As I mentioned in the latest post of Theo's story, there is a slow-down with my adventures with young Theodoras. Since I will be unable to properly update that story on a more regular basis, I have decided to kick-off the next Total Immersion story even before the last one has been completely in full.
TOTAL IMMERSION RULES
1.Travel: I will only travel on foot or by regular mounts and absolutely no swift travel horses or map recall use. Except when in a quest, lair, dungeon, combat, etc, I will walk everywhere - I will allow myself to run for short periods of time, however, when undergoing general overland travel.
2. Chat / Speech: I will always stay in rp character at all times during Chat. I will chat in OOC when it is necessary however, since there are times I might want to talk to someone out of game.
3. Food and Rest: I will follow the LOTRO day/night cycle closely and force myself to rest at a safe location such as an inn or in a town if such an inn is not available. The day/night cycles are:
I must rest during the night cycles of Evening, Midnight, Late Watches and Foredawn each day (or at least camp/rest for four cycles each day/evening). I can hang around an inn, for example, and rp a bit with other players, but no going out into town to shop or craft, etc. This is to simulate my character actually resting. During the rest time I must eat a meal of some kind.
If I am away from a town or settlement, things will become more tricky. I will attempt to find a safe spot to camp for the evening - this means halting my journey and actually sit my toon down for rest.
5. Promoting Realism: This rule is a catch-all for such things as no jumping off high cliffs, swimming with armour on, jumping around while I am moving, jumping every fence I come across, etc.
6. My Tale: As always, I will keep a log here on this thread of my travels. I will not partake in any quest that is not detailed in the general story line. This will probably limit my level advancement considerably. For sake of the adventure, I will be using the Steward's Reckoning calendar during the story:
7. Death and Defeat: Since I love a challenge, I will add in a final rule, even more restrictive than with my first Total Immersion story. Ingion cannot be defeated by any means during the story - should this occur, he will be considered truly dead. To track this, I will periodically post screenshots of the Survival titles as I recieve them, beginning with "The Wary", which you gain when reaching level 5 without being defeated in battle. This is followed by the Undefeated (level 10th), the Indomitable (level 14th), the Unscathed (level 17th) and finally with the Undying (level 20th).
8. Ingion's Hunt: For this newest story, I have written a simple program that directly affects my game-play. What it is in the simplest terms, is a searchable database that can return a single random result according to certain criteria – these search parameters are: Brigand, Orc and Goblins, followed by a Region, Sub-region and Location.
How it works it that Ingion is in search of those responsible for the horrific massacre at his home, namely a single Signature Brigand, Orc and Goblin. When he confronts and defeats a Signature mob of a certain type, he will be given clues to the whereabouts of one of these three that is of the same race as the mob being questioned.
For instance, when Ingion first defeats a Signature Brigand, he will be given his first clue to the Region where the traitor Malrod has fled to: (for example)
The second Signature Brigand mob he defeats will afford him the Sub-region where Malrod has holed up: (for example)
And finally on the defeat of a third Signature Brigand mob, he will discover the specific location and true name of Malrod: (for example)
Now with the true name and location of the Enemy now uncovered, Ingion can seek out the traitor and bring vengeance to him. This three-step process will be repeated twice more to find and locate the Orc and Golbin chieftains also responsible for the ruin that was wrought upon his village of Fennas Drúnin.
Naturally, most quests will have little meaning to me during the story – the ones that lead me to Orc, Goblin and Brigands will be of the most importance. I also have not planned out the quests that I will seek before hand, as with my other stories. I will have to rely upon the information granted to me by various npc’s during the game.
Ingion looked out from the hollow beneath the shivering branches of a towering willow tree. It was evening, a grey light waned in the sky, and the forest was veiled in a deepening dusk. Darker still it was under the great canopy of the tree and neither sky nor star could be glimpsed overhead.
Seated about the shadowed hollow was a small company of grim Men, dark and somber. Each was clad in dark greys and browns and hoods and cloaks were cast over helm and mail. No finery or splendor adorned their garb save that each bore a silver brooch in the shape of a rayed star clasped to their cloaks.
Ingion peered from under the deep folds of his grey hood to gaze upon the silent faces of the Men. ‘Men,’ he scoffed silently. Of the twenty or so that counted among the company, many had seen countless winters in the North, or too few to begin to call Men without levity.
He brushed his thick grey hair from his eyes and smiled slightly at the worn lines that creased his hand. He too could be counted among the former; for Ingion had greyed long before any of these boys had left their mother’s wombs. Indeed, only in jest could he still be counted as young, even in the reckoning of the race of the West unmingled.
‘Boys and old men called forth for war,’ he softly laughed mockingly. ‘And the oldest of all to lead them. What fine fellows we shall make in the face of the Enemy!’
A silent grey-clad form stirred from troubled sleep beside Ingion. A deep hood was drawn back, to reveal the worn face of a Ranger. Halond stifled a yawn and sat up, blinking in the darkness.
‘It has been many a season since I was abroad in the field,’ said Halond with a weary groan. ‘We still wait? Has there not yet been word of our spy?’
‘Nay,’ answered Ingion softly, his eyes glittering in the dark. ‘And I fear the worst. What of this spy, Malrod?’
Halond cast his hood once more about his head against the chill. ‘Very little, Ingion. We have recruited much of our spies from the sturdy folk of this land. Here, long ago, there lingered many remnants of our people, but those times have long passed. Each year we dwindle and they grow and multiply. But of this Malrod…who can say?’
‘And we pride them for that, Halond,’ said Ingion. ‘For they remind us of the youth of Men as they were in the old tales of the wars of the Eldar in Beleriand. And as such they hold kinship to us still, but they are not of the West. Yet we intermarry, and if they have become somewhat like us and cannot be called wild men, we have become like them. But of this Malrod, doubt grips my heart.’
