Adventures in Arda

2.3 A Covert Mission

A Covert Mission

Sunday 5 Hithui(Foggy) – (First Winter) T.A. 2758

The next day the company spend resting and preparing for their mission with the King. The sun begins to set and the chill of the White Mountains settles in the Deeping-coomb. After finishing their evening meals the companions wait for the stars to come out before a young squire approaches, asks them if they are ready for their journey, they will have a steep climb and a long journey along a hidden path. When they are ready he tells them to come with him. They follow the lad through the fortress to the front gatehouse and he tells them to wait there for the King. While they are waiting for the King, a deep bellowing horn sounds from the high tower and echoes down the canyon. A minute later, Helm comes to them in the gatehouse and the squire bows and leaves their presence. Helm looks at Gilfalassë and asks who he is and after looking him up and down and hearing from him decides that a trustworthy woodsmen could be of use on this mission. He opens a stout wooden door barely noticeable against the rock and pulls his thick black cloak up over his head as he steps out into the cold.
The four companions follow him out the door and the crisp winter winds swirl against the high walls at their backs. The door shuts tight behind them as they stand on a thin ledge of rock jutting from the base of the main wall high above a steep crevasse. To their right, the ledge circles slightly around the gatehouse tower and ends in a sheer drop and a gap just short of the main causeway. To their left Helm stands near the curve of the main wall gesturing to a small gap across the crevasse with another ledge on the opposite side. He jumps across and turns to offer a hand to the next man across.
Gilfalassë tightens his pack down and jumps across with the assistance of the king. After landing on the other side, he begins to inspect the next part of the trip. Cúthalion leaps across with his elven grace and turns to help the next man across. Dagorhir leaps across the gap and catches a heavy boot on the edge. As he slips backwards, Cúthalion swiftly reaches for the knight and grabs hold of his arm and pulls him steady. Aramis follows suit and jumps across the chasm as well. While the other three are crossing the gap, Helm edges along the rock face to the end of the ledge where a shallow indentation sits behind a rough rocky outcropping that keeps them hidden from the valley beyond. Gilfalassë follows and when the two of them fill the hollow, Helm points up the wall and bellows

Now the fun begins. Only a few people know about this climb which will bring us right up to the top of the ridge. It will be hard climbing but we will be able to approach the camp undetected from behind and take those scum by surprise. Let’s get to it!

Helm Slaps Gilfalassë on the shoulder and pulls his gloves tight onto his hands and steps up and grabs what appears to be perfectly placed natural handholds in the rock wall.

The Climb

Gilfalassë looks dauntingly at the climb ahead.

Perhaps some safety gear is in order for the rest of us my king. We are not such avid climbers.

He unslings his pack, and puts on his climbing harness.

Perhaps I could go first with the rope, and another with a harness could take up the back end to collect up all of the pieces. Those without a harness could use the rope for assistance.

Gilfalassë begins tying the rope into temporary harnesses for the two middle climbers, as well as an end point for the follower. He tise a hold for first the Elf, and then the Knight, and pass the end point to Aramis, and he then begins climbing.
As Gilfalassë is tying the rope into makeshift harness holds, Helm looks at the Dúnadan, gives a quick nod of approval, and begins climbing up a thin steep chute out of the hollow back towards the direction of the thin ledge. He quickly climbs up the chute and reaches a point where his route skirts around the rocks and the route opens up to face the crevasse and high fortress wall behind them.
Gilfalassë manages to knot two makeshift harnesses into the rope and still have enough rope to pass between all four climbers. He then starts up the chute just after Helm moves out onto the high exposed wall.
Helm continues to climb the cliff, and reaches a small exposed ledge looking across the crevasse to the tops of the high outer wall. A stiff breeze blows along the wall and he clings to the rock before looking back to see Gilfalassë reach the bottom of the wall and one by one the line of climbers reach the top of the chute and follow.
Helm reaches the top of the last leg of the climb as Gilfalassë nears the exposed ledge. Gilfalassë reaches the edge, he anchors the rope on top, and hauls himself over to brace should anyone fall. Dagorhir follows close as Cúthalion stalls halfway up the wall with Aramis on his heels waiting to push on. With Dagorhir’s help, Cúthalion reaches the ledge beneath the final climb up to reach Helm at the top.
Gilfalassë detatches the temporary anchor and begins his ascent up the mountain again. The others follow the last leg of the climb. Soon, the party reach the top, one after another to see Helm sitting on a rock waiting for Aramis to make the top. he says

Now that the climb is done we just make our way North along the ridge until we find the
camp. When you have all caught your breath we can start moving

On the ridge, a light dusting of snow starts falling. Gilfalassë begins unhooking everyone’s jury-rigged harnesses and repacks them in his bag, and then dons his armor. Dagorhir takes scope of his surroundings and sees what things and positions can be advantageous for the coming mission.
With all the harnesses put away, Helm rises from the rock and motions for the group to follow him.

