MERP Story: Chapter 1 - The Gift - A story in the making based on Middle Earth Role Playing sessions.
Prince Haleth ran through his mind again the orders left by his Lord and father, Helm, ninth king of Rohan.
Helm had to depart to the Hornburg two days ago to personally see to some improvements to the defences there. He had always been a hands on king, and when it came to the defence of his kingdom, he was especially particular. The incident of Helm's killing of Freca, the ruler of the Dunlendings, has left a tense political situation near the Gap of Rohan, and he felt it best to be there to allay the fears of his people.
This left his eldest son and heir to take control of matters from the Golden Hall of the Mark in Edoras. Haleth had been left in charge before but never in such a politically tense time. He paced the main hall awaiting the small force he would send out to Dale.
Minutes later the door to the main hall opened and the herald announced the arrival of the small force. Geothed led in his guards, with Theomor, the kings emissary at the rear. Amongst the troops were Eol, Thoran, Roenol, the healer, and Daen, a young rider from a proud family near the Gap of Rohan.
Daen's family had recently been killed at the hands of Dunlending raiders and he had now committed himself in service to the King as a Rider of the Mark. His sole purpose was to live up to the high standards set by his father and brother in their time as Riders. They had died trying to save his family and the rest of their settlement.
The warriors stood behind their captain, as the emissary moved forward to receive his orders from the Prince. Haleth brought forth a small box and offered it to Theomor.
"The King commands you to take this small gift to the Lord of Dale, an ally of old, when Eorl lived in the northlands. Greet him with a kiss from the King and wish him well. Listen to his concerns and remember them to report back to the King. It is important for us to maintain our strong links with our allies from the north. You must travel with all speed and return to us soon. Theomor, I will talk with you further, Geothed, you and you men are dismissed to go and make final preparations for your journey, you leave at dawn tomorrow".
The troops bowed, turned and left the room. Theomor remained to discuss the mission further with the Prince.
Once outside Daen could not help but smile. This would be his first mission abroad in service of the King. The first of many, he hoped. His friend Roenol slapped him on the shoulder, "At last you get your wish Daen. And I get to keep my promise to your father to keep an eye on you. Just don't forget to sleep tonight, you will appreciate your rest after we have been on the road for a few days."
Daen listened carefully, smiling all the while. He really looked to the experience of people like Roenol and Geothed to provide guidance when in new situations like this. "Thank you my friend, I will do my best", he said. Roenol knew he meant it too.
Geothed gathered his men together and divided the responsibilities for preparing for the journey between them. After ensuring they all understood what was expected he dismissed them.
That night sleep did not come easy for Daen. Dreams of what the journey may hold filled his mind until well after midnight. He thought too of his father and brother and how he might be able to honour them and their memory on such a mission. Finally weariness overcame him, and he got several hours sleep before being roused by Geothed an hour before the dawn. It was time.
After about an hour all were ready to set out. The first colours of morning were being painted out across the sky, as Theomor gave his final farewell to the Prince, and Geothed lead the band out of the gates of Edoras. Their aim was to reach the South Undeeps, in two days and cross the Anduin there before skirting around the base of Mirkwood and travelling with the cursed wood to their left until reaching Dale. It was long journey and was beginning to look longer as snow began to fall.
"It is very early in the year for the snow to start falling" commented Roenol as they rode out through the gates. "If the rest of our journey is to be plagued with weather like this, it may take us a good time longer than expected. What do you think Daen?"
"I don't care how much it snows, nothing could ruin this moment for me!"
Roenol laughed at the eagerness of his young companion, and urged his horse on as Geothed picked up the pace.
After two long days of travel Daen’s enthusiasm had dulled somewhat. The snow had continued to fall and the wind had become bitingly cold. Finally they reached the South Undeeps close to sunset on the second day. Geothed ordered the troops to set up camp on the knoll on the western side of the river crossing, close to the forest’s edge. While Roenol decided to take the opportunity to gather some herbs that grew naturally in the woods in this region. After helping set up camp Daen wandered into the forest to help his friend. Light was beginning to fail them and Roenol suggested they resume their foraging first thing in the morning.
Early the next morning, after breaking their fast the group began to make preparations to move on. Roenol asked Geothed for a short time more to seek out the herbs he needed. His request was granted and he took Daen into the forest to help.
After searching for a short while, they were startled by the sound of one of their horns from the camp. “There must be trouble”, Daen shouted as he shot through the forest nimbly to get back to the campsite. Roenol was close on his tail but unable to match the youngster for enthusiasm this early in the morning. So great was their rush to get back to camp that both missed the dark figure who had been hiding in the wood watching their every move. It stood up and move deftly and silently to the edge of the forest to spy on the commotion.
Upon stumbling out of the forest Daen saw Geothed standing on the hill looking out over the river at an approaching force of eight men on horseback. They flew no standard and no one in the band had seen men of their type before. Some carried long lances of a sort, and all had rounded shields and scimitars. Geothed called his warriors to him and shared his thoughts. “We don’t know who these strange folk are, and so should be wary. However we do not wish to provoke them unnecessarily. Thoran, take your bow and hide yourself in the forest fringe. Be ready to open fire if we need you. Now what about the rest of us?” he mused.
Daen was full of ideas and before he could stop himself he offered a suggestion, “What if the rest of us mounted up and if they charge us we could split up trying to out manoeuvre them and split their forces. Roenol and I could burst down their left tempting them to turn in front of Thoran, giving him a good shot at them if they wheel around after us. If they don’t follow us we could come around and strike from behind.”
He suddenly realised that he may have spoken out of turn, and looked to Geothed for forgiveness. He merely looked and smiled. “You are a keen one, aren’t you? And you have a lot of your father in you. You suggestion is worthy, and I agree, we will mount up. Does everyone understand what they are to do?” Daen was warmed by the compliment and yet, embarrassed to be compared to his father.
