Chapter Twenty-six: Shield-brother – 29 Blotmath, 1417 SR
The company lit a small fire at the lowest point of the hollow and sat round it miserable and glum, their cloaks and hoods pulled tightly against the chill wind. The darkness closed in about the tall hill as the last dim light of the setting sun disappeared; off to the north a pale light went up over the rise of tall ridges and a wan moon climbed slowly above the standing stone that overshadowed them. The stars grew pale against the blackened canopy of night.
Theodoras sat altogether wretched in the dark, his hood pulled up over his head. The hobbit wished he could fall asleep, but he kept turning his head round to gaze towards the lip of the hollow with apprehension. He glanced up from under the folds of his hood to watch Hergof’s face in the flickering light of the fire. The dwarf sat close to the fire, his knees draw up to his chest and his hands cupping the soft glow of his pipe in his gloved hands.
‘That was one nasty business back there,’ whispered Vun in a low voice, as he rubbed his hands together in the warmth of the fire.
‘Indeed,’ answered Rulf, his face almost invisible in the shadow of his hood. ‘But what about this ring we found?’
‘Do you think it is the ring the shade spoke of?’ questioned Hergof through a puff of dim smoke.
Rulf did not answer, stirring the fire with a stick.
‘We should return it to the shade, perhaps it will put him to rest…’ pondered Hemni quietly.
‘Aye,’ nodded Vun in agreement.
Rulf pulled back his hood and looked at the hobbit. ‘What do you say, Master Took?
Theodoras did not look up, and sat still for moment before shrugging slightly. There was a long pause of silence. Hergof dropped his head and hood and puffed on his pipe for some time. Theodoras gazed intently at the red embers of the fire and then reached into his pocket and drew out a small item.
It was a gold ring, ancient in appearance, and embossed with a white tree and seven crowning stars. They had found in discarded in the dirt at the barrow, but to its origin he could only guess. He turned it over in his hands, marveling at the craftsmanship of the ring. Finally, mercifully, his head began to nod and he soon drifted off into an uneasy sleep, the ring clasped tightly in one hand.
It was Hemni who roused the hobbit from sleep. Theodoras groaned and shook the dew from his dampened hood and glanced about. The hill was still darkened before the dawn, which was many hours still to come. The fire had died to a pile of glowing coals and he found the dwarves on their feet, their packs slung onto their backs.
‘Come Master Theodoras,’ Hemni said softly as the hobbit climbed to his feet wearily.
‘Whatever is the matter?’ asked the hobbit with curiosity. ‘But more importantly, no breakfast?’
‘We should seek for the wandering shade,’ answered Rulf. ‘We cannot wait for the first light.’
At once, the company set out, over the darkened lip of the wide hollow. They walked in single file down from the hill and into the darkness beyond. Nearly blind in the dark, Theodoras stumbled once or twice, reaching out to steady himself on Vun’s arm. The dwarf turned slightly to smile at the hobbit, his bright eyes glittering in the dark but said nothing.
They had not gone far when Rulf, at the lead, halted and lifted up one hand. He peered into the gloom ahead and gestured everyone forward. For a moment, Theodoras thought he could make out a whispering from the darkness ahead. Then there was utter and dreadful silence. A chill wind blew up and through the gloom there could now been seen a pale glimmer in the shreds of graying mists moving slowly across the darkened ground.
The darkness seemed to part as the gaunt and ghostly form of the shade appeared before them. Hemni shivered and Vun fell back under the pale gaze of the shade as it approached. For a moment, Theodoras began to tremble and a desire seized him to turn and flee back into the darkness. But, plucking up his courage, he took a hesitant step forward and spoke.
‘Ahem,’ he said nervously as he drew out the small gold ring and held in out in an open hand. ‘Excuse me, but we found this ring and…well…perhaps this is what you have sought?’
The shade gazed down at the shaking hobbit with sightless eyes in silence for a moment. Then it spoke in a low sorrowful voice.
‘Help my hand, now to his arm, lost too, lost too.’
With a pale hand, the shade reached down to take the gold ring from the hobbit’s outstretched hand. Then it began to speak once more in a mournful tone.
'Sundered and shattered,
metal and bone,
life bled onto the ground.
'In shade of stone,
a south facing wall
wherein the earth
slept once the dead.
'On cold hallowed ground
where dead lay asleep
woke they to greet
our treasure claimed.
'There, by our honoured,
sleeping, and gone,
my brother bid me farewell.
'Now, the dead rise,
stirring the earth
now cursed from where
'Our curse recalled;
we shall walk
until the dead
‘Another riddle?’ said Rulf, gazing at the shade as it retreated back into the darkness once more.
‘Alost arm? Whatever does that mean?’ asked Hemni.
‘Sundered metal and shattered bone?’ muddled Rulf, tugging at his beard thoughtfully. ‘Do you think, perhaps a shield?’
There was a heavy silence. Theodoras made no answer. The others frowned. Then, Theodoras cried out with a laugh and a snap of his fingers.
‘I have it!’ he said finally with a smile. ‘Rather simple enough once you put your thinking cap on, as my dear father used to say!’
Vun looked up hopefully at the hobbit; Hemni fidgeted then looked uncomfortably into the darkness. Still chuckling to himself, Theodoras continued.
‘Not a shield, and not an arm, but a shield-arm…a brother!’
The dwarves pondered this for a moment and there was silence once more. At last, Rulf spoke. ‘Ah, perhaps you are right, a shield-brother…’
‘But where do we look for this lost brother, I wonder?’ asked the hobbit hesitantly.
Rulf looked up as he answered. ‘Did the shade not speak of a south-facing wall?’
‘Why, yes he did, Master Rulf, if my memory serves me.’ laughed the hobbit. "In shade of stone, a south facing wall wherein the earth slept once the dead…" recited the hobbit in a clear voice.
‘Then we must head north,’ answered Rulf grimly. ‘There is a large cliff face as we passed into the downs; that faces south…’
‘Well, you are riddle-master, young Took!’ laughed Hergof with a smile. Theodoras blushed somewhat and turned his head downwards. He then gazed at Rulf with bright eyes.
‘You have led us safely thus far, Rulf, lead on,’ exclaimed Theodoras.
The company turned away from the tall hill and struck a path north. The thickening mist gathered about them at once; above them a few stars glimmered faintly through the graying veil but on all sides rose walls of impenetrable darkness and fog.
Just then, Rulf, who had taken the lead a few paces ahead of the rest, paused and turned his gaze to the west. Theodoras followed the dwarf’s gaze and let out a sharp gasp. They forest that had seemed distant yesterday now loomed out of the darkness not far to their left.
A worn and faded path led down from the downs towards the grey and menacing wood that lay wrapped in darkness as if a deep shadow or mist was about them. For a moment, the young hobbit fancied he could hear the creaking and groaning of the boughs and far cries of strange animals in the distance.
‘The Old Forest,’ said Rulf grimly with a whisper.
‘I do not forests and trees!’ exclaimed Hergof with a shudder. ‘I am a dwarf, stone and mountains are for me.’
‘I have been to that place,’ answered the hobbit quietly. ‘And I never wish to return again! Let us hurry past!’
Glancing once or twice towards the darkened wood, the company hurried along until at last the wood passed from view and they now found that they had come to the top of a wide hollow that led down to the base of tall cliffs to the north and west.
It became very cold once more; the thinning mists blew in ragged tatters from a chill wind that sprang up from the East. At once the tops of tall cliffs came into view, climbing high into the darkened air. At the base of the cliffs rose tall stones of several ominous barrows, each casting deep shadows in the hollow.
Moss and ageless lichen crawled over the broken stone, surrounded by waving grey grass. The archways of the barrows stood mute and shrouded in shadow and darkness. Without a word, the dwarves descended down into the hollow, drawing the reluctant hobbit after them.
Theodoras shivered as the barrows and standing stones drew nearer. In the tense black shadows he could now made clearer the outlines of the narrow doorways and felt a sense of waiting, as if for untold centuries. No sound disturbed the stillness.
Then, there came a tremor among the shadows, and a paralysis of fear gripped Theodoras. There was movement, a slow twitching, a flexing and writhing of shadowy limbs. Then, something moved; it as if a black shadow detached itself from the gulf of shadows below, a vague, shapeless form in the darkness.
At once, there came into view a tall form of a Man, a fearful and unnatural semblance of unlife; dull eyes shimmered with cold darts of icy light and an unnatural radiance shone from the mailed form, a terrible beauty paling against the moonlight. In its hand it clutched a naked sword gleaming with an unwholesome light.
The fell spirit moved forward drunkenly, ageless dust falling from its mouldering and hideously ancient garb. From its mouth came a series of shapeless words and death was in its cold voice. With a rousing cry, the dwarves threw themselves at the barrow-wight, their axes tearing at the rotten cloth. The fell spirit reeled from the axe-strokes, then righted itself and came on with frightful speed.
The pale blade rose and then struck, and Vun let out a fearful cry as it pierced his side; an icy fear clutched him and froze his bones. Choking back cries, the dwarves watched in horror as Vun slip to the ground; then they came at the wight once more in a swarm, tearing at the ancient cloth and mail with each stroke.
Something cracked like a withered branch and the terrible wight rose up silent and still, its fell voice falling away. For a moment all went silent and the axes of the dwarves dipped towards the ground. The cold features of the spirit slowly began to fade like a disappearing mask and the armour fell away from its body to crumble to dust and mist as it fell.
There was a long pause of silent and no one spoke. Finally, it was Hergof that roused the others. ‘We must go now,’ he said grimly. ‘It is not safe to remain here.’ Prodding the others before him, the dwarf began to climb wearily back out the wide hollow and into the swirling mists and darkness beyond.
Perhaps a half-an-hour has passed when they saw rising from the deepening smoky greyness and vapour, the vast spire of stone at op the hill. As it climbed from the tall hill it caught the light of the pale moon with a shimmering glow.
The company slowly scrambled up the hill until they were standing once more in the hollow at the summit. Their fire was now darkened in the long shadows of the standing stone. At once, Theodoras threw himself to the hard chilled ground beside the quiet fire and remembered no more.
Chapter Twenty-seven: Home at Last – 29 Blotmath to 1 Foreyule, 1417 SR
‘Three cheers for Master Theodoras!’ rose the cries of the dwarves as they lifted their mugs to toast the flustered and quite humbled young hobbit. And they patted him (and each other) on the back with heavy hands, in celebration of their great victory and safe return.
There was a tremendous excitement back at the Prancing Pony upon their return. The Bree-folk drew in a concentric crowd to look on with wonder as the dwarves told and re-told the tale of their fated journey into the dreaded Barrow-downs. Their table was thronged with people eager to hear the tale anew and never did the dwarves grow weary of telling it. Even old Butterbur came round the bar, wiping his hands on his apron, looking as bustled as ever, to hear the tale for the second time.
Only Theodoras remained silent during the lengthy tales and boasts of their dark journey and return. Once or twice, the dwarves turned to the little hobbit in their retelling, but he only blushed and stammered out a few words each time.
Poor Theodoras felt rather proud for the hand he had lent to the victory, though small it was in his mind; and yet he was beginning to feel quite weary of his little adventure and was sorely missing the Shire altogether. The fierce fire of his Tookish side was slowly diminishing and his older, sensible self was fast returning.
And his reflections on their ordeal in the downs seemed far more a dark memory than to the dwarves it seemed. Even now, in the safety of the warm hearth light, poor Theodoras shuddered as the tale reached its horrible and frightening conclusion.
Thrice the shade riddled a tale to the company and three times they set out to unravel each mystery. One last riddle was given to them as they stood in the deep shadows of that dreadful hill and tall silent stone.
'A Man of Bone, from 'neath Cardolan stone. Seek him now to lift this curse, e're we Brothers wander ever more.'
With darkened hearts, they made their way carefully and with much dread until they at last stood on the edge of the decayed ruins of Ost Gorthad, which once stood proudly as the last bastion of the Dúnedain of Cardolan against the ravages of Angmar.
There, in the darkness of that forbidding place, they found the Bone Man, a terrible and fell spirit; and upon a low and darkened hill they gave battle and the fell spirit was laid low for all time.
And so the dwarves sang with much merriment and drank to Theodoras’ health; their deep-throated singing filled the room as they sang on until darkness crept into the inn and the firelight of the hearth flickered up to cast deep shadows all about the room.
But at last the dwarves voices fell silent, and the folk wandered away to bed and the inn grew quiet. It was then that Hemni stood up from the table, lifting his mug high over his head. ‘I shall be departing soon,’ he said in a somber clear voice. ‘Have a cheer and a pint of ale in my name, my friends!’
The others raised their mugs in cheer, but Theodoras’ face turned away, his hand passing over his eyes. ‘So soon, Master Hemni?’ he said in a choking voice. Though he was rather eager to begin the journey home, the thought of the departure of his friends now brought sadness to his kind hobbit heart.
‘I must,’ answered Hemni regretfully. ‘I still have a shipment of ore to waiting for the merchants of Bree.’
‘True,’ added Rulf. ‘On the morrow we too will also depart for the long journey home to Ered Luin.’ Theodoras wiped away a tear from his downcast face and said nothing. ‘But fear not, young Theodoras. We shall go with you as a far as Budgeford; there our paths must turn aside as all paths must eventually do.’
A fair morning dawned, shimmering bright above gleaming mists, as the company gathered downstairs of the inn. The dwarves were clad once more in their faded and travel-stained hoods and cloaks, and packs strapped round their shoulders.
Hemni stepped out the door into the clear morning light, where a stout pony stood waiting, laden with sacks and bags. ‘Goodbye, my dear friends!’ he said merrily.
Goodbye Master Hemni!’ stammered the hobbit. 'And fare well on your journeys! If you should ever pass through the Shire, look in on me in Budgeford!’
Without another word, Hemni turned to lead his laden pony down the narrow lane until at last he disappeared from view. Theodoras stood silent, watching his friend depart, letting out s slight sniffle. ‘Goodbye my dear friend,’ he said softly.
‘Are we ready?’ said Rulf finally as Hergof came round with a cart drawn by a pair of ponies and little Clover close behind. ‘The carts packed and loaded for the journey home?’
‘Indeed,’ answered Hergof. With that, they turned their faces homewards towards the West Gate of Bree. Soon, they came to the crossroads of the Great Road and the Greenway, and crossed over the low stone bridge into the Bree-fields beyond. They rode now slowly without hurry, and went along in leisure.
The morning passed and afternoon waned when the dwindling company came in sight of the great hedge of Buckland. ‘Ah, Buckland,’ sighed the hobbit as he glanced towards the nearby darkened shadows of the Old Forest. ‘It seems like only yesterday when I found myself wandering that horrible wood in search of a pair of wayward hobbit! I wonder what ever came of Dyre?’
When they had passed over the Buckland Bridge, they rode down through Stock until at last they reached the ford of Budgeford. Very gladdening was the sight of his beloved home but now Theodoras was again sad at heart as he stood there looking out across the Water at the familiar and much-missed smials of his home.
The dwarves slid down from their cart, each bowing low in turn to the hobbit. Theodoras did not bow in return, but hopped down from Clover to shake their hands one by one, laughing amidst his tears.
‘Well, I certainly have a great deal to tell the folk back home! I wonder what they will think?’
The dwarves said their goodbyes and turned their cart back to the road. Theo stood a while, caressing Clover’s muzzle against his shoulder, and watched the dwarves dwindle in the distance. Finally, he turned down the narrow lane, crossed the shallow ford and passed the mill and ovens on the far side.
Theodoras hailed Bingo Bolger as he climbed the hill and away from the Water; the farmer looked up from his garden with wide eyes to stare at the hobbit. Bungo said nothing but watched in surprise as Theodoras rode past.
At last Theodoras stood in front of the small round green door of his aunt’s smial. A smile broke across his face as he led Clover round to the small stable in back, minding to make sure is was properly latched and secured. With one last look at the pony, he strode to the front once more, pushing open the round door and stepped inside. A familiar scent of pastries hit his nose and breathed in deeply.
He leaned his walking stick beside the door and unclasped his cloak then hung it on a peg. For a moment, his hand strayed on the worn and faded cloak; then he called out in a clear voice:
I was forced to come up with a clever way to tell the rest of the Barrow Downs tale when I discovered yesterday that I had deleted the file containing the adventure pics and chat logs for that particular session. I must figure out a better filing system...
And so, Theo returns home after sad farewells to his companions...27 entire chapters it has taken to reach this point!
Several readers have asked me if the last chapter of the story was the end to Theo’s tale. It is not, and I am afraid I did not make that clear. Young Theo has returned home, yes, and has brought Clover back home safely. But that is not the end to his adventures, though Theo might believe otherwise.
I am continuing with Theo's tale, though unfortunately intermittently, over the next month or two due to real-life obligations with Theo’s dwarves companions and the difficulty of grouping so many players on the same date and times. However, we are determined to continue with thes tory to its conclusion, no matter what, so please be patient
In the meanwhile, I have decided to begin my newest Total Immersion story - I had intended to begin this story once Theo's tale was told in full, but since I now find that I will have more free time away from Theo and his adventures, I have opted not to wait.
Somehow or another, I forgot to add the last of the three pdf books of Theo's story. This I have done here. That makes three pdf's available to download for easier reading that covers all twenty-seven chapters of Theo's first story.
I always wished to return to Theo but other obligations prevented me in doing so. Yet, with the release date of The Hobbit movies, I feel now is a good time to take another look at young Theodoras Took. Though I am still in the midst of my Ranger story invovling Ingion, Theo is going to strike out one last time on a little adventure.
To make it easier for readers that are unfamiliar with Theo's earlier story, I will use this thread to continue the adventures. I hope to be able to complete the new chapter very soon!
Chapter Twenty-eight: Old Friends - 4 Solmath, 1418 SR
When Theodoras, son of Isengar of the family of Tooks had announced that he was moving to the Southfarthing there was, for a day or two at the very least, no small talk in Budgefold as to this sudden and rather surprising news. As a matter of fact, he had already found and purchased a nice little smial in Troutbottom at 2 Harrow Road, south of the Three Farthing Stone.
Exactly why young Theodoras was saying goodbye to his beloved aunt and the village of Budgeford that had been his home for so long was a matter of debate and great speculation. A few of his more sensible neighbours suggested that Theo wished to be closer to his relatives up in Tookland. This was not an unreasonable reason for what was most generally considered a rather rash decision on the young Took’s part, and yet many of the Budgeford folk found this very hard to believe. Many of the tiny village now began to speak of the tales that Theodoras had brought back with him, and much was now the talk that Theodoras was planning to run away with a party of dwarves once more. Perhaps to live among the snowy mountain peaks of the Blue Mountains, was put forth now by the many suspicious folk of Budgeford.
It should not have as quite such a shock to his neighbours in Budgeford. Indeed, young Theodoras had once had a bit of fleeting fame and notoriety among the folk there - he had, after all, announced that he was going away up to Michel Delving the join the Bounders as the month of Winterfilth neared its end. And it was not long after that when he went off and disappeared to follow after Clover, his aunt’s most prized pony that had went missing that very next month.
He had disappeared one fine morning of the 17th of Blotmath and just as surprising had not reappeared until supper-time on 1 Foreyule in the following month. It was a very odd proceeding for which Theodoras had never given any good account of, other than the nonsensical talk he gave out concerning wights and wargs, dwarves and bandits. Many of Budgeford thought that poor young Theodoras had gone mad, and he told all who would listen, of course, of his little adventure: but even those who listened never took the tales seriously. It is no good talking to hobbits about wargs and wights, whatever they may be; they would either disbelieve such fanciful talk or tend to avoid you afterwards. Or both.
Upon his return, Theodoras went back to his somewhat normal ways (more or less), but shaken confidence of the village was never restored to him. In time, the hobbits of Budgeford slowly began to pardon the past and his most rash and unbelievable tales and Theodoras crept back into calling-terms again with many of the tiny village, for the sake of politeness more than anything else.
And yet Theodoras did not fully return to the simple unadventurous life he had known before that fateful fall. He continued to live alone with his aunt, and was often away from home. He went about with several of the more energetic and spirited young members of the Tooks in Tuckburough (his father’s people, mainly nephews and cousins), and was fond of some of the Oddfoots in Frogmorton.
In fact, his disappearance that fall was most definitely brought back into focus when Theodoras made the proclamation of a grand announcement after the new year. There right under the eaves of his aunt’s smial, Theodoras had gathered a small throng of neighbours one morning in Afteryule; all were naturally very eager to hear this great announcement that he had and certainly their tongues had been wagging since they first were informed of it.
‘Here, here!’ cried Theodoras as he came from out of his aunt’s smial to quiet the murmuring of the small crowd outside. ‘I must thank you all for coming today,’ he began again as all eyes turned to watch him with growing interest. ‘I have lived here among such excellent hobbits such as you since the rather sudden passing of my father and mother in Tuckburough. I was only in my tweens when I came here to live with my aunt and I shall never forget that for, though I am a Took, on my father’s side of course, I am a Bolger too!’
