Inner strife- The Scorpion’s Sting

Haarith and his men had been waiting near Dol Guldur for over a month. It was a wicked place, even by the standards of the Haradrim. an evil was there that could not be shaken. They had not received any word from the South in all this time. Haarith was concerned that no help would come.

He looked at his men often, and was certainly concerned that they would follow another, or would outright kill him. He had to be on his guard. Since the previous battle, he noticed that Abaan was less than agreeable more often than not. Was this a degree of rebellion? Bakr was still loyal to him, he could see, but for how long? Who could Haarith trust now? Certainly not Na’maan, that was clear. His absent-minded archery was proof enough of that. Maybe it was all a plan… a planned coup drummed up by Abaan himself! How dare he! That sniveling snake wouldn’t be in any sort of command if it weren’t for Haarith! “I will deal with that coward soon enough,” he thought.

The men were clearly growing restless. They had not seen battle in some time. Na’maan was healed from his beating, but he was ever more cautious around Haarith. Their leader came around and said, “I am going into the fortress… Again.” Na’maan avoided eye contact, as he knew his true hatred would be seen otherwise.  “But I will return, and when I do, we will discuss our next move. Bakr! You are in charge while I am away!” And with that, he turned and left.  Na’Maan sat alone, fletching his arrows. The others appeared to be moving about and not really doing much else, nor focusing any attention on him.

Before long, though,  he noticed Abaan approaching, as inconspicuous as he could muster. “Greetings, friend,” he spoke in a hushed tone. Na’Maan nodded back silently. “How goes the healing, Na’Maan?”

“Messy,” he replied, pointing to his back. Abaan peered into the inside of his armor and clothes. The once bloody back was healing up, but not quickly. “Even the slightest of moves and the scabbing just starts bleeding again, even with that disgusting poultice those orcs gave me helping some.”

“A nasty bit of business, that beating you took,” Continued Abaan. Na’maan continued is work in silence. “I would say that this was a failure, not on your part, but on the part of Haarith himself. He loves flaunting his power about, but he does not do it in the most efficient way.” Na’Maan continued his work, but was also looking out for others, but none were around, or at the very least were not paying attention. Abaan got really close, and spoke  in a hoarse whisper nearly inches from his face. “I believe that when leading, it is more… encouraging for your inferiors to see what you are willing to do for them should they succeed, rather than what you will do to them should they fail.” He slid a coin purse near to Na’maan. “ Think of that should you ever think to shoot near our illustrious leader again…” Abaan stood up and walked off, smiling as he went.

After some time, Haarith returned. Bakr saw that his face was thoughtful. “What is one your mind, master?” Bakr was hoping to get nearer to Haarith after the previous month’s events. He would not be the one to take a beating for failure, that was to be certain. “You seem like you know not what to do with what you have learned.”

Haarith was lost in thought when he suddenly understood what Bakr had asked him. He smiled. “Yes, indeed, I am, Bakr. There are a few assignments that could be achieved, but I do not know which to take from this point. But I will in due time!”

Suddenly, a single Harad bowman approached the camp the company had setup on the outskirts of Dol Guldur. Yazan, the old veteran of the group, recognized him immediately. “Haashin!” He bowed his head, greeting him with what appeared to be respect, something Yazan showed little of to his current peers.

“Ah! Yazan,”The bowman exclaimed. “It is good to see a familiar face among these juveniles!” The two veterans embraced.

“The last time I saw you were riding away east on the ass of a Mumak! What brings you here?”

“Well, Aqil appears to believe this whole endeavor is too important for the rest of you to ruin. Especially after what we heard of the last encounter with the elves. So he sent me to assist.” He turned to Haarith. “I am at your command, mighty Haarith. I have heard much of your endeavors at home and I pledge myself to your cause.”

Haarith welcomed the new comer. This new arrival lead  him to believe that he could proceed with one specific assignment. He dashed back to Dol Guldur and returned before long.

