(The account of Amlarad's birth, as is told in the fashion of a dramatic, and therefore perhaps, fictional origin.)
Three clunks, loud and distinct. That was all that filled the ears of a fair girl who appeared no older than twenty summers. Her hair was dark, and grey-eyed, and even then they were shot with green in the fullness of day. Her name was Meril in the noble tongue, Rose in the common, and she was a simple weaver among the hidden peoples of Evendim; and so it is that she was counted among the remnant West-men still wandering in the wild. Three clunks passed. Several bundles of linen and cloth lay strewn about her as she came to her senses, and her eyes met the sight of a small cart; she lay flat inside of it and looked out towards the haze of the morning fog. Three clunks passed and the cart jolted in rhythm.
A calm yet firm voice broke the monotony, " Lay down and rest! We have a day's march ere we reach Deadman's dike." A firm hand planted itself upon her shoulder. Slowly the mist from her weary eyes receded and she beheld the image of a careworn traveler. He was clad in rusty green and brown and a scoundrel he would have seemed, by all acounts, if it were not for the single brooch that clashed with his grim appearance. It glinted in the morning light and it was shaped as a star undimmed. He looked into her eyes with his own, grey and keen from under his frayed hood and he spoke softly, this time in an elegant tongue more musical to the ears, "Rest now Meril of Evendim, he shall not wait any longer should we delay." With that he regarded her rotund belly; a child waiting to be brought into the wide world. With a fond smile he looked back at her, "Or she." Meril took his hand and held it as tight as her strength yielded, and her gaunt features were made fair by the flicker of a smile.
She peered about the surroundings with a frown and she spoke, "Deadman's dike? I know little of that which you speak nor am I familiar with this land before me; but for the name alone I would fear to go in the absence of your protection, Amlarad!" The tall figure gazed ahead with a stern look, his hand lay idle upon the hilt of a blade, in motion with his long strides, " You remember the tales of Fornost Erain I spoke of? There deep in the valley lies the fallen capital of Arthedain, nestled in the barren reaches of the downs. You are right to fear it for now a terrible dread lies over its fields. " Meril lifted herself slowly and turned her head northwards. The bulk of another man blocked her view, seated and slouched and was dressed in common garb that looked too small for his rotund body. He turned around and his beedy eyes latched upon her with bushy eyebrows, crowned with a mop of sandy unkempt hair. He regarded the tall Man in a hushed voice who had now drifted nearer, " See here, I don't like this! We're too open and scarcely armed to repel ambushes from robbers and the like. You know they have been spied in these parts! I doubt even the skills of a Man of the wild will save us from harm." A somewhat doubful glance was given to Amlarad as he spoke this. The tall Man ignored him, glancing briefly at the passing trees and the threatening fog, his hand closed around the hilt, "Keep an eye to the road and I shall ensure no foe comes within a league of this cart; so great is my treasure that we carry through this forlorn land." He drew his cloak about him, weatherbeaten from the hardships of his travels, and fell back from the cart in long strides; and from side to side ever would he watch with the slow passing of a league.
Morning waned into afternoon and the fog gave way to the climbing sun. Before them a vast plain of barren hills stood defiant, and far to the north the dim mountain peaks could be discerned; and to the west climbing woodland blocked all sight; and to the east the hills grew tall, fracturing the skyline. Three clunks broke the heavy silence met only with occasional cries of birds and beasts making their presence known. At last the cart came to a halt under a ring of trees that veered off from the old road and the rider jumped down, stiff-legged, and shoulders hung low, " I must rest! My legs have not moved for nigh on five hours!" Ignoring him Amlarad strode past towards the cart. He cast back his hood and looked down upon sleeping Meril with concern, unmoved and undisturbed. " An hour we shall take, but no more! She is in labour, though she has said no word of complaint her face tells of her pain."
