Chapter Fifteen: The Old Forest-Part Two – 19 Blotmath, 1417 SR
From the sleepy hill of Brandy Hall, the pair made their way east along a darkened lane even as a dim light began to grow in the distant skies. After a short while, they came to a small brick-lined tunnel in the thick Hedge. It went down a narrow gully and right under the Hedge until it came out some twenty yards on the far side.
Theodoras paused a few paces from the tunnel and shivered slightly as if suddenly chilled. ‘Here is the forest gate,’ he muttered in a low whisper. ‘Beyond lies the Old Forest.’
‘Where do you think they went?’ asked Dyre quietly. ‘Did they have a destination in mind?’
‘Let’s see…’ answered the hobbit thoughtfully. ‘I believe that Doderic sought out Bald Hill, which is said to lie just east of the Bonfire Glade.’
Quietly and cautiously, the pair slipped through the tunnel until they stood just beyond the far exit. Here, a faint path led upwards where the ground rose steadily away from the tunnel. Theodoras glanced about uneasily; the growing light of the coming dawn seemed to dim as they passed through the tunnel and disappeared altogether under the thick canopy of the forest.
Dyre unslung her bow and strode forward to glance down the darkened path. ‘Are you ready? Steel yourself!’
With that, she began to slowly climb the sloping path that led deeper in the woods. Theodoras shivered once more and then skipped after her. As they followed the path for some distance, there were little sound save for very unsettling rustlings of unseen things in the trees just off the path. The hobbit drew his cape tight and looked about nervously at every twig snap and rustle to both sides with growing concern.
For some time, the path led through a wide and fairly open area of the outlying forest edge. But it was not long until the trees drew right up to the edge of the path and closed in all about them. So close and thick were the trees now that only way forward (or backwards to the forest gate) was the faint path ahead. Theodoras paused to glance back over his shoulder to watch the tunnel was fast disappearing behind them in the deepening gloom, and then trotted to catch up with Dyre.
As the path continued to climb upwards to the east, there now came a distant glow through the trees ahead. The light continued to grow further ahead until, at once, the thick canopy of the forest sprang away above and to both sides to reveal a patch of blue sky overhead. They pair now found themselves standing on the western edge of a large clearing, full of rough grass, thick roots and rampant nettles and thistles. Not a single tree grew in the clearing, but the trees along its edges were dark and tall and seemed to enclose it like a solid wall of wood. On the far side of the clearing to the east, south and north could be seen darkened breaks in the tree-wall where faint paths led out and away into the gloom.
‘This is it?’ asked Dyre softly, casting a wary gaze about the clearing.
‘No,’ answered the hobbit meekly. ‘This must be the Bonfire Glade. Here is where the tale say the folk of Buckland came to attack the trees after they laid siege to the Hedge. They cut down hundreds of trees and made a huge bonfire and burned all the ground here. And it has remained so ever since!’
‘I can believe that,’ uttered Dyre. ‘A scar for the Forest…I can feel it’s malice…’
I most definitely do not like the looks of this place one bit,’ replied the hobbit as he shook like a leaf.
‘Let us continue,’ said Dyre after a moment. ‘We must find those two.’
‘The path seems to lead on the far side seems to led off of the east,’ said Theodoras as he pointed across the clearing. ‘That must lead to Bald Hill if I am not mistaken.’
‘Then stay close,’ warned Dyre as he began to make his way carefully through the glade. Soon they reached the far side and passed out of the bright morning sunlight of the clearing and up the path to the east. As they passed out of the glade, the light was swallowed up by the tall darkened trees and they were once again surrounded by the heavy gloom of the forest.
Beyond the clearing, the ground continued to rise steadily to the east and north as the two companions plodded along in an uneasy silence. At times, the path ran wide in some places only to draw back tightly to both sides. Suddenly there came the sound of snapping twigs or branches; Theodoras froze as he reached for Dyre’s cloak.
‘Did you hear that?’ he whispered.
Dyre did not answer, but notched an arrow to her bow, and peered into the darkness ahead. The rustling in the brush off the path became louder and the hobbit fancied he heard the sound of sniffing from out of the darkness. Just then, a dark wolf-shape could be seen stepping onto the path ahead, its eyes shining red in the deep gloom.
‘Look!’ said Thedoras with barely a whisper. ‘A wolf! Not more wolves!’
‘Indeed,’ answered Dyre. ‘A wolf.’
‘You don’t think it eats hobbits, do you?’ replied Theodoras nervously, thoroughly not pleased at the sight of the wolf.
‘Stay here,’ said Dyre quietly as she glanced down at the hobbit. ‘I can handle this beast. Stay back and shout if you need me.’
‘Quick then,’ answered Theodoras hastily, watching the wolf with growing alarm. ‘Do something before it sees us!’
Very cautiously, Dyre crept forward with a low crouch towards the silent form of the wolf. After a few steps, she paused and drew back her bow. There was a sharp twang, and then there came a horrible yell from the wolf as an arrow sank into its shoulder. The wolf let out a shrieking howl of pain as it snapped at the shaft of the arrow. With one swift motion, Dyre drew another arrow and fitted it to her bow, then let fly. The wolf yelped and staggered back before crashing to the ground.
Theodoras sighed in relief as he watched the wolf collapse and took a step towards Dyre. Suddenly, there came another fierce howl from the other side of the path. The hobbit turned round just in time to glimpse a pair of shining eyes in the trees to the left.
‘Dyre!’ cried out the hobbit as he stumbled backwards in fright. ‘It’s a trap!’
With a shuddering snarl, the wolf gathered itself low to the ground and then sprang forward with a great leap. Theodoras fell back another step, nearly falling over as his foot caught on a mossy root. The beast landed just in front of the hobbit and snapped its jaws forward, catching the hem of Theodoras’ cape. In a panic, Theodoras twisted round tearing his cape from the wolf’s grip.
The wolf brought its great head up, a bit of the hobbit’s cape still hanging from its jaws. The beast snarled once more and spat the bit of cloth out then turned its gaze hungrily on the hobbit. Before the wolf could steel itself for another leap, there came a flurry of movement as a darkened form flew past the hobbit.
The wolf instantly forgot about the cornered hobbit and whirled to face Dyre, who now stood between Theodoras and the wild beast, a long blade in one hand and an axe in the other. The wolf raised its snout to let out a long howl and then bared its long fangs at the Dale woman. Undaunted by the snarling beast, Dyre laid at the wolf with a wide sweep of her axe, forcing the wolf to give ground, and then stabbed at it with her sword. The wolf danced about nimbly, as the blows went wild into the air between them.
For a moment, Theodoras looked on with a paralyzing fear, unable to move. The wolf snarled again and snapped forward with its jaws only to be driven back by a flurry of blows from Dyre. A fierce anger suddenly came over the small hobbit and, without thinking, he reached for his tiny knife. With its attention trained on Dyre, the wolf did not notice as Theodoras leapt up from one side.
With a tiny shout, Theodoras slashed forward with his knife, only to watch the tiny blade slice through the air above its head. The wolf turned its dark head towards the small hobbit and then twisted round as the hobbit stabbed forward. It was now the hobbit who was staring into the dark red eyes of the beast, and Theodoras instantly froze.
But before the wolf could fall upon the hapless hobbit, Dyre smote at the beast. She thrust forward with her sword, sinking the blade deep into the back of the wolf. The beast let of a horrible painful yell and turned to face the woman. But she drew out her sword and swept forward with her axe to cleave the head from its shoulders with a single blow.
Thedoras tensed as the wolf crumbled to the ground, half-expecting another attack from out of the trees. But the forest about them now fell silent and dark once more. The hobbit’s hand was still trembling as he slid the knife back into its sheath at his belt. He then turned to gaze into Dyre’s face.
‘Thank heavens you came with me!’ he exclaimed. ‘This is no place for hobbits, and I pray that young Doderic and Rollo have not come to harm.’ Theodoras glanced back down the path towards the Bonfire Glade then in the other direction. ‘East and north? It seems the only path ahead.’
‘I have seen no signs of the hobbits’ passing,’ replied Dyre grimly. ‘Let us keep going.’
The companions took to the path once more in apprehensive silence. Dyre led the way ahead, turning her head to one side then the other, peering into the darkened trees along the path’s edge. Theodoras trailed behind, struggling to keep pace with the long strides of the Dale woman. They had gone no more than a quarter of a mile when the hobbit grasped Dyre’s arm and whispered.
‘What is that?’ he said quietly as he pointed into the gloom ahead.
‘Let us find out,’ answered Dyre cautiously.
Upon the ground they found a great cocoon of sorts that a common house spider would weave, but much denser and far larger than the hobbit had ever seen back in his now much-missed hobbit hole in Budgeford.
‘A huge cocoon!’ said the hobbit with astonishment.
‘Yuck!’ muttered the hobbit as he reached out on hand to carefully touch the webbing and then shivered slightly. ‘This reminds me of the house spiders back home. But none of them have webbing the size of this!’
Dyre did not answer. She instead rose tall and unslung her bow, casting her gaze wide in the gloom about the path. Theodoras, now thoroughly engrossed in examining the strange cocoon, drew out his knife and began to cut through the thick, sticky webs.
The sticky webs proved quite tough and it was several minutes until the hobbit has finished his task. Theodoras tugged at several strands of stubborn webs now clinging to his hands and peered into the exposed mound.
‘Goodness!’ he exclaimed in astonishment. ‘A treasure trove!’
In the center of the sticky mound Theodoras now gazed upon a small pile of items that he gingerly stirred with the point of his knife. A dim sparkle rose up from a couple of rough, silvery-red stones as well as a few coins of silver and copper. He could also make out the broken and ruined handle of what could have only been a hatchet and a scattering of ancient-looking but beautiful trinkets.
Dyre strode over to stand beside the hobbit and then knelt beside the cocoon. ‘No hobbits though, thankfully.’
‘I daresay that I would not like to meet the spider that wove this! Said Thedoras with a shiver. ‘Wherever did the spider go I wonder?’
Dyre said nothing, but stood up to glance about uneasily.
‘We should take these,’ announced the hobbit as he began to collect the items from the tattered cocoon and placed them into his pack. ‘Perhaps they might be of value!’
‘Then hurry, ‘answered the Dale woman as she threw a sweeping gaze about. ‘We do not want to be here should the owner return.’
Theodoras hoisted his pack to his shoulders and whistled softly. ‘A burglar indeed!’ he answered with a slight smile.
Once more, Dyre took the lead, and began to stride further up the path. They had not gone far when suddenly, the thick forest parted and a nearly treeless slope appeared in front of them, rising far above the treetops of the surrounding forest.
‘Is that the hill?’ asked Dyre quietly.
‘Yes!’ answered Theodoras excitedly. ‘This must be Bald Hill!’
The companions began to scamper up the slope towards the summit, where there now came into view a lone tree at the top. As they climbed, the air began to grow quite warm and breezy and Theodoras smiled at the feeling of the warm sun on his face. Little of the landscape round the hill could be glimpsed as they ascended towards the top except for a seemingly unending view of deep forest in all directions.
Suddenly, Theodoras pointed ahead as they reached the summit. There, beneath the leafy boughs of the lone tree stood a young hobbit gazing out over the forest canopy far below the hill to the south.
‘Doderic!’ cried Theodoras as he ran towards the hobbit. ‘You rascal!’ Whatever are you doing here?’
‘Mr. Brandybuck, you must come with us,’ exclaimed Dyre as she approached the startled hobbit. ‘It is too dangerous to be out here!’
‘Yes!’ added Theodoras. ‘We have been sent by your uncle to find you!’
'Uncle Saradoc is looking for me?’ answered Doderic in surprise at the sight of the companions. ‘That bodes ill. I wish Rollo would hurry along. I cannot leave until he returns. We were chasing a brigand through here -- we saw him sneaking about the gate and thought we'd best do the Bounders' job for them. I confess that I lost my nerve as we crested this hill, and I saw the full extent of the Forest. Rollo is a different sort though, always comfortable to wander through these winding trails.’
‘Wherever did that foolish hobbit run off to then?’ asked Theodoras impatiently.
'There is an abandoned cottage along the Withywindle, south-east of here. He made mention of heading that way, but that seems like hours ago. Perhaps you could find him there and tell him to hurry on back?'
‘You had better wait here then, Doderic,’ said Theodoras with a sigh. ‘We will find Rolo and bring him back here safely.’ Theodoras turned from the young hobbit and motioned for Dyre.
‘It seems that Rollo pursued the brigand deeper into the forest!’
‘A brigand?’ replied Dyre. ‘Well, I can take care of that, but let us hope that Rollo is alright.’
‘Indeed,’ answered Theodoras. But however will we find this cottage?’
You say, 'indeed! But how ever will we find this cottage?'
Dyre glanced back at Doderic with concern. ‘A cottage? Is it burned down, near the river?’
Yes,’ replied Theodoras with a nod. ‘It lies near the Withywindle, or so says Doderic.’
I passed one yesterday in the forest,’ said Dyre thoughtfully. ‘On my way to the House of Bombadil.’
‘Really?’ answered the hobbit. ‘That is good news then. Can you remember how to get there?’
‘I do,’ said Dyre. ‘It is a long way around though. The forest paths are tricky…they seem to change at a whim.’
‘I do not wish to be in here any longer that is needed,’ frowned Theodoras.
‘Do you have the heart to go one, my friend?’ asked the Dale woman with a look of concern.
‘No,’ answered the hobbit quietly. ‘But I made a promise to return with both of them safely…’
Theodoras fell silent for a moment, and then looked up into Dyre’s eyes. ‘I am willing to search for Rollo if you are.’
Dyre smiled at the courageous hobbit. ‘We must go back then. I remember a path near the entrance to the forest…it leads to the river.’
‘All the way back to the Bonfire Glade?’ muttered the hobbit.
‘The best way I know is to go back and follow the river up,’ said Dyre with a grim nod.
Chapter Sixteen: The Old Forest-Part Three – 19 Blotmath, 1417 SR
The companions slowly made their way back down the path and into the deep forest once more, until at last the hill disappeared behind them. Dyre led the way, her heavy footfalls echoing alarmingly about in the gloom. Theodoras followed behind her, his small hobbit feet barely making a sound on the forest floor as he went.
For some time, they marched down the path from where they had come until they reached the spot where they had been ambushed by the forest wolves. Theodoras slowed his pace to peer round the path and, much to his surprise and puzzlement, the bodies of the wolves were gone and there seemed no trace of the fight remaining. All manner of dark thoughts crept into the hobbit’s mind as the cause of this, but he said nothing, and quickly scurried along to catch up with Dyre along the path ahead.
After a ways, Dyre suddenly stopped along the path and raised one hand in silence. Theodoras glanced about uneasily, expecting some attack as the Dale woman turned to look south into the dense forest beyond. The hobbit followed her gaze where the forest seemed to thin out slightly, allowing passage southwards though there could be seen no discernible path leading off in that direction.
‘We must leave the path here,’ whispered Dyre softly. ‘Through the forest until we reach the Withywindle.’
‘Through there?’ exclaimed the hobbit as he exhaled sharply. ‘Must we do so? I truly do not like this place one bit! But stepping off the path…I like that even less!’
‘To the south,’ nodded Dyre grimly. ‘If that is south…I can see no stars…’
Dyre glanced about and then stepped lightly off the path and began to wind in and out of the trees into gloom. Theodoras followed quickly, glancing about uneasily. The path soon disappeared behind them and the constant gloom seemed to grow even more so. There was not a hint of wind under the dark canopy of forest and the air was still and stuffy.
As they walked, the hobbit’s sharp eyes caught glimpses of shadowy forms that scuttled behind the trees in the gloom about them. There were strange noises too all around them; scuffling and hurrying in the darkness, but what made the noises the hobbit could only guess. More horrible to behold were the great cobwebs that could now been seen; dark dense webs that were tangled in the underbrush or stretched from tree to tree.
Suddenly, Dyre froze and crouched low, peering into the gloom ahead. “What is that?’ she hissed softly.
‘Not more spiders’ webs, I hope,’ muttered Theodoras as he crept up to Dyre.
Dyre notched an arrow to her bow and stood up. ‘Let us check it out.’
Cautiously the two crept forward until a shadowy mass appeared to loom of the darkness ahead. It was a wide and tall pile of split wood-logs, stacked neatly beneath a rough hide tarp. But something caught the hobbit’s attention and he suddenly took a hasty step back.
‘Are…are those roots moving?’ he said in a trembling voice. ‘They’re alive!’
All about the wood-pile there could be seen several writhing and wriggling roots that sprouted from the forest earth. They rose up into the still air and quivered or twitched like slender serpents to slowly dance in the gloom.
‘Aye,’ answered Dyre warily. ‘The very trees are hateful in this place.’
‘Why?’ squeaked the hobbit nervously. ‘I bear them no ill will!’
‘Neither do I’ replied Dyre. ‘But they do not care. Let us tread carefully. Step lightly around the roots, perhaps they will let us pass.’
Dyre stepped forward, taking careful steps among the writhing roots with each deliberate footfall. Theodoras stood for a moment, looking at the unnatural roots with distrust, and then swallowed hard before following. The hobbit flinched uncontrollably at every step and choked back a cry as one of the roots wriggled once or twice against his feet. But soon they had reached the other side of the wood-pile and there Dyre paused once more.
‘Let me get my bearings,’ she said quietly as she looked about. ‘Things look differently at night.’
‘Are we lost?’ whispered the hobbit. ‘Oh, I wish we would have waited until full light!’
‘Rollo may not have that long,’ replied Dyre grimly.
Suddenly, Dyre stiffened and turned her head slightly as if listening to something far off.
‘Do you hear that?’ she said after a moment.
‘No.’ answered the hobbit. ‘What is it?’
‘Running water…I think that is the river ahead.’
The ground now fell away to the south and presently they came to the banks of a river. It flowed fast and strong and very wide to the far bank. And it was dark, or looked so in the deep gloom. The forest trees grew right up to the muddy banks of the river but through the gloom could be seen a faint opening in the trees.
‘The cottage should be up the river a ways,’ declared Dyre as she looked out over the river. ‘It is wet but we should be able to walk along the banks for the most part.’
