THE DISASTER OF CAMETH BRIN
I now come to that tragic evening of the 29th of June, 1319, in which I at last begin to draw this tale to a dreadful and unfortunate close, as it marked the tragic end to our war with Broggha and Rhudaur. I do not relish having to relive that night once again here in writing. It conjures up old and painful memories, which still haunt my dreams and plagues my nights with sleeplessness. Yet I am already obliged by Amariel to relate it by word and by letter and shall honor that agreement. I will recollect the events of that stormy night as accurately as I am able to now, here in my old age.
Dusk settled in around our encampments early that night, for the clouds above were thick and heavy and were laden with more rain. Oddly enough the skies were mostly clear far to south and west, where lay our homes in remote Cardolan. Storm clouds seemed to roll in slowly from the north even as the night deepened and their thunder made the ground beneath our feet rumble softly. Our entire host of cavalry and infantry sat uncomfortably inside their tents under the edge of the wood and sought to occupy their minds in whatever fashion they could. The horses were most unsettled and many of them would shake their heads and neigh aloud for seemingly no reason at all, unless it was because of the thunder. The horses of the Dunedain were highly prized by all in Eriador for their keen sense of direction, stamina and danger. That alone was reason enough for the King to suspect that evil was afoot in the lands around us.
Despite the weather the beacon atop Cameth Brin continued to blaze forth. The rain began to fall at a slant as the wind increased and made staying dry all the more difficult. Even our tents under the trees could not keep our clothes from getting wet. With all the rain that had fallen at the time surely the river Hoarwell would be swollen and swift by now. “If this siege fails,” I thought to myself, “and we are worsted by some new concoction of evil, the King and his sons might escape by way of the riverboats that the local fishermen keep along the banks. The river is not far from here.” Somehow I would have to convince Calimendil to agree to this plan in the case of an emergency. I decided that I would broach the subject with the King the following morning, but I never got the chance to do so.
I simply could not sleep at all that night and resigned myself to stay up and go over my maps of the region to occupy my mind. Within a few minutes a young man quickly entered my tent which startled me considerably. “Lord!” exclaimed the young man. It was Odhril, the King’s squire.
“What is it?” I asked him. I could see that his face was pale and stricken with fear. “Has Broggha emerged from the tower?”
“Nay lord, he has not. The King requires your presence at once!”
As I followed Odhril through the trees something caught my eye off to the south and east, beyond the far edge of the line of trees and hills. It seemed to be some sort of light source, though of what kind I could not tell. When we arrived at the King’s tent we found him standing at the eave of a clearing with Berandil and Bregardil. They were gazing intently out across the wooded horizon. I quickly joined them and immediately realized the source of the mysterious lights from afar. Someone, or something, bearing many torches or lanterns was approaching our location upon the line of hills that we now occupied. Even as I looked out they were within four miles of our camps. Soon many more points of light appeared that had been out of view due to the contours of the terrain. Ere long there were well nigh a hundred flickering lights within view, and they continued to draw nearer and nearer.
“What do you make of this, father?” asked Berandil nervously. “Is it another tribe of Hillmen coming to the aid of Broggha?”
“Perhaps they come to aid us against Broggha, their old rival?” added Bregardil.
Calimendil gazed steadily forward in consternation and did not answer his son at once. His face was grave and was obviously distraught over what was happening. No sooner had Bregardil spoken than the lights below us in the valley began to go out one by one. Soon all trace of them disappeared! Yet we knew that the bearers of the light were still there. They could be no further than two miles distant by now.
“They are not Hillmen,” said Calimendil softly, “they are orcs! They have seen the beacon of Broggha and have come to answer his call for aid! They are coming for us! Alas that I did not heed the visions of the Palantir at Amon Sul! Now I understand.”
But Bregardil still held out and replied, “Nay father! How can that be? The orcs of the Misty Mountains were defeated by the dwarves of Khazad-dum in their long wars. It will be long ere their numbers will be sufficient enough to wage another war. It must be more Hillmen, or perhaps the Dunlendings.”