Ingion sighed and fell silent for a time. Then he spoke. ‘Awaken me before the dawn, Halond.’ He then drew his cloak tight and lowered his head to the ground.
The night had grown ever colder when Ingion awoke from his restless sleep. The company still sat huddled in the darkened hollow, wrapped in their grey cloaks and hoods. Off to the east he could see the grey dim light of a distant dawn; but tattered mists clung low to the ground and the wide lands about the hollow lay bleak.
Just then, the sounds of hushed voices came to his sharp ears. The Ranger looked out and saw Halond standing on the edge of the hollow. And he was no alone, for with him stood a shorter man, swarthy of visage and sneering eyes.
Ingion rose and quietly strode to stand beside the other Ranger. ‘What news have you brought us, Malrod, he said softly, a hint of distaste tinting his deep voice.
Malrod looked up from deeply-lidded eyes to gaze at Ingion for a time. Then, licking his lips, he answered.
‘My Lord,’ he hissed. ‘I must report that wolf-riders are abroad in the river vales beyond and that a great host of Orcs and Hill-men, very great indeed, are hastening westwards. I have found some of the Men of Lord Ilthimir slain, and others scattered and leaderless, going this way and that.’
‘And what of Lord Ilthimir? Have you no word from him?’
‘Nay, my Lord, perhaps Lord Ilthimir had fled or taken to the other side in cowardliness?’
‘Take care, Malrod, for whom you speak,’ answered Ingion, his eyes glittering dangerously in the dim light. ‘And remember well which side you stand for.’
Malrod licked his lips again and hissed but said nothing.
Ingion fell silent, looking out into the mist-covered forest. Then he turned to Halond. ‘Ready the men, Halond. Too long has it been since word from Lord Ilthimir has reached us. I fear something is afoot.’
Halond glanced at Malod with a silent stare, then bowed before Ingion and turned round to rouse the others. Ingion returned his heavy gaze to the darkened forest then spoke once more. ‘I will need your eyes and ears, Malrod, on the path ahead,’ he said finally with a wary voice. ‘I fear a trick of the Enemy is ahead.’ Malrod’s eyes glittered darkly in the dim light, a slight sneer upon his darkened face and he nodded silently.
Soon all were ready to depart; silent and grey, almost invisible they went into the forest. Ingion took the lead, calling softly for Malrod to walk beside him. The crescent moon sunk round and yellow far beyond the great forest before them before disappearing altogether. At the first light, they halted and lay beneath a bank in a break of old brown bracken, overshadowed by dark pine trees. Water trickled down not far away, running cold out of the hills to the east.
But Ingion did not let the company rest for long and, after a time, he roused them to their feet and they pressed on. Far, far away to the east, above the pale ghosts of mists that blanketed the ground, rose the dim peaks of the Misty Mountains, caught in the shimmering light of the rising sun that shone with a watery pale gleam.
At once, their path drew ever nearer to the course of the Mitheithel, called the Hoarwell in the Mannish tongue of Eriador. Here and there a white gleam showed where the Mitheithel rolled, a mighty stream swollen from the melting snows of the lofty heights of the mountains beyond. The river came down swiftly from its sources high up in the Trollshaws and in the flat lands between the Lone-lands and the Angle, it became deep, broad and rapid.
Ingion raised his hand and paused to listen, his face troubled, and he turned his bright eyes northwards. ‘We have come three leagues or more from the south,’ he said turning to Malrod. ‘And yet no sign of the Enemy you spoke of. What say you?’
Malrod rubbed his chilled hands and looked up with dark eyes. ‘Perhaps, they have moved northwards since my return, my Lord.’
Ingion gazed sternly at the swarthy man in deep silence for a time. ‘Perhaps,’ he answered softly. ‘Very well, we shall rest here until dark.’ The company took refuge beneath a stand of tall grey-shadowed pine trees near the river bank. Several of the men busied with small fires as the grey morning shone dim through the leafy boughs. No one spoke or uttered a sound.
Ingion and Halond stood a few paces away gazing out over the swiftly-flowing river, speaking in hushed voices. ‘This is most strange, Halond,’ said Ingion sharply. ‘No word from Lord Ilthimir and no sign of his men. And loath I am to trust this Malrod and his word.’
‘Indeed,’ answered Halond softly. ‘But we have little consul to lead us forward.’
‘True, my friend, we must therefore start again at twilight. I am not eager to hurry onwards with no word, and still less to rush swiftly into unknown perils. Yet time is urgent and willing or not we should hasten north to find Lord Ilthimir and his men.’
Twilight has gathered when the company readied to continue their march. The stars leapt out above and the sky had become cold and clear. As the company made their way along the river northwards, it grew very dark; only a faint grey glimmer danced upon the darkened surface of the water. Away to the east, the clouds broke and a white sliver of the new moon appeared to ride slowly up the sky.
All at once, there was a twanging and arrows whistled over and among the company. One crudely fletched black arrow struck Ingion’s shoulder and sprang back from the fine mail beneath his cloak. Dark shaped loomed out of the darkness on the far bank and across the water came shrill harsh cries.
‘Orcs!’ shouted Halond. ‘Orcs are on the other side of the river!’ Ingion crouched low beside the dark bough of a tree and turned his eyes to the far bank. There dark figures could be seen running through the darkness.
‘Yes,’ he said with a hiss. ‘The Enemy holds the eastern banks. It is as I feared.’
The volleys of arrows soon became wild and sporadic and quit altogether. For a long pause, no one spoke. The darkness drew in close and fell silent.
There came a crashing sound ahead in the darkness. The company tensed, and drew sword and bow, straining to gaze into the gloom. At once, a figure loomed from the darkness and crashed down on them. Ingion called out in alarm as he spied the glinting of a silver brooch upon the figure’s cloaked breast. Ingion sprang forward even as the cloaked figure tried to stand only to fall to the ground.