Dyre slung her bow across her back and stepped carefully into the water, grasping the boughs of a tree that grew near the bank as her boots sank into the muddy bottom of the shallows. With a splash, she began to wade through the shallows in the darkness ahead. Theodoras looked at the water with growing apprehension and then walked to the muddy bank. He breathed deeply and then stepped into the water, letting out a sharp whistle as his toes touched the chilly water. He sputtered as he struggled through the water to follow, but it was not long until he found that he was already thigh-deep up to his trousers. Theodoras stumbled once nor twice in the thick mud and water, but each time Dyre reached out a strong hand to catch him before the hobbit plunged beneath the dark waters.
For some time they went on, following the swift flow of the wateruntil the tress growing along the muddy banks sprang back and there suddenly appeared a small clearing beside the river. Bright sunlight filtered down into the clearing through the hanging boughs of the trees. Theodoras blinked in the bright light and then cried out in surprise.
‘There he is!’
Dyre turned to spot a hobbit standing beside the collapsed ruins of an old cottage in the clearing, a short blade held tightly in one hand. The hobbit did not look up at the newcomers, but kept his gaze fixed to ground at his feet.
‘Here you are, you scoundrel!’ shouted Theodoras as he ran up to the hobbit. ‘I have been looking for you all through this nasty forest!’ But just then Theodoras’ voice died away as he followed Rollo’s gaze to a crumpled form on the ground.
The face of a swarthy Man looked up at the startled hobbit in deathly silence. His cloak was tattered and red with blood, and in one hand the Man still clutched a sword. Rollo continued to look upon the unmoving body, and then began to speak in a halting fashion.
'He...he tried to kill me!’ stuttered Rollo. "I'll gut you like a fish, and then your girl," he said, "Or I'll make certain you never see your lovely again." I didn't mean for this to happen! But he threatened Celandine. I couldn't let him hurt her, could I? All I wanted was to get the notes I wrote her Celandine from him.’
Rollo looked up at Theodoras, tears streaming down his gentle face. 'You can't treat people like that. Good, honest hobbits, we are...didn't want to hurt nobody. I'm going to stay here and give him an honest burial at least. Could you tell Doderic that I'm all right? But please...don't tell him about any of this, will you? Could you take these too...’ Rollo reached into his pack and brought out a handful of rumpled notes before thrusting them into Theodoras’ hand. ‘Show them to Doderic, he'll understand.’
Rollo wiped his cheek and then gazed back down at the silent body once more. 'I just...this doesn't feel the way I thought it would.'
‘Very well,’ answered Theodoras slowly and turned to gaze ay Dyre with concern. ‘Do what you must and make your way back to the forest gate as soon as possible.’
The afternoon had already passed and the shadows of the coming dusk now grew long when the companions reached the forest gate and passed out of the forest.
‘Thank heavens!’ declared the hobbit with a sigh as he strode out of the tunnel and looked out onto Buckland. ‘It is nice to see an open sky once more. I cannot tell you how happy I am to have left that awful place!’
‘I agree,’ answered Dyre, but her voice was filled with concern. ‘But I am not comfortable leaving those hobbits in the forest!’
‘Rollo will bury the brigand’s body and hopefully make his way out safely,’ answered Theodoras. ‘And I hope that Doderic does the same. But our business is done here.’
Dyre nodded then turned her gaze down the lane that led away from the forest gate. ‘Come, walk with me to the stable, my horse is there.’
‘I must thank you ever so much for helping me, but you are departing?’
‘Master Theo, I have to ride out to Michel Delving,’ answered Dyre with a smile. ‘I have business with the Mathom House.’
‘Ah, I see,’ replied the hobbit with a frown. A shame though. I must make my way to Bree to fetch a wayward pony that ran off from our farm.’
‘Bree?’ answered Dyre. ‘I often have business in Bree. Perhaps we shall meet up again once you arrive?’
‘That would be most welcome indeed!’ smiled the hobbit. ‘But I do wish that you could accompany me to Bree. The road there is long.’
Aye, it is long, and not always safe,’ warned the Dale woman carefully. ‘There are many more brigands that have grown very bold of late.’
Re: Total Immersion: The Road Goes Ever On - A Hobbit's Tale
So our intrepid hobbit braved the Old Forest, if only for a day, and came out alive! Of course, there were a couple more combats with wandering wolves, and a bear or two, but I cannot chronicle each combat or else each chapter would be so terribly long!
I also somehow managed to either erase or lose the screenshot I took for this of the story! So unfortunately there are no pics to accompany the latest chapter...
So now its on to Bree finally! The road is quite long when you are walking but I think that the trip should be fairly safe so long as I keep to the road...
Chapter Seventeen: Bree at Last – 20-22 Blotmath, 1417 SR
Bree had perhaps a hundred or so houses built on a tall hillside, and was famously known for a large inn because of the goings and comings on the Road, though those were nowadays much less that what they had once been. It was a village built by Big Folk mainly, and the nearest settlement to the borders of the Shire. Not many folk still lived as far West as that in those days, and the Bree-folk (together with the neighbouring villages of Staddle, Combe and Archet) were an odd and rather isolated peoples, belonging to no one but themselves. Despite that, the Bree-folk were more accustomed to dealing with hobbits, dwarves and the other odd inhabitants of the world than Big Folk were used to.
There were hobbits to be found in Bree as well, or course – some higher up on the slopes of Bree-hill, and many in the villages of Combe and Staddle on the east side near the Chetwood. Though perhaps more rustic in nature than their Shire cousins, they were not certainly an uncivilized lot (which was often said in the Shire) and not held in much account.
The late afternoon was passing fast and the sun had begun to dip low in the sky far to the West when Theodoras came at last to the Greenway-crossing and drew near the village. He found to his amazement that it was surrounded by a deep ditch with a hedge on the inner side. The road led up and passed through a study gate that stood open before passing within.
Theodoras sighed wearily at the sight of the gate for it had been a long and hard march to reach the gates by dusk. Suddenly, there came the heavy beat of hoofs from within the gate. Presently, a tall rider appeared atop a dusky mount, all wrapped in a flowing green cloak and hood. The horse trotted a step or two before the rider spurred it into a full gallop. Theodoras gasped as he threw himself to one side of the road to avoid being trampled.
The hobbit rolled into the green grass beside the road and came up on one elbow to watch as the rider quickly disappeared into the distance. He clamored to his feet and dusted himself off, still looking down the road for a moment. Then, he turned back to the gate; as he slowly approached, a Man stepped from the shadows of the hedge and hailed the hobbit.
‘Welcome to Bree!’ he declared as he watched the hobbit with curiosity.
‘Um..thank you!’ replied the hobbit, unsure as to what to say.
‘Beautiful weather we are having, ain’t it?’ asked the Man as he glanced up into the sky. ‘For the season anyways…’
Then the Man’s demeanor changed and he looked at the hobbit darkly for a moment. Painfully aware, and a bit embarrassed of his rather travel-worn appearance, Theodoras brushed nervously at his dusty cape and trousers.
You’re not one of them stragglers from the south, are you?’ said the watchman suspiciously.
‘Stragglers?’ replied the hobbit. ‘Heavens no! I am Theodoras Took, from the Shire. I hoped to find lodging at the inn for the evening.’
The watchman stared at the hobbit for a time and then stepped back, letting Theodoras walk through. The hobbit passed through the gate and up along a brick lane that swept up a gentle slope, past a few houses and buildings. He glanced sat them suspiciously as he past, thinking that only giants could possibly live in the large and tall building that seemed to the little hobbit.
Presently, Theodoras found himself standing at the entrance of a large, cobble-stone square surrounded by a low stone wall. Along one side of the square stood a large building facing a stone fountain and one the far side the lane continued on down a slope to the east and south. A low archway led between the two wings of the inn that ran back from the lane and there was a short flight of steps that up to a single wooden door. Beneath the archway there was hung a stout wooden signboard that was decorated with a rotund white pony.
The hobbit climbed the steps and stepped through the door. At first he paused as he stepped inside, for the interior was quite dim and it took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the gloom. A narrow hallway led away from the door to his right and ahead there opened a large meeting-room lit by a pair of large glowing hearths and many hanging candelabras. Directly in front of the door there was a short bar; behind the low bar there stood a short fat man with a bald head and a red face serving drinks to a pair of dwarves.
Theodoras approached the bar slowly, waiting for the innkeeper to notice him, As he stood there, Theodoras turned an ear to the pair of dwarves and they quaffed their tall mugs of beer and spoke in deep voices to one another.
‘My cousin told me this was the place to quench your thirst after traveling the dry and dusty East Road,’ announced one of the dwarves rather loudly.
‘Oh, this is fair,’ replied the other as he took a long sip of his beer. ‘But it can’t compare to the dwarf-stout made with barley from the Blue Mountains!’
‘Ha!’ agreed the first dwarf with a hearty laugh. ‘The Men of Bree call these hobbit-mounds hills. The majesty of the Blue Mountains would steal their breath away.’
Just then, the innkeeper turned and leaned forward to spot the top of the hobbit’s head on the other side of the bar. Theodoras rose up on his toes until his eyes peeked over the bar and cleared his throat.
‘Ahem. Greetings good sir! Might I have you fetch me a tankard of beer if you please?’
The innkeeper reached for a tall mug and began to fill it from a large wooden barrel as Theodoras drew out from his pocket a few coins and placed them atop the bar. Thanking the innkeeper, Theodoras lifted up the mug and turned away from the bar and into the common room beyond.
The crowd in the large common-room was surprisingly quite large. Here or there were seated small groups of Men in twos or threes at long low wooden tables that filled the room. Elsewhere too were a few hobbits seated together at small round tables to one side. Towards the back of the large room someone began singing a merry little tune, mingled with scattered bursts of cheerful laughter and clapping.
Theodoras found a quiet seat at the end of a long table and sat down, gazing out at the crowd of faces all about him. He sipped on his beer as he looked on wonder and even a bit of apprehension, feeling quite out of place among the Big Folk in the wide room.
Theodoras had been sitting in silence for some time when he sat up suddenly in his chair as his gaze fell upon a half-hidden figure passing through the crowd. The figure seemed rather short compared to the tall Men around it, and the hobbit could only glimpse at first the top of a red hood and cloak. Suddenly, the crowd parted slightly and the figure turned to reveal the well-worn but friendly and bright face of a dwarf standing there. Theodoras leapt up from his chair, spilling his drink upon the floor as he did so, and cried out.
‘Hemni! My friend!’
The dwarf turned one way then the other at the shout before spotting Theodoras a few feet away. Hemni laughed aloud as he pushed his way through the crowd and strode up the hobbit with a merry smile spread across his face.
‘Such a pleasure to see you, little one,’ he said brightly. ‘Certainly under better circumstances than chasing a pig around!’
‘Indeed!’ replied the hobbit cheerfully. ‘But old Sally is safe and sound thanks you your help!’
‘Ah, your news makes me glad,’ said the dwarf, his expression changing to a frown. ‘But I didn’t expect to see you so soon!’
‘Well, I did not expect that I would see you so soon either!’ grinned the hobbit. ‘But my aunt’s pony, Clover, seems to have run off. All the way to Bree if you can believe that!’
‘You don’t say?’ answered Hemni with a chuckle. ‘Where are my manners, young one. Let us find a seat and share an ale or two. I am weary from work today and my throat is dry.’
The dwarf led Theodoras towards the back of the common room and took a seat at a small round table in one corner. He turned his head to bellow for the innkeeper in a deep voice and then turned back to his friend.
‘Tell me of this story of yours,’ he said as he placed a few coins in the hand of the innkeeper as a couple of tankards were placed on the table between them.
‘Simple enough really,’ answered the hobbit. ‘A horse trader found Clover wandering nearby and took her in. He then sent me a letter that she had come into their care. I didn’t want to break my aunt’s heart, so I made the decision to make my way from Budgeford in hopes of getting her back!’
‘That was a noble thing to do, Mister Took,’ said the dwarf as he took a long sip of his ale. ‘Would you desire my assistance?’
‘As I said, I had hoped that your business that brought you Bree had delayed you so that I may find you here. I cannot pay you but I hoped that I might ask for your aid once more.’
‘With pleasure, Master Theodoras,’ answered the dwarf with a smile.
‘Excellent!’ beamed the hobbit thankfully and raised his mug in thanks. ‘I hoped you would say that!’
Theodoras leaned back in his chair and fell silent for a time, glancing about the room as he sipped politely on his mug. It was about them when he noticed a strange-looking man standing in the shadows of the nearby wall. Tall and fair did the Man seem, his reddish hair framing a pair of proud and keen eyes that watched the hobbit and dwarf with great interest.
Theodoras grew instantly uncomfortable under the silent gaze of the stranger and was about to whisper to Hemni when the Man strode over to the table. He stopped and bowed low before both of them.
‘Hail and well met, Master Holbytla!’ he said in a proud voice.
‘Hobl-what?’ answered the hobbit as he sat up straight in the chair. ‘I believe you have me mistaken with someone else, sir. My name is Theodoras Took, if you please, and this is Hemni, a dwarf of the Blue Mountains.’
‘Ah, pardon me,’ replied the stranger with another bow. ‘I forget that I am in the North. Holbytla is a word of my tongue. My people from far in the South still tell tales of your race, and that is the name we know them by.’
The stranger smiled as he continued. ‘But where are my manners? I am Eoleof, of Rohan. My countryman, Eogar, had told me of your family’s plight, and I would be delighted to aid you and your companion. If you will have me, of course.’
‘My family’s plight,’ blinked the hobbit in confusion. ‘And who is Eogar?’
‘He recently came to this land to breed horses north of this town. I learned from him that your family has lost a horse, and I would like to help you retrieve it.’
‘Oh!’ answered the hobbit suddenly remembering the letter he had received. ‘Well why didn’t you say so in the first place! But it is not a horse I seek, only a pony, though she is the apple of my aunt’s eye.’
‘Again my apologies,’ said Eoleof bowing once more. ‘My people love all horses, whatever the size, and I loathe seeing a beast separated from a loving owner.’
‘That is wonderful news then, Eoleof! I only just arrived in Bree and planned on departing for the farm at dawn tomorrow. Would you accompany us as a guide?’
'I would be most glad to do so, Master Took! Shall we meet again in the morning?’
‘Certainly!’ exclaimed the hobbit.
‘Until the morrow,’ replied Eoleof with a low bow. ‘Good evening to you both.’
Theodoras watched as Eoleof disappeared into the crowd and then laughed aloud. ‘Well, he seems like a fine fellow!’
The hobbit yawned wide and looked about the room sleepily. ‘I must be far more tired than I thought!’ he said. ‘Off to bed then for this weary and travel-worn hobbit!’
Theodoras awoke rather abruptly, opening his eyes with a flash and glanced about in confusion. The room was very dark and he stumbled out of the bed to throw back the heavy curtains. Outside, the first grey light of the dawn had not yet come and the air was cold and heavy with mist.
Shivering in the chilly air, the hobbit quickly dressed and made his way down to the common room. He soon found that the large crowd from the night before was now gone and much of the room was empty and quiet. He called for breakfast, and some tea, then took a seat at one of the many empty tables.
Theodoras was just finishing his third biscuit (with plenty of butter and honey), when the door to the inn was flung open and bright light streamed into the darkened interior. Theodoras blinked in the brilliant light and watched as a person stepped across the threshold. Suddenly, he called out in surprise.
‘Dyre!’ he shouted clapping his hands together. ‘Of all people! When it rains it pours, as my father used to say!’
Theodoras leapt up from his chair and hurried over to his friend. ‘Whatever are you doing here?’
‘Greetings, Theo,’ answered the Dale woman with a smile. ‘I stay here when I am not working. I have just returned from Trestlebridge. But what has brought you here from the Shire?’
‘Oh, I am still seeking my aunt’s lost pony, of course,’ replied the hobbit. ‘But you are not the first I have meet since arriving. I found an old friend here in Bree last evening – in this very establishment, if you can believe that! And more importantly, I met a Man yesterday from the Hengstacer Farm who offered his services to lead me to the farm.’
‘Then you were successful in your mission, Bounder Theo?’
‘Well,’ answered the hobbit with a sigh. ‘If you mean that I managed to escape the Old Forest in one piece, then yes! But much to your help, I might add! But I do not think that either Rollo or Doderic have learned their lesson.’
‘The young hobbits are fine, then?’ inquired Dyre. ‘All is well?’
‘Yes,’ laughed Theodoras. ‘They are fine, and none the worse for their foolishness.’
‘But what of you, Theo? Are you now becoming a traveler?’
‘Bless me! Let us hope not!’ said the hobbit with a chuckle. ‘I have never been beyond the borders of the Shire before...it’s not entirely what I expected…’
‘I suppose it is not!’ laughed Dyre but her voice sounded grim despite the mirth in her laugh. ‘But Bree-land has its share of dangers.’
‘I hope not,’ replied the hobbit. ‘But anything would be better than the Old Forest!’
‘I agree,’ said Dyre with a stern nod. ‘The Forest is unique in the ancient malice that lives in the very trees. But in Bree there is danger in the form of brigands. I have even heard tales of goblins in the Marsh.’
‘Brigands? And goblins?’ cried Theodoras ‘Let us hope that our paths do not cross with the likes of them!’
‘Do not worry, my friend,’ answered Dyre with a warm smile as she looked down on the hobbit. ‘My sword will be with you.’
‘Then you will come with us then?’ asked the hobbit.
But just then, Dyre turned her head at the sound of a groan and grumbling from the direction of the bar. Theodoras followed her gaze and spotted Hemni standing there, the dwarf’s eyes still filled with sleepiness.
‘Oh, Hemni!’ laughed the hobbit. ‘You sleepy-head. You finally woke up!’
Theodoras turned to look up at Dyre. ‘I am sorry. This is Hemni, a friend from the Shire! And Hemni, this is Dyre…she came to my aid in the Old Forest.’
Dyre bowed before the dwarf as he rubbed his eyes and spoke. ‘At your service, Lady Dyre.’
‘A dwarf from the Shire?’ laughed the Dale woman loudly. ‘That is unusual.’
‘No, no,’ giggled the hobbit. ‘He is not from the Shire. I met him there!’
‘I met Theo in the Shire beside himself about a loose pig,’ answered the dwarf with a frown.
‘Not any loose pig!’ replied the hobbit. ‘It was Old Sally. A very prized pig you must know!’
‘The troubles of the bucolic!’ laughed Dyre.
‘It was quite a legendary battle of the shrews!’ added the dwarf, joining in the laughter.
Dyre’s laughter died as her tone became grim. ‘But I feel that your troubles of late are moving away from runaway livestock, Theo.’
