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The Tale of Eiadric

Part I

Éiadric felt the familiar rhythm of his horse’s hooves as he rode full speed over the grassy plains of the Westfold. It was dawn and the mist lay like a grey carpet over the rolling hills. He was flanked by the 12 riders of his scout unit at the end of a long pursuit to get to the fleeing orcs before they reached the shallow river, now half a mile or so ahead of them.

 

The sun was rising slowly on the horizon behind them casting long shadows as they neared the running orcs. It was a strange time for orcs to be running about this far from the Misty Mountains, thought Éiadric, as he readied his long spear and braced it with a firm grip. They had certainly gotten bolder the last few months. There was no denying it.

 

They were approaching the riverbank and now the Riders were on the orcs like a thunderstorm. “SLAY THEM ALL!” bellowed Éiadric as he drove his long spear deep into the rearmost orc’s back. The orc was thrust headfirst into the turf with a bone-shattering thump and without slowing Éiadric pulled out his black-bloodied spear and quickly skewered yet another. This time the spear got lodged in the orc’s ribcage and as the foul creature crashed into the ground the spear snapped painfully out of Éiadric’s hand.

 

Pushing on with the pursuit he drew his sword with one long fluid motion and glanced around, only to see that the orcs were falling to his riders’ spears all around him.

 

As they came crashing into the ford, ice-cold water sprayed wildly about them, adding more to the chaos amongst the already panicking orcs. He swung his blade in a wild frenzy and slashed one of the larger orcs across the neck. Warm black blood splattering across his face as the hideous creature went down with a sharp gurgling scream. He wheeled his steed around sharply and smashed his shield into a charging orc’s face, throwing the maggot back with a crushing thump and a stunted bloody groan. The rest were now turning with drawn blades and tried to put up some resistance. “Fools.” thought Éiadric as he saw more of them fall to the spears of his shield-brothers.

 

But just then he noticed a faint defiant glimmer in one of the orcs’ fear ridden eyes. Something was not right. He glanced at the opposite bank and saw that orcs were spewing out from behind a raised ledge. Turning to the closest bank he now saw the same thing happening from the heavy foliage a dozen or so yards from where they had entered the ford. There must have been a few hundred of them on each side. Most of them being fighting Uruk-hai.

 

It was plain to see that it was a trap. And a perfectly sprung one at that. Éiadric only had time to curse his rashness before being stung by a sense of fear and panic. But he quickly gathered his thoughts and cast his feelings aside as he yelled orders and words of encouragement to his men.

 

By then the orcs in the river were either dead or scrambling up the flat banks to join their newly arrived maggot-brethren who were now jeering and taunting the trapped men in the ford. The shallow river ran black with the blood of the orcs and the tension was rising.

 

Éiadric knew that there was only one way out of this. And there was no time for doubts or second thoughts. They couldn’t go up or down the river and pushing forward meant certain death. They had to go back the way the had come and that meant breaking through the orc mob on the riverbank.

 

“RIDERS!” he roared “TO ME!”

 

The rugged Rohirric steeds snorted and blustered as the Riders turned and shuffled to align themselves with their captain. Two were injured but fit enough to ride.

 

“HARKEN BROTHERS!” he continued, “WE HAVE BEEN THROUGH HELL AND BACK TOGETHER BEFORE. WE ARE SHIELDS AND SPEARS OF THE MARK AND THESE MAGGOTS CANNOT HOLD US!”

 

He held up his sword, then hammered it into his heavy shield in a rough salute. “RIDE HARD BROTHERS! YOUR LIVES DEPEND ON IT!”

 

At this he pushed forward and started galloping up towards the bank followed closely by the others. All of them roaring defiantly, knowing that this could be the last thing they do.

 

To be continued…

Part II

The steeds galloped with heavy strides across the water up the flat bank and reached the horde of uruks with just enough speed to break through the first three ranks, but no more. At once the orcs swamped the Riders, slashing and hacking, and immediately, four of the Riders were unsaddled and pulled screaming to the ground, stabbed or beaten to death. Hearing the desperate screams of his friends chilled Éiadric to the bone and he cursed the gods that his life would end this way.