An hour they rested with food rations prepared. Amlarad stood northwards, erected as a silent sentinal, leaning against his longbow. The rider helped himself to the stale bread and, breaking the silence, he looked up, " The folk at Trestlebridge have warned against taking the main road past the Dike. Reports of wolves of a cruel mind have spread far and wide, so it is said. Not even the robbers will dare trek along those fields, I'd wager. At this rate we shall come to its eaves by nightfall and perilous should that be, ere we are caught like a trapped coney! " Amlarad stirred slowly as if listening to the wilderness, his head turning this way and that. The rider continued to speak, " Who is this lady anyway? I didn't pry with many questions when we left but, doubtless, It is clear how you are with her: "so great is my treasure that we carry through this quiet land..." you said; she is your beloved am I correct?" Again Amlarad seemingly ignored him. The faint yet unlovely call of an unknown creature carried on the wind and the rider continued. " I didn't rightly understand your tongue neither, if I didn't know better I'd think you were one of them Elves I hear about. Begging your pardon if I speak too boldly but folk say you 'Rangers' are queer folk and I can't say as I disagree." He paused for a moment as Amlarad turned, akin to a statue of old summoned to life. " If Rangers are queer, then you, my friend, would be counted well among our number." The rider scowled as he turned his attention to his food once more, retorting in a flat tone. "You don't deny you're a Ranger then? Oho! But I suppose now I will be gifted by your silence. Such is the way of the queer and the mysterious." He finished wisely, before snorting. The rider continued as he waved the piece of bread threateningly. "Your pay best be good for this you know! 'Ned Thistleway', you said, ' I shall pay you five silvers for speed and passage up the greenway and east to the fields of kingsfell.', Now I'm desperate for coin but it seems whilst I'm here I cannot be sure my own safety is worth such a...meager amount. " Amlarad, sensing Ned's intentions, slowly turned to face the rotund man again, this time with a wry smile, " You did not complain about our accord when we departed, Ned Thistleway; rest assured you shall be rewarded handsomly for this errand by my people if we arrive with utmost haste." Ned fell silent, casting a look of doubt upon the apparent ranger.
The ensuing silence was broken as he ate through the last of the food. Another cry pierced the air from afar, similar to the last and Amlarad snapped his head in its direction with a quirk in his brow. Suddenly the vigilant man turned swiftly and alarmingly, " Orc if ever I have heard one!" he said. Without warning an arrow glanced the tree trunk mere feet from the campfire. With the skill of the North, Amlarad let fly a return volley. Wildly Ned leapt to his feet and dashed to the cart, and there he pulled from the seat a notched blade of poor quality and eyed it anxiously. " This is the last time I accept payment for foolish ventures out into the wild! Especially from a queer man with coin to spare -Bah! " With that he turned back to the Tall Bowman but, to his dismay, he had vanished.
Numerous arrows now hailed down borne from different foes; some far wide of the mark, others perilously close to the alarmed horse. The fell cries of Orc jeers and taunts surrounded him though he could not yet see them. Cursing to himself he hid behind the trunk and peered in vain for any sight or sound of the tall Man. As the cruel symphony of the enemy wove its way toward them, suddenly the singing of a bow could be heard as a melodic counter, and painful screams from evil voices followed in quick succession; Amlarad was on the hunt and dashed from tree to tree with silent and ferocious speed. Ned peered around from the tree and caught the sight of hideous squint-eyed orcs running over the brow of the hill, obscured by a myriad of dark green as Amlarad flew past him, ragged cloak billowing in his wake. It seemed to Ned in that moment, forever after, he understood why the enemy were said to flee from the vigil of Eriador's Watchers.
Another cry rent the air as the tall Man slew the oncoming orc. Amlarad drew his sword and engaged the others; wildly they threw themselves at him and skillfully he tore them down one by one; the last fell with a beheading. Still, an endless volley persisted from unchecked foes and with all haste the tall Man leaped back towards the cart, "Fly! Take her and fly!" he shouted, peering in vain for the now absent rider. At last he saw the cart with many arrows riddled against its side alike to a pin cushion. The horse remained unharmed yet still the absence of Ned was apparent. Then a new sound, shrill and high and full of pain cried out from the cart. Amlarad's heart lept as he dashed forward, and to his horror he arrived to find Meril sat upright crying in pain. " Where are you hurt? Where?! " cried Amlarad. " Tis' not the wounds of the orcs that pain me: our child is impatient!" she answered, her gaunt face full of anguish and dismay. Out from the side of the tree came Ned, panting and cursing as arrows danced overhead. "What did I tell you, woodsman!" He shouted. "Orcs, and a right swarm of 'em'! These are no waylayers: there's an orc camp somewhere near I'd wager! They are hot on our heels!" He ran past the cart and threw the camp equipment unceremoniously into it before leaping to the seat with a slash of the reins. Amlarad pushed the cart along before turning his back on it, guarding its rear. Though more arrows skitted along the road the orcs had been dismayed by the enslaught, too afraid to strike again until they had regrouped. Sprinting after the cart the Ranger leapt onto it.
