“That’s what I am wondering too.” Kili was sitting on a rock beside the barrow, wrapping up some remaining bandages. They both had been in need of those and had taken care of each other’s injuries. “There used to be a settlement about five miles in the direction he came from. Not the friendliest place I recall but it sits right on the trail coming from Archet and leading to the old Framsburg pass.”
“Maybe someone there knows him – or can claim his body for burial.” Boromir harbored no illusions that they had they had the means to properly bury the boy. “At least they may know what drove him to travel at night.”
Kili stood up he was still pale from loss of blood but walked without aid. “Let’s gather our belongings and be on our way. The sooner we get there the greater the chance they can recover the body before night falls again.”
An hour after dawn the wind returned and string gales parted the heavy mists that had enveloped the hills. This day Boromir did not walk ahead as he had done in previous days. He had well noticed that Kili had lost a lot of blood thanks to that gash in his side and so he kept to his companion’s side during their walk. Sometimes he marveled on the dwarf’s endurance, they truly were made from stone – unbreakable. “Those wolves,” he began when the clear morning light was upon them. “what are they?”
“Wargs,” Kili corrected. “They are a remnant of Angmar – or some say even Angband itself. The Orcs have some alliance with them and use them to ride and track. When you have them on your trail it is hard to shake them off – they find your smell. Their packs breed in the wilds north of the Ettenmoors – in the dark lands south of Carn Dum. I do not know why the eastern Orcs won’t use them.”
“An alliance? Are you saying these beasts think and speak?” Boromir did not doubt Kili knew what he was on about, but he wanted to learn all he could about this new foe and quickly. Who knew how much aid and auxiliaries Barad Dur would be able to summon from the North?
“They do, they are Draugluin’s children after all. Wargs come by tribes united under one leader – at least at times. The white warg held all the tribes in thrall. They have been fractured for decades after the White Warg fell… but recently there have been rumors of a new Wolfking having risen up north. Bad tidings if it proves true.”
“Are they in league with Mordor?” Boromir regretted speaking the name at once for a cold gust of fell wind swooped over them. He shivered. Had the dark Lord’s reach grown that long already?
“No one knows for sure but all evil creatures are drawn there. It wouldn’t surprise me.” Kili stopped suddenly his eyes on the ridge west of them. Smoke curled above it, not the smoke of hearth fires but the black smoke of a much bigger blaze slowly burning out. Without wasting another moment Kili began running, Boromir following right behind. They made their way downhill and up the other side. There was a shepherd’s path up there and they quickly enough reached the hilltop. On the other side they could see the settlement – or what was left of it. Black smoke rose from the building, the wind smelled of fire, ash and burned flesh.
Raising his arm Boromir shielded his eyes from the smoke the wind drove towards them. “Could he have fled this?” he felt sure it had to be the reason why that nameless youth had run into the night. Why the Orcs had been after him.
Kili did not respond but went on towards the smoldering ruins. Yet he did not enter them but stopped at the path leading towards them just outside the former village and squatted down. Boromir understood at once what Kili was doing and was extra careful to not step into any tracks. The dwarf rose after a few moments looking left and right, returning back to the path eventually. “Orcs and Warg-riders – at least fifty likely more,” he said. “Most of them came from the east and circled the village. And one rider on a horse” he pointed on the muddy path. “he met with three Warg-riders here. The Orc leaders most likely. They dismounted and…”
Boromir saw Kili’s puzzled glance go to some larger forms in the mud. “They threw themselves into the mud,” he observed. “they were afraid of something – or they showed their submission. Orcs will do that when faced with fearsome power.” The Orcs of Mordor’s legions would be made do that before their Haradrim Captains.
“I have never seen them do something like that.” Kili frowned, his eyes still on the tracks. “they rose and turned…”
“Back to their troops and attacking the village. Whoever the rider was he ordered them to attack.” Boromir could see that clearly. He asked himself what sick man or creature had loosened the Orcs on a human settlement but the tracks clearly said what had happened. “Let’s look for survivors – it’s all we can do now.”
The buildings were still sweltering, small fires still aglow in between glowing timbers and still smoking ashes. There were bodies inside, badly burned bodies of people who had been trapped inside their burning homes. Others lay outside cut down by Orc sabers and axes. A few seemed to have been dragged to the center of the village square where at least one of them had been nailed to the village tree. When Boromir headed that way Kili stopped him. “Don’t,” he said softly. “you don’t want to see that. They always have their sport if they can have it.”