“We must leave at once,” he declared, beginning to pack his things and load up his horse. “There is a company of Iron Hills brats that need to be stopped. They have a token that could make them a tough foe to deal with in the future, and the Masters of Dol Guldur have signed their death warrant.”

The troupe began legging it and traveled as fast as their feet could carry them.

They made their way through to treacherous and evil wood around Dol Guldur, passing various Orc and warg packs as they went. They soon came to the open plains of Wilderland, and crossed the River Running before long. It was about 100 miles south of the Long Lake and the city of Laketown that the Came upon the stunted enemy.

There, on the top of hill, was posted the retinue of dwarves. These are no ordinary dwarves the ones from before. These were clearly dwarves prepared for a skirmish. Their armor was heavy and they had an air of awareness that the small band of dwarves before seemed to lack.

A few road on beasts that the men of Harad had never seen before… great horns they had. Stout yet nimble horses with gnarled horns and filthy, matted beards. Almost as poorly groomed as the dwarf scum themselves. “A perfect pairing,” thought Haashin.

“We must take the hill in order to take those relics from them,” ordered Haarith.

Yazan and Haashin gave each other a look. They had fought many a battle, and knew an un-winnable one when they saw it. However, being the veterans, they knew their example was to be set In order to keep the men loyal to their cause, and to their leader.

Abaan, however caught the gaze of Na’maan. They were clearly not expecting such a rash move on the part of Haarith. They would follow for now… perhaps this would be the slip up that would swing the party’s favor away from Haarith.

“Archers, form up at that wall and do not stop the barrage,” barked their leader. “Spears with me!”

The spears made their way closer as the archers formed up behind a wall. They slowly made their advance, ever wary of the charge of enemy goats. Haarith wanted to charge the enemy on their terms, but this was not going to come for them. As they advanced, a crossbow bolt struck him in the stomach. I shot clean through out his stomach, but he continued forward. Moments later, he was struck again, and was shot down from his horse and saw and heard no more.

As he woke, Haarith saw that all his men had. Wen struck down by the enemy. They had been defeated, and it was not easy to mistake. They all lay there on the field of battle. The dwarves and left already, carrying their accursed relic.

Haarith stood up and began rallying the men to get out of sight. His horse had left the site of the battle, but had not gone far. He lead the beast back to the men who were setting up a camp as best they could. As they  sat and ate their evening meal, no one spoke a word. Unaar and Haashin would not be ready for combat for some time. Unaar apparently managed to wound one of the War goats, but not long before he had his chest caved in by the captain who’s beast he felled. Haashin also was wounded by the mattock of one of the enemies, a terrible injury that looked rather abhorrent.

As they sat in silence, Haarith was going over what to do next. There was no way to guarantee the loyalty of the warriors now. It would take a true miracle.

But then, it would appear the gods smiled upon Haarith this day, for his opportunity came in the form of a Serpent rider, an elite horse-lancer body guard of Harad. “Greetings, mighty Haarith!” Called the unfamiliar face. “My name is Butaan and I bring a message from Aqil, and supplies for you and your men. And a mighty salve to cure the wounds from the mistakes made by your lessers!” Na’maan was furious at this remark.

When the equipment was all passed about, it was clear that the message sent home was received. Haarith was given a new bow, as well as bits of metal and armor to shore up his defenses. The same type of additions were given to Bakr and Abaan. There was also brought a horse for Abaan as well, and he would now use his spear as a lance as well on the back of the beast.

The supplies also cured the arm wound received from the elves not long ago, and these would clearly help in getting the men all back to their best health to fight again. Haarith quickly spun the whole thing in his favor. He began reminding his men of the message he sent to Aqil and that it was he who sent it and how great a help it was to them.

Abaan thought the defeat would be their focus to get the morale swinging towards hatred of Haarith, but it would not be so for the moment. Abaan had been training in secret on his own to be able to take on Haarith in a traditional challenge known as Haabarth, but things were not quite in his favor yet. For now, they would stay under the leadership of this mood-swinging Mumak. For now…

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