense trouble. Apparently in his years of absence, wayward gangs of renegade orcs had gathered in the hills and would raid the road and the Dunlanding settlements. He didn't like this latest hardship on his people, but what was this old soldier, a veteran of the Orthanc Legion, first of the young strong Dunlandings recruited by Sarumann to fight his war against Rohan, to do? He survived Helms Deep, and captivity under the horsemen of Rohan wasn't too bad. It was where he met Folcrum, one of his guards. They had become friends, which was no small feat considering the long-standing differences between the Rohirrim and the Dunlandings, and up to just a short time earlier they were trying to kill each other. The peace allowed Wulgof to return home where he tried to eek out a living trying to grow crops in the rocky land of the foothills. He didn't stay long, for the trauma of battle haunted him and he had no peace. He had gone north and worked odd jobs in Bree and drank at the Prancing Pony. It was there his life changed forever.
A familiar looking blonde man came in and talked to several men about joining the King's Company. He recognised the man as Folcrum. Folcrum recognised him. Few words were said by either, for Wulgof's eyes said that he would gladly become a prospect to join the company...
Wulgof realised they would likely be attacked and had his axe, sword, and daggers at ready if needed. Wasn't sure how he would be able to do battle with this hanger-on boy with him, but he showed good ability in the brief exchange he had with company men. Still, the night was dark and the rain made visibility even harder. A few of the men rode wide and would make a bird sound every few minutes to signal all was clear.
Hanasian's hand raised and signalled quickly, sensing their approach. With the bird-calls coming in with a different pitch, they slowed and drew close as they rode. A faint glow of torchlight could be seen ahead in the mist, so they were drawing close to the city's outer watch. But the hiss, thud, and cry of pain from a horse to their right was the start of the attack. Belgon, a soldier of Minas Tirith who fought in the Pelennor, hit the ground with a grunt and was hacked to death even before he stopped rolling. The fight was on.
The attack, when it came, was swift and with little warning that Rin or Loch could discern. Loch heard the hiss and whine of arrows around him. In front, Wulgof shouted "Attack!" The group put on new speed, moving into a tight formation that pushed Hanasian's horse inwards and the one Loch rode with Wulgof out.
"Hope you're ready for this," the Dunlander grunted to Loch. Loch gripped the shortsword uncertainly and nodded, voice vanished. With a terrible scream, the orcs closed and the forces were enjoined.
The orcs were brazen, attacking so close to New Tharbad. The glow of the settlement's torches lights beckoned tantalisingly close on the trail ahead. Archers on the external horses continued their volley, Loch ducking beneath Wulgof's bow and swinging with his short sword as best he could manage. Closer in, Hanasian drew his own blade and circled his horse about to take stock.
"Remember," he growled in Rin's ear as his gaze raked the trail ahead and the distance to Tharbad's safety. "Head low and hang on." Rin clutched at the pommel. The Ranger slid off his mount.
Hanasian sent the horse charging with Rin ahead to Tharbad. He jumped atop Khule's horse and the pair moved to close the gap Hanasian's horse had made. Nearby another horse screamed as a pike pierced it's hind legs and severed its hamstrings. Loch was surrounded in a bewildering, sweaty, terrifying and electrifying nexus of hand to hand combat. He'd never been so close to such creatures before in his life. Three surged Wulgof's horse, causing it to shy abruptly. Loch tumbled off its rump, rolled and came to his feet where a number of other un-horsed soldiers now gathered.
A large hand closed on what passed for Loch's collar and hauled him backwards. Molguv grinned at him madly in the night and savagely laid into the orcs that boiled towards them. It was chaos. It made his stomach churn when he later had the time to think back on it. It shocked him when he found himself laughing and swinging beside the Haradian giant.
Hanasian's horse surged, leaping over the orcs in a graceful arc of horseflesh. The scent of orcs drove it hard towards Tharbad and Rin clung to the pommel for dear hope. Behind her, the cries of men in battle froze her bones. Ahead of her, Tharbad and safety glistened. Behind her was her brother. Rin sawed at the reins with all her scant strength, managing only to bring the horse back around. She applied her heels and it started cantering forward, gathering speed. Only the training of Hanasian's horse saved Rin's life. The horse tacked sharply to avoid another orc pike, tumbling Rin from the saddle and bringing her rolling along the track until she collided with a heavy object that groaned when she hit it.