“Hillmen cannot wage war in utter darkness, Bregardil!” I said to him sharply. “Nor can any other race of men that we know of. Your father is right! Only the accursed orcs fight in this manner!”
“Then do orcs now march to the aid of men, whom are their sworn enemies?” asked Odhril, “It goes against all that we have learned from the teachings of the old days. And why did our scouts not return to warn us?”
“No doubt they are dead by now, alas,” I replied.
Berandil then drew his sword and added, “Let them come! We outnumber them two to one by the looks of it. We shall not allow them to set free our enemy from his cage upon the hill!”
I then turned to the King and asked for his command. But suddenly more men came rushing forward to us from along the hill with more tidings, “Lord, our sentinels have spotted more lights away in the distance to the east, amid the foothills of the mountains. There are many more of them. Aye! We reckon their numbers to count well over two thousand! They are advancing even as we speak!” We turned our gaze eastwards towards the mountains and saw it for ourselves. There were indeed many hundreds of lights advancing towards the Naked Hill. The sight of it filled all of us with a secret dread, as our men now numbered no more than eight-hundred.
Immediately the alarm was raised all through the camps in the wood. Our siege upon Cameth Brin was to be short lived. We whom had been the hunters had now become the hunted. A sea of invisible foes was closing in on us from both the south and east, entrapping us between them and the roaring river to the west and north. We were now outnumbered by the orcs three to one at the least. Broggha had no doubt been aware of their coming all along, and thus we had become ensnared in his secret trap. Alas! Our untimely doom seemed all too imminent.
As the orcs advanced in the darkness below we suddenly heard a great commotion from the tower atop the hill. Broggha had unleashed his entire garrison of Hillmen fighters upon us and we heard them shout aloud their war cries as they rushed down the slopes towards the edge of the wood where our camps lay. Time was of the essence now and the King immediately cried aloud the commands for the archers to fire their volley of arrows at the Hillmen as they came within rage. All the while the orcs we had seen in the south had reached the bottom of our hill and were already entering the wood by now. Our situation was grim and grew worse with each passing minute.
Even as our archers began to release their hailstorm of arrows upon the Hillmen Calimendil came hurrying back with his sword in hand. He approached Bregardil and hastily said to him, “You cannot stay here, my son! As previously agreed you will flee at once! Take two men with you and flee down the hill to Tanoth Brin. The scouts that I have sent there shall assist you in your escape! Keep to the river, for it shall bear you far away and back to the south. One of us at least shall live and Cardolan be not without a king! Do not let them take you alive! Throw yourself into the river if you must! Go now!”
But Bregardil began to argue with his father and refused to abandon him and his brother. But the King clasped his son on the shoulders and kissed his forehead, saying at the last, “You must do as I command, Bregardil! Do not waste time that we do not have! The future of Cardolan now rests upon your shoulders alone! Take this with you and deliver it to your mother if you can! Go!” With that Calimendil tore the sunflower necklace that Amariel had given him from his neck and put it in the hand of Bregardil. The son of Calimendil hesitated for a moment in bewilderment as he looked at his father once more in silence. With a punctuated look of grief he quickly bowed before his father and slipped away into the dark rainy night.
Never did he see his father again.
The bows of our archers were singing loudly and their arrows were raining death to many of the advancing Hillmen upon the open slopes of the hill. But they were not enough to turn them away, and the Hillmen crashed headlong into our ranks. It was a bloody mess of a battle, and I need not relate every detail of it here. By the light of the many torches and lanterns that were laying scattered amid the woods we could see that they were joined by other men as well, some of which seemed to resemble men of the west. They were certainly former Dunedain whom Broggha had bribed and corrupted, and they fought us with hatred.