At this the others began shaking their heads to one another. Whatever could be leading to, they all thought with wonder. Theodoras raised a hand to quiet the renewed murmuring among the crowd and then spoke again very loud.
‘But I regret to announce that I am going away, to live the Southfarthing. I have already found a nice little smail and garden in Troutbottom that should suit me quite comfortably.’
And with that, Theodoras turned and strode back into his aunt’s smial, closing the beautifully round green door with a steady hand. The silence that ensued was flabbergastation. It was only broken by Mr. Cam Puddifoot who at once began to choke on the much forgotten but still-smoking pipe clenched tightly in his mouth.
As a matter of fact, Theodoras’ departure from Budgeford went very quiet and unnoticed. When a wagon arrived at his home early one morning before the sun has risen, there was only his tearful aunt present to say goodbye. Once it was loaded, the wagon rolled away, filled with an assortment of crates and boxes, barrels and bags; and Theodoras seated holding the reins with a slight smile spread across his bright face.
The light of the setting sun had long since faded and the sky was clear and stars were growing ever brighter overhead when there came the sounds of heavy footsteps coming up the road in the direction of the Delving Fields. It was not long when two figures came into view along the road, each leading a stout pony laden with packs and bags. Both had dark hoods cast over their heads and, in the deepening darkness, their faces were wholly shrouded from view.
In silence, the two vaguely ominous figures strolled down the road, past several quiet smails that overlooked the bubbling brook to one side, until they reached a front fence and lane leading back from the road to small, comfortable-looking smail.
It was indeed a fine little smial, with a perfectly round door, painted brown and a comfortable rug placed in front of it. A pleasant garden sat to one side, obviously tended by loving hands, and springing from the yard was a tall and beautiful yellow-leafed elm tree. A small chimney on the turfed roof spouted a tiny plume of smoke and dim lights shown from the curtained round windows.
The two figured turned from the road and made their way up the lane until they were standing before the tiny porch of the smail. One of them handed the other the reins of the pony to the other, and then stepped forward to knock sharply upon the door with a gloved hand.
The shadowy figure paused for a moment, and then let out a grumble in a deep voice. ‘Come on!’ he said. ‘It is your old friend, Rulf, master Theo.’ It was a dwarf, of course, and in the dim light of the windows, his brown braided beard could now be seen flowing down from his deep hood. At once, the dwarf knocked again, twice this time and with more force.
Rulf turned back to smile weakly at his companion. ‘I am sure he is setting us a place at his dinner table,’ he said, not sounding very convincing.
‘I hope so,’ growled the second; he was a dwarf too, a grey beard falling from under his bright blue hood. ‘Are you sure you have the right place, master Rulf?’ asked the second dwarf as he lifted a hand to stroke his beard.
Rulf turned back and leaned forward to squint at the small mailbox atop a wooden post beside the round door. ‘Yes,’ he said matter-of-factly. ‘This is his house.’ The dwarf then pounded on the door once more with such force to shake the fine brass hinges.
‘He does not know how to greet guests then…’ grumbled the second dwarf softly. ‘Perhaps he moved?’
Rulf gazed back at his companion and was about to speak when his ears perked at the sound of footsteps behind the door in front of him. The footsteps drew closer as a voice could be heard from within.
‘Confound it!’ said the voice as the bolt could be heard being turned. ‘Whoever could this be at such a late hour?’
Rulf smiled as he turned to wink a bright eye at his companion, who stood beside the ponies, his arms crossed over his wide chest. ‘I have not known the Shire-folk to be so rude,’ said the second dwarf gruffly.
At once the round door was pulled open with a jerk to reveal a hobbit standing there. Brown eyes shone from under shaggy hair atop his head and a comfortable evening robe was cast round his shoulders and tied about his waist. The robe fell down to his knees to expose a pair or large and quite furry bare feet. The hobbit blinked once and then twice as a rush of cool night air streamed through the open door and across his face. He gazed first at Rulf and then at the second dwarf, and cried out as recognition filled his eyes.
‘Why if it isn’t Mr. Rulf! Of all people to be standing at my doorstep! What a pleasant surprise. Come in!’
Rulf smiled wide as he stepped inside, careful to wipe his heavy boots upon the rug. The other dwarf grumbled as he tied the ponies to the mailbox and then followed shortly after him.
‘Come along,’ said Theo as he pointed towards the dining room with a hastened breath. ‘I was about to take some late tea, you and your companion can join me!’ He reached a low wooden table covered with a scattering of books and dripping candle at the center of the front room, then turned back to the dwarves. ‘Or perhaps some beer would suit you better,’ he said. ‘I brewed it only last week!’
The second dwarf grumbled softly as he bent low under the round doorway. Once inside, the dwarf pulled back his bright blue hood and glanced about the cozy hobbit smial. Rulf too looked about the front room and grinned at the hobbit with humour. ‘My, my,’ he said with a chuckle. ‘You have come a long way from scraping together a few silver for a meager meal at the Pony!’
‘Oh this?’ replied Theo as he pulled out a chair from the table and motioned for his friend to sit. ‘A modest improvement, master Rulf, but it is home for me now!’
‘Modest?’ asked the second dwarf as he strode up to the table with a laugh. ‘This little master has a dwarf’s love of fine things indeed!’
Theo blushed slightly as Rulf cleared his throat with a laugh. ‘Told you he would welcome his old friend,’ he said to the other dwarf with a smile. ‘Master Theo, this is Khazgrim, of Erebor. He is an old compatriot.’
Theo stammered something and then bowed deeply to the aged dwarf, who in turn bowed his head low before the hobbit. ‘Khazgrim Lamentbearer, at your service,’ he said.
'And to yours and your family's!' replied the hobbit.
Khazgrim smiled warmly as he sat atop a chair and slid his heavy pack to his booted feet. ‘And he knows his manners. Like master Baggins…so polite.’
At once, Theo raised his hands up and laughed aloud. ‘Where are my manners! Drinks first, then talk, as my father would say! The perhaps a bit of food? There is plenty of time for chatting, but only after a proper supper. When you are both content, I shall fill your pipes and then we can sit back and talk for a spell. I quite imagine there is much to tell since we last spoke, master Rulf!’
With that, Theo turned to scuttle off to the pantry. ‘I could go for a bit of seed-cake…or pie,’ called Khazgrim through the pantry door. ‘Aye,’ Rulf called after him. ‘And apple pie too, thank you.’
Theo returned shortly, balancing a tray laden with honeybrew beer, a fine flagon of red wine, some seed-cakes and a fresh round apple pie he had backed only that very morning. He set the down the tray and passed the food and drink to his quests before finally taking a seat.
It was not long until the plates were empty and cleared, fresh logs were set into the hearth and the dwarves were picking at the last bits of pie. ‘Ah, very good then!’ exclaimed the hobbit and he produced a small tobacco-jar.’ And now for some pipeweed. From my very own garden of course!’
Khazgrim leaned back in his chair, with his legs stretched under the table, and began to blow smoke-rings into the air. He looked towards the flickering hearth with steady eyes and began to sing softly in a deep voice. Rulf groaned contently and puffed at his pipe, then closed his eyes. They smoked in silence for a while and the only sound that could be heard was the crackling wood in the fire and the gentle breeze from outside.
At last Theo sat up and cleared his throat. ‘Now, a question begs to be asked, my dear dwarves. Whatever has brought you here this evening?’
Rulf opened his eyes and coughed slightly. ‘We are on our way to the Blue Mountains,’ he said. ‘Returning from Bree after some trade. I thought we should take a detour and visit you, old friend. Khazgrim here is partial to the Shire as well.’
Khazgrim nodded at this. ‘I took an interest in the Shire-folk many years ago; I had the pleasure of spending some time with master Baggins.’
‘Do tell!’ answered the hobbit with glee. ‘Simply wonderful! I am very glad to see you are no worse for wear following our rather hasty business back in Bree, Rulf. But Uncle Biblo, you say? You dwarves never cease to amaze me!’
‘Aye,’ said Khazgrim. ‘How is the lad? Well I should call him such as that was years ago and little is he a lad nowadays.’
Theo frowned as he looked at the old dwarf with an uncertain glace. ‘Uncle Bilbo? I do not know. He went and disappeared almost twenty years ago now. He has never been seen since.’
Khazgrim smiled as if remembering something a long time ago. ‘That sounds like master Baggins,’ he said thoughtfully.
Theo turned to look at Rulf. ‘But I am curious who you came to find me here and not Budgeford.’
Rulf stamped his pipe on his knee and laid it atop the table. ‘I inquired about you there; they said you had left your aunt’s house to relocate here. It was a surprise that is for sure.’
‘Oh yes,’ answered the hobbit. ‘My aunt, bless her, means well, but she could not stop fussing over me upon my return. I could scarcely breathe with her constant hovering over me! And there was the matter of my disappearance and sudden and unexpected return. I could not get any peace!’
‘So you left to go on another adventure then?’ asked Rulf. ‘To return to the Bounders?’
‘Heavens no,’ replied the hobbit waving a hand at the dwarf. ‘I am more relaxed than ever before! I must say that my neighbours in Budgeford did not look at me the same after that. Oh, they were polite enough, as Shire-folk go, but it was not long when the talk began. Peculiar was a word often heard whispered about me, though never directly to me, mind you. Quite mad seemed a popular description for me too. I am afraid that I lost a good deal of their respect after that.’
Rulf chuckled as the hobbit shook his head and finished. ‘I would take that as a compliment, master Theo. Though I suppose it makes it difficult to live around them.’
‘Indeed!’ answered the hobbit with a nod and a grin. ‘Some of the folk in Budgeford were willing to forgive me for my transgressions, so to speak. I still manage to be on visiting terms with my relatives but little more. Old Milo Bolger, my uncle on my mother’s side, still speaks highly of me. He has not forgotten my aid in dealing with those horrible wolves at his farm. Yet I do not mind. I returned home safely with Clover and I had my little adventure! I do miss my aunt dearly and of course Budgeford; but it is rather pleasant being my own master here. My garden has come along quite nicely and I am very fond of it.’
‘Good, good,’ said Rulf with a grin as he leaned forward to refill his pipe from the jar. ‘I am glad to see you are doing well for yourself, my friend.’ The dwarf then fell silent and sat very still, lost deep in thought. Theo shivered as if a dark shadow had been brought with the ominous change that came over his friend. Finally, Rulf broke the silence.
‘I and Khazgrim here…,’ he began slowly. ‘Have been quite busy of late…’
Khazgrim sat up at once in his chair and turned to glare at Rulf. ‘That business is best left unsaid, Rulf,’ he growled. ‘No offence, little master,’ he added turned to the hobbit with a nod. ‘But that is dwarven business, I am afraid.’
‘That is why I did not say,’ answered Rulf grimly.
A heavy silence fell in the room. Theo shivered again and everything seemed still. But as swiftly as it had come, the darkness seemed to retreat and the flickering fire of the hearth came back into the room. Theo frowned, took a healthy draught from his beer, and peered at the dwarves with a smile.
‘Dwarves are a peculiar breed!’ he said. ‘Well, the hour has grown very late, and I daresay you will be wanting to leave early on the morrow. I shall ready beds in the spare room for you both, and will have a nice breakfast waiting for you when you awaken.’
At that Khazgrim let out a chuckle. ‘A warm bed and a Hobbit-sized breakfast? How could I say no?’
The hobbit jumped up from the chair. ‘Come then gentlemen, let me see you off to bed; I imagine the journey from Bree was long and tiring. I shall wake you in the morning and see you off onto the road after breakfast!’ He then turned to scuttle off towards the spare room, but Rulf cleared his throat rather loudly. The dwarves had not left their chairs and were even now glancing at one another in a rather curious way. Theo turned back to gaze at the dwarves, shifting uncomfortably where he stood nearer the hallway. Finally, Rulf spoke, looking at the young hobbit with glinting eyes.
‘Mt old friend,’ said the dwarf slowly with a knowing smile. ‘Since you are not busy, why not travel with us? We could certainly use the company and merriment along the way.’
‘Yes,’ added Khazgrim also smiling. ‘And I could use some songs for once…something not so…dark.’
Theo’s mouth gaped open as he looked at the dwarves incredulously. He then laughed out heartily with a snicker. ‘To the Blue Mountains? Dear me, I could not fathom such a journey such as that! I have greens in the garden ready for harvest and some barley for market up in Michel Delving.’
He shook his head with amusement and sighed. ‘But wait,’ he said holding up a hand to the dwarves’ coming protests. ‘I cannot refuse you, my old friend. I offer a compromise. I have neglected to make my way to Overhill. It seems that good old Polo Proudfoot up in the Tookland has developed quite a problem with bees as it were. He has asked me to help him move the wild bee-hives plaguing his farm. But for that I need some salve to protect me from their rather nasty stings. Old Gammer Boffin has such balms that could help. If you accompany me to Overhill, I will journey as far as Needlehole on your trip back home!’
‘Good, good’ answered Rulf as he stroked his long beard. ‘That would certainly work. We will have a fine time of it.’
‘Then it is settled!’ said the hobbit. He turned and went off to the spare bedroom to prepare the beds for his guests. When everything was finally in place, he made his way to the master bedroom. Hanging his evening robe on a peg beside the door, he yawned loudly and snuffed out the candle on the nightstand. As Theo lay in bed, he could hear the dwarves still chatting in the front room.
‘Well,’ could be hear Khazgrim announcing with a small yawn. ‘The hour is indeed late, and I am not as young and spry as you are, beardling.’
‘True,’ answered Rulf. ‘I can hear your bones creaking from over here!’
‘I doubt you will look as good as me when you are my age, beardling,’ replied Khazgrim.
‘I should be so lucky, ‘said Rulf with a chuckle.
The dwarves’ voices fell to grumbling as Theo closed his eyes and sunk his shaggy head deeper into his pillow. He did not wish to admit it, but a growing desire to go off with the dwarves flamed up in his heart. He at once wished for nothing more than to leave behind his cherished garden and go to see the Blue Mountains of Ered Luin. Walking with dwarves in the late evening is nothing to be missing.
As sleep slowly creep over him, Theo began to recall the first meeting with the dwarves in Bree, a time that now seemed like ages ago. There was master Rulf and master Hemni, master Hergof and Vun seated about the smoky, darkened common room of the Prancing Pony. Great was the merriment of the dwarves then, and great was their confidence it seemed in Theo joining their company. The sounds of their deep somber voices back there floated into his mind as he drifted off into sleep, mingling with that of the two dwarves out in the front room.
‘Let us get some rest and we will depart early,’ said Rulf with a deep yawn. Shuffling boot steps could he heard stumbling around the front room. Rulf at once grumbled as he stubbed his foot on the table leg, ‘Now where is that candle?’
And so Theo's new adventure is underway! Much of the delay for this new story was developing one that I liked, as I did come up with two others, but they did not seem good enough. That was until I finally came onto the idea that began with this new tale.
Naturally, the tale had to be very hobbit-like, as well as dwarven-like, since I wished to include some of his companions from the first story. But how to convince Theo into going off on another adventure? Well, for that you will have to wait and see!
Of course, Theo will set off on his newest adventure with nothing more than he had the first time. The idea right away was to play him as a typical hobbit, and that I will remain doing. When I was able to get Theo out of the intro area, I forgot to delete and removed much of his gear at 6th level, and did not do so until around chapters 3 or 4.
He began his adventure with only a rough cloth cloak, padded shirt, quilted legging and a old rusted dagger. Anything else gear-wise would both have to be something sensible (hence no shirts of mail or such or iron-shod helms) and weapons would be very hobbit-like (like a sword of dagger). Under no condition would he equip shoes or boots or gloves or shoulder pads.
Unfortunately, during his travels, Theo mamaged to find little gears that was appropriate. he did gain a fine dagger of bronze from Eoleof, gained a bounder's cap, and of course found a ring in the barrow-downs, but nothing else.
And so he sets off on a rather inconspicuous journey to the very western borders of the Shire to see his dear friend home...
Chapter Twenty-nine: An Unexpected Hobbit - 5 Solmath, 1418 SR
Theo woke suddenly, a bit shaken and bewildered, to the sounds of a ruckus coming from the front room of the smial. He yawned loudly as the sounds fell away, slid his legs over the side of the bed, and stood up.
The hobbit threw on his bed robes, rubbed his eyes once or twice, and swung open the door. At once, a deep grumbling voice could be heard nearer the kitchen. It was the dwarves, of course, and, from the sounds down the hall, it seemed they had already begun plundering his pantry for some sort of breakfast.
Theo marched briskly down the hall and into the front parlour. There sat Rulf beside the fire, smoking on his long wooden pipe. The dwarf turned to the hobbit, grinned slightly, and then pointed in the direction of the kitchen where at once there came a clash of plates and utensils.
Theo soon found Khazgrim standing near the cupboards of the pantry, a half-eaten piece of cold sausage held tightly in his mouth, and his hands busy rummaging for more along the shelves. The hobbit laughed as the dwarf turned to cast a frown, who then mumbled an apology before taking the rest of the sausage in a single bite. Theo whisked his guest back to the front parlour and then returned to the kitchen to put a kettle on to boil and began to prepare breakfast.
Soon the table was set and, before long, they were enjoying a fine breakfast. Outside, the first rays of the full dawn was just beginning to lighten the sky and a warm morning breeze was blowing in through the open round windows. Finally, after some time, Theo pushed his chair back from the table with a polite groan. ‘An excellent meal!’ he declared. The table was strewn with a collection of half-finished plates; there was eggs and onions, Shire pudding, a blueberry pie, a generous helping of spiced potatoes, a plate of sausage and mash, and a single strawberry tarts still left undisturbed on the table.
‘Well, a fine meal indeed, little master,’ said Khazgrim with a happy sigh as he reached with greasy fingers for the last bite of sausage.
‘Agreed,’ added Rulf very contently. The dwarf had all but finished his plate and now turned his attention to a foaming mug of spiced ale.
‘Thank you!’ answered the hobbit happily. ‘Well now, let me tidy up gentlemen,’ he said sharply as he slid down from his chair with a thump. ‘And you finish your drinks and then begin preparing for our departure!’
With a wink Theo began collecting the many plates, cups, bowls, spoons, knives and forks from the table and whisked them off to the kitchen. Before long, there was stacked beside the sink an array of drying dishes. With a sigh, he made his way to the master bedroom and hung his robe on a peg near the bed. He took off his bed clothes and laid them out atop the bed (but only after rolling up the sheets and blanket). Humming softly to himself, Theo turned to the dresser and opened the bottom drawer to remove a bundle of clothing wrapped in old cloth. He then quickly dressed.
Theo found the dwarves not in the front room when he returned, but outside. Rulf was seated on the steps of the porch, looking up at the clear sky and sniffing the cool morning air as he fidgeted a broad-bladed axe into his belt. Khazgrim was standing with the ponies, whistling softly; he was wrapping a beautiful harp with soft leathers and then slid it into his pack atop one of the ponies. The ponies themselves seemed rather frisky and well-rested, and swished their tails back and forth as if with impatience to return to the road once more.
Theo cleared his throat and laughed aloud. ‘It would seem that the two of you are preparing for battle and not a leisurely stroll through the Shire!’
The dwarves looked up to see the hobbit hovering under the arch of the open doorway. Round his waist was fastened a worn leather belt, one size too large for him to be sure, and hung upon it was a battered-looking knife scabbard. Sticking from the scabbard was the beautiful hilt of a dagger in the shape of a pair of entwined horses. Thrown around his shoulders was a patched and much weather-stained old blue cloak, and a well-used pack that had certainly seen finer days.
‘Is everything ready?’ he asked as the Rulf clambered to his feet and slung his pack over his shoulders. ‘Well, then let us off!’ said the hobbit as he stepped out the front door. On the porch, Theo paused to take in a deep breath, enjoying the fragrance of fresh flowers heavy in the warm air. ‘A fine morning for a walk, wouldn’t you agree?’ He produced a small ring of keys from his front pocket and turned to lock the round door to the smial.
‘There, and we are off!’ Theo exclaimed joyously and began trotting down the path towards the road ahead. ‘Oh what fun it is to be on the road once more with a party of dwarves!’
‘I am glad you are much more enthusiastic than last time!’ called out Rulf as he hastened to catch up with the hobbit, taking the reins of one pony in hand. Khazgrim groaned slightly and shook his head before shambling after the two with the other pony behind him.
Despite the older dwarf’s grumbling, the trio was, of course, in fine spirits and they soon became very cheerful as they strode along down the lane to the road. The early morning sun was shining through the fluttering leaves along the roadside, which were still green despite the lateness of the year.
‘We shall make for the Water and cross into Hobbiton,’ said Theo as he turned to glance back at the dwarves. ‘Form there we can take the road all the way to Overhill and be there before dusk, with a stop at the Ivy Bush in Hobbiton, of course. They have the most splendid food and drink for a parched throat!’