From here we must make our way along the ridge to come down on their camp. It is a league or more and we must travel swift and silent by the light of the stars.

With that he starts carefully picking his way among some loose rock and starts off along the side of the ridge hidden from the fortress. Gilfalassë moves swiftly and quietly behind Helm with Cúthalion quickly behind. Aramis tries to stay in the middle of the party because his senses are downright dismal, but he stays light of foot and uses every shadow to his advantage.
Helm makes his way down with the company following single file. As they move along the ridge the snow starts to fall harder and the wind blows stronger as an early winter storm settles over the valley. After a few hours of tough travel through the blowing snow the beleaguered party arrive at a high bluff at the North end of the valley. Aramis is unhappy with the failing conditions, but in the spirit of moving silently refrains from complaint.

The Ridge

The party work their way down the ridge through the storm. Cúthalion moves light and swiftly through the falling snow. Aramis is caught off guard by the cold and starts to feel the early effects of hypothermia. Gilfalassë uses his ranging skills and helps protect the others from the elements while helping Aramis to recover. The party arrive at a high bluff at the north end of the valley with the White mountains lost in the darkness behind them. Helm signals to halt the party on the bluff and takes a quick rest to catch his breath. The snow continues to fall but begins to slow down. Despite the efforts of Gilfalassë, Aramis still feels a chill beneath his furs and cloak. When the party arrive at the bluff, Cúthalion places his hands on him and Aramis almost instantly feels like he is warmer.
Gilfalassë begins checking the surrounding area for any signs of scouts or guards. Just then, Cúthalion, Gilfalassë and Dagorhir all spot what seems to be a scout sitting in the rocks below them beneath the ridge. They also hear a faint noise on the air as he hums to himself. Cúthalion with his keen elf eyes also sees that he is a very young scout and looks uncomfortable and edgy sitting alone and is constantly looking around at shadows and phantom noises. He has his back up against a short overhang and is looking out over the valley below while trying to stay out of the last of the snow. 
Aramis feels uncomfortable from the gentle caress of the half elf and does something manly like sharpen daggers to keep it from getting weird.
Gilfalassë nocks an arrow and hides behind a large boulder and looks down the slope to the scout sitting with his back to the group leaning against a rock.
Dagorhir whispers

Should we sneak up, take him captive and see what kind of information we can get out of him about the camp?

Gilfalassë responds in hushed tones

We shall have to be swift, before the patsy gets wise. Perhaps Cúthalion and I should watch him and Aramis should sneak up and surprise him?

Cúthalion draws his bow as Gilfalassë mutters under his breath and takes aim. Aramis sneaks down the hill hiding among the rocks and scarcely making a sound. As Aramis sneaks down the slope towards the scout, when he is about halfway down, the scout looks startled by a noise behind him but looks back and sees nothing and looks up in the sky to see a falcon hunting in the night. He pulls his cloak tighter around his body and exposed ears and huddles against the rock. Gilfalassë stops muttering under his breath, but continues to take aim at the scout ready for any signs of trouble.
As the Scout Huddles against the rock, the falcon swoops down on silent wings, grabbing the small pika that startled the man in the first place. He watches the bird intently as the falcon grabs his prey and looks around while perched on a rock further down the slope. Aramis readys a dagger in his off hand to menace the throat while his main hand muffles any cry for help. Aramis easily manages to sneak up and put his dagger to the throat of the scout who tenses up at the touch but does not move for fear of his life. He slowly puts his hands out in front of him palms up to show whoever is behind him that he is unarmed.
Aramis whispers to the scout that he is to casually accompany Aramis up the hill, but first that he should tap his left foot thrice upon the ground if any of his accomplices are within ready earshot. He pauses then waves his hands in front of him side to side, palms downward. He then places his hands on his knees to slowly stand under the control of Aramis.

Very good, King Helm will appreciate your accommodating attitude

Aramis helps the boy to his feet and bids him to lead up the hill. At the mention of Helm’s name, the young lad shudders but continues back to the others with Aramis.
When Aramis and the lad reach the party, they all look around quietly at each other for a moment not sure what to do with the boy. He looks timidly around the group until Helm stands from the rock he was sitting on and the lads entire body freezes stiff. As Helm walks towards him, the boy trembles in Aramis’ arms until Helm stands before him and asks

Are there others up here with you?