‘How came you here?’ said the man with eyes of astonishment and wonder.
‘My company was stationed down river,’ answered Ingion gravely. ‘I suspected something foul in the air, and my spy reported fighting to the north. Where is Lord Ilthimir?’
The man gulped water from a skin offered by Halond, then spoke haltingly. ‘The Enemy has forded the river by many boats. Lord Ilthimir gathered his men but it was too late. We were driven back with great loss and many of our men were lost. Then at night fresh forces came over the river against our camp and we were overmatched. We were broken. Lord Ilthimir has drawn off those he could gather towards the Last Bridge, the others are scattered.’
‘Rest now,’ said Ingion reassuringly. He turned and drew Halond to one side, speaking with whispered words. ‘It is as I feared, my old friend. The Enemy has begun their attack upon the river crossings. And all the while we have stood watching the wrong part of the river! How much evil has been wrought because of this?’
‘The choices before us are fell and grave,’ answered Halond grimly. ‘To give battle in the dark, not knowing the number of the Enemy, or await dawn only to find our friends scattered the river crossings lost?'
Ingion fell silent and did not speak for some time. Finally, he looked up and spoke. ‘Nay, we cannot stand idle while the Enemy moves. Come, gather the men, we dare not delay any longer.’
The company crept through the darkness and for a time they came upon no Enemy; but soon they could hear harsh cries and on the far banks could be glimpsed the countless points of fiery torches. ‘Move forward with an advance guard,’ said Ingion quietly to Halond. ‘And take Malrod here, for he knows the path ahead.’
Malrod looked first at Ingion then towards Halond with a quiet dark stare. Then he licked his lips and hissed. ‘Of course,’ he said and spat at the ground.
Ingion watched as a half a dozen Men moved forward to follow Halond and quickly were engulfed in the deep darkness ahead. For a time, Ingion stood motionless, fingering his bow and peering into the blackness. A slow time passed when suddenly a clamour broke out. Horns sounded. Out of the gloom there came Halond and the others on fast feet. ‘We stumbled into an ambush, or taken in the rear,’ he said swiftly. ‘But we knew of the trap ‘ere the enemy attacked and scattered them.’
‘Where is Malrod?’ said Ingion scanning the darkened faces of the Rangers.
‘Fled no doubt,’ answered Halond.
‘Nay,’ answered Ingion sharply. ‘This is the evilness I feared! Malrod has led us into a trap. Woe for him whence I meet with him again!’
At that moment, there came hoarse cries; Orcs were attacking the flank of the company to either side and dark shapes could be seen driving straight at them from the front.
‘Back now! We must fall back!’ cried Ingion. Slowly, the company retreated walking backwards to face the enemy. Even as they did so, a great Orc-chieftain came forward from the darkness, while others stalked behind him. With a snarl, the Orc sprang forward, but an arrow whined and he fell sprawling and lay still.
‘We cannot press forward through the Enemy, for we have not the strength enough,’ said Ingion with alarm. ‘We must fall back and make a stand!’
The Rangers retreated to a wide expanse of broken stone and rocks beside the river. There they gathered to crouch low in deep silence. For some time all was silent and dark. Then, a dark mass came up from the dark and a great cry rose from a company of Hill-men as they moved forward. Ingion let out a sudden call and his sword flashed with a cold gleam in the moonlight. As one the Rangers sprang from their hiding places to fall upon the Hill-men. Many were hewn down where they stood or turned to flee back into the darkness.
A cheer rose from the company but it was swiftly silenced by the stern gaze of Ingion. Just then a great host of Orcs sprang up from the west, even as the Hill-men fell back with dismay. Ingion turned to face the new threat as a stone hurled through the darkened air and struck his helm. He stumbled and fell to one knee. Halond cried out and started towards his friend.
But Ingion waved hand, blood tricking down form under his dented helm. The Orcs came on at great speed and suddenly all the host burst into flame it seemed. Dozens of torches were kindled in the hands of the Orcs with a great clamour of hate they now began to cast these among the company.
Ingon cried out and the company formed up even as the Orcs came on, and with a shout the Rangers charged headlong into the ranks of the Enemy. At once the Orcs were thrown into confusion and dismay, and they began to fall back in earnest.
Swiftly, Ingion turned to Halond. ‘All is lost,’ he said grimly. ‘We cannot hope to break through to Lord Ilthimir. I fear that the might of the enemy has already drawn to the west bank. We must fall back to Fennas Drúnin and bring word of this if we can have any hope to save Lord Ilthimir.’
Ingion gathered the company and, with swiftness and silence, they turned and made for the path southwards. To their luck, the moon was now overtaken by cloud and all was dark again. They soon discovered, and with much relief, that the Enemy did not pursue them.
For several hours or more the company marched south with great haste; the night had been overcast and dark, but now the waning moon began to glimmer through drifting clouds overhead. A wind was moving up from the East.
The company reached a broad but shallow portion of the river and crossed, splashing through the chilled waters. On the far bank, they wearily climbed from the lower river vale; before them rose the roof of a dense forest, lying like a wide blanket of green and grey in the shimmering moonlight. Ingion drew a sharp breath and gestured. Far to the south they saw rising up out of the dim forest a vast spire of dense darkened smoke. It shone grey in the light of the waning moon and spread ominously in great billowing clouds over the forest.
‘What devilry is this,’ cried Ingion. ‘Is the forest ablaze?’
Ever more swiftly now, the company plunged south into the darkened forest. Suddenly the company burst through the trees into a wide clearing of the forest; there stood the thatched roofs and narrow fields of worked green of a simple village. But Fennas Drúnin was burning, flames licking up from the buildings as smoke billowed high into the darkened air.