For a good while, they followed the road along the banks of the creek that flowed in front of Theo’s smial, and then turned left over a small stone bridge spanning the water. From there they walked in single file up along the road leading away from the creek and along hedgerows of the many smails in Troutbottom. Soon the last smials and houses disappeared behind them and they now found themselves on a winding ribbon of brown lined with leaning rowan trees.
For a long while no one spoke; Khazgrim hummed a soft tune with a deep whisper as he strode nearer the back of the party, the sounds of his heavy boots mingling with his tune and the clippity-clop of the ponies. They met no one along the lane; the morning slowly faded towards noon-time as the sun rose higher overhead. It was not until the Southfarthing Gate loomed into view on the road ahead that someone spoke.
It was Khazgrim, who had begun to lag considerably behind his companions. He was silent now, his humming now replaced with belaboured breaths. At last he stopped, leaned heavily on the neck of his pony and let out a great sigh.
‘Pardon me,’ he said somewhat winded to his companions. ‘I forget all are not as old as I am…’
‘Old you say?’ said Theo turning to the dwarf with a smile. ‘Well, perhaps, but dwarves look young to most hobbits, master Khazgrim!’
Rulf glowered down at the hobbit standing next to him; Theo raised a hand in apology almost at once. ‘No offence, mind you,’ said the hobbit hastily. I have become rather fond of dwarves!’
Khazgrim did not seem to take much offence to that and indeed laughed aloud at the hobbit. ‘Well little master,’ he said chuckling. ‘I will be reaching my two-hundredth year very soon.’
‘Two hundred? Bless me!’ answered Theo. ‘Old Bilbo was only past his eleventh-first birthday when he went off on again!’
‘Old as the hills he is,’ said Rulf glancing at the other dwarf with a loving smile.
Khazgrim grumbled softly and tugged at his grey beard. ‘I still have years within me yet; more so for my brother.’
At that Theo looked at the old dwarf with curiosity. ‘Last evening you spoke of your brother,’ he said slowly. ‘Who is he, master Khazgrim. You speak as if…’ The hobbit’s voice fell away and he lowered his eyes for a moment, fearing that he had said or asked too much.
But instead of a look of sadness or silence coming from the old dwarf, there came a hearty laugh. ‘No, he has not gone to the halls yet, master Theodoras. I doubt there is much that could take him there before his time; and that would be an army of stone-trolls!’
‘An army of troll?’ exclaimed Theo with a bit of fright and laughter. ‘Let us hope not, Khazgrim! That would not be a pleasant sight to behold!’
Khazgrim smiled and hoisted his pack higher upon his back then began trudging down the road once more, but said nothing else. The air seemed to have grown warmer during their brief rest and it was thick with the scent of rowan and grass, very strong and sweet. It was not long when they came at length to the edges of Tuckborough; here the trees began to fall away and a peculiar sight sprang into view ahead.
It was an odd collection of wagons and camps, carts and cooking fires, gardens and open-air tables, situated to either side of the road. It certainly did not look like a village, and seemed very unhobbit-like in appearance.
This of course, was Waymeet, a travelers’ hub of sorts along the Great East Road that wound through the Shire. Here at the junction where road came up from the Southfarthing gate, the Great East Road turned northwards to the Rushock Bog and beyond to the Blue Mountains to the west. Another road led up away to the west and south towards Michel Delving.
At the crossroads, Theo halted; he peered curiously towards several wagons set back from the road. A small camp fire was blazing beside them and there sat a small group of dour-looking dwarves. ‘Over there,’ said Theo. ‘Do you see them? Some of your kinsmen, if I am not mistaken. I had the privilege of speaking with them before leaving for Bree. Very fine chaps, I must say! Craftsmen delivering ore to Bree, should my memory serve me.’
Khazgrim hailed the dwarves with a deep voice and raised hand, then looked down at Theo. ‘They come from the Blue Mountains, the only place west of the Shire to find them. But it is good to see more of my kinsmen abroad.’
‘Indeed, master Khazgrim! But we should be off then!’ The hobbit turned to the party of dwarves camped round the fire and waved a hand at them. ‘Goodbye!’ he called out and then began trotting down the road to the east and north. Rulf glanced at Khazgrim with a smile and then began to follow the hobbit with brisk steps. Khazgrim grumbled softly and then wearily went after the two.
They turned onto the Great East Road and began following it eastwards where it went rolling up a gentle hill. At the top they came upon another crossroads; to the right a narrow lane led further up the growing hill towards Tuckborough. To the left another lane fell down a steep slope leading towards Hobbiton in a wide gentle valley along the Water below. The Great Road continued its slow march eastwards from there.
‘Ah, there is the Water and Hobbiton!’ said Theo looking down the road to the north. ‘We have made good progress, it is not yet late morning.’
‘I do remember master Baggins mentioning a tavern where he met Thorin and his company that morning long ago…’ answered Khazgrim thoughtfully.
‘Indeed! The Ivy Bush,’ said the hobbit with a laugh. ‘Shall we take a break from our weary travel, break from our packs, and step in for refreshments?’
With quickened steps they soon made their way down the hill and into the village below. Nearing the Water further on, they came to a fine-looking, low one-storied building. It had a shingled roof, and up wide half-circular steps there stood a beautiful round door. A lamp swung above the door and a wooden sign, displaying a flowering green bush, hung from a post at the foot of the steps.
At once, the hobbit strode up to the door and stepped inside while the dwarves tied up the ponies. Light streamed out in a very friendly fashion and all three slipped quickly in. They hung their packs on pegs just inside the door and made their way into the common room. Walking up to the long bar, Theo rapped upon it with his hand.
Out from the kitchen came the innkeeper, wiping his hands on his apron looking very bustled, though there seemed few folk about and not much talk round the common room. He glanced at Theo and then at the dwarves with a look on uncertainly.
‘Three of your finest ciders, my good fellow!’ said Theo as he placed a few copper coins onto the bar. Rulf sat down heavily on a short stool and stretched out his legs with a yawn. Theo thanked the innkeeper and turned to hand the dwarves each a mug. ‘To your good health, gentlemen!’ he said as he raised his mug to toast.
‘And to your, little master,’ answered Khazgrim, his long beard wet with foam from his mug. ‘What was it that Thorin said, “may the hair on your toes never fall out.” ’
‘Let us hope not, master Khazgrim!’ said Theo with a laugh.
They sat back and relaxed, enjoying their drinks, and it was some time before any of them made the slightest gesture of moving or returning to the road. Khazgrim was already draining his second mug of ale when Theo set down his, and jumped from the stool.
‘The drink here is fine and good,’ he said loudly. ‘But let us depart before we find the sun has set and our bellies too full for the march!’
Despite Khazgrim’s grumbling, they went out, collected the ponies and made their way across the Bywater Bridge. On the far side they trudged up the Hill, past the Grange, the Party Tree and finally Bagshot Row. As the tops of the Party Tree faded from view behind them, the road continued to climb steadily away from the Water and wound towards the Bindbole Woods. Soon the trees along both sides of the road became very thick and they seemed a bit less tame and wilder. The road reached the top then began to fall steadily away to the north, past many deep brakes of hazel and rowan.
At last they came out of the trees at a wide space of cleared forest. The wood bordered it on all sides, and a steep slope went steeply away upwards to the west, on the far side of a wide wood yard. Nearer at hand was a peaceful collection of houses and smials: the village of Overhill.
Theo paused to grin at the dwarves. ‘We have made it, and in good time, I must say.’ He led his companions down into the tiny woodland village and then stopped again. ‘Give me a moment to speak with old Gammer Boffin over there about the salves I will be wanting and we can continue.’
Rulf nodded as he slid his heavy pack to his feet then produced his pipe with vigor and began to smoke. Khazgrim sat wearily down in silence, letting go of his pony’s reins; it was not long until he began to nod with sleep.
Just nearby, the dwarves could hear the cheerful voice of their hobbit companion. He was standing at the porch of a modest smial, speaking happily with an elderly-looking hobbit woman.
‘Ah Mrs. Boffin, I am Theodoras Took, of the Southfarthings,’ came the hobbit’s voice. ‘I have come seeking some salves for some rather unpleasant bees away in Tuckborough. Could you help me with such a request?’
Theo nodded as he listened to the elderly grocer and then spoke aloud. ‘My word! Toad stones!’ he exclaimed.’ Very well, it that is what is required. I am making my way even now to Needelhole with those fine dwarves other there.’ Theo turned to point at his companions along the road a ways off then back to the grocer. ‘We must pass through the bogs, so I can collect them along the away and bring them to you upon my return.’
Khazgrim raised his hooded head to look at the hobbit and grumbled softly as Theo trotted back to his companions. Theo was smiling as he strode up and laughed at Khazgrim. He was about to speak when a voice rang out from the road leading further into the tiny village.
All eyes turned to see a furry-headed and much wide-eyed young hobbit trotting up towards them, his wooly feet flapping noisily along the road-stones. ‘Theodoras!’ the younger hobbit cried out with glee with a brisk wave of his hand. ‘Oh Theo!’
Theo turned to the rather unexpected arrival, a look of great surprise and shock spread across his bewildered face. ‘Why Hallson, my lad, whatever are you doing here?’ he said as the hobbit came to a stop breathlessly in front of them. The dwarves exchanged glances at one another then looked at the two hobbits with amusement.
‘I wrote you a letter a couple of days ago!’ said the younger hobbit with a wheezing breath.
Theo looked Hallson up and down then clasped him by one arm to pull him closer and spoke in a stern voice. ‘What letter?’ he said. ‘And why are you here?’ For a moment the younger hobbit did not answer, but bent to place his hands upon his knees and took in a couple of deep breaths.
‘Khazgrim and Rulf, this is my cousin, Hallson, from my mother’s side,’ said Theo, cocking an eye towards the dwarves without turning his head. ‘He is from Budgeford.’
‘I am Rulf, son of Runek, at your service, ‘said Rulf swiftly, trying to hide his growing smile and bowed low before the younger hobbit with a sweep of his arm. Khazgrim gazed at the two hobbits then at Rulf, his eyebrow raised slightly but said nothing.
‘Speak up, Hallson,’ said Theo harshly as he turned back to his cousin. ‘And tell me what the blazes are you doing here?’
Hallson looked at Theo then at the dwarves and began speaking excitedly. ‘Well, you see…’ he began as a sheepish grin spread across his bright face. ‘I heard of your departure while I was away up in Michel Delving.’
‘But why did you follow?’ asked Theo with a shake of his head. ‘Whatever is going on?’
‘I was getting bored in Budgeford, you see. Just sitting around each day smoking pipeweed and watching the neighbours cooks, so I went off to Michel Delving to find something to do, and guess what? I joined the Bounders!’ The young hobbit pointed down to a short bladed sword stuck into his belt round his waist. ‘Look! I even got my very own blade!’ he said proudly.
‘The Bounders?’ answered Theo throwing his arms in into the air. ‘Whatever would make you choose such a rash thing as that, Hallson?’
At this Rulf coughed loudly, trying to squelch a bout of rising laugh. ‘Theo,’ he said with a slight snicker. ‘Did you not tell us you had joined the Bounders not so long ago?’
Theo threw his old friend a scowl and then turned back to his cousin. ‘My goodness Hallson, a sword? What would your dear mother think?’
‘I have heard of your fabled adventures outside the Shire,’ stammered the younger hobbit as he glanced down at his feet looking somewhat uncomfortable. ‘And I wanted to follow in your footsteps!’
Theo blushed at once. ‘Er, well…fabled may be a bit of a stretch, Hallson,’ he said. ‘And following in my footsteps? No a wise choice! But you are here now and your mother would never forgive me if I allowed something to happen to you.’
Hallson blinked and looked at his cousin then at the dwarves. ‘Oh no!’ he implored with a worried look in his bright eyes. ‘Please don’t. I don’t want to go back to that boring smial again!’
Khazgrim grumbled as if impatient and gazed up at the noon-sky that was passing swiftly overhead. He then leaned over to whisper something in Rulf’s ear. Theo did not notice the dwarves as they now spoke softly to one another. He instead looked long and hard at Hallson, and then threw up his hands in defeat.
‘You had better come with us,’ he declared with resignation. ‘We are headed for Needlehole, and I am returning home. You will come with us so that I can escort you back to Budgeford.’
‘I want to do what you did!’ cried Hallson clapping his hands together with joy. ‘I want to be a hero like you!’
‘A hero?’ exclaimed Theo shaking his head vigorously at his cousin. ‘Bless me! Do not speak of such things Hallson! I merely was lucky enough to get out a few rather unfortunate situations.’
Rulf laughed at this and both hobbits turned to look at him. ‘Not a hero, eh?’ he said chuckling. ‘I do remember you battling those nasty barrow spiders. You have some heroics in you, master Theo.’
Hallson’s eyes grew wide at the mere mention of spiders. ‘Theodoras battled spiders?’ he said with astonishment.
‘Not to master Baggins’ standards,’ laughed Khazgrim finally breaking his silence. ‘But spiders are a start.’
Chapter Thirty: The Rushock Bog - 5 Solmath, 1418 SR
It was dark outside when the companions had gone very quietly from the village of Overhill; first over the wood yards and past many stumps of felled trees that stuck out of the soft earth, then slowly up a rolling hill-slope to the west. Beyond the yard, the trees began to thicken as they approached the edges of the Bindbole Wood.
Their cloaks were very dark about them, and they passed like shadows in the faint evening light. Little noise could be heard round the wide patches of fir-wood, except for the sturdy march of dwarven boots and the soft pitter-pat of hobbit feet. At last Overhill was far behind them and the lights in the windows of the last smail or house in the village disappeared in the growing expanse of trees.
At the top of the long sloping hill, they struck a path through the woods that rolled away pale grey into the distance ahead. The stars swung overhead and twinkled through the swaying boughs of trees above their heads. For a long while no one spoke.
Theo walked out in front of the group, occasionally humming softly to himself. Not far behind him marched Khazgrim, his blue hood pulled up over his head; beside the dwarf was Hallson, who stumped along quite merrily, trying to appear stern and important as he went. Last came Rulf, who cast his bright eyes about as he marched with determined vigilance, one hand never straying far from the crossbow hung on his belt.
The stars were growing thicker and the night drew on when Theo yawned very loudly, then began to slow his pace. The hobbit yawned once more as the old dwarf came abreast with his slowing march.
‘It has been quite some time since I have been on the road!’ said Theo shaking his head at Khazgrim. ‘I am far too out of form as I once was. Too many fine meals and sitting beside the hearth at home!’
‘We will get you to work off some of that plumpness,’ said Rulf with a smile as he too came to halt with the others in the darkness. ‘But we have a bit more of a walk ahead of us.’ All eyes turned to glance through the trees ahead but little could be seen in the deepening shadows of the tall trees.
‘So, we walk to Needlehole?’ asked Hallson in excitement as he glanced about the woods with anticipation. ‘Then our adventure has started!’ he added as if half-expecting such an adventure to come popping right out of the trees any moment.
‘Adventure…?’ said Khazgrim with much amusement. He looked down at the excited hobbit with a smile. ‘My lad, walking from one side of the Shire to the other is hardly an adventure.’
‘Aye,’ said Hallson with a wink. ‘But this is the first time I do so with two dwarves!’
Theo stretched his arms wide as he gazed up at the night sky then turned towards Khazgrim. ‘True, master Khazgrim,’ he said. ‘There is little adventuring in the Shire and that is how we Shire-folk like it! And yet…’ his voice trailed off as a queer look spread across his rosy face.
The dwarves exchanged a quick glance then looked down at the hobbit. Theo did not speak straight away, but instead gazed off into the woods ahead of them for some time. Finally he shrugged and turned to his companions.
‘I heard a strange tale from a Bounder back in Overhill. He spoke of tales of a troll, a troll mind you, in the Rushock Bog.’ The hobbit shook his shaggy head once then twice in disbelief. ‘But folk hereabouts talk far too much and imagine more so than that to be believed.’
Hallson’s eyes grew as large as saucers at the mere mention of a troll. ‘Trolls? In the bogs?’ he gasped. ‘I cannot believe it!’
Theo looked at his cousin, shook his nose and waved one hand at his cousin. ‘No trolls thank you very much! The gnats of the bog are good enough for me. Bothersome little critters they are.’
Hallson looked sidelong at Theo and then shivered slightly, drawing his cloak tighter about himself. ‘A bit chilly though, I would have loved to sleep a bit longer and have eaten a proper meal before setting out.’ The hobbit sighed then tried to appear undaunted. ‘But if this is what a hero must do, then I am up for it!’
‘Hero?’ said Khazgrim with a smirk. ‘And what would the little master here know about heroes?’
‘Well,’ answered Hallson scratching his head. ‘I know my cousin here is one! And from your tales then you must be as well!’
The dwarf laughed aloud heartily at the young hobbit. ‘I am over two hundred years old, little master, I have plenty of stories to tell.’
‘I would love to hear them all, Khazgrim!’ said Hallson clapping his hands.
‘That all depends,’ answered the dwarf smiling at the frown that now spread across the hobbit’s young face. ‘If you have some red wine, a fine meal and a warm hearth, the perhaps I would be glad to tell you some.’
Rulf, who had fallen uncommonly silent, now spoke up in a low voice. ‘We can eat when the sun is up, he said slowly, never taking his watchful eyes from the trees. ‘Let us get some more miles behind us first.’
At once the others glanced at the grim dwarf. Theo hoisted his pack higher onto his back and yawned once more before returning to the walk ahead. Hallson quickly followed, a peculiar gleam in his eyes. Still chuckling softly, Khazgrim marched swiftly after the two hobbits. Rulf stood silently for a moment, looking about the woods with a grim stare then trotted to catch up with his companions.
They had not gone far when the fairly level ground began to fall gently down to the west. The night was still clear and cool and starry, but smoky wisps of mist were now creeping up the slope. After only a short distance, the slope began to plunge deeply past the few remaining trees that rustled their dry leaves in the darkness.
Further down the steep slopes there now came into view a wide expanse of stagnant pools and marches, interrupted here or there by narrow bands of dryer land. Each of these islands were covered with reeds and grasses, or crowned by mossy and sickly-looking trees.
The companions scrambled down the last length of slope to the bottom. There Theo halted, a wide pool barring their way further on. ‘Ugg!’ exclaimed Theo with distaste as he stepped back hastily from the bank. ‘What a horrible place!’ Rulf took a stand beside the hobbit and looked out across the bogs beyond in the dim starlight.
‘Well, look at this!’ declared Theo as he gazed out over the water; the mire did not flow but in the dim light he could just make out the rising bank on the far side. Too far, thought Theo with distrust. ‘Do you think we can cross?’ asked Theo out loud, to no one in particular.
The hobbits did not know it, but they were in fact only just now entering the eastern-most border of the bog and the main expanse stretched far out to the west and south. Far to the north and west lay Needlehole, the last Shire village on the very edge of the western edges of the marsh.
‘Are we crossing here?’ squeaked Hallson from behind Theo. ‘Is there no road or bridge?’
‘I do not know cousin,’ answered Theo.
Khazgrim, who had not yet approached the bank, gazed out over the still water. ‘My cloak is going to get soaked,’ he groaned.
Rulf knelt on the bank and peered down the edge of the water to the right. ‘We can try going along aside that way,’ he muttered, trying to sound encouraging.
‘Longer but safer? I like that!’ said Hallson gratefully. ‘What do you say, Theo?’ he added, looking at his cousin.
Theo fell silent, gazing out over the pool with displeasure. At last he spoke. ‘Agreed, dyer and safer.’
Without a word, and with Rulf in the lead, the companions began picking their way carefully along the bank of the mire. For a time it led north along the foot of the sloping hill but soon it began to turn to the west and came to a narrow spit of land no more a dozen or so paces wide. After a few steps it came to an end surrounded by water on three sides.
‘This seems a bit shallower to cross,’ announced Theo as he peered over the pool. This did seem true, as the far bank could be seen no more than ten yards or so. But the water seemed deceptive to say the least and it was evident that they would not be able to cross without getting wet.
‘I shall go first,’ said Rulf after a moment. Theo looked anxiously at his old friend then at the still water, but said nothing. The dwarf handed Theo the reins of his pony, lifted his axe and crossbow from his belt with both hands and held them high. Rulf took a hesitant step into the cold water, then another few steps and soon the water rose to his wide waist. He turned to glance back at his companions and was about to speak. But he sighed and began to stumble through the murky water until it began to grow shallower nearer the far side.
Finally, the dwarf strode onto the bank, shaking the water out of his leather boots and legging. His slid his axe and crossbow back into his belt and turned to wave the other over.
Next went Theo. Holding the hem of his worn cloak near his chin with both hands, the hobbit splashed into the water, sputtering loudly with every step. For a moment, he began to flounder as he reached the middle and the water rose dangerously to his chest. But soon the hobbit was standing beside Rulf, looking very bedraggled and very uncomfortable.