The boy whimpers and shakes his head. Helm presses further in a commanding voice

Where is your camp and the livestock that you stole?

The boy nearly faints and collapses to his knees and begs

Please don’t kill me, I don’t want to be here but Wulf came into our village and made us. I didn’t steal any cows I swear.

He buries his face in his hands as hot tears stream down his face and let off faint wisps of steam. Helm says simply

Where?

The boy looks up and points down the hill to the Northeast and mutters

A few hundred paces down.

and slumps back into his hands. Between heavy sobs he squeaks out,

Please, I just want to go home.

Helm replies

Give me your weapon and you may leave in peace. No one will know you are still alive until you are back home. Make haste

The boy scrambles for the strap holding his small axe to his side and he lets the weapon drop on the ground when he stands up. When he reaches to unstrap his dagger Helm waves him off saying

You’ll need that to get through the night.

He keeps his head bowed low and thanks Helm for his generosity and turns West to scramble along the hillside to try and get as far as he can under cover of darkness. Helm bends to pick up the axe, throws it over his shoulder and says

Come, let us find this camp

Helm sets off down the hill. Aramis checks all of his gear, pulls his furs tighter, and heads off. Gilfalassë presses on into the dark, looking for any signs of trouble. Cúthalion and Dagorhir follow close behind.
As the company progress down the slope, Aramis narrows his eyes and peers down into the valley. He sees what look to be faint campfire lights, drowned out in the swirling snow and fog. As he sees this, Cúthalion and Helm see the lights as well. As the hawk circles down and lands on a rock nearby, Gilfalassë sees the camp and notices an unlit caravan moving in from the West. With the goal in sight, Helm leads the group further down as the lights get clearer and clearer. After another half mile trudging through the dark, they come to the crest of a bluff that overlooks a large valley that now seems to glow from all the campfires hidden under the shadow of the bluff.
The camp stretches though the valley straight North of them and runs from the Southeast to the Northwest. The caravan that Gilfalassë spotted can be seen moving on the North side of a large hill at the West end of the valley on the back side of the camp. A large bonfire, bigger than all the others can be seen in the center of the camp straight North of the bluff. Many large tents surround the bonfire while smaller tents stretch towards the front end of camp in the Southeast.

The Plan

Helm stops, looks over the bluff and steps back to decide what to do. He says

Looks like the front of the camp with the most defenses is at the South end of the valley off to the right. There are probably some more scouts around the area as well. What are your thoughts on a strategy?

Aramis says

If intercepting the caravan is possible, casually infiltrating it will provide the simplest path to the camp.

Gilfalassë agrees and adds

Perhaps, if we can overtake them, we could disguise ourselves as dunlendings and slip into the camp without having to fight our way in. We will need to muddy up our gear though

he looks at the knight.

We can’t have any good looking equipment showing or the disguise will fail. What do you two think?

Cúthalion and Dagorhir nod in agreement. Dagorhir says

I’m not a very stealthy kind of guy. However, I am willing to do whatever it takes to defend the good people of Middle Earth. If need be I can act as a distraction or a direct force, depending on what our plan calls for.

Aramis adds

Dagorhir and I, being men of superior moral character are taller and fairer than dunlendlings, though if we soot our faces and hair and slouch a bit we may pass casual night time inspection. I can tie a trick knot to make the Elf appear our prisoner, but allow him to spring into action if needed.

Cúthalion responds

Well I guess I could act like a slave, we just need to keep weapons on hand in case things turn south.

Gilfalassë speaks up

Perhaps we could tie some sort of knot that was designed to look secured but you could pull to free yourself quickly. Then we could secret weapons upon ourselves, or hide them in bundles of sticks or something. I’m not sure how we would be able to retrieve them in case of emergency though.

Aramis speaks slowly as the woodsman is either deaf or a halfwit

We will obviously be armed, we are a returning scout party. The woodsman will walk in front of our elf prisoner, allowing his bow to be “stolen in a surprise escape attempt” should our ruse be uncovered or violence otherwise be needed. A camp at night is no place for anyone without elf vision to be loosing arrows anyway, we humans will rely on melee. 

Gilfalassë adds

Very well ‘Fancy Man,’ your plan has merit. I say we progress. No more time for chit-chat.