‘Yes, to lost ponies, it seems!’ said Theodoras. My aunt’s pony, Clover, has run off and somehow found her way here to the Bree-lands!’
‘Perhaps stolen?’ asked Dyre.
‘No, nothing like that, ‘replied the hobbit. ‘She broke out of the barn and was found by some horse traders north of Bree. They sent me a letter to inform me that they had taken her in. That is why you found me in Buckland! I had become sidetracked with the search for Rollo and Doderic when we first met.'
'That is quite generous of them, someone who obviously cares about ponies'
'I agree! My aunt was beside herself when she heard that Clover went missing. We were worried that wolves had gotten to her!'
Re: Total Immersion: The Road Goes Ever On - A Hobbit's Tale
Theodoras is showing a knack for making friends and considering his talent for finding adventure it’s probably a good thing. I would think finding a pony would be a simple enough task but we will have to wait and see.
Re: Total Immersion: The Road Goes Ever On - A Hobbit's Tale
Originally Posted by Veredhiel91
Wow, I just want to say that this story is very wonderfully done! Great to see a reluctantly adventrous hobbit, and how you've tried to stay close to the lore. Keep up the great work.
A VERY reluctant hobbit! But not so much adventrous. I am very glad you are enjoying the story!
Originally Posted by story21
Theodoras is showing a knack for making friends and considering his talent for finding adventure it’s probably a good thing. I would think finding a pony would be a simple enough task but we will have to wait and see.
Of the encounters with other players, I must say that much of it is happenstance....
1. I asked Hemni to help me with the search for Old Sally, but when we met up was after starting the quest and discovering that the shrews were quite difficult to defeat on my own. Hemni came online after I had fled the fields, leaving Old Sally to retreat back into the bushes. We actually met while I sat along the roadside healing, which made for an excellent intro to both characters.
2. Meeting with Dyre in-game was completely by chance. She had contacted me about joining the adventure, but our meeting in Buckland was due only to the fact that we ended up being online at that very moment. We then ended up scheduling another time to meet to finish the journey into the Old Forest.
3. Eoleof: Anther good bit of timing. He had contacted me about lending aid, but it was not until I arrived in Bree that we first met, and of course it was at the same time that Hemni and Dyre were online as well....
Originally Posted by idlehands79
Most adventures start as a simple walk down the road...then things get complicated. Great work, I'm eagerly awaiting the next chapter!
A walk down the Great East Road is never simple...at least for a common hobbit from the Shire!
Chapter Eighteen: A Dwarf in Need – 22 Blotmath, 1417 SR
It was the beginning of a clear fine morning and the first rays of the sun were only now peeking over the distant horizon in the East. Theodoras looked about, sniffing the air contently. ‘What a wonderful morning for a hike!’ he said cheerfully, enjoying the smell of dew and fresh flowers full in the bright air.
The company had risen much before the dawn and now stood just outside the West-gate of Bree at a crossroads of sorts. The Great East Road swept up from the west, over a narrow stone bridge that spanned a swift-flowing stream, to pass within the gate beyond. But to the north and south there ran a wide but grass-covered road.
In the days of Elendil, the North Road ran from Fornost down through Andrath, until it joined the South Road at Tharbad. From there it went on all the way to Minas Tirith in Gondor. But now, it had fallen in disuse for many a year and overgrown with grass. The Bree-folk called it the Greenway and it was little traveled except by refuges from the south. Brigands and ruffians now laid in wait along the ancient highway to prey upon the weak and unguarded.
Theodoras drew a deep breath and then turned back to his companions. ‘My, what a merry company we must look like!’ he said with a grin and a smile. ‘I wonder if this is how old Bilbo began his adventure so many years ago.’
‘I am not used to such greenery where I hail from,’ answered Hemni strangely dour. ‘Most unusual.’
‘Master Hemni,’ laughed Eoleof. ‘This land’s greenery pales in comparison to that of my home.’
The dwarf did not answer but simply snorted with irritation. Eloleof laughed again and shook his head at the dwarf.
‘Eoleof, how far is the farm from here?’ asked Theodoras aloud after a time.
The Eorlingas looked down on the smiling hobbit then out over the Greenway for a moment before answering. ‘A fair distance north, Master Took.’
‘Then we should be off while the fine day lasts!’ exclaimed Theodoras as he tightened his pack about his shoulders.
Eoleof smiled at the hobbit amusingly. ‘We will not be able to reach it before sundown, so we should keep alert for a good campsite.’
‘What beasts roam these fields?’ asked the dwarf still sounding uncharacteristically glum as he turned to face Eoleof.
‘Let us hope none at all!’ said Theodoras loudly.
‘Bears, wolves…some boars,’ answered Dyre from the side of the road, her watchful and alert eyes gazing out over the nearby stretches of grass.
‘Mostly boars and bears,’ replied Eoleof with a nod.
‘Stick to the road,’ added Dyre as she turned to look back at the others. ‘Most beasts fear it.’
‘Unfortunately, two-legged beasts have also plagued Bree recently,’ said Eoleof grimly.
‘Two-legged beasts?’ squeaked the hobbit, nit liking the sound of that one bit.
‘Ah, you mean those filthy brigands!’ growled Hemni.
‘Boars and bears are one thing,’ said Theodoras nervously. ‘But brigands? That is another matter completely!’
For a time, the hobbit stood looking out over the fields beside the road before turning away to trot after his companions who had already begun down the Greenway to the north. From the West-gate and the crossroads, the company went along the Greenway for some time as it wound north along the banks of a muddy stream. Away to the east, beyond scattered standing trees, could be seen towering cliffs that rose into the clear air. Wisps of grey smoke hinted at where the villages of Combe and Archet lay beyond the hills.
Presently, there came into view ahead a low roofed stone cottage set just back from the road to one side. A thin curl of smoke rose into the air from the stone chimney, giving the only evidence that the building was occupied. The Greenway swept past the cottage and a narrow lane turned away to the east towards the North Gate of Bree.
Hemni drew his axe from the wide belt round his waist and took a step towards the cottage. But then he froze and peered ahead to the deep shadows beneath the eaves of the cottage roof. There in the gloom could be seen a dark figure standing silent and still.
Suddenly the dwarf laughed aloud sprang forward. Theodoras reached out for the dwarf and hissed in a barely a whisper. ‘Whatever are you doing, Hemni!’ Dyre stepped forward, fitting an arrow to her bow, as Eoleof drew his sword and turned to glance about nervously. The hobbit took an unsteady step to follow Dyre, half-expecting an attack.
From the darkened figure there came a deep and low voice that seemed very strange to the young hobbit. Hemni suddenly laughed and then bowed low before answering in the same strange language. Just then, the figure stepped from the deep shadows to reveal the worn but friendly face of a dwarf. He was clad in well-worn leather and a short, reddish and forked beard fell down his wide chest.
‘A dwarf!’ exclaimed the hobbit with a sigh of relief, glad that this was not some trick of brigands to waylay unfortunate travelers along the road. Dyre chuckled and relaxed her bow. Hemni nodded to his kinsman and then turned to his companions.
‘I am surprised to see one of my kind here in Bree!’ he said with a wide grin.
‘What did the dwarf say, Hemni?’ asked the hobbit curiously.
‘This is Lofar Ironband, a smith by trade. It seems that a blade he recently forged has been stolen.’
‘But stolen by whom, Hemni?’ asked the hobbit.
‘He does not know, Master Took, but he suspects that one of the Man-smiths of Bree was involved. Their craft is nothing compared to that of our folk, and likely their jealousy has moved one of them to steal the blade. He has implored me to seek for the missing blade.’
‘Indeed, Master Hemni,’ answered Eoleof. ‘I have some small skill in smithing, and I would be most grieved to have any of my work stolen.’
‘As I would,’ added Dyre.
‘Lofar suggests speaking with the smiths of Bree as well as those at Thornley’s Farm away up the Greenway,’ answered the dwarf.
‘Perhaps then Bree is the best place to start,’ replied Eoleof.
‘Back to Bree?’ groaned the hobbit loudly. ‘But we just left Bree!’
‘I am sorry, Master Took,’ replied Eoleof as he turned to look down on the hobbit. ‘But this is a matter of honour.’
Theodoras shrugged his shoulders then laughed. ‘Ah, well….you came to my aid twice now, Hemni. I can do little but repay you in kind!’
It was not long until the company had turned back down the Greenway and once more were standing just inside the West-gate of Bree. The sun had risen high into the bright sky and the empty streets of the dawn were now bustling with activity. Horsemen galloped to and from the stables near the gate and all manner of folk flooded the narrow lane that led up further into the town.
‘Watch the horses,’ warned Dyre as she pulled the wide-eyed hobbit back from the throng that clogged the narrow thoroughfare. ‘These folk run through town like it is a racetrack!’
‘These fools push their horses too hard,’ growled Eoleof with a scowl.
‘Eoleof, are the horses hardier in your land?’ asked Dyre thoughtfully.
‘Much,’ answered Eoleof full of pride. ‘They are our pride and joy.’
‘Hemni, do you know where we might find these smiths?’ asked the hobbit, still fixing his gaze on the many passersby in wonderment.
‘Yes,’ answered the dwarf. ‘There is a small smithing area just up the road from here.’
With that, the dwarf strode down the lane, pushing through the crowd, and the others fell in behind him. Soon they had come to a large open area along the side of the lane. It was surrounded by a low stone enclosure where several fiery glowing forges stood. The sound of hammers upon anvils rang loudly above the general din of the crowds nearby where several men worked the bellows and forges in the open air.
Hemni strode up to the nearest smith and bowed low before him. ‘Good sir, we mean no harm in asking questions, but we wish to help a fellow dwarf in need…’
The smith brought his hammer down upon the anvil with a shower of sparks. ‘If you want to be of any help,’ he answered not looking up from his work. ‘Leave me be. I’m too busy to be bothered!’
‘I am sorry for the intrusion, ‘replied the dwarf, bowing low once more. ‘But we seek a blade that has been stolen from the dwarven smith, Lofar Ironband.
‘Well, of all the insulting things to say!’ snorted the smith as he lowered his hammer to glare at the companion with distain. ‘Those dwarves think that no one can smith as well as them. Well, if being busy means you do quality work, then mine is quality. Go tell that fool dwarf that I didn't take his sword!'
Hemni nodded politely and motioned for the others away. ‘He sounds angry, Hemni,’ said the hobbit softly. ‘We should let him be...it does no good to suffer his wrath,’ answered the dwarf.
‘Indeed,’ replied Dyre. ‘I doubt this Haywood would know what to do with dwarven-steel anyways…Haywood? What kind of name is that for a smith?’
Hemni turned and approached another smith who stood admiring his work as it cooled atop a small anvil. The dwarf bowed but before he could speak, the smith glanced up with a scowl.
‘Be about your business,’ he said. ‘I’ve no time for distractions!’
‘Forgive me, ‘answered the dwarf bowing once more. ‘But we seek a blade that was stolen from Master Lofar Ironband…’
The smith growled and waved a hand at the dwarf. 'Don't be bothering me with such nonsense. Dwarves always looking down on us, claiming we're jealous. Now they going to start accusing us of stealing? Shoo,’ said the smith with a curse and he waved his hammer at the companions. ‘Off with you. I don't have to take this sort of nuisance! I'll complain to the mayor, I will.'
The last smith was of no more help than the others, and just as offended by their questions.
‘Bah,’ he spat, no bothering to look up from his anvil. ‘I don't be needing to steal some dwarf-blade. people like my work...it's quality! You tell that Lofar that I didn't steal his fool sword and try to pass it off as my own!'
The companions hastened away from the smithy and gathered in a circle along the side of the busy lane. ‘Where else can we look, Hemni?’ asked Dyre glancing back at the smithy.
‘Bah, these Men are no help in this matter!’ growled the dwarf. ‘I believe we should return to the Greenway and make our way to Thornley’s Farm. That is what Lofar mentioned.’
‘Then let us make haste,’ said Dyre, looking up into the sky. ‘The sun has already begun to drop in the sky.’
Indeed, the sun had already begun to sink below the horizon far to the West when the company reached Thornley’s Farm. Here was the beginning of a large sprawling farmstead and already several stout cottages stood alongside a bustling work site of smithies, forges, and great stores of supplies. A large gathering of workers had been assembled here to complete the work but much of the farmstead still stood only partially finished. Half timbered walls of wood, surrounded by scaffolding, stood here or there, and in the center of the largest rose the beginnings of a tall fieldstone chimney.
Nearer the road, the company found a lone smith, hunched over an anvil, still hard at work despite the lateness of the dying day. Strangely, the smith paused to watch and they approached, setting his hammer down atop the anvil and wiped the grim and soot from his face.
Hemni stopped a few feet from the smith and bowed low before him. ‘Sir, we search for a stolen blade, of dwarven-steel and dwarven-make. Do you know of such a thing?’
The Man’s eyes widened with fear as he looked at the hardened faces of the company. ‘What…a stolen sword?’ he said falteringly. ‘Stolen from a dwarf? I don’t know what you’re talking about…’ The Man took an unsteady step backwards. ‘Please, go away, I don’t know anything about it…’
The dwarf growled a deep snarl and stepped towards the smith menacingly, who raised his hand as if to ward off a blow. Then, his shoulders dropped and his shook his head, sobbing.
'Yes, yes, I admit it! I took it,’ he cried. ‘Please, don't tell the constable! Please! I did it to save my family! See, a brigand named Nate, he told me that he would hurt my family, unless I made a sword for their captain, Blake. But I didn't have the iron to forge one, and I was desperate to save my family, so I took the dwarf's sword! Nate said that before he gave the sword to Blake, he was going to test the blade against some boars around the abandoned graveyard north of Bree. If you find him there, maybe you can convince him to return Lofar's sword and leave my family alone. What do you say?'
Re: Total Immersion: The Road Goes Ever On - A Hobbit's Tale
I'd like to thank you for allowing me to help you on your journey, Theo, and I look forward to continuing the journey soon. I would also like to apologise for my hobo-like appearance and thank Dyre for her kind gift of matching armour.
Chapter Nineteen: A Boar's Den – 22 to 23 Blotmath, 1417 SR
The sun was caught into the deepening clouds and night had come suddenly as the day wore on towards its end. Theodoras gazed out to a dark smudge of tall hills to the east that were soon lost in the growing blackness. Overhead, the night sky was torn and tattered as the moon nearly full rode among the twinkling stars that even now began to glimmer. The hobbit shivered slightly and drew his cloak tighter as a light breeze sprang up from the north and soon grew to a chilled wind.
Then there came a voice from out of the darkness. ‘I fear we must track this brigand at night, for he may escape before the dawn,’ Theodoras turned to see the outline of the dwarf in the deep gloom. Hemni’s hood was cast about his head and all but his long nose could be seen. ‘But be wary of him,’ he continued softly. ‘He has threatened Master Thistleway’s family.’
‘Brigands?’ growled Eoelof beside the dwarf. ‘Let us teach them fear!’
‘Stinking bandit,’ added Dyre. ’I’ll have a word with him this time!’
‘This fellow Nate is over yonder, beyond that field,’ said the dwarf as he gazed out into the gathering gloom. ‘Shall we set off?’
‘Perhaps it would be best to wait until morning?’ asked Eoleof.
‘I would go if I were alone,’ answered Dyre grimy. ‘But I would not put Theo in danger.’ The Dale woman turned to gaze down on the hobbit with a smile. ‘Well, Theo, it is up to you. Shall we go or stay?’
‘Yes,’ added the dwarf. ‘What thinks you, Master Took?’
Theodoras turned to find the eyes of the rest of the company upon him. He grew nervous and shuffled slightly under their uncomfortable gaze. ‘Well…’ he murmured then fell silent, casting his eyes downwards. At last he spoke. ‘Let us find this Nate fellow before the night passes. Unless it is not safe to leave the road?’
‘It is never safe to wander the wilds at night,’ answered Dyre. ‘But you have a hearty group!’
‘Let us move on then,’ said the dwarf grimly.
Hemni now walked ahead, his bright eyes gleaming dimly in the light of the rising moon. Behind him walked Eoleof and the hobbit, who constantly turned his shaggy head this way or that to gaze nervously into the darkness about them. Last came Dyre, her bow draw and fitted with a fletched arrow.
For a half-an-hour or more they plodded on through the thick darkness in silence and often they heard scrambling and such around them in the gloom. And yet, however quick they turned no one could catch sight of the source of the noise. Slowly, the distant hills loomed larger and were now caught in the glimmering moonlight ahead.
Suddenly Hemni, who had pressed a bit ahead, stopped and turned to call back to his companions in a low voice. ‘’What is this ahead?’ Hurrying up, they saw before them a wide clearing among the trees where the half-timbered and unfinished foundation of a cottage stood. A crumbled form could also be seen lying in the dirt nearby.
‘It looks abandoned,’ said Dyre cautiously.
‘Oh, look!’ exclaimed the hobbit taking a step forward. ‘It’s a body!’
The companions followed cautiously and drew round the unfortunate soul on the ground. Eoleof loosened his sword and glanced about as Dyre knelt beside the body.
‘I wonder who this poor sot is?’ she said softly.
‘Slain by wild beasts, most likely,’ answered Eoleof, still watching the darkness with a careful eye.
‘These are deep claw marks…bear most likely,’ said Dyre as she turned the body over.
‘He certainly seems like one of the unsavory sorts that associates with those brigands,’ replied Eoleof.
‘Look here!’ exclaimed the hobbit as he bent to lift something from the dirt beside the corpse. ‘A broken hilt! Perhaps this is from the stolen blade?’
‘The blade is broken though,’ said Eoleof as he turned to examine the hilt in the darkness.
‘Is is dwarven steel?’ asked Hemni quietly.
‘I don’t know dwarf blades from dwarf utensils!’ laughed the hobbit with a shrug.
‘We must show this to Thistleway then….’ grumbled the dwarf.
‘Yes,’ answered Theodoras, ringing his nose slightly. ‘Let us leave here, it smells something awful here!’
The moon was sinking west into cloud that lay far above the fields and hills beyond the Greenway when the company made their way back to the work site. The weary companions found a nice patch of grass beneath a tall oak nearer the work site and sat down. But Hemni did not. He glanced over to the camp site of the workers and then sighed.