Hallson watched his cousin with dread as he waded through the water, but now it was his turn to cross. He stuck a single toe into the water at the edge and swiftly withdrew it. He looked at Khazgrim who was standing beside him, then placed his entire foot into the water; at once sank into squishy mud on the bottom. Forgetting his cloak altogether, the young hobbit began to cross, using his arms like paddles as if he was both walking and swimming. The younger hobbit scrambled onto the bank, smiled meekly at the others there and then let out a loud sneeze.
Now it was only Khazgrim standing alone on the narrow spit of dry land with the two ponies. He tugged at the packs atop each pony to test their straps, and then began prodding them into the water. The ponies of course wanted nothing to do with this and brayed loudly as the dwarf pushed them further in. The dwarf grumbled and herded them deeper until they were kicking and snorting as they waded across. Soon the ponies were standing with the others, shaking the dripping water from their manes and tails.
Khazgrim watched in silence as the ponies crossed, glanced over the water with a deep sigh, and began to unclasp his long cloak. The dwarf gently folded the cloak and, holding it with both hands, began to wade through the still water.
‘Bogs!’ muttered the dwarf as he slowly made his way across with careful steps. ‘Never liked them on my way down, or here.’ The old dwarf was drenched from beard to boots when he finally reached the far side, but seemed no worse for wear.
After a very short rest, while they shook and wrung what water they could from their dripping clothing, they set out once again. The pools grew larger and more ominous as they made their way deeper into the bogs on a westerly path. With Rulf in the lead, they picked their way carefully along, in a zigzag pattern, trying to keep to the higher patches of drier ground. And yet, more than once they had to cross through sticky patches of mired water, though not nearly so deep and wide as the first one.
The light cool breeze of the woods had changed, growing to a cold wind. With it was bourne a bitter and reeking tang that made the hobbits wriggle their noses more than once. Overhead, the night sky became torn and tattered with rolling mists that all but hid the twinkling stars behind a flowing blanket of grey.
They had been going along for more than an hour when they reached a wide patch of dry land that rose suddenly from the narrow islands and surrounding pools of stagnant water. Near the top they could see a muddy and deeply-rutted road sweeping round from the south towards a mossy and old-looking wooden bridge. The bridge crossed a narrow expanse of water to another patch of dry land on the far side.
‘I believe I see a road over there!’ said Theo as he pointed ahead with renewed hope.
‘How are you both holding up?’ asked Rulf to the hobbits as he looked towards the road.
‘Dirty and muddy as expected, master Rulf,’ grumbled Theo, trying once again to shake the caked mud from his furry toes. ‘I’m all soaked and freezing!’ added Hallson miserably.
Rulf looked down at the shivering younger hobbit with a smile. ‘Just think how good your next meal will taste after working up such an appetite.’ He motioned for the others towards the bridge. ‘Come. We will make it across these bogs before the end of the night.’
‘At least no sign of that terrible troll!’ said Theo with a smirk and a wink to the other hobbit as he trotted after the dwarf. ‘But thankfully we reached a road!’
‘Hmm,’ pondered Hallson as they made their way across the narrow bridge and onto the road on the far side. ‘This road has to lead somewhere. We could have taken it.’
‘This road, cousin, leads all the way to Ered Luin of course!’ answered Theo, his spirits now much improved now that they were free of the mire and deep pools.
‘Are we going there with the dwarves?’ asked Hallson with some hope.
‘Oh heavens no!’ said Theo. ‘My garden needs tending to and the road to Ered Luin is long. We shall say our goodbyes in Needlehole and you and I shall turn back home.’
The road on the far side of the bridge bore left towards the north and west, along the banks of a wide and deep-looking mire and a steep cliff-side on the other. There the ground was fairly level and open, passing a few stunted growths of trees. They trudged along fast, the hobbits glancing from side to side, sometimes looking behind them as they went. The eastern sky was beginning to glow a faint red through the wavering mists; the wind had fallen, veering round to the south and soon the sun was rising pale and watery out of the rolling mists.
It was not long when the road came to another small bridge and shallow stream flowing down from the steep cliffs and into the nearby bog to the left. On the far side stood a low hedge and low gate and beyond they could just see the tops of a collection of roofs and chimneys. For a moment, Theo paused to look ahead and listened; everything seemed quiet and peaceful.
‘Ah, see?’ said Theo thankfully. ‘Needlehole is just up ahead, or I am a Bucklander!’
‘We are halfway home,’ said Rulf softly as he tugged at his beard. Quickly the companions made their way through the hedge-gate, and past a Hobbit Bounder who stood sleepy under the arch. Beyond the gate, the village led further on towards a low hill and past a few smials and houses.
Theo sat down at once along the side of the lane under the flickering glow of two lamps on high posts. ‘Not even an inn!’ he muttered softly. Hallson plopped his pack down beside him and stretched out over the top of it, seeming prepared to fall asleep at once right there.
Theo gazed at Rulf, who was standing with his pony watching a hobbit just up the lane. More curiously, the hobbit was watching them with interest, wringing his hands together and stamping his feet nervously.
Theo was about to speak when the dwarf slipped the reins of the pony to the ground and approached the strange hobbit. Theo strained his ears to hear the hobbit begin to speak as the dwarf reached him. Little could be made out but, as Theo watched with growing interest, the hobbit began to speak in a hurried fashion, wringing his hands and glancing about as he spoke. The dwarf answered quietly and listened to the hobbit in between.
Theo turned to speak to Khazgrim, who had sat down himself and was beginning to nod off when at that moment Rulf reappeared, a scowl darkening his face.
‘Why the frown, Mr. Rulf?’ said Theo, looking at his friend anxiously. The dwarf opened his mouth, and shut it again, turning to glance back at the hobbit further up the lane. Finally, the dwarf looked down at Khazgrim and spoke , his voice grim.
‘Khazgrim…,’ he began slowly. ‘This hobbit over there is accusing a dwarf of stealing his cow.’
Khazgrim opened his eyes and raised an eyebrow. ‘A dwarf? Steal a cow?’ he said with disbelief. ‘Has the hobbit gone mad? What possible use would a Longbeard want with a cow?’
‘Does he think it is one of you two?’ asked Hallson faintly as he sat up abruptly.
Rulf shook his head. ‘He named a dwarf called Olwir, whom he suspects stole his cow…what dwarf would do that? It makes no sense.’
‘None of our folk would do something so pointless,’ said Khazgrim firmly as he rose slowly to his feet.
Theo fell very silent, gazing at the dwarves. ‘There must be some misunderstanding,’ he said finally. ‘Perhaps we should have a talk with this hobbit?’
Rulf wriggled his long nose slightly. ‘The hobbit asked for us to go looking in the bog…at a place called Troll’s Knoll of all things. I do not know a dwarf named Olwir, but if he is a Longbeard, I doubt he is also a thief. Should we look into this?’
‘Aye we should,’ murmured Khazgrim as he stroked his long grey beard.
‘Then we will seek this missing cow,’ answered Rulf. ‘And you shall come with us,’ he added looking at the two young hobbits.
Hallson’s eyes grew bright and wide and looked at his cousin imploringly. Theo did not speak right away, but shook his head once or twice. Finally he laughed aloud. ‘Of course, master Rulf. We cannot allow such things to go unanswered. We are far too dear of friends after all!’ He turned to Hallson and smiled. ‘Well young Bolger, you asked for an adventure and now you shall have it!’
Chapter Thirty-one: Friends and Enemies - 6 Solmath, 1418 SR
The mists had begun to gather more thick even with the spreading dawn when the companions made their way quietly from Needlehole and back to the muddy road through the hedge-gate. The bogs that now slowly came into view once more were still dark with endless curling wisps of grey.
For a moment, Theo paused along the road and said nothing. He was looking out with discomfort over the still and mist-shrouded bog to the south. He now turned to his companions. ‘About this troll knoll?’ he said with a long sigh, shaking the rain from his sodden head. ‘Any clue as to where we may find it?’
Indeed, it had begun to rain only a short while before they had departed. The wind had suddenly come up with great gusts and spots of rain began to trickle down from the darkened skies even as they had hoisted their packs to their shoulders and made their way through the hedge-gate. Now the rain was falling steadily, making everything and everyone very miserable and very wet. Everything seemed gloomy.
‘It would be high up…’ muttered Khazgrim, as he shook his blue hood free of the falling rain. ‘Trolls tend to like somewhere high, and somewhere there is a cave nearby.’
‘So back to the marsh, I suppose,’ said Theo with a sniffle. Hallson stood beside his cousin but said nothing, looking quite bedraggled in the falling rain.
‘Aye, little master,’ answered Khazgrim, who now gave up all hope of shaking the water out of his soaked hood.
Rulf glanced up at the dreary and dismal sky, and then turned to the others. ‘We should move out,’ he said quietly.
With Rulf leading the way, they scrambled from the road, down a steep embankment and into a thicket of mossy trees below. They picked their way through the trees and soon came to a wide and deep-looking stretch of open water. There they halted.
Khazgrim grew very quiet for a moment, and then spoke. ‘Beardling, if this is a troll,’ he said grimly. ‘Then we must be ready for battle.’
‘I know,’ answered the younger dwarf. ‘My axe and bow are ready.’ Rulf now peered across the still water and pointed. ‘Should we cross here to the other side?’
‘Cross here?’ said Theo with a start as his eyes followed the outstretched arm of the dwarf. On the far side of the water could be dimly seen a raised embankment of mud, overhung with sickly trees and mossy brambles. The hobbit shook his head at the sight, for he at once knew that they could not jump across, nor did he wish wade through it, believing that the water would most certainly rise far above his and Hallson’s head in the deepest center.
‘I do not wish to cross here,’ said Theo sternly.
Khazgrim gazed out over the water with a keen eye and finally spoke. ‘Aye, let us try a bit east first.’
The companions now took to a new line, turning aside to the left and followed the edges of the bog, seeking a better and easier spot to cross. In silence, they trudged along the muddy bank, while all about them the rain pattered and trickled down.
By the time they had gone a mile or more, the sun gleaned pale and watery out of swirling clouds low on the horizon to the east. They now saw that their path along the banks was now turning them a bit southwards. All was quiet but for the splatter of hobbit feet and dwarf boot over the wet and muddy embankment.
Finally, they halted beneath the spreading bough of a tall mossy rowan tree. Theo sat down beneath the tree and looked away south into the following haze of mist. ‘Oh confront it and be bothered with missing cows!’ he said at last.
‘I hope this cow just wandered off and wasn’t really taken by a troll!’ said Hallson, who was looking as miserable as his cousin in the cold, wet rain.
‘Your cousin has the luck of having to find missing livestock, master Hallson,’ said Rulf with a chuckle, seeming to be not the least bothered by the sour weather.
Theo glanced at his old friend with distain, then sighed deeply and slowly climbed to his feet. ‘I am sure we will find this Daffodil sleeping peacefully on some hillock before long,’ he said, trying to sound reassuring.
The companions looked out onto the water and listened for a time; then they trussed their packs up again and set out. Their path continued on to the east and south in a tired zigzagging sort of way; it was not long when they began to climb towards the top of a steep bank. At the top, the higher ground began at once to sink towards the edges of the water on the other side. Here they paused once again.
‘This is plenty shallow,’ said Khazgrim confidently as he strode to the bank and looked out.
‘Agreed, we should try here,’ replied Rulf as he sank the haft of his axe into the unmoving but muddy water. Without another word, the dwarf began to wade through the water with slow, steady steps. Khazgrim swiftly followed him. Much to the hobbits’ surprise, the water rose no higher than the tops of the dwarfs’ leathers boots and, within moments, they both were standing on the other bank. Rulf turned back to the hobbits and waved them to follow.
Theo turned a very distrusting eye towards water and shivered, then took Hallson’s arm in his and plunged briskly into the still water. It was cold, icy cold, even colder than their first crossing on their way from Overhill. The hobbits spluttered as they began to cross, clutching to one another as if the slightest step could spell their doom. As they reached the center, the water rose up to their knees but went no further; they waded unsteadily across and hurried up onto the muddy bank on the far side.
There the companions stood for a moment, the hobbits shivering in the cold wind that had now sprung up. Theo cupped his hand to his mouth to breathe out heavily, and then looked up curiously. Rulf had stepped a few paces away from the bank and was gazing further to the south. The dwarf pointed and all eyes turned to spy a mossy-grey slope leading up like a sagging bridge onto the north side of a high but flat-topped hill.
They decided to make for the top at once; after a slow prodding climb the companions reached the crown of the hill. On the top they found it treeless for the most part, and covered with tall mossy grasses. To all sides of the hill there appeared a wide view of the bogs, empty, deserted and featureless in the deep swirling mists.
Theo took a step forward then froze, looking curiously at something on the far side of the summit. It seemed to be some sort of stone rising from the tall grasses; but as the mists parted he leapt back with alarm and great fright.
‘Oh my, look! A troll!’ he shouted, then hurriedly covered his mouth with both hands. Hallson followed his cousin’s gaze until he too saw the troll; towering over both hobbit and dwarf, the troll’s huge arms were stretched wide and its large bulbous head was cocked to one side and turned away as if to shield its gaze from something. It was clad in simple leathers over dark skin of grey-greenish scales and great toeless feet were planted beneath it.
‘Don’t worry,’ said Khazgrim softly with a slight chuckle. ‘It is daylight…’
‘Daylight?’ answered Theo at once, not daring to take his eyes from the monstrous troll. ‘Whatever does that have to do with anything?’
Suddenly, Rulf strode up towards the troll; the hobbits shrieked and Theo lunged to pull his companion back. The dwarf stopped under the towering form and gazed up at its great heavy face. Then, much to the surprise of the frightened hobbits, Rulf laughed aloud and tapped the troll on the knee with the haft of his axe.
‘Looks like he got caught short of dusk,’ said the dwarf with some laughter and looked back at the others.
Theo rubbed his eyes, as if he were sleeping and had suddenly awoken. ‘My, my, whatever is going on here?’
Khazgrim looked down at the hobbits with a broad smile. ‘Stone trolls cannot go out in the daylight,’ he said. ‘Or they turn to stone.’
‘He’s turned to stone?’ said Hallson meekly, not taking his wide eyes from the troll, whom he expected to leap straight towards them at any moment, sunlight or no sunlight.
‘Yes,’ answered the dwarf. ‘They have never been too bright, slow and stupid as always.’
Theo laughed his fear and worry swiftly disappearing. ‘Truly? See Hallson, you learn something new every day! But a stone troll, here in the Shire?’
‘So at night does it prowl the bog alive?’ asked Hallson not entirely ready to believe neither his own eyes nor the reassuring words of the dwarves.
‘No lad,’ said Khazgrim and placed a steady hand on the young hobbit’s head. ‘The story for this troll is quite over.’
‘A troll!’ said Theo shaking his head with wonder. ‘Never did I think I would live long enough to see one. Even one turned to stone!’
Just then, Rulf turned away from the troll and glanced down into the tall grass. Kneeling down, he parted the grass and whistled aloud, waving the others over. ‘No need to worry about this troll, but look here,’ he said. There, lying in the grass was a cow, and worse still it seemed to have been partially eaten by some sort of large wild beast. Around its neck was hung a bronze bell.
‘Ugg!’ said Hallson with disgust as he looked down at the poor cow. He pinched his nose and turned away.
Rulf reached down and carefully removed the bell from round the cow’s neck. ‘It could not have been this troll,’ he muttered as he stood up. ’This one has been turned to stone for a long time, otherwise why else would this hill have the name, Troll’s Knoll?’
Khazgrim furrowed his brow and then glanced back at the standing troll. ‘Where there is one troll…’ he began then fell silent. ‘What do you mean, Khazgrim?’ said Theo with alarm.
‘There are probably more,’ answered Rulf grimly, glancing at the other dwarf.
‘Yes,’ relied Khazgrim. ‘Trolls do not usually wander alone, at least not stone trolls.’
‘More trolls?’ exclaimed Hallson and he began looking about very worried. ‘Cousin, we must warn the Bounders about this!’
‘Do not worry Hallson,’ answered Rulf. ‘They only come out at night. But let us return to this Mister Bolger; it certainly was no dwarf that did this!’
It was a damp, weary journey back to Needlehole and they seldom spoke. The dwarves had fallen very grim and there was no laughter or song as they plodded back out of the bog. Even cheerful Hallson remained very quiet as they picked out the slow pathless trek back to the road. A general uneasiness had befallen the companions as they reached the northern-most edges of the bogs and they now began to feel that some hidden danger was not far away, or that they were marching straight on towards it.
Once back within the safety of the hedge of Needlehole, Theo threw his pack down beneath the eaves of a smial along the side of the road and sat down. Hallson sat beside him, looking very miserable and fell swiftly into an uneasy sleep. The two dwarves fell into quiet whispering in their strange, secretive tongue, then wandered off and disappeared.
For a long while, Theo sat gloomily under the eaves, gazing our over the road as rain splattered and sputtered in the mud. The sky looked dark and dreary, though it was already well past noon-time, and only the slightest patch of sunlight shone now or then from behind the thick clouds.
Theo was just beginning to doze off, his head resting on Hallson’s shoulder, when there came the sounds of heavy boot steps sloshing through the rain and mud towards him. He yawned and opened his eyes to watch as Rulf suddenly returned.
‘Now he wants us to speak with a Bounder…’ The dwarf looked both troubled and grim as he said this.
‘A Bounder?’ asked Theo as he climbed to his feet and stretched his arms high. ‘Whatever for?’
‘This Bolger fellow is still insisting the dwarf Olwir has something to do with his cow’s disappearance, said the dwarf, tugging at his beard.
‘Who is this Olwir fellow anyways?’ asked the hobbit disquietedly.
Suddenly, there came a voice from behind the dwarf. ‘’We told him troll, and all he says is dwarf,’ said Khazgrim becoming visible in the rain. ‘As far as the dwarf, we do not know.’ He was silent for a moment. ‘Well beardling?’ he said quietly, gazing at the other dwarf.
Rulf scowled. ‘I spoke with this Bounder; he told me that they have seen increased traffic of dwarves of late, and not all are considered respectable.’ Khazgrim scoffed at this and spat into the mud with displeasure.
‘The Bounder suspects this Olwir is a trouble-maker,’ he went on. ‘But that does not mean much coming from a hobbit, no offense. Hobbits tend to think most strangers are up to no good. He has asked us to speak with a dwarf named Ulfar, says he is a respectable lot and may have some information about this Olwir.’
‘Then we must assume the worst,’ answered Khazgrim quietly. ‘We must go and find this Olwir, maybe he will give a proper account of himself to a fellow dwarf.’
When I see Hallson’s eagerness the phrase “be careful what you wish for” comes to mind. Let’s see if he likes his adventure. Good to see Theodoros is out and about again. Looking forward to more.
I am very happy that the second half of the story is entertaining, story21, and that people have returned to follow Theo's new adventure! The first part of this new tale has been slow going, of course, since the intrepid adventurers are still in the relative safety of the Shire. But not for long! This new tale will have some very intereting twists and turns and the journey involved will be a long one.
Chapter Thirty-two: The Dwarves of Needlehole - 7 Solmath, 1418 SR
‘A dwarf and a troll, together? Unheard of!’ said Theo after the others had fallen silent. ‘Well, what should we do? Perhaps we should look for this Ulfar fellow and get to the bottom of all of this nonsense.’
Hallson stood beside his cousin, his bright face furrowed with worry and confusion. The dwarves did not speak straight away, but gazed at one another in a strange manner. Finally, Rulf spoke aloud.
‘We will speak with Ulfar,’ said the dwarf slowly but with a stern voice. ’He is a dwarf from the Blue Mountains; he may be able to help us.’
‘Yes,’ added Khazgrim firmly. ‘Stay here. Dwarf business is ours and ours alone.’
With that, the old dwarf turned and strode down the lane with Rulf soon following his heavy strides. The hobbits watched as the dwarves made their way along the road and up a slope; Theo did not look at his cousin, or speak a word for some time, worry now creased across his face.
‘Hmm, shady dwarf business might I add,’ said Hallson finally as the dwarves disappeared from view down the road.
Theo gazed down at his cousin and sighed aloud. ‘Dwarves are proud folk, and honourable to a fault at times.’ he said. ‘But this business about stealing cows?’
The sun rose hidden behind the thick clouds and the sleepy village of Needlehole seemed sad and gloomy. Theo lifted his pack from his shoulders and placed in gently down, and then sat onto top of it. Hallson seemed rather bored with the whole nonsense and began kicking a small stone like a ball around in the muddy lane for youthful amusement.
Theo was beginning to nod slowly off to sleep when he sat up and looked up the road from where the dwarves had gone. He could hear voices, deep and resonant, up the road where it climbed a low hill on the far side of the village. One voice was certainly Rulf’s, the other was indistinct and little could Theo make out. Then the voices fell away and nothing else could be heard.
Presently, heavy footfalls came from up the road and within moments, the dwarves came into view, trudging down from the slope. Theo clambered to his feet and watched his companions with growing interest; the dwarves were talking in low voices as they approached, and the hobbit could just hear the last of their conversation as they approached.
