10. Chapter 9
Rhudaur had won the day on the Northern Plain, but the price had been high. As the sun set in west the King remained insensible and could not be roused, and more than one tenth of his forces lay dead on the battlefield The price their enemy had paid was much higher however, and my father had played a full part. When the captain leading the centre where the fighting was at its fiercest was slain the line began to falter. My father, who with his scouts had been commanded to assist the archers in the rear, saw what was happening and called his men forward, rallying the regular soldiers and then leading the counter charge which eventually turned the tide. Word of his deeds soon reached Lord Barachon, who had assumed command in the King's stead, and he was brought before him and commended for them.
The sun had set from a cloudless summer sky, but when the camp stirred in the morning a thick fog had descended which grew worse during the day, and made the hard job of clearing the battlefield of their dead and burying them all the more difficult. There was an unseasonal chill in the air, men lost their way even whilst performing simple errands, and it soon became impossible to set an effective guard or watch for the movements of the enemy. That enemy soon returned, creeping out of the fog in twos and threes and picking off men unawares, or lying in wait amongst the slain on the battlefield and leaping up to take them by surprise. When the fog still did not lift the following day, and the increasing number of attacks by the enemy began to take a noticeable toll, Barachon ordered that all should withdraw from the field and remain in the main camp until it cleared. He began to suspect, but could hardly credit, that this was no ordinary fog. Two days later it was still there, as thick as ever. His men were becoming restive, speaking of sorcery and unable to shake off the chill which seemed to seep into their very marrow and sap their spirits. The King remained unconscious, but began to babble from time to time as if dreaming. He was pale and feverish and wasting rapidly.
Barachon was in a quandary. Only a few days before he and the King had won a great victory and broken the host of their foe despite being heavily outnumbered. The road north to the enemy's citadel stood clear. Yet here he was effectively blinded, his King and childhood friend dying, unable even to complete the task of burying his own dead, and with the enemy ceaselessly harassing his camp. Ulfraer had come to him in an agitated state that morning and given him an ultimatum, that if the fog remained on the morrow he would strike camp and march south, with or without the main host. The Hillmen were superstitious and what was happening was affecting them badly. Barachon cursed him but knew that he had no choice but to accede.
He had been present when the Kings met on the field and clashed, and I cannot but suspect that the meeting with the mighty King Of Angmar had made a great impression on him. He may have commanded a host of foul orcs and low men but he was clearly of the noblest Numenorean lineage, and a peerless warrior. And his guard and commanders were all high bred western men too, Barachon had supervised the torture of the captives from the camp the last time he had led an army north and had learned much of them before they were put to death.
The following day dawned as drear and obscure as all those before it, and the army struck camp and prepared to move south. The King was placed on a supply wain in the centre of the column and a strong guard arranged around it. The rest of the line was under strict orders to march in silence unless absolutely necessary, and a screen of scouts marched within earshot ahead, beside and behind them, orienting themselves by the sound of footfall and the creak of wagons and gear. They had a perilous task, with no means of finding their way without the sounds from the road, and little time to cry out a warning should the enemy come upon them out of the murk. My father told my grandfather later that that those days of marching, with nerves stretched taught hour after hour, and the hard camping strung out along the road that followed each night, were amongst the hardest he ever had to endure. Several of his men vanished, each day presumed either slain or strayed, and there was no possibility of returning to look for them. At one point he too suddenly found himself in deathly silence, unsure of his bearings. He had been following the rearguard at a distance, having taken on one of the most dangerous role for himself. As soon as he realised his situation he had had fallen to the ground to try and hear what he could. At that moment he became aware of the snuffling of an orc scout coming out of the gloom behind him, and barely had time to draw steel before the enemy nearly stumbled over him. The scout died with a shriek, and the silence returned. He waited, heart pounding, for a few long moments to see what the noise might bring down on him, but no further shapes emerged from the fog. Praying that he guessed correctly and had not veered to much to the west he tentatively set off again and in a few more minutes stumbled very gratefully onto the road. He set off at a steady jog until he was hailed by a sentry riding the rearmost wain in the column. He climbed in and took a quick meal with the soldiers before dropping back off and resuming his lonely watch.
The march through the fog was agonisingly slow, and the column barely travelled four leagues the first day. On the morning of the second day a large force of orcs attacked the front of the column, but thanks to the scouts they did not have the advantage of a complete surprise and they were beaten back with minor loss. In the afternoon a second attack came out of the fog, better organised this time and preceded by a hail of arrows. The night that followed was punctuated by shots out of the dark and screams and yells that made rest impossible. The men were at their wits end, and fights began to break out amongst them too. Barachon, wondering that victory could so quickly be turned into a near rout, was forced to make an example of a few offenders to maintain discipline. And then, on the third day of the march as they approached the northern end of the Trollfang range the men in the van suddenly felt a breeze on their faces, and golden glow grew in the fog ahead of them. They marched out into warm summer sunshine, and felt a sudden heady lifting of their spirits.and a great cheer went up. In front of them the road and the mountains marched south towards home. Behind them, if they cared to look, the sudden edge of a great bank of fog stood like an uncanny grey wall. If Barachon had doubted its unnatural provenance before now, he did so no longer, and he knew in his heart of hearts that this was a foe with a power they could never hope to best. As if to confirm his fears the King awoke from his swoon almost as soon as he emerged into the warm summer sunshine. He was very weak, but otherwise hale, and was immediately able to take some food and drink.
That evening the force they had left watching the fortress came up the road in haste and seemed surprised to find them so far south. A sortie had been made, and a host was marching up the road behind them. Ulfraer was with Barachon when the messenger arrived. 'Sorcerers are one thing' he roared 'but men and orcs are another entirely, let us make this demon king pay dearly for what he has made us suffer'. And so they did, taking the much smaller enemy force by surprise and crushing them, before capturing their fortress and destroying it.
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