Whether it be seconds or minutes, or indeed hours that had passed since I had been smitten to the earth I could not tell. I have little memory of it now. But the heavy blackness that burdened my heart with despair I shall never forget. It was a deadly weight upon my very soul and I could scarcely bear the burden of it. I suddenly recalled what had happened on the battlefield. The ghastly death of the King flashed vividly before me, and I could see in my mind the vision of Calimendil falling forward to the ground with a cry as arrows from many directions smote him to death. Alas! How could such an evil fortune befall us? What should have been an easy victory for the Dunedain of Cardolan had quickly become a catastrophe. I was the King’s most trusted advisor and should have dissuaded him from his chosen course with prevailing councils. I it was who had been appointed the Protector of the King’s Kin and now his sons were dead as well. Or were they?
Then I remembered Berandil. Where was he now? What fate did he suffer? I had lost track of him in the confusion of battle. No doubt he now lay scattered among the dead. Yet perhaps he had managed to cut a way through the enemy and had escaped. “Not likely,” I said to myself as I lay upon the rain-soaked field.
As I began to come to my senses I slowly opened my eyes again. Everything was dark and hazy. Immediately I felt the throbbing in my head return, which I had forgotten in my unconsciousness. Nor had the ringing in my ears subsided. Or was it the baying of horns that I heard? But to my surprise I was no longer buried under dead weight. The sound of voices could be heard not far away. They were the foul voices of the orcs. I turned my head slightly and beheld a loathsome bloodbath. By the dim glow of the torchlight I saw dead bodies laying everywhere, both that of men and orcs. I plucked up my courage and shifted my weight so that I could discern what was happening around me. Then the urgency of my peril became very evident and the veil over my sight was lifted. I appeared to be the only one left alive among our company! What a dreadful revelation! More than ever now I wished that I had perished nobly in battle alongside the King.
Many of the orcs were gone now but a few still remained. I could see them conversing with one another in their own tongue as they walked among the dead, taking delight at rummaging through their loot. Others were going about and skewering the bodies of the men with spears and swords to make sure they were dead. A gloomy hopelessness cast its pall over me and I sank back down into the grass and awaited my fate. Yet as I did so my foot came into contact with the steel helm of a fallen orc. The sound of it was faint, but not soft enough not to be heard by the orcs.
I fully expected to be slain right then and there. Almost would I have welcomed it. I could hear one of the orcs coming over towards me now to investigate the noise I had made as I moved. Fear took hold of me again and I lay as quietly and motionless as I could upon the ground awaiting death. I tried to imagine what it would feel like to be punctured to death with a spear so the shock of it would be the less. In a moment he would be right above me. But sense of defiance arose in me, and though I longed for death and a release from this hellish nightmare, I simply could not allow myself to be slain without a fight. I then realized that my left hand still held the knife that I had found on one of my fallen companions. “At the least I will take this brute with me ere I perish,” I thought to myself.
But then the sound of more horns could be heard coming closer from the north. Many of the orcs seemed very alarmed by the sound of the commotion. They drew their weapons again and began barking orders at one another in anger. The voices of men were now plainly audible and coming towards the scene of carnage in a great haste. I quickly discovered that they were Hillmen from Cameth Brin and were engaged in some sort of disagreement with the orcs from Gundabad. “Probably quarrelling over their share of the spoil, curse them!” I thought to myself.
The orc had not given up on me, however. He crept ever closer now. He called out aloud to one of his companions for help as he approached me with his spear in hand. Out of the corner of my eye saw him clearly. He was bending over my fallen companion at my feet to ascertain if he yet lived. I had only one chance of carrying out my lethal ambush on him, and all my concentration was bent upon it. A feeling of hatred such as I had never felt before welled up inside of me like a swollen levee that might burst asunder at any given moment. In his right hand he held a spear, and in his left was a flaming torch. He raised up his spear arm and thrust his weapon into body of the dead man with one clean and violent motion. There was no movement.
With all the strength and courage I could muster I quickly reached out and grabbed hold of the shaft of the spear that was now imbedded in the body of the victim even as the orc continued to thrust it downwards. Using the shaft as leverage I rose up to my feet even before the orc knew what was happening. Our eyes met. Mine were filled with a red wrath, his were filled with terror. Seeing a fallen Dunedain rise from the dead before him the creature made to let out a cry, but I was the swifter. I plunged my knife through the throat of the orc and jerked the blade out again even before my foe fell to the ground.
