THE TOWER OF CIRITH UNGOL
GONDORRIAN BORDER POST, FOURTH AGE
GONDORRIAN BORDER POST, FOURTH AGE
A watch upon the borders of Mordor in days of old, the tower of Cirith Ungol, the "Spider's Cleft", was a fortress constructed by Gondor after the end of the legendary War of the Last Alliance, in which Sauron the Dark Lord was originally overthrown and defeated. During the first half of the Third Age, while Gondor was strong, a garrison was kept at this Tower to ensure evil does not return. And for many centuries, the watch was kept without interruption. But disaster and misfortune befell the Kingdom and the garrison was called away to serve in its wars, until few remained. And when the watch was needed most, evil did return. And the tower of Cirith Ungol for a millennia became a fortress of evil.
In the days of peace after the second fall of the Dark Lord, Cirith Ungol was reclaimed by the Reunited Kingdom. To serve as a border fortress, it was repaired and renewed to its original state and banners of the White Tree flew from its battlements once again. In His first days, King Elessar had given the lands around Lake Nurn to former slaves of Mordor and there was friendship between their realm and Gondor. But in the north, upon the plateau of Gorgoroth, the heartlands of the Black Land, evil still lurked in the hills and holes. From Cirith Ungol onto the ashes of this wasteland, companies of horsemen patrolled, taking a proactive stance to reduce the threat of these wayward beasts and orc tribes.
Their efforts were not much, as the land was still a very evil place, tainted with fumes and fissures. Only the hardiest, volunteers from both Gondor and Rohan, dwelt there. Though the nights in Mordor often saw the gleam of stars, it possessed great evils in the very land which still irked upon the mind. Only those with a strength of heart and courage could sustain it. The only road inwards had to bypass the ruined city of Minas Ithil, a journey already full of frights and terrors. This fortress was the first and only line of defense between the former realm of Mordor and the peaceful regions of Gondor east of the River.
Two companies of riders, one of Gondor and Rohan, were garrisoned there, along with a company of foot soldiers and archers and all the personnel to maintain their upkeep. But it was never enough to fully pacify the wastelands, for the attentions of Gondor and Rohan were often eastwards, beyond the Sea of Rhun, or in the south, in Harad. But the enemy never sought to attack the fortress. They may have ambushed a supply train or a few foragers in the hills, for Mordor blossomed with scrubs, mushrooms, and sickly grass in these later days, but they never attacked the fortress or the patrols directly, unless their numbers were great. There was no immediate danger, until one went far into the ashy heartlands eastwards.
When the Darkness fell, the isolation was never felt more keenly than now.
It happened very suddenly to the defenders of Cirith Ungol now. Before they had been able to project power all across Gorgoroth. Now they were trapped in a small pocket. Whoever had been outside of the walls when Darkness fell did not return. Orc tribes once disunified, more prone to fighting each other than the allied patrols, became very bold and threatening. In the first days, they enclosed the fortress and cut off all roads, before approaching the very walls itself. Never before had they engaged in any sort of siege warfare since the turn of the Age yet the defenders found themselves watching the construction of ladders and great shields. A centralizing power seemed to bind them but it was common for the orc chieftains to never cooperate with each other. It confused the defenders but there was little time to ponder.
Every day since the Darkness, they had been assailed. Though the approaches were narrow, the orcs were consistent and determined. By the fourth day of siege, every arrow and projectile within the fort had been expended. Attrition whittled away the allied forces, until only a single half-company of riders remained, consisting of Rohirric and Dol Amroth knights. Supply was running out. Men feared orcs poisoning or fouling up the wells, the only source of water. When was help coming? Surely word must have gotten back to Minas Tirith by now. They had no sense of day or night. When the assaults ceased, a small party was sent out, to gather what they could in terms of projectiles and food. Even orc bread was becoming a necessity.
But all knew that either help came or they would die, through eventual starvation or in battle.
Achasson rubbed the corner of his eyes with his pointer and thumb as he sat discomforting on his horse. How long had they been sitting like this, formed up behind the gate? Matter of fact, how long had they been awake? The enemy gave them no reprieve and only a constant changing of the guard even allowed for some soldiers to catch some rest. For Achasson, on his feet, in many pounds of armour and gear, fighting all the while in the dry heat of this land, it must have been close to twenty hours at this point when he last got sleep. And only then it was a short brief, perhaps four or five. Sheer exhaustion was killing them worse than orc arrows.
And why was the remaining twenty-six out of eighty riders formed up behind the gate? The supply party was out, searching the recent dead for whatever they could find. Arrows, food, unbroken swords and shields, water flasks, all of it. If the orcs attempted to assault, they would immediately retreat, blowing their horns as they fled back along the narrow path to the gate. Once there, the riders would issue out and frankly put, kill anything on either side of the fortress that wasn’t of humankind. A short sortie, from which they would immediately withdraw back into the fortress. The orc numbers were too great for them to take alone.
The silence was heavy, especially in the perpetual dark. Fires burned low as they were almost out of oil and kindle for those. The horses shifted uneasily, grouped up as they were. Achasson and a few others were at the front. His stomach grumbled loudly and he reached into his saddle bag for a half-eaten biscuit of bread. Using his fingers, he broke off an edge and chewed softly. “Apologies.” He said to the warrior beside him, a shield maiden of Rohan. They said she was royalty and the men murmured about her. She was as stern and attractive as she was deadly. No one tried to court her yet, as if there was time. “Try not to mistake the rumbling of my stomach for an orc. Though, even steel sounds like a delicacy. Some jam and mushrooms, I’m sure it’ll be a feast to enjoy.” He jested with the woman, something to ease the tension as they waited for either a pitched battle or a safe return of the foragers.