The company stood mute at the terrible scene before them. Halond choked back a cry. Ingion lowered his darkened face, as images of the unseen battle threatened to overwhelm him. Unwanted images of folk hewed down as Hill-men and foul Orcs overran the village in a frenzy of murder and pillaging washed over him.
Then, slowly and with heavy hearts, the company moved to walk amongst the many arrow-riddled bodies, checking each in turn. One Ranger cried and the others rushed to his side. There lay a man, pierced by several rough-fletched arrows and dark stains blackened his tunic; a splintered spear lay beside him.
Ingion knelt solemnly beside the dying man and took his hand and kissed it. The man opened his eyes and strove to speak with slow painful words. ‘Ingion…you have returned, but not the first, I am afraid…’
‘What do you mean?’ said Ingion his face graven.
‘Malrod returned, with news of you and your men…but he arrived not with you but with Orcs and foul Hill-men…’
The man’s eyes closed wearily, and he shuddered then fell silent.
Ingion wept openly, and turned misted eyes up towards Halond with shame. ‘Alas!’ he cried. ‘This is the evil my leadership has wrought us! I allowed our strength to be drawn away and in our absence that foul traitor saw fit to return here to bring death and ruin!’
Ingion fell silent, and despair filled his heart. For a while, the others remained gazing down after him, before continuing their search amongst the many silent bodies. Halond kicked at one of the unmoving Orcs with a heavy boot then called for Ingion.
‘A great host was drawn here,’ he said with sorrow and hate as he looked on the many slain Orcs. ‘Goblins of the Misty Mountains as well as others I cannot identify count among the dead. And here too can be found Orcs out of the South.’
‘With such a large company, there would be leaders of each group,’ said Ingion slowly. ‘The Enemy loathes such cooperation unless by force of great will. And yet, I count no leaders amongst the slain.’
Ingion fell silent for a time. He then bent to the ground in wide circled about the ruin and desolation. Here and there he stooped to examine many tracks in the soft earth. ‘They came from the north as one,’ he said finally. ‘And yet they did not depart in the same fashion. One group headed northwest into the forest and the other straight away there to the river.’
Then he rose and darted to the side of the village and scanned the ground for some time until he found what he sought. Quickly Ingion ran forward across the torched fields and to the edge of the forest. Malrod was here..see? The heavy hob-nailed boot marks? He went this way alone and without escort.’
‘What is your desire, my friend?’ asked Halond, his voice full of grief and despair.
Still low to the ground, Ingion did not answer, and his glance swept round then stopped on the faint tracks leading off into the darkened forest. He then stood up and looked round. ‘We should tend to the fallen, Halond, for we cannot leave them as carrion. When we have buried them, then they shall look out over from the White Tower and listen to the sea in peace,’ he said in a low voice.
Halond nodded the turned to the company to issue a soft order. ‘And what of us, Ingion?’ he asked turning back to his friend.
Ingion looked up with an ashen face. ‘You shall take the men and search for the others to the north. Not all of Ilthimir’s men could have fallen. Seek them out as swiftly as possible.’
‘But what of you?’ cried Halond with dismay.
‘This Malrod has taken his road, if that be his true name,’ he answered slowly. ‘Now we must all find our own road, no matter where it might lead us…’
Chapter One: Village of Combe– 25 Lótessë, T.A. 3018
The afternoon was waning and the sky overhead was thick with dark clouds; but they were breaking in scattered patches and pale strips of blue appeared between them. There was a faint stirring in the leaves of the trees as there came the soft sounds of heavy footfalls along the dusty lane.
Suddenly, a high palisade of wood timbers loomed up at the end of the lane; it stretched across the lane from one strong point to another, but the gate stood open. In the shadows of the palisade, a figure paused, cloaked and hooded in shades of grey, and stood gazing silently with hushed breath. The figure drew to its full height, and then stepped quietly through the gate.
A watchman, dozing just inside the gate, startled and leapt to his feet, reaching for his bow and arrows. With suspicious eyes, the watcher looked at the stranger with surprise and distrust. The stranger’s eyes glittered brightly from beneath the folds of his deep hood, and then spoke in a deep low voice.
‘I seek only the warmth of an inn fire and rest,’ said the stranger sullenly and with few words. ‘Fear not, I have coin to pay,’ he added waving his hand at the guard’s distrusting gaze.
The watcher squinted at the stranger for a moment, trying to gaze at the darkened face hidden beneath the grey hood. ‘I need to be vigilant for any Blackwold brigands,’ stammered the watcher with an apology as he lowered his bow.
The stranger did not answer, but nodded slightly and passed along the lane beyond, where small houses, dark and grey in the dying light, could be seen ahead. The watcher turned to stare after the stranger for a time, then turned and went sleepily back to his post.
On the other side of the gate, the lane tumbled down a gentle slope towards a wide and dusty commons at the bottom. In its grassy center there sprang up a tall leafy tree and the commons was ringed by stalls of local craftsmen. The stranger drew up outside a tall building that rose up from one side of the commons by way of wooden steps to a wide and open veranda. There, under a low porch, a small lamp shined over the entrance to an inn.
The stranger hesitated in the shadow of the tall tree; around the commons there was still some coming and going of people in the late afternoon as the merchants and craftsmen finished their days’ business. Turning his head round, the stranger climbed the wooden steps until he stood before the door.
Within, there could now be seen a low and dim tavern room; flickering firelight and wisps of grey smoke came out a simple hearth to the far side and all about stood benches and small round tables and chairs. Much of the room was quiet and empty; nearer the fireplace sat two of the local folk while at the larger long table was a collection of men. The first was swarthy-faced, who turned to look at the stranger with a sneering sort of look. His companions, ill-favoured fellows all, scowled at the new arrival before turning back to their mugs of beer and ale.