‘I best be off to have a word with this Thistleway,’ he said quietly. He turned and disappeared into the gloom. It was not long when the company spied the dwarf marching back from the distant camp through the darkness. Throwing his axe to the grass, Hemni sat down abruptly.
‘That smith is next to useless,’ he said grumbling. ‘He did recognize the hilt as the broken sword…but now he has asked us to return to Lofar to have another blade forged to appease the brigands who are threatening his family!’
‘I cannot imagine that Lofar will agree to this…’ said Eoleof hesitantly.
‘Most awful predicament…’ murmured the dwarf. ‘Lofar is a dwarf of good stock; we can only ask this of him.’
‘Agreed!’ said the hobbit with a loud yawn. ‘But I do not think I could walk another mile before bed…’ With that, Theodoras sighed as he relaxed into the soft grass. Hemni disappeared into the gloom in search for firewood, only to return shortly with a stack of branches piled in his arms. Within moments, there blazed a cheerful fire which the company now sat around. Theodoras curled up beside the fire, his cape pulled tightly about him. Within moments, his head began to droop and it was not long until he had nodded off into a deep sleep.
‘I will take the first watch, if you like,’ said Dyre softly as she threw a fresh log onto the fire.
‘If you wish,’ answered Eoleof as he choked back a deep yawn and stretched out in the grass. ‘Wake me at midnight and I will take the second.’
Hemni too laid down at the fire, propping his pack beneath his head. ‘Ah, that would be most appreciated…my eyes are growing heavy with sleep…’ Within moments, the dwarf was fast asleep, a deep snore rising from his deep hood about his head.
Dyre warmed her hands in the glow of the fire and glanced up at the twinkling of stars that now filled the darkened sky overhead.
‘They are beautiful, are they not?’ said Eoleof softly as he too gazed out to the velvet canopy above.
‘Yes,’ she answered after a pause. ‘I was just thinking…and remembering how much sharper the starlight is back home. Up in the mountains.’
‘The sky is much brighter on the plains of my home,’ answered Eoleof, propping his head slightly with one arm. ‘I hope that I may return soon.’
‘There are no mountains in Rohan? I have heard only a little of that place.’
‘The White Mountains are the south wall of our lands,’ answered Eoleof still gazing up at the stars. ‘My folk live in the plains to the north. War was brewing even as I left…orcs raiding our herds and attacking outlying homesteads. I came north to seek allies, but it seems this land has troubles of its own.’
Dyre turned her gaze to look at the Eorlingas. ‘Will you abandon your search and go home?’ she asked.
‘No,’ answered Eoleof grimly. ‘My lord Erkenbrand bid me to find allies and I will find them, no matter how long I must search.’
Both fell silent for a time, broken only by the crackling of the cheerful fire and the deep snoring of the sleeping dwarf. Dyre glanced over to the dwarf with a smile half-hidden in the gloom. ‘I find it comforting to have him with us,’ she said after a moment. ‘The dwarves of Erebor are friends to my kin.’
‘My people have not had dealings with Durin’s Folk for many years,’ replied Eoleof. ‘But those that I met bear out the truth of the stories of old about them.’ Without another word, Eoeloef turned over and fell silent, leaving Dyre to return her silent gaze to the starry sky.
The dawn had not yet come to the darkened skies when Theodoras stirred in his deep sleep. He lazily opened his eyes and looked about. Eoleof was seated beside the fire, munching on a bit of hard biscuit and cold bacon. Dyre was standing nearby, gazing out over the still-darkened fields in silence. The dwarf was nowhere to be seen.
‘Wake up, Theo,’ she said softly as the hobbit sat up and yawned with a stretch.
‘What time is it?’ he asked looking around. ‘More importantly, what is for breakfast? At least I think it is time for breakfast…’
The Eorlingas mumbled as he set down a wooden plate on the grass. Theodoras groaned at the sight of the hard biscuits (not butter or even honey he thought miserably) and cold bacon. He reached for a biscuit and began to eat rather dishearteningly.
Suddenly, Dyre stiffened and sank low to the ground to stare cautiously into the darkness. She fitted a fletched arrow to her bow and held her breath. There was a laugh from the darkness just as the dwarf stepped into the light of the campfire.
‘It is only I,’ said Hemni as he took a seat beside the fire.
‘Where have you been off to?’ asked the hobbit curiously.
‘To speak with Lofar Ironband,’ answered the dwarf as he reached for some bacon. ‘He is willing to forge another blade, but not without a cost. He has asked me to collect some old trinkets that may be found in a boar hollow not far from here. If we can bring them back, Lofar is willing to forge a new blade.’
‘Theodoras groaned at the dwarf’s news. ‘Running her or there on endless tasks…I shall never reach this Hengstacer Farm!’
‘It is only fair,’ answered the dwarf.
‘I suppose, but all this for a blade?’
‘A well-forged blade can mean the difference between life and death, Master Took,’ added Eoleof solemnly.
‘A hot meal and a warm drink is the difference between life and death to the likes of me!’ snorted the hobbit as he tossed the rest of his biscuit into the fire. ‘And I am getting far too little of both of late!’
Eoleof laughed and then reached inside his pack. ‘I have something for you, Master Took.’ He drew out a small bronze dagger and held it out to the hobbit. The hilt was overlaid with bronze filigree and crafted in the shape of a rearing horse.
Theodoras took the dagger and turned it over in his hand. ‘Hmm, a very fine blade, Eoleof! But whatever would I do with this?’
‘I brought that dagger with me from Rohan. It was given to me by my captain when I joined the Marshal of Westfold. I would like you to have it.’
‘I don’t know what to say,’ said the hobbit blushing red. ‘I thank you, Eoleof!’
The veil of night soon passed as the company left their camp to cross the Greenway and into the fields beyond to the east. The sun climbed slowly into the sky and the air became warm and pleasant as they went. In was not long until they reached the line of tall hills and were standing at the top of a narrow slope that wound down into a wide undulating hollow, sheltered by tall cliffs on all sides and shaded by scattered trees and bushy thickets along its floor.
‘Here is the boar hollow,’ said the dwarf softly as the company gazed down into the hollow. ‘The trinkets we seek can be found down there, but only the best will do.’
‘The boars will already be out with the dawn,’ warned Eoleof. ‘They like to feed at this hour.’
‘Then let us hunt, answered Dyre grimly as she carefully began to make her way down the path and into the hollow below. The hobbit glanced nervously forward before quickly following the Dale woman, with the dwarf and Eoleof behind him.
At the bottom of the slope, Dyre paused and held up her hand. Theodoras peered ahead and then gasped aloud. ‘Look!’ he exclaimed. ‘Boars!’
‘Indeed,’ answered Dyre warily. ‘A whole nest of boars. We should proceed cautiously. Stay close to Eoleof, Theo. Hemni and I will search the far side of the hollow.’ With that, the Dale woman began to cross the hollow stealthily, with the dwarf close behind her.
Theodoras watched as the pair passed through a thicket and out of sight. He stood unmoving listening for a moment, and then took a cautious step forward. He had gone only a few steps when suddenly his keen eyes spotted a dark shape moving in and out of the brush near the center of the hollow. A grunt rent the air as an enormous boar stepped through the thickets and into view. It seemed greatly enraged and ploughed the soft earth with its tusks and rubbed its massive body against the bark of a small tree.
The beast uttered a cry of rage and lowered its head to spring at the now much frightened hobbit. With a thunderous roar, the wild beast bore down on the hobbit, and it was only at the last minute that Theodoras had the sense to leap to one side. The boar passed beyond him, paused for the briefest of moments, and then turned even more furiously against the hobbit.
The boar eyes were flaming, its whole body bristling, its tusks clashing together as it turned it massive head towards Theodoras and leapt again. With a flurry of rage, the beast bore down onto the small hobbit, its white tusks goring his legs and its great weight throwing Theodoras to the ground.
But the boar did not fall upon the hapless hobbit, for Eoleof now suddenly appeared, his sword in one hand. Crying aloud, Eoleof hewed at the enraged beast; but his stroke went wide and it glanced harmlessly off the boar’s thick head, sending the beast into an even deeper and maddening frenzy.
Forgetting all about the hobbit, the wild boar turned to spring at the Eorlingas, driving at him with great force. Theodoras climbed quickly to his feet only to watch on in horror as the Man stumbled and then was thrown back under the beast’s assault. The boar did not pause to allow Eoleof time to steady his feet, but sprang once more, bent upon tearing him to pieces.
Theodoras choked back a cry as he stumbled forward and stabbed at the beast with his dagger. The hobbit’s arm rang numb from the force of the blow and he nearly let loose his grip by the shock. The boar shuddered and then swung its massive head round to face the trembling hobbit.
Theodoras now found himself staring into he red maddened eyes of the beast as it gathered itself for a great leap. He frantically scrambled back, thinking this would be his last. But just then, a voice was heard rising above the wild trampling and snorting of the beast. Strange words of song seemed to gather about the boar as it froze, suddenly quitting the hobbit entirely and raised its head nervously.
From out of the trees came Hemni, his axe gleaming in the sunlight that streamed through the boughs of the trees overhead, and Dyre was behind him. With a rush, the pair fell upon the boar, raining blow after blow upon the beast. From the other side came Eoleof even as the beast turned to leap away to safety. Theodoras too stepped forward but nearly fainted as a sick felling began to wash over him and he nearly collapsed to the ground.
The hobbit reached out a hand to steady himself as a growing delirium overtook him. H watched as his companions stabbed and hewed at the maddened boar until at least it let out a shuddering cry and crumbled to the ground unmoving.
‘Are you alright, Theo?’ asked Dyre turning to gaze worrisome at the hobbit who had now slid to the ground. Hemni strode forward to kneel beside the hobbit, concern spread across his creased face. ‘I fear the wound is diseased,’ he uttered. The wound was not deep, though it ran the length of the hobbit’s thigh, and it was red and ugly.
The dwarf placed his hands over the ugly wound and began to sing softly a slow song in a strange deep language. Almost immediately, the pain lessened and the delirium was lifted from Theodoras’ eyes like a veil.
Re: Total Immersion: The Road Goes Ever On - A Hobbit's Tale
I'll have to go back and read the entire story but you spoke to me on Thursday when I was on my alt Peridoc. Perhaps Theodoras would be interested in speaking with Peridoc's father Bugo Dughall. This adventure sounds like fun. :3
Chapter Twenty: A Blade for a Life – 23 to 24 Blotmath, 1417 SR
When Theodoras awoke, he was lying in a bed of grass covered by a thick blanket. A cloudless day, though a bit chilled, stared back from far above. He did not move right away, but laid there for some time, gazing up into the clear sky. After awhile, the sleepiness began to clear from his head, and he sat up slowly, rubbing his eyes. ‘Whatever happened, I wonder,’ he said aloud.
He found that he was lying next to the smouldering fire at their campsite. On the far side of the fire sat the dwarf Hemni, who looked up from the piece of wood he was carving with a short knife. ‘You have awakened finally!’ laughed the dwarf. ‘I thought perhaps you would sleep the entire day away!’
‘Hullo there!’ replied the hobbit in a dry voice. ‘But where are the others? Are they alright?’
‘Dyre has gone hunting in the fields and Eoleof is out collecting fire wood’ answered the dwarf. ‘I have dressed and cleaned your wound, and the sickness has left you. The boar that attacked you was sickness by disease, but I think the worst has passed.’
‘Bless me, the boar!’ cried the hobbit. ‘Whatever happened? Forgive me but my mind seems to bit muddled still.’
‘A close call, indeed,’ said the dwarf solemnly. ‘Retrieving those trinkets was no small task. The hollow was thick with boars, many of them diseased and maddened by sickness. But all is fine now…we found what we were looking for and you have recovered.’
Theodoras laid back down, thinking back to the battle with the crazed boar. It now seemed only a distant memory, and very hard to remember in more than fragments. He grew silent, as the dwarf returned to his whittling and did not speak for some time. ‘I think I shall sleep a bit more,’ he said at length then fell fast asleep.
When he awoke, Theodoras found that he slept through the day and all that evening. He sat up beside the campfire and discovered that the dressings binding his wound were fresh and clean. The pain of the wound had passed and he felt altogether much better, hungry even, he chuckled thoughtfully.
The cloudless day before had given way to masses of deep dark clouds from the north and a strong wind blew steady from the east. Shivering slightly in the chilled air, the hobbit reached for his cape that was laid out in the grass and looked about.
‘Wherever did everyone go, I wonder?’ he said quietly as he threw the cape round his shoulders and sat back down next to the fire. It was not long when the first drops began to fall, and Theodoras turned up his hood as he stoked the fire. Theodoras was just finishing his third piece of toasted bacon when Hemni suddenly appeared through the brush near the camp.
‘I see your appetite has returned!’ laughed the dwarf as he set down an armful of firewood onto the ground.
‘Famished really!’ said the hobbit, licking the grease from his fingers. ‘But I shall soon grow tired of nothing more than cold biscuits and toasted bacon.’ Theodoras nibbled on a hard biscuit and turned inquisitively to the dwarf.
‘But where are Dyre and Eoleof? Off hunting again?
‘I am here, Master Took’ said a voice from the other side of the camp. Theodoras turned to watch as Dyre strode towards the fire and sat down wearily beside it. The Dale-woman set down her bow and quiver of arrows to warm her chilled hands in the glow of the fire.
‘What a day for a battle…’ she murmured glancing up into the darkened skies with displeasure. ‘Limited visibility, slippery footing….what else?’
‘It is a fierce rain, Lady Dyre,’ answered the dwarf, the only member of the company who seemed not to mind the rain. ‘Perhaps we should make ready to the bandit camp soon?’
‘Yes, we should leave,’ grumbled the hobbit as he peeked out from beneath the hood of his cape. ‘Before I become drowned by all this falling rain!’
‘Do we know where theses brigands are hiding out?’ asked Dyre.
‘Somewhere ahead near those distance line of tall hills,’ answered the dwarf who now looked out over the rain-swept fields to the west.
‘Where is the Rohirrim captain,’ asked Dyre suddenly, and she glanced about in alarm. ‘Did he depart before the dawn?’
Theodoras shook his head in silence and drew his soaked cape tighter about him. Dyre climbed to her feet and began to search the ground about the camp, quickly but thoroughly, stooping every now or then to the earth. ‘I see no prints,’ she said finally. ‘But then the rain has washed any tracks from the ground around here.’
Just then, Dyre paused to peer into the distance towards the road. Theodoras poked his head from beneath his hood and watched as a featureless shape appeared in the rain some distance off. Within moments, the familiar face of Eoleof came into view, his cloak and tunic splashed with mud and rain dripping rain-water.
‘We were about to leave without you!’ cried Theodoras as he clambered to his feet and shook the rain from his cape.
‘My apologizes,’ said the Eorlingas as he strode into the camp. ‘A message came for me from Bree and I rode back there. Again my apologizes.’
‘No harm done, then!’ laughed the hobbit. Your return is what matter most. But we must make haste. Maribell Thistelway is being held by those foul bandits.’
‘What’s the plan then?’ asked Dyre as she slung her bow over her shoulder. ‘Walk up to the brigand camp and knock on the door?’
‘Perhaps we can go and have a look at this camp first?’ answered Theodoras.
‘That seems as good a plan as any,’ said Eoleof. ‘We could scout the camp before we make any plans of attack.’
‘At least we can use the rain to our advantage, to cover our approach,’ replied Dyre.
As the afternoon waned, the company set out across the rain-drenched fields. Theodoras and Hemni walked behind, while Dyre and Eoleof went forward to pick out a trail-less path over the fields. They made north-west, round several wide lakes, their banks lined with scattered trees. Soon they were drawing nearer and nearer to the long line of darkened hills that were flung out westwards.
The hills rose from bare ad rocky cliff walls and on their heights could be glimpsed sturdy palisades of wood. A winding path sloped towards the heights, flanked by the sheer cliffs to one side and a wooden palisade on the outer one.
Theodoras drew his soaked cape about him and shook the rain from his bedraggled hair. He peered from under his dropping hood and then pointed ahead. ‘There it is!’ he cried. ‘Do you see those walls?’
‘And brigands…’ added Dyre as she drew up to the hobbit. ‘I can make out their campfire even from here.’
‘I have seen these folk,’ murmured Eoleof. ‘But they these are no Blackwolds. They look like Dunlendings!’
‘What are Dunlendings, Eoleof?’ asked Dyre quietly.
‘They are ancestral enemies of my people. Their land is far in the south. They are an ill-favoured folk. I know they will like the sight of me as little as I like the sight of them!’
‘Well I don’t like the looks of them one bit,’ uttered Theodoras. ‘And I have not even seen one yet!’ Theodoras shivered slightly as he stood unmoving in the cold rain and then sneezed loudly. ‘Oh bother with this rain!’
‘Much as I loathe saying this,’ murmured Eoleof gazed out towards the hill. ‘Perhaps a peaceful solution could present itself.’
‘They’re holding a girl hostage,’ snorted Dyre with disgust. ‘Peace is not something they deserve.’
‘Oh look!’ said Theodoras once more. ‘How strange, it looks as if the entrance is not even guarded!’
Slowly and quietly as they might, the company crept forward, turning away from the darkening fields and began to climb upwards towards the dim heights of the hill above. They had not gone far when Theodoras stopped suddenly and pointed ahead. ‘Look!’
There on the darkened path ahead lay the body of a swarthy man, face turned upward, a dark fletched arrow sticking from his back. His tunic and cloak were tattered and darkened with blood and nearby laid a notched sword. Further up the path could be seen more huddled bodies, each hewn with many strokes.
‘A battle has happened here,’ murmured the dwarf softly. ‘And quite recently.’
‘But a battle between whom, I wonder?’ answered Theodoras nervously. The others fell silent and said nothing, turning their gaze to the fallen forms.
The companions continued on up the path and they came upon no sight of the enemy but for the occasional corpse lying silent and unmoving upon the darkened ground. But soon, the sound of harsh cries and shouts came to their ears and further ahead could be seen many points of fiery red torches and campfire.
The winding path now passed into a wide level area flanked by more rising cliffs to one side and the tall palisade overlooking the fields far below. The sun was sinking fast and the first stars began to twinkle in the dying light above.
Suddenly and at no great distance in the gloom ahead, a clamour broke out. Horns rang out and the sound of blades being drawn could clearly be heard. Without warning, there came louder, closer cries and wilder yells in the darkness ahead. At once, a small group of swarthy and slant-eyed Southrons appeared from the darkness. The largest fellow of the group cried aloud a challenge and leapt forward, while the rest stalked behind him.