 

His powerful horse now reared onto its hind legs and kicked two uruks in the face and at the same time he thrust his blade into the throat of a smaller orc that had stabbed him in the leg with a dagger and frantically tried to scramble onto his saddle. It didn’t take very long before uruk spears and blades were thrust into the horse’s front and belly sending it into a slow backward topple. At this Éiadric instinctively pulled his feet out of the stirrups and prepared for a heavy fall, turning so that he would roll away from his horse. He hit several orcs on his way down and lost his grip on his sword. In the tumult he was bashed over the helmet and hit on his chest mail and sunk down to the ground in a daze. Groggily looking up he saw several of the orcs poised to strike. Their snarling faces were distorted into a monstrous sea of fangs and dark eyes. At this point he knew his life was over.

 

But suddenly he heard a loud orcish howl from within the mob and he saw them all hesitate, and then reluctantly back off. The large uruk whose voice he had heard forced it’s way through the crowd surrounding him and walked slowly up to him. Without warning, it kicked him in the face, planting him flat on his back in the blood-covered mud. It stepped onto his shield-arm and stood above him motionless while the others hung back and watched. Éiadric laid there helpless and could do nothing but look back up at the large uruk. His face was a bloody mess with his nose broken and one of his eyes swollen shut. Two of his ribs were cracked, his right leg was wounded and his whole body was battered and sore. He had no idea what had happened to all the other Riders. He just hoped that his death would now be swift, and he bitterly regretted that he couldn’t see his sister’s and parents’ faces once more before the end. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath.

 

But the final blow never came. The large uruk just spat on Éiadric hitting him square in the face. The thick brown sputum trickled down his eye and cheek. The uruk then turned around and shouted orders at the others while gesturing that they should prepare to move out. At that point Éiadric blacked out.

 

When he came to he noticed that it was midday. The uruks were on the move and he was swinging freely as they carried him along, hogtied on a pole. He felt excruciating pain in his whole body and found it almost impossible to lift his head and look around. He blacked out again.

 

The next time he woke up he was laying still on the ground. It was dark and he could make out several campfires all around him. Some near by, others further away. He struggled for a moment to remember where he was and then it hit him. He lay there in pain but his head was starting to clear and thoughts from the day's events came swirling through his mind. He had been taken by orcs. He remembered that it had struck him as odd that the sun didn’t seem to bother them at all. Éiadric had heard reports from other outriders that the Uruks didn’t fear the sun but somehow found it hard to believe. He had fought orcs his whole adult life and thought he knew all there was to know about them. But he had been proved wrong today. And the white hand… Whose banner were they fighting under? And the ambush… it was too well organised to be a normal band of orcs.

 

“You look like shite…” he heard a voice whisper nearby.

 

He squinted in the direction it came from and could barely make out Aethelwold through his blood-crusted eye. His fellow Rider was sitting there chained hands and feet to a stake in the ground.

 

“Aye” he whispered hoarsely. “as do you brother. And yet you haven’t a scratch on you”.

 

Éiadric's body pierced with pain as he chuckled inaudibly. A sense of pure relief flooded through him. “Thank the Valar you’re alive my friend. You cannot understand how it gladdens me”

 

Aethelwold nodded “As it gladdens me to see you. But believe me when I say that you are lucky to have been unconscious these past two days. I would trade places with you if only I could”.

 

“Two days?” Éiadric was surprised.

 

Aethelwold bowed his head. “These are not normal orcs brother. We have been on the move for almost two days without rest. Half of the time on a run. In my state I only managed to stay on my feet the first day. Then they carried me as they have carried you. They have beaten me, stabbed me and burned me with embers Éiadric. For no reason at all but to see me suffer.”

 

Éiadric suddenly felt a sting of guilt for his earlier comment and Aethelwold could tell by his silence. “What I fear is not what they have done my friend. It is what they intend to do. There is a reason for keeping us alive. Or else they would have finished us off at the ford.”

 

At this they both fell silent and tried to push the dark thoughts out of their minds.