The stranger drew away from the others and took a seat alone in a corner, eyeing the motley men darkly and doubtfully from a distance. Presently, the innkeeper strode to the stranger’s table, wiping her hands on a darkened apron round her waist. The woman turned a worried gaze towards the group of swarthy men with disgust, and then looked down on the newcomer.
The stranger muttered a few words, speaking in the tongue of Westron, and the inn-keeper nodded to return to the bar. Within moments, she returned, bringing him cold meats and drink, and offered hot water to wash the dust and weariness of the road from him.
For a long time, the stranger sat, listening to the slow, sparse conversation of the local folk near the hearth. They spoke in hushed voices, halted occasionally by nervous glances of fear and distrust towards the swarthy men.
‘…and another thing,’ said one of the woodcutters in a low voice, glancing at the swarthy men under lidded eyes. ‘That Thorne fellow doesn’t know the least bit about cutting trees.’
‘Oh, you needn't tell me!’ exclaimed the other quietly. ‘Did you hear that Will was attacked by a wolf the other day?'
‘You don't say!' said the first sharply, then gazed worriedly at the men.
‘I do say!’ continued the second woodcutter. ‘Right out in the open too, just as natural as you please, charged right up and took a nip out of his leg!'
‘What's Thorne doing to set that a-right?’ asked the first as he leaned in close to whisper. ‘Them wolves and spiders are all about the edges of the logging camp.'
'Oh, those spiders scare me near to death with them big hairy legs,’ shuddered the second woodcutter.
The first laughed. ‘Their legs are near as hairy as old Will's except without the wolf-bite!’
But as the woodcutter chuckled, his eyes fell upon the ill-favoured men nearby once more and his laughter fell away as it was met by cold sneers. The woodcutters fell into an uncomfortable silence, their eyes turned downcast.
‘Oy! Innkeeper!’ called out a squint-eyed fellow with a bellow. ‘Bring us more ale!’
The men raised their mugs as the innkeeper brought a round of fresh drinks. ‘Drink to poor Rurik, boys!’ he said with a wide grin, raising his mug high before draining it without pause.
‘Aye,’ said another, wiping his mouth on his dirty sleeve. ‘The next hobbit that looks at me funny, I’ll break his hairy feet!’
The others let out a sneering snickering and drained their mugs dry before calling out for more. The stranger gazed out from the deep folds of his up-turned hood, only the bright gleam of his eyes visible, and listened intently to the talk. Finally, the stranger stood up from the table, placing a few coins atop the table and stepped out into the dying light of the gathering dusk.
The stranger strode down into the square and went uphill, rimmed on both sides by houses with sharp slate or thatched roofs. He had not gone far when was met by a short youth of a man who greeted him courteously, bowing his head. ‘Welcome, I am Constable Sageford.’
‘I am called Halvorn,’ answered the stranger plainly and with little pride. But these words were of falseness, for the stranger’s true name was Ingion and he was one of the Dúnedain; he had reason for the secrecy of his person, and the Bree-man had no cause to doubt the stranger’s words.
The constable paused a moment, as if expecting some more mannerly response, and getting none, he straightened up and turned a little aside. He looked at Ingion with sharp eyes then looked away, and brushing dust from his thick iron-studded tunic of leather with one hand.
‘The Blackwolds are getting out of hand,’ he said with much scorn.
‘Blackwolds…’ murmured Ingion. ‘I have heard that word of late. Brigands?’
The constable turned to nod. ‘Indeed,’ he said grimly. ‘After the initial raids, when folk began fleeing for villages like Archet and Staddle, the Blackwolds found they could no longer rely only upon raids to support themselves. They seized Old Bauman's farm and began tilling the soil, though badly and without care for the land.’
Ingion listened in silence, his eyes flashing bright beneath his deep hood as the constable continued.
'The brigands at the farm must be under the supervision of some Blackwold leader, else they would fall to laziness. Old Bauman's farm is deep in the Chetwood, at the end of the eastward path.’
‘A lone and weary traveler would be wise to heed your words,’ said Ingion softly. He then bid the constable goodbye and turned to walk back down the lane towards the inn.
When he returned to the inn, he at once made for his room and there he pushed a low chair against the door and shut the window. Peering out, Ingion saw the last light fading quickly in the darkening sky; he then closed and barred the heavy inside shutters, drew the curtain and blew out the candle beside the bed. Ingion then took a seat in the other chair near the window and stretched out his legs.
Yet he did not sleep, and for long hours he sat silently, tilting his head when he heard, or thought he heard, the slightest creak or felt something or someone stirring elsewhere in the inn. It was late in the deep evening when Ingion finally rose quietly from the chair.
He got up and went to the door, opened it softly, looked out and slipped noiselessly from the room. With soft furtive steps, Ingion stole down the stairs and tiptoed across the darkened common room, which was bathed in the dim glow of a dying bed of red coals. Gently closing the door behind him, Ingion drew his hood about his head; overhead the night was late and the stars had swung bright in the chill and clear sky. Glancing about, he crept down the stairs and through the commons; no one greeted him from the shut and shuttered houses along the darkened lane as he went.
Ingion struck a path along the lane that went rolling away grey in the dark from the village as it climbed gently to the east. For a time it wound more eastwards, past dark and tall trees here or there. There was no sound. As Ingion passed over the top of the slope, the lights and windows of Combe faded behind him and out of view completely.
It was not long when the lane began to dip and at the bottom of a long hill he came upon a wide lumber camp set to either side of the winding lane. All was dark and silent in the camp but here or there could be heard the restless sleep of the woodcutters as they slept in their tents. In the dim light of the rising moon, Ingion could make out the path as it rolled through the camp and beyond towards a forest of dark, wind-stirred trees.
Stealthily, he picked his way through the camp and then down the path until he stood under the eaves of the forest. Eastwards, the road ran past darkened and crumbling remains of ancient walls shaded in the deep gloom of the trees. At once, he stiffened as there came darkened shapes among the ruins ahead. Slowly, he drew down his bow from his back, fitted an arrow to the string, and crouched low.