And with that Gilfalassë will begin tying knots so that Cúthalion can slip into and out of them with only mild effort. He quickly makes a mess of his rope and Aramis takes the rope from him and quickly ties a knot using his skills learned aboard the corsair ships.
After waiting and listening stoically, Helm rises from his seat on a boulder and addresses the group.

Sneaking into the camp should not be hard using this plan. The problem comes with getting back out with any goods that we can get our hands on. Releasing livestock to roam free will only cause a minor annoyance as they spend time rounding the herd up again. And besides that, it will not help our already dwindling resources inside the fortress. We need to do something that will shift the coming siege more towards our favor. While the Dunlendings live at the feet of the Misty Mountains and have experienced winters just as harsh as any of the Eorlingas, this coming winter may be the worst in a small age and they are without their permanent shelter and are exposed to the elements. Besides, these mercenaries from the South have likely never before seen anything this cold.

He nods towards Aramis bundled in his furs and heavy cloak.

We must press the advantage of our warm mountain fortress and not allow the enemy to even establish a semblance of comfort by removing everything that will give them any. Wood is scarce in this part of the plains and their scouts will need to travel far from this barren ridge to get more if their stockpile runs out. Feed for their livestock will be even more scarce under thick blankets of snow. Arrows and weapon hafts will require precious wood to replace. Everything we cannot take with us we need to destroy. Multiple small strikes will cause more confusion and have a greater chance for success as a group but also be risky for each of us as individuals. The most important thing for us to think about is our escape. Causing such a commotion will certainly raise an alarm and an all out hunt for us as we leave. While we may have just fallen upon that scared young lad, other experienced scouts and rangers are sure to be out among the hills and will certainly move to ambush us if we are not wary. As the darkness deepens, keen Elven eyes will be necessary to both survey the camp and ensure a clean exit

He looks Cúthalion in the eyes through the swirling snow.

They will surely know me in that camp, disguise or no, and will direct their attention towards me to the best of their ability. I plan to use that to our advantage and attack on that side of the camp and draw them away from the supplies

He says pointing to the Southeast towards the downstream portion of the camp.

I have known these hills since I was a child and am now the king of the great fortress of Aglarond. I know of a few old secrets of old Gondor that even the best Dunlending eyes cannot find. They will send many soldiers and search many hours to find me but all in vain. I will start as many fires as possible amongst the stockhouses, armories, and tents. I will not be able to carry much, if not anything on my own. I will only serve as a distraction for you all to take what you can during the commotion. Lead animals away, carry what you can, do what needs to be done to help the people of Rohan sheltered in our fortress and to help squash this insurrection

Helm adjusts his cloak and hoists the scout’s surrendered axe and prepares to depart down the East side of the hill to attack the far end of the camp.

Oh, I almost forgot. As I told Aramis when he came to see me, I have sent a small column of riders out into the plains along the hills to the East. If they were successful, some of the warriors have left the camp with their fires burning but fewer men to tend them. Be aware of any men that see through the ruse and seek to return to the warmth of their fires and a hot meal. I have kept our mission quite among the men of the fortress for I fear there may be more than an ear or two that has been bought by our enemy. But I have alerted a trusted man at the main gate to keep a keen eye out for any return, many or few, that may come down the main road. Closer to the gates, we have eyes and arrows hidden in the scrub and valleys to help screen your return as well. Should dire circumstances beset you, blow this horn and any nearby riders will surely come down the road quick as thunder

He finishes as he reaches underneath his thick winterwolf cloak and produces a small riders horn and hands it to Dagorhir.

Be swift and may the Valar guide you and be with all of you. I hope to see the four of you, and that falcon of yours, back in my chambers when you return.

Gilfalassë suggests to Dagohir that without his horse, perhaps this is not the time for a lance, and stashing it here may be for the best.

Between Aramis and I we should be able to create a sufficient disguise that we can sneak down there, and take out our opponents with haste. Stealing one of the wains would allow us to steal some of the supplies as we left, as well as giving us cover should they start shooting at us.

Dagorhir hides his lance and makes an effort to remember the location

Let us go forth and attempt to dismantle the siege upon our friends. We have made as good a plan as we could in such a short time and must not delay any longer.

Cúthalion gives his bow to Gilfalassë and looks ahead into the darkness to search for any other dunlending scouts. As they set off down the hill to intercept the caravan, Gilfalassë takes the lead with Aramis close behind to speak to anyone they stumble across. Cúthalion in his bonds follows Gilfalassë as well. Dagorhir brings up the rear with his equipment muddied and his stature slumping to help disguise himself.

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