At the feet of the dread wasteland known as Carn Dûm lie scattered the remains of a pitched and heated battle. Orcs, goblins, wargs and evil men, disbanded and leaderless, riddle the landscape and pose a viable threat while cold drakes, mysteriously imbued with the power of flight, dominate the skies. The carcass of a dragon, defeated and defiled, lies in a vile heap and the victors are wounded, not by a sword, but by the death of one of their own.
The Mithril Knights, battle weary and grieving, have received the orders to withdraw from the field of victory, yet the Rangers, the Dúnedain and heirs to this blighted land are to remain. The Knight Tempest hands over the field to the Rangers, for their battle continues…
I'd say we still have a mess to clean up, though the mountain is partially emptied and it appears that a great number have either fled or gone deep within the bowels of the mountain in fear. It will take time to ferret them all out, but it would be well worth while to cleanse the place so that it does not become a breeding ground for other evils," she said in a low voice.
"What are we talking about? Orcs? Trolls?" the head Ranger asked.
"Mainly orcs, from what I guess, though it wouldn't surprise me if there were some cold drake nests in there, which will be more tricky to eradicate. We will need reinforcements."
"Those are on the way, for the Eagle has sent a message to Elessar. The Knights are being recalled; you have done your duty here and it is for others to finish the task now."
"That sounds like your King, always sweeping in and claiming the glory after the battle's been won," Tempest grimaced as the Ranger looked slightly horrified at her words. "Don't worry," she added hastily. "I often speak out of turn. Elessar and I have a...complicated history. But in this case, I'm more than glad to turn over the job to him. I've neglected other duties for long enough. And besides," she said softly, gesturing towards her fellow Knights, "We have a fallen Knight to honor." **
The Mithril Knight then turned and walked back to the side of her slain comrade leaving the two Rangers silently dismissed.
Cerrimir fell into step along side Harogal, who, as leader of the Rangers of the North, was now formally in charge of ‘the mess’, as the dark, female Knight so aptly described it, at least until reinforcements arrived from the south. And that would take at least a month: a month of tramping through these soul-less hills and ravines looking for Sauron’s scum, dodging and hiding from flying cold drakes. Cerrimir bit the inside of his cheek in efforts to bite back the curse he wanted to hurl out into the grey, clouded sky. There simply were not enough Dunedain to do this. And as for the Gondorians, what use will they be, he mused bitterly. Travelling north at a forced march? They'll arrive exhausted and in need of a rest!
The two Dunedain walked with blades drawn; each caked with the dried, black blood of orc and goblin upon them. The slopes of the Carn Dum, pitted and broken with scattered rocks and knurled excuses for shrubs and trees, made for uneasy footing; they made their way carefully to an outcropping of rock which was easily defendable and provided a clear view of the battlefield. Harogal had made it his ‘headquarters’ and a place of refuge for the wounded, Knight or Dunedain. Now the fighting had eased, it was growing into a temporary encampment.
“Sir,” Cerrimir said, interrupting the silence and unable to contain his frustration any longer, “I cannot recollect any mention of the Knights being recalled in the communication...”
Harogal gave his second a look that was a mixture of both commendation and warning. “Perhaps not ‘overtly’, Cerrimir,” he replied.
“Perhaps not ‘overtly’? But sir, you…”
A strange, bright fire suddenly caught Cerrimir’s eye. He turned just as there was a sudden gasp from a group of Dunedain and Knights some distance behind them; Harogal turned just in time to witness one of the Knights simply disappear into thin air.
The Ranger slowly shook his head and took Cerrimir by the arm, who stood gaping at the empty space where, moments ago, there once stood a man. Harogal led his second back to their headquarters.
“Their story is done, Cerrimir,” Harogal said in a low voice. “And they’ve taken losses, whereas we, by the grace of the Valar, have not.”
“We’ve not?” Cerrimir asked, more astounded by that news than seeing a man disappear.
“We have wounded, yes. Fatally wounded, no, not yet, at least,” Harogal replied. “And Elessar says they are to return the fallen with honor, so we let them.”
“We don’t have enough men! What does Elessar think we are? Magical, for pity’s sake?” Cerrimir shouted.
Harogal stopped short, and pulled himself up to full height. “You’re out of line, Captain! And I’ve heard enough ‘speaking-out-of-turn’ for one afternoon, if you don’t mind. Our KING has given us a task and we will do it!” He sheathed his sword, adding: "Our friend has given us a task, our brother." Harogal looked to Cerrimir, who, like all the Dunedain, was near exhaustion. His second stood firm, his grey eyes cloudy with anger but his tongue was still; Cerrimir was a proud one, always.
"Have you eaten anything, taken water?" Harogal asked. Cerrimir shook his head.
"Then do so, that's an order," Harogal said, turning back towards his headquarters. "Then take two junior ranks and spread the word of what's happened here and bring back reconaissance. I want confirmation that all our ranks live - but more importantly I want to know where the cold drakes are nesting - and how it is they fly! Orcs, goblins we know how to hunt but as long as those stinking vermin can take to the air, we're vulnerable."
"And Cerrimir," Harogal added.
"Get a 'polite word' to our brothers back there at the wake that their respects have been duly paid and to return to their duties. If they wish to join the Knighthood, they may; just not today."
*Yes, sir," Cerrimir answered with a grin.
**Written by Tempest, Mithril Knight, from the thread 'Mithril Knights: Guardians of Middle-earth' and reprinted here, with much thanks.