A darkened shape seemed to emerge as if from nothingness out of the darkness about the ruins; it danced about on the ground, stopping once or twice in a fluttering manner that made the Ranger shudder. Then, the wind came up and the boughs of the trees bent and swayed. A thin beam of silvery moonlight shimmered down through the trees; in an instant Ingion could see that it was a spider. But no ordinary spider he now looked on, for it was borne atop silvery legs as it skittered across the ground and was larger than a dog.
Beyond, he could see in the filtering moonlight, wisps of silvery-grey cobwebs that were stretched from thicket to thicket and rock to rock about the crumbling ruins. Ingion drew back his bow and watched with held breath as the spider scurried along until it melted back into the darkness of the ruins.
For a long moment, Ingion did not stir or utter a sound; then, his bow still bent, Ingion hurried further down the path, casting wary glances towards the ruins even as he past. Beyond the forest path marched on before swinging round to the north. The Ranger crept along in silence. For a time, he could or hear nothing and no shadow of him fell upon the ground as he went on stealthy feet.
It was not long when the road turned quickly back eastwards; in the night of the forest the trees to either side seemed to gather tightly to the path, their pale boughs shining grey in the dim light of the moon and stars.
Suddenly, Ingion paused and then without word or sound, he leapt from the path to crouch alert and tense in the shadows of the trees to one side. With bated breath, he gazed down the path until at once a dirty and surly-looking Man, grim-faced and grimy-handed, loomed out of the darkness.
As the man came forward, Ingion sprang onto the road, and called out in a clear voice. ‘Who dares trespass the forest at night?’
At once, the man came to a halt and drew a sharp breath, gazing towards Ingion with dark eyes. The squint-eyed man, seeing the stranger alone, laughed aloud with a leer of contempt. ‘You’re in a mess o’ trouble,’ he sneered as a dull blade slid into his hand.
The Blackwold took a step as Ingion flashed out his sword and leapt forward, casting aside his cloak so that the mail beneath shone in the dim light. With a rush, Ingion met the brigand, his eyes shining dangerous in the gloom. With a cry, the Blackwold swept up his sword and in a fury hewed double-handed at Ingion. But the Ranger sprang back even as the blow fell and went astray then came again, sword and knife gleaming in the starlight. There was a curse as Ingion’s sword darted forward and the brigand toppled over with a groan.
Ingion fell silent at once, and scanned the trees and path ahead with keen eyes. When there came no sound or movement, he turned to cast the body into the thickets beside the road, and began to creep onwards.
He had not gone far when suddenly a red-yellow glow shined through the tree-trunks just off the road. Quietly, he stepped from the path and began to stealthily climb the hill, and scrambled a little way further along through the thickets. Suddenly, there came the sound of harsh voices and sharp laughter as the dim glow drew nearer.
Creeping forward, Ingion crouched low beside a rough outcropping of rock and peering silently ahead. There, seated round a large campfire of logs was an encampment of swarthy men lounging around the fire. Clubs and blades hung from their belts or sat nearby in arms’ reach.
For long silent moments, Ingion scanned the faces of the men closely and watched in the deep shadows. When he was certain they were alone, Ingion rose from his hiding place; he drew his bowstring to his ear and let fly an arrow. A cry rang out and one of the brigands fell sprawling into the fire, clutching a quivering arrow in his breast.
A cry arose from the others as they turned to scan the trees about the camp; as one their eyes fell upon the darkened figure of the Ranger and they came on with hurried feet. With a flash, Ingion once more bent his bow and loosened an arrow; it struck the first man, who pitched forward into the dirt with a cry and did not move.
The Blackwolds were filled with wrath and shouted aloud; undaunted, Ingion sprang forward headlong into the press, his eyes shining with a sudden fire. ‘Elendil!’ he cried aloud in clear voice, as his sword rose gleaming in the flickering firelight and hewed down a brigand with a single stroke.
Filled with dismay, the others turn to flee, but Ingion fell upon them, hewing them down even as they ran. The forest fell silent. Then Ingion crept forward and into the camp; here or there he stooped low to the ground, his bright eyes scanning the soft earth. He then turned to pick cautiously among the slain on the ground. ‘Southron, from up the Greenway, or I am a fool,’ he said softly.
Satisfied, Ingion turned to the campfire and with a heavy boot, he stamped out the fire and scattered the glowing ashes. Suddenly the camp fell dark and silent.
Yay! This is the one I've been waiting for, I'm so excited about the use of your program. It adds an element of surprise rather than following the game quests. Obviously, you can write your own story. I will be following this story very closely and I hope to help at one point or another. It looks good so far, you really have a talent, Brucha.
Chapter Two: Old Bauman's Farm – 25 to 27 Lótessë, T.A. 3018
Glancing about hurriedly one last time, Ingion turned from the darkened Blackwold campsite and hastened back down to the forest road again. Once more, he began to stealthily pick his way along the road and away to the east. He did not go far when he came suddenly upon a dim crossroads hemmed in by tall trees.
Here he paused silently and peered into the darkness. To the northeast the road ran forward into a glen of shadows until it was lost in the distance. To the south and east a second path broke off to march vague and wide until it too fell from view.
Carefully, Ingion stepped from the road to disappear into the deep shadows of the trees beside the road; only the faintest of outline betrayed the tall silent figure standing there. For a time, Ingion watched the crossroad in silence, thinking back to the constable’s words in Combe:
‘..Old Bauman’s farm is deep in the Chetwood, at the end of the eastward path…’
Ingion glanced up at the night sky, half-obscured by the canopy of forest trees. The last light of the waning moon was gleaming dimly in the leaves. The wind was still. A little way off to the east, he heard a harsh laugh and the tread of feet. Then a ring of metal nad the soft glow of campfire light filtered through the boughs of the darkened trees. The sounds died away and there was nothing more, even the leaves were silent.
