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6
Chapter 6

Disclaimer: I do not own any of the recognizable characters; I am only borrowing them for fun for a little while. They belong to J.R.R. Tolkien.

Many thanks to my Beta Readers – J. and Marsha


~~~

Nimrie said her good-byes to Halhigal, Halbarad, and Estel at the house as they prepared to leave Dolomar. She did not know when she would see them again, probably not until early spring and that was if they did not run into any problems along the way as they visited the four other Dúnedain villages that were scattered around the Angle. It was roughly a week’s journey between each village and Estel planned on spending some time in each place getting to know his people. He also intended to visit a few of the closer patrols to meet those Rangers before he returned. Nimrie embraced Halhigal and Halbarad tightly, already missing them. It would be the longest she had ever been alone but she had long known this day would come. She hesitated only briefly before embracing Estel as well and he accepted the embrace readily enough. Over the last two weeks Nimrie had seen him relax somewhat around her and Halhigal, though he was still reserved around the rest of the villagers yet unfailingly polite and exceptionally kind to the children. Nimrie had wondered at that as she knew he had never been around children before, but perhaps that was why he was so interested in them. With one last kiss of Halhigal, Nimrie hurried back into the house unwilling to see them leave.

Without a word the men gathered up their gear and strode down towards the gate where Rosruin and Alvist had their horses saddled and waiting for them. Gilost was there with his family and some of the villagers were there to watch them leave even on the cool, foggy morning. Estel smiled his thanks at Alvist as he attached his packs to the horse and then checked the girth strap and bit before taking the reins from the boy. Leading the horse behind him, he walked over to speak with Ladreníl.

“I leave the village and the people in your very capable hands, Ladreníl. May the Valar bless and protect you,” Estel said as he reached out and firmly clasped the older man’s arm.

“Thank you, my lord,” he replied, “and you as well.” Ladreníl paused, casting a sidelong look at his son. “And those that travel with you.” Gilost’s stitches had been removed several days ago and he no longer had the occasional headaches that had plagued him for the first few days after the injury, but Ladreníl had noticed that his son still favored his right side.

Estel murmured his thanks and moved to mount his horse, giving Sírdhim a brisk nod when he passed. The two men had rarely spoken since the feast, but while the older man still bore a grudge against him for whatever reason, Sírdhim was at least civil to him and he was satisfied with that… for now. At some point Estel hoped to find out why he was angry and try to mend their relationship, yet he knew it might not be possible. He had one foot in the stirrup when a small body slammed into his other leg, grasping it tightly. Only the fact that his horse was elven trained kept it from spooking as Estel fell heavily against it, though he never completely lost his balance. Even before he heard Arthiell call out his name, Estel knew it was Balrant. The boy had taken to following him around the village whenever he could escape from his mother’s watchful gaze. That he was able to escape her so often spoke well of his future as a Ranger Estel had often thought whenever the young boy showed up. Briefly rubbing his horse’s neck to sooth it, Estel reached down and pried the young boy’s fingers off of his leg before turning and crouching down in front of him. He glanced up at Arthiell as she arrived and was giving him a look of apology and he gave her a small smile. Balrant’s lip was quivering slightly as he stared at the ground.

“Forgive me, Balrant, I forgot to say good-bye to you.”

Balrant lifted his head and stared at him for a moment and then nodded. “Good-bye, Aragorn,” he whispered. Arthiell sighed; she had not been able to get her son to remember to call the Chieftain, lord and he never corrected Balrant either. “I’ll miss you.”

“I will miss you too. Help your mother and your sister,” Estel said with a smile. He hugged the boy, who clung to him tightly. Estel pulled away and then led him to his nana who murmured her thanks as she took her son’s hand. Returning to his horse, he swiftly mounted and after checking to see that the other three Rangers were ready, he urged his horse forward through the gate, lifting his hand in farewell to the people that had come to see them leave.

They were headed southeast towards the village of Taurnand which was set on the banks of the Bruinen River. Estel was looking forward to seeing the other villages and traveling around the Angle, yet he was already attached to the people of the village of Dolomar. He had gotten to know the people well and understood the various relationships between families and which women came from different villages – like his aunt. They were going to meet some of her family in Forntaur. He supposed he would always be closer to the people of Dolomar than the other villages simply because his family was from the village and because he would stay there when he was not on patrols. The thought gave Estel pause; he needed to make sure that he remained aware of the needs of all of the Dúnedain and not just the needs of the people of Dolomar. It would be easy to forget that.