Eoeloef, who was a bit further ahead than the rest of the company, turned to face the attacker, but just then an arrow whined past and the Southron fell sprawling and lay still. It was Dyre, her bow bent even as she fitted another arrow to the string.
With a great cry, the Southrons surged forward as one; but the short figure of the dwarf leapt past Eoleof and gave a hoarse shout. Hemni’s axe glinted in the torchlight as it swept forward then back again. A brigand choked back a startled cry and fell headless to the ground.
Another brigand came at the dwarf from one side but stumbled as an arrow passed through his throat and then collapsed to the ground. A clear voice rang out, echoing in the hills as Eoleof sprang forward to stand beside the dwarf. ‘Forth Eorlingas!’ he cried as he swept up his spear.
The attack came strong and fierce, and the Southrons swarmed round the companions on all sides. Hemni hewed this way and that with his axe as Eoleof struck out over and over with his shining spear. Theodoras stood shaking beside Dyre, his knife held loosely in one hand, as she drew back her bow and let fly an arrow.
From out of the darkness was hurled a knife; it struck the dwarf on the helm and he stumbled falling to one knee. Before he could recover, a brigand leapt over Hemni and sprang at the hobbit. Dyre swung round, sweeping her hand to the sword at her belt, but the Southron drove his shoulder into her and she fell back with a cry.
‘Dyre!’ cried Theodoras as he stumbled forward, stabbing upward with his knife. The blade passed into the brigand, just above his belt and the Man fell back clutching his stomach. He whirled to look at Dyre with fright but the Dale woman only smiled back and winked.
Theodoras saw immediately that the attack had passed; several Southron had been hewn down or turned and fled, leaving the company in the darkened silence once more. Carefully now, the companions crept forward, past scattered tents and campfires now empty and forgotten by their owners.
They had gone far when Theodoras called out. ‘Over here!’ The hobbit turned and without waiting for his companions, he darted towards a small wagon where there could be heard muffled sobbing. The hobbit carefully removed the pin on the lock from the single door of the wagon and lifted it slowly. There, on the hay-strewn floor of the wagon, sat a terrified girl and she raised an arm as if expected a blow.
‘Do not worry!’ he whispered trying to sound comforting. ‘We are not brigands, but have been sent by your father to rescue you! But you have to be silent or you’ll bring the lot of them down upon our heads!’
‘Oh, thank you, thank you!’ cried Maribell choking back tears. ‘I filched the key a while ago, but I was too scared to use it. Now, with you here, I can use it and we can escape.’
‘Be quiet,’ whispered Theodoras with a nervous hiss as he reached for the key. ‘Hold still a moment and I will have you free.’
Maribell leaned on Theodoras’ arm as she emerged from the wagon, stifling back a sob. ‘Hopefully we can get away before Blake notices!’ The girl then shrank back as the others came up from behind, looking to her no more than ruffians themselves in the gloom.
‘Fear not,’ offered the hobbit with a smile.’ These are my friends…’ but then his voice died away when there came a chorus of shouts and cries from the darkness. Theodoras whirled round to watch as a band of brigands came into view from the direction of the main camp.
‘Stop them!’ cried one of the Southron outlaws as he drew a wicked blade. ‘Get them!’ cried another. They ain’t taking our treasure!’
‘Oh no!’ cried the girl with fright. ‘They’ve heard us!’ With surprising strength, Maribell twisted from Theodoras’ grasp and fell back before the sight of the brigands then turned to run. At once the Men leapt forward in pursuit, howling madly as they ran.
Bu then a darkened figure appeared between the ruffians and the fleeing girl. It was the dwarf Hemni, who flashed out his axe and sprang forward, casting aside his cloak with one hand. The nearest Southron let out a vicious yell and he aimed a savage blow at the dwarf. The axe turned on the dwarf’s stout coat of mail and sprang back with a clang.
Hemni swept up his axe, driving the brigand back but he was soon pressed on all sides by the others. A blade tore at his breeches and he only just brought up the haft of his axe to turn aside a clumsy stab of a sword. But then a rousing cry erupted from behind as Dyre and Eoleof fell upon the Southrons in fury.
Eoeleof passed his spear through a brigand even as the Man turned to face the new attack. Dyre bent her bow and let fly an arrow then reached out to steady the shaken dwarf with one hand. So strong and fierce was the attack that is was now brigands that gave ground and fell back, not daring to draw near.
But a tall Man, a great squint-eyed fellow stepped forward from the crowd, uttering a rallying cry to his men. Holding a long slender blade his both hands, Blake made a rush at the company. Dyre loosened her bow and a man beside the brigand leader fell pierced through the throat. But at once, the company was surrounded on all sides as the brigands threw themselves in desperation into the fray.
Meanwhile, Theodoras stood not far back, clutching at Maribell in utter fright as they both watched the battle with growing horror. Suddenly Blake turned aside the dwarf’s axe and leapt past him to bear down on the hobbit and girl. At that moment, and rather unexpectedly, Theodoras cried out as his short knife flashed in his hand. Even as the Southron raised his weapon high above his head, the hobbit darted forward and stabbed upwards. Blake cried out in pain as the hobbit’s blade pierced his abdomen.
Blake stumbled back unsteadily just as Eoleof and Hemni dove at him from behind. With a cry, Eoleof stabbed with his long spear and Hemni raised his axe high then brought it down upon the man’s head with a shout. Blake stumbled then fell.
The company paused only for the briefest of moments to gaze at the fallen brigands, and then Maribell spoke hurriedly. ‘Quick! With Blake dead, we can make our escape!’ With that the girl began to run doggedly through the camp towards the descending path on the far side.
‘Yes, we should go now,’ hissed Dyre as she watched the girl. ‘This mud is thick with blood and I’m sure their friends will hear all the commotion.’
‘Then, let us away before the whole camp comes down on us!’ answered Eoleof. With that, the Eorlingas sprang forward to follow the girl, who even now was fast disappearing in the gloom. The others quickly followed behind as the company passed swiftly through the shattered remains of the encampment. They hastened down the path, and paused momentarily to look back for signs of a pursuit. Within minutes, they were free and running through the darkened fields once more.
Re: Total Immersion: The Road Goes Ever On - A Hobbit's Tale
Well, that took some time to complete! Trying to organize a company of four players together in different time zones can be very difficult! It almost seemed that I was going to have to continue this part of the story without the entire group. But we were persistant and patient and we were able to finish together.
As a side note, Theodoras has reached the next survival title!
Re: Total Immersion: The Road Goes Ever On - A Hobbit's Tale
Originally Posted by Brucha
Well, that took some time to complete! Trying to organize a company of four players together in different time zones can be very difficult! It almost seemed that I was going to have to continue this part of the story without the entire group. But we were persistant and patient and we were able to finish together.
As a side note, Theodoras has reached the next survival title!
Re: Total Immersion: The Road Goes Ever On - A Hobbit's Tale
Originally Posted by Goku-san
I'll have to check it out. :3
Just about what time do you guys play in case others might like to join in?
With the return from the brigand camp, Theodoras is running a few solo quests. However, following that, I will be looking for anther company of friends to join me. I do not know if it will be Eoleof, Hemni and Dyre once more, or if it will be a new group of friends
I most often play Theodoras during the evening hours.
Re: Total Immersion: The Road Goes Ever On - A Hobbit's Tale
Originally Posted by Brucha
With the return from the brigand camp, Theodoras is running a few solo quests. However, following that, I will be looking for anther company of friends to join me. I do not know if it will be Eoleof, Hemni and Dyre once more, or if it will be a new group of friends
I most often play Theodoras during the evening hours.
Ahh. If I see you around I'll try to stop by. I did add him to my friendlist. This is quite an interesting thing you have going. :3
Re: Total Immersion: The Road Goes Ever On - A Hobbit's Tale
Originally Posted by Brucha
With the return from the brigand camp, Theodoras is running a few solo quests.
With his present companions I thought Theodoras was going to have an easy time of it but he's going on a solo quest? That's another ball game! Maybe it's time for that lost pony? I'll keep my eyes open for Theodoras when I'm on Crickhollow but I think I'm in a different time zone than you are. Maybe I'll see you at your dwarf sale this Sunday.
Chapter Twenty-one: A Penny Short – 25 Blotmath, 1417 SR
'My letter found you then?’ said the tall Man with flowing golden hair in a manner and tone that instantly made Theodoras think of Eoleof. ‘Excellent news, and even more excellent that you are here. I am Éogar, master of horses here at Hengstacer Farms.’
‘Your letter arrived nearly a fortnight ago,’ laughed the hobbit. ‘Though it has taken me a week or more to make the journey here from the Shire. But here I am! All that is needed now is to settle my debt to you for the stabling and I can begin the journey home...with Clover of course!’
Theodoras absentmindedly brushed the dust from his cape and trousers with one hand. He then tilted his head to one side and looked up at Éogar with an inquisitive glance as the tall Man spoke. ‘Forgive me. I must be much more tired from the journey than I thought because I half-imagined you said five hundred silver…’
Éogar swatted at a large black fly that seemed to swarm over the entire stable area and nodded slightly. For a moment the hobbit was speechless, beside himself with astonishment.
‘You can’t be serious!’ cried the hobbit in dismay, his eyes growing as large as saucers. ‘But I do not have that sort of coin. Why, I could purchase a new pony for that sum! Horse trader indeed!’
No matter how hard the hobbit pleaded, the horse trader only frowned and shook his head at any of the hobbit’s many offers for a smaller amount. Finally, Thodoras turned, now quite crushed by this latest turn of events, and stomped away. Passing the line of stables, the hobbit stopped and sat down dismally in the green grass beside the road.
There he sat in silence gazing down the road that led away from the farm and back towards the Greenway and, for a brief moment, the thought to set out after his companions came into his mind. But just a swift as the notion sprang into his mind, it was pushed aside by Theodoras’ more hobbit-like sense. For it had been more than an hour since his companions had said their goodbyes and bid the hobbit farewell, leaving him alone at the farm.
Theodoras bent his legs as he sat and propped his head in his hands, then signed unhappily aloud. ‘Let me see now…no good setting off after them. They have been gone quite awhile already and you have no hope in catching them now.’
For a time, Theodoras sat there pondering this new predicament as the early morning slowly passed away and noon soon approached. Several times, the hobbit reached to draw out his small purse from his pocket and counted the silver and copper coins within.
‘As I see it, I am nearly ninety-five silver short!’ he muttered. ‘These horse-traders are shrewder than a dwarf at market!’
He had been sitting lost in thought for more than an hour when Theodoras noticed a short man some paces off near the stables was looking at him with interest. The stableman had paused in his work spreading fresh hay into the stables, and now leaned upon the long haft of the pitchfork he held with both hands, keenly watching the hobbit in silence.
Theodoras rose from the grass and strode over to the man, bowing low with a wave of his cap. ‘Good morning sir! I am Theodoras Took, of the Shire. And a fine morning it is!’ he said, for despite his sour mood, the morning had indeed awoken to a pleasant day. The sun shone from a gently-cloudy sky and the air was warm (but not too hot) and heavy with the scent of flowers.
The man smiled warmly at the hobbit then wiped the sweat from his damp brow. ‘I am Cam Applewood,’ he replied still smiling down at the hobbit. 'A dwarf came to the farm and requested some horses. Not sure what he intended to do with them, but by the looks of him he needed some pack animals. I told him that our horses weren't for hire, and he left in a huff. Seemed a bit peculiar, he did not seem quite right in the head. If it's not out of your way, can you make sure that old dwarf isn't in trouble? He seemed a bit...queer in the head. I saw him wander off to the ruins south-east of here.'
Theodoras looked up thoughtfully at the stable-hand as a plan sprang to mind. ‘Perhaps there is a way to help one another out?’ he said finally, a glimmer of hope creeping into his voice. ‘You see, I am in a bit of a bind, so to speak…monetarily, if you understand. I could seek out this dwarf for you, and perhaps he could aid me with my money problem?’
Cam said nothing but looked down at the hobbit for a moment before turning back to his work. For a moment, Theodoras was at a loss for words. Then he spoke with some hesitation. ‘Well… I shall be off then. I will find this dwarf and return with news!’ he said, trying to sound confident.
Theodoras began to make his way through the stables to the opposite side from the road. He munched on a handful of juicy blueberries (that last of them he thought miserably) and not a person seemed to take notice of the hobbit as he passed.
On reaching the eastern side of the farm, he went along a dusty lane that followed a wide field behind the farm buildings and stables. The lane wound to the right, round the east side of the farm, and then run downwards into a gentle rolling meadow surrounded by a low wooden fence.
On the far side of the meadow, away to the east and south, Theodoras could see ancient and crumbling line of ruined wall and there soon came a break in the fence along the lane. Here, Theodoras turned from the lane and began to cross the meadow towards the ruins, looking about uneasily as he went.
Suddenly, a voice rang out from the line of crumbling ruins ahead. ‘Who’s that there?’ said a deep voice and Theodoras froze mid-step and looked about nervously. Just then he spotted a very old looking dwarf standing in the shadows of the ruins, his eyes almost slits as he squinted at the hobbit, a long dagger clutched in a gnarled hand.
‘Oh, hello,’ said the dwarf apologetically as he lowered his blade. ‘Sorry about that. These old eyes aren't what they used to be. Do you have time to talk? I could use some help.’
Theodoras laughed despite himself and strode over to the dwarf. ‘I did not mean to frighten you,’ he said with an added chuckle.
'My name's Oddvarr of the Blue Mountains,’ said the dwarf with a low bow. ‘And I'm here in Bree-land on very important business. The only problem is I misplaced my pack. Now, I'm to investigate the old dwarf-ruins that are rumoured to exist here. I'm sure there are important discoveries to be made, and I'm the one to do it! I'm a famous explorer, you see.’
‘I am sure!’ replied Theodoras, trying to hide his wide grin with one hand.
'But I digress!’ continued the dwarf with an air of importance. ‘If you could help me find that pack, I would be indebted to you. You start looking over yonder north, and I'll search this area and to the south. If you find anything, meet me back here!'
‘Sounds simple enough,’ answered Theodoras as he took his cap in one hand and smoothed out his curly brown hair. ‘Possibly you could reward me with a finder’s fee upon my return…’
Theodoras tipped his cap to the dwarf and turned to cross the field once more. Not far from the dwarf’s camp, the hobbit stumbled upon a faded path, plain to see, along the eastern edge of the field. It wound northwards for some distance, and then began to run upwards.
Theodoras paused and looked about, first towards the looming hill ahead, and then away to the west where could be seen the Hengstacer Farm, and wisps of rising smoke climbed gently into the calm air. The sun now was shining bright and clear, and the grass was long and full of colour, and all seemed to the young hobbit peaceful, clean and wholesome.
Soon, the low but wide hill came full into view ahead. It was shaded by several leafy and tall elm trees and the remains of crumbling ruins, much weathered, crowned its height. Dug into the steep slope that led up from the fields he spotted stairs of stone, very cracked and worn, to a floor of broken and pitted stonework. Tall pillars of stone rose from the floor that once held a magnificent stone roof overhead, but many were broken and the roof long ago fallen.
Theodoras stood for a moment to gaze upon the hill before hurrying along to scramble up the rocky slope until at last he had reached the top. He had only just set one foot upon the stone floor when he blinked in astonishment and then choked back a cry. For standing amidst the ruins were two Orcs, each nearly as tall as a Man, swart and slant-eyed.
Much to the hobbit’s luck (and yet growing fear), the Orcs did not seem to notice the poor hobbit at first, but instead stood near the center talking loudly to one another in their foul tongue. Theodoras could not understand any of the words, but it sounded very horrible and cruel to him. Nearer to where the hobbit crouched in the shadow of one of the tall crumbling pillars, stood a large section of rock. And atop the rock there was placed a well-worn leather pack.
For several long moments, Theodoras was overwhelmed with paralyzing fear. He dared not turn to flee back down the hill, lest they Orcs become aware of his presence. And he was more than certain that he had no desire to move closer. He tried to swallow but a lump caught in his throat and Theodoras stifled back a cough with fright and alarm.
Theodoras knew that he ought to do something at once. Part of himself (a very large part I might add) told him to turn and creep back as carefully as he might back down the hill. Oddvarr had said nothing of Orcs, he thought, and what is Orc-hunting to do with him at all? Better to flee now before the foul creatures spotted him, pack or no pack.
But another, deeper part of him now began to whisper softly. His thoughts quickly turned to Hemni, Dyre and Eoeleof and the bravery they displayed at the heights against the brigands. Too came the memory of the valiant dwarf as Theodoras fell to the wild boar in the hollow. He suddenly had the great desire to feel heroic in his own right. Before he even had the chance to think about it, Theodoras held his breath and crept forward from the pillar until he was crouching beside the rock and pack.
For several long and agonizing moments, the hobbit hesitated beside the rock, the desire to turn and run growing stronger in his belly. Then, he swallowed hard and plucked up his courage. Glancing towards the Orcs, he at once snatched up the pack with both hands, and turned to swiftly spring away down the slope. But for the briefest of moments, the pack caught on a spur of the rock, and Theodoras nearly dropped it in surprise as he let out a sharp cry.
This the Orcs heard, of course, and they turned to the cry and their cruel dark eyes fell upon him. With a horrible cry, they drew forth wicked-looking blades and leapt down towards him. Great fear now swallowed the poor hobbit’s heart, and he strained and pulled at the pack feverishly. No cry came from him now. Theodoras shut his eyes tightly and tugged vainly at the straps of the pack held firm by the rock. He gave a great heave and shout and the straps snapped, nearly sending him sprawling into the dirt.
For half a moment, he looked with surprise at the pack now in his hands. But the rush of feet across the broken stone came loud and immediate. ‘Run!’ Theodoras said to himself. His heart leapt in his chest and he sprang back, just as one of the Orcs came round the rock, bearing its yellow fangs at him. The Orc drew back his sword and stabbed forward, but Theodoras ducked beneath the clumsy blow with a frightened cry.
Without another glance, Theodoras turned and fled down the slope, so swiftly that he slid partially downwards nearly falling over several times. The Orcs did not pause, but immediately gave chase, cursing loudly and shouting as they pursued him.