For half an hour the daylight sunk as afternoon crept into dusk and still the horse was pushed to its limits. From afar the fell shrieks of the orcs carried on the wind; doubtless their leaders had punished them for their failure, or some fued had broken out as to where the blame lay. Ever did three clunks pass, in quick succession. Ned glanced at the wheel of the cart, " I've been meaning to fix that." He said looking sheepishly at the now grim man. Giving him a keen knowing stare Amlarad remarked, "I wonder how this horse and cart came into your hands, Ned; for it seems to me you care little for the steed you bully and show poor skill in navigation." Ned looked sharply at Amlarad, his bushy eyebrows quivering slightly. " What are you implying? I am no thief! The cheek of it! You: a Ranger; a vagabond of the wild! Your lot are naught but scoundrels and ne'er do wells in my book and that's flat! You should be thankful that I am helping the pair of you, it's all out of the kindness of my heart." Ned's pitying look did not convince Amlarad, though he said and did no more save for the wry smile that he wore upon his leathered face.
Ned slashed the reins harder and the horse reered its poor neck and galloped with all strength as could be mustered; the crooked wheel clunked three times. Slowly Amlarad turned his gaze from the south and looked upon Meril, and she was awake now and in terrible pain. The labour had started and little comfort did she take in knowing the orcs were behind. With what skill he had Amlarad tried to ease her pain. " Drink this Meril, for it is' the water of your home, and that of Nenuial." He handed her the waterskin from which she took eager draughts.
The last rays of the sun vanished to the west, its lingering light piercing the broken canopies of trees beside the road, and though intimidating they seemed in the failing light, to Amlarad's eyes they haboured no enemy. Presently the road began to rise steadily, the clunks of the wheel ever more prominent; and the mild wind had changed its course. A cold and biting wind drifted down from the mountains to the north and at last the edges of the trees vanished unto a folorn wilderness of houseless hills. Ned turned his eyes ahead. "Nightfall, and if my reckoning is aright: yonder lies Deadman's Dike. What a meal we shall be if the wolves pick up our scent. " As he spoke a chilling howl from afar echoed ahead, answered slowly by other nameless creatures distant and remote. Amlarad stood up in the cart and cast his long-sight northwards; though the common rider could not see in the gloom, the eyes of the tall Man were not deceived. There near at hand lay the fields of Fornost, and an unnatural fog lay about its bounds and the forms of withered trees could be discerned. If elven eyes looked upon this land they would see from afar the ruins of Norbury nestled to the north. In days of old the last King of Arthedain and its people were besieged by the forces of Angmar; a killing stroke to end the Númenórean line in the north. At last the city's defences were thrown down and its people slaughtered or scattered; King Arvedui fled and ultimately perished in the cold wastes to the north. So ended the line of kings in Arnor and its minor realms, so the tales say.
Drawing his gaze to the northeast, Amlarad looked upon a large mound with a circular, roofless, and broken ruin. "Let us be quick and take refuge in Amon Raith." Ned peered in the same direction, unable to discern anything but rolling hills. " You will have to be my eyes on this for I can see naught in this gloom. Yet it doesn't seem to be hindering you, I note. " His voice trailed off with mutterings of "queer folk, Rangers" and other less than savoury words.
As the cart made its way up the road, more and more the agony of Meril echoed before them, and answering howls grew nearer and louder; and ever watchful, Amlarad peered into the darkness with his bow string taut. At last Ned could see the dominating hill of Amon Raith. Gloomy, he thought it was, and imagined it to be a place a Ranger would enjoy, so grim and mysterious as they seemed. Amlarad lept off the cart and strode up the hill, stopping short at the ruin. Soon the rider and the cart caught up only to find him stooped low, examining the ground; his fingers exploring the folorn terrain methodically. Presently he held his hand up as a signal to halt. " Wolves have been here, and recently." He prowled around the ground searching for signs; to his eyes the passing of large wolves still lay fresh upon the earth. The Barghests of Norbury were of legend among the distant folk of Bree yet to Amlarad he knew all too well that still they existed and stalked the ruins of Arthedain. Ned jumped down and looked in dismay at the surroundings. "We can't set up camp here, surely? What protection will this ruin offer us? It won't just be the north wind biting us if we linger for too long, mark my words!" he said, eyeing the eery fields below. "I mark them but we can no longer hide." answered the tall Man. " The orcs on the moors behind will surely have sent scouts in bitter vengeance, and the wolves will doubtless be drawn to us." He looked back at Meril in the cart with concern, her cries of pain splitting the air. After a pause he spoke in resolve, "Make a fire, as big as you can, on the southern side of this ruin. We can shield ourselves from the wind and the bite it will surely offer." Ned looked at him incredulously. "But a fire will attract all the foul creatures of this land right to us!" The tall Man gave him a keen stare and his protests were silenced. "Do it." said Amlarad. "You forget there are other eyes that watch these lands, so abandoned as they seem; and she needs warmth. I shall return shortly." He strode toward the cart and spoke few words of comfort to Meril before pressing on to the edge of the ruin out of sight.
