Ranger General Oropher and his band rode across the eastern slopes of the North Downs. It had been a long time since Oropher had commanded such a small force, which he enjoyed. He missed the stealth and precision of a scout force, where instead he had commanded great units of archers, shooting down his own kin from Rhudaur upon the Tower Hills. It was good to have a more meaningful objective than civil war.
King Malvegil had given Oropher two days to leave, but as it had not taken long to assemble his troops he left after one. One thing Oropher prided himself on was his ability to over-perform.
The Ranger General had hand-picked five of his best men. Two were old friends and veterans, whilst the other three were relatively unskilled, and Oropher wished to use this opportunity to strengthen their abilities.
To Oropher’s left rode his second lieutenant, Amdir. Though among the rangers not the best shot with a bow, Amdir’s prowess with a sword had saved his life several times during battle with Rhudaur. In token of this, Oropher had gifted Amdir with one of his most prized possessions, a blade from ancient Westernesse. It was a weapon Amdir carried with both pride and lethality.
With Amdir rode his younger brother, Aldarion. Like his sibling, the unproven ranger showed promise, and had a cooler temper than his more rash brother.
Ahead of Oropher rode his third lieutenant, Barahir. What intrigued Oropher was that he had never seen Barahir fight in hand combat – he was so accurate with his bow that his foes were dead before they could come within arm reach of him. Unlike Amdir, he kept to himself, and was the stealthiest man in his control. However, he was also the least talkative, and when he did it was barely above a whisper.
To the Ranger General’s right was Rumil and Meneldur, also relatively new soldiers. They seemed to be close friends and possessed similar traits, apart from that Rumil had a cocky essence about him, whilst Meneldur was shier and more reserved. Oropher could tell he greatly appreciated being chosen for this task.
Soon the six riders had left the slopes of the North Downs behind them, the tall stone towers atop them decreasing upon the horizon. They were now upon the earth of Highmoor, a plain stretching from the North Downs to the Ettenmoors. The stronghold they were heading to had no official name due to its small size, and so was simply named Highmoor Tower. The garrison there was largely made up of Rhudaur, although the possession of the tower was passed around the three states, each taking their turn to keep watch against the cold north.
The rangers began to ride harder. Night would fall soon, and they wished to be indoors before then to endure the freezing chill.
A light was sighted up ahead. Highmoor Tower was illuminated by flaming brands carried by the men there, and to the rangers it made the tower all the more inviting.
Oropher heard a cry taken up from the stronghold. They must have spotted us, he thought. He held an empty hand up as a gesture of peace, but he doubted they could see it in the half-light. He suddenly had a paranoia of the watchers believing them to be foes and cringed as an imaginary arrow hit his chest. But the tower was soon but a few yards away, and no missile had been launched.
Two armoured figures marched out to meet the riders. They were dressed in dark purple, the regional uniform of Rhudaur. Oropher and his men slowed their horses to a trot as they approached.
“Halt!” ordered the taller of the two men. The riders immediately stopped their horses.
“Name your captain!” the man shouted.
Oropher passed his reigns to Rumil, who held his steed in place as the Ranger General got down from his horse. He unsheathed his sword and lay it on the ground, then walked closer to the warriors, showing his bare hands.
“I am Ranger General Oropher. We were sent here to investigate the recent attacks from the north.”
The shouting man gave him a suspicious look. “Who sent you?”
Oropher paused for a moment. “The three kings of the states. They decreed this was a matter that concerns the entirety of Arnor.” He wanted to say ‘King Malvegil’, but he knew of the enmity Rhudaur had towards Arthedain.
“Very well, Ranger General. We will take you to Captain Thalion. Follow me.” He then gave an order to the other man, to find men to stable the horses.
Oropher thought the Dunedain of Rhudaur to be the most base of his kin. He had never met a man from Rhudaur he liked – but in retrospect he had fought against them.
Despite this, he found Captain Thalion to be an honourable and likable individual. He had a grim face and personality – Oropher thought this was because of the conflicts he had fought with the other states, and sensed he enjoyed them no more than himself. Thalion respected the Ranger General’s position, and in turn Oropher respected the Captain’s.
The two commanders were sat at a plain table, littered with parchment, on the second of four levels in Highmoor Tower. This was apparently Thalion’s command and meeting room. The first level was relatively bare, with just a few shields stacked against the walls and a stairway leading to the storeroom basement below of any notable interest. The third level served as the main armoury, whilst the fourth level was solely for archers. Some small one-level buildings and tents stood outside as the soldier’s chambers, whilst a waist-high square, stone wall framed the tower.
Amdir stood by Oropher, as wary and observant as an eagle. The remainder of the band rested in the soldier’s chambers and acquainted themselves with the garrison. The shouting man stood guard by Thalion. The Captain had informed them that the man’s name was Henderch, his lieutenant.
“Captain Thalion, if you do not mind me asking, when were you last assaulted by the ‘red monsters’?” Oropher said the name the garrison had branded upon the barbarian raiders with some uncertainty.
“It would be only a week ago now,” he simply stated. “A good attempt, but not their best. Took a few of my men’s lives, no severe damage.”
“I am sorry for your loss,” said Oropher, masking his surprise at how short a time it had been since Highmoor Tower was raided.
“You need not be. We took more of them than they took of us.”
“Would it be possible to inspect one of the bodies?” inquired Oropher, relatively bluntly.
“You can if you so desire, but they were piled and burnt a few days ago.”
“Thank you, Captain, I will inspect them in the morning, if that is to your liking?”
“Of course. Henderch here will escort you.” Henderch nodded slightly at Oropher, who returned the gesture.
“Now, Ranger General,” said Thalion, “I am afraid I have grown weary, and will go to my bed. I am sure you have need of rest, too, after your long journey.”
“You are right in guessing that.” The two men shared a brief chuckle. “I must thank you again for your hospitality, Captain.”
Thalion gave Oropher a quizzical look. “You know, Ranger General, I have never known someone with a higher status than me to be so polite towards me. Most men lose their manners with power, but you have kept yours, and that is a worthy attribute indeed.”
“Thank you,” Oropher was genuinely pleased by this comment. “I have found you too, Captain Thalion, to be a worthy man. Let us say you have…restored my faith in Rhudaur.”
“And you have restored mine in Arthedain,” said Thalion. “If two different men can make such friendship, than why can a nation not?”
“Indeed,” said Oropher. “I shall doubtless see you on the morrow.”
With that, Oropher and Amdir bowed and left the Captain.
“So, Amdir, it seems there are actually good men in Rhudaur,” muttered Oropher.
“Maybe, but I still do not like him,” said Amdir.
“And why is that?”
“Why my lord, no matter how pleasant he is, he is still from Rhudaur.”