For Our Teacher
Just when life seemed to be settling into something that might be considered normal, Ergal, Sir Alon Mendor’s squire, was found half-dead on the doorstep of our tavern one morning. When the pair had passed through Elweir before the revels, Sir Alon mentioned they were going out to discover why villages were disappearing on the frontier along the Nylsen Forest. When Ergal regained some measure of consciousness, he was muttering something about Sir Alon needing help and having told him to press on until he’d found some. Fiona was the one who found Ergal on her way out to the stables … and when she went out, she found Ergal’s horse had been left there in no better shape than the squire was. They’d come a long way – and come hard and fast.
As Ergal recovered a bit, he was able to tell us more. A band of Uruk-hai had attacked the village where they were. As Sir Alon prepared to defend the villagers, he sent Ergal to summon help from the lord of the local manor. This lord, however, refused to do anything to help. When the local lord refused, Ergal continued on to find Aliella and me. It was a long way to come to get help – and there was no further word on what had happened after Sir Alon engaged the Uruk-hai in combat. So Aliella and I persuaded the rest that we needed to go and try to help … or at least discover what had happened. We wanted to leave Ergal behind, but he insisted on coming. Fiona insisted his horse had to stay. But we have an extra thanks to that one I took when we stole back the shipment for the Arcane Beaker.
Traveling at a brisk pace, we reached the estate of the lord from whom Ergal first requested help. Although this lord did allow us to overnight at his manor, he provided no further assistance to us. So we pressed on the next day to discover what had happened. The village had been completely leveled to the ground – almost nothing remained. However, the path trodden by all the residents of the village and the force that obliterated it was obvious and easy to follow. It led to a clearing in which all the men of the village had been slaughtered and many of the items taken from the village had been discarded. I looked through the bodies but did not find Sir Alon, which was only a bit of a relief because I did find his sword and shield among the items that had been left there.
Following the trail after that was a bit more difficult, but still quite possible. It led us to a village of the Uruk-hai. As we observed the village, we noticed there were two barred enclosures. Sir Alon was kept by himself in one of them. The other was home to the women of the village and their children. Although the women were taken out during the day (apparently to work in the fields, prepare the food, and so forth), the children were left in the enclosure (apparently to ensure the women would not try to escape). In the evenings, after the women had been returned to their enclosure, Sir Alon was taken out of his. We didn’t know where he was taken; however, when he returned he was obviously battered. After that, some of the women were taken away; their dazed and confused expressions when they return pointed to the use to which they were put at night. (Sir Alon later informed us that his nightly battering was something of a training exercise for the Uruk-hai warriors.)
Once we understood the pattern of Uruk-hai village life, we devised a plan for rescuing Sir Alon and the other captives. Aliella suggested smuggling some herbs to the women which they could put into the food, herbs that would cause drowsiness and gastric disturbances. Fiona helped her locate the desired herbs. Darkarus smuggled the herbs to Sir Alon who passed them to the women and explained what to do. I think Fiona also enlisted Darkarus’ help in getting a message to her Cynthian tribe, asking them to come to our aid. In the meantime, we set such false trails and traps as we could arrange.
Once the herbs had taken effect on the Uruk-hai, we slipped into the village and freed Sir Alon and the others. We set off as fast as we could manage toward the place where Fiona’s tribe was coming to meet us on the east edge of the forest. Our efforts did much to slow the Uruk-hai – but not completely … and not nearly enough. A horde of warriors (maybe 100 or so) and two chieftains followed us into a river ravine. In that ravine, we found a narrow chokehold in which we prepared to make a stand. A few warriors from Fiona’s tribe surprised us there and explained that the rest of the tribe was up on the ridge. With their help, we were able to rig some ropes so the children and the women could climb out of the ravine and be protected by the rest of the Cynthian tribe. We set a trip line along the river and chose our positions. Before we dispersed to face the Uruk-hai, Sir Alon prayed and blessed us. It did help.
Sir Alon, Raganash, and an Amyklai fighter who came with the Cynthians prepared to engage the onrushing Uruk-hai with their weapons. Darkarus was to try to divert some of the horde. Fiona and the remaining Cynthian warriors fired arrows from further back. Aliella and I were up on the embankment so we could jump in (or push things down, in her case) once combat began in earnest.
Darkarus must have been successful because some of the horde did turn back, apparently to find a way out of the ravine and up on the ridge. Fiona and the other Cynthian riders fired away with their arrows as the rest of the tribe made occasional shooting passes up on the ridge. Once the chieftains came charging up the river to engage Sir Alon, I jumped into the fray as well.
Apparently, the Uruk-hai’s primary defense is his mean, ugly look. The regular warriors were fairly easy to put down. Their chieftains, however, were another matter. Sir Alon fought them valiantly (and they seemed unwilling to engage anyone but him). I protected his back from the rest of the horde along with Raganash and others in the thick of things. At some point, Aliella did manage to push a rather large boulder down into the horde. Something else seemed to happen around where she was, but between the Uruk-hai and the tree I was fighting under, I really couldn’t see what it was. But whatever it was definitely disturbed her; that was evident enough in the aftermath. Once the chieftains were felled by Darkarus’ blade, the messy affair was brought to a swift end. It would seem that a sizeable dent has been made in the Uruk-hai population and they should not be troubling the periphery of the Nylsen Forest within the foreseeable future.
For Fiona’s sake, her tribe sheltered us while Sir Alon went to find his squire and our horses where we left them when we entered the forest and to then arrange barge transit back to Elweir. The Cynthian tribe agreed to take in the women and their children and help them to rebuild their lives. Much to my surprise, Fiona introduced me to her mother as her sister and I was permitted to join in some of the family rituals grieving the death of her brother. Fiona’s people made a lot of fuss over my hair, which was kind of weird. But for the most part, it was a relaxing, healing time while we waited to get back to Elweir.
I did leave a note for Colvin when we left, in case he called for me while I was away … and when Sir Alon offered to send messages on ahead while he made arrangements for the barge, I sent a longer note with more explanation because by that point I was rather certain he’d be wondering about my whereabouts. It’s nice to be missed ….