Ned, grumbling and shivering, set up camp with what few peices of wood as he could gather from the dwindling supplies. Drawing the cart close by he lay Meril next to the now meager fire, upright and wrapped in his cloak. "Never again!" He grumbled. "Never again will I leave the safety of solid walls! Five silvers he offered me, five! And what good has that gone and done? Orcs, wolves and less than savoury company, aye! That's all it's done! " He sat down with a thump and shivered in the cold, his complaints rife and endless. Meril was still lost in her unease of pain and slumber, and she appeared not to listen. " And where is he thinking of taking you anyway? There ain't no settlement here for leagues upon leagues, and yonder it's farmland and homesteads. I daresay as a Ranger he thinks you can raise a child in the wild? Ha!" Ned snorted.
A loud and menacing howl carried on the wind, perilously close it seemed, and Ned drew his sword into the dark with worry. To his horror he saw two glistening eyes full of malice reflected in the fire light. Suddenly an arrow whistled followed by a yelp of pain and the large beast crumpled. From behind, the striding figure of Amlarad was revealed in the fire light. "The Barghests are on the move, stoke the fire!" He said. Picking up a faggot of wood he soon had a brazen torch fending off the fingers of the night; and the Ranger patrolled in a ring around the cart, casting his vigiliant eyes this way and that.
Then several things happened at once: Meril cried with renewed pain as her labour peaked; from afar the sound of Orcish jeers and taunts could be heard drifting up from the south; and as a cruel shadow another wolf had leapt upon them. Its hulking form and terrible eyes were aflame, and it challenged the Ranger of the north, yet he defied it. "Back foul beast! You stalk the ruins of Arthedain at your peril!" cried Amlarad. The wolf reared its head and pounced, and with skill and agility the tall Man side-stepped, bearing down upon it all his strength with a stroke from the torch. Momentarily blinded, the wolf staggered as yet another leapt from the shadows.
Yet out from the darkness several bow strings sung and arrows peirced the oncoming wolves. A sword stroke from nowhere glimmered in the firelight and cleaved upon the beasts, and arrows sent the rest fleeing; and two hooded men came dashing through hewing down their enemies; bloodied sword, bow and spear in hand. "You seem in need of aid, brother!" one said as the rush of battle was etched upon his dour face. He looked upon Amlarad gravely. "We saw the fire and deemed it orc mischief!" said the other who had now thrown back his hood. Amlarad hailed them both with a weary sigh. Although Ned did not understand either of their speech he thought he caught their names; Mincham and Dirnaith. "No indeed. Seldom do any pass up the Greenway but it is a rare fortune that three wanderers should meet!" Said Amlarad, now embracing Dirnaith. "But come! More wolves approach and worse still: the orc scouts may have heard this skirmish! I fear swords will not repel them. Make them fear the fire!"
Grabbing another faggot he handed one to each of his companions; Ned huddled next to Meril and held his notched blade limply in his hand. He looked now upon the towering Men, each clad in similar garb to Amlarad, as far as the light would show; and yet the nearest with his hood cast aside was revealed to bear a helmet of skillful make and looked taller and loftier than the others; and together they waved their torches threateningly, the light of which tore through the veil of night.
Every now and again another wolf would dare to challenge, and again they were repelled by the fire; and again they returned. The dour-handed Men let fly many arrows, and most hit their mark, and soon the camp was littered with the fallen wolves; but still they prowled near, roused and driven by the desperate hunger of the cold wastes. The moon climbed over the hills and cast its light upon the surroundings. Though the darkness still lay heavy there now could be seen the numerous hulking Barghests, receeding and slinking back into the fields. And yet, as with the final hammer of their doom, the tall men beheld the sight of orcs, leaping over stone and rock to the south. "Alas this is an evil day!" said Amlarad and he threw down his bow and drew his sword with torch in hand. Without hesitation he leapt towards them and the skirmish ensued.