Finally, Ingion stepped from the shelter of the shadowed trees and began to pick his way quietly down along the path to the southeast. The forest grew uncomfortably silent and Ingion unslung his bow as he went forward.
A bit further to the south from the crossroads, the forest receded and the trees grew more sparse, and below lay a vast wide expanse of marsh-ground. Further to the south the marsh ran until it was lost in deep-dipped shadow and swirling mists.
But here the path swung round to the east once more, and to his right the forest loomed above the ranger towards the top of steep slopes running down to the path. Shadows creep down from the hillsides and over the lower lands along the path as it passed the high hill and was lost in darkness beyond. Not far along the path where it bent, a narrow dusty lane wound up the slope towards the unseen crown of the hill.
For a moment, Ingion paused and listened for some time. Finally, he began to creep up the dusty lane, keeping always to the shade and deep shadows of the trees and thickets along its edge. Before long he reached the top and froze. Here, the trees had been felled and cleared and in its center stood a lone cottage. To one side ran a low wooden fence round a patch of unworked fields.
At once Ingion halted and fell into a listening and watchful silence. Crouching low in the deep thickets beside the path, he peered out. In the dim light, Ingion spied many swarthy and squint-eyed Men about the farm.
With keen eyes, the Ranger watched in silence as the Men lounged about the front of the cottage or stood watch in the nearby field. ‘Blackwolds,’ he muttered softly. For long moments, he watched unseen the brigands, counted their numbers. Several minutes had past when finally one of the Blackwolds climbed to his feet where they sat in the front of the cottage. Waving at his companions, the Man began to lazily to stroll down the path towards the brush that concealed the Ranger. Ingion loosened his sword in its scabbard and then silently drew back his bow. Tense seconds passed as the brigand drew ever closer to the Ranger. Ingion paused, the bow bent far back, and held his breath.
With a sharp twang, an arrow shot from his bow; the Man clutched his throat with a gurgling cry before pitching forward onto the ground. Alert and tense, Ingion threw a hasty glance towards the other brigands. When he was satisfied that no alarm had been raised, Ingion reached to drag the unmoving man deep into the thickets. Without a sound, Ingion melted back into the shadows beside the path and returned to his silent watch.
Finally, Ingion rose and carefully began to creep through the thickets and brush towards the loungers nearer the cottage. When he was within a few paces of the closest Blackwold, he sprang with a flash from his hiding place. A sword rang out and swept forward; the Man crumbled to the ground, his helm cloven in two.
But then a voice of alarm rang out about the farm as several swarthy faces turned to the darkened and cloaked figure now standing tall in the gloom. With fluid speed, Ingion drew back his bow even as the Blackwolds swept out their blades and leapt towards him with a cry. The first Man sprang from his seated position and took several steps, then fell crashing to the ground, a dark-fletched arrow sticking from below his neck.
Without pause, Ingion sped forward, straight towards the oncoming brigands, as arrows skipped and snapped harmlessly on the ground. In the dim light, his sword gleamed pale and it rose and fell; a sharp clang rang out of sword on helm as the blade felled one of the brigands with a single stroke.
Ingion whirled round, dagger and sword now in his hands; a brigand blade flashed forward, only to be turned aside by his dagger. There came a cry as Ingion twisted then lashed out and the brigand stumbled back and collapsed, his sword slipping from his useless hand. At once, the brigands fell back in dismay.
But through the press of Blackwolds, there now came a taller Man, sneering-lipped and dark-eyed. Ingion turned slowly at the new arrival, for this could only be the Blackwold leader Constable Sageford spoke of. Ingion’s voice rang out clear and strong.
‘Come on,’ he spat, ‘Your death awaits you here today!’
Then he sprang forward; but the Blackwold leader was not unprepared, and he threw back his cloak, revealing glinting mail beneath. The brigand drew a long blade with a sneering laugh and hewed double-handed at the Ranger. Ingion stepped deftly to one side as the blade whistled harmless through the air. But then there came a twang and Ingion cried out in pain as an arrow bit into his leg above the knee.
Ingion stumbled and fell back, turning aside a clumsy stab of the Blackwold leader’s blade. His glanced hastily behind the tall man before him and watched as the brigand archer fitted another arrow to his bow.
But the Blackwold leader did not hesitate and he pounced, his great sword in both hands. At the last minute, Ingion brought up his blade; the swords met and sparks flew. Another arrow whistled past his head as Ingion began to give ground beneath the strength and weight of the Blackwold leader.
In desperation, Ingion slashed at the brigand’s legs with his dagger. There was a groan and a curse and the swords sprang back. Ingion crouched, and then stabbed upwards, his knife passing clean through the Blackwold’s body.
Even as the brigand slipped to the ground, Ingion pressed him from above, placing his cold dagger at the Blackwold’s throat. ‘Where is one called Malrod?’ he cursed aloud.
The Blackwold turned his eyes up to met Ingion’s, which grew dim with every breath. His lips parted as a faint whisper sounded. ‘…Bree-lands,’ uttered the brigand with his last breath. ‘…in the Bree-lands…’
Ingion glanced up to spy others rushing forward to stand with the archer. He sprang into the thickets even as arrows flew through the darkened air after him. He crashed through the brush and trees beyond, and then sped down the hill. Daring a glance over one shoulder, he ran across the level ground at the bottom and across the path into the trees on the far side.
Behind him there came harsh cries of the brigands as they gave chase; but they soon died away and retreated until he could hear them no more. But Ingion did not pause and went on for some time, until every step grew more painful. Dawn was coming pale from the East now. As the light grew it filtered through the leaves of the trees and a warm breeze blew across his face. A pale blue sky peeped between the rustling leaves.