All nodded and he dismissed them to their positions. Thoran darted into the bushes with his bow and took up a good firing position. Suddenly from behind a tree, out stepped a slender elf, armed with a bow. He acknowledged the Rohir warrior and set himself with him to open fire on the oncoming riders. He turned to Thoran and said “Easterlings!”. Thoran knew then that they would definitely attack if they recognised the standard of the Rohirrim.
The strangers continued on across the river and, as they hit the western bank of the Anduin, spurred their mounts on into a charge, four lancers in front and four swordsmen directly behind them.
Geothed gave the order for Daen and Roenol to break when the enemy was close enough. Daen sprung his mount away quickly down the slope passing the enemy on their left. Just as he had hoped some of the riders followed them, but only two. His steed felt strong as it pulled away from Roenol and led the enemy past Thoran. Geothed and Eol prepared for the oncoming assault, realising that the odds were against them.
Before the riders turned in front of him Thoran opened fire on the main group and striking one of the lancers in the thigh and sending him tumbling from his mount. The elf loosed an arrow also, striking one of the breaking riders in the chest. As the pair turned, that same warrior was hit again by both archers. Still he rode on.
In the initial rush of battle however, nobody had noticed the three horsemen starting to cross the Anduin following the Easterlings. They were not men of the East themselves, but a small scouting party from Dale who had been following the Easterlings for some time now, ensuring that these Easterlings did not seek to enter their lands. As they crossed the river a dwarf dropped off the back of one of the horses and began charging toward the two riders following the now turning Daen and Roenol.
Finally the charge was reaching the waiting Geothed and Eol. One of the charging lancers was parried by Geothed’s shield and so dug his lance into the soft turf, snapping it off and launching the fragment into the chest of his partner who fell, stunned. A third lancer was luckier however, striking Geothed in his shoulder and dislodging him from the saddle. Eol now sat alone on his mount to face the five warriors, with his captain down. He swung his sword, the blade biting deeply into the thigh of the fourth lancer, who then fell to the ground holding his wound with his hands. Blood loss would take him soon.
The archers, seeing that Geothed was outnumbered, again fired on the main group attacking him. Thoran’s arrow missed wildly, but that of his elven counterpart was true, splitting the ribs of the rider and puncturing both lungs. Thoran realised that he could shoot no more at any of the enemy without risking injuring his own. He dropped his bow and drew his sword charging out to the aid of his downed leader. The elf though moved to a nearby fallen enemy, who was still alive and bound his wounds, saving his life.
Daen and Roenol were stunned to see the Dale riders crossing the river and charging up the hill into the rear of the Easterling attack, not to mention a dwarf foolhardily charging on foot straight at the oncoming Easterling riders pursuing them. The dwarf had a hammer in his hand and gave a blood chilling war cry in the ancient tongue of the Naugrim. As the Easterling rider came to the dwarf, he sought to slash him open with his scimitar but was stunned to find his mount buckling under him. The dwarf had bought his hammer to bear on the steed, breaking it’s legs and dropping it into the turf. He then pounced upon his victim driving the hammer into his shoulder and extinguishing the life from him. Happy with his work the dwarf turned then to the fray at the top of the hill and charged on.
Meanwhile Daen lined up a pass with his sword on the remaining rider that had followed him. Both warriors looking each other in the eye as they charged towards each other and let out a cry as they swung their weapons. Daen was too fast, though. His sword cut deeply into his opponents side, ripping a gaping wound in him and sending him tumbling backwards from his horse. He then started back up the hill towards his captain.
Roenol started back up the hill to rejoin the fray.
Being down on the ground Geothed knew he was vulnerable. He had to get up and be mobile. Before he could do anything about it though, he felt the slash of an enemy scimitar across the back of his legs. He knew this was bad. Fortunately for him, Eol fought on, stoutly defending his captain against the remaining four warriors. He cut another down, but was wounded by a blow to his shoulder.
It was at this time that the Dale men came upon the rear of the remaining three Easterlings cutting one down in the saddle. With only the Easterling captain and one man remaining, and surrounded by the Dale men, Eol, Daen and Roenol, and a dwarf looking to join the fray, the Easterlings dropped their weapons and surrendered. The men of Dale bound them, while Roenol the healer tended to Eol and Geothed.
Daen greeted the men of Dale and asked “We have won this battle, but we are at a loss to understand what has happened here. Do you have any idea where these strangers are from?”
Brann, one of the Dale men replied “These here are Easterling folk. We have followed them for a few days now. We were on a patrol of our southern most lands when we saw them in the distance and decided to follow them and perhaps learn more of their errand in these parts. When they saw your banner and attacked we decided that we would come to your aid.”
“And we thank you for that.” called Geothed weakly.
Daen was curious about the dwarf, “And is this one with you?” he asked pointing at the dwarf.
“I am indeed,” replied the dwarf. “I am Thagran from Erebor, the Lonely Mountain and I often accompany these folk on patrols as part of the strong alliance between my folk and Dale. But since when do the Eldar associate with mortal men?” he asked of the elf who stood quietly in the background.
“I am Dylenye, most recently of the fair wood of Lorien. I spotted this crew camping by the wood and saw they needed my assistance. It was with pleasure that I could help the fine men of Rohan.” the elf explained.
With introductions over, they started to search the belongings of the enemy. Folded in the saddlebags of the enemy captain they found a map. Although they could not read the accompanying note, it was clear that these were the plans for a coordinated attack on Rohan by both the Easterlings from the northeast and the Dunlendings from the west. They had to return to Edoras and warn the Prince!