Even as we engaged the Hillmen in battle shouts rose up from our men further into the wood. The orcs had arrived and the battle commenced at once. Our horses that still remained inside the cover of the trees began to panic. Many became unmanageable and they bolted away, some throwing their riders to the ground while others were dashed to death against trees. Orcs would pounce upon the riders as they fell and finish them off with their blades and knives. Though orcs cannot fight in complete darkness they may do so well enough by the light of dim torches or lanterns, which were now scattered throughout the woods.
Our forces were falling into disarray quickly and men were falling fast. Calimendil had held his entire host together well until now and his men had followed him loyally. But now some of the younger infantrymen panicked and began to flee towards the lower slopes of the hill that led down into the valley below, leaving our flank all the more vulnerable. I saw this even as I fought the enemy by spear and shield and I cried out to them to stand their ground. But they took no heed.
The King called aloud to his warriors amid the mayhem to form a shield wall and attempt to rush down that very wooded hill that the orcs had ascended behind us. We had the advantage of possessing the higher ground, and with a hard push we would be able to split the line of the orcs apart and make a retreat to the south. Then we could reorganize our forces and map out a new strategy.
The plan was executed as planned, but at a great cost to us! By the light of the torches I could see our men being waylaid amid the trees by the orcs. Their hideous bloodthirsty cries echoed amid the wood as they slew. I could hear some of them barking out orders to each other in their own barbarous tongue as if they were ill-pleased with something. Some of the orcs had mistaken the Hillmen from Cameth Brin for us and were fighting with them! This stroke of luck may have been the only reason we were not utterly demolished then and there. The Hillmen broke off the chase and retreated back to the eave of the wood. The orcs of the mountains had come and answered Broggha’s plea for aid, but the Hillmen hated the orcs and would not march with them, regardless of their mutual objective in destroying us.
The battle raged on. I managed to get alongside the King, who was now on foot. I secured a steed for him and together we led the retreat down the hillside and out of the forest. The scene was very chaotic and unorganized. But at last we had fled with the remnants of our army and had navigated the wet and slippery terrain out of harm’s way. But only for a short while.
We positioned ourselves atop a grass covered bluff some two and a half mile’s distant from Cameth Brin ere we paused. Along the way we came across orc-scouts that had been left behind to keep watch upon the lands to the south. They were shocked to see us and attempted to flee, but we trampled them to death. We noticed that each of them bore emblems of a tall mountain flanked by a smaller mountain upon each side of it upon their shields. That was the symbol of Mount Gundabad – that towering mountain that housed the vast system of old caves far to the north that had been delved and crafted by the dwarves many ages ago ere they abandoned them for the more hospitable climate of the Ered Mithrin to the east. We knew not that a new colony of orcs had taken possession of them.
“At last the pieces of the puzzle fall into place,” said the King gravely, “these orcs travel far indeed merely to come to the aid of a rogue Hillman such as Broggha! A new and greater evil is behind this, I deem. Such malice I have seldom seen before.”
“They march by the command of Angmar, lord,” I replied, “not to that of Broggha, for he is only a puppet. No doubt the Witch King is the true lord of Rhudaur now.”
“Their numbers are too great, father, and ours now too few,” said Berandil, riding up alongside Calimendil. “There is no longer any hope in taking Cameth Brin. The Hillmen will not march with the orcs, but they will descend the Naked Hill to hunt for Bregardil and the remnants of our host that fled that way. Tanoth Brin will provide no shelter for them.”
“I ordered him to make for the river. There are fishing boats scattered up and down the banks of the Hoarwell that Bregardil can use to escape,” said the King.
“The river is swift and swollen with all the rains,” I added, “It is perilous to navigate even by day, let alone at night! It will take him time to find a boat in the dark.”
But the King misinterpreted my intent here, and he interrupted me. “There is no other option for him, Iliandor!” said Calimendil, “Would you that he had remained with me and you had been selected to flee in his stead?”
