8. Chapter 7
My earliest memories are snatches of life at the house in Northford. My mother, laughing, warm and soft with her cloud of dark curly hair, my grandfather, impossibly old, his eyes bright and twinkling and ever ready with a jest, my grandmother, one moment stern and then next kind and gentle, and my father, who I saw seldom. I was even a little afraid of him whenever he returned home in his battle dress, but then he would change into a tunic and bounce me on his knee or throw me in the air and I would scream with delight, and he would laugh a deep rich laugh and kiss me on the brow. I had as happy and secure a childhood as any could wish for, and far better than most had in that time.
Once I was old enough my grandfather took my education in hand, and I learned my letters, and my history, and Sindarin and even a little Quenya. I was a willing pupil and like any boy of that age loved to listen to his tales of long ago, learning the names of the old kings and the many battles they had fought. The elves fascinated me most of all, for I had never seen any, and the tragic story of the costly and heroic defeat of Sauron The Black where might men fought alongside them was my favourite. My grandfather told me that at the founding of the North Kingdom there had been great commerce and friendship between the Dunedain and the elves of Rivendell, and also the small remnant that remained for a while across the river in Eregion. But once the Kingdom was divided they became estranged, and though they still regularly passed along the Great Road and often stayed at the inns of Lastbridge and Elfford they kept themselves to themselves. There had also been trouble when Eldaer's grandsire had introduced tolls on the Last Bridge and attempted to levy them from the Firstborn along with all others who passed through. Some blood was shed as a result and an emissary was sent from Rivendell to forcefully dispute their right to do so. He had stated that as the bridge predated the kingdom and had been in customary use by the Elves who had enjoyed free passage in all that time that Rhudaur had no right to demand payment for its use. Rather in awe of his splendid guests the king reluctantly acceded to their demands, but it further soured relations between the two peoples.
Where our neighbourhood had once been quiet and sad and full of empty houses it now bustled and thrived, full of noise and life and dirt. Many hundreds of displaced families from the lands north of the river now inhabited the large town houses with their small gated courtyards and balconies, and very few were the rightful owners. My grandmother in particular was appalled by the turn of events and what she perceived as the coarseness and lack of quality in her neighbours, but she did pity them for the lives they had been forced to flee and would never return to, something she very much had in common with them. For my part though it gave me an endless supply of playmates, and as soon as my morning's study was complete I would go out and find them and set off on a new adventure. We roamed through the town, pretending to be scouts or warriors hunting down orcs. I was forbidden though to leave the walls, or cross the river on the plank causeway, or stray into the great semi permanent army camp that had sprung up on the water meadow east of the town. Once I got a little older our soldiering games gained a little more spice when I was accepted into the Uphill Clan, and we regulatly hunted and did battle with the Downhill Clan. The Downhill Clan of course inhabited the area around the marketplace and the riverside, and we all lived along the ridge around the Keep, and though we considered them poorer and coarser than ourselves because we could look down on them in truth you probably couldn't have chosen between us. I quickly learned when and how to fight and when it was wiser to beat a retreat, and frequently returned home with a bloody nose or a black eye, to my mother's horror and my grandmother's great disapproval. However my grandfather seemed to recognise that there would be no avoiding such things in the future that most likely awaited me, and went easy on me. And my father on his brief returns home would take me out into the countryside and secretly teach me the skills of unarmed combat and wrestling, and we spent many happy afternoons in sunny meadows together, tussling and laughing, and I put what he taught me to good use in between times. He also took me into the forest and showed me how to track and hunt, and shared his love of the wild with me. It must have been sweet indeed for him to wander as he did in his youth with me at his side, sharing those rare moments of peace and my wonder and joy.
It was not long however before even the forests south of the river became unsafe, and our little forays were ended. Despite the ever increasing size of the Northern Army, the orcs out of Angmar had the ascendancy again and were now regularly crossing the Hoarwell upriver of Northford and harrying the previously peaceful lands to the south of it and along the South Road. They also had free rein in Western Rhudaur and raided along the West Road near Lastbridge and also presumably against any forces Cardolan still maintained near Halfway Hill. Although it was perilous to attempt it for the most part they also crossed the Hoarwell occasionally between Bearcliffe and Lastbridge and made mischief there as well, stretching the Kingdom's defences to the limit and interrupting the supply trains that kept the northern army fed and equipped. A second threat also began to emerge, as bands of brigands coming out of the Shaws also began to raid and steal from the supply trains. The Chieftain in High Burgh still swore fealty to the King in Lastbridge, but I do not doubt now that he was behind this. My grandfather began to suffer considerable losses as a result, and had to pay his waggoners much more for the risk they ran, and his income began to dwindle.
Finally in the spring of 1318, King Elion bestirred himself and took action. Remembering the victory he had gained thirteen years before, and the lost opportunity to march north and rid himself of the upstart once and for all, he raised as great a host as could be mustered and set off up the North Road once again. Having every reason to wish themselves rid of the orc raiders as well, despite any grievances they might harbour, Ulfraer raised a great host of his own folk as his father had done before him and met the King on the road at Bearcliffe.
I can still vividly remember the sight of the great camp they made at Northford, and their endless ranks marching across the river on the plank bridge and the horses and the oxen pulling the supply wains wading and splashing through the river alongside. A great crowd of townspeople had gathered on the road and along the riverbanks to cheer them on and wish them safe return. I had never seen anything like it, and I wished dearly that I could have joined them, wearing my proud red surcoat blazoned with the black bear of Rhudaur and bearing bright steel to slay our wicked foes. It was decided that hostilities would be temporarily suspended between the town's clans for the duration of this campaign.
My father was not actually amongst the marchers, he and his fellow scouts had already gone north the week before to clear the way for what would be our great push to rid ourselves of the enemy in the north. Before he left, Lord Angon, now master of the Keep and Town once again, had raised him to Captain and put him in command of his own company.
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