Theodoras clutched the pack tightly to his chest as he reached the bottom of the hill, and he could feel the hot foetid breath of the Orcs on his back even as he fled across the field. All thoughts were instantly driven from his mind as he sprinted away as fast as his tiny furry feet could carry him. He did not dare chance a look over his shoulder but he envisioned the hideous orc-faces behind and hideous arms grasping for him.
He ran and ran, until his breath came in great gasps and his chest burned like a hot furnace. All the way across the field and down the lane towards the farm he ran without pause. Only as the outlying farm buildings came into view did Theodoras dared to glance over one shoulder. Much to his surprise, he did not see the Orcs. But he did not stop his head-long rush until he had passed round the main building and into the wide courtyard of the stables.
Re: Total Immersion: The Road Goes Ever On - A Hobbit's Tale
I'd have loved to have seen that too
You know I was thinking about how much it is for a pony at Hengstacer Farms, a whopping 500 silver is insane highway robbery and this Eorling must be stopped! Even mean old Bill Ferny sold the pony Bill to Butterbur for the 'extortionary' rate of 12 silver coins. Inflation is out of control in Middle Earth.
I can't wait until the next chapter, Brucha, thank you.
Chapter Twenty-two: A Company of Dwarves – 26 Blotmath, 1417 SR
With a start, Theodoras sat up in bed, letting out a hoarse cry, and raised his hands as if to ward off a blow. ‘Orcs!’ he shouted frightfully. He threw his head about in confusion until slowly the hideous visions of the orc-faces went distant in his mind and he could no longer imagine their hot, stank breath on his neck.
The sun was shining through an open window in the room, letting in a warm winter breeze. Theodoras chuckled despite his fright and rolled his legs off the bed, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. He was at the Prancing Pony, in Bree, of course, and slowly, the memory of the horse fields came unbidden to his mind. He had found the pack that old Oddvarr had forgetfully left behind. But foul orcs had occupied the ruins by then and it was sheer luck that Theodoras was able to escape their clutches with the pack held tightly in his hands. Even now, the terrible memory of the frightful chase all the way back to the Hengstacer farm echoed back at him and he shuddered slightly.
The old dwarf was quite thankful for the return of his pack, and much to the hobbit’s delight, offered up a small reward for the task. It was not a princely sum, in fact, added to the meager amount of coins already in his purse, it was barely enough to cover the stabling expenses for Clover. But in the end, Theodoras fared well enough, and he happily counted out the monies, took the pony’s reins and began the long journey back to Bree.
Theodoras chuckled softly and stretched his arms high above his head. ‘It shall be a slim and slender trip back home,’ he thought aloud. ‘But it will be most pleasant to return there!’ Just then, there came a soft rap upon the door as the hobbit servant, Nob, stuck his head inside.
‘A bit of breakfast and perhaps a spot of tea would be quite nice,’ answered Theodoras with a warm smile. ‘But there is one thing I must do before that. I should very much like to pay a visit to see my pony. I have only just recovered her, and it would wonderful news to my aunt if I return Clover home in better shape that when she left!’
Theodoras stood up and hastily dressed, throwing his cape about his shoulders then setting his cap upon his furry head. He wandered down from his room and out to the stables between the two wings of the inn. There he found a fair enough barn, housing a number of horses, well-tended and cared for.
From a small stall near the back of the barn there came a familiar whinny as Theodoras entered. He turned his head to spot Clover looking happily at him. ‘Good morning to you too!’ said Theodoras. ‘I see that you are well despite your recent and harrowing ordeal.’
Clover said nothing but swished her tail and nuzzled her head into the hobbit’s shoulder. ‘But do not worry,’ he added as he stroked her thick mane. ‘We shall be leaving soon for home girl.’ He then glanced down at the feed trough, eying the ample pile of hay and grasses. ‘Farwell for now, Clover I must be off. You have plenty to graze on but I must now turn my attention to some bit of breakfast for myself!’
Bidding Clover goodbye, Theodoras returned to the inn and took a seat near the fireplace at a small round table with three chairs. The inn was quiet and nearly empty as he sat down; a few hobbits or Bree-Men sat here or there in the large room but none paid Theodoras any mind as the hobbit took a seat. From out of nowhere, the hobbit Nob appeared, hovering over the table. Theodoras flashed an uncomfortable smile, trying to hide his embarrassment, and turned slightly to open his purse to count the few remaining coins inside. Nob nodded and turned round and before Theodoras could scarcely take a dozen breaths, the hobbit returned with a half-loaf of fresh bread and butter, and cheese, and a small flagon of new-drawn beer.
Theodoras ate and drank in silence, until the plate was (rather regretfully, he thought) cleared and the flagon drained. For a time, he sat quietly, listening to the hushed conversations about the room. Slowly, his eyelids began to droop and he settled into a light sleep.
Perhaps a half-an-hour had gone by when the door to the inn was flung open and a figure, shadowed by the brilliant light from outside, appeared in the doorway. It was a dwarf, with a short brown beard falling down upon his chest, and clad in green and tan leathers. A bursting pack, crossbow and tools were slung across his back.
Holding the door open with one hand, the dwarf glanced about the wide room before striding forward. He gazed curiously at the sleeping form of the hobbit and then turned to walk towards the table. There he paused, looking down at the hobbit with a smile and then spoke.
‘Hail and well-met, Master Hobbit,’ he said with a bow. Theodoras did not stir, but let out a gentle snore in reply. The dwarf crossed his arms and smiled ever wider, then tapped his foot upon the floor. Finally, he cleared his throat very loud and spoke again.
‘Ahem! Young hobbit master!’
Theodoras’ eyes fluttered open and he stared up at the strange dwarf, at once far too surprised to say anything. He blinked once or twice then stood up from the chair rather abruptly, knocking it over with a crash.
The dwarf, his armed still crossed over his wide chest, said nothing at first, still smiling down at the surprised and speechless hobbit. ‘Rulf, at your service!” he said finally with another low bow.
‘Oh, bless me!’ stuttered the hobbit. ‘You must forgive my manners, but it has been a trying week for a hobbit such as me! And your unexpected appearance caught by surprise.’
The dwarf slid his heavy pack from his shoulders and set it down beside the table before sitting down upon one the chairs. Theodoras looked about with a flustered stare then reached down to right the fallen chair before he too sat down.
‘You have the look that one of my kinsmen described to me, and you fit it well enough, if I may say so,’ said the dwarf cryptically. ‘What is your name, young hobbit?’
‘I am Mister Theodoras Took, of Budgeford, if you must know,’ answered the hobbit sharply and suspiciously. ‘But you say kinsman? Do you mean a fellow dwarf?’
‘Yes,’ answered Rulf as he reached for a foaming mug of ale before him. ‘His name is Hemni, from the Blue Mountains.
‘Hemni!’ cried Theodoras despite himself, now very much relieved. ‘Why did you not say that before? Forgive me but your questioning left me quite uncomfortable…’
‘Hobbits all look alike to my folk,’ laughed the dwarf. ‘I could not sure you were the one Hemni spoke of, and there are many hobbits in Bree. So you are the one then…he named you Theodoras Took, and you have said that. A mouthful of a name, if you pardon the expression.’
‘Really?’ replied the hobbit. ‘Well, my mother always called me Theo for short, if that is better for you.’
The dwarf smiled slightly. ‘Much better, and it suits you Master Theo.’
‘I have a distant cousin, on my father’s side, of course…’ said Theodoras thoughtfully. ‘His name was Isenbold, but everyone called him Isen, if you know what I mean. But what has brought you here?’
‘I have come here for ale…I have out in the wilds about Bree for some time.'
‘What do you mean?’ answered the hobbit with interest and curiosity.
‘I brought some hides to trade with the merchants of Bree. And I made myself a tidy sum at that. I can tell you, young master, there is always coin to be made doing jobs that no one else wishes to do. Curing hides is not pretty work!’
‘I do not doubt that!’ laughed Theodoras.
‘But hides alone are not the only reason I have come here to Bree,’ said Rulf in a low ominous voice.
‘Then what else?’ asked Theodoras, leaning into the table, not very much liking the sound of Rulf’s tone.
‘It would be best to wait for the others to arrive before I answer that, Master Theo,’ said the dwarf slowly.
‘The others?’ said Theodoras with a surprised gasp.
‘Yes. Some of my kinsmen from Ered Luin, the Blue Mountains, but it seems that I have arrived first.’
Just then there came the sound of the front door being flung open and a deep voice called out.
‘Greetings Master Rulf!’
Theodoras turned to watch as a second dwarf, with a short forked beard, heavy leather boots and tan cloak and hood, strode up towards the table. He was clad in a long tunic of stout mail and across his back hung a long-hafted axe.
Rulf stood up from the table to bow low then grasped the other dwarf’s hand firmly. ‘You have arrived Hergof, my friend. Excellent!’
‘Rulf, do you know one another?’ asked the hobbit.
‘Indeed,’ answered Rulf as he turned back to the hobbit. ‘This is my kinsman, Hergof.’
With that, the second dwarf bowed low before the hobbit and swept back his hood. ‘Hergof, at your service.’
‘And you and your family!’ replied Theodoras flushing brightly. But before the hobbit could say another word, there came a hearty deep-throated laugh from the direction of the door. Theodoras spun round to find Hemni standing just a few feet away, his familiar wide smile beaming brightly.
‘Ah, there is out truant minstrel, ‘said Rulf with a grin. ‘How are you brother Hemni!’
Hemni stopped to bow very low before his companions. ‘Hail kinsmen! And hail to you too Master Theodoras!’ Hemni strode up and sat down heavily upon a chair at the table. ‘Ah, but my throat is parched from riding around in the fields of Bree all day!’
The other dwarves sat down at the table as well, followed finally by Theodoras, his astonished gaze going from one dwarf to the other in rapid succession. ‘I must say! This is a strange gathering indeed! But whatever would bring three dwarves to gather in Bree!’
‘We all have our reasons…’ answered Rulf as he turned to shout for a round of ales to be brought over. ‘For myself, these woods and fields are thick with game, money to be made for the meat and hides, but I have come for another reason.’
‘I have come to town to sell some of my crafted weapons, but yes another reason entirely…’ replied Hergof quietly.
Only Hemni did not speak, but sat back in his chair, and lit his long wooden pipe then let out a gentle cloud of dim smoke.
For a moment, the dwarves fell silent and then Rulf leaned in close and began to speak in a low whisper. ‘I have had an offer made to me, for a good price, I might add, to gather some relics from a strange and dangerous place.’ Rulf paused to rub his beard thoughtfully. ‘I have asked my kinsmen to offer their assistance in this task.’
‘As always, Master Rulf, I am at your service,’ said Hergof with a grin.
‘Ho, ho!’ laughed Hemni. ‘Adventure is always profitable and helping a kinsman is even better!’
The dwarves nodded collectively in agreement, their beards wagging in the dim light of the tavern. Then, Rulf cleared his throat and spoke anew.
‘My fellow dwarves,’ he continued in a whispered voice. ‘This place I speak of is rumoured to have much treasure, left over from the men of Cardolan of long ago. I have been asked to seek pillars that are covered with ancient text and make charcoal rubbings of them.’
The other dwarves murmured quietly, nodding their heads slightly. Then Hemni spoke, his eyes gleaming in the dim light at the thought of gold and lost treasure. ‘I have heard strange tales of forgotten treasure around here as well, most interesting.’
‘Indeed, as have I,’ added Hergof. ‘But where would these pillars be found, Rulf? And what would the price be for such a strange treasure, may I ask?’
Rulf fell silent before answering, and he threw his gaze about the room before answering. ‘They are found in a place called the Barrow Downs. And their return is quite profitable, not to mention anything we may find therein.’
Hergo’s eyes widened at the mention of the place and set his mug down loudly upon the table. ‘The Barrow Downs? I have heard of such a place and it is rumoured to be haunted by many an evil thing!’
Rulf nodded. ‘They say it is a haunted and forsaken place that the Men and Hobbits here dare not venture into. But if there is treasure there to be found, I am just the dwarf to see it out!’
Hemni said nothing but blew a thick some ring into the air that hovered over the table for a moment before floating up the rafters overhead. But his eyes gleamed bright and clear as a wide smile crept across his face. Hergof lowered his head slightly as if in deep thought.
Just then, Theodoras, who had been listening to everything with alarm and (much to his surprise) growing curiosity, spoke up. ‘You speak of treasure? Dwarves are a peculiar folk. But what would dwarves want with such treasure? And whatever does this have to do with me?’
‘Treasure is a valuable thing,’ answered Rulf sharply. ‘We dwarves can make many things of surpassing quality, but we no longer possess the precious metals we once had. Are you so well off, young Master Took, that you have no need of some silver?’
‘Me!’ shrieked the hobbit. ‘Dear me no!’ But then his hand came to rest upon his purse on his belt and he frowned and fell silent. Finally he spoke again. ‘Well, if you must know, those horse-traders charged me far more than I had anticipated. And now I am nearly spent! Almost all the monies my aunt and I had is now gone. I would very much not return home nearly bankrupt and penniless…but this sounds dangerous!’
‘Well, if it involves treasure,’ said Hergof with a grin. ‘Count me in, brother Rulf!’
‘I need little in the way of silver,’ said Hemni, as he drew on his long pipe. ‘But the adventure sounds promising!’
Rulf clasped his hand upon Hergof’s shoulder and laughed aloud. ‘I hoped that I could count on my kinsmen! And Hemni can pen a dozen songs upon our return!’ Then he turned to gaze at the hobbit. ‘And how about you, Theo? We could use someone like you. Dwarven axes aplenty we have but there might be something that you could offer that may very well come in handy.’
‘Whatever could I offer?’ squeaked the hobbit.
‘You are a Took, are you not?’ replied Rulf. ‘I have heard several tales of some of your more adventurous Took relatives.’
‘Quite so,’ answered Theodoras hastily. ‘But they are not me that I can assure you!’
‘It is dangerous,’ said Rulf grimly. ‘I will not mislead you.’
‘But do not worry, young Theo,’ added Hergof with a wink. ‘My axe will make sure that no harm befalls you.’
‘Indeed,’ replied Rulf. ‘You will have three stout dwarves with you, my friend. I would not ask this of you, but we might very well need someone smaller and, well, sneakier, to get into places we cannot.’
To this Hemni laughed aloud with a cheer. ‘And my tunes shall lighten our hearts in the deepest recesses of those foul barrows!’
Rulf smiled at the other dwarves then turned back to Theodoras with a curious gaze. ‘So what do you say, Master Took?’
Theodoras glanced slowly at each dwarf in turn and swallowed hard. ‘Well, I have begun to trust my luck far more than in the past,’ he said trying to sound confident.
‘Then it is settled!’ laughed Rulf.
‘Besides,’ said Theodoras in a low uncertain voice. How much trouble can I find with three dwarves?’
Re: Total Immersion: The Road Goes Ever On - A Hobbit's Tale
What trouble can you find with dwarfs? ALL KINDS!
Be careful out there, Theodoras! (And thanks Brucha for another excellent story - I put Theo in my friends list - if baby burg is around I'll see if I can catch you up, but we're in wildly different time zones.)
Chapter Twenty-three: Barrow-spiders – 27 Blotmath, 1417 SR
In the dead of night, Theodoras awoke abruptly to the sound of noises outside the small round window of the room. A sudden fear came over him, so that he did not dare to speak but lay there listening breathlessly. He fancied he heard a sound like a strong breeze curling round the house and shaking it, and it filled him with a terrible fright.
‘Barrow-wights,’ thought Theodoras fearfully, though he truly did not even know what exactly a barrow-wight was. ‘A great host of them!’ He turned his head to glance about the darkened room just as there came a tap, tap, squeak, at the closed window. It was probably nothing more than branches fretting in the wind, twigs like fingers scraping wall and window; but to the young hobbit it was as if all manner of evil things and beasts were lurking just beyond the confines of the room. Theodoras drew the blanket close to his face and wondered if he would even have the courage in the morning to leave the safety of the inn’s good stone walls.
Even as the hobbit stared at the window, not daring to scarcely breathe, there came a sharp rap upon the door. Theodoras sat up straight in the bed as the door opened slowly to reveal a darkened figure standing motionless in the gloom. A shrill and uncontrollable shout began to rise in his throat, and Theodoras looked helplessly about for his knife. Just then, and much to the hobbit’s surprise, the darkened figure let forth a merry laugh. A darkened lamp was uncovered, and its light shone on the smiling face of Hemni.
‘Good morning, young Master Took, said the dwarf, as he strode inside to open the window wide. A cool night air flowed in, and Theodoras shivered slightly. ‘Or good evening, I should say, for it not yet Late Watches and the sun is still lost somewhere in the East. But it should grow warmer when the day is older.’
Almost in an instant, the fear fled from the hobbit as he leapt from bed. ‘Hemni, you rascal! You gave me quite a start. It is still dark outside. Whatever is going on?’
‘True, there are several hours before dawn. But we dwarves like the dark. Come, the others have gathered downstairs.’
The dwarf then produced a ripe apple, a biscuit or two, some cheese and a pitcher of water, which the hobbit sat swiftly down and began to feat on.
When Theodoras was dressed, and had flung his travel-stained blue cloak about his shoulders, he followed the dwarf downstairs to the darkened and silent room of the inn. The innkeeper was still fast asleep in his bed, and the dying coals of last night’s fire cast a reddish-orange hue all around. Nearer the door stood to the other two dwarves, their hoods pulled up over their heads so that, in the dim light, their faces were lost in deep shadow.
‘Good morning Master Took,’ said Rulf in a low voice from under his deep hood. His pack and tools were already strapped across his pack, and was even now slinging his crossbow over one shoulder. Hergof stood silent and motionless next to him, his long cloak cast over mail and axe.
‘Now my friends,’ continued Rulf as he motioned the others round. ‘This quest must be kept secret…I do not want others to discover we are seeking a treasure. Bree is full of sinister folk lately.’
‘Yes, whispered Hemni as he glanced about the darkened room warily. ‘There have been many ears about. Perhaps some of them have overheard our plans?’
‘Indeed,’ nodded Rulf in a low voice. ‘That is precisely why I think we should slip out under the cover of darkness, without being seen.’
‘Agreed,’ said Hergof, finally breaking his silence. ‘We should leave Bree in the most discreet of ways.’
‘Discreet?’ murmured Theodoras.’ Like thieves in the night?’
‘Just like a burglar,’ said Rulf with a grin.