Rin shook her head to clear it and peered at what had ceased her rolling. It was a man, a grizzled and grey veteran that Rin had heard the others call "Bear." He was breathing hard and shallow through his mouth and opened his eyes as she bent over him. "Thought you was long gone, lass," he ground out. Khule, meanwhile spotted Hanasian's horse speeding by. "Your horse," he grunted, thrusting through another orc and flicking it off his blade. Hanasian slashed viciously, watching it ghost by and its empty saddle. He cursed what it surely meant.
It was hard for her to see, but Bear was clearly in pain. "Where," Rin asked as she started to search about. "Gut," Bear said as Rin discovered for herself the sticky warmth of a blow that would likely kill him. She felt about, carefully, and realised that instinct had prompted Bear to try to hold himself in. She was an entirely different person to the young woman they'd met that afternoon.
"Move your hands when I say so," she said urgently. Bear grunted. "Duck," he said as a sword slashed the air over where her head had been. Rin looked up to see Wulgof move past her, slashing and weaving and screaming something incomprehensible to her. She returned her attention to Bear.
"Move," she said and began the difficult and delicate task of repacking the parts of his upper stomach that had escaped. She worked quickly, focused, and instructed the man to hold himself together again. Re-pack, close, clean, she recalled Calerous chanting to the group that watched him perform this technique in the far more civilised setting of an infirmary some months ago. She could do one, some of the second, but none of the third step of his technique. Rin reached under the makeshift poncho to unravel some of the rags she had been wearing. She pulled them out hurriedly and then shifted to try to leverage Bear slightly up. He was too heavy for her to manage. Wulgof fought hard around her and when a momentary lull was won he turned back to woman. "What the hell are you doing here," he snarled, ducking as another pike was thrown.
"Help me lift him," Rin demanded, none of the fear they'd seen in her evident now. Wulgof peered at her, swore and then complied. Rin, meanwhile darted hands around Bear to start wrapping him up.
"Waste of time," Bear gasped. "It might be," she said through gritted teeth and tied the bandaging off. "Now what," Wulgof asked, eyes scanning the fray. He had no idea why he was asking her. The men had managed to form a circle, she saw and she pointed.
"Help me get him in there," she said. Together, they dragged Bear, towards the safety. "You," Wulgof panted, "Are going to be the death of me."
Rin just closed her eyes and dragged. Her heart lurched into her throat and then they were through. "That's it," Wulgof said, "No more crazy stuff." He shook his head, and spun away.
Bear was still panting. He needed to stay warm, given the blood he had surely lost. She pulled the cloak from over her head without further thought and laid it over him. It was the best she could do under the circumstances. Within the circle, Rin found others fallen. Some dead, some human, and some alive. She raided whatever she could lay her hands on – water, a dagger, cloth and set about continuing what she had done for Bear. Time lost any grip on her until an orc grabbed her ankle. She panicked, grasping for anything within reach. She found a stone and pounded at the creature, already mostly dead, until it's grip failed. The call of horns broke through the night.
A ripple of unease shimmied through those orcs that remained at the sound. Their heads swivelled this way and that and they hesitated. For Rin, it made no difference to her. She was fighting her own battle. Another blast of horns and the orcs broke with a piercing howl. They ran, gibbering, into the night. The screams of horses and the groans of men lingered in their wake. Some of Hanasian's company that still stood walked the scene, putting down horses and ensuring fallen orcs were truly dead. Others dragged orc carcasses away. Rin continued her work, washing orc blood out of a fallen man's face. She didn't know his name. Someone pulled her to her feet, a man's hand tugging her upwards, and enfolded her in an embrace that pushed the breath from her body. "You just can't help yourself, can you Rin?"
Loch's face swum into view. He was talking, gabbling, asking her if she was unharmed and peering at her with growing concern as he took in her bloodied state.
"Where is that cloak," he asked. Rin pointed to where Bear lay, unable to respond further. Everywhere she looked in the rain, there was more to do.
"What did you think you were doing," Hanasian demanded, looking about in astonishment and then squarely at her. Rin pointed looked over at Bear, who was an alarming shade pale grey.
