Chapter 4 – The Siege Part 1
The rain was a pale grey curtail as it fell from west of the Shire to the borders of the Trollshaws, north to the borders of Angmar and as far South as Dunland. A solitary figure, huge in a pale blue cloak strode through the gate of Trestlebridge, his muddy and sodden boots squishing as he continued into the now abandoned town. Rathbairn paused just inside the Southern gate of Trestlebridge, looking around to get his bearings. He fingered the hilts of the axes at his belt. He wore only the pair of hand axes now, his two-handed one lost in Minas Eriol. The Eglain had said they would search for it, yet no word had arrived. Radagast had gifted him with the one on his right side; the one on the left side had been forged in Bree by an evil-looking one eyed smith. The huge Beorning wiped the rain from his face as he began the search for the group he was searching for. He had been back in Bree for 3 days when he had received the message. Strider was pleased to see him and they had spoken about Ofolmoth’s death. The Ranger had listened and assured his friend that while the pain would not lessen anytime soon, it was a necessary task. Ofolmoth’s intent to rule would have been too much for Eriador to handle with the threat of Angmar in the north and Sauron’s forces gathering. Strider had sent him then to the Old Forest to seek out a mysterious figure Tom Bombadil, who led Rathbairn to the remaining Crebain who were spying on the Shire and their master. All now were dead at the hands of the Beorning who had then entered the Othrongroth, the great barrow of the ancient kings of Arnor. He had followed a Nazghul and a dwarf and after defeating many wights and Dourhand dwarves had only defeated the Wight Lord with the help of Bombadil himself. He had led Rathbairn out of the barrow and returned him to the borders of Bree, where Rathbairn had returned to the Pony to find Strider gone. His pack and belongings were also gone, a note with Barliman Butterbur had explained a mysterious errand with wishes for safe travels and a note to look for the wizard Gandalf, who would provide more guidance if needed. Luckily, Gandalf had indeed been at the Pony at the time an when Beorning and wizard met, they shared stories of Rathbairn’s grandfather Beorn, who Gandalf had met years ago on the quest with Thorin and company to Erebor. The wizard had then provided some information on the need for help in the North Downs and Angmar.
“The Rangers will need help in the North Downs my good Beorning” the wizard said, drawing on his pipe, smoke ringing his head like a crown. “With their Chief away, they must focus more on the Orcs that stream ever from Angmar . The North Downs is flooded with them now and the Rangers have barely managed to keep their home in Esteldin a secret.” The wizard’s blue eyes held Rathbairn’s now, measuring him for the task at hand.
“Maybe it would be best to go to Angmar to kill the orcs at their source” Rathbairn suggested.
“No, no, NO!” Gandalf exclaimed, his beard twitching with frustration. “That would not be wise at all! You would no doubt slay many Orcs, but in Angmar there are more than just Orcs to deal with. No you should go to the North Downs instead. Stay away from Esteldin, the Ranger’s city also. They do not trust outsiders. Instead, start with Trestlebridge, a town just north of Bree. They have had much trouble with a nest of Orcs who seek to overrun them and then move south to Bree. There also are Elves southeast of Trestlebridge in a small settlement called Meluinen. They may also help you.”
Rathbairn nodded in assent. “Very well then, to Treslebridge it is. I will leave tomorrow. What about you? What will you do?”
“I must leave to catch Strider if I can. His errand is of the utmost importance. You won’t hear from either of us for some time I suppose Rathbairn, so take care of yourself and do your best to keep the Orcs from headed south. They must NOT cross Trestlebridge! You must keep them from coming to Bree or Sauron will have the lands to the south caught between a hammer and anvil. Go now, I must rest before I leave. Sleep will evade me for some time I can see.” He pointed to the door with his pipe stem, dismissing the Beorning.
“Farewell Gandalf, safe travels.” Rathbairn said as he closed the door and headed to the Pony’s common room.