‘A burglar!’ said Theodoras with indignation. ‘Dear me, no. I don’t like the sound of that one bit.’ Despite himself, Theodoras was eager to at least put forth the semblance of determination, but he was still all rather confused by all of this and a bit shaky inside as well. ‘I believe I shall leave Clover behind, however. I don’t dare risking her safety on such a perilous journey. I just pray nothing unforetold befalls her before our return.’
Rulf looked down at the hobbit, a smile hidden in the deep folds of his hood. ‘Then, Theo, are you ready? We should be off...and just remember to keep quiet.’
‘I still do not know what barrow-treasure and barrow-wights have to do with anything. Or what service I could provide to a trio of dwarves. But yes, I suppose I am as ready as I shall ever be!’
One by one, the dwarves filed out of the inn and into the courtyard outside, with Theodoras coming up last. Then, with a raised arm, Rulf began to lead them down the narrow and darkened lanes towards the West Gate of Bree. The watchmen barely stirred in his sleep as the company stole quietly trough the gate and down the road until they were standing at the crossroads of the Greenway and Great Road. There the companions paused in the darkness.
Theodoras stepped towards the crossroads and peered both ways. Visions of brigands and unwholesome things crept into his mind and he shivered slightly. He then glanced anxiously at the dwarves and then far off to the east. The sun was still far below the horizon in the distance and the road ahead looked dark and empty before them.
'Do you think…' he began hesitatingly. 'Do you think we have been - er, well, spotted?'
Rulf looked from under his deep hood before answering. ‘I don’t believe so, but we should remain alert.’ The dwarf then turned to look down at the hobbit with a wink. ‘A nice evening for a walk though, eh, Master Took?’
‘As much as one could enjoy such a walk into a foul place like the Barrow-downs, if even a small part of the tales are true!’
With that, the company tramped off down the Great Road in silence and soon the darkened gate and hedge of Bree dwindled in the gloom behind them. Rulf walked in front, one hand resting on his slung crossbow; next came Hemni and the hobbit; and last came Hergof, who threw a glance every now and then over one shoulder.
After a time, Bree was lost behind them and they passed over the stone bridge spanning the swift-flowing stream and then kept on along the Road for some time. It was not long when they came upon a faded path that bent to the left from the road, curving back in a southerly line as it began to climb up a steep slope. Further up beyond the darkened path they could see the beginnings of tall hills rising out of the curling sea of darkness.
Here, Rulf paused quietly as his companions gathered round in the gloom. ‘Now, here is where we must leave the road,’ he said in a low voice. ‘This path will lead us into the Downs, if I am not mistake.’
Theodoras shivered despite himself as his eyes gazed out onto the darkened hills to the south. Rulf turned and began striding down the path, and the others fell in behind silently. Soon, there appeared ahead an opening between steep shoulders through which the path wound through.
Cautiously and with not a sound, the company climbed the path and passed through the cleft in the ridge into a deep and narrow ravine. At once, it was as if a heavy door shut behind them and an oppressive heaviness choked the dim still air all about them. Suddenly, Rulf paused, casting his hood back to look into the darkness along the path ahead.
‘Hmm, it seems someone has met their end,’ he said in a low voice.
The other dwarves hurried forward to stand to either side of Rulf. Theodoras did not, but instead inched forward, glancing about in a nervous fear. There, lying upon the path at the feet of the dwarves was a man, his cloak and trousers torn to tatters. For a moment, the companions gazed down upon the unfortunate soul and said nothing.
‘What has befallen this man?’ said Hemni breaking the silence.
‘I believe it was a wolf or barghest,’ answered Rulf grimly.
‘What is a barghest, Rulf?’ squeaked the hobbit, as he peeked from behind the dwarves.
‘The wild dogs that roam these haunted lands did this poor fellow in,’ replied the dwarf.
‘It is a sign then,’ answered Hemni gravely. ‘We should be on our guard or else we shall end up like him.’
‘Rulf nodded his head slightly. ‘I once encountered their kind in Ered Luin. These beasts are vicious and do not give warning when they attack.’ Rulf then turned and began to draw the others away and further down the path ahead. ‘Come, we cannot help him now. Let us go.’
With Rulf leading the way, they wound their way further on, along the floor of the narrow ravine, first west then south once more. Without warning, the sheer walls of the ravine sprang back on both sides and before them lay a wide expanse of undulating land.
Even in the dim light, neither tree nor brush could be seen, save for a short springy turf growing across shadowy landscape ahead. To the east rose tall ridges that fell away on the far side towards the lower Bree-lands. The ridges ran southwards until they vanished out of sight in the heavy gloom. Far to the west and south lay a glimpse of a deep shadowed forest, nearly lost in a dark haze. And over all there hung an unnatural mist that seemed to ebb and flow in the still air.
Theodoras stepped forward unwillingly, and then shrank back in fear as the sound of scrapping reached his ears. He stooped and squinted in the dim light to watch with alarm as a hideous, slithering creature, more like an enormous worm that anything else, emerged from behind a nearby rock.
The hobbit let out an uncontrollable shriek even as Rulf stepped forward, his crossbow held in one hand. The dwarf laid a steady reassuring hand on the hobbit’s shoulder.
‘You see that giant crawler?’ he said quietly as he fitted an arrow to his crossbow. ‘Some are passive but others can be quite aggressive, so tread carefully Theo.’
‘I see it!’ answered the hobbit nervously. ‘Ugly foul thing is it not?’
‘Indeed,’ answered the dwarf softly. ‘They feast on the dead.’
‘Whatever do you mean?’ said the hobbit his voice cracking. ‘That does not sound inviting at all!’
Rulf did not answer, but watched the slimy thing slithered from the rock and off into the darkness. He then turned his gaze skywards to the thick billowing clouds of mist and fog that was even now beginning to roll in from the south.
‘This mist is already blocking out moon and star,’ he said quietly.
‘True but we are dwarves,’ answered Hemni, his gaze set upon the rolling ground ahead of them, . ‘We often walk in the dark. Besides, there is rich deposits here in the barrows, if the tales be true, a good enough reason to continue.’
‘But certainly not a good enough reason to remain, Hemni!’ retorted the hobbit.
Rulf smiled and clasped his hand upon Hemni’s shoulder. ‘There are riches beyond deposits, my friend, buried deep within the barrows. That is what we seek here.’
Rulf then turned to his companions. ‘Let us continue, but be wary!’ With Rulf in the lead, the companions made their forward from the ravine and down a gentle slope into the gathering mist. As they went, the air began cold and clammy, and Theodoras instinctively drew his cloak tight about his body.
Theodoras could not tell how far they had gone, for the blowing mist concealed the land, making it hazy and deceptive to the eye. But soon, the ground began to fall away towards the ridges dimly visible through the tops of the mist to the east. At once a low, shapeless hill loomed from out the mist ahead.
In the ground before them were placed flat and well-worn flag-stones set deep into the earth. They led forward until the mist seemed to part and a low hill, ringed by strange standing stones like stabbing fingers, came into view. The flag-stones wound up to a pair of standing stones set into the steep slope of the hill, and a third rested upon their top, like some great entrance of sorts. But what lay beyond could only be guessed for it was shrouded in a darkness that no light seemed to penetrate.
‘Look!’ sputtered the hobbit as he pointed towards the low hillock ahead.
‘What is this foul place, brother Rulf?’ said Hemni cautiously.
‘A barrow,’ muttered Rulf softly. ‘The man in Bree said the ancient pillars we seek are in these barrows. We must enter.’
‘We must?’ replied Theodoras as an icy chill that froze his bones settled over him. ‘Leave the dead to rest. They have nothing we desire!’
‘We must, if we want the treasure,’ answered Rulf glancing back at the hobbit.
Hergof, who had been unnaturally quiet since entering the Downs spoke up. ‘There better be great riches as you promised, Master Rulf!’ he said with a growl.
Rulf looked long and silent at Hergof then down at the hobbit. ‘Would you rather wait out here?’
‘Wait out here?’ answered the hobbit as he glanced about fearfully.
‘Perhaps that is not so safe for our Mr. Took,’ said Hemni.
Rulf nodded then looked once more in silence at the hobbit. Theodoras shivered then swallowed hard, never taking his eyes off the barrow before them.
‘Very well, but this is a fool’s errand, and fools we have become!’ moaned the hobbit with sorrow. But the dwarves were silent and his voice fell to a whisper. With Rulf leading, they passed one by one through the dark doorway gaping like a deep impenetrable shadow before them. As Theodoras passed the archway, what little from outside was swiftly swallowed and he found himself standing in a deep gloom, an utter enveloping darkness; the still and stagnant air felt oppressive and all sounds fell dead away. Theodoras reached out with one hand to an unseen wall; it felt, much to his surprise, smooth and the floor, save for a step or two, was straight and even.
They had gone far when the hobbit sensed a change in the darkness; ahead it seemed deeper and denser. Here also, the air seemed to move slightly, and there were echoes and a sense of space in the darkness.
A few paces ahead, Rulf produced a torch from his pack and within moments it sparked to life. The darkness sprang back to reveal a narrow chamber half-shrouded in places of deep shadows. The flickering light danced across the chamber revealing the thick darkness was made, in many places, by sinister-looking spider-webs all tangled with one another.
Solemn figures of carven stone loomed from the web-festooned and crumbling walls and each bore the likeness of kings of old. Here or there could also be seen strange signs and runes, but they were far too dim and faded to read. But more to Theodoras’s rising fear was the horrible stench, the foulest of reeks, which emanated from the darkened chamber.
The hobbit’s sense at once began to reel and his mind darkened; despite the torch held high in Rulf’s hand, the darkness within the chamber seemed to close in about the company and the stench smote Theodoras more terribly than any blade.
Just then a sound unlike the frightened hobbit ever heard now began to creep from out of the shadows all about the chamber. The sound, much like that of rustling dry dead grass, seemed to come from unseen and deep crevices in the darkness. Suddenly, a thing appeared in the darkness ahead. It was a spider, but far larger than any common variety Theodoras had ever seen back in the Shire. The spider’s dark body sat atop spindly legs and ichor dripped from its long mandibles. More to Theodoras’ horror, it was not alone as the shadowy outlines of several more came into view behind the first.
Rulf let out a rousing shout lifted up his crossbow as the horrible spiders swarmed as one from out of the webs and shadows. The arrow struck the first spider in its many-clustered eyes and it shuddered uncontrollably with maddening jerks before flopping to the ground in a heap.
Hergof bellowed a curse and sprang past Theodoras and into the press of advancing spiders. ‘Get behind me, little one!’ he shouted as the dwarf laid all about with his axe, cleaving leg and limb with every stroke. Hemni’s voice rang out sonorous and clear in the darkness behind. The words washed over the hobbit and the darkness seemed to melt from his heart.
Before he could even consider it, Theodoras leapt forward to deal a blow to one of spiders closing all round Hergof. He aimed a blow at the first but it only sprang away on its many legs like lightning. Desperately he whirled to hew at another, but his dagger rang, glancing aside, nearly falling from his shaken hand.
Choking back a cry, Theodoras stabbed again, sinking his knife into the monster’s belly. The spider convulsed and shivered before collapsing to the stone floor. Black drops of foul ichor dripped from the blade as the hobbit staggered back with surprise. At once, the sound of battle ceased and the chamber went silent but for the heavy gasps of the dwarves. Theodoras lifted his head to look at the faces of his companions.
‘Spiders!’ said Rulf as he reached down to retrieve those arrows not broken or bent from the corpses of the spiders.
‘Yes!’ laughed Hemni with a wide grin. ‘Not what I would have imagined here.’ Hergof said nothing but glanced back at the hobbit, a smouldering fire gleaming in his bright eyes as he stepped among the unmoving bodies of the spiders.
Just then, something caught the hobbit’s eye and he turned to inch carefully towards the thick webs along one wall. Rising from out of the webs he found a short and very ancient pillar; indecipherable writing was carved on the front and adorning the slanted top could be seen seven bas-relief stars.
‘Rulf! Hemni! Hergof! What is this! Come see what I’ve found!’
The dwarves hurried to gather round the hobbit and stared down at the strange obelisk. ‘It is covered in strange writing,’ said Theodoras as he glanced at the dwarves.
‘Master Rulf, is this the pillar that we seek?’ said Hergof as he knelt down to draw his hand over the stone.
Rulf stooped to gaze closely at the stone. ‘These are the graves of the royalty of Cardolan,’ he said quietly.
‘What does the inscription mean?’ asked Hemni peering over Rulf’s shoulder with keen eyes.
‘I do not know,’ answered Rulf. ‘But fetch the charcoal and parchments and rub the text.’
Hergof nodded silently and bent beside the obelisk, placing a sheet of parchment over its worn surface. ‘Quickly, then,’ muttered Theodoras, glancing about with apprehension. ‘Get what you need and let us leave this place!’
Just then, Hemni called out with a hearty laugh from the other side of the chamber. Theodoras turned to watch as the dwarf began to cut away at the webbing along one wall. ‘Treasure!’ he said with a merry chuckle. The other dwarves eagerly crowded around Hemni as he lifted up several coins and ancient trinkets of gold and silver to the torchlight with expert eyes. At once the dwarves forgot the fear and darkness as they gazed lovingly at each new item lifted from the dirt.
For a moment, the dwarves forgot even about the hobbit; Theodoras stood eyeing the far passage leading from the chamber with growing fear and nervousness. Finally he spoke.
‘Leave it for the dead,’ he said with barely a whisper. ‘We must leave this place!’
Rulf glanced about and then back towards the hobbit, as if seeing him for the first time. ‘Indeed,’ he said finally. ‘There may be other of these obelisks further in.’
‘We have to go deeper?’ groaned the hobbit with much worry and alarm.
Chapter Twenty-four: Gwigon’s Lair – 27 Blotmath, 1417 SR
Rulf drew the company near and, in a hushed voice, spoke. ‘Come, we must delve further, if we dare.’
Theodoras glanced uneasily at the distant and darkened passage on the far side of the wide chamber. He was altogether feeling quite wretched and cold as he glanced towards the archway that showed blackness in the heavy gloom of the unfriendly place. He now wished to be anywhere but there in that gloomy, spider-infested barrow and was wholly cursing himself for his rather rash decision back in Bree.
And yet, as much as he wished nothing more than to turn round and flee out as fast as his furry feet could carry him, Theodoras quickly pushed it away. He very much wanted to seem brave and competent in the eyes of the dwarves, and the feeling grew as he looked at the silent faces of his companions in the dim light. With a sigh, he straightened his pack and swallowed hard.
Under the low archway went Rulf, his torch one held aloft in one hand, followed shortly by Hemni and the hobbit, and behind came Hergof. The darkness of the far passage seemed to flow around them like a chilled mist and the still air fell all about at once. But the heavy dark veil receded from the flickering torch held in the dwarf’s hand which shone in a globe of space enclosed with utter blackness.
The wall of the passage sprang out before them, and was swiftly engulfed in the inky blackness ahead. Without a word, Rulf strode forward, followed swiftly by Hemni. Theodoras peered ahead then stumbled after them; he could see little but for the dim flickering flame of the torch and the shadowed hoods of the dwarves some paces in front.
They had not gone far when, before them and within the radius of the torch-light, were two openings; here, the company halted for the right turned quickly away, while the one forward went straight on only a little narrower than the tunnel behind.
Rulf stood uncertain at the crossroads for a moment; he peered first forward and to the right shaking his head. ‘Confound it!’
Theodoras shuddered as he passed his hand over his brow. Hemni took a step forward to stand beside Rulf and whispered in a low, guarded voice. ‘Do you hear anything?’
Rulf turned slightly to his kinsman, his eyes glittering in the flickering light, but said nothing, and shook his head slowly. He motioned for his companions and stepped carefully into the side passage. Hemni looked down to smile at the hobbit before hastening forward. Theodoras took in a deep breath and hurried after them. Behind, Hergof stepped to the intersection, and paused to listen, his head tilted to one side; then he hastened to follow as well.
After a few moments, Theodoras felt a sudden void on one side as the wall of the passage fell away from his reach and into emptiness. Here was another opening in the passage, a bit wider but just as dark. He was about to pause and call for the dwarves, but he watched as Rulf strode past the archway and onwards ahead, followed closely by Hemni. For a moment, the hobbit froze with hesitation, glancing down the side passage with nervousness. Then he felt a heavy hand upon his shoulder. ‘Do not worry little one,’ said Hergof in a gentle tone. ‘Rulf will not lead us blindly.’
Theodoras nodded slightly and skipped to catch up with the other dwarves, who were already vanishing in the deep gloom ahead. Presently, the company came to what could only have been yet another fork in the tunnel; at least in the deep darkness that is what could be seen.
Here, Theodoras froze once more, as a sense of evil so strong came upon him that he felt faint. He reached out grasp Hemni by the arm. ‘There’s something in there,’ he whispered ominously, not liking the look of the right-hand tunnel one bit. Here too came a strange odour, a repellent taint in the air and there could be heard faint stirring in the darkness.
‘Let us leave this foul place,’ whispered the hobbit as he turned to step back from the tunnel. Then, not far down that tunnel, he saw a gleam. He stopped to watch as it advanced from the darkness very slowly. Suddenly he cried out as the realization set in that they were eyes; two great clusters of eyes. Whether they shone of their own light or whether the radiance of the flickering torchlight was reflected in their thousand facets, Theodoras could not guess. And the first set were not alone, for much to the hobbit’s rising horror he could clearly see a number of other awful spiders issuing out of the crevices and darkness of the tunnel, all hurrying forward like a sickening tide.
‘More spiders!’ cried the hobbit with horror even as the dwarves let forth a rousing cry. At once the spiders swarmed all about the dwarves and hobbit and in the dim flickering light of the torch there came the gleam of slashing axes and the stab of short blades.
Turning round to form a tight circle of steel and iron, the dwarves hewed at the sickly legs or stabbed at the fat bodies of the spiders if they drew too near. This was too much for the spiders and for a moment they fell away towards the darkness of the far tunnel, only to returning more fiercely than ever.
‘So many spiders!’ cried Rulf as he cleaved the head of one from its sickening and bloated body. Hergof, who stood beside him, said nothing, his eyes gleaming a fiery brightness. He brought back his axe and in a wide sweep shorn the legs of a fat disgusting spider from its corpulent body as it sprang up the wall.
Theodoras too did the best he could, although he was felling quite out of place at the moment. His one hope was that he would not be mistaken for one of those horrible spiders in the darkness to be cleaved by an axe. Once or twice he stabbed past a dwarf with his short knife when a spider drew too near.
