While we rode on more warily after being waylaid by the Orc grunts that night by the border of Gravenwood, we kept pressing on as our hearts still burned for adventure. Perhaps even more so now that we had tasted its sweet taste and the rush. 'Twas not quite the same as patrolling the Mark with fellow Riders, battling whatever danger had passed the borders into fair Rohan and engaging them in petty skirmishes. Nay, there was a sense of excitement differing from it now that we were alone and a long way from home, me and Sigefaest.
We were not so quick in our travels though and often took our time now scouting the surroundings better before setting up camp. As often did I curse myself for not having the same skills in archery and tracking of animals and trapping them, as did some of my brother Riders. Three men there were in my band of loyal soldiers with whom I trusted to take care of these things and more. Expert pathfinders and bowmen all of them, Eadbert, Leofred and Bedric. But now, even though I find myself missing them and the rest of the men, they belong not in this story. Ere long I will meet them again and then there will be time to reminisce.
As said, I myself am not skilled in the ways of the forest, but by crude traps and sheer luck I managed after much frustration to catch a hare and a healthy one at that. That evening we were far into the Gravenwood and had some hours earlier passed a large, ominous looking tree whose girth was that of a small house yet it didn't grow very tall and it had nearly no leaves at all. Sigefaest snorted and was nervous of the ghastly sight and indeed nor was I of a mind to tarry around that place so we rode forward until hunger stopped us and we made camp and rested.
I had barely begun to roast my long-eared catch upon the crackling fire when a distant sound caught my ears. Neighing of a horse or two and not certainly of Sigefaest who hadn't strayed far at all. Instantly I grew alarmed and was on my feet, looking around the dimly lit forest and trying to decide from where the distressed calls originated. For they were indeed sounds of distressed horses, or wounded ones, as too often I had heard on the battlefields. The thought of hunger for the moment gone I crept slowly toward the general direction of the commotion, now joined with other more faint yet urgent cries and I went expecting to find more Orcs attacking other travellers not unlike myself.
I crept like a thief in the night amidst the trees and shrubbery though I might as well have been a clumsy bear, so noisily I tripped over twigs and branches as I hurried toward my noisy target. I followed my ears around a small hill and saw a light coming from a small cave by the hillside and though the sounds had now grown almost silent, I was fairly sure I had found my mark. I drew my sword and advanced in the dark and coming near the entrance of the cave I spotted a gruesome sight of two gray mares lying dead on the ground with several arrows jutting from their corpses and a wagon laden with some goods abandoned beside them. Momentarily anguished by the fate of the noble creatures I looked toward the cave and could see on the ground signs of trouble leading inside. I shook my head as if clearing it of worry and without further thought crept forward and readied myself for another confrontation with filthy Orcs.
I moved until I reached an entrance to a larger area inside the cave and there I hid behind some rock jutting from the cave wall and listened and peered in. Several torches had been lit in that small hall and I could soon make out a story behind all the aggravation for I saw a shape of a woman lying on the ground limp as if lifeless, surrounded by a laughing Wild Man and near them three more figures. Two of these were undoubtedly Orcs as they were foul in shape and size and they had in their hands crude blades of poor make which they brandished with menace before the third figure, a Man as wild as the cackling one yet different in clothing and stature and he was bound and gagged and mortified of his would-be executioners. I knew I was outnumbered and my chances poor against these three who had with apparent ease fallen upon their prey, slaying their beasts of burden and bringing the two captives inside this dank place for whatever cruel end they had in mind.
My only hope was to surprise this evil party as all but the bound man had their backs to my direction. So I mustered my courage and sneaked toward the chaotic group, thankful for not wearing anything that would clink at an inopportune moment and betray my presence. As I neared the Orcs, as they were my first choice, I saw that the shaking Man had noticed me and his eyes grew big from both fear and hope. One of the fell creatures grew aware of this change in his prisoner's behaviour and turned its ugly head toward me only to meet the swing of my blade separating it from its body. With a shriek of confusion and dismay the other Orc looked at its headless companion and backed away for a short moment, only to lunge at me fiercely the following second. I parried this hurried attempt at my life, and swinging my sword yet again I brought it down on the Orc's arm that held the jagged blade and it fell upon the cave floor with a thud and a clank, its owner howling in discomfort and wrath. I grew tired of hearing the uncouth growling and gnashing of the now one-armed warrior and I ended its misery by lashing at its throat and silencing it with permanence. Not forgetting my remaining adversary I leapt back expecting an advance from this Wild Man and whatever evil intent he had in store for me in retribution of my sudden intrusion into their hideout. Yet at that same moment I heard a grunt and a sickly cracking sound and as I frantically looked around searching for my foe I spotted him stumbled on the ground behind the prone woman his head bleeding and as unconscious as the woman beside him.
Catching my breath and while wondering what had happened I turned my attention to the only person beside me who still had their wits about them, the bound Dunlending who spied me with wide eyes of confusion. Dunlending or no I had no wish to keep him restrained as he were and released him from his bonds. Doing this I had dropped my guard and had no time to react as the poor man lunged but he did so past me and fell upon the clumsy kinsman of his. As I watched with confusion and ragged breath the newly released dark-skin went berserk on the fallen man and bashed his already cracked skull against the cave floor repeatedly until his strength left him and he fell beside the mauled corpse and wheezed and wept.
I was at a loss as to what was to come next so for the moment I merely watched and kept my distance from this unpredictable man. He had risen from the ground and was now on his knees holding the body of the woman who was indeed lifeless as it already had at first seemed. For a long moment he wept and did not utter a word nor so much as glanced at my direction, but at last did so and with wet eyes he spoke to me slowly and with low voice. "Though I lost everything tonight and a part of me yearns to be dead as is my beloved Igrid, I thank you Horse-bastard. I am Snorru and you have my gratitude for..." he chuckled and wearily waved his hand around the carnage around us "...all this."
Time to close these leather bindings again for the moment and rest as my arm hurts from writing. When I next sit down again and dip my quill in ink I shall continue the story of the Dunlending Snorru.