Tragedy In Torcein

Harlen Salein drew his water pouch from where it sat on his hip and brought it up to his lips, allowing a small amount of the cold water to flow into his mouth before swallowing it and returning the pouch to his hip. The day had been hot, and while the party had recently entered the Torceín Wood and night was falling, the heat was still somewhat oppressive and his heavy chainmail and leather tunic over top did not help matters. As he pushed his barbut helmet up a bit to wipe the sweat off his forehead, a soldier next to him said, “By Aracen’s name, it’s hot out here.”

“Too right,” said Harlen, “but that doesn’t mean you can get out of formation, Martel.”

“C’mon, what’s the big deal?” asked Martel. “There are three other soldiers around the Lord and his family…nothing is going to happen.”

“For your sake, I hope it doesn’t,” said Harlen. “I’d hate for you to have to explain to Lord Thaendil how you got the Lord Castoden killed by an arrow that should have hit you instead.” Harlen gave Martel a serious look, but after a moment both broke into hearty laughter.

“Shh, shh, not so loud!” whispered Martel, trying to control his laughter. “What if the Captain hears?”

“Right, right,” said Harlen, although he could not entirely stifle his own laughing and the two continued to snicker quietly.

“What’s going on up there?” called a stern voice, that of Captain Falgon.

Putting on a serious face, Harlen turned around and shouted back, “Nothing, sir.”

“It better be nothing!” called back the Captain, an angry look on his face. “Martel, quit your laughing and get back to your spot!”

“Aye, sir,” said Martel, shooting Harlen an amused look before turning his horse around and riding back to the center of the column where the Lord Castoden, his wife Caitlin, and their four-year-old son James were riding. Harlen shook his head and laughed quietly before concentrating on the narrow forest road ahead of him. Why did the Captain have to be such a hard-nose man about discipline? True, he probably did not want to look bad in front of someone as important and powerful as Therin Castoden, but did he really have to try to show off his leadership abilities? A simple order would have had the same effect as the shouting, and in the end, Harlen reasoned, would have made the Captain appear to be a better leader. Ah, what do I know? thought Harlen. I’m just a soldier.

The scream that broke the relative silence was so sudden and seemingly random that it took a moment for Harlen to react. For a moment he was stunned, and then he began to look frantically around, trying to discern the source. It had been a man, and upon looking back towards the center of the column, Harlen saw that one of the soldiers around the Lord Castoden and his family had been hit, and was now lying on the ground, an arrow protruding from his chest.

“Ambush!” shouted Captain Falgon, raising his arm and pointing into the trees. “Ambush! Get the Lord and his family to safety! Get them—” At that moment an arrow flew from the woods and found its way into his armpit, cleanly entering into his side. “All be damned,” he managed to mutter before he slumped over in his horse.

No sooner had Falgon been hit and slumped over then the whole column turned into a chaotic scrambling of men and horses. The soldiers began to rush around, drawing their swords and trying to find the source of the attack, but only arrows came from the woods. Suddenly, there was a bloodthirsty cry and a wave of orcs, the hunched, bow-legged, green-skinned, cruel servants of the Defiled Kingdom, burst out of the woods bearing crooked scimitars and other butcher’s tools. The battle was instantly joined, but the small Weisslander party was no match for the overpowering numbers of the orcs; the battle had been over before it began, Harlen knew.

An orc rushed Harlen from the front, brandishing a short spear, but Harlen swung downwards, disarming the creature before finishing him off with a slash across the face. For the moment, however, he was generally being ignored by the rest of the orcs, who did not deem the lone soldier at the head of the column much of a threat. They seemed to be focusing solely on the center, where four soldiers and the Lord Castoden know fought bravely against the overwhelming numbers. Harlen knew he should ride in and help, knew he had sworn to defend the Lord Castoden, but he was frozen with fear; there was no winning this battle. So he sat on his horse and watched as Therin’s ancient sword, gleaming silver-white even in the darkness, rose and fell, cutting cleanly through orcs and sending them down.
It was not enough.

One of the soldiers fell, a spear piercing his chainmail, and a hole opened up in the circle. “No! No!” Harlen could hear Caitlin Castoden crying over the din of battle, and suddenly, he was spurred to action. Another soldier fell, and Caitlin continued to scream, and Harlen jabbed his spurred boots into the side of his horse. He needed to reach the circle, needed to get there. If he could, perhaps he could whisk away the Lady Castoden and her son, get them away from there as Captain Falgon had ordered. He covered the distance in a matter of seconds, but as he plowed through the rear of the orc forces and reached the circle of fighters, now reduced to Therin and two soldiers, he saw Caitlin Castoden lying face-first on the ground, her back bloodied by a long gash.

“Milord!” shouted Harlen as he slashed at an orc who attacked him. “Milord!”

Therin turned around and saw his wife lying lifeless on the ground. “No…no…no! No!” He collapsed on the ground on top of his wife as the orcs closed in even further, and Harlen could not believe that he had chosen this moment to stop fighting. However, a moment later, Therin stood up, and in his arms was a small toddler with brown hair like his father and the gray eyes of his mother. Therin thrust the child towards Harlen. “Take him! Get him away from here! Make sure he is safe!”

“Aye, Milord!” replied Harlen. He grabbed the child and put him in the saddle. The orcs, who had been disoriented and scared by the sudden charge of Harlen on his horse, were now closing back in with a renewed vigor, and both Harlen and Therin saw this.

“Go!” shouted Therin. “Go now!”

“Aye, Milord!” replied Harlen. He spurred his horse, crying, “Ya!” and galloped off, knocking over two orcs who tried to block his way. It took him only several seconds to get a safe way away from the battle, and as he looked back, only Therin remained, swinging his sword in deadly arcs and strikes that continued to slay orcs even as they closed in around him. Then, in an instant, one of the orcs got through his defense, and a spear punched through the back of his sturdy plate armor. Even from a distance, the pain and defeat on Therin’s face was obvious, and he slumped forward and disappeared in the crowd of orcs.

Harlen sat watching for a moment, and then looked down at the boy who was sitting on the saddle in front of him. Knowing what he had been ordered to do, Harlen said quietly, “Come, we have to go. You’re safe now, James.”

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