To the poor hobbit, it seems a terrible unending business that had no end; but the venom and nimbleness of the spiders was no match for the dwarf blades and iron axes, and soon the darkened tunnel fell silent.
‘Such a sinister and foul place!’ groaned Hergof as he leaned wearily upon his axe. Rulf nodded silently as he reached down to brush off spider webs from his heavy leather boots. The dwarf then fitted an arrow to his crossbow and began creeping down the gloomy tunnel, motioning the others to follow.
They had not gone far when before them appeared a widening of the tunnel filled with a greyness, heavy and dull, which the light of the torch seemed not to penetrate. Casting their heads about, the dwarves stepped carefully into the chamber; all across the walls of the room were thick grey webs, orderly as the webs of house spiders, but far greater, each thread as thick as the hobbit’s finger.
‘A dead end it seems,’ laughed Hergof grimly. Hemni poked at the spider’s body lying on the stone floor, its legs curled above, and then gave it a swift kick. ‘But thankfully no more of the foul creatures,’ he said with a chuckle.
Rulf circled the chamber slowly before turning to his companions. ‘Come, there are no pillars here.’
Again with Rulf in the front, the company turned back down the tunnel until they reached the round angle of the intersection. First looking down into the gloom to the left, Rulf stepped into the other passage quietly. He had gone no more than a dozen steps when the passage suddenly entered a narrow archway in the rock. Up and away climbed stairs into darkness; some were well-worn and smooth, while others were cracked and broken.
After a short climb, they reached the top and found themselves in a deep dark passage once more. To the left another stairs fled down into darkness and to the right a tunnel, equally dark, went away along an even floor.
Again Rulf paused, first glancing at the steps and then down the darkened passage to the other side. ‘Down is no good,’ he said quietly with a whisper. Carefully the dwarf began to creep down into the darkness.
At once the tunnel ahead opened out and sprang high before them. Above their heads loomed a roof and wide pillars of stone rose from the floor of the wide chamber, and all about lay the thick grey shadows of deep webs.
Theodoras blanched as he raised a hand to his nose; out of the chamber that lay before them came a most unwholesome reek so foul that the hobbit nearly reeled. For a moment, the company stood in silence, mouths gaping wide as they peered fearfully into the chamber.
Then, from out of the darkness to the other side, there came the monstrous and loathsome form that any had ever witnessed. Spider-like it was in shape and form, but huge as any wild beast, and more terrible because of the malice and evil purpose that glinted in its eyes. These eyes were many, clustered atop its head, and each held a baleful light. Upon great legs it walked, the hairs stuck out like steel spines. Its round swollen body behind its narrow neck was bright blotched with pale livid marks and its bloated body was orange-pale and faintly luminous as its eyes. It stank to be sure, and moved with a sudden and horrible speed running on its long legs.
This was Gwigon, though the dwarves or hobbit could not name it, a great creature in spider form such as once lived in the Land of the Elves in the West of Beleriand that is now under the Sea. All light of this beast snared and wove into impenetrable and darkened webs. Pale-fleshed, many-eyed, venomous it was, older and more horrible that the black creatures of Mirkwood. And it was wholly wicked and no one, not even the Wise, knew its true intentions or nature.
Theodoras shrank back in mortal fear, even as the dwarves surged forward with a cry, but the great spider made off, springing nimbly backwards and out of reach. Theodoras let out a cry of triumph, but it quickly died in his throat as the horrible forms of smaller, more numerous of Gwigon’s brood issued from out of the webs that clung to the walls.
At once, the dwarves found themselves in a sharp fight, as the children of the great spider swarmed about them. The dwarves lay about in all directions with their axes and blades, scattering the smaller spiders with a sudden fury. But it was then that Gwigon choose to strike. Gathering it’s massively- repellant body, it sprang forward with a great leap, green venom dripping to hiss and sputter onto the stone, to fall among the surprised dwarves.
With a pale leg the width of a small tree, Gwigon lashed out, sending Rulf sprawling onto the floor, his axe clattering away and out of reach. Spinning round with amazing speed, the great spider struck at Hemni with its long fangs. Hemni kicked at the horrible head with a heavy boot before he was borne backwards by the immense weight of the spider. Turning to face Rulf once more, Gwigon raised its blubbery body high up into the air even as the dwarf rose to one knee, glancing frantically about for his axe.
At that moment, Hergof leapt forward, hewing at the flabby underside of the spider with his axe. But Gwigon was not as dragons are; no softer spot it had save for only its eyes. Its age-old hide was knotted and pitted with corruption but ever thickening with layer upon layer within. The axe sprang back with a resounding ring in the air, and Hergof faltered nearly off-balance.
With a rush, the spider came at him with a flurry of legs and fangs. Hergof cried out as he brought up his axe and hewed at the great cluster of glittering eyes. Gwigon stopped its rush to shudder wildly as if in great and awful pain before springing back and out of reach once more.
Rulf leapt to his feet, his axe now held tightly in both hands to stand beside Hergof; and he was swiftly joined by Hemni. The dwarves turned to gaze at the great spider with keen eyes as it stalked the far side of the wide chamber, the foul blood of its dimmed eyes mingling with the venomous dripping of its great fangs onto the stone beneath it.
In all of this, Theodoras cowered nearer the tunnel, too afraid to move or utter a sound. He watched in horror as the great spider shook its ruined head and from it came forth an almost overpowering sense of malice and hate. Hergof raised his axe above his head and cried aloud. ‘Baruk Khazâd! Khazâd ai-mênu!’
As one, the dwarves rushed the great spider, turning aside leg and fang to hew at its great head and cluster of eyes. Again and again the axe and blade of the dwarves rose and fell. Suddenly all went silent and the dwarves slowly lowered their weapons.
Gwigon seemed to crumble like a vast bag, its legs sagged and slowly, painfully it backed from the dwarves. With a monstrous shuddering, the great spider crumbled to the floor, the baleful light of its shattered eyes growing dim and then went out altogether.
Hergof staggered backwards to clutch at a wound upon his arm; it was enflamed and foul venom welled from it. He waved away the worried look of the hobbit as he began to wrap it with a fresh strip of linen. Meanwhile, Rulf and Hemni had begun to walk about the walls of the chamber until Hemni called out in a low voice.
‘Over here! Another pillar or I am an Elf!’
The others rushed forward to look on as Hemni deftly cut away at a dark alcove where a great and ancient-looking pillar of web-wrapped stone stood.
‘Is this what we need?’ squeaked the hobbit. Rulf knelt beside the pillar and traced his fingers over faded script chiseled into the stone and then nodded silently.
‘Good heavens for that then!’ gasped the hobbit. ‘Quickly, get a rubbing and let us leave this place!’
The grey, mist-blanketed sky outside was still dark when the company emerged at last from the barrow. The air felt at once felt heavy and oppressive but they fell onto the wide stones that led up to the barrow with relief. There they lay for some time, puffing and panting and no one spoke for some time. It was Rulf that finally broke the silence.
He let out a cheerful laugh as he climbed to his feet and clasped his hand upon his companions’ shoulders. ‘Well…that was a trial to be sure!’
‘We made it!’ added Hemni with a grin. ‘What monstrous evil to be found dwelling in there!’
Rulf lifted up his bulging purse; it jingled full of many gold and silver trinkets.
‘Evil indeed, but profitable!’ laughed Rulf.
‘I have never seen such creatures in the Blue Mountains,’ said Hemni in a low voice.
‘You have not yet seen enough, my good minstrel,’ answered Rulf. ‘There are creatures such as these in the ancient elf-ruins east of Gondamon.’
‘Ahh, the rewards are great, master Rulf,’ added Hergof. ‘Though I had expected much more riches than this, I must say.’
Rulf nodded knowingly. ‘This is only the first of many barrows to be found here. We shall see what we make out of it…not to mention the payment to the rubbings themselves.’
Theodoras, who had said nothing until now and still lay on the ground, looked up at the dwarf with blinking eyes.
‘Wait..what was that, Rulf? What do you mean more barrows!’
Chapter Twenty-five: A Ring Wandered Away – 28 Blotmath, 1417 SR
‘The sky is beginning to clear at last,’ murmured Hemni as he turned his gaze towards the sky. The night indeed was quite old and the East sky was grey with the coming sunrise. But thick blanket of mist still hung low over the downs and the spider-haunted barrow had already disappeared into the greyness behind the company.
‘Indeed, dawn is close,’ whispered Rulf as he peered into the flowing mists ahead.
‘That is a good sign then!’ laughed Hemni. ‘Perhaps this place will seem less evil in the daylight.’
Theodoras frowned. The thought of the coming dawn did little to cheer the young hobbit’s heart; the mist felt damp and chilled on his face and, for a moment, he imagined that he could feel the very hill-roots going down and down into the deep earth. He followed Hemni’s gaze forward but the land seemed shapeless and formless in the gathering mists.
Rulf whistled softly and motioned for the others to gather round as he reached inside his pack and knelt to spread out a well-worn map onto the cool, dew-moistened grass.
‘There is still one more barrow to find,’ said Rulf as he passed his hand over the wrinkled map. The dwarf glanced up and pointed off to the south. ‘That is where we must go.’
Theodoras looked out into the mists then cast his eyes downwards with disappointment. He had the hope that once they had exited the foul barrow, the company would leave that terrible place. And yet, the barrow treasure they had uncovered at once rekindled in their dwarvish hearts the lust for gold. They now stared eagerly at the map, needing no more urging to go onwards.
Hitching their packs about their shoulders, the company set off, winding up into the impenetrable mist. The ground was steadily climbing. Theodoras looked off to the far West where he could see the faint glimpses of the roof of a wide forest, lying like a huge dense shadow spread under the sky. The mists were thinning now as the sun rose over the distant ridges to the East, but the sun was cool and dim and little warmth did it shed.
As the mists moved and parted in great drifts and smoky wisps, there came suddenly into view a tall darkened hill before them; around its wide base ran a circle of worn and crumbling stones which vanished on the far side. At the top of the vast hill could be dimly glimpsed a tall standing stone of great height.
Rulf stood for a moment, balking at the sight that lay before them. Then he beckoned to his companions as he hurried forward. Following him warily, a new sense of unseen dread fell upon the others, even as they passed between two of the ancient circling stones. At once, the gloom about the hill seemed to thicken, blackened and drew together nearer the top.
After a short climb, they came upon a hollow at the top, and there rose into the air the single mighty stone like an unwholesome finger, cold and ominous. Theodoras turned back to look out over the lip of the hollow, but he could see nothing but a muted grey land that quickly vanished into shadow and mist.
For long moments, the company stood silent, as if struck dumb in the deepening shadow of the somber standing stone. Theodoras tried to speak, but the dwarves turned to glare at him with dark eyes and his voice fell dead and away. Then, Theodoras caught the glimpse of a faint, distant shadow over the lip of the hill to the east.
At first it was shapeless, and seemed to writhe and swell and shrink. The hobbit fancied that he could make out an endless whisper, a murmur of words. As it drew nearer, the shadow became a mass of pale light that glimmered slightly, and the mists about the hill seemed to sunder and part as the pale spindle of light grew.
Within that dim light there now could seen the form of a tall Man; his face was worn and sorrowful and full of sadness. A pair of clouded staring and unseeing eyes looked out from that grey and dim face. Mail it wore and atop its head was a helm of silver; in its haggard hand was a sword that shone with a pale light.
Hergof stepped forward and reached for his axe, but his hands fell and he let out a cry of dismay. The other dwarves shrank back before the advancing shade and covered their faces. Theodoras turned away, quaking as if he was bitter cold, and a great terror seized him.
Suddenly, the shade broke the deafening silence; a cold murmur rose from it, a dreary moan of cold words could now be heard:
'All was silence;
now the sound of steel
rings from battles past
long beyond the laying of bones;
stirred by evil's passage
my brother walks again,
so too our foes.
'Duty-bound we stand as one,
lost as he may be.
A lord he rose and, solemn,
'My shield calls to my arm,
my ring calls to my hand,
my sight departed as my life,
our oaths bind us still;
protect and serve this land.'
'Long did I rest,
now awake, as vengeance claims trinkets
to call a curse upon our bones.
'As it was in life,
so too in death.
His curse on us still
as we yearn for sleep.
'My ring, forgotten,
may still be found.
Speed along, living,
to a tomb of ground'
Like the lifting of some heavy weight, the dread and terror that had gripped the young hobbit now vanished; he dared a look from the deep folds of his hood and blinked. He felt a deep sense of misery and sadness as he gazed at the shade.
‘What is it?’ he squeaked softly. There was a pause of deep silence; Theodoras could feel his heart beating wildly.
Hemni began to stir, and he looked at the shade with amazement. ‘A lost soul,’ he said in a low mournful voice. ‘He speaks in prose…lost he says…but what do his words mean, I wonder?’
‘It looks horrible,’ whispered Theodoras with hesitation. ‘But I feel a great sadness about it.’
‘He is lost,’ said Rulf, turning to gaze at the now silent shade. ‘Perhaps we need to find his resting place, his barrow?’
‘It certainly isn’t attacking us,’ added Hergof. ‘It must be needing something.’
Just then, there came a sound out of the fog, from over the lip of the hollow. Before Theodoras could call out, a shadowed figure loomed out of the mists. At once, the hobbit could see that it was a young dwarf, his short beard dark and damp with dew and a wooden shield strapped to one arm.
Out of breath and huffing great gasps of air, as if he just ran a great race, the dwarf collapsed to the ground. The dwarves rushed to gather round the newcomer as Rulf cried out. ‘Master Vun!’
Vun coughed and climbed slowly and wearily to his feet, taking a few flustered breaths before speaking. ‘Forgive my late arrive. I seemed to have arrived in Bree too late. When I got to the Prancing Pony, I discovered that you all had already departed! Thankfully that fat innkeeper, Butterbur, gave me your note detailing your plan and destination. So, I set out at once, running as fast as my legs could carry me.’
The dwarf took another deep breath and sighed. ‘Thankfully, you march like a wild herd of mountain boars. It was simple enough to follow your trail here.’
No worries, Master Vun,’ laughed Rulf as he clasped his friend on the shoulder. ‘It is important that you arrived!’
Theodoras watched as the dwarves fell into talk in their deep secretive tongue for some time. He stood off near the lip of the hill, gazing warily down into the thickening mists. Finally, he called out in a low voice.
‘What a company we make!’ he said. ‘Here we sit on the edge of rank and ruin, and you all sit about as if hosting a tea party! What about this shade fellow? And what of the riddle?’
For a moment, the dwarves turned their heads towards the hobbit in blinking silence. ‘Quite right, master Theo,’ answered Rulf finally. ‘I have heard that hobbits are overly fond of riddles. Have you any clue to what the shade meant, or what he lost?’
‘I have given it some thought,’ said Theodoras as he scratched his head. ‘What I can make of it that shade fellow wants us to find his brother, or perhaps his brother’s resting place, and of its missing ring. But that could mean venturing back into one of those horrible barrows once more!’
‘Well, the riddle does speak of his burial…’ pondered Hemni thoughtfully.
‘Let us examine each barrow in turn, there is one not far from here,’ declared Rulf. ‘Perhaps we can find a clue?’
Gathering their packs and axes and swords, the dwarves set out in silence. Theodoras walked beside Hergof nervously as they passed from the tall hill and into the gathering mists below. At once, the fog began to close in on all sides and thickened over the landscape, graying the light of the rising pale sun and blurring the world till Theodoras could scarcely see his hand stretched out before him.
Through the sifting mists there now loomed a deep shadow that seemed to creep out from a dark place under the world. And out of this darkness there stood the black outline of a barrow, steep and grim. The wind hissed around the standing stones that led up to the barrow and the mists seemed to draw and gather about the low mound.
Theodoras shuddered with a chill; he stamped his feet in hopes of bringing some warmth back into his cold limbs and his teeth chattered uncontrollably. His breath caught in his throat and a sickness came over him for a moment.
With hesitation, Rulf crept forward, scanning the ground before the barrow with a keen eye. Vun took a step forward. ‘Should we…knock?’ he said with uncertainty.
‘The earth here has been disturbed,’ whispered Rulf as he knelt to the ground then glanced back to his companions. ‘The heavy stone door into the barrow has been opened recently.’
‘Perhaps we should enter,’ hissed Hemni with uneasiness.
For a moment, they stood silent in the deadly chilled shadow of the great barrow; just then Theodoras imagined that he could a voice, as if echoing a whispering through the ground about the barrow, a dry trembling, as if the earth itself had spoken.
There now appeared in the air before the door a shapeless patch of darkness, like a clot of black shadow. It wavered then coalesced until it bore the likeness of a Man; a very ancient thing, an old and horrible spirit and its eyes blazed with a terrible brightness.
‘Fool of a shade!’ railed the ancient spirit. ‘My master the Bone Man has made a thrall of your shield-brother!’ Then the barrow-wight turned its piercing gaze to the company. ‘And you... a living fool soon to be dead... I will send you into the shadow world too! So come to me now, fools... Come and die!’
And the barrow-wight cackled horribly as it leapt forward, quick and hideous. Rulf gave a short, horrified and hoarse scream as he staggered back under the assault. The barrow-wight, cleaved and clung to the dwarf, tearing at breast and limb with terrible claws.
A rage of horror and despair overtook Hergof and he sprang forward to bring his axe down whistling onto the helm of the wight. But it passed through the figure as if there was nothing in its form but smoke and mist and yet the spirit writhed and shook as if in great pain.
Theodoras sobbed in horror and he was bound still, unable to move from a terrible fear. Rulf collapsed to the ground, his face blackened with blood and there were great dark stains upon his breast and limbs. Hergof struck out again with his heavy, smoking axe, forcing the ancient spirit back, but it came again.
At once, Vun leapt forward to stand beside his kinsman, and hewed at the wight with his axe that blazed and smouldering burning in his hands. The wight shook in awful convulsions and a terrible cry rent the air. Then the intolerable brightness of the wight’s blazing eyes faded and slowly it drew back and shrank and blackened, as if drawn back into the void from whence it came.
As if a veil was drawn back, the pale flittering sunlight began to shine again, and the terrible fear fled from the hobbit. Hergof lowered his axe to the earth and leaned heavily upon it with a bowed head. The others knelt beside Rulf who climbed unsteadily to his feet, a deep fire burning in his bright eyes.