6. Chapter 5
A few weeks later, just after midsummer, Prince Elion and Lord Barachon marched their host straight down the West Road and into a trap. Just outside Halfway Hill the combined hosts of Arthedain and Cardolan fell on them from the cover of the forest either side of the road. Strung out as they were, unable to form up and beset from all sides the outcome was inevitable. The losses were not so great as they might have been, as many men managed to flee into the wild or back the way they had come, but they were still severe. And amongst them, run down by the mounted knights of Arthedain during the first charge, was Galdir. The ever faithful Ulfur was also slain, alongside his best men, felled whilst protecting the retreat of the Prince.
The news was understandably taken very hard back in Northford. Angon it was who returned wounded several weeks later after an anxious wait to give them the tidings they had feared the most. They mourned bitterly, and Carandir, broken once again by grief for the loss of a son fell ill again for a time. My father, who had just commenced his service at the Keep greeted the news with dry eyes and cold fury and swore vengeance, while Faelneth also grieved, far more than would have been expected for one of her station. They did not even have the comfort of laying him to rest. He had probably been stripped of his arms and buried in a pit somewhere near the road with his fallen comrades, unnamed and unmarked, the mighty and the lowly together, all levelled by death. So ended the best of us, who knows what he could have become or how high he could have risen if fate had dictated otherwise, but I have been in enough battles myself to know that living or dying can turn on the smallest of things. In him the blood of the west ran as true as it ever did in our land, and our land grew ever poorer as the years passed from the constant loss of such men.
Already advanced in years, King Eldaer took the defeat and the near loss of his son very hard and began to ail. Many seasoned fighting men had been lost both in the taking of the tower, and the failed attempt to retake it, and the defeat had now effectively lost him all his lands west of the river. Cardolan held the road and the settlement of Halfway Hill, annexing that part of the kingdom, and although their writ did not run far to the north of it, the remaining lands to the west of the Hoarwell were basically an empty wilderness.
Things did not go so well for Eldaer in the east of his Kingdom either, Ulfraer had succeeded his father as Chieftain at the High Burgh and where his father had been bold and wholehearted, he was altogether a more thoughtful and calculating sort. He had also fought in the battle on the West Road and seen how his father and his best warriors perished saving the prince and it rankled with him, with some justification, that the brave deed went unrecognised afterwards.
But it was only the latest in a growing list of grievances. The Hillmen of Rhudaur had long given their loyalty to the Dunedain Kings of Lastbridge in recognition of the betterment and prosperity the settlers from the west had brought their forefathers. In exchange they provided the majority of the manpower to run the Kingdom and protect it, as the Dunedain were always in a minority in the east of Arnor, and they continued to dwindle after the division in the ninth century. This decline exacerbated the situation, especially when some of the ruling Dunedain caste, seeing their authority and privileges under threat began to actively suppress the Hillmen and prevent their advancement in the life of the Kingdom. In my grandfather's time such things were unheard of, and frowned upon. In wiser times both Hillman and Dunedain, and also the Plainsmen and Smallfolk who inhabited the south of the kingdom in the angle between the rivers, lived alongside each other cordially and without rancour.
Things had already taken a turn for the worse by the time I was born, and I had a unique viewpoint, given that I belonged to both peoples. In this Ulfraer was a man of his time, and in some ways can be forgiven for his later actions. But I have no doubt that spies and messengers from Angmar must have begun paying court in High Burgh soon after he took his father's place, speaking seditious words and spreading discontent. The northern kin of the Hillmen in the service of Angmar would easily have been able to pass our borders unremarked disguised as hunters or traders.
At the Keep, my father Galdirion was proving to be another worthy recruit, though he lacked the speed and strength of his older brother. He was part of the intake of lads from across the north marches who had reached the age of 16 by the first day of Lothron, and were obliged by law and tradition to spend a year in military training and service. In times of peace they could then either continue that service if they chose to, or return to the life that awaited them at home as a reservist to be called to arms as needed. However the army was also regularly used as a source of manpower to maintain the Kingdom's keeps, bridges and roads, and sometimes mobilisations were carried out for these purposes too. As well as a grounding in the various types of combat and archery and a punishing regime of runs and forced marches to improve their strength and stamina the recruits also received a basic education of sorts. They received lessons about the Kingdom and its history, about the code of honour and the just conduct of war, and the more apt also got the chance to learn some letters. As many of them were country boys, or from the wilder parts of the Shaws this was a sometimes doomed attempt to broaden their horizons and give them some sense of what they were being asked to fight and possibly die for. Of course Galdirion needed no such education, and he was a zealous pupil, already skilled at arms, and thanks to his early wanderings in the lost forests of his former home had a particular talent for woodcraft and tracking. There was only one other who rivalled him in that year's intake, a great brute of a youth from High Burgh called Cenric. What he lacked in training he made up for in strength, speed and cunning, and they became great rivals, often pitched against each other in training bouts, where neither could claim the upper hand for long. Their initial grudging respect gradually blossomed into a firm friendship despite their completely different backgrounds.
As year waned and their training progressed things once again began to worsen across the north, and the number of orc bands coming down the vales and off the moors began to increase again. Lord Beldir sent word down the road that more men were needed in the north, and by that autumn the size of the garrison had increased to two thousand. The Keep was full to bursting, men were continually coming and going on their patrols, and a constant stream of supply wains travelled up and down the South Road, which was of course good news for our family's fortunes. As winter approached and the six month period of training ended my father and his colleagues were sifted and assigned to various companies, and swore their oaths of allegiance to king and land. Galdirion was a soldier at last, like his renowned brother, something he had yearned for for a long time. Following their swearing in the new soldiers were given a two weak leave of absence and allowed to return to their homes and families. His training and new status had made quite a change in him, and on his return to the family home he was pleased to note that pretty Faelneth also seemed to notice this. They ended up spending as much time together as Branniel would allow, which was not much, but by the time Galdirion made the short return journey to the Keep sweet words had been exchanged between them, and safe return promised.