Seizing his torch I hastily began to run towards the sound of the rushing water. As I stole away from the scene I began to hear shouting and cursing among the orcs and the Hillmen, who must have arrived at that time. The sound of swords being drawn and bodies falling to the ground soon followed. The Hillmen had arrived and were fighting the orcs, but I took no heed, only desiring to remove myself from the area as quickly as possible.
As I made my way up to the crest of the hill and again over the top to the south the sound of the rushing water began to get louder. But ere I could descend the hill I beheld another orc. He was taking anything that looked of value off of the slain Dunedain that lay around him. He was exceedingly taken aback upon my approach and dropped his loot with a shriek and fled off into the darkness. But as I continued on my way I saw one of the men on the ground move a little! He was hurt badly, but it would have been unthinkable for me to have fled without assisting him. When I kneeled next to him I turned him over onto his back to ascertain his identity and lo! It was Berandil, son of the King! Great was my joy at this discovery, for I had assumed he had died along with the rest of our men. He opened his eyes but seemed to look through me, as if I was not there. He had been weeping in his misery and began to mumble that all was lost and longed to see his father once again. Knowing that time was short I called his name softly and brought him to his senses. Two arrows had pierced him: one in his shoulder and another just above the breast. I broke the shafts of each near the skin in order to ease his pain. But pain he still felt, and cried aloud as I tried to cajole him and persuade him to rise up out of his despair. I put my arm around him and raised him up, and together we fled. But the orc that had fled at my approach had gone off to alert the others, and I knew that we would be hunted ere we could get very far.
With all of the strength and endurance we could muster Berandil and I made our way through a thicket of trees and around an adjacent hill. Then we came to the source of the water. Before our feet the ground came to a sudden end and we found ourselves standing upon the brink of a cliff. Great fortune that I did not cast away my torch, for in the blind darkness we might have easily fallen to our deaths! Over the cliff and a little ways to our left and above our heads was a waterfall that cascaded over the brink of a precipice and plunged into a narrow stream below. From our vantage point the leap did not look to be very great, and had I been alone I might have taken the dive, but in Berandil’s condition such a jump might prove fatal. It was a narrow ravine that the stream flowed through and I could see that it led away to the west – the direction of the Hoarwell. This seemed good to me, for that raging river would be our only hope, perilous though it may be.
As quickly as we could contrive it we made our way along the edge of the cliff, maneuvering through the trees. Yet little hope we had, for we began to hear signs of some pursuit from behind. These were some of the most savage and bloodthirsty orcs that ever I had the misfortune of dealing with. To allow even one survivor of their calculated assault to escape from their wrath was considered an insult to them. They were surely instilled with a deep hatred of us that could only have come about by an allegiance with Angmar. Fear began to creep up on my soul once again and I longed to discard my torch in the stream beside us, as I feared the light of it was too bright. But that would not prevent the orcs from hunting us down by scent alone.
I had no way of knowing for sure how far away the Hoarwell was from our location, of course, for I was now completely out of my reckoning. “The water, you fool! The water!” I said to myself, “Take to the water ere it is too late!” I knew then that the stream that we now followed atop the cliff was our only hope. We must risk the jump now or turn and face the orcs and face our impending death.
We halted now and gasped for breath. We could see no light behind us but had little doubt that we were being followed. To our surprise the moon had finally shone his face to the world beneath him. There he was, peeking through the storm clouds at us! I looked into Berandil’s eyes and saw that they were now smoldering with a newfound life and resolution, and at this I marveled and took hope. We did not have to speak. We both knew that we must risk flight by water rather than by land. I walked over to the brink and let drop my torch in order to ascertain the depth of the fall. I watched the flaming brand fall down into the stream with a soft plop. To my surprise the water level was much closer to us now and I immediately occupied myself with finding a way down. But the walls of the stream were shear, and climbing down in the dark would take time.
“There is nothing left to us,” I said to Berandil then. “We must jump now or perish! I shall go first so that I may swim to you once you are in the water and prevent you from drowning, since your arm is maimed.”
“As you wish, lord. If you have any hope I shall follow you. Yet we must take heed of the rocks as well! If we smite them in our fall our bodies will be broken.”
