Grief of the North Kingdom (a novel)

<p>A PRECEDING HISTORICAL NOTE <br /> <br /> Denethil, son of Boradil, was a the last true king of Rhudaur before his fall from power in the year 1330 of the Third Age. He was not of the pure bloodline decended from Isuldur, but few men were in the waning years of the three sister-kingdoms. It was especially so in impoverished Rhudaur where much of the population of the original Edain had dwindled to a handful of leaves in the wind. Near constant warfare in the previous century, and even the one before it, had taken its toll on the Dunedain there and those few communities that chose to remain and endure their hardships often found themselves in want of food and housing, for they were ever on the move. As the years went by Rhudaur became more and more populated with folk of strange and unfriendly origins. Dunlendings from the south as well as the native Hillmen of the nearby mountains slowly infiltrated the lands and made there their homes, forcing the families of the Dunedain to vacate or be slain or enslaved. The folk who men in the west call the Easterlings crossed the mountains in the late thirteenth century and swelled the ranks of the newcomers, and often they found themselves in the employ of the current Dunedain king at the time, for they were prized as valuable mercenaries. But their loyalties were often shaky at best, for they were wont to switch their fealty like a man might change his shirt every day. Dunadan and Easterling, Dunlending and Hillman - not to mention the local folk who went by the title of Northman, for they proudly insisted that they belonged to a category all their own. It is true indeed that the halflings of En Egladil thrived in the southern regions, for they too had crossed the mountains into Rhudaur at that time, but they played only a very minimal part in the histories of that time and do not come into the tales of those days. Elves existed in Rhudaur, of course, but they mostly dwelt in the well-guarded and little known abode of Rivendell, home of Elrond Half-elven. They were a secret folk and wandered hither and thither as they pleased, for few had the will or might to restrain their movements. Few men ever beheld the Eldar. They kept well out of the way of the wars and fruitless affairs of men and looked upon the deeds and events in Rhudaur with cold and calous eyes. The land of Rhudaur was a mixed bag of folk to be sure, but there was little love between any of them during the reign of Denethil the Deceiver, as his detractors referred to him. Yet, alone among the sister-kingdoms, this unusual arrangement existed for many generations of men until the year 1331, when the great Warlord of Rhudaur, a ruthless Hillmen in league with the Witch-realm of Angmar in the frozen north, carried out a merciless campaign of genocide against the few remaining Dunedain and their harborers in Rhudaur. By 1332 all the folk of the Dunedain that had not been destroyed or enslaved quickly fled into neighboring Arthedain or Cardolan for sanctuary. <br /> <br /> It was a time of mid-autumn in the year 1329, when the season's first snowflakes had already begun to fall, when King Denethil first began to read the sings of the impending doom that awaited him and his court. He was not a well-loved king of the people and he knew it well. Yet he cared not at all, for he still held supreme power in Rhudaur and his reign remained uncontested for the last eight years, after he had taken his coronation as King. His neighbors looked unkindly upon him as well. King Argeleb of Arthedain, son of Malvegil, had never trusted him or his Heir Apparent, Prince Celadorn. King Tarandil of Cardolan despised Denethil, and in the last years of his regin refused to attend the traditional Assembly of the Council of Arnor meetings upon Amon Sul, as was the custom for all the previous Kings and Queens of the three sister-realms. Denethil hated Tarandil for the slight and ere long vowed openly to punish Cardolan by shutting down all trade with Cardolan, the latter of which depended on Rhudauran timber for winter survival. Cardolan retaliated by blockading all river traffic upon the river Gwathlo, which the merchants and raftsmen of Rhudaur's southern port city of Fennas Druinen were wont to use on their way to the thriving city of Tharbad. This was little to the liking of the folk of Tharbad and they made their formal complaints to the king about the obstructionism in the river, but Tarandil turned a deaf ear upon them, for he was a stubborn man and not one to be gainsaid in his policies. Arthedain did little to placate the two rival kings, for they had as of late found themselves bogged down in the northern confines of their own realm fending off increasing raids of orcs that had issued forth from Angmar and Gundabad with reckless abandon. Thus began the final stages of Rhudaur's formal withdrawal from