For a moment Boromir wanted to shake off the hand on his arm and tell Kili to stop patronizing him but the expression in the dwarf’s eyes stopped him. The pained, haunted look that shone in Kili’s eyes told him the dwarf knew all too well what he was speaking of – of horrors he had seen and survived. He did not mean to patronize but protect a friend. “I have seen horrors before, Kili,” Boromir said calmer. “no one lives on the dark land’s borders and hasn’t.”
It was a nightmare, like a tale of horrors that was whispered about in the dark of night, not quite believed yet not quite disregarded either. Boromir had known the Orcs would have tortured the villagers, for information and for fun, they were cruel beings but this… he only understood what Kili had meant with “their sport” when he saw some of the bodies. He shuddered, not wanting to think what these people had gone through before they had been permitted to die. And then there was the fireplace… had the Orcs truly roasted some of their captives over the fires and eaten them? He had heard that they sometimes would eat their own kind. In the heat still emanating from the buildings the smell of the burned bodies hung all the heavier. There were no survivors here whether this was cruelty or mercy was not to be said. Their departure from this world had already been needlessly brutal.
“Boromir, over here,”
He was grateful for Kili’s call. The dwarf stood at the other side of the square, beside one building that had been built from stone and was less damaged. He was already moving aside some timbers that had fallen from the neighboring house and were blocking access. “That’s Bran’s forge,” Kili explained. “if he was still inside when the burning began…”
It was a sensible thing to build a forge from stone and there might be someone alive inside Boromir would admit. If the Orcs had not searched the place beforehand. Nevertheless he helped Kili to clear away the timbers. The dwarf was far less uncomfortable between the fires and the hot ash, he often would grab still glowing timbers and move them without the slightest fear.
From the inside they could hear a low grown, the first sound of a living being in this wretched place. They worked faster and soon they could enter what had been the main forge. Leaning against the back wall sat a broad-shouldered man, a spear through the shoulder nailing him to the wall, his face pale. Two dead orcs lay inside the forge as well, the blacksmith had not been taken without a fight.
“Bran!” Kili exclaimed hurrying to his side.
“Kili…” the man coughed. “whom are your bringing? You usually don’t run in the company of Rangers.” His eyes pointing towards Boromir who had entered after Kili.
“Oh shut up, Bran, and hold still. I’m going to pull that spear out. Boromir, we need to bandage him quickly or he’ll bleed to death.”
“Too late,” Bran groaned as the spear was pulled out in one go. Boromir pressed the bandage cloth against the wound to stop the bleeding but the black blood seeping from the wound soaked it quickly. “The spear was poisoned,” Bran panted. “they did not want survivors. We had not seen them… and still they wanted no survivors.”
Kili too saw the black blood on the bandage and met Boromir’s eyes. The quiet shake of his head was all it needed to tell Boromir that it was exactly as the man had already feared.
“Can’t we do anything?” Boromir asked still. “Cauterize the wound? Clean it?” Even if the man lost his arm it might help saving him from the spreading poison. The healers of the Houses of Healing in Minas Tirith had saved Boromir a couple of times from Orc poisons, even from a poisoned Southron arrow once but he had always been in their reach and had never asked how they had managed to pull him back from the brink of death.
“Had we found him within an hour or two of the injury maybe.” Kili stated grimly, “Now I doubt even an elven healer could save him.”
“It’s too late for me, Kili,” Bran looked at the dwarf. “it’s like you to come here to help at the first sign of trouble. But this time it’s truly too late. I… I wouldn’t want to live when all my people have been butchered.” A shiver ran through his body herald if a cold creeping into his bones. “But we truly did not see them.”
“See whom?” Kili asked, seeing how Bran’s mind went back to what had happened again and again. The dwarf hated to be unable to do anything, to having to sit here and watch the blacksmith die. He had been one of the few truly friendly people in this place and Kili had liked him well.
“A rider came here two days ago,” Bran whispered. “he came from Archet, following some people who had been seen there. He searched for them. We had not seen anyone on the Archet road in days and days. He did not believe us, in the night he brought the Orcs down on us.”
“Who was the rider?” Boromir asked remembering the tracks outside the village. Somewhere in his heart an unrest grew like he should recognize something, something that was obvious but that he still was missing.
“I don’t know. Black horse… black cloak, strange voice,” Bran coughted again his entire body shaking. He grasped Boromir’s hand with the desperate strength of a man on the threshold of death. “I swear we did not see anyone. No one. We have not seen Baggins.”
“Baggins?!” Kili nearly shouted the word, his eyes going wide.
“They are searching for Baggins,” Bran’s words fell to a whisper, his breathing became a hiss before his body sacked to the side and death followed swiftly.