I waited no longer, and took as large a leap as my legs would allow me. The fall was not great, being scarcely more than thirty feet, I should guess. But the stream was only as deep as the top of my head and my feet felt the heavy impact of the stony riverbed beneath me. The current was not severe but enough to grab hold of me and take me along with it. As I felt myself being taken by the current I looked back up to the top of the cliff where I had jumped, and by the shadowy moonlight beheld yet another terrible calamity – Berandil followed me not into the stream! Alas! I could see his dark shape against the light, standing silently and observing me from above. I knew then that the fiery resolution I observed in his eyes was not that of a survivor coming at last to a sanctuary but rather of one who has become fey and longs for death and closure in their life.
As the distance began to grow between us I called out his name in desperation and anger, ordering him as an officer of higher rank to follow me and leap into the stream. But Berandil raised his sword towards me and called out, “May the grace of the Valar be with you, Iliandor! I go now to rejoin my father and avenge his death, though I be one against a thousand! My mother shall understand. Return hence to Cardolan and protect her throne from usurpation! Farewell!” Then he turned away and vanished into the darkness of the wild whence he and I had come only moments before.
My head bobbed up and down in the water of the stream as I drifted along its course to the west. Nothing more could I see or hear of Berandil by then and I never saw him again. I know not what doom he met after he disappeared into the darkness – though one may easily guess at it. A crazed madness took hold of him then that I could not prevent. I doubt not that he perished soon afterwards, yet I have always liked to believe that he fell valiantly defending the body of his father.
I was now utterly alone in the territory of the enemy. I was soaked to my bones and had only a lone dagger as a weapon of defense. No food did I possess, nor knew where to find any even if I had the chance to look for it. My head ached unabated and my body was wracked with weariness and grief. Yet still I could not fall into complete despair, though for what reason I could not guess, for what further use was my life after that night? However, I felt keenly that I must have been delivered from death for a purpose I did not yet understand. Perhaps it was to fulfill the obligation I had made to Calimendil long ago to watch over and protect his family after he was gone. “Amariel yet lives,” I thought to myself, “so also may Bregardil! He at the least I shall try to find so that the king be not without an heir.”
I began to swim now, and ere long I made my way to the raging Hoarwell, where I found a refuge atop a cluster of flat rocks that lay close to the eastern shore. Here I rested for a while in utter exhaustion, heedless of any enemies that might be about. I dared not sleep in so perilous a spot for fear of being washed away by the waves which lapped up against the rocks of my temporary harborage. The narrow shafts of moonlight from above allowed me to catch a glimpse of the land and river, and what I saw was not encouraging. To the north the Hoarwell, set between to tall cliffs of tree-covered rocks, could be seen stretching away far to the north as far as I could see. To the south the river looked to curve around towards the west with ever diminishing walls upon its westward bank. I could not see beyond the lofty embankments on either side of the river, but knew full well that a hidden menace lurked still somewhere to the east. I would not go that way. Even if I could scale the walls of the west bank – what use might it be? To the west were the unending plains of the Arhedainian Oiolad, where few men dwelt. No hope was there in that way either, as I would surely starve to death ere I would be found by anyone. My only chance was to stay with the river to the south. It was a sure course that could not be mistaken. I sat upon the rocks and brooded my evil plight, and ere long fell into a fitful sleep.
I remember waking with a start and with an uncontrollable urge to shield myself with my arms from an imaginary foe. But it was only the waves that seemed to smite me there on the rocks. Yet I was in great fear all of the sudden and I longed to get off that stony islet without further delay. A feeling of watchfulness pervaded my senses all of the sudden and I felt as if I was being watched by unfriendly eyes, though I could not see them. Great looming trees crowned the eastern embankment all along the river and now seemed to blanket me in a dark shadow, almost as if they had extended themselves outwards as I slept upon the rocks. “Even the trees themselves are black-hearted in Rhudaur,” I said to myself.
Once again I began to take thought of flight and considered how best to swim this swollen river to safety. But ere I could come to a decision I suddenly heard a loud crack high above my head. So loud was it that I flinched and covered my ears. But my instinct warned me to leap into the water immediately or die then and there. I quickly rose to my feet and dove headlong into the river. Just after I had struck the water an enormous tree branch (or more than one) fell from the heights of the tree and crashed upon my little rocky refuge with such a noisy violence that it broke asunder into many pieces. Straightaway I felt myself being swept to the center of the river. In shock I gasped for breath, swallowing much water in the process. I struggled to stay above water and feared that I would now surely drown. But the tree’s evil malice was ill-placed, it seems! Many of the broken limbs began to drift downstream with me and I was eventually able to grab hold of one of the larger logs to keep me afloat. Thus the trees of Rhudaur were thwarted in the end, and I was saved from falling to a watery grave…