the ancient triple alliance of the sister-realms - just as evil things began to stir in Eriador. <br /> <br /> Yet during the earlier years of his kingship Denethil enjoyed many victories. He was the youngest child of King Boradil, son of Orondil, who himself was known to be a righteous and courteous man - the last Rhudauran king to be connected with favorable qualities. Denethil had beheld many uprisings of the people during his reign but he did not fear them. He always put them down with great success. His own folk were strong in those days - the early years, when he had first received the crown from his father. He had successfully driven a wedge between his rival siblings. His supporters smiled gleefully then as they watched brother against brother carry out vile and murderous acts of barbarity against one another until only a small handful of folk upon either side were left alive. It was then that Denethil, youngest of the three Dunedain brothers of the royal line, and who had feigned secret support for for both men, stepped in with his folk of mixed and obscure orgins, to sweep away the scattered armies of his brothers into the tangled wilds of both north and south. The eldest brother, Celadil, was forced far northwards into the cold Ettenmoors where the winds howled bitterly amongst the rocky highlands. There he was penned in for many months until hunger drove him and his followers southwards again into the rural settlements where they sought to intermingle themselves with the local folk and steal what food they could. Yet King Denethil, who had already taken his royal seat within the lofty castle of Cameth Brin, had many spies abroad and Celedil was discovered. Ere long the cutthroats of the king tracked him down and slew him mercilessly. <br /> <br /> Faracil, their father's second born son, had been in hiding in the southern regions of the Angle, where the lands were more hospitable. In the year 1324, when nearly two years had passed since Denethil had forced him and his brother into local exile, Faracil mustered a great force of fighting men and marched north for many days until they came upon the walls of the village of Tanoth Brin, which rested beneath the tall shadows of the jagged hill upon whose summit sat the castle of Cameth Brin, the King's Seat in Rhudaur. But Denethil had been waiting for them, for Faracil had marched openly through the lands upon their long road northwards. The king sent many sorties against his brother as they marched along their course in hopes of whiddling away at his brother's army in a war of attrition. It was a strategy that served him well, for Faracil's men were road weary ere they reached Tanoth Brin and their bagage train was in a state of ill repute. Then many of Faracil's men lost heart once they had beheld the towering summit of Cameth Brin far above their heads with its many men manning the ramparts with bows of many sorts drawn and ready. It was the first time most of them had ever set eyes upon the Craggy Hill and the sight of it with its grim castle perched upon its summit filled them with a foreboding dread. Therefore, knowing that the courage of most of his men had failed them at the last, Faracil sent messages of parley into the village announcing a cessation in all hostilities if he and his remaining army would be allowed to depart in peace with a vow never to wage war upon Cameth Brin again. But Denethil smiled when he heard these tidings and sent his heralds out to the walls to announce to Faracil's army that every man would be allowed to depart and go whither they would on condition that Faracil himself should become a prisoner of the king. To this the men of Faracil's makeshift army would have assented to but Faracil refused, knowing full well that he would be quickly executed by his brother and his body put up on display as an example to others. Many of the men from the south then threatened to lay hands upon their captain and drag him to the gates of Tanoth Brin if he refused, but Faracil and his few loyal supporters fled the scene on foot and sought to make their way to the river Hoarwell in great haste. But they were pursued and hunted down ere they could reach the riverside. There Faracil was slain with an arrow in his throat with the sound of the rushing river a stone's throw away. <br /> <br /> With his brothers dead Denethil felt more at ease to rule the realm of Rhudaur as he pleased without the threat of rivals who might contest his kingship. The early years of his reign saw little to be remarked upon, and indeed it was not said that his rule was in any way cruel or wicked then. Yet ere four years had passed the relative peace he had enjoyed after usurping the crown faltered when quarrles erupted once again between Rhudaur and Cardolan over possession rights of the Palantir housed in Amon Sul. Denethil openly charged king Tarandil of manipulating the