In bygone days I might have taken offence to this, but I knew full well what personal anguish the King was in now. I replied, “I said not so, lord. Nor do I wish anything of the kind. I had only wanted point out that time is of the essence. We might at the least buy Bregardil some time by riding due west towards the river. There we may cover his flank by engaging the enemy along the river while he flees to the south, though our own escape may be unlikely.”
“Nay,” replied the King, “that would bring us too close to Bregardil if he indeed uses the river. Rather I would desire to lead the orcs away from him.”
“It is our best hope, father,” said Berandil softly, “The orcs have taken well nigh all the lands to the east. Dol Duniath has surely fallen by now. No help will come from that way. Already our army has been halved. Let us ride and wreak what vengeance we may upon our enemy while we still have strength enough to do so! We might cut our way out of this yet!”
The King looked silently over his shoulder in the distance where our encampment had been upon the Naked Hill. Fires had already been set to our tents as their flames reached upwards and caught many of the low-hanging trees ablaze inside the wood. The occasional sound of steel against steel could still be heard in the distance; usually followed by the agonizing scream of a man in his death throes. Then there was only silence.
Calimendil sat upon his restless horse and bowed his head despondently. He said nothing for so long that I thought he had at last given into despair. The orcs would not wait long. They would soon be on our heels as they followed our tracks in the mud, an easy task for them given all the rain.
At length the King lifted his head and said firmly, “Aye, we will turn and fight. We shall make them rue this as the night when the King of Cardolan and his men made their last stand and delivered death and misery to them. Indeed, the choice becomes clear to me now. I shall declare myself and my title to the orcs, for they shall be more inclined to pursue an enemy king rather than his guardsmen. Then perhaps Bregardil may yet live, though we shall not.”
This decision had not surprised me, though normally I would never have suggested such a thing. Berandil said nothing but stared blankly at his father, who returned his son’s gaze without speaking. Longing and forgiveness was in their eyes, though both knew that they had at last come to the end of the road. We had all reached the tragic end of a woeful chapter in Cardolan’s history. None would be able to rewrite it and soon the book would be closed.
“I should have liked to have met the Eldar ere I ended,” began Berandil with a wry smile. But his words were cut off at the stern by the baying of many horns in the distance northwards. It was the horn of Broggha in Cameth Brin – a victory call to herald the breaking of our siege upon him.
Then a renewed rage seized Calimendil as he looked afar towards Broggha’s tower on the Naked Hill. He turned towards his embattled men and cried aloud, “Alas that I have led all of you into our enemy’s net! I was blind. Forever shall the name of Rhudaur be accursed in all of Arnor! With the power given to me as an Arnorian King I cast out Rhudaur from the alliance forever! Let all those here who may yet survive this war be a witness to my voice! Never again shall Cardolan march forth to the aid of Rhudaur, whosoever their king may be! Let all those who still wish to follow their king do so yet once more ere the end! The horsemen of Cardolan shall make the earth tremble beneath their feet! Ride forth, brave warriors! Ride now to avenge our dead!”
Many of the men lifted their spears high in the air as the King spoke in a show of fidelity. Others did so much less enthusiastically (or not at all). But not one man abandoned the King then. We all knew that this would be the last stand for us. The orcs were closing in from all sides now and the river lay as an obstacle to the west.
Thus we reared our horses round and began to plod our way eastwards, away from the great river. The King blew a resonant blast upon his horn to serve as a challenge to the orcs and draw them away from the raging Hoarwell. We did not have to wait long. Only moments later the enemy came within bowshot of our position, making a ruckus as they did so. At first only a small handful of orcs could be seen, and they held back. But Calimendil continued to blow his horn. Berandil and all others among our men joined in on the chorus, either blowing their horn or shouting, or clanging sword against shield. Anything to create noise and draw attention to ourselves.
We had positioned ourselves atop the steepest ground that we could find in such haste. Yet it was little more than a tall hillock crowned with tall rocks and a few sparse trees of no great height. By now our party numbered less than three hundred. Our archers formed a line in front of the King and waited for the command to shoot. As we readied ourselves to face the last battle we strained our eyes and ears for signs of our enemy’s numbers and location.