"If you don't get him to Tharbad within the hour, he'll be dead no matter what I think I am doing," she declared. Wulgof, doubled over to catch his breath said between gasps, "She's crazy, Hanasian."
Tharbad's Watch thundered around them and reined in, it's commander dismounting and seeking Hanasian out to exchange words. Hanasian dealt with the man, passing on information and requesting assistance to get several of his fallen to Tharbad quickly. The watch quickly fell out and to their tasks. Rin pointed particular men out, steering them this way and that. In the torchlight, she made an incongruous figure, covered in blood and wearing rags and dilapidated boots. It was Khule again to the rescue, donating the only other cloak he had left to his name and wrapping it around her shoulders. The Easterling shook his head as he did so, not sure what he had more difficulty understanding: her actions or his.
"I didn't know you travelled with a healer," the Watch officer said. Hanasian made a non committal sound, cleaning and sheathing his own sword. "Neither did I," he muttered, turning to round up his remaining men.
Hanasian's mind was a whir of activity. If the orcs were so brazen this far south, then it boded ill for Arnor where the King's men were more thinly spread. He had lost two men in this encounter, and could little afford to lose more. He mounted, pulling Rin up without so much as a word and set off for Tharbad. The healer stood on the steps to the infirmary, blinking owlishly beneath a wavering lantern in the rain.
"Which one first," Hanasian asked Rin. She looked back over her shoulder, trying to understand. "Which one should I tell him needs aid first?"
Rin blinked, "I can tell him that," she replied. Hanasian snorted. "I doubt he'll listen to a woman clad in more blood than rags on such matters." Rin opened her mouth to retort, closed it and chose a wiser option. "Bear," she said, an admission that the Ranger at her back was correct, "Though I'm not sure if speed will save him."
Hanasian relayed the instructions to the healer. The man on the steps peered at those that were brought in, assessing what he saw with a clinical distance that Hanasian's company had witnessed in Rin back on the track.
"You're staying," the healer asked. Hanasian shook his head and behind him seven of his men still fit to ride groaned softly. "I fear not. Tell them to make all speed for Bree when they're fit to ride." The healer nodded and hastily withdrew from the rain to set about what would be a very long night. Hanasian signalled the men to ride out and they crossed Tharbad and thundered through what remained of the night towards distant Bree.
Hanasian pushed them hard, but fatigue is as much a foe as any orc. The fight had been hard on Hanasian. Though many fights in far flung lands he and these men had been through, this one here in the midst of the kingdom hit hard. Two good men who were originals were dead, another was wounded and would be doing good to live, let alone rejoin their ranks. Hanasian reigned them in at dawn. It was a rare dawn that spring, unusually clear and bright. The men gratefully eased out of their saddles. They settled in a grassy field in the land just west of the road. Rin was already asleep. Hanasian had felt her weight settle back against him an hour before dawn. Hanasian stretched her out, propping a saddle bag with few enough valuable items to be counted a loss if her earlier inclinations emerged once again Seeing that everyone was in order, and Rin was sleeping, he set out to scout and look for sign.
The men unsaddled the horses and set them out on pickets to rest. Loch sidled over and begged some leather from Molguv. The Haradian happily supplied him a length. Loch settled in by the fire to work at it, glancing occasionally over to where his sister lay sleeping.
"What happened to her clothes," Molguv asked. Loch shrugged, not looking up from his task. "Gave that cloak to Bear, I think," he replied, distracted. Molguv shook his head. "No, before that," he prompted. That brought Loch's activity to a halt for a moment. His jaw clenched, face darkened and he glanced at Rin.
"Farm three days walk from Tharbad. He was ex-Minas Tirith, a soldier," he said, voice low with anger. "Took work there in exchange for food and lodgings in the barn. I ran out of nails for the fence and came back to the barn. The farmer…" Loch's voice failed him a moment as the ugly scene surfaced again. His hands started their work again and after a moment he resumed.
"He'd ripped the dress from her. I wanted to kill the man, but Rin just wanted out. We stole a bed sheet. It was all we could do." Loch sounded weary beyond his years. Molguv's habitual grin had vanished. Khule and Wulgof had overheard as well. All three looked at Rin's sleeping form. She had curled into a tight ball beneath Khule's drying cloak.