seeing-stone against him by use of wizardry and claimed that by doing so Cardolan had violated the formal agreement between them that none of the three kingdoms should use the stone for spying on one another. Furthermore Denethil insisted that Arthedain and Cardolan had engaged in collusive acts against Rhudaur by swelling the city of Tharbad with excessive men-at-arms from their own respective realms which Denethil constituted a threat to his own realm. To the former charge there was little truth in it, for though Tarandil was indeed accounted as a man of great wisdom and foresight, even by Arthedainian standards, he had not the skill to manipulate the great Palantir against another of the Dunedain kings. To the latter accusation Tarandil responded by saying that Tharbad did in fact lie within the proper bounds of his realm and technically belonged to Cardolan, and since it was he and not Denethil or Malvegil, the current king of Arthedain, that dwelt closest to the increasingly hostile men of Dunland to the south, Cardolan should not be restricted in the numbers of her guards stationed in the city. The claim that Cardolan was the true possessor of Tharbad seemed excessively haughty to Arthedain at the time, but Malvegil did not press Tarandil on it. Denethil, however, openly denied Tarandil's charge and as a resullt he sent many men of arms south into the Angle where they placed themselves into the soldiery at Fennas Druinen in order to guard the right of passageway of the river Gwathlo. He also sent his spies into Tharbad and made there his first covert alliances with the more secretive guildsmen that thrived in the city. There he concocted what mischief he could in Tharbad in order to complicate Tarandil's daily business there, for he knew of the king of Cardolan's growing obession over control of the city then. <br /> <br /> By the year 1327 Denethil saw his troubles with his own people increase once again. He had successfully thwarted a plot to assassinate him by some among his own bodyguards in the early months of the year and as a result he had many of them tortured until he got the confession out of them that fired the embers of his anger into a burning rage. Knowing of Denethil's ongoing rivaly with king Tarandil of Cardolan more than one of the unfortunate wretches stretched out upon the dungeon racks of Cameth Brin blurted out the name of Tarandil in association with the assassination attempt. By their account the king of Cardolan had hired them to carry out the plot to end his life with a down-payment of Arthedainian gold mint and more to come if the plot proved a success. It was enough to convince the paranoid king of Rhudaur, though he did not openly accuse Tarandil of the attempted regicide at the time, for he had no wish to turn the eyes of Cardolan northwards into Rhudaur then. Denethil began to muster his forces in and around Cameth Brin in preparation for a great surprise assault upon Tharbad which he hoped to temporarilly seize for his own with assistance from his secret allies within the guilds therein. But just as the king was preparing his armies two remarkable events frustrated his designs. Firstly, reports quickly reached him that much of Tharbad had been as of late burned to the ground in a great conflagration, and many of the guilds inside the city with it. Secondly, many of the tribes of the Rhudauran Hillmen had withdrawn from northern Rhudaur and were said to be engaged in civil warfare amongst themselves in the foothills of the Misty Mountains. To the first account Denethil was much alarmed and he sent his spies and scouts down the river Gwathlo to learn the truth of the rumors of Tharbad. When the scouts returned and reported that sizable portions of Tharbad had indeed been burned in a great fire Denethil held a hasty council with his war captains and instead decided to take advantage of the disorder in lower Cardolan by sending a great host of warriors to Amon Sul to evict Cardolan's soldiery out of the tower. Of the account concerning the Hillmen it is said that he cared little, for the Hillmen had ever been a mistru!@#$l ally, and indeed may have even welcomed such an internicine conflict of arms between, as he deemed them, crazed barbarians. <br /> <br /> Thus, with impending doom that he had not freseen, Denethil found himself in dire straits and unable to fulfill his ambitions. In the spring of 1330 a new leader rose up among the tribes of the Hillmen of Rhudaur, and his name was Broggha. He was known to be a fierce and uncontested warrior who, it is said, rose to power by murdering his own father - himself a peaceful man by nature, desiring little more than reuniting the rival tribes. Broggha exploited his father's timidity and seized power from him with the aid of many men from Angmar, whom had come into Rhudaur to raise Broggha up as the new face of authority in the realm. The king was