 

The orcs soon broke camp and marched for what Éiadric thought must have been a day. They were not far from the mountains and by nightfall he could tell by the guttural grunts and general excitement that they were reaching their orc camp. How could they hide an outpost so close to Isengard? thought Éiadric. Our ally in the tower will have to be warned if we ever get out of this alive. Alive… hah. He sneered at his last thought.

 

After an hour their path rose and led them up along the shoulder of a rocky mountain slope. As they reached an open ledge a deep valley spread below them in the dim light. Éiadric gasped at the sight he saw. This was no camp. A gigantic orc city spread below them like a dark insect’s nest for miles. Encircled by an enormous ringed wall, with a dark tower in the center. Small fires dotted the valley as far as he could see. There was activity everywhere and smoke rose thick and black into the night sky. The putrid stench that carried up to where they were was nauseating.

 

It all hit Éiadric with the force of a stampeding auroch. Saruman had ceased being an ally a long time ago. And the Mark is now fully exposed to the north. Éiadric was overcome by both rage and despair. By the gods. There are enough orcs here to lay all the lands between the Isen and the river Anduin in ruin.

Part III

He was shoved violently into the small cell, hitting the opposite stone wall with a slap. The orcs that had taken him to the dungeons spat on the floor and sneered as they turned, happy to be joining the others at their feast. When they were gone Éiadric collapsed on the hard dirt floor and sat motionless for a minute or two. Then he looked around. He noted a wooden bucket in one corner and an old thin grey mattress in the other. It bore a dark, dry stain in the middle that could’ve been one of two things. He decided that he wasn’t going to try to find out which it was. He examined the heavy door from where he sat and sniffed the stale warm air in the cell and grimaced. He hoped that he would get used to it soon. Then he got up and limped over to the corner with the mattress and slid down with his back against the wall. He looked down at his right leg where he had been stabbed and noticed that it had reddened and was swelling and knew that it was going to become real nasty if something wasn’t done about it soon.

 

He sat there quiet for a while wondering what was going to happen with him and noticed the continuous muffled screams and barking yells coming from outside his cell. He stared at the wall feeling remarkably calm. But he knew what his mind was doing. He had heard about this happening. He was blanking everything out. Detaching himself from this whole experience as if it were all happening to someone else.

 

The next day they came for him. The cell door burst open and three orcs ran in and grabbed him by his tunic. He was forced through several passageways and out of the dungeons into the open. As they pushed him in front of them he tried to look around and take in as much as possible of the large orc settlement. He could see columns of orcs marching to and fro, and he could see and hear the banging of large hammers on anvils and saw black pillars of smoke rising in different places around the whole vast area. As they moved they seemed to stick close to the gigantic wall. It seemed that most of the settlement was somehow built into it as a massive complex that housed everything from workshops to living quarters. After a while they passed by what he thought looked like stables, yet very odd looking. When he looked more closely he could see wargs pacing back and forth snarling and howling to each other in what was obviously some sort of spoken language. As he was looking one of them suddenly caught his gaze and stared back with its huge terrifying eyes. It bared its teeth, wrinkled its muzzle and raised the hairs on its shoulders. With a flash it ran snarling out of the stables straight at him. Éiadric instinctively pulled back, stumbled and fell on his back. The escorting orcs finally saw what he was looking at and at the last moment managed to step in between him and the warg. Its jaws were snapping close to Éiadric’s face as they held it back with great effort and shouted abuse at it. A goblin with thick dark legs, and arms almost down to the ground came running over with a whip and managed to get the warg under control. There was great tumult for a while and the orcs were furious as they set off again with their prisoner.

 

At length they reached what Éiadric assumed was their destination. He was pushed into a room with a rough stone slab in the middle and before he knew what was going on he was knocked out with a blow to the back of his head.

 

He woke up and noticed that he was lying on the stone slab with his arms and legs shackled to its sides. Then he saw that an orc was standing next to him hunched over his legs. That’s when he felt a sudden sting in his right thigh. He screamed and noticed that they had gagged him. The orc working on him snarled at him. Barely distinguishable he thought he heard the words “leg” and “wound”, followed by a long string of what he was sure were orcish obscenities. Half an hour passed and then the orc covered his work with strips of cloth and left him.