Later on, a meal of bread, honey and berries devoured and a mug of cider beside him, Rathbairn sat at a corner table in the common room, thinking of the next few weeks journey. He would need rations and feed for Calista. The horse, a gift from the Eglain, was sturdy and seemed to enjoy the company of her new Master. While she hadn’t managed to master conversing with him, Rathbairn had continued to train the horse to understand him when he spoke to her. A small tap on his elbow broke him from his reverie. A serving girl stood at his elbow, the same one who had caused trouble with Kerchag and his gang weeks earlier. She trembled openly, remembering the fierce giant before her who had nearly killed Kerchag and his men outside the Pony. She handed him an envelope.
“H-Here sir. A letter has been waiting for you here for a few days.” As soon as his hand closed on it, the girl bolted. He opened it and began to read.
It is my hope that this message reaches you soon. The Rangers need your help urgently. The town of Trestlebridge has come under attack from Orcs from the nearby hills of Nan Amlug. Their camp is larger than expected and some of the Rangers are in Trestlebridge lending aid. I have to leave for Rivendell immediately, so I cannot meet you. Two of my Lieutenants, Hersery and Thorsul, lead the Rangers in Trestlebridge and I have informed them of you. Please hurry, the town cannot hold for long. I have enclosed a blue Armband of the Rangers for you with this letter.
Rathbairn shook the envelope upside down and a pale blue strip of cloth fell to the table before him. Picking it up, he gazed at it a long time before tying it to his left arm. A strange feeling came over him suddenly, as if a need to travel north had suddenly grown stronger. He shook his head and stood up, crossing the floor to pay for his meal and provisions for the journey. He climbed the stairs to his room and locked the door. He set the axes within reach on the night table near the bed and lay down. He thought of home, his family and of the journey ahead. It was thoughts of Ofolmoth that raged through his mind when sleep finally took him.
In the morning, with the gate of Bree behind him and Calista following eagerly, Rathbairn strode north, grateful for the rain to cover his steps. He had glanced at a map of the North Downs that the owner of a nearby shop in Bree had sold him. If he didn’t stop, he could make Trestlebridge by noon. The journey north was uneventful, few families or travellers willing to venture out in the rain, the smoke from chimneys of farmhouses fizzling in the steady downpour. Rathbairn saw not a single creature, man or Orc as he rode Calista along the road north. The horse shook her mane and snorted, droplets flying off her mane. Rathbairn placed a hand on the side of her neck and reassured the horse. “You won’t melt girl, its only rain” he chuckled. Calista turned her head and snorted again, seemingly trying to say “Easy for you to say, I’m doing all the work”. Rathbairn chuckled again and nudged her with his heels.
The main gates of Trestlebridge came into view around midday. Rathbairn dismounted and stood near the top of the hill that descended towards the gates. He saw only one guard standing lazily at the gate, his head slumped onto his chest. Beyond the gate, he saw activity as soldiers and townspeople bustled about. He placed a hand on Calista’s flank and patted her reassuringly. Grabbing the lead rein, he walked down towards the gate and passed the now sleeping guard without challenge. He stabled Calista and handed the groom a coin. A shout from the south gate he had passed drew his attention as a large, armoured warrior now stood at the south gate berating the former sleeping guard. Shaking his head, he continued towards the middle of town, passing a smithy and an armourer. Many homes showed signs of fire and were blackened with soot and ash. Some townsfolk sat discontentedly, the orc raids having taken their toll. Near the northern end of town, Rathbairn saw the massive bridge that had given the town its name. The Trestlespan crossed a large gorge that was the easiest access to Bree. Going around the bridge would take days otherwise. Near the entrance to the tunnel-like bridge, Rathbairn saw several blue armbands signifying Rangers of The West. One in particular, a short-haired woman carrying a wicked-looking broadsword on her back was directing soldiers in placing barricades at the edge of the bridge. As he approached her, he looked down at the blue armband on his left arm, hoping this went well. She turned as he drew closer, seeing the armband and a curious look passed her face.
“Who in the blazes are you? How did you get in here?” Her grip tightened on her spear. Rathbairn held up a hand.