Some of the orcs fired wildly at the sprinting Man of the North, and others fled in terror, but most of them jeered and jabbed with their swords in taunt and readied themselves. Mincham leapt after him in hot pursuit whilst Dirnaith remained; casting back his cloak he unsheathed a longsword of fine make, and it rang and shimmered in the face of the enemy. The clash of steel and iron rent the air, followed by shrill cries and distant howls. Fearlessly Amlarad launched himself from one Orc to the other.
Then at last he beheld the figure of a much larger Orc, yet more Man like in its stature, adorned with the crude markings of its own wicked clan. Clearly he was their Chief, born from the nameless pits and caverns of the distant mountains, where all spawn of this ilk reside; and soon with the clash of sword and spear they dueled ferociously; and Mincham entered the fray striking relentlessly to his kinsman's aid. The Orc chief jeered and taunted and his strikes came crashing down upon them, and each time they evaded him. So too did several Orcs dart in and out of the fight, only to be slain with skill by the Men of the North as they danced around in combat.
With a fell voice the Orc chief shouted, " Kill the others! Stamp out the fire and let the wolves have at them! " And realising the danger Amlarad fled back; Mincham held now the Chief's attention with well aimed strikes. Amlarad overtook and slew many of the enemy until at last he returned to the camp. Arrows were scattered along the ground and Dirnaith was locked in combat with two bandy-legged scouts; and worse still Meril's shrill voice was sent high up in pain, " Amlarad! Amlarad! It's happening!" she cried. With a shout of dismay Amlarad assailed the remaining foes, his child about to be brought into this world in the wake of a skirmish. Sword strokes rose and fell against the enemies until at last the camp was cleared and Dirnaith took to the remainder of the knife work; but the hulking Orc chief now came into view followed in pursuit by a limping Mincham. The wolves, sensing their advantage, stalked closer and waited.
In that evil hour, the Orc leapt at Amlarad who tumbled down with him out of sight. Dirnaith and Mincham, in sheer horror, cast down their torches and jumped down the hill after them; and Meril still laboured on, grabbing Ned as he stood there rooted by shock. He bent down, full of fear and anguish, and found clumsy words of comfort as the noise of battle filled the air from below. " I've never helped bring a child into this world! What am I to do?" he looked around widly as if the answer would reveal itself, and he scrubbed his hair in a false hope to rouse his common sense.
Sword stroke and spear thrust were exchanged between the dour-handed Men and the Orc chief as they fought around the edges of the dike; the north wind was biting hard against them and the foul musk of the wolves prowling in malicious patience heightened their urgency. In that moment Amlarad sidestepped a heavy blow and countered with a slice to the neck; and his stroke hit the mark in a desperate effort. The Orc Chief was slain and the wolves howled in anguish and defeat, turning on their hind legs and fleeing from sight. With a final look to the fields the tall Men leapt back up the hill and to the cart, kneeling beside Meril and Ned. Amlarad's careworn face was covered in black blood and a grave look was etched upon it. "Alas the shadow has passed but the danger has not! Meril, find your strength!" She held his hand tightly and laboured on, and the cries of defeat echoed around the fields.
The moon had now climbed over the sky and the night was old; and at last the Sickle high in the sky bestowed its warning to the quelled enemy. It seemed like hours that had passed as they tended to Meril. Feeling ignored Ned noticed Amlarad and Dirnaith sitting together talking in hushed, foreign voices, and he resolved to bow his head in vain hope of sleep. Amlarad's hands now ached at the memory of the skirmish. At length he rose up and took over from Mincham. For a while he knelt beside Meril offering words of comfort and encouragement as the time ebbed away.
Weariness washed over the company, seeping into the very tumbled stone as the wind quietened. At last, after one final test of Meril's strength, the cries of a newborn baby was given to the air. Overjoyed, Amlarad grabbed from Mincham his removed helm and placed his child within. The night sky grew pale in the east and south as a grey light cast itself upon the misty mountains many leagues afar. Ned and the dour-handed Men moved closer, their faces softened in mild joy as the baby fought hard to take its first breath in the cold morning. Eyes wide with wonder, Amlarad looked down into his son's face and he spoke in the fair tongue, "I name you Amloth, my son; an uprising flower when least expected, and a true flower upon the crest of my helm you shall be!" And Dirnaith peered over Amlarad's shoulder and beheld the rising dawn, and spoke: "Born after your namesake, Amlarad: An Uprising Day. I foresee he will walk with your name ere long he reaches his prime; yet for now, Amloth he shall be so named." And Amlarad handed the helm-cradle to Meril who, for the first time, smiled with unwearied joy.'