The battle raged on as the sun began to set lower and lower in the blood red sky. Of the once great army of Lord Tarken, nearly a thousand strong, only a few now remained. Kern looked to that sky and for the briefest of moments thought upon its beauty. Of the high wisps of clouds sailing peacefully by. Uncaring, unknowing of the pitch battle below, of the waning hopes of mankind. His sword was heavier than he had ever known. His arms weary and his legs shook as he moved among the bodies of the slain. Again and again the orcs charged. Again and again the small band of paladins and fighters held them at bay. From behind the low cairn, laid down in ages long forgotten, Kern looked out across the vale. His heart sank. For as far as his eyes could see the armies of the Dread Lord came forth. Orcs, goblins and troll kin he did see. Here and there upon horseback were the Dread Lords generals, generals of death and destruction.
They fought a losing battle. Each knew that only death awaited them upon the Hills of Ceneth. Still they fought, still they died. Far to the west, away from the coming night, Kern could see the ragged lines of carts and people. Headed away hopefully to safety and a chance at life. Life those upon the cairn would never know. Lord Tarken knew he had to make a stand. Had to hold of the Dread Lords forces long enough for the villages of Haven and Fair to make their escape. So many had already been lost, so many villages plundered and burned to the ground. Old men, women, and children here might at least escape. They might still yet survive and mankind would live. “They move too slowly” Kern thought. “Hurry” were his thoughts as the sounds of battle brought him back.
From his right Kern heard the cries of an orc band charging. As if in slow motion he turned, his eyes saw the curved blade of an orc scimitar slice into Owens side. He saw the slow fall to death of his last friend as he crumbled to the ground. He saw Owen look to him as life slipped away and left his eyes. “No!” was all Kern could cry. Anger, hate were all that filled his heart. The orc would soon know that anger as Kern too charged and brought his great broadsword arching down upon its helmed head. The metal split and the blood of the orc trailed down the blade to covers its hilt. Kern pulled the sword back and began a wide swing to his left, cutting one orc nearly in half and taking the arm from another. Still they came. He heard the metal on metal blows of their scimitars upon his mail of steel chain. He heard the next blow before it fell, then felt the heated pain in his hip. That blade had dug deep and struck bone. Up and around he swung his great sword to fell this attacker. Sure was his swing as the orc howled with rage and died. Once more up, into the belly of soft flesh his blade went as the weight of another orc pressed down upon him. Rolling away, now on his back he swung his sword and heard the sharp ringing of steel on steel. Blood blinded his eyes and still he kept that great blade in motion. Through the smoke and the heat of battle he could still see the red tinted wisp of clouds above, far off above it all. Was that a lone white dove he saw, wings still, gliding on some invisible current of air? Was it also headed west? He blinked and it was gone.
Then the world began to move of its own accord. The faces of men, of orcs, swirled and swam in his vision. Then it seemed that the darkness of death was to take him as it had taken Owen. A gentleness seemed to settle over Kern and he was glad.
Yet his warrior senses would not allow it. His honor would not forgive it. He would not fade from battle, this day was not his day to die.
Slowly he became aware of hands pulling and then carrying him. He was aware of the dressing of his wounds and of the warm moisture brought to his lips. The taste was sweet as it brought new life to blood, muscle and bones. Slower still did he open his eyes as they were heavy and caked with blood. As they opened he saw he was with what remained of Lord Tarkens men, night had fallen. Tarken himself sat beside Kern, his armor dented and blood stained, looking into the young man’s eyes. Kern could see the lines of worry and pain as they crossed his Lords face. Worry for the rest of mankind and the pain of loss. “Sleep” he said, and Kern slept.
For some reason unknown to Lord Tarken and his men the hordes of the dark had halted their advance that night. Their campfires dotted the vale below and lit the sky to the brightness of a full red harvest moon. In that vale the chants and cries of orcs, goblins and other foul creatures filled the air, shrinking men souls. Perhaps they too knew that mankind's end was at hand and the rag tag army remaining up upon the cairn would be its last. This would be their last chance at tormenting humans so let them live another night, see one last sun rising, then the end. Or so this is how many of Tarkens men thought and felt within their hearts.
Kern awoke to the sounds of people moving about the camp. Here and there small groups were hunched low so as to not be seen above the wall, moving arms and wares to the western edge of the wall. Their own campfires were now just flickering embers casting little light, but Kerns eyes still could make out those around him. By his count there remained but three, maybe four, score or more fighters and of these less than a dozen were left of the paladins. His heart sank as he finished his count. The battle surely to come would be short, perhaps the best so.
Lord Tarkens looks were grave as he knelt down beside Kern. He had not slept nor ate since their long battle had begun and now there was no time for either. “Are ye afraid Kern of Freesail?” Lord Tarken asked, not really expecting an answer. “No my lord”, Kern replied, a small lump began to form in his throat as he coughed to keep his cries at bay.
“Kern? I do not know how other I may put this. Some of my men must make an attempt to escape Ceneth, to protect the back of the villagers fleeing west.” Tarken sighed before continuing. “Some must stay to give cover for those who go. You are wounded and cannot be taken. I am sorry.” At this a small tear glistened in the eyes of Lord Tarken, but did not fall, as he turned to go.
“And of you my lord?” Kern asked before he could stop his tongue. Tarken turned quickly back to Kern, and as quickly the anger left his face. “I shall stay” was all he said before walking back into the night.
Kern found that he could lift himself up with little pain so propped his back again the lone tree and watched Lord Tarken moving from one group of men to another. He saw the heads fall of those he knew had just learned they were to stay. Soon there was motion on the west wall. One of the scouts had returned and made his way quickly to Lord Tarken. Before long men began leaving over that same wall. They left in small groups, three to four in each. Slowly and silently they crawled over the stones and made their way down the hillside. Kern heard no cries of battle, no sounds of alarm. His prayers seemed answered that all would escape.
By the time the faint glow of morning had reached the eastern sky all that remained upon the Hills of Ceneth was Kern, Lord Tarken and the last of the paladins, for none of them would leave their lords side. Tarken had bade some to go and find honor in protecting the villager, but none would have it. All the paladins would stay and die. One dozen men against the vast darkness before them. Kern looked back to the sky, the wisps of clouds were now gone and only a deep blue sky remained. No one noticed the noise from the encampment below, all were viewing the beauty of that mornings majestic sunrise. Somewhere far off the songs of tree birds could be heard, as if to give one last defiant song against the darkness to come.
From the Chronicles of Chaydion Pain
“There followed the Last Battle of Ceneth of which nothing more is known for none there survived to tell the tale. It is known that here the Dread Lord was halted, if only for a short few days. But in those days mankind survived. The Men of the West owe their survival to this battle. Let it not be forgotten.”