“ I am Rathbairn, I received Lily’s letter to come here. I’m looking for Hersery or Thorsul.”
When he didn’t explain any further, Hersery rolled her eyes. “So THAT’S what she meant. I see now.” She extended a gloved hand. “I’m Hersery, that bellowing fellow at the south gate is Thorsul. Believe it or not, he’s actually a nice guy. Wow, you’re a big one aren’t you? So what’s your deal? Big muscles, axes, are you some freak Dunlending or something?”
Rathbairn grumbled in annoyance. “I am the Grandson of Beorn and I come from the Vales of Anduin.”
“Really? So if Beorn was your grandfather then you can…?” She left it hanging.
“Yes” Rathbairn finished.
Her eyes widened in amazement. “That’ll be a sight to see for sure. Okay then, since you’re new to the Rangers, I’ll give you a quick rundown. But first, here comes Thor now. He’s always been one of the biggest Ranger’s out there. When he meets you, it’ll tweak his beak for sure.” She snickered evilly. “Hey ugly, come over here!” she called to the large armoured man approaching. He carried a massive two-handed broadsword sheathed at his hip, a heavy shield on his left arm and several daggers at his belt. He walked easily, yet his bearing gave the hint that when tested, he could become a fearsome warrior. A grin split his face for a moment as he called out to the woman “Ugly? You gotta stop talking about yourself there Hers. People will think you’re crazier than you already are.” He noticed Rathbairn and a curious look crossed his face for a moment, then was gone.
Hersery laughed and nudged Rathbairn with her elbow. “Told you” was all she said to him.
“Thor, this is Rathbairn, the new recruit Lily told us about. He’s a Beorning, the grandson of Beorn himself!” Isn’t that great?” She seemed to get more excited as she spoke.
“Careful Hers, you’re going to start gushing, then you’ll embarrass the lad. Then he’ll figure out that you’re truly nuts and run away”. Both warriors laughed heartily, seemingly at ease with the banter. Rathbairn smiled and felt a warm glow inside him. These two warriors obviously could handle themselves in a fight, but outside battle were close enough friends that they could pass these insults back and forth and laugh still. Lily was right, the Rangers were practically family.
“So what can I do to help you” Rathbairn asked.
“Thor, you want to take him around and fill him in? I have to find our wandering hunter. Damn elf can’t sit still if he isn’t killing orcs.”
“Hersery, Leandir hates Orcs more than just about anyone. Chances are he’s out killing scouts. He’ll come back when he’s had his fill. Leave him be. We have more important things to do anyways.” Thorsul shook his head.
“I know his story Thor, but we have rules for a reason. Leandir can’t just break them without being punishment.”
Thorsul let out a booming laugh. “You? Punish him? You can try, but he’ll just ignore you anyway. Why not let him kill Orcs and then thank him for following orders. If anything, that will confuse him. You might even make him smile.”
Hersery bit her lip and frowned “okay, point made. I’ll let the crazy angry elf kill orcs. Have fun you two” she called out, walking away.
Rathbairn had been listening curiously. “I’m guessing there’s more to this story about that elf she was talking about?”
“Aye, but that’s a sad tale for another time. Short version is that Leandir’s family was killed by Goblins. He kills Goblins and Orcs whenever he sees them. He’s really good at it too. The way he can almost disappear freaks me out. Anyways, on to business. The gorges you see in the distance are crawling with Orcs.” He pointed towards the eastern hills. “There’s a large gathering of Orcs and Goblins in those hills. They seem to be gathering strength for an attack on this bridge. We think their goal is to take this town, then to head south and sack Bree. Once that happens, they’ll be free to move further southwards. We can’t let that happen. So we’re going to hold them here. If it looks like we’re going to lose the bridge, then the plan is to burn it. One of our own has found several barrels of black powder that will blow this bridge to pieces. So that’s the plan. We obviously want to save the bridge since it’s the only crossing for days. But if we have to bring it down to save the southern cities, we will.” He said it with a finality that chilled Rathbairn.