‘I have my suspicions and I hope I am not right,’ said Rulf gravely. ‘I believe it may be….must be….no Longbeard would such a thing.’
‘So what did this dwarf have to say?’ asked Theo with expectant curiosity as the dwarves halted before him.
Rulf at once closed his mouth and eyed the hobbits. He glanced about for listening ears and then spoke in a hushed manner. ‘It seems this mystery is not over. Ulfar has asked us to look for some dwarves that may know of this Olwir. We are told to seek them in the bogs, towards the east.’
‘Dwarves, in the marshes, is he mad?’ exclaimed Theo with disbelief. ‘Are you sure that is what this Ulfar fellow said?’
The dwarves exchanged curious glances and then Khazgrim spoke. ‘Yes, that is what he said.’
‘So what exactly is this dwarf asking of us?’ said Theo, looking at the dwarves with bewilderment.
‘Do not worry yourself, little master,’ answered Khazgrim gravely.’ You make yourselves comfortable here. We will return with the information.’ He then turned to Rulf. ‘Let us get this over with,’ said the old dwarf wearily.
The dwarves shouldered their packs and turned to walk towards the hedge-gate, leaving Theo and Hallson very discerned, unable to speak. Neither dwarf spoke until they passed through the gate and had begun to make their way down the road beyond. There Khazgrim turned to gaze back hastily at the hedge-gate
‘Accursed Dourhands…’ he muttered softly when they were out of earshot of the hobbits. ‘They have their stink in everything!’
Rulf nodded but said nothing at first. He was thinking back to their conversation with Ulfar. Much to the dwarves’ surprise, Ulfar did not seem altogether astonished by the questions they posed to him. On the contrary, the old dwarf had much to say about this Olwir and of the riddle concerning Daffodil’s gruesome and untimely demise.
'Aye, it doesn't surprise me that Olwir is involved in this,’ confided the old dwarf at once. ‘A number of dwarves passing through lately are of low character, and he's the worst! I wish I could tell you where he was, but I've not seen him about for a few days. Those other dwarves might've seen him. In fact, just the other day, I saw a bunch of them crowding around a parchment of some sort. I didn't catch what they were talking about, but I did hear Olwir's name mentioned. That parchment could have been their orders. If you could go out to Rushock Bog and acquire a few of those letters from the dwarf-hunters out there, we might learn what Olwir is up to.'
As the old dwarf’s words echoed in his mind, Rulf finally broke his silence. 'Yes...’ he said slowly. ‘And even some dwarves cannot spot the difference, let alone hobbits or elves.'
‘Then let us deal with this as swiftly as possible,’ growled Khazgrim.
‘Of course,’ exclaimed Rulf with a snort. ‘Yet, it is unfortunate your brother is not here. He would be having a high old time in all of this!’ This he added with a hint of sarcasm.
‘I am sure he would,’ grumbled the older dwarf, seeming to not enjoy the humour of his companion. ‘I have no love for these traitors against the line of Durin.’
They followed the road as they had done that morning; but this time they did not turn towards the marsh, but instead they marched along the road until the old bridge slowly came into view. There the dwarves left the road and took to the muddy slopes that rose up from the open waters of the bogs to the south. For some time they followed this direction, turning ever east and northwards as they went. There the ground was much firmer than along the banks of the bogs, and far less muddy. They passed under an occasional mossy tree or through thorny scrub brush as they picked their way along the higher ground.
They soon came to a tall hill before them, bordered by leaning rowan trees. Quietly, the dwarves scrambled up the steep slope and through ferns and brambles. At the brow of the hill they paused and looked out; to the north and east they could see flickering lights in the distance – campfires if their eyes did not deceive them.
At once, there came the sound of stealthy footfalls ahead in the gloom; it was swiftly followed by a glimpse of wary movement beneath the boughs of a snarled and mossy tree. The figure, clad in a decrepit and filthy tunic of leather, stooped under the hanging tree branches and lifted its head to glare about with bloodshot eyes. Held tightly in one hand was small round shield of wood and in the other it grasped a savage axe of iron.
Rulf crouched low in the tall ferns and signaled for his companion to do also. Then, with a slow nod, the dwarf unslung his crossbow and drew back the heavy strong, setting an arrow onto the grove of the stock. There was a heavy twang followed by a groan; the dwarves looked out to watch the figure slip quietly to the ground.
Without a word, the dwarves made their way stealthily down from the hill, staying very low to the ground. When they were no more than six or so paces from the fallen figure, there suddenly appeared another figure further on. With a hoarse shout, the swarthy figure crashed through the brambles, its bearded face twisted with a savage sneer.
The new arrival did not halt its charge, but came straight at the dwarves with abandon, hefting its cruel-looking broad-bladed axe over its head. At once, Rulf cursed and reached for another arrow, but Khazgrim now sprang forward, past his friend.
‘Traitorous filth!’ the dwarf cried out as he met the dourhand’s headlong charge. The dourhand swept his axe out in a wide arc, but Khazgrim slipped aside, twisted round and drove forward with his mace. The dourhand gurgled and staggered back a step, clutching feebly at Khazgrim’s arm before slipping closed-eyed to the earth.
‘Damnable dourhands,’ grumbled the dwarf as he gazes down at the unmoving foe.
‘A good blow, master Khazgrim,’ said Rulf softly. He glanced out to survey the trees further on and then bent over the fallen dourhand at Khazgrim’s feet. ‘Don’t they ever bathe?’ he said with distaste. He gently lifted a pouch from the dourhand’s belt and stood up. Inside he found a crumbled piece of parchment which he began to unroll and held it up in the dim light.
‘Skorgrím! Again!’ he said as his quick eyes passed over the fine script written with a large bold hand. At last he looked up. ‘Listen to this,’ he said swiftly.
To the dwarf Olwir, son of the Dourhands and loyal to our cause:
Word of your promise has reached my ears, and you will be great in my eyes if you can deliver on it. If a stone-troll might be captured in this land called Shire, I will reward you with riches beyond any you or your fathers have seen. Do not fail in this, for punishment will come as swiftly as reward.
Skorgrím Dourhand, Mightiest
Rulf paused and handed his companion the crumbled paper with rage. Khazgrim took the note and passed his eyes hastily over the writing. ‘Traitorous wretches!’ he muttered handing the letter back and gripped the haft of his mace with both hands. ‘Let us return to Ulfar,’ he said with a snarl. ‘He will want to hear about this.’
Rulf raised his head and looked about. ‘Yes, let’s not tarry here.’
Chapter Thirty-three: A Gift for the North – 7 Solmath, 1418 SR
The day was passing slowly and wearily in Needlehole. Hallson, who had grown tired of the dwarves’ return, was now curled up and fast asleep, his cloak pulled tightly about him. Theo had not done so, but sat worried under the eaves along the road, one eye kept focused on the hedge-gate. He was thinking back to the words of the dwarves before they departed back into the forbidding bog, and Theo was growing afraid with concern. The dwarves had seemed even more grim after their talk with the Ulfar fellow and Theo now began to wonder if something terrible had happened out in the trackless bogs.
The day was growing pale and dark when he heard the sounds of approaching boots through the gate. Theo roused his cousin with a gentle nudge and stood up to watch with eagerness as the dwarves strode through the hedge-gate, their heavy boots caked with mud.
‘I wondered what had taken you so long to return,’ said Theo with relief as the dwarves stopped before him. ‘I thought perhaps something terrible had happened!’
‘We are fine,’ said Khazgrim with a smile, setting down his heavy pack with a groan. ‘Yet we have more business to discuss.’
‘I thought of heading out after you, but the very thought of venturing into those marshes was not a pleasant notion!’ answered Theo, but he now gazed up at the old dwarf and frowned. ‘What is this about business? I do not like the sounds of it.’
‘Is it something to do with that troll in the bog?’ asked Hallson, as he rubbed the sleep from his eyes and sat up.
Khazgrim looked down at the sleepy hobbit and nodded slowly. ‘It may.’
‘Well let’s have it then,’ said Theo, who did not like this hint of new-found secrecy.
‘I think they should be told,’ said Rulf slowly, glancing at his kinsman.
‘We should not involve them in this nasty business,’ replied Khagrim grimly.
‘I know, but this is their home,’ countered Rulf with a forlorn look.
Khazgrim did not answer but growled softly and sat wearily down atop his pack. Rulf cleared his throat and turned to the hobbits, a strange somber look upon his face.
‘Theo, you were at our side in the Barrow,’ he began slowly. ‘You have a stout heart, but this is ill news we bring. It seems that there is a bad dwarf hereabouts. He wants to bring trouble to the Shire. The Dourhands are trying to bring a stone-troll into these lands.’
‘Good gracious, a stone-troll, here?’ said Theo with much alarm. ‘And whatever are Dourhands?’
There came only silence from the grim dwarves; Khazgrim sat still and silent upon the ground, deep in thought. Theo shivered slightly and looked out over the road; for a moment he felt a deep sense of darkness and doom creeping into his heart. Rulf stirred and gazed at him, a look of sadness in the dwarf’s lined face. It was Hallson who finally broke the silence.
‘So you will take care of it, right?’ said the young hobbit, not knowing exactly what a stone-troll was, only that it sounded very foul and terrible.
‘Yes, we will,’ said Khazgrim breaking his silence and gazed up at the wide-eyes hobbit. ‘But stay silent, we know how hobbits love to gossip.’ Hallson took a step back, shut his mouth quickly, and turned his eyes down to his hairy feet.
Theo ruffled his hair and then sighed deeply. ‘Dear me, the very thought of a troll shivers me something terribly,’ he said suddenly. ‘I am no warrior, yet I simply cannot remain unmoved by such a calamity coming here. I am a Bounder after all, though certainly nothing like Bullroarer Took! You called this a dwarf affair, but this is Shire business and we hobbits look to our own. What should I do?’
Rulf raised a shaggy brow at his friend and smiled warmly. ‘Bounder indeed, my old friend. That is the hobbit I came to know in the dreaded Barrow Downs.’ Hallson looked up, beaming a fresh smile of his own at his cousin.
Theo muttered something and his face blushed bright, waving the dwarf away with one hand. Suddenly, Khazgrim, who did not seem to find much amusement in the exchange, stood up and walked between the old friends. He gazed at both of them with grim dark silent eyes and finally spoke.
‘I will not be held responsible for you fate, Mr. Took,’ he said then glanced swiftly at the other dwarf. ‘Nor will Rulf,’ he added sternly. ‘Do you understand? If this ends badly for you, will hold to your previous contract, little master. As far as funeral expenses and rights to treasures go.’
‘Theo knows,’ said Rulf swiftly as he winked at Theo and tried to hide a grin. ‘We had this discussion before.’
Theo’s eyes drew wide and he glanced first at one dwarf then the other in disbelief and horror. ‘What contract?’ he blurted with a shriek. ‘And funeral expenses?’
‘Just standard stuff really,’ said Rulf, who was fighting to stave off his growing laughter. ‘But no worries my old friend, I doubt it will come to all that.’
Khazgrim turned to look at the other dwarf with a deep frown. ‘I thought you had written him up a contract before, during the journey into the Barrow Downs?’
‘It was a while back,’ answered Rulf with a slight shrug. ‘We may have glossed over that part.’
Theo was now speechless, turning from one dwarf to the other as they spoke, too stunned for any sort of words. Hallson too fell silent, clutching at his cousin’s arm, not really understanding the entire talk but none of it sounded pleasant.
‘Glossed over?’ snorted Khazgrim.
Rulf laughed aloud. ‘He was fine then, no need scaring the lad needlessly.’
Theo finally found his voice once more, though he was still shaking like an autumn leaf. ‘I can assure you, master Khazgrim, nothing of the sort was ever discussed or arraigned with me! Contract indeed!’
But then a memory of the night in the Prancing Pony sprang into mind as Theo gazed at the dwarves. He recalled the dour dwarves that fateful evening as they spoke of the dreaded Barrow Downs and of the task that that presented to the young hobbit. He remembered not entirely understanding the whole business, and was greatly fearful of its outcome. And yet he also recalled the great desire that welled up inside his heart to show the dwarves what stuff he was really made of.
The hobbit let out a long sigh and a little colour slowly crept back into his cheeks. ‘Am I to understand you have a plan, Rulf? To deal with this loathsome troll?’ he said slowly and cautiously. ‘Hopefully a better one than tramping off into a forsaken barrow in search for gold?’
‘Yes,’ said Rulf still chuckling quietly. ‘Master Khazgrim has a good plan, I assure you.’
‘Well I for one would like to know more about this master’s plan then!’
‘Indeed,’ said Khazgrim grimly. ‘We will speak with Ulfar about this matter.’
It was not long when they had made their way up the hill from the hedge-gate and found the old dwarf Khazgrim spoke of. Rulf strode up to the dwarf and, with a low bow, he began speaking quietly to Ulfar. Theo strode next to his cousin, fidgeting somewhat, straining to hear the words of his old friend. Presently, Ulfar nodded and then looked up at Rulf.
'Who would have thought the theft of a cow would uncover a plot such as this?’ he murmured. ‘We must foil Olwir's plans, and if he has captured a troll, we must slay it! Fortunately, I have learned where Olwir and his dwarves are camping. They can be found in the north of Rushock Bog. However, getting into the camp and slaying this Stone-troll, if they have one, will not be easy. We will need help. Gather a party of warriors -- if there are any to be found in this land -- then return here. Make sure to gather sturdy warriors, for the battle ahead will not be easy.'
‘We have,’ said Rulf as he pointed back to the hobbits. Ulfar gazed at the hobbits, and then snorted aloud, clearly seeing not stoutly warriors but a pair of Shire grocers. Hallson beamed a wide smile at the old dwarf and tried to look fierce; Theo only looked away uncomfortable under the heavy gaze of the dwarf. Rulf spoke in the old dwarf’s ears once again, who continued to shake his head. Finally, Ulfar spoke again.
‘Very well,’ he said grimly. ‘We've got to get into this camp and slay the Stone-troll they may have captured. Also, when we get into the camp, be on the watch for that Olwir. He won't be too pleased to see us trying to slay his "gift".'
Night had fallen all about the bogs when the companions, with Ulfar in the lead, passed from Needlehole. They went along the road towards the old bridge and then turned to the north and east. Skirting the wide bogs to their right, it was not long when they could all see high ridges towering grim and dark ahead. A narrow valley wound up from the edges of the bogs that marched right up to a wooden wall and gate at the point most narrow of the rising hills to either side. The gate stood closed and all was deathly silent.
‘Be careful now and stay back,’ said Rulf softly to the hobbits as he slid his crossbow from his back. Ulfar strode forward gazed at the gate and walls silence for some time.
‘The gate is closed up tight,’ he said finally with a low growl. ‘Open up! You in there! Open up!’ he shouted, his voice booming high into the still night air.
For a moment there was a deafening silence; instead of silence there could now be heard harsh voices and hoarse shouting on the other side of the wall and gate. The sound of a lifted bar was heard and then the gate was thrown open. Several dark and short figures crept from the open gate warily; to the hobbits they seemed like dwarves in appearance, but were ragged-looking and very dirty. The Dourhands glared at the dwarves and hobbits with cruel eyes as one stepped forward.
‘Who goes there?’ he bellowed, raising his axe far over his head. Then the Dourhand spied Ulfar and spoke with surprise.
‘Ulfar?’ he spat. ‘What are you doing here?’
‘I know of Olwir’s gift, and I’m here to slay it!’ declared Ulfar.
The Dourhands fell to quiet murmuring at that until they were silenced by their companion. ‘Ulfar, this matter is none of your concern,’ said the Dourhand dangerously. ‘Leave now, if you value your life.’
‘I will not leave,’ answered the old dwarf grimly, and shook his head with defiance.
‘You were warned…’ spat the Dourhand as he hefted his axe and let it fly. ‘Take them!’ he shouted to the others.
At once there came a strangled cry from Ulfar as the axe bit into his chest. He clutched at the terrible wound and slid to his knees with a thump even as the Dourhands sprang forward. But the dwarves were swifter and they leapt past Ulfar to meet the foes. Theo grasped Hallson who seemed in awe of the fight and very unaware of any danger.
At once, the Dourhands swarmed round the dwarves, who stood undaunted, their backs to one another. The Dourhands hewed and hacked at their foes but seemed no match for the dwarves who lay at all with mighty blows. Theo clutched his cousin’s arm tightly and watched the battle unfold. Hallson put his hands to his ears and did not turn his gaze at the sight; it was not until the last cry of the Dourhands disappeared and all fell silent did he look up.
At the dwarves’ feet lay the unmoving forms of the Dourhands; Rulf wasbent to the ground cleaning his axe. Khazgrim strode over the wounded old dwarf, Ulfar. He placed a hand upon the dwarf’s shoulder, a worried light creeping into his eyes.
‘Good job…’ said Ulfar in a weak voice as his eyes fluttered open. ‘Let’s continue on…’ he added and struggled to stand only to collapse onto the ground, his eyes closed. ‘Guess the wound was more serious…than I thought…’ he said finally with a weary groan.
The others gathered round the old dwarf, looks of concern and sadness in their drawn faces. Khazgrim turned to Rulf, and then knelt beside the wounded dwarf, his grey head bowed with grief.
'Aye, I guess I've been away from battle for too long,’ said Ulfar with slow painful words as he struggled to speak. ‘The wound is painful, but not mortal. It will keep me from being much help, though. You must continue without me and slay the Stone-troll, if they've captured one. And don't forget to be on the watch for Olwir, he will do his best to stop you! I'll stay behind and make sure none of this lot escape.'
Khazgrim stood wearily to his feet and drew his companions to one side. ‘He is hurt,’ murmured the dwarf, and he glanced back at Ulfar who had now fallen silent once more. ‘We must go on.’
Theo looked up at the dwarf with surprise. ‘Wait, these are dwarves!’ he exclaimed. ‘Dwarves battling dwarves? Whatever is going on here?’
‘They are hardly dwarves,’ said Rulf grimly.
‘Oh my,’ gasped Hallson, who now came from behind Theo to stare at the silent fallen forms of the Dourhands. ‘Will we have to fight our way through this?’
Khazgrim did not answer but strode to tend to the grievous dwarf. The hobbits turned to gaze at Rulf with nervous expectancy, not entirely sure what was next. Rulf sighed as he watched the old dwarf lying silent on the ground and then spoke aloud.
‘Khazgrim is correct, we must go on,’ he said. With that, he roused the hobbits and began leading them towards the gate further up the slope, and Khazgrim soon followed. The palisade loomed suddenly above them as they passed through the gate and halted on the sloping sward on the inside. The path led onwards and upwards in a zigzag wandering, first turning to the right, then left and then right again, and flanked by the tall wooden ramparts on both sides.
They had not gone far beyond the gate, when fierce and hoarse battle-cries broke out in the darkness ahead. Flaming brands appeared where a group of Dourhands were clustered nearer another gate. At once, the Dourhands swirled down from the winding slope and came rushing at them.
Shielding the hobbits behind them, the dwarves met the oncoming foes with fierce determination. A few of the braver Dourhands fell upon the dwarves but they swiftly were felled and the others drew back in dismay and fled back up the pathway.
The dwarves did not pause, but swiftly gave chase, and the hobbits stumbled wildly behind them. They reached the gate only to find that the Dourhands had rallied and there stood more of the foul creatures. With deafening cries and shouts, the Dourhands came on with great hatred and fury.
It was a dreadful battle, and one Theo did not easily forget. The air was thick with the deafening hoarse cries of Dourhands, mingled with the battle shouts of Baruk Khazâd from the dwarves. Brazen trumpets sounded as arrows and hefted axes thick as rain filled the darkened air.
On and on they went, and at every turn the enemy surged forward to assail them. But before the grim dwarves they would waver and fall back under the dwarves’ might; the dwarves’ hatred for their foes was cold and bitter and neither side gave quarter or mercy. The weapons of the dwarves shone with a dim and terrible light when they reached the summit of the long path. With stout cries they swept upwards slaying all who dared oppose them.
Then, for a moment, there was only a hushed silence. Theo looked up to gaze at a few twinkling stars that began to shine among the torn and drifting clouds overhead. Perhaps the battle was finally over, he thought with dim fleeting hope. He gazed at the dwarves who had now fallen into whispered words a few steps away. It was then that Theo noticed Hallson had begun to crept slowly further up the slope towards the last gate at the very top.
Cursing softly at his headstrong cousin, Theo began trotting to catch up with Hallson. Just as he reached out a hand to pull back the reckless young hobbit, there was a hoarse shout as a lone Dourhand sprang from the shadows.
‘Hallson!’ shouted Theo as he pulled the young hobbit backwards with a jerk, just as the Dourhand’s axe swept forward where Hallson had been standing. Pushing his cousin backwards, Theo whirled and drew his dagger to face the Dourhand. The Dourhand bellowed a sudden roar and leapt forward, sweeping his cruel-looking axe in a wide arc. Axe and dagger clashed with a resounding ring and Theo fell back, his arm numb with pain from the heavy blow.