Not long after they cleared the gates, Estel twisted around in his saddle and gestured for Halhigal to take the lead. While he knew the area around the village quite well now, he did not know the way to Taurnand and he knew his uncle had things to show him along the way. Halbarad rode up alongside Estel and Gilost brought up the rear, though they stayed close together in the fog that limited visibility. Casting a sidelong glance at his cousin, Estel wondered what he was thinking. He knew that Halbarad was excited about the trip; he had never traveled farther than twenty or thirty miles from the village. But neither said anything as they wrapped their cloaks tightly about themselves against the cold.

The four Rangers rode quietly most of the day, speaking only occasionally. The fog burned off by mid-morning and a brilliant blue sky appeared overhead, the sun shining down through the trees. The ground was carpeted with red and yellow leaves that crackled under their horse’s hooves. The forest was opening up and losing the thick brush, making it easier for them to ride but also easier for them to be seen by any enemy that might be near. Not that they expected any but all four were fully alert and aware as the day passed. As the sun dropped low in the west, the temperature dropped with it and Halhigal brought them to a halt near a hill that had an overhanging rock that would provide them with some shelter for the night. A small spring gurgled a short distance away.

After they had taken care of their horses, Estel looked at the others, “Who is the best cook?” he asked. “Or, do we take turns?”

None of the others wanted to be responsible for cooking every night and so they agreed to take turns, Estel offering to do it this first night. The others scattered to collect wood and water and to set up the tent. Estel started a small fire and set about preparing a simple meal with the food Nimrie had provided for them and soon the smell of soup filled the air. He cut the fresh bread with his belt knife. As he wiped the knife off on his dark brown leggings, he smiled slightly as he remembered his grandmother thrusting the leggings and his new shirt and tunic at him several days before. Again she had not let Estel thank her. After speaking with his uncle about something she might like, he had gone out fishing with Halbarad and come back with a string of cleaned trout which he handed to her without a word when she opened her door at his knock. She had tried to hand them back, but he simply turned and walked away, biting back his smile at her muttering. Estel had not seen her this morning when they left but he had no doubt that she had been watching them to make sure that he was wearing the proper clothing.

“Is it ready?” Halbarad asked as he dropped down beside his cousin, wrapping his arms around his pulled up knees

“No,” Estel handed him a chunk of bread to tide him over. “How does it feel to be so far away from home?” he asked with a grin, remembering his brothers teasing him on his own first trips away from Imladris.

Halbarad snorted and knocked his shoulder into Estel’s and then began eating his bread. “I can’t believe that you were allowed to do this when you were only seventeen,” he said wistfully.

Estel glanced at Halhigal and Gilost as they joined them. He knew that Halbarad was speaking more about the comradeship that being a Ranger brought than the dangers but he chose not to speak about those… Halbarad would discover those soon enough. “My life has been much different than yours, and I did not have to do all of the things you had to do. I could work solely on my training and so I was able to go at a younger age.” He knew it was more than that of course; for one thing, his purer Númenorean blood gave him some advantages in strength over his cousin.

“Of course, you also spent hours on your studies and in healing,” Halhigal pointed out. “You did not just work on training, Aragorn.”

“No, I did not,” Estel conceded, stirring the soup and, deciding it was done, he began dishing it out to the others. It appeared his brothers had told Halhigal a lot about his life in Imladris he thought with an inward grimace.

“You’re an adequate cook,” Halbarad said with a smile after he tasted the soup and Estel just shrugged.

“How are your ribs, Gilost?” Estel asked, looking across the fire at the Ranger.

Gilost looked up in surprise, “Fine, my lord,” he replied. “Why do you ask?”

“I noticed that you have been favoring your right side all day”

Gilost shrugged and returned to his food. He was not going to admit that he was sore, not to his Chieftain and he had been in much worse pain several times in his life. He did not realize that Estel could be rather persistent when it came to the health of his people.

“Perhaps you re-injured them when you were carrying the deer a few days ago. I will check it before we turn in,” Estel said in a tone that brooked no argument and Gilost’s protest died on his lips and he nodded. They ate quietly for a time and then Estel turned to Halhigal and his voice was somewhat hesitant when he spoke. “Would you tell me about Arathorn? Things my brothers would not know.”

“Yes, of course,” he softly replied. “But do you want to know about him as my Chieftain and a Ranger or about the man that courted and married my younger sister?” a smile crossed Halhigal’s lips.

“The man that married my naneth,” Estel replied without hesitation, though he did glance briefly at Gilost. “Others can and will tell me of him as a Ranger, but only you can tell me what he was like with my naneth at that time.”