They moved away from the bridge and wandered through the town. Many of the buildings had seen fire, most of them blackened with soot. Thorsul noticed Rathbairn’s nose crinkling at the smell. “You get used to it eventually.” He laughed and continued. “What’s next? Okay, so there’s only five of us Rangers here, but the soldiers are happy to follow us. We’ve split them into two groups for fighting. They take orders well but haven’t seen much in the way of combat. Hersery and I have been in quite a few battles, so we’ll take the lead. I’ll take you across the bridge to meet Mordro and Gil later on. Gil is our Healer. She knows a lot since she’s an elf. I’ve seen her bring people back from nearly dead. And watch out for her voice. She’s a Minstrel like Lily, so be careful. Also, Gil can craft weapons almost as good as anybody in Rivendell. Mordro’s a dwarf. He’s also good at building anything defensive. And he can take it down too. The best thing about him though is that even without all his weapons, he’s deadly. I’ve seen him lose his weapons and break an Orcs neck with his bare hands. He’s crazy so he fits right in here. Now then, what’s your story? Don’t leave anything out.”
Rathbairn began to tell Thorsul about his travels from home to Bree and his brief adventures with Strider. He spoke of the fight in Bree with Kercheg and his men and how Lily had freed him from the Bree jail. When he mentioned Kercheg, Thorsul burst out laughing. “Sorry about that. It’s just that now I know why Lily asked Leandir to track Kercheg down and teach him some manners. I’ll tell you that story later. Go on, I won’t interrupt again”
Rathbairn was about to continue when a horn sounded from the opposite end of the bridge. Thorsul’s hand seized his sword and drew it with a steely hiss. “What does that mean?” Rathbairn asked.
“Orcs. The Orcs are here.” Thorsul said grimly. “Come on, we need to cross to the far side with the others. We’ll hold them there as long as we can. The two men began to run towards the Trestlespan. Several guards followed and the small band of warriors crossed the massive bridge, their booted feet echoing on the wooden planks. They reached the far side and Rathbairn looked out on the North Downs for the first time. The hills and valleys of Nan Amlug fell away to the east and west. To the north, the road stretched and wound until it was out of sight behind the distant hills. Another road turned north-east and ran up and over another set of hills. At the top, movement could be seen, but not discerned. Rathbairn glanced at the small group of soldiers clustered at the foot of the bridge behind wooden spiked barricades and crude wooden caltrops. Rathbairn extended a hand towards the tip of one of the spikes but a strong hand clamped down on his.
“Better not do that fellow. ‘Tis tipped with the Orcs own poison eh? Be a shame to lose you before the battle starts!”
Rathbairn turned his head towards the voice and found himself staring down at a dwarf in heavy steel armour. A long black beard framed eyes that shone with eagerness for battle. The dwarf carried a large mace in one hand, a heavy shield strapped to the other. A pair of axes not unlike Rathbairn’s own were strapped to his hips. Daggers rested in each boot top and in sheaths at his waist.
“Mordroskerk at your service, and your family’s” he bowed deeply, his gruff voice belying exquisite manners.
Rathbairn bowed in return “Rathbairn of the Vale of Anduin at yours”.
Mordroskerk chuckled deeply. “Oh I know you laddie. As soon as I laid eyes on you, I knew what you were. We can turn you loose up there” he nodded towards the hills to the east “and you could solve all our problems.” He laughed again and turned to give some orders to the soldiers adjusting the barricades.
A slim hand rested on his should and a melodic voice said “He is a pleasure to have, our Mordro”
Rathbairn turned suddenly and found himself looking into a pair of the most sparkling blue eyes he’d ever seen. They gleamed with the fire of youth, yet fell away deeply with a vast pool of wisdom and knowledge. Black hair framed distinct elven features.
“I am Gilthiras and I am pleased to meet you Rathbairn, son of Grimbeorn, son of Beorn.” Rathbairn nodded his head.