The Dourhand grinned a toothless smile and came again. Through teary eyes, Theo cried out and stabbed upwards instinctively and watched surprised as the Rohirric blade pierced through the Dourhand’s filthy tunic of leather. The Dourhand halted suddenly, a look of confusion spreading across his face and then glanced down where a swelling of dark blood began to seep from the terrible wound.
The Dourhand shrieked aloud, raised his axe with shaken hands, and stepped towards the hobbit. A crushing sense of fear and doom swept over Theo as the Dourhand took another step towards him, powerless to stop the brute. But then there came another shout; the Dourhand’s axe swept out then sprang back with a loud clang as Khazgrim rushed the foe with his mace and turned the axe-stroke aside. The Dourhand turned with surprise just as Khazgrim’s struck out with his mace; the Dourhand toppled forward and came crashing down, his skull crushed beneath the heavy blow.
Theo looked down at the Dourhand then at the dwarf through blinking misted eyes, not yet comprehending that he was unscathed. Then he noticed he was still clutching his dagger tightly in his hand. With shaking unsteady hands, he fumbled to slide the blade into his belt.
‘I told you to stay back!’ growled Khazgrim with a harsh whisper as he glared at the hobbits.
Ah, the simple enjoyments of playing Total Immersion....
Theo's cousin, Hallson, was created with the same rules to be applied as Theo's; meaning he was no warrior and certainly a headstrong, willful and quite inexperienced young hobbit. And he was rped exactly that way. Hallson did indeed, begin striding up towards the last gate and Theo gave chase, only to have a single Dourhand spring from out of nowhere and attack the two of us.
Hallson was only 7th level so certainly no match for the Dourhand alone; though Theo outmatched the Dourhand by 15+ levels, it was not easy considering that he has no armour to speak of and carrying a dagger of very low level. Even a simple fight against a greyed mob can give Theo a run for his money and these fights are never straightforward victories.
It is the little things like this that makes me simply enjoy this style of play!
Chapter Thirty-four: A Gift for the North, Part Two – 7 Solmath, 1418 SR
‘Are you alright?’ asked Kazgrim to the shaking hobbits, his voice now less stern, but sounding very much annoyed at their headstrong foolishness.
‘I…I am ok, I think,’ stuttered Hallson as his cousin reached out a hand to help the young hobbit to his feet.
‘My wits are shaken, but nothing else,’ added Theo as he shook his head and looked gloomily at Hallson. He then let out a long sigh, very glad that his breath had returned. ‘Dreadful business all this, simply dreadful!’ he said quietly.
Khazgrim muttered and shook his beard with a glaring stare at the hobbits before turning to inspect the fallen Dourhand. Fearing to anger the old dwarf further, Theo remained silent, and clasped hand over Hallson’s mouth just as the young hobbit was about to speak with a firm shake of his head.
Theo gazed up the path and found that Rulf had begun to creep silently towards the final gate at the top. The hobbit turned to watch the dwarf with growing interest, the faintheartedness of his battle with the Dourhand, or the witlessness of his rash cousin, now pushed from his mind. Once at the gate, the dwarf slipped up quietly and turned his head hesitantly round to peer through.
At once, Rulf pulled back, swiftly turned to hail the others in a whispered voice and a wave of his arm. Theo nudged his cousin, pointed towards the gate, and then scampered up the path, pulling Hallson behind him. Khazgrim looked up with mild disinterest then snorted softly before following.
Reaching the gate, the hobbits looked up at the dwarf and Theo opened his mouth to speak. Rulf only wagged his long beard and put a finger to his lips for silence. Then, with a knowing nod, the dwarf motioned them silently towards the open gate.
Beyond the gate stood the top of the long winding path overlooking the bogs far below. It was a sheltered camp, surrounded by rising cliffs, and was lit by a great crackling fire in the middle. Around the fire stood several filthy low tents and barrel; and the camp was not deserted. A group of five Dourhands were seated round the fire, eating a bog-slug toasted on a long spit of wood or drinking out of crude wooden mugs filled from the nearby barrels. More interesting was a large cage of stout bars that stood to one side of the camp. Then, suddenly, there came movement from within the cage.
At first glance, Theo thought the inhabitant of the cage was some overly-large person, seeming very dejected and bored, seated inside. Bones and other unnamable stuff littered the cage floor and a nasty smell wafted down from it. Then the great heavy face turned lazily round, and Theo stepped back with alarm and rising cry.
‘A person?’ he thought silently. ‘This is no person, but a troll!’
Just then, one of the Dourhands, a filthy looking fellow in mangy and threadbare leathers, stood up and muttered something to his companions in a low voice. The Dourhand bent to pick up a pair of long-handled axes in his hands and began a laggard stroll down towards the gate.
Swiftly, Khazgrim turned sidelong at Rulf with a nod; the younger dwarf did not speak, but carefully set an arrow to his crossbow. Rulf slowly raised the crossbow with steady deliberate aim and then let out soft breath. There came a loud snap and the Dourhand pitched forward onto the hard earth.
The sudden collapse of their kinsman did not pass unnoticed by the other Dourhands. They turned and looked up at once towards the sound, a bit startled by the sight of the silent form of their brethren on the ground. One of them, a particularly nasty-looking and foul Dourhand, leapt to his feet and cried out.
‘Impossible! Dwarves will not fall to the likes of you!’ he shouted with a snarling grimace. ‘You dare interfere? Here you meet your deaths!’
The other Dourhands clambered to their feet as well and leapt forward with howls and shrieks and curses. ‘Stop them!’, ‘Intruders’ they shouted with rough stone voice as they came at the companions in a fury.
The dwarves did not hesitate, but sprang through the gate, their mace and axe flashing in the darkened air. With a fierce cry that echoed in the cliffs above, Khazgrim hurled himself upon the Dourhands. ‘Baruk Khazâd!’ he shouted as he swept through foes, and Rulf was beside him.
The battle was savage but brief. Dismayed at the dwarves’ fury, the Dourhands fell back at once only to be hewed down as they turned to flee. Rulf’s axe swept forward and a pitiful Dourhand fell headless to the earth, then another. Khazgrim roared as he hewed a stroke and laid the last Dourhand to the ground at his feet.
For a moment, all was silent. The Dourhand, Olwir, stood blinking and motionless at his fallen kinsmen in disbelief. He shuddered and growled with gathering rage and then sprinted to the large cage.
‘Enough of this!’ he cried as he tore the lock from the door. ‘This gift for my masters shall destroy you!’
Olwir then whirled round and raised his great axe high above his head as the gate door swung open with a loud clang. Reckless and glad to be free of his prison, the troll sprang from the cage with a deafening bellow. But to Theo’s amazement, the troll roared aloud, not at him of his companions, but at the Dourhand. The troll roared and then struck the Dourhand with a heavy fist. Olwir was at once stunned and slid dying to the ground. ‘Nooo…’ he groaned with his last breath.
The stone-troll then turned its red blazing eyes towards the companions and puffed like a monstrous striking adder and howled. ‘I'll squash you into jelly! I'll pick my teeth with yer bones!’
Theo clasped his hands to his ears as the stone-troll came at Khazgrim, bent upon crushing the dwarf where he stood. But the dwarf leapt forward before the troll could overwhelm him and hewed at the beast’s legs that were thick as young tree-trunks.
The troll howled aloud in roaring pain then began to beat upon Khazgrim with heavy fists, smiting helm and shield. Khazgrim faltered then fell back onto the ground, his shield and mace scattered from his hands. The troll let forth a triumphant roar and bent to grasp the hapless dwarf with its massive paws.
But then there came another cry; the troll halted, and turned to look up dimwitted and slowly. There stood Rulf, his crossbow held at the beast. There was a twang and an arrow arced through the air, glittering in the light of the campfire. The troll reared back and then it toppled over backwards with a great crash as the arrow passed through its eye.
Khazgrim struggled slowly to his feet even as the hobbits rushed to his side. ‘I am getting too old for this…’ he muttered with a sigh.
‘Oh my, that was…the craziest thing I have ever seen in my whole life!’ said Hallson with wide eyes. ‘Is this what your adventures are always like?’ he added, looking at his cousin.
‘This is strange business and little of it do I understand,’ said Theo, not answering Hallson. ‘A troll in the Shire of all place, and these odd dwarves…I suspect there is far more than you are telling, master Khazgrim.’
‘The less you understand, the better little master,’ answered Khazgrim as he retrieved his shield and mace from the ground wearily. ‘The less you understand the better little master. Ignorance is bliss, at least in the Shire. But now we must return to tell Ulfar the news.’
When the companions made their way down the path to the first gate, they came to Ulfar, seated on the ground, looking very pained but none the worse. He listened intently as Rulf told of the battle and of the felling of the stone-troll. When Rulf was finished, Ulfar clapped his hands with delight.
'Well done! I got impatient waiting, so I had to see how you were doing, but it seems you did fine without me. That Stone-troll is slain, and it seems Olwir is as well. He paid a high price for his crime, stealing that cow from Filibert, didn't he? With him gone, these dwarves shouldn't trouble Rushock Bog much longer. As for Filibert, do not worry about him, I'll make sure he is given money to purchase a new cow.’
The dwarves aided Ulfar to his feet as he spoke again. You have done well today, my friend. You have my thanks.'
A faint glow was growing in the sky and the moon sank low to the west as the companions made their way back through the bogs to Needlehole in solemn silence. There, the dwarves bade Ulfar goodbye and then turned to the hobbits.
‘Come little masters,’ said Khazgrim quietly. ‘Let us go.’
The companions found a lone spot further up the road and sat down into the short grass under the eaves of a tall tree. Khazgrim lifted his blue hood over his head until only the tip of his long nose was visible.
‘Well, that is one less troll in the world,’ said Rulf with a wide smile. ‘And another stunning shot for myself! I hit him right in the eye!’ he added with a grin and stuck his thumbs into his wide belt.
‘Not so impressive when it was mere steps from the beast, beardling,’ said Khazgrim from under his hood. ‘Even my brother could have made that shot.’
‘Don’t be angry that you did not get to lay into the troll as much as you would have liked!’ replied Rulf with a chuckle.
Theo did not join in the merriment of the dwarves. He was seated silently, holding his bright face in his hands. As Rulf’s chuckling faded away, he looked up.
‘Why do I suspect that there is much more to all of this than it seems? The question begs to be asked: how did this troll get here?’
‘He was brought here, Theo,’ answered Rulf quietly.
‘But whatever is a Dourhand?’ asked Theo. ‘A dwarf yet not a dwarf?’
Rulf gazed at Khazgrim for a moment. ‘This one is yours,’ he said grimly.
Khazgrim pulled back his hood and rubbed his forehead, gazing at the hobbit for some time before speaking. ‘Think of them... as one of your different hobbit families.’ he began slowly. ‘They are still dwarves... technically... but not the same...'
Hallson raised an eyebrow. ‘But we would never battle any Shire folk, say the Proudfoots for example.’
‘I don’t think you understand,’ said Rulf with a long sigh. ‘Yet it is fine. I hope hobbits would never have a reason to do such harm.’
‘Hmm, but what about this troll business,’ said Theo thoughtfully. ‘Why was it brought here and, more importantly, are there others?’
‘There are many more but not here by the looks of it,’ answered Rulf grimly. ‘This one came from somewhere else.’
‘But from where, master Rulf?’ said Theo not giving ground on the matter.
‘Why the Trollshaws, I suppose,’ answered the dwarf matter-of-factly. ‘Though that land is far off.’
‘Dear me, the Trollshaws?’ exclaimed Theo at once. ‘Not a very pleasant sounding place I must say. Wherever is it?’
‘Far to the east…near the base of the Misty Mountains,’ said Khazgrim, his worn face glowing as his lit his long wooden pipe.
‘And I suppose it is called the Trollshaws because it has trolls in it!’ said Hallson with excitement. ‘It sounds like a mighty long trip.’
‘It is a wild and dangerous place, little masters,’ said Rulf quietly.
‘Well, we must find how this troll got here and stop anymore following the first and destroying the Shire!’ said Hallson eagerly.
‘I agree cousin,’ said Theo cautiously and glumly.
Khazgrim turned his eyes darkly at the others and frowned. ‘Indeed, something must be done, yet sadly I cannot go on further…I have business in the Blue Mountains.’
‘What?’ exclaimed Theo with dispair. ‘You are going with us? We surely cannot venture there just the three of us!’ answered Theo. ‘Master Rulf is a fine dwarf and a capable warrior, but I suspect even he would meet his match on such a long journey.’
Khazgrim fell silent for a moment and then spoke once more. ‘I know of someone willing to travel all roads, and especially this perilous one. He may prove difficult but you could ask for no one better than he. Do you remember when I spoke of my brother?’
‘Your brother?’ said Theo with surprise. ‘Oh, yes of course I recall.’
Khazgrim gazed brightly at the hobbit and then sighed. ‘Mind you…it would take a bit to earn his favour, and he can be stubborn and grumpy. Yet he can be good company and none better in war. He does have a soft spot in his heart for the Shire folk.’
‘We will need protection, cousin, better to get as many as we can to go along with us,’ said Hallson, who was beginning to get a bit excited at the prospect of travelling with dwarves.
‘This is far more than I had anticipated,’ started Theo slowly. ‘A stroll with my dear old friend to the border of the Shire has turned into nasty business concerning wayward trolls. I have no desire to face another troll but this mystery begs to be solved.’
‘Then you intend to solve this troll mystery, cousin?’ asked Hallson hopefully.
‘Of course he will!’ said Rulf with a smile before Theo could even speak. ‘You do love riddles, Master Theo, don’t you?’ he added gazing down at his friend.
‘I certainly do not!’ answered Theo frowning. ‘But it seems that I have no choice. About Hallson though…I am unsure if he should accompany us. My relatives would disown me, if they have not done so already, should anything unforetold happen to him.’
‘But you said you would take me with you!’ exclaimed Hallson imploringly. ‘I need this adventure, cousin!’
‘Adventure?’ said Theo with a long sigh. ‘This is hardly that, Hallson, my boy. The road where we go is long and perilous, much too perilous for you, I am afraid.’
‘I will ask my brother to join us as well. He needs to get away from his forge for awhile, to get some fresh air,’ said Rulf with a smile. ‘You will be going with a fine company of dwarves…what could possibly go wrong?’
‘What could wrong?’ said Theo with exasperation. ‘That was said to me right before we faced that terrible spider in the Barrow Downs, my dear Rulf.’
You must spread some Reputation around before giving it to Brucha again.
I really enjoy his adventures, your hobbit is endearing, especially with those troublesome dwarves
He is endearing! I very much enjoy playing Theodoras, although he can be quite useless in a battle! Thankfully, I did not need to test him while facing a troll, even one as weak as the stone troll of the bogs.
So now the adventure begins - Theo and his company of dwarves will depart for a long journey to the forbidding Trollshaws in hopes of uncovering this mystery...Theo made it out of the Barrow Downs, now let's see if he can journey to that terrible place and return unscathed!
Chapter Thirty-five: An Unlooked-for Nuisance – 8 Solmath, 1418 SR
Theo woke slowly to a pale and clammy dawn. He yawned loudly as he lifted his head to peer over the edge of his blanket with one eye at the wisps of misted fog that hovered overhead. The hobbit groaned slightly, thoroughly disliking the uncomfortable sleep outside upon a lawn so near to the bogs outside the little village.
Theo shivered in the chilled air, then kicked the blanket off him and jumped up as the realization that the dwarves were nowhere in sight. ‘Confound these bothersome dwarves,’ he muttered as he drew close his cloak and set out down the lane. He soon found master Rulf leaning on a wooden fence up in the dwarven quarter of the village. His pack and bow were lying on the ground beside him as Theo’s old friend puffed upon a long wooden pipe and gazed up at the growing dawn. Rulf was not alone, for another dwarf stood with him; yet much to Theo’s startlement, it was not master Khazgrim.
The second dwarf was richly dressed in a crimson cloak and tunic, and an impressive hammer was slung across his back. This dwarf was standing beside Rulf, also puffing away contently on a clay pipe and tugged at his short-cropped beard as the two conversed with quiet words.
Intrigued, the hobbit stepped forward and it was not until there came a gentle cough behind the dwarves from Theo that they turned round to see him. ‘Good morning, master Rulf,’ he said glancing at the newcomer with interest. ‘And who might this be? Will you not properly introduce me to your companion?’
The strange dwarf frowned at that but Rulf waved a hand at him and smiled. ‘Ah, very sorry, master Theo! Where are my manners, this is my older brother, Rurir!’ Then dwarf then nudged the other with a gentle elbow and swung his hand towards the hobbit. ‘Rurir, this is Theodoras Took, the hobbit I spoke of.’
‘Rurir, son of Runek, at your service, Master Took,’ said Rurir with a deep bow.
‘At yours and your family’s!’ answered Theo politely and with astonishment. ‘Your brother, master Rulf? Dear me, what a surprise! But what of the other dwarves that answered your summons for aid?’
The two dwarves exchanged sidelong glances at one another as Rulf spoke. ‘Master Steinnrand wished to come but he has been delayed,’ he said grimly.
‘All the rest of our folk are…busy,’ added Rurir in strange voice. ‘Unfortunately, I was the only one who could be spared.’
Theo began to speak but swiftly lost his words as a grumbling voice reached his ears. He turned his head to one side to spot a hobbit standing nearby, scratching his short-cropped brown hair with irritation. ‘Blast it all! I leave my hole for five minutes, and already something stolen,’ exclaimed the hobbit.
‘But just the two of you?’ he said in disbelief, still keeping an eye on the boisterous hobbit even as he turned back to the dwarves. ‘Surely we cannot hope to accomplish what needs to be done with so few?’
‘I can assure you,’ began Rulf with a laugh and clasped a firm hand upon his brother’s shoulder. ‘Despite his shameful beard, Rurir here is a stout warrior!’
‘Do not worry, master Took,’ said Rurir swiftly, throwing his brother a look of wounded pride. ‘My brother and I will be able to help you with your little problem.'
For a long moment, Theo stood dumbfounded, unable to speak. ‘My problem?’ he finally blurted aloud. ‘Surely this troll business would concern your folk as well?'
‘Perhaps others of our kin will join us soon, maybe at Bree,’ said Rulf.
‘One can hope,’ added Rurir with a nod of his head. ‘Many are often at Bree selling their wares.’
Once again, Theo became distracted as the strange hobbit’s shrill voice rose into the air only a few steps away. ‘What do you mean you have not been around hobbiton?’ said the hobbit, placing his hands firmly at his waist as he glared up into the face of Onar, the dwarf. 'I know for a fact that I have seen you, near my smial!' he added swiftly as he pointed an accusing finger at the much taken-back dwarf.
Rulf glanced over to the hysterical hobbit. ‘What is that about?’ he said with a frown. The dwarf then turned and, clearing his throat called out. ‘What is going on? You accuse this dwarf of a theft?’
At once the hobbit whirled round to spy the two dwarves and glared at them, his face red. ‘Oh great... more of them... do you people just spring out of the ground?’
Rulf slowly strode over to the hobbit, gazing down with flickering eyes. 'See here little master, you hobbits like to sling around accusations very lightly. Onar here is a respected vendor.’
The hobbit looked first at Rulf then back at Onar with an incredulous snort. 'Well, someone came by my hole and took something from it they did...'
‘What would hobbit have that a dwarf would want?' said Rulf with a chuckle.
‘What wouldn’t I have that anyone would want?’ retorted the hobbit with a rising voice.
‘I don’t care about others, you accuse this dwarf here of theft,’ said Rulf his eyes turning dark and hard.
'Well.... Well, you are fat and you smell like ale,’ spat the hobbit and crossed his arms across his chest. ‘There, I said it!’
Rulf stroked his beard to hide his growing smile and gazed down at the blustering hobbit. ‘And you are fat and smell like mushrooms. So what of it?’
Theo sighed out loud and stepped forward. ‘I had better go over there and intervene before something truly happens.' He took a stance between the dwarf and hobbit before speaking. 'Ahem! Pleased to meet you...I am so sorry I did not catch your name?'
‘Finally, someone reasonable,’ said the hobbit as a look of thanks spread across his face at the sight of another hobbit. ‘My name is Holfast Underburrow Some stranger came by and stole a prized possession of mine out of my smial!’
‘Stolen?’ said Theo with a frown. ‘Well that cannot be good, but I can assure you no one here is responsible for such a thing. I am Theodoras Took, and these are my companions, masters Rulf and Rurir, of the Blue Mountains.'
Holfast glanced at the dwarves then at Theo. ‘Do you owe them money or something?’ he said with much distrust.
‘Owe them?’ said Theo with a start. ‘Heavens no! They are here at my request, I am a Bounder you see, and I have uncovered some rather unsettling news hereabouts.'
Holfast raised an eyebrow and glanced at the dwarves with wary eyes. ‘Look friend,’ he said, drawing close to Theo. ‘Have you gone mad? They are dwarves... their prices are terrible... And I’m sure they have parasites in their beards!’