aware of Broggha but had not the men to contest this new threat at the time, for his army was stretched too thin, the bulk of them being away to the south and westwards upon Amon Sul by his own command. Yet still he did not fear that an attack upon Cameth Brin was in any way emminent, as the campaign season had formally ended with the coming of an early winter. But Broggha rallied his new army of Hillmen by way of his stout courage and fearless leadership. Furthermore, he was tireless and had the endurance and hardihood of a dwarf. In this it was later said that he received aid from the the dark arts from Angmar which made him endure far longer than most men. Broggha gave a great speech to his many followers and spoke long to them regarding their history of constant struggle against the wickedness of the Dunedain aggressors and the many unjust iniquities the true and original inhabitants of Eriador had suffered over the long ages. They had endured woe and misery long enough and their new leader urged them to follow his leadership to the very walls of Cameth Brin and demand that the king agree to vacate Cameth Brin and depart Rhudaur forever. With the hearts of the people enflamed the new army of Hillmen marched through northern Rhudaur with their allies from the north - burning, looting and pillaging as they went. <br /> <br /> It is said that Denethil hardened his heart at the tidings he received and immediately ordered his remaining captains to muster the troops and man the castle's defenses. The barracks of the village of Tanoth Brin was emptied of all fighting men, who were ordered to form their battle formations on the eastern slope of the Craggy Hill where the grade of its inclination was more gentle, for indeed the western wall of the hill was sheer and jagged - completely unnavigable by any save birds and small beasts. But the Dunedain and their few allies, composed mainly of Easterling mercenaries along with Northmen cavalry and Dunlending infantry, began to suffer with cold, for Broggha bade his army halt in a scattered community of locals a mere three hours march east of Camth Brin. There they waited for three days until the ever-falling snow on the ground lay several inches deep. Thus began the Seige of Cameth Brin in the last month of the year, where the king of Rhudaur found himself trapped up inside the walls of his lofty abode with no way of escape. he commanded his captains to harass the enemy by way of sorties sent out against the Hillmen, but Broggha and his men always prevailed. Then the lord of the Hillmen sought to taunt Denethil by regularly bringing forth various prisoners he had captured just out of bowshot range from the walls of the ramparts. There he would call up to Denethil in his booming voice and threatened to kill two prisoners a day until the King of Rhudaur abdicated his throne and vacated the castle forever, saying, "Hail, Denethil! Former King of Rhudaur! Here at last we meet at the end. No longer shall you mercilessly hunt and subjugate our folk at your despicable pleasure. The Hillmen have suffered overlong at the hands of you and your line. The Dunedain are finished! Their reign in Rhudaur ends with you. As a trapped rat in a cage do I now have you! No one will aid you now. Yet if you come forth and surrender your castle I will at least spare the lives of the women and children you have penned up there with you. If you do not come forth things will go ill for them! They shall become playthings for the men under my command, and your Queen I alone shall have! Yet should you still doubt the word of Broggha let this execution before you serve as my testimony!" Then Broggha brought forth two of the leaders of Denethil's war sorties that he had captured and had them lay face down in the snow. There they became the first victims of Broggha's axemen, and when the deed was done Broaggha seized the two severed heads by the hand and hurled them with great strength and mockery towards the walls of the castle. These brutal acts were carried out day by day for a fortnight until Denethil began to quail with misery at the sight of so many severed heads before his gate. In desperation he had already ordered for the castle's two great beacons to be lit in hopes of attracting any who might aid him in his ill plight, but no help came. <br /> <br /> With their food supply dwindling and having little wood left to them to light fires for warmth, the King at last read the doom that awaited him in the eyes of his foes below. The death of his only daughter by sickness and cold at last sapped the remaining strength of will out of him. Yet even then he refused to abdicate his throne. Celedorn had sought to convince his father of marshalling together what knights he still had with them and make a final grand stand against their enemies, folly though it may be. But Denethil had lost heart and was indeed growing