Then Calimendil stood alone upon a rock behind the bow-men and began to shout out at the orcs. In his right hand he held his elven sword. In his right he held a flaming brand, and he waved it back and forth, much to the amusement of the orcs. Ere long we were well-nigh surrounded in a ring or foes, the ring only being open behind us now. But it was then that I heard the faint sound of water rushing a short distance behind us. Not the river Hoarwell, of course, but perhaps a small tributary of it. Even then I still held out hope of some kind of miraculous escape for the King. I immediately sought to inform him of this new discovery, but our time had run out. Already three orc arrows were shot into our ranks and had found a mark.
“Behold! Behold, foul folk of Angmar!” cried aloud the King , “Before you stands Calimendil, King of Cardolan, descendent of Thorondor of Arnor! We are the folk of Eriador, ancient kingdom of Elendil the Tall out of Númenor! Fly and be gone from here if you value your maggot hides! Your trespass on this soil has earned you nothing but death! Your blood shall soon stain this ground and your heads will be pitted on stakes if you do not fly at once! The King of Cardolan is before you now!” With that being said the sword of Calimendil suddenly shone forth with a brilliant white glow which emanated from somewhere deep within the blade itself.
Many of the orcs stopped short at this unexpected turn of the tide, and they murmured to one another in their own foul tongue. But quickly there was one who emerged from their numbers who challenged Calimendil. He was a large orc who wore a chain shirt and steel helm carved in the hideous form of a serpent. Yet the fat face underneath the helm was scarcely less ugly and threatening than the helm. Obviously their captain, he pushed aside his fellows and jeered at the King and spat towards him. He seemed to know a little of the common tongue used by the folk in Eriador and mocked Calimendil, “Garn! Trapped as rats! You cannot go now, little king! Fools they are and you are the biggest! We do not hear your words! Your horses shall be our food and your blood shall be our drink! Your blade does not frighten me! We folk of the north have come to kill and to rape and to take our due! Do not delay it, O doomed King! Come down from there!”
The orc captain called out to his army and ordered the attack. But he was too late. Our archers loosed their full volley at them from both sides of our circle; then even a second one followed. Scores of orcs fell dead at once. Then ensued our final melee. The orc captain ordered his massacre and the clanging of sword against scimitar filled the air. Even the howling wind and rain was drowned beneath the sound of battle on that nameless Rhudauran hill.
Our assault proved to be greater than that of the orcs, for we had the higher ground. The orcs had torches aplenty by then, for more reinforcements were arriving by the minute. The flickering glow of their brands gave us the light we needed to drive into the orcs with deadly accuracy. But their numbers had increased to such a degree that all hope of victory was soon out of our reach. Our men fought valiantly, but one by one they fell.
In a desperate battle as such everything around seemeth to slow to a crawl speed. A minute felt like an hour. I remember little of what went on around me, as I tried desperately to remain at the King’s side. Berandil, too, was close by. But ere long he was forced away, being drawn further behind us southwards, closer to the sound of the running water. Now this seemed a good thing to me, as if any were to escape this night alive the stream would be the best chance of doing so.
I fought on with Calimendil, who seemed to be untouched by any weapon. His elven blade provided a great blazing white light to see by and we clove through many foes as they fell dead beside us. The King had become a man fey with battle lust and few of the orcs would challenge him. But them their archers shot at us with their darts, and alas! One found its mark upon the body of the King! His shoulder was pierced and thus he dropped his shield to the grass. Yet he still fought on.