'They have come to lend their aid in a horrible discovery that threatens the Shire,’ declared Theo rather sternly. ‘And no, they ask no price and I can certainly assure you neither have fleas!'
‘I was thinking more of ticks...’ replied Holfast with a sidelong glance at the dwarves.
‘No ticks either!’ said Theo with a glare. ‘Now see here Holfast, these dwarves are in my company, and they are fine fellows. No need to be saying such things about folk you do not know. And it does not good to be so hasty with such accusatory words. What can I do for you to settle this nonsense?'
‘Well, someone stole something very important to my family,’ said Holfast slowly and sadly.
‘I am truly sorry to hear that,’ said Theo softly. ‘A family heirloom perhaps?’
‘Aye, a club coming all the way back from the goblin wars… what do you know other strangers coming through these parts of the Shire, Bounder?’
‘Indeed I do know of the many stranger that has begun to crowd the borders here,’ answered Theo thoughtfully. ‘And it that which has brought these dwarves here by my request.’
‘Well, then I insist you tell me more…’ said Holfast matter-of-factly.
Theo frowned as he glanced at the dwarves. ‘You might as well,’ said Rulf quietly. ‘I don't think he will be quiet until you do.’
Theo sighed and looked back at the hobbit before speaking. 'I can only say that there have been outsiders here and they do not hold the best interests of the Shire in their hearts. I have asked these dwarves here to solve a riddle of sorts. I do not know much about this mystery I speak of, though Rulf here seems to know a great deal - but he is reluctant to speak much about it.'
‘Then I insist that you take with,’ declared Holfast loudly. ‘Until I can get this overgrown pumpkin here to tell me more,’ he added pointing at Rulf.
‘Can you cook?’ asked Rulf. ‘We could use a cook during the journey.’
‘Can I cook?’ said Holfast appalled. ‘I did not simply get this fat by sitting around and eating grass.'
'Good, we can use a cook and if we come up short of fishing bait we can use your toes in a pinch,’ said Rulf with a smile.
‘That’s fine, and if I break any fishing line,’ he threw back. ‘I’ll use your beard hair. Not his though,’ he quickly added looking towards Rurir. ‘His is far too short!’
Rulf roared aloud with laughter and slapped his leg with a heavy hand. Rurir stirred and glared at the hobbit but said nothing. Theo threw up his hands in defeat and was about turn round to walk away. At the last moment, he took in a deep breath. ‘Very well, Mr. Holfast,’ he said slowly and with careful words. ‘I am need of fellows to accompany me on a long journey. It is not safe, mind you, and may prove to be quite perilous. What do you say Mr. Holfast? Will you agree to accompany us, for the sake of our beloved Shire?'
Holfast scratched his head then looked straight at Theo. ‘If it finds my club, and the possibility of these dwarves dropping more gems out of their pockets... why not?’
'I cannot speak of your missing club, Mr. Holfast, or of gems where we are going,’ answered Theo wearily, and then gazed up at the sky. ‘The morning is growing late already, and we have not even departed. We should prepare for the road soon, if we wish to make for Stock by nightfall.'
‘I have everything I need right here, Master Took,’ said Rurir patting his long hammer with a steady hand. ‘Let us be off then.’ With that Rurir turned and began to stride down from the dwarven quarter. Rulf chuckled softly and soon followed after his brother.
Theo trussed up his pack atop his shoulders and turned to follow the dwarves. He glanced back at Holfast. ‘Coming, Mr. Holfast?’
Holfast patted his pockets and drew out a large mushroom before biting into it heartily. ‘As I’ll ever be…but I insist walking upwind, these dwarves smell like overcooked roast.'
Theo shook his head slowly as he turned back to catch up with the dwarves towards the hedge-gate, not entirely sure what to make of this brash hobbit.' With Holfast behind him, the two hobbits quickly caught up with the dwarves who were just now passing through the hedge-gate. Once on the road, they struck along the road that rolled past the murky bogs on their right. They soon crossed the rickety bridge and turned south and east towards a rise of hills further on.
For a time, no one spoke as Rulf led the way; the hobbits marched along behind him side by side and Rurir tramped along in the rear on heavy feet. It was not until the bridge fell from view behind them that the silence was broken.
‘So what brings you two shaved boars down out of the mountains this far?’ said the hobbit between munches of fried mushrooms.
‘That is none of your business,’ answered Rulf, not turning round his head. ‘Suffice that we are here to aid Theo; he has proved himself to be a worthy companion and friend.’
Holfast listened as he drew another mushroom from his pocket and bit down into it. ‘Always with you dwarves and your secrets,’ he said with a mouthful of mushrooms. ‘You are as annoying and pushy as old Lobelia! There is one good thing though…you at least smell better…’ he added laughing hard and long at his own humour.
‘I have traded one foolish and young hobbit for this one?’ muttered Theo softly to himself more than the others. ‘A rather unsavoury beginning to a terrible business.’
‘Oh come now…’ said Holfast between mouthfuls of mushrooms. ‘Why such a sour mood, Theodoras? I would expect it from the dwarves but not from a fellow hobbit. And as far as young, I new was was fine-looking but young?’
‘Not you, Mr. Holfast. I was referring to my cousin, Hallson. I send him away back home. He is far too young and impressionable to be accompanying us.'
‘You’ll hardly find me impressionable,’ said Holfast as he drew out the last of his mushrooms from his pocket.
‘Hrmph! I will be the judge of that, Mr. Holfast!' said Theo loudly.
The chilled morning waned as the companions made their way south from the forbidding bogs until the land and road began to rise up slopes. Much to Theo’s silent thanks, the bogs were soon behind them as they now made straight for Waymeet and the Great East Road. From there they struck a path eastwards for several more miles as the sun began to gleam in the sky. The afternoon was swiftly passing when rising wisps of smoke could be seen ahead along the road.
‘Ah, Stock at last!’ exclaimed Theo as the outlying buildings of the small village came into view. ‘And in good time too, I must say. Ahead is the Golden Perch. They have some of the best beer to be found in all the Shire.’
‘The Golden Perch?’ scoffed Holfast loudly. This place offers swill to the Green Dragon! However, Theo, if you are willing to unwind maybe tonight we can sneak off with some of Ole' Maggots mushrooms.'
‘No thank you!’ said Theo with alarm. ‘The food here to delightful and I have no wish to disturb farmer Maggot or his dogs.'
Before long the road passed within the village and came to a low thorny hedge; the road continued on to sweep round to the north but a narrow gate opening led inside where a turfed roof of the inn could be seen.
Inside the fine inn, the companions found the tavern sparsely filled and quiet, with only a few hobbits from Stock milling about. They took a table near the fireplace as Theo called out to the proprietor for drinks. Shortly, a hobbit came round from the bar, carrying a huge jug of ale and filled four large mugs atop a wooden tray in the other hand. He set down the mugs, looked first at the dwarves suspiciously, then at the hobbits. The hobbit accepted the copper coins offered by Theo and then with a weak smile disappeared.
‘If you don't want some mushrooms then I’ll take them myself... more for me!' said Holfast as he leaned back on his chair as if the conversation outside had never been halted.
‘Thieving mushrooms, eh?’ answered Rulf with a grin. ‘Looks like we have a burglar here,’ he added nudging his silent brother.
‘Yeah, the easy part is getting the mushrooms,’ said Holfast as he wiped the ale from his lips with the sleeve of his arm. The hard part is dealing with farmer maggots dogs. I might have a belly but I am fast.’
‘Why not simply pay for them like normal folk?’ asked Rulf as he looked over the top of his mug.
‘It’s more fun to take them,’ said Holfast simply. ‘I have the money…but half the fun is running from his dogs. Of course, I’ve never stolen into his house to get mushrooms...’
'No, just his fields he works hard to maintain,’ said Rulf with a hearty laugh.
Theo gazed at the hobbit and stifled a deep yawn, not entirely sure if the long march or Halson’s constant bantering had long ago tired him. The dwarves stood to take a seat at a round table next to the first and at once fell into quiet conversation. Theo slowly closed his eyes, enjoying the warmth of the crackling fire and the dull murmuring of the dwarves. Long minutes passed until he was brought back to attention by Halson.
‘Well I am not the least bit tired…’ declared the hobbit as he began to absently rap his fingers atop the table. ‘So, Theo, where did you grow up?’ he asked as Theo’s eyes fluttered open to look around. Holfast followed his gaze towards the dwarves. ‘Don't pay any attention to them; they are talking about doors and beards more than likely.’
‘In Tuckborough,’ answered Theo slowly and wearily. Sadly, my father and mother passed suddenly when I was still in my tweens. I went away to live with my aunt away in Budgeford.'
‘Ah, so you are a Took then?’
‘Yes, a Took,’ said Theo with a yawn. ‘But I am also a Bolger, on my mother’s side of course…’
Holfast nodded but now turned to the door and licked his lips. ‘You know...’ he said abruptly, cutting of Theo in mid-sentence. ‘I did see one of Holly's pie runners right outside as we approached...I will be right back.’
With a start, the hobbit hopped from his chair and began moving towards the door. He turned to wink back at Theo and then swung the door open and stepped outside. ‘Finally, a bit of peace and quiet, even for a little while,’ muttered Theo quietly as the door swiftly closed behind Holfast.
Theo must have dozed off for some time later he sat up confused and alarmed when there came the sound of the door slamming loudly shut. He looked up and rubbed his sleepy eyes to watch Holfast dart through the door, huffing and puffing. In his hands he held a fine looking pie that he quickly placed on the table and began speaking very fast. ‘If anyone asks, we got this pie here…’
‘Whatever do you mean?’ asked Theo as he sat up in his chair and glowered at the hobbit.
‘Well, the pie, I mean. We got it here…and paid for it. Isn’t that right?’ he said to the dwarves as well as they looked up at the commotion at the other table. ‘It’s Holly Hornblowers pie... It's the best in the shire.'
‘Then I am sure you stole it,’ said Rulf.
‘Oh hush! I did no such thing. There is a piece or two in it for you both as well.’
Theo shook his head and stood up to walk over to the proprietor at the bar. He took out a few copper coins and set them down as the innkeeper looked first at him then at the coins curiously. Theo simply shrugged, whispered something and then turned to walk back to the table.
‘We had better turn in soon, and make an early start,’ he said slowly. ‘If all goes well, we should reach Bree by nightfall tomorrow. I daresay it will be a rather different and interesting journey than the first time I travelled there.’
‘No journey ever is,’ answered Rulf grinning as he reached over with a greedy hand for a piece of the pie.
Chapter Thirty-six: Bree at Last – 9 Solmath, 1418 SR
Dusk was deepening when Theo and his companions came at last to the Greenway crossing and drew near the village of Bree. The journey from the Shire and across the Brandywine Bridge was merry enough and, with such stout dwarves with the party, there was little to fear along the road. As the company went along, the dwarves had fallen into talk between one another, speaking of old wars or hinted of terrible and whispered business in the mountains, or sang songs of deeds of their people long ago.
Much to Theo’s dismay, Holfast’s relentless prattle was not left behind in the Shire, but continued on through the long day’s march until each pause of the hobbit’s chattering was looked upon as a blessing by Theo, no matter how brief it was. As Bree came into view finally, Theo let out a sigh of relief, hoping that the visage of the village would draw some semblance of silence from master Holfast, if only for a little while.
The familiar deep ditch and hedge on the inner side could now been seen from the crossroads; over the ditch, the Road ran onwards through an arched gate, which was swung open (as it was not yet fully nighttime as was the custom of the Breelanders) and a single watchmen stood sleepily under the strong posts beside it.
Theo nodded politely at the gate watchman as they passed within, who showed not the slightest interest that a party of sour-looking dwarves and merry (or only slightly annoyed on Theo’s part) hobbits was now entering the village just as night approached.
‘Terrible fellow, that man,’ said Theo in a low voice as they left the gate behind them. ‘He questioned me to no end when I first arrived here, as if I was up to no good. Me, up to no good!’
‘Oh, it could have been that bad,’ retorted Holfast with a wave of his hand.
‘You were not there, Holfast,’ answered Theo swiftly. ‘Why, I felt all eyes upon me, and not all those eyes were of the friendliest of sorts.’
‘Seems that they have increased their number of watchmen,’ said Rulf as he gazed about the street just beyond the hedge gate. To one side stood a long open-air stable from where the whinny of horses could clearly be heard. A fair number of folk were milling about, going to and from the gate in rapid succession. And all the while several guards stood with watchful eyes at all who passed.
‘It shows they have some sense, at least, what with so many now taking to the roads,’ answered Rurir as he bowed his head to a suspicious watchman, who returned the dwarf’s nod with a frown.
‘Indeed, master Rurir,’ said Theo curiously. ‘Not entirely like the last time when I was here. Yet thankfully there are no terrible downs to traverse through, or spiders to face off in the dark of a barrow!’
‘Bleh!’ snorted Holfast as he sniffed the air with disgust. ‘This place smells like a wet dog!’
Theo looked sidelong at the hobbit and was about to say something, but relented, thinking it was more prudent to say nothing. No need to encourage him, Theo thought. The companions made their way from the stables just within the gate, passing tall wooden houses and buildings along the sloping road ahead, before they came to the wide courtyard of the Prancing Pony at last.
Theo stepped swiftly up to the large door reached by a few broad steps. Just as he opened the door and began to step inside, Theo was nearly bowled over by a grinning hobbit with a flowing red cloak round his shoulders and a fancy hat atop his head. Theo gasped as he held the door handle tightly to steady himself and turned to watch as the hobbit went scuttling down the steps, into the courtyard and down the road to the left.
Theo shook his head and then peeked round the door, expecting another runner to come tumbling out at any moment. When none appeared, he stepped inside and at once he was met with song from deeper within the large room. The gathering in the smoky and dim common room was unusually large than what he remembered. In fact the crowd within the inn was so large that Theo had to tie-toe round the many guests of bigger folk until he reached the far side of the room.
‘A noisy place as always, wouldn’t you agree?’ said Theo glancing at Rurir. ‘But it is comfortable after a fashion and has some rather excellent beer!’
‘Now don’t be going saying that, master Theo,’ answered Rurir with a smirk. ‘It would be an insult to noisy rooms everywhere.’
‘Very true, Rurir, my good dwarf! But first drinks and a bit of supper, shall we?’ said Theo with a wink.
At that Holfast crossed his arms and stood fast. ‘I won’t have it!’ he said crossly. ‘This place smells awful,’ said the hobbit as he pointed over to the corner beside the door. ‘And I am fairly sure there is vomit on the floor over there.’
‘Oh stop your complaining, Holfast!’ said Rurir gruffly and the dwarf turned to stomp through the throng of folk. Holfast glowered but fell silent as Theo grasped the hobbit by the arm and led him after the dwarf. Rulf stood for a moment, bowed his head politely to several dwarves standing at the bar, and then followed the others with steady steps.
Near the back of the common room, where the crowd was more sparse of visiting folk, they found an empty table. Rulf set down his heavy pack onto the floor and pulled up a chair. ‘Poor old Barliman,’ he said glancing about the room. ‘With all the strangers coming about this place has fallen apart a bit.’
Theo followed the dwarf’s gaze, and his eyes fell onto the several dark and squint-eyed Men seated at a table nearby. At once, the hobbit did not like the looks of the ill-favoured Men who were whispering together in a hushed conversation. Suddenly, his attention was brought around as Holfast raised his voice.
‘You want another go at it then?’ declared the hobbit, glaring across the table at Rulf. ‘Maybe this time, you won’t be stuffing your face full of pie while leaving your pack unattended! I’m surprised you could see anything…you ate half the pie yourself!’
‘I’d best keep an eye on my bag then,’ grumbled the dwarf to Holfast as he slid his pack closer to his booted feet.
Theo glanced at the hobbit then at his old friend as he recalled the night before. Holfast, being Holfast, had grown rather bored at the Golden Perch in Stock. To relieve his boredom, Holfast had decided to play a prank on the dwarf by removing several of Rulf’s arrows from inside his pack. Thankfully, Theo had gone to bed before then and had only heard the story (and the proceeding argument over said lifted arrows) the following morning as they readied to depart for Bree.
‘That was a mighty fine pie you stole…I mean procured,’ retorted Rulf with a smile.
‘Stole?’ stammered Holfast. ‘I stole nothing. And even if I had, you seemed to help yourself to more than a handful of the pie, Rulf Stickybeard.’
Theo sighed and raised his hands, glaring at Holfast so much so that the hobbit fell silent. ‘Now, now, Holfast,’ he said sternly. ‘Let us stop this at once. We have a long road ahead and it does no good for all this.' He glanced about with irritation before speaking again.
'Come, enjoy the drink and soon the meals should be brought over to our table. You will feel much better with a content belly! I will speak will the proprietor about our supper.'
Theo pushed back his chair and scurried off; it was not long when he made his way back through the crowded room, balancing a tray in his arms beaming with plates and mugs. ‘Dinner and drinks at last,’ he said setting the tray down onto the table.
‘You are one to talk, furry feet,’ said Rulf to Holfast, as he reached for a foaming mug of beer from the tray. Theo rolled his eyes at that; obviously the discussion was still ongoing about the pilfered arrows.
‘They are furry, aren’t they?’ answered Holfast as he plunked a piece of cheese from a plate and bit into it with distrust. ‘But Resin-beard is more the better name for you!’
Rurir chuckled at that as his brother glared down at the hobbit, who was now reaching for the plate of tart with a mouthful of cheese. Theo shook his head wearily and sat down; he had only the slightest notion of the blackberries he quietly nibbled on, wishing for nothing more than a bit of silence or not the hint of Holfast in general.
As Holfast and Rulf fell back into their banter, Theo slid from his chair, adjusted his cloak about his shoulder and turned to his companions. 'I shall go for a stroll, I think, and perhaps a bit of pipe-weed in the fresh night air.’ had said. ‘Make sure nothing unforetold happens while I am gone, Rulf, especially to pies!’
Theo made his way towards the front door through the crowd, eyeing the trio of swarthy Men with distrust as he passed, and slipped quietly outside. Once on the steps, he signed with relief and then took in a deep breath of the fresh night air. He strode down the steps and into the courtyard, pausing long enough to light his pipe and then began a quiet stroll about the yard.
For some time, Theo gazed up at the twinkling stars overhead, relieved to be out of earshot of Holfast and his constant gabbling. He refilled his long clay pipe and began to blow out grey-white rings of smoke into the darkened air with much contentment.
Presently, his ears perked to hushed voices nearby; at first his thoughts turned to the unsavoury Men from inside the inn. Theo looked about hastily and soon spotted a pair of hobbits behind a fence that cordoned off what appeared to be some sort of stage. Intrigued, Theo crept silently towards the fence to listen in to the hushed conversation. He could hear little of what the hobbits were saying, but what he could glean sounded rather ominous and very terrible.
Finally, Theo shook himself, saying quietly to himself. ‘This will not do, Mr. Took! Eavesdropping and all that, like some sort of thief in the night.’ He stamped out his pipe onto his heel and made his way round the fence; Theo politely cleared his throat as did so, and the two hobbits looked up with worried eyes at the unexpected newcomer.
‘Ah, hullo there!’ said Theo, trying to sound polite. ‘Pardon my intrusion; I am Theodoras Took, of the Shire. I have just arrived in Bree this night, though not for the first time. That was…’ he paused and then shook his head. ‘Well that was another matter that brought me here that time, but I daresay you won’t be wanting to hear that.’
The two hobbits exchanged uncertain glances at one another, not sure what to make of this Shire cousin. Theo smiled meekly and shrugged as he stammered on with breathless words.
‘I must shamefully admit that I was eavesdropping on your conversation just a moment ago after I came outside the inn for a bit of fresh air – very unlike me, of course, and I do hope you can forgive me.’
Again the two hobbits gazed at each other, not entirely sure is this hobbit standing there was mad, a simpleton, or simply downright rude. Theo coughed nervously and gazed back them with a look of imploring truthfulness.
‘Anyway…’ he said slowly, wanting now to do nothing more than to turn and flee back into the inn. ‘You seem bothered and frightened by something. I am a Bounder from the Shire, perhaps I can be of assistance?’ he tipped his cap atop his shaggy head for added measure.
The younger of the two hobbits gazed at Theo with distrusting eyes and then slowly let his guard down. ‘Well, I could use your help,’ began the hobbit slowly. ‘I have big problems, and that's a fact! You see, I was on a trip to visit my dad away in Buckland after visiting my brother Gil at Hengstacer. I thought to myself, "You should take a shortcut...no use wandering all the way down to the Great East Road and all." That's when it all went wrong.’
'Now I was walking along quiet as you will until about the time for elevenses, and I felt a dreadful hunger. I came upon an old bit of stonework in the Brandywood and sat myself down for a light snack. All of a sudden, quick as you will, a hefty burly fellow shows up, and with none too kind words mind you. He was much larger than the big folk of Bree...I am afraid I was quite scared of the brute and ran off without my pack!’
