12. Chapter 11
I can remember clearly the day the army marched from the north and crossed back over the river. There had been a thunderstorm the night before and the day was pleasantly cool under an overcast sky. There were puddles in the streets and the air was fresh and full of sharp scents, more pleasant than usual as the downpour had washed much of the filth away. The garrison scouts had brought the news back over the river and the bell had been sounded in the Keep. We abandoned an arithmetic lesson, left the house and set off down the hill towards the market place, joined by an ever growing throng. I was full of excitement, but the rest of my family were unusually quiet, and after a while my grandfather gently told me to hush my babbling. We joined the crowd waiting just outside the north gate, and I climbed onto a wall for a better view. We did not have too long to wait, soon horns sounded just out of sight across the river and then a cheer went up from the people around us. There they were, the vanguard with the king and his knights mounted in the van with their banners flying and a great column of red surcoated foot marching behind them in a forest of spears. They disappeared behind the buildings on the far side of the river and then re-emerged on the wooden causeway that ran across the ford and were soon upon us. A chant of 'Rhudaur Rhudaur' went up and the King came past first, his horse skittering a little at the sudden noise and movement of the crowd. He looked tired and ill to me, and not very magnificent at all, but the soldiers round him made up for that a little. Soon they were gone and it was the regular foot soldiers who were coming past, rank after rank, with the crowd calling questions to them, and a few answering where they could. No, they had not taken Carn Dûm, but yes they had tasted victory and given the enemy a lesson he would not forget. Others cried out for news of their loved ones, but of course they would have been fortunate indeed to receive a reply among so many. As the column continued to cross the river the appearance of the soldiery became more variable, and of course there were also large numbers of Hillmen from the Shaws who did not wear a fixed style of gear at all. I was fascinated to see them all, but like the rest of my anxious family it was the drab cloaks of the Scouts that I searched for. At last those we had been looking for came into view in the hubbub, and there marching at their head alongside his fellow captains was my father. He too looked weary and careworn, but my heart swelled with pride to see him so stern and fierce and I had no doubt of his heroism. Before anyone could react I dropped from the wall, crawled rapidly through the sea of legs and out into the street to where he was. He uttered a cry of joy and swung me into the air and onto his shoulders and I was carried along in the column past the cheering throng and up the hill to the Keep, deliriously happy.
Soon we were all reunited and there were many hugs and tears and many questions and a few jests. We all walked the short walk together back down through the throng in the main street, with me walking proudly next to my father. Quite a few people called his name and acknowledged him, and I took this as further proof of his status as a hero. Most of those around us were joyful but one small group in particular sticks in my mind, gathered closely around a young woman with long blonde tresses who was doubled over by a doorway, sobbing and wailing. Even at the tender age of seven I knew what this must mean, and I had felt the tension in my mother and grandparents as they waited anxiously to see if my father would be amongst those who returned. Although I knew it was not manly I took his hand and he returned the clasp firmly and tenderly.
The next few months were amongst the happiest in my life. My father was given twelve weeks leave of absence in recognition of his service and spent the whole of the autumn with us. He spent a lot of time with me and I got to know him much better than I ever had before. Despite our happy doings together he always seemed a little sad, and I awoke once or twice in the night thinking I had heard him cry out. It made my love for him all the more fierce.
Eventually it was time for him to leave us again, and one dim morning he changed back into his drab scout gear, gathered up his arms and pack and left to make the short journey back up the lane to the Keep. I think the parting was a little less bitter for my mother and grandparents this time, as there had been virtually no incursions from the north since the army had returned and a peace of sorts had returned for the time being. Many of the men in the northern army had been allowed extended leave as a result and the camp by the river and the Keep were both half empty. It seemed that once again the forces of Carn Dûm had been dealt a severe blow and been forced to draw back, and maybe there was some truth in this, but I also think the King Of Angmar had decided to turn his attention westward to Cardolan and Arthedain for a while, the schemes and plots he had begun to set in train would have to do for now where we were concerned. Cardolan in particular began to suffer much raiding, with the open and poorly defended lands between the South Downs and the Hoarwell bearing the brunt of the enemy attacks. It was a fertile land of rolling wooded hills and grassy plains, sparsely populated with scattered farmsteads and villages, and the raiders met with little resistance, and what help was summoned came too late for many. The forces of Angmar passed at will down through western Rhudaur and across the great east road, pillaging, murdering and burning, just as they had years before in the north of our Kingdom.