Daughter of Kings

by Evermind

Chapter Twenty four: The Fords Of Isen

Theodred spurred Brego forward, the joy of the chase thundering within his head. The orcs fled before them and were trampled to ruin beneath the hooves of the Rohirrim. A huge orc chieftan crashed to the ground in front of them and lay motionless. Theodred felt Brego thrust upwards, leaping the body in a graceful arc. The prince leant forward in his stirrups, Brego's mane twined about his fingers, and his sword whistling through the air. A black shrouded figure loomed before him, and fell instantly with cloven helm. Theodred spurred on. A fierce joy coursed through him, kindling in the gentle prince a madness of destruction. The dying sunlight glinted upon his bloodstained sword, and it's red fire shone in the prince's eyes. The eight companies of riders that followed him lifted their blades in victorious salute as their foes fled before them. As Brego galloped from the trees into the flat clearing beside the river Theodred heard the whistling of a thousand arrows. The prince ducked low against Brego's neck as he heard the black hail sweep over him. He heard the sickening sound of steel carving through flesh, and the screams of horses wild with sudden terror. Blood fountained up around him, and suddenly his men lay stricken upon the ground. Distracted Theodred spun about, as Brego wheeled, fighting to stay upright. Suddenly a dark trench opened before the horse's hooves, and Brego reared upon his hind legs, fighting with the air. From the prepared trenches now they leapt, company upon compay of fierce uruks, slavering hatred etched into every twisted face, and the white hand of Saruman blazoned on every helm.
Theodred passed his sword through the throat of the foremost orc, then swung his arm up again, dark with blood. The prince twisted madly in his saddle, hewing with all his might at the black tide that threatened to engulf them. Looking up, he was dismayed to see the dark horde swelling as those who had lain hid in the woods hatened swiftly to their aid. Theodred realised suddenly that his small group had been almost entirely cut off from the main host. Dropping his shield, the prince's left hand found the silver horn at his belt, and lifting it up, he winded it. The clear note rang out over the chaotic crush, and relieved, Theodred saw the rear companies hasteneing to his aid.
"Retreat!" Theodred yelled "Retreat! Back to the Fords! Retreat!"
About him, the riders were in dissary, the horses fleeing before the oncoming hordes. Theodred swung Brego's head around, as the uruks loosed another hail of arrows.
"Retreat!" Theodred yelled again. He caught a glimpse of Guthlaf over the roiling mass of bodies. "Cover the main host" the Prince ordered, and thought that he saw Guthlaf's nod in assent.
Theodred plunged his heels into Brego's sides, urging him towards the river. Behind him, he heard the angry buzz of black feathered shafts.

Theodred buckled as the arrow hit him, it's point lodged deep in his right shoulder. Suppressing a sream of pain, the prince tore the shaft from his skin and spurred forward. Brego's hooves slashed at the churned up ground. All was in confusion. RIght before him, a chestnut horse crashed to the earth, shuddering in agony of death. Theodred heard the cry of the rider crushed beneath the horse, as Brego gathered himself for the leap. The great horse charged forward, leaping over his fallen comrade.
Then they were back among the trees, dodging this way and that, the enemy that had lain in wait for them at their heels. Theodred's sword arm and right side were slick with his own blood, and the wound in his shoulder pulsed with searing pain. Angrily, Theodred took his sword in his left hand, attempting to steer Brego as best he could with the shattered limb. The pain brought him back to reality, and his soldier's sense began to assess their situation. How many of his riders had fallen? Surely not more than twenty? But many were wounded, unable to fight further. The rereat was fast becoming a rout, as men mastered by the madness of their steeds were bourne far away. If only they could gain the fords. Elfhelm should have brought reinforcements from Edoras by now. If they could just gain the Fords.
Crying to the riders to follow him, Theodred crouched forward in his saddle, urging Brego on with all of his remaining strength. The bay stallion thundered on. Night came on swiftly.

Grimbold exhaled quietly, watching his breath cloud the still night. A horse somewhere shifted it's weight from one hoof to another, and the sound was loud in the tense silence. Grimbold crouched in the darkness beneath the bole of a tree, Ashwind's reins held loosely in his left hand, and the other hand playing about the hilt of his sword. All about him were hidden the riders, eight companies, and one of archers, but they too were silent, and only the rushing of water over stone disturbed the oppressive dark.
The river about the Fords of Isen was broad and shallow, and in it's midst stood a stony eyot. From where he knelt upon the Western bank, Grimbold glanced towards the eyot, and saw moonlight glinting upon the sinister swirl of the waters. The captain was uneasy in his mind. The orc host that had assailed them had dropped back, even their iron shod feet no match for the steeds of Rohan. But the enemy would come on, he was sure of that. He was sure of something else too. This time they would not flee. Saruman was ready now, sooner than Theodred had foreseen. No. There would be no more fleeing on their part. They would come on until the River Isen was dark with their blood, until either they were slain.... or they conquered. Grimbold shivered. This night, he knew, the Kingdom of Rohan would be won or lost. In the dark behind him, a horse neighed, sensing death upon the air. Grimbold's eyes stared eastwards, to where his Prince waited upon the stony eyot in the midst of the river. Grimbold shuffled his foot slightly in the mud. Where were Elfhelm and his men? A surly frown creased the captain's features. The reinforcements from Edoras should have reached the Fords long before dusk.

Grimbold moved silently to his feet, clutching at his sword. An eerie quiet had descended upon the River Isen, but for the water rolling endlessly over the shallow stony bed. Grimbold stared. The shadows that veiled the moon rolled back, and Grimbold saw that the river ran red with blood. The captain drew his sword from it's sheath. And then, faint and distant, his sharp ears caught the tramping of iron shod feet. With a whispered command to Galmod, the captain swung himself into the saddle. Ashwind's ears flicked once, and the horse stamped nervously. There could be no doubt now. The enemy was here. Grimbold turned to look over his shoulder. Behind him in the dark, he knew his riders were assembled, but save for the mist of their breathing, he could see nothing. With a soft whistle, Grimbold touched his heels to Ashwind's sides. Behind him, the host followed.