“Except for grandmother,” Halbarad said dryly and both Estel and Halhigal chuckled while Gilost dropped his gaze to the ground, fighting back a smile.

Halhigal began talking quietly, telling how Arathorn, in his mid-fifties, had suddenly become interested in Gilraen, even though she was so very young. Arathorn had always seemed a quiet, stern man, at least he appeared that way to Halhigal - who was only eight years younger - and even though they had grown up in Dolomar around the same time, they had never been close. But watching Arathorn with Gilraen had revealed a man with a quick sense of humor and someone that could just as easily be gentle as stern. Halhigal admitted that it had been hard for him to see his sister marry when she was so young and he was surprised when his father had allowed it. But besides the obvious love that Gilraen felt for Arathorn, there was not a single doubt in his mind that Arathorn loved and cherished Gilraen deeply. He spoke then of the early days of their marriage and their excitement when Aragorn was born. As Halhigal spoke, Estel stared into the fire, not asking questions just listening to his uncle speak of a father he had never known.

Gilost quietly took the dishes away and cleaned them as Halhigal finished up the stories he would tell that night, there would be many other times around the campfire for such things. The talk turned to their plans for the next few days and the route to Taurnand. Before going to bed they set the watches, Estel and Halhigal drew the short twigs and had to take the watches in the middle of the night. Estel wrapped Gilost’s ribs and the three Rangers went to bed, leaving Halbarad on watch. He woke Estel a couple of hours later and, shivering, the Chieftain slipped from his bedroll and out of the tent. Pulling his cloak about him, he crouched down by the fire and looked sleepily at Halbarad.

“Has it been quiet?”

“Yes, only the night animals and the spring are speaking tonight.” He paused and considered the question that the time alone had given him. “Aragorn… are you glad that you’re here with us? I know it hasn’t been easy for you, but I can’t tell if you like it or not.”

Estel took his time answering the question, staring into the darkness for several minutes. “Yes, I am, Halbarad. It has not been easy and I miss my family,” he looked up and met Halbarad’s eyes. “I am glad that I have close kin here,” he smiled. “It makes it easier. But I am starting to feel a little more comfortable. Of course, now I am moving on to someplace new,” Estel gave his cousin a small smile and then his eyes took on a distant, almost unfocused, look for a moment. “I have a feeling that my life will be like that for a long time… never really settled.”

“Do you have the gift of foresight?” Halbarad knew that some of the line of Isildur had the gift but not all.

“Yes, though I do not always consider it a gift,” Estel replied with a rueful smile.

“Why not?” Halbarad couldn’t imagine why it wouldn’t be useful to know the future.

“Because sometimes I see things I would rather not know,” he whispered. “Though, it is useful at times.” Estel shrugged. “In any case, I have it whether I like it or not. You should go to bed.”

It was Halbarad’s turn to shrug. “I’m not that tired.” He pulled out his pipe, filling it with pipe-weed before lighting it with a twig from the fire. Estel eyed him curiously, still wondering what the fascination was with the smoking of pipes, though he was starting to enjoy the scent of the burning leaves.

Halbarad noticed Aragorn watching him and he finally held out the pipe. “Here, try it,” he urged.

Estel shook his head and then reluctantly took it at his cousin’s insistence. He held it gingerly by the stem and looked at Halbarad to see his eyes filled with laughter.

“You have to put it in your mouth for it to work, Aragorn,” he tried to keep the amusement from his voice but failed miserably. “Do not suck on the pipe or you’ll choke,” he cautioned. “You just… sort of… well… breathe it in and let it out… sort of naturally, I guess,” Halbarad tried to explain how it worked. It had become second nature to him and it was difficult to put it into words.

Cautiously, Estel stuck the pipe in his mouth and tried to do as Halbarad advised. He began coughing almost immediately and he jerked the pipe out as his eyes began to water. “How can you do that?” he asked between coughs.

Halbarad shrugged. “Here, watch me.” He puffed on the pipe for a moment while Estel watched closely and then he handed it back. “Now, try it again only don’t draw on the pipe so hard. I assure you that when you get used to it, you’ll find it strangely comforting.”

Estel gave him a doubtful look and yet all of the men that he knew smoked a pipe and so he tried again. He managed to do it for a moment without coughing but he still did not see the appeal in it. “I do not think I will ever be one that smokes a pipe, Halbarad.” His cousin merely smiled. “You really should go to bed,” Estel glanced up at the sky, “my watch is almost half over.”