“You seem to know more of me that I do of you” he replied with amusement.
She laughed musically, “I do indeed. Perhaps we can talk later. For now the battle will be joined soon.”
They turned towards the barricades. Hersery had arrived with a green and brown clad elf carrying a longbow and now the small force numbered nearly thirty, including the now six Rangers of the West. Hersery jerked her head towards the Rangers and the group clustered together as Hersery began to speak.
“We know what we need to do, but these soldiers are scared and will need us. We need to stick to our plan and hold out as long as we can. Mordro, Thor and I will stand with the front line. Leandir, stay back with Gil and keep her safe. Try to kill as many as you can before they get close. Watch out for sappers too. Gil, sing your heart out. Those songs of yours can make a duck attack a troll.” The group chuckled.
“What about me?” Rathbairn asked.
The small group turned towards him as Hersery placed her hands on his shoulders, straining up on tip toes to do so. “You my large friend are one of us now. We protect each other and use our strengths to our advantage. These orcs have seen us, but have no idea what you can do. I plan to use that. See those trees there?” She pointed to the west to a small cluster of pine trees on a nearby hill. Rathbairn nodded. “I want you to go there and wait for this.” She tapped a small horn at her waist. “When the Orcs are fully engaged on us, I want you to rush them from the rear.”
Rathbairn frowned. “One man rush those orcs? Are you serious?” He shook his head.
Hersery grinned wickedly as she answered. “No, not a man at all.”
Rathbairn understood at last. His hatred of Orcs had been ingrained upon him since his birth. Hersery continued.
“Listen to me Rathbairn. Your heritage is well known, you can thank Lily and Gil. You wanted to show the world that the line of Beorn will not simply stand aside while the forces of Sauron wreak havoc upon the world. Teach them to fear you. Show them what your Father and Grandfather could do.” Rathbairn’s heart surged with joy and he reared back his head and let out a deafening roar that shook the Trestlespan. The nearby soldiers jumped back as the Rangers leapt to calm them. Gilthiras rested a hand on Rathbairn’s arm.
“Calm yourself my friend, now is not the time.”
Leandir spoke, his voice a quiet whisper like the wind. “When you hear the horn, set the beast free. Show them your might, friend.” His eyes kindled with fire.
Rathbairn nodded and turned towards the group. “I will see you all soon” he said as he crossed through the lone gap in the barricade and loped away to the cluster of hills to the west. As he disappeared, Thorsul chuckled. “If this works, the Orcs will run back so far into the mountains that you’ll have to ship daylight to them by pack mule.” The laughter spread to the soldiers themselves. Suddenly, one of the guards, an older woman carrying a spear pointed to the top of the hills east upon the road. “Look!” she shouted.
A crude blast from an orc horn caught their attention as it echoed through the hills nearby. At the top of the hill. Orcs began to appear. First dozens stood at the crest, brandishing swords and crude spears. Soon it was hundreds. The hills to the east rang with Orc shouts and battle cries. The small group of thirty warriors stood resolutely. Hersery, sensing the fear drew her massive sword and cried to her warriors.
“Hear me, my friends! Before you stand the forces of Sauron! Yet this small group of a few hundred orcs is the best that he can manage? This sorry lot will not take this bridge! This is YOUR home. This is YOUR bridge” She slammed her foot on the Trestlespan for emphasis. “We are all that stands between the armies of the north and the lands to the south. It may be that we cannot hold them, but if fall we must, then we will make them fear our names! We will make them sing our battle here as a story to frighten their offspring! We today are family! We are one! We are all Rangers of The West! WE SHALL STAND!!!!”
With the last words, the group of five Rangers and nearly thirty soldiers shouted, shook their weapons at the Orcs and stood with hearts proud and heads high.
“Nice speech” was all Thorsul could say.
“Thanks, Thor” Hersery replied grinning.
Then with horn blasts and battle shouts, the orcs streamed down the hills and charged.
Sorry, no screens this week. For those that hate cliffhangers, rest easy. Part two will be here soon!