Then the agonizing cries of our men filled the air with a cacophony of death. I had never experienced anything so dreadful before, and their death cries often haunt my dreams even today, so many years later. Many of Cardolan’s most hardiest and grim warriors fell defending the King, and they should not be forgotten. In that final clash fell Githron and Gilhad, two brothers who had served Calimendil in his earliest days as king. Also there was Echmor and Calamond, Frolar and Elrod, from Dol Argond. There also perished Turon the old. He had been raised in Arthedain in his youth and had ventured to Cardolan in the first years of Tarandil’s rein, who in turn naturalized Turon as full Cardolani. Even in his old age he was deft and agile and refused to remain behind at Dol Calantir. I saw him fall saving the King from a deadly blow from behind. May they all be remembered in song for many years hereafter.
It was after the fall of Turon that I felt something heavy strike me in my temple. If I had been without a helm the blow surely would have killed me. The pain of it rang through my head and a loud ringing would not leave my ears. I never did discover what it was that had struck me, but I fell backwards and tripped over the bodies of the slain and made the costly mistake of dropping my sword to cushion my fall. The grassy floor of the hillside was now littered with the bodies of men and orcs alike. Ere I could stumble to my feet again I felt the heavy weight of one of my companions falling on top of me as if he had been a heavy tree that had been suddenly felled by a blow of lightning. In my condition I could scarcely see who it was. Yet I found myself pinned to the ground under his dead weight and unable to get out.
Then suddenly everything came to a head at once. Our tragic fate could no longer be stayed by any might of arms that we might muster. Doom fell upon us. It is an evil memory that I relate now and loath I am to recall it even by the written word. Though I could not emerge from the burden upon me I raised up my head to look eagerly for Calimendil. I did not have to look long. There he was, only a few paces away and slightly below me on the hillside with many foes about him. With him was two men who stood on either side of the King. One was Hurthaldor, a marshal in the King’s guard. The other looked to be Erdarion, son of Echormoth, former mayor of the city of Tharbad. They shouted curses at the orcs in a desperate fury as they swung their swords about them. Two more orcs fell. But Hurthaldor was pierced with many arrows, and I saw him fall backwards in one violent motion ere he was slain.
The sword of Calimendil shone forth and slew two more foes that sought to grasp him, but lo! The orc captain had emerged and challenged the King. He thrust aside the shining sword of Calimendil with his shield, but the shield shattered! Yet the King had grown weary by then and could not fend off another blow of the orc-captain, who slashed at him with his scimitar. Erdarion raised his blade up to smite the fell captain with his blade from behind in a final effort to save the King – but his blow fell short. A fatal arrow from behind had struck him ere he could deliver his blow, and that was his end.
All of this happened quickly and within a matter seconds, of course, and I could do nothing, alas! I fought to throw off the dead weight that was still on top of me so that I may render what fruitless aid I could or perish in the attempt. But ere I could move I beheld the horrific scene. The King was now utterly alone and beyond aid. Alas! O terrible woe! Calimendil was struck with orcish arrows! He fell to his knees before the orc-captain’s feet in great pain. But with his last waning strength he clove open the leg of his enemy below the knee with his elven sword, for the captain of the orcs had made the mistake of gloating over his fallen foe and boasting to his companions who had watched with delight. The orc let out a horrible cry of pain and rage as he fell to the ground, one leg the less. But it was Calimendil’s final triumph. The twang of more bowstrings was heard and the feathered shafts found their mark with deadly accuracy at so close a range.
Calimendil, our great King of Cardolan, fell dead at last.
My senses reeling, my head throbbing, my ears ringing, and my senses overwhelmed with grief and agony intertwined, I cried out to my old friend and noble King in my despair. For I longed to die alongside him in battle.
And my cry was heard. But not by the King, who had now perished. One of the orcs leaped over towards my location with glee, seeing a dying opponent he could entertain himself with for his leisure. He drew out a long knife and aimed a blow at me. But ere a dark blackness took me my hand beneath the fallen warrior found the slain man’s blade, and I drew it out quickly and plunged it through the orc’s chest. He fell dead on top of me, doubling the dead weight that buried me in the muddy grass and muck. The last thing I remember before I fell into darkness was the sound of horns in the near distance. They were coming closer…