2. Chapter 1
Barad Amon Sul, the 21st Day Of Hithui 1408
My name is Esteldir the outlander, or to some traitor and turncoat, but once, for a little while at least I was Esteldir son of Galdirion, of the House Of Rushwater Vale. I seen much in my time, much that is now lost , so I will set down my tale while I have the chance, in hope that those who follow after will know that not all of our people fell into evil.
I was born in the Northern Marches of Rhudaur in the year 1311 in the town of Forn Athrad, or Northford as it is known in the common tongue. My father was a soldier, as all men became in that time, and a won renown before he was lost. He was the youngest son of a noble house who had lived in one of the vales north of the Hoarwell for years uncounted, and could trace their line back to the faithful who came over the sea. They were never very wealthy but their lands were extensive and the fief provided them with a decent enough living from their herds of cattle and sheep along with the tithes from their villages. The youngest of three brothers, he would often wander in the forest alone. One hot late summer afternoon in the year 1304 he stumbled across something in the forest that nobody had seen for more than a thousand years in that part of the world - a small band of orcs. It was only pure chance that they did not see him and he managed to evade them, but when he returned home all thought he must have been mistaken.
It was not long however before news of other sightings and incidents reached them. Livestock stolen or slaughtered in the night, woodsmen and hunters who had not returned home when expected. Soon afterwards the first attacks on our country began in earnest. However by the time the orcs came to the great house itself by night my grandfather had set a watch and armed his household, so they were not taken by surprise like our poor neighbours in the next valley. My father had taken the watch that night and acted with great courage for a boy of thirteen, raising the alarm and killing three of the enemy with his bow. They were all eventually slain or driven away, but two of the household were wounded, one badly, the old ostler who died later that day.
My grandfather sent one of my uncles at once to Northford, which was a day's ride distant, warning the lord there that they were under attack and asking for immediate aid. The following day his son returned alone, and did not bring good news. No men could be spared at the present time, the Vales were too remote and they were hard pressed closer to home. A messenger had however been despatched down the South Road to warn the king and ask him to send reinforcements, but until such a time as they arrived it would not be possible to send any help. My family had always kept a town house in Northford, for business or festival days, and my grandfather, cursing the gods in a black rage, decided without hesitation to send the women and children of the household there for their own safety. They left early the next day, my father too much to his dismay, although his older brothers were given leave to remain. The eldest, Galdir, was of an age to begin his army duty anyway and already had some skill at arms as was normal for any young man of good birth at that time. Haldor his brother was uncommonly quick and strong for his age. They were sent down to the villages in the Vale to call the fief's landsmen to arms, and set them to organise watches and patrols of their own as best they might.
Two nights later, the orcs returned in much greater numbers, and things went ill. The ancient great house had been built in the traditional pattern, semi fortified with thick stone walls and high windows to the outside, surrounding an inner courtyard with a strong gate, so they did not yield easily. But there were too few defending, and too many coming up in the dark and eventually they got in and set the place afire. It would have been much worse but for a brave band of men from the villages who saw what was happening from afar and came up from the Vale to offer what help they could. The orcs that remained had no stomach for any more fighting and melted back into the night, but their work was done. My grandfather was badly wounded and brave Haldor was dead, killed by an arrow at the gate. Five more of the household were dead or dying, and our house, which had stood on that windy hill for nigh on a thousand years, was a blazing ruin. Many old and beautiful things perished that night, ancient tapestries and books, worked glass, musical instruments, and a wooden chest that was said to have come over the sea.