Theo gazed down at the ground, looking very troubled, and then snapped his fingers. ‘'My, my, a tale indeed, master Sandheaver! A pack is a pack, as they say back home, and not one that should be left behind. You are in luck, however; I did not come alone to Bree but in the company on some rather fine dwarves. I believe that they would be willing to lend some aid in recovering this wayward pack of yours.'
Dob Sandheaver looked at Theo with hopeful eyes and quickly nodded. 'The stonework is north of Buckland in the Brandywood. I doubt that this giant Man -- Svalfang I heard him call himself -- will stay in his dreary little hut all day. Maybe you could sneak by and pinch my pack when he is out stomping and doing whatever large folk of his kind do.'
‘Very well then,’ answered Theo with a smile. ‘Let me speak to my companions and I will see what we can do to solve this little problem of a misplaced pack!'
Theo said goodbye and turned to make his way back to the inn. He wound through the crowded room towards the back where his friends were seated, a curious and thoughtful look on his young face. The others were enjoying another round of refreshments as he strode over to the table and sat down atop a chair.
'They say Bree is a strange place, and I do not doubt that!’ said Theo slowly after a moment of silence ‘I just had a rather odd conversation outside.'
‘Oh yes?’ said Rulf as he set down his mug and turned to his old friend.
‘Yes,’ said Theo. ‘I met a hobbit out in the courtyard, a Breelander, Dob Sandheaver is his name. He had a rather odd tale to tell me. It seems he found himself down the Old Road to the west only yesterday and wandered a bit from the road. He came upon some old stonework up in the Brandywood.'
‘Oh, I’ve got to hear this!’ exclaimed Holfast who lost all interest of harassing the dwarves further, at least for the moment.
'Most hobbits aren't so keen to wander so far from home,’ said Rurir as he raised an eyebrow. ‘Present company excluded, of course,’ he added nodding at Theo.
‘Of course,’ said Theo. ‘Well, all of a sudden Nob said he came upon a camp in the woods, and it that was not abandoned. A hefty burly fellow, to use his words, was there and scared poor Dob something terrible. So terrible that Dob turned and fled leaving his pack behind!'
‘Let me guess, and you volunteered us to go and get it back?' said Rurir frowning.
‘I would not hazard to guess that answer,’ added Rulf to his brother with a wide grin.
Theo shrugged sheepishly. ‘I could little else but to offer to help,’ he explained. ‘I told him we could help him in regaining his lost pack, after all it is the least I can do for a cousin so far from the Shire.'
Theo fell silent for a moment, and thought back on the other words Dob has spoken. Something about the fellow’s name, Svalfang wasn’t it? A dreadful sounding name, he thought with a shiver. And what about that business calling him a giant of all things? Big Folk are, after all Big Folk to hobbits; a tall man certainly would be a giant to a hobbit, right?
Theo looked up at his companions and sighed. 'We cannot simply turn him down I am afraid. I have two of the stoutest dwarves with me and of course the valiant Holfast here to accompany us!'
'Well, if we have to trudge all the way back to the Brandywine, we'd best get started at dawn,' said Rurir frowning.
‘I would agree, master Rurir, at dawn then,’ answered Theo. ‘Well it is late; we marched long today and will have another march tomorrow. We best be off to bed for an early start!’
When dawn came the next day, the dwarves awoke grumbling and cursing poor young Theo and his decision to lend aid in finding this lost pack. But when they rose from their beds, they found no sign of their friend. Theo’s bed was neatly made, his pack and cloak were missing from the pegs. All they found was a letter written in a graceful script and read simply:
You may recall the conversation I had last night with a certain Bree hobbit, Dob Sandheaver, and more importantly of his concern for his lost pack. Of course, you all were very generous in offers of aid to the poor fellow – that is no dispute. And yet, I have asked much of you already – all of which could have easily been refused, and you are certainly owed a reward for your labours thus far. There is much more that must ask of you in the days ahead but this matter of Dob’s pack, I believe, is something easily dealt with. I have begun to trust my luck that when I first left the Shire in search of Clover, my aunt’s most beloved pony, and this luck has gotten me out of some rather difficult situations in the past . And so I have decided to make for the Brandywoods at first light to go have a look around for Mr. Dob’s missing pack. The Brandywine is not far and it would be a gentle walk there and back again. I daresay the fool of a hobbit no doubt became spooked by a rabbit and dropped the pack in the trees and has been far too afraid to return there and retrieve it! Enjoy a nice breakfast and I shall see you all by dusk.
Thank you, and yes that chapter was very comical - we unfortunately lost master Hallson, but gained Holfast in his place. However, I am not entirely sure yet if that was a beneficial trade! I am only kidding of course, Holfast has proved a wonderful addition to the party thus far, just so long that the dwarves do not grow tired of him and feed him to a troll...
With my stories, and of my dwarven kinship, I save a great deal of screenshot during play. My Lotro folder in which they are saved can contain dozens of pics at any time. Unfortunately, I once again erased some of them and that is why the last two chapters have had no picture to add to the tale. I must discover a proper method of saving screenshots one day.
The decision to take little Theo out to recover the forgotten pack was arrived at after the group had stalled due to conflicting time schedules. I did not wish to halt the story for too long so I made up my mind (or rather Theo made up HIS mind) to go after the pack alone. After all, what is all this prattle about giant's in the Brandywood...
You may recall the conversation I had last night with a certain Bree hobbit, Dob Sandheaver, and more importantly of his concern for his lost pack. Of course, you all were very generous in offers of aid to the poor fellow – that is no dispute. And yet, I have asked much of you already – all of which could have easily been refused, and you are certainly owed a reward for your labours thus far. There is much more that must ask of you in the days ahead but this matter of Dob’s pack, I believe, is something easily dealt with. I have begun to trust my luck that when I first left the Shire in search of Clover, my aunt’s most beloved pony, and this luck has gotten me out of some rather difficult situations in the past . And so I have decided to make for the Brandywoods at first light to go have a look around for Mr. Dob’s missing pack. The Brandywine is not far and it would be a gentle walk there and back again. I daresay the fool of a hobbit no doubt became spooked by a rabbit and dropped the pack in the trees and has been far too afraid to return there and retrieve it! Enjoy a nice breakfast and I shall see you all by dusk.
Yours truly, Theodoras Took
Oh my. Theodoras is usually so level headed that I have to wonder if the pipe weed he's smoking is too strong and he's become addled headed. The first time I tried this quest I had my head taken off. Let’s hope Theodoras can sneak in and get out without much trouble.
Chapter Thirty-seven: The Brandywood – 10 Solmath, 1418 SR
Theo rose before the first light of dawn. On quiet feet, he stole from the room, taking careful steps not to awaken the dwarves or Holfast and softly closed the door behind him. Down in the big common room, he found the innkeeper, Butterbur, begin the daily chore of cleaning up the myriad of mugs and plates from the many tables, while a pair of sleepy hobbits swept the floor with wide constant yawns.
The hobbits stopped their sweeping to turn curious towards Theo as he approached the fat innkeeper. Old Butterbur set down his rag and listened as the hobbit asked if he could gather some provisions from the pantry. Butterbur turned and disappeared into the kitchen, turning once with a scowl at the gaping hobbit servants, before returning with a small basket in his hands.
Theo thanked the innkeeper with a smile, as the scent of bacon and bread rose from the basket. He waved a hand at the hobbits and then stepped out the front door. There Theo looked up into the darkened sky and and sniffed the air. Only the first hint of dawn lit the sky but the air was warm and the wind was southerly. Everything looked fresh and the new green was shimmering with a hint of the coming Spring on the tips of the trees’ fingers that decorated the courtyard.
‘What fun!’ declared Theo with a wide smile. ‘What fun indeed; a leisurely stroll through the Bree-fields.’ The hobbit turned away from the inn, round through the courtyard to the road on the west side, and then trotted down the long sloping lane. The sleepy watchman at the hedge-gate stirred only slightly as Theo passed quietly through with a polite nod of his head. For a moment, Theo paused just within the shadow of the archway and gazed out over the road that wound westwards from the crossroads. Then, with a whistle, Theo shouldered his pack, gripped his walking stick and then started off.
The morning grew ever brighter in the sky as Theo made his way quietly down the Great East Road, passing odd and ancient-looking structures of crumbling stone or the fringes of small coppices along its path. Once or twice the sound of a distant Splintertusk came to the hobbit’s ears, or Theo caught the glimpse of a towering bear, standing upon its hind legs and eying him with great curiosity before returning to its hunt for grubs or honey.
But little disturbed his passing and, as the light of day grew, Theo felt only the slightest of sense of alarm concerning his rash decision to set out alone in search of Dob’s missing pack, in spite of all the perils that had plagued his first visit to the Bree-lands. Theo cheerfully marched along, occasionally humming a ditty, tramping in time with his verse as the sun swung high overhead and the morning grew late.
The Southern Bree-fields were far behind the hobbit and Buckland was fast approaching as the Road wound ever westwards when the sun reached its noon zenith in the sky overhead. The gentle open grasslands and meadows had given way and now the Road wound past the skirts of dark trees and the ground went rolling upwards to the north under the shadows of the thickening forests.
After he had walked for another hour or so, Theo began to yawn and his stomach growled with displeasure. He halted on the Road to wipe his brow with a pocket-handkerchief. ‘My, my, where did the morning go to?’ he said aloud and glanced up into the sky. The day had indeed grown bright and warm and only the faintest wisp of puffy white clouds marred the blue sky. ‘I had no breakfastat all before departing..and what about Second Breakfast, and Elevensies?’
The grumbling of his stomach grew more pronounced as Theo turned and sat down in the warm breeze under the shade of a tall and leafy ash tree. There he merrily enjoyed a brief luncheon of bread, some cold bacon and a delicious apple or two from the basket given to him by Butterbur. When his meal was finished, Theo at first made no effort to return to the Road; instead he leaned back into the grass contently and closed his eyes. There he lay, listening to the rhythmic murmur of the gentle wind through the bough of the ash tree for a long time. It was only as the nagging in his thoughts stirred him from Theo’s growing slumber that brought him back to the task at hand.
Theo sat up and pulled his wrinkled map from within his pack and bent to spread it out flat atop the short grass. He knew the Road from the Brandywine Bridge to Bree well enough by now, but there his knowledge ended and anyplace away from the road was quite foreign to him. He gazed down at the map, and traced the map with a finger from Bree until it came to rest upon a portion of rolling hills labeled THE BRANDY HILLS.
Of this area, Theo knew very little, other than what could be gleaned from the map. North of his finger on the map, the hills sprang from the road, flanked by the current of the Brandywine River as it flowed south past Buckland and the Shire on opposite banks. Past the mark of hills on the map was depicted a stand of trees entitled THE BRANDYWOOD.
It was there that Dob Sandheaver had spoken of the hefty burly fellow he had encountered during his shortcut return from Buckland. Dob had told Theo that he had come onto an old and odd bit of ruined stonework where this fellow was lodged and, more importantly, where the frightened hobbit had left his treasured pack behind. Theo glanced up from the map and across the road, where the land went rolling away through the trees climbing away northwards. That must be the Brandy Hills, thought Theo as he peered down at the map once again.
Finally, he rolled up the map and stuffed it back into his pack. He clambered to his feet, reached for his walking stick and set out at once, striking a path across the road and plunged into the trees. Through the edge of the trees, the ground began to run out along a wide tongue of green grass and many boughs that rustled in the light warm breeze. Soon the gentle ground gave way to a sheer slope between bare outcroppings of rock and there the trees began to thin out and grew sparse as the ground marched towards the north ever higher.
Suddenly, the woodland trees came to an end and Theo found that the steep ground began to fall away from the rising heights beyond the trees. Some distance from the last trees the ground fell abruptly down into a narrow gorge, deep and sheer-sided, where the sound of noisy hurrying water could be heard.
At once there came into view a wide and swiftly flowing river that wholly filled the bottom of the gorge. Theo turned to the east where the river flowed westwards as it wound through the deep ravine, diving and falling over a series of small waterfalls. His eyes followed the flowing water until his gaze paused at a rocky bank below. Theo’s eyes then crossed the swiftly running water towards the far bank where there stood a cleft in the tall cliffs that climbed high into more woodland further north.
Theo scampered down the slope with a rush of tumbling stones until he reached a wide space of tall reeds where the fast-flowing stream swept round several small outcrops of grey, mossy stones. There he paused to fill his water-bottle in the river and looked out over the water with concern. The flowing current flowed fast and strong and seemed very deep to the young, wide-eyed hobbit.
For a moment, Theo pondered if he should attempt to try to swim to the far bank but soon gave up such nonsense. He was no swimmer, that much was true, and the very thought of entering the swift river brought instant fear into his timid Shire heart. Finally, Theo sighed; he would have to find another way to cross he thought dismally. Theo peered to the far bank one last time and then turned to climb back out of the gorge once more.
Once out of the gorge, Theo struck along a path to the west, atop the high steep cliffs overlooking the river far below. For some time he went on as the ground rose steadily up until at last the high ground began to plunge down towards the banks of the river once again.
When he had reached the banks of the river, Theo discovered that the span was much narrower there than before and the water flowed quickly and bubbling past and over several large mossy rocks. Theo knelt along the bank and peered forward with sharp eyes. He stared over the rocks and water silently for a long while and then stood up, his mind made up.
He tightened his pack on his shoulders and took a deep, long breath. With a nimble leap, Theo jumped atop the nearest large rock and surveyed the next with worried eyes for a spot to land upon. Again he took in a breath to bolster his courage and leapt forward. But the distance to the next rock was deceiving and Theo’s leap fell far shorter then he expected. He plunged into the swift and cold water with a loud splash. Immediately, terror gripped Theo and he flailed his arms out to grasp at the rock even as the rough waters threatened to batter and hustle him to tiny bits against it.
To Theo’s horror he found that he could not pull himself up onto the rock in the swift current; instead he began to struggle against the current round the rock, holding to it as best he could with trembling hands. The water was icy cold and he sputtered and splashed through the water, fighting to keep his head up. By the time he reached the far bank, the young hobbit was shivering and coughing out water. Up he crawled like a drowned rat and threw himself to the ground with great gasps of deep air.
Theo lay there for a long time, daring not to move, one hand clutching his cloak tightly and cursing his ill-luck and clumsiness. When his breath grew less belabloured, Theo sat up with a terrible shiver, his clothing soaked through to no end. Without a fire, there was little Theo could do but unlatch his cloak and wring it out over the sandy bank. When he was done he poured out the river water from his pack, bemoaning the water-sodden food that butterbur had so graciously provided him. He threw the ruined food into the river and then climbed to his feet.
There was little more to be done but to hoist his sodden pack to his back and begin to trudge up the rising ground. Theo did so very slowly and wearily, the chillness in his bones bothering him something terribly. His frigid limbs did not fare better as he began to climb away from the banks of the river, for the shadows of the trees beyond were long and thin upon the thick and tussocky ground.
The sun was beginning to set lower and the light of afternoon was on the land as Theo made his way up the climbing ground. Thankfully, the sun was warm and the chill was slowly leaving his frozen limbs. He had been going along for some time when Theo stopped a moment as a strange sound reached his ears.
It was the sound of grunting that could now be heard ahead; Theo hesitated for a moment, as if some curiosity was struggling with his desire to run quickly down into a little hollow among the trees and lay flat upon the ground. The sound of grunting drew nearer until Theo threw himself onto the ground and held his breath. Suddenly, the thickets a few steps away shuddered and bent as a large boar came into view.
The boar raised its snout and sniffed the cool air, its reddish hair stiff and bristling along its back. The beast turned its head to one side then the other, its tucks from under its mouth visible even in the dim light of the trees. It was all Theo could do not to cry out as the boar snorted and rutted the soft earth with its feet and tusks until turning round and disappearing back into the thickets.
Only when the boar passed out of sight and sound did Theo begin to stir; he crawled from the grass and stood up with a nervous chuckle. ‘Well bless me! Back home in Budgeford, that fellow would have been someone’s meal! But not here!’
Theo laughed once more as his eyes fell to the dagger thrust into his belt and then patted the hilt with one hand. ‘Not much for hunting boars old friend…spiders in the Barrow Downs, but not boars!’ He glanced back towards the thickets and, when he was certain that beast had wandered off, Theo began to pick his way forward once more.
A little further on, the ground suddenly plunged down into a wide valley that led away westwards towards the Brandywine; on the far side Theo could glimpse a wide shelf under the shadows of steep cliffs rising ever higher northwards. Upon the shelf stood darkened ruins of stone and crumbling pillars bearing a most ominous look and appearance.
Theo grew very wary as he made his way round the opening of the valley on its right end, hoping to avoid trying to climb down then up the steep sides. Slowly, the ruins drew closer until he stood at the very edge of the ruins. There atop the shelf of the hills ridge stood what seemed to be an open camp of sorts; a sheltered ruin of stone with a high roof stood to one side and the opening was covered by large sheets of cured hide that waved and flapped in the gentle breeze. Bear furs were laid out as blankets within and nearby was a large blazing fire on the open ground.
For along moment, Theo stood blinking at the sight; curiously enough, the camp did seem to be a dwelling of sorts and yet as he peered quizzically at its sheer size, he wondered if an entire army was camped there, for not even the largest of the Big-folk would have been able to enjoy the sheer size of the camp alone.
Theo turned his head as something caught his eye. There, beside the hide-covered ruins he spotted a simple pack upon the ground. With a wary eye on the rest of the camp, he crept over to it and knelt down. To his surprise, the pack was laden with food – several sweet apples, some cheese, even some fried mushrooms and bacon.
‘Old Dob is a worrisome sort, of course,’ said Theo as he took up the pack with both hands. ‘And prone to telling of some rather tall tales it seems – giants indeed!’
Suddenly there came a booming voice, a deep rumbling sound from down in the valley below the shelf. The cliffs rang with the resounding echo and Theo clasped his hands over his ears with fright; the voice sounded truly terrifying to the poor hobbit and he at once envisioned all manner of terrible and nameless horrors that could made those sounds.
Theo looked swiftly back at the camp before fleeing quickly back into the trees. His poor heart beat tremendously with fear and a fevered shaking crept into his legs as he rushed through the trees with Dob’s pack clutched tightly in his hands.
And yet, despite his terrible fear and fright, Theo was quite pleased with himself and he beamed brightly as he ran. ‘There!’ he thought with a wide smile. ‘This will show poor Holfast what a hero truly is!’ The frightful roar soon melted away behind Theo as thoughts and excitement filled his mind.
The dwarves would surely pat him upon the pat for a job well done with such a victory, he thought. Long would they praise his name that his return would bring; soon all fear has drained from young Theo and he even began to hum quite cheerfully to himself…
Oh my. Theodoras is usually so level headed that I have to wonder if the pipe weed he's smoking is too strong and he's become addled headed. The first time I tried this quest I had my head taken off. Let’s hope Theodoras can sneak in and get out without much trouble.
Indeed! I do not what possessed me (or Theo) to decided to attempt this quest alone...after I began the march to the Brandy Hills, I thought that the best outcome would be to not have the inhabitant of the camp home; the worst outcome would be if he was home!
Other than the boar, Theo did not encounter any dangers (besides the river, and he did fall in trying to leap from rock to rock in hopes of crossing); even the fellow at the ruins was no where to be seen, so he is rather proud of himself right now. Lets just see if the dwarves are as proud of him once Theo returns to Bree...
Can I say that your are my LOTRO hero now, doing these total immersions in such a grand and magnificent manner?
I'd offer Theodoras aid from Turodhor the Captain who likely heard of him as he's in the Shire at the moment, but Theo seems to be quite a bit beyond Turodhor's level at the moment.
Very kind words Elben! My strict adherence to my total immersion rules most likely borders on an obsession
I would certainly look forward to having your captain joining the story, even at his current level. Send me an in-game mail to let me know what days and times of the week are best for you - after that we can set up a time for Theo and your captain to properly meet in Bree.
"The dwarves would surely pat him upon the pat for a job well done with such a victory, he thought."
Well I suppose you could call this an opportunistic victory. 8^D
If I didn’t know that Theo was an honest hobbit I’d urge him to elaborate on his adventure just a wee bit. You know pad the story for the listening comfort of his companions. I think the Dwarves always enjoy a good yarn told around a fire.
Mae Govannen Theo,
Please await my coming if you will have me.
I find your story quite interesting and see that you could use my help. I am skilled at healing and music[/occ Elf Mini]. I will soon be with you, and might even bring a friend. I must warn you, however, that I may often wander off, for I am both a traveling Minstrel, whose job is to bring music to the places that needs it most, and a scholar who will often find it necessary to explore areas that, while being very valuable to me, would be very dangerous for you with little gain. I will assist you in any way I can, but I am one who wanders the world, helping you when I can, not a constant companion.[/occ I have a very peculiar schedule and do not expect you to schedule your times around me]
Farewell Master Hobbit,
Melmallyrn[lover of the golden trees]
Last edited by Mellonbeleg; May 11 2013 at 07:11 AM.