Loch stood abruptly, disturbing their thoughts. "Going hunting," he brusquely said, forcing the conversation away from that particularly dark incident. "Don't think that's wise," Molguv said. "I need food, and there should be pheasant here if they've not scattered. Besides, I'm not going anywhere far without her."
Loch cast about, selected stones and trotted down the gentle slope towards a stream that curved at its base. The men watched him go thoughtfully. Once Loch was out of sight, they delved into their saddle bags, unspoken agreement between all three. Molguv fished out his only clean shirt, Wulgof and Khule other things that would be useful on the road north, a spare cup and plate, a serviceable belt knife. They gathered the items up, carefully approached the woman that slept and left them nearby for her. Then they settled back by the small fire to see to their weapons and equipment. Repairs and maintenance only became more onerous the longer they were delayed.
It was inevitable that talk between Wulgof, Khule and Molgov turned to the day before. "Lost two good men last night," Wulgof solemnly observed.
Amira of Dale had been a steadfast soldier and able scout, with a ready grin and decided black twist to his humour. Belgon had been an enduring pillar, staunch in a scrap and unflappable after the Pelennor.
"Unusual for them to attack so close to settlements," Wulgof added. "Something's amiss, but Hanasian will determine if it's ours to solve," Khule replied. All three knew that they were headed for Bree, and until that was changed by the Ranger that commanded their company, they were headed for Bree. As simple as that. A companionable silence sprang up for several heartbeats before their conversation turned again.
"Saw you had to lift Loch out, Molguv" Khule stated. Molguv grunted, working off a nasty jagged spar on one of his long curved knives. "Just as well I did. Fought like a bull. Very handy. Did you hear him laughing?"
Khule nodded, "Berserker, I'd wager, if the conditions were right. They can be mad dogs, but a mad dog can be useful in a tight spot. He seems level headed enough otherwise."
Wulgof shook out the bridle he'd been repairing and set it down for a moment. "Mad? Try that sister of his. She's insane," Wulgof confided. "Thought Hanasian sent her off," Khule queried.
"Aye, well no matter what our Cap wanted, she came back. Nearly lost her head for her trouble. Made me drag Bear in. Insanity," Wulgof replied heavily.
"Did you see her brain that orc though? I tell you, lads, that one has spit," Molguv announced with approval. "That much 'spit' can get a man killed," Wulgof observed. Khule sighed, regretting already what he was about to say.
"We'd have lost Bear, perhaps a few more, without her though. Can't see Hanasian letting that go. She'd need some training, she can't bludgeon every foe that decides she's an easy mark. But, how many times have we wanted a healer on the road, eh? Hanasian'll want Loch to replace Amria as scout. He'll need training too," Khule said.
Wulgof nodded, "Aye, he'll want both of them," he agreed, "Perhaps in more ways than one." Mulgov smiled widely and barked a laugh that made the other two look up from their work.
"Well, she's a damn sight better to look at than any of us," Molguv declared, "These pets will last longer than the last one."
Wulgof shrugged, "The last one was a frog. I told you it would freeze." Khule smiled in recollection, "But it tasted good!" Wulgof looked back at Rin, who had shifted again. Her hair, now dry, spread over the ground like sun on snow. The Dunlander muttered something about blonde women and trouble.
"She sure doesn't like us, though," he observed after a short silence. Molguv nodded sagely, "That's the problem with so much spit," he added.
The conversation veered onto the various wagers each had running on the multitude of things soldiers enjoy wagering on. It was perhaps an hour before Loch was sighted walking back up the slope. He had a brace of pheasants and it was a welcome sight. Pheasants meant that orcs were not present. The feathers could be used to re-fletch arrows and the meat would be a delight after so long on cold rations. Exhausted as she was, Rin's empty stomach ensured she did not sleep through the feast. She blinked awake mid morning, initially disorientated until she recalled her current predicament – surrounded by soldiers that her brother had purposefully set them in the path of the day before. The aroma of roasting pheasant tickled her nose and she peeked over the edge of the cloak that had been spread over her. Soldiers came and went, ambling and at their ease aside from those that sat watch. Loch sat with three men, chatting amicably. Such was her brother. He chose to lock his demons deep down and sail over the top on smooth waters.
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.