Finally he halted under the canopy of a tall elm then sat down slowly and in great pain. Setting aside his bow, Ingion drew his knife to cut away the thick fabric of his trousers. The cut that he could now see looked ill and inflamed but it did not appear poisoned as so many are; he bathed it with water from his flask and dressed it with fresh linen.
When he was finished, Ingion climbed slowly to his feet and, favouring his good leg, he continued onwards. Soon, he had passed through the trees and came onto the path leading towards the lumber camp on the edge of the Chetwood.
The sun was slowly rising in the sky when at last Ingion drew near to the village once more. The sleepy village had already begun to awaken, and its folk were about on their business as Ingion climbed down the lane towards the inn. He did not raise his gaze to meet the curious and sometimes distrusting eyes of those he passed, but made haste along the lane.
Without a word, he stepped into the darkened interior of the inn and wearily climbed the stairs to his room. Closing and latching the door securely, Ingion cast his cloak aside and slowly lowered himself to the bed; he fell at once into weary sleep. It was many hours, nearly dusk, when he awoke once again and rose. Swinging his legs over the side, he carefully stood; his leg still pained him but it seemed the worst had passed and could bear his weight sufficiently once more. Ingion paused to change the dressing on his wound, then threw his cloak and hood about his head and shoulders and made his way downstairs.
Ingion drew up a chair in the shadows of the dimly-lit common room and called for food and drink in a hushed voice to the lone innkeeper.
For some time, he sat there in silence with the woodcutters and farmers of Combe, taking pleasure in their slow, sparse conversations. Ingion soon felt a great desire to stay here in Combe welling up inside him. A wish grew to forgo all pursuit of vengeance and blood, to live peacefully like any other Man and to turn aside his dark road. And yet his will was other and strong was the drive that pushed him forward.
These simple folk were such people as he had known in the Angle, though they were not of the West unmingled and much poorer ever he had known. And Ingion saw in them, the kindness and wholesomeness of many a simple people, unburdened with desire for wealth and power. But they too seemed to sense upon him an air that set him apart from them, though they did know his name nor true purpose. He was cut off from them and a doom hung about him.
The sooner he went on, Ingion thought bitterly, taking his dark destiny with him, the better for these folk. Finally, he rose from the table and returned to the solace and silence of his room. Though the desire was strong to depart as swiftly as possible, Ingion did not relent to this desire. He rested that evening and all through the next until the pain from his wound had lessened.
It was just after dawn when Ingion rose and left the inn for the last time. Outside, the sun was shining bright and fair through the fluttering leaves. A clear sky of pale blue hung high above, filled with the light of the morning. With his mail and sword hidden beneath the grey folds of his cloak, Ingion set out along the lane past the inn and onwards to the south. To either side of the lane, the ground was strewn with many red and yellow leaves, but the trees were still clothed with fading green.
The lane led up a slight hill and through a low gate hedged in by tall hills to either side. Ingion marched on in silence, passing a Bree-land farmer or watcher now and then. Without hurry, he went along as the lane rolled further south until at last it ran quickly down into a gentle vale lined with leaning elms and oaks.
At the bottom of the vale, the lane widened into a small commons dotted with a few craftsman stalls; one or two simple cottages and smials stood back from the commons on all sides.
Here, on the far side of Bree-hill, a weary traveler would find the small village of Staddle, tucked against the rolling hillocks that stretched east towards the distant marshes. It is often said that the oldest settlements of hobbits could be found in Staddle; whether or not this was true was a matter well-debated over many a meal and drink.
Ingion had little need for such local gossip, but he was keen to move amongst the folk of Staddle and garner information as to reports of brigands in the area – this he suspected to find as the presence of such in the Chetwood gave rise to his suspicions that the brigands were far more spread through the region than anyone dared guess.
The simple folk of the village stared at the cloaked stranger and Ingion could hear whispered voices as he passed. To this, Ingion showed nothing, his face kept hidden in the deep hood about his head. At the edge of the commons, he paused; the sun was now shining bright and warm and the tall trees lining the area cast long, clear-cut shadows across the ground.
Presently, he noticed a man, clad in tanned leather of brown and green, standing to one side of the commons. A watcher no doubt, thought Ingion. The watcher caught sight of him, and turned to watch with curiosity as the Ranger crossed the commons.
Ingion strode to the watcher and, with a slight nod of his head, spoke. ‘Greetings, watcher. I am a lone traveler making my way through the Bree-lands and have heard word of brigands or worse on the road before me. What news might you have?’
The watcher peered at the bright eyes shining from beneath the deep hood, and then shook his head at the notion of brigands.
‘I am Watcher Redweed,’ answered the watcher finally. ‘There are goblins in the Midgewater Marshes, or so it has been told.’ The watcher paused waiting for the stranger to offer a more clear indication of his travel. When Ingion did not speak, the watcher shrugged and spoke once more.
‘There are two sets of ruins in the southern expanse of the marshes. The first set of ruins are found south-east of Eldo Swatmidge’s farm, east of Staddle. South of his home is a narrow stretch of land that extends into the Marshes and runs right to the Sunken Stones. The Goblinhole Ruins are far to the east and south of those.’
‘Goblins?’ hissed Ingion and suddenly his eyes blazed with light.
The watcher nodded. ‘And yet, we may be close to dealing the goblins a decisive blow. The only thing keeping them from fighting amongst themselves is the loyalty of the two chieftains that are rumoured to lead them: Gurzstâz and Gurzrum.’
‘To think that servants of the Enemy have come so close to the borders of your land…’ exclaimed Ingion with a whisper. ‘I do not make habit of hunting goblins in the wilds, and I am bent upon my own task that lay before me. Where would one find these goblins so that one may avoid them?’
Again, the watcher gazed at the darkened face of the Ranger with interest. ‘Take the east path from the village square until you arrive at the Widow Foghorn’s