 

Not long after, two other orcs came in. One looked almost like a man yet he clearly wasn’t. Squinty-eyed and swarthy like an orc, yet with surprisingly mannish features. He spoke in the rough orcish manner yet Éiadric had no trouble understanding what he was saying. “Horse-man” he said in his crackling voice. “You are a prisoner of the White Hand. You will serve us. You will tell us what we want to know” As he said this, the orc that was working on his leg earlier came back into the room. Éiadric now noticed that his head was adorned with a horned animal skull. The orc walked over to a large brazier in the middle of the room and picked up a sharp hooked implement and smiling evilly he slowly walked over to Éiadric. The red hot tip of the hook came closer and closer. Éiadric struggled and screamed …

Part IV

He was back in his cell. He had been there for the better part of two weeks. The torture had continued for six long days. Every day they would ask him the same questions. And every day he would give them the same answers. The truth of the matter was that he didn’t know anything that they wanted to find out. He was never given any information on the grand scale of things in the Mark, or the state of the Rohirric defences. And why would he? He was just an outrider unit leader.

 

Eventually the orcs believed him. And as terrible as the torture was, they always made a point of not going so far as to kill him.

 

“You should be glad that the masters need you as a slave” one of the smaller orc guards had said one day in the westron speech “you would be better roasting on a spit if you ask me. You’d make a tasty meal”.

 

And so it was that he was put to work. Hard work in the mines and furnaces of the orcs. There were other men there. And he was put in a larger cell with a few of them after a while. But the men in the cells changed from day to day and they didn’t speak to each other much. It was as if they all understood that there was no point in getting too close. No point in making friends in a place like this where it could all be taken away at a moments notice. They were all doomed men waiting for their final death-blow.

 

One day however, Eiadric was taken aside at the end of his laborious day. He was taken to the edge of the orc town and shoved into a caged wooden cart. And after a while he, along with some other men, was driven out of the great orcish settlement. It was a caravan of several carts laden with both slaves and other materials, most notably weapons. Small orc columns marched in front of, and behind, the carts.

 

Looking back after a distance he noticed that the great wall they had exited through curved away to each side forming what must have been a huge ring, with the tower of Orthanc in its centre.

 

They travelled for days and Eiadric recognised that they were travelling through the gap of Rohan, hugging the northern borders of Isengard moving north into Dunland. These were not parts that the Rohirrim would ever enter willingly. The Dunlendings and The Mark were in a perpetual state of hostility, although no big battles had been fought for generations. Eiadric wasn’t sure who he hated more; the wild hillmen of Dunland or the vile orcs holding him captive.

 

During the trek Eiadric studied the orcs carefully. They ranged in colour from black and brown to dark green. Some were hairier than others. And although very different to each other in appearance, they all had thick, powerful legs and muscular long arms. None of these orcs were of the fighting uruk type that took him by surprise at the ford, but they were no less impressive. They moved roughly across the land but with great ease and without any sign of fatigue.

 

After a few days they reached a town and were greeted by rough, wild looking men. Eiadric understood that they were being bartered as slaves. Many carts of produce exchanged hands and he and the other slaves were examined carefully before they were chained and taken away into the town.

 

A slight glimmer of hope rose in Eiadric’s mind. He would not stay here for long, he vowed. He would escape, or die trying. He grinned for the rest of that day.

Part V

The work he was put to up here was as hard as in the orc settlement. But at least it was outdoors. And the food was better. Every day he looked for a way to escape. He studied the behaviour of his overseers carefully, trying to find a weakness, a chink in their armour.

 

After a couple of weeks he was sure that it could be done. It would not be without risk. But he convinced himself that he had nothing to lose. So one day as he was put to work he decided it was time.

 

He was labouring away on a field at the very edge of the town and there were only three men guarding him and the other slaves. The sun was scorching hot in the late morning sky. He bided his time and waited for one of them to come within ten yards from where he was working. Then he subtly edged closer, pretending to be working all the time. When he saw that the guard had turned around he gripped his shovel hard with one hand, sprang up, ran a few paces and hit him hard across the back of his head. With a crack the Dunlending went down like a sack of potatoes. Then he quickly picked up the fallen man’s sword and started running. After a few seconds he heard shouts behind him and knew that the alarm had been sounded.