weaker by the day. He refused his son but gave him leave to try and wreak whatever damage he could to their enemies ere the end. <br /> <br /> Therefore Celedorn led a slender host of seventy knights upon horseback out the gates and down the eastward hill to confront Broggha's army. The lord of the Hillmen watched as one silently amused at the display before him. But the final battle was a rout. The last of Denethil's knights were thrown from their mounts and slain by the Hillmen. But Celedorn was taken alive by order of Broggha and was placed under heavy guard. Yet it was not so glorious an end for King Denethil and Halmedis, his Queen. Their lifeless bodies were later found upon their great bed in their private chamber, hand in hand. About them also lay overturned bowls of Yflwyd Juice - which was the liquidy substance obtained from crushing the pollen of the infamous Yflwyd Flower, found in the Rhudauran forest of the same name. It was known by all men of the wild to be a deadly poison when consumed. Thereafter Broggha and his retinue swarmed the castle and took possession of it, killing off the sickly and any remaining men inside it that they deemed a threat. What few women and children that still lived were either given to the captains of the Hillmen or sold off into slavery in the mountains. <br /> <br /> Thus Broggha had at last achieved that which no other enemy of the Dunedain had done before him: the final termination of Elendil's line in Rhudaur. Only Denethil's son, Celedor, remained. For a long while Broggha knew not what to do with him and kept him locked in the dungeons of Cameth Brin. No uncorrupted men of the west remained in Rhudaur after the death of Denethil and Broggha thought it best to raise the boy in his own image, and so he did for at least a handful of years after Broggha's usurpation of the throne. But at length it was believed that the Witch King in Angmar thought it unwise allow any son of a former Dunedain king to dwell within the bounds of Rhudaur, and Celedor was sent into the north where all tidings of him ceased and his ultimate fate unknown. <br /> <br /> Broggha quickly established a new order of things in Cameth Brin. He appointed new councilmen to serve under him and carry out his orders and a fresh team of personal bodyguards consisting of various Hillmen and men from Angmar, and they followed him wherever he went. He ordered that new construction be undertaken on a road that would connect Cameth Brin to Angmar in the far north, the length of which ran through the barren foothills of the Misty Mountains, out of view from the prying eyes of the Dunedain to the west. But the eagles of the Hithaeglir were aware of them and soon reported what they saw to the Noldorin elves, who in turn passed on the information to King Argeleb of Arthedain. Then the king would have launched an invasion of Rhudaur straightaway but his forces were then focused in the north of his realm where the orcs of Angmar fell upon the men of the marches in heavy numbers. Therefore Argeleb was forced to brood and to bide his time. Word of the fall of Denethil and the usurpation of his crown by the Hillmen was sent south into Cardolan where King Tarandil received them with indifference. He was glad indeed to see Denethil removed from power but would not send his army into Arthedain to aid in a war against an enemy that was sure to devour itself in time, for the Hillmen, he claimed, "were wont to engage in as much in-fighting amongst themselves as a pack of wild orcs, and indeed they are not too far off removed from them in their ways of wickedness and treachery. Sit, therefore, lord Argeleb, and wait and watch a while. They will soon turn to murdering their own kin and the reign of this so-called 'warlord' will be short-lived. Then Rhudaur shall trouble Arnor no more!" But Argeleb replied in turn that Tarandil was lacking in wisdom if he deemed that Angmar was not the real power behind the scenes. Furthermore, Arthedain claimed that Cardolan would surely be the next target of Angmar's wrath if the warlord of Rhudaur was allowed to remain on the throne of Rhudaur, for, as Argeleb reasoned, "Arthedain is still too strong to vie with at present, as is well known to our enemies. They shall look south ere they look west, though I forebode that ill shall come to me ere to you, lord Tarandil." Yet to this Tarandil gave no reply, for the king of Cardolan at last succumbed to an illness that had plagued him for years, and in the early months of the year 1335 the king died. So ended the long reign of Tarandil, son of Mirien the Queen, a reign which had lasted for two and forty years. Therefore it was left to his son to contend with the rising power of the north during the turbulent years that lay ahead - and it is those years in particular that our tale concerns us...<br /></p>
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