I would have sworn I could sleep through a battle, but I turned out to be wrong when a battle started and it woke me up. I came out of a dream to find horns blowing, drums thumping, and men shouting. Legs and Petals were also coming awake, and we were still looking at each other and wondering what the Halls was going on when the door opened and a Big Guy entered. He was thinner and paler than the Dunlendings, with light brown hair and refined features, but he wore the same uniform and carried a plumed helmet under one arm. "Come at once," he told us, in a different accent than the Dunlendings used. "We're under attack."
"By whom?" asked Legs, ever the grammarian.
"Orcs," the Big Guy said simply.
We followed the Big Guy as he led us down a hallway and out the front door of the building. The fort reminded me of the dwarves' camp the night before: men rushing about, grabbing up weapons, and saddling horses. The sky was overcast, so it was hard to tell the time of day, but I didn't think we'd gotten more than four hours' sleep.
The Big Guy led us up a ladder and onto the walkway running around the top of the stockade. It had been built by and for Big Folk, so I had a hard time seeing over the top. I finally boosted myself up and got a good look.
Down at the foot of Dol Baran there was a fight going on between maybe twenty mounted riders carrying green pennants and what had to be at least a thousand orcs carrying black banners with red eyes on them. Away to the east I could see more orcs marching in a line going back as far as I could make out.
"Looks like Sauron got tired of waiting for the ringers to get me," I remarked to Legs.
Down to our right the gate opened, and a hundred or so mounted Dunlendings pounded out through it. They charged down the path and onto the plain, riding straight for the orcs. They hit the orcs like a hammer slamming into a bowl of black pudding, leaving a trail of horizontal bodies behind them. The Dunlendings reached the far side of the mass of orcs and came to a halt, then turned their horses and started organizing themselves for another charge. The orcs decided they had had enough and ran away. Both groups of horsemen came trotting up the path to the fort, but I noticed they didn't mix in together. The attacking orcs had made them allies, but they clearly didn't like each other.
"You're no Dunlending," Legs said to the Big Guy standing beside us. "You're Rohirrim. Who are you?"
"Gríma, son of Gálmód," the Big Guy introduced himself. "Captain of Isengard."
"You work for Professor Curunír?"
Captain Gríma shrugged. "Technically, I'm King Théoden's emissary to the Professor. When we got word that the Dark Lord's army was on the march, I offered the Professor my services, and he sent me here to command Fort Baran. Right now, though, I have to go say hello to some of my countrymen." So saying, he led us back down the ladder.
When the first of the Dunlending riders came through the gate, Captain Gríma called to him in Dunlendish, and the rider answered in the same language.
"Asking him about casualties," Legs translated for me. "The Dunlending, a Lieutenant Halmir, reports three wounded, one severely, but no deaths. Gríma says he and his men did good work, and orders them to see to the wounded and their horses and then stand by for further orders." Legs nodded to himself. "A good man."
The Dunlendings were followed by the Rohirrim. Seen close up, they were in bad shape. Their horses were exhausted, and a lot of the riders were wounded. The green pennants on their lances had running white horses on them. The Rohirrim were clustered together, and they gave the Dunlendings some dirty looks. One of them rode up to Captain Gríma, and the two started talking in yet another language.
It turned out that Legs knew this language too, and he gave me another running translation. "The rider is named Wídfara, and he's not happy to see Gríma wearing the Professor's uniform. He calls him Gríma Silvertongue. He says that Théoden and most of the Rohirrim are trapped in Helm's Deep by the orcs. He doesn't know what's happening in Gondor. Gríma is assigning him and his men quarters here in Fort Baran." The talk ended, and I saw Wídfara give Gríma a reluctant salute.
The gate swung shut, and Gríma turned back to us. "When the Professor sent me here he gave me orders about you. I'm to escort you to Isengard as soon as possible. Get your ponies ready to travel. We leave within the hour."
That army of orcs would soon be swarming around Fort Baran, and it suited me fine to be somewhere else when that happened, but from the looks of things they were going to land on Isengard like a ton of bricks.
Some days, it just doesn't pay to get out of bed.