 

He had to sprint a good four hundred yards before he reached the edge of a light forest. The tricky part was over, he thought. But he knew that the hard and tiresome one had just begun. A few yards into the woods he stopped to get his bearings right. Then he continued running in the direction he though would lead him away from the Dunlending village.

 

Behind him he now heard men shouting and dogs barking. His heart sank as he heard the beasts and he knew that his escape would be tougher than he had anticipated. After a couple of minutes he came to a small stream and hesitated for a moment before his thirst took the better of him and he threw himself down and drank frantically. “Head start be damned” he thought “without water I won’t last long”.

 

As he continued he scuttled along upstream for a little while before continuing on his previous path, hoping to throw off the dogs following his scent. He heard his pursuers closing in on him.

 

After a while, he saw a steep hill with an outcropping and made his way to it. As he scrambled up he looked back and could now see his pursuers. No bows, he noticed. That’s good. But the hounds had obviously not been fooled by his little trick at the stream.

 

The forest was a bit thicker up here. He jogged for a hundred yards before he understood that he would not be able too keep it up. This is it then, he thought. He would make a stand here. He looked around for a favourable defensive position and chose a thick tree where another tree had fallen against it forming a slanting barrier. He stood there, catching his breath and listened intently.

Part VI

He heard them as they made their way to the top of the steep hill. Then he saw them. Two men and two hounds. They looked around and eventually saw him standing there.

 

With a shout they ran towards him. He readied himself, took a few deep breaths and gripped his sword firmly. He stood behind the fallen tree with his feet wide apart and raised his sword, ready to strike.

 

In a strange way he was actually relieved it had come to this. This was his element. Fighting was something he knew he was good at.

 

The hillmen released their hounds and they dashed with incredible speed towards him. He took another deep breath and steadied his nerves as they came. Both of them leapt over the fallen tree trunk at the same time. He moved to one side to avoid one of them and thrust his sword deep into the throat of the other. It went down with a shrill shriek. He followed through and pulled out his sword turning to face the hound that had leapt past him. It landed slightly off balance and skidded to a halt and at once turned against him. It came at him without hesitation and leapt again straight at him. He managed to get his sword up and felt it punch through the beast’s ribcage and they both came tumbling down, Eiadric on his back and the lifeless beast on top of him. He tried to scramble up but before he had made it the two hillmen were there, crouching low with there blades pointing at him. Eiadric was lying down with the heavy hound over him. His sword was still in the beast and he had no means of defending himself.

 

The two savage men closed in, grinning. “You’ll get yours now you filthy pony boy. You think you can escape that easily? You think you can kill one of ours and get away? You won’t live now. You won’t be spared after this you miserable plain-trotter”. Their faces were twisted with rage. They had just prepared to strike when Eiadric heard a faint twang. A split second later an arrow was in the throat of one of the men who went down gurgling. He heard another twang and an arrow thudded in the chest of the other hillman. He fell to his knees and toppled over with a look of shock in his eyes.

 

Eiadric lay still and didn’t know what was going on. After a while he pushed the hound off him and scrambled to the base of the thick tree and sat there breathing heavily. Then he carefully peered around the tree in the direction of where he thought the arrows were fired. But without a sound whoever had fired the arrows had moved to just where was. Two men stood up out of the bushes and showed themselves. Clad in green and grey ,the hooded men took a few steps towards him.

 

“Come with us if you want to live.” one of them said grimly, gazing into the forest towards the top of the hill. “More may come soon.” Then they set off.

 

Eiadric didn’t argue. He stood up and set off after them. They moved smoothly through the woods and he tried his best to keep up with them.

 

At length they reached a stream and halted. Eiadric stood bent and panted.

 

“We are clear now.” One of the men said as he leant on his long bow. “Drink if you need water”. The other man drew his hood back, squatted down and took some water in his cupped hands and drank.

 

As Eiadric drank he looked at the two strange men. They were tall and proud and dark haired.

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