“Good-night,” Halbarad got to his feet and headed into the tent.

0-0-0

The next two days passed much as the first and the morning of the fourth they awoke to a light dusting of early snow on the ground, most of which disappeared by noon. As they came to a small stream, Halhigal reined to a stop and looked over his shoulder. “This is one of the signposts I was telling you about, Aragorn, Halbarad,” he said. “I’ll show it to you and we can eat and rest the horses.”

“All right,” Estel said, looking around carefully, making a mental image of the place before he dismounted. Over the last week his uncle had taught him the various ways that the Rangers left messages for each other out in the wild. Different markings on rocks or the arrangement of the rocks themselves were all clues that he had needed to learn. It was not too different than what the elves did, though the meanings of the markings were different. What Estel really needed to learn was where the various signposts were located. The places were marked on the map they had of Eriador, but it was not the same as seeing it with his own eyes. Halbarad had known the marks for years – it was a part of every Dúnedain boys training – but he also needed to see where they were located.

“I’ll water the horses, my lord,” Gilost said and Estel smiled his thanks as he handed him the reins. Having been a Ranger for more than ten years, Gilost already knew the locations of all of the signposts in this area. Halhigal showed the two newest Rangers how a small grouping of three rocks was set in a pattern that was easily identifiable - if you knew what you were looking for – but would not be noticed by others that happened upon them. The rocks were set well back from the waters edge so that any marks would not be washed away in high water.

“Does no one ever disturb these?” Halbarad asked.

“Rarely. Most men that would be in these parts would be either hunters or bandits and would not be looking for any signs such as these… and they are hard to recognize. Animals have moved them on occasion but that seldom disturbs the actually markings on the rocks.” Halhigal turned over the top rock and glanced at the faint scratches etched on it before holding it out to Estel and Halbarad for their inspection.

“That was made over a month ago,” Estel commented. “By someone from Taurnand,” his brow furrowed in thought. “He is heading west. He is just telling whoever passes by that all is well, is he not?”

Halhigal nodded and pointed to one other mark that Estel had missed. “Yes, and he was with five other Rangers. It’s important to know that in case you need their help. It was probably one of the regular patrols.”

“Lord Aragorn!” Gilost’s low voice called from downstream and the urgency in it made the three of them quickly turn and see what had disturbed him. He was across the stream, kneeling down and intently studying something, though he looked up and waved them down to him. Whatever Gilost was looking at was disturbing enough that he had let the horses loose, though they were trained well enough that they had not strayed and Halhigal sent Halbarad to catch them. Estel and Halhigal ran down the edge of the stream and started to cross when Gilost put up his hand. “Carefully, my lord, there are tracks here.”

Estel looked across the stream and could now see what Gilost was looking at – the boot prints of orcs. Lots of orcs. Gingerly he stepped on a couple of rocks and crossed the water, being careful not to disturb any tracks when he stepped back onto the land. Halhigal swiftly followed and a few minutes later they were joined by Halbarad. As he scanned the ground, Estel was appalled by what he read. The tracks were recent and, if he were reading them correctly, they were heading east – towards Taurnand.

“They are headed towards Taurnand,” Gilost said, quite unnecessarily for all of them could see where the orcs had entered the small clearing from the southwest, had come to the stream and then left still heading east. The only questions were how many there were and how long since they had been there.

“How many are there?” Halbarad asked, trying to make sense of the tracks. But around the stream the orcs had walked back and forth and there was no clear way to tell.

“A lot,” Estel said grimly, running his hand through his hair. “There were here before it snowed last night,” he crouched down and touched the trace of water that lined the bottom of several of the boot prints, evidence left from the melted snow. “When did it start?” he glanced at the others as he had been on the first watch and it had not been snowing then.

“About midnight,” Halhigal replied after a moments thought. “It didn’t last long.”

Estel stood and walked downstream towards where the tracks disappeared into the woods, hoping that he could get a better sense of the number of orcs as they spread out. Halhigal had mentioned that Gilost was the best tracker in the village so he beckoned him forward. “We need to have some idea how many there are, Gilost.” The two men studied the tracks intently for a time and then Estel called Halhigal and Halbarad to come. “I would guess that there is somewhere between twenty-five and thirty orcs,” he glanced at Gilost.

“It’s hard to say, my lord, but certainly no less than that.”

“How far is it to Taurnand? We have to assume they are planning to attack it.” Estel tried not to think of the women and children that were probably just as undefended and alone as the ones in Dolomar. He kept his mind focused on the orcs and how best to destroy them.

“If we kept to the pace we have been on, we would have arrived there around noon tomorrow,” Halhigal replied; his mind feverishly thinking through other possible routes that might help them arrive sooner. There were none that he could remember that would be any quicker traveling at night.

“Are there any patrols close by?” Estel wondered if he should send one of them to get help while the other three went on.

“Not this close to the village,” his uncle replied, frowning.

“I did not think so.” Estel noticed his uncle’s frown and took a moment to explain. “I thought if a patrol were close then one of us could go for help while the other three went on.” Halhigal nodded.

“Come,” Estel led the way back to the horses, talking as they walked. “We will ride through the night.” He looked at Halhigal who nodded his approval. “But even with that I do not see us arriving before the orcs. Even though they will have denned up for the day, they have too much of a head start and we will be riding through woods in the dark. All we can do is hope they can hold out until we get there,” he said fiercely as he swung into the saddle. “And,” he added, “that we will be enough to at least drive them off.”

The four Rangers started out slowly, making sure that the orcs were in fact heading towards Taurnand and it was soon obvious that they were making a beeline in that direction. There was nothing else in this part of the Angle that would interest the evil creatures. When they were sure of their goal, they picked up the pace with Halhigal still leading the way as he knew the lay of the land better than Gilost. They rode at a ground eating trot as they wove through the trees. Halhigal called a brief halt just before dark to water and rest the horses and then they moved on again, knowing that the orcs were now also on the move and probably only a couple hours ahead of them at this point. Nightfall slowed them down considerably and Estel grew increasingly frustrated at the delays as they continually had to walk their horses even in the light of the moon that was just past full.

They reached Taurnand an hour before dawn and they could heard the first sounds of battle a mile or so away and they all cringed inwardly. The Bruinen provided a natural barrier for the back side of the village so the people would only have three sides to defend Halhigal realized as they drew near. He knew that the other three sides had been cleared for the crops and for the grazing of their animals; there were large open fields between the tree line and the village walls. They could not charge recklessly across that land no matter how badly they wanted to engage the enemy immediately. A plan must be put into place first.

“There is fire,” Gilost’s voice could barely be heard above the noise of the horses.

A faint red glow could now be seen through the trees as they slowed their horses to a walk as they neared the edge of the clearing, the growls and curses of orcs and the occasional yells and screams of people could now clearly be heard. They dismounted, tying their horses, and ran through the woods, stopping at the edge of the trees. It appeared that while there were scattered fires inside the village, most of the fires were from the burning of small sheds outside the stockade. The gate still held, though orcs were throwing their bodies against it trying to bring it down. Evidently the villagers had run out of arrows because none were coming from over the walls. The bodies of orcs were lying scattered here and there around the stockade, mostly near the gate from what they could see. There still appeared to be about twenty of the evil beasts swarming around the gate.

Estel scanned the open ground between where they were crouched and the gate. With the fields harvested there was little to hide them. He looked at Halhigal. “I see no other way than a straight forward assault, do you see something different?”

Halhigal slowly shook his head. “I do think we should stop about halfway across the field and take down as many as we can with our bows,” he suggested. “I imagine the orcs are out of arrows by now.”

Estel nodded, “Gilost stay to the left of me, Halbarad stay between me and Halhigal.” He wanted Halbarad close to the most experienced warrior of the group – Halhigal.

The Rangers rapidly ran towards the village, nocking arrows as they moved. They skidded to a halt in the field that was covered with the stubble left from the wheat. Estel released the first arrow as a signal and it was swiftly embedded deep into the back of an orc, piercing its heart. The other three men released their arrows only a second after Estel’s and only Halbarad did not kill the orc he hit. But his second arrow, launched a moment later, brought it down. After the second volley of arrows the orcs became aware of the danger behind them and they turned to face the new threat. Estel and Halhigal were able to release one more arrow as the orcs charged, but they only wounded the orcs as the creatures moved. But the arrows had reduced the numbers considerably and though still outnumbered at least three to one, the Rangers felt it was at least a number they could handle with skill and a bit of luck. Bows were shouldered and swords drawn as the orcs neared, growling and cursing in their own foul language.

Estel stood back to back with Gilost while Halbarad and Halhigal fought together. A crushing wave of orcs tried to overwhelm the four men but they held steady under the onslaught, their swords flashing in the moonlight. Facing several orcs at once, Estel quickly decided to deal with the largest one first as it had the longest sword and seemed the boldest and the most likely to cause him problems – though he did not ignore the other two. He neatly blocked the first swing of the orc’s blade, quickly pulling his sword back and thrusting it directly into the orc’s heart before the creature had even had time to react from the first move. The body had not even fallen before Estel had slit the throat of the orc to his left. Turning to the right, he leaned back as an orc’s sword came perilously close to his chest and he brought his sword down hard on top of it, knocking it from its owner’s hand. A quick stab in the left side and into the heart of the orc as it turned to flee took down the third orc.

Sliding around to help Gilost, he saw that the man had already killed two orcs and was facing a third but was having little difficulty with it. Estel turned back towards where Halbarad and Halhigal were fighting a few yards away and saw that they were surrounded by orcs though several dead bodies were on the ground around them. “Gilost, the others need help. I am going to leave you.” Gilost grunted his agreement. Leaping over the bodies of the orcs he had killed, Estel ran to the others and waded once again into battle.

0-0-0

Halbarad was struggling and feeling overwhelmed by the number of orcs he was facing. This was his first real battle of this kind. Even when the village had been attacked most of his fighting had been with a bow and by the time he had reached the skirmish with the orcs that had gotten over the wall he had only had to face and kill one. It was not like this. He forced himself to push the fear to the back of his mind and to concentrate on the enemy in front of him, grateful that his adar was at his back. The hours and hours Halbarad had spent practicing over the years showed as his body reacted instinctively.

The orcs did not wait and fight him one at a time as he was used to when he was sparring, several attacked at once and it was all Halbarad could do to keep track of the two that were in front of him. There were more behind these orcs but, for now, he ignored them. His sword clanged hard against the orc that was to his right and a tremor ran up his arm. Halbarad quickly yanked his sword back and tried to drive it past the blade of his opponent, but the orc was too quick and he blocked it. The other orc moved in at the same time and Halbarad had to jump back out of the way of its sword, ducking down as the first orc swung again.

“Are you all right?” Halhigal yelled in concern, feeling him moving away from his back, however slightly.

“Yes!” he could not waste his breath on any more words. Gritting his teeth, Halbarad blocked the swords of each orc in rapid succession, deciding that he needed to do something or he would not last long. He had to become more aggressive. When the next swing come in from the first orc, he blocked it and then as their swords slid apart, instead of pulling it back to himself, he kept his sword moving and took off the sword arm of the other orc. It fell screeching to the ground, but Halbarad ignored it and kept his attention focused on the first orc. Again their swords came together and slid apart and Halbarad tried desperately to think of some way that he could get past this orc’s defenses. He finally saw the opening he was looking for and Halbarad slipped his sword past the orc’s, driving it deep into the orc’s stomach and pulling his sword up and back out as quickly as possible, spattering black blood all over his hands and clothes as the orc fell, clutching it’s stomach.

More orcs had taken the place of the one he had killed and the one he had disabled and Halbarad found himself on the defensive once again. He had settled down somewhat and was able to focus more on attacking the orcs while still staying close to his adar; he could not leave him unprotected. Either the orcs he was facing were not as skilled with their weapons or he had learned from the previous encounter because he killed the first one rather easily, sliding his sword over the top of the orc’s blade and piercing the creature’s heart.

Halbarad was startled when Aragorn arrived; he seemed to have appeared out of nowhere and he attacked the orcs from behind. Between the two of them they swiftly killed the last two orcs that were still standing and then Halbarad finally put the orc that he had disabled earlier out of it’s misery by plunging his sword into it’s heart. Gilost arrived soon after but the orcs were all lying on the ground.

The four Rangers stood panting, wiping sweat and black blood from their hands and faces as best they could, keeping a wary eye out around them. They cleaned but did not sheath their swords. For a moment it seemed unnaturally quiet in the field except for the distant crackle of the fires that still burned. But then they could hear indistinct noises rising over the walls of the village. Estel noticed that Halbarad was trembling but he said nothing, glancing at Halhigal to see if he had noticed and his uncle gave him the tiniest of nods and laid his hand on his son’s shoulder, gripping it tightly.

Finally Estel spoke. “Gilost, go and get the horses and meet us in the village. I think we are going to need whatever supplies we have with us.”

“Yes, my lord,” he turned to do his Chieftain’s biding while the other three Rangers quickly started towards the village, bracing themselves for whatever horrors might await them inside the gate.

~~~

Reviewers: Thanks to everyone who reads the story and especially to those who review, I appreciate the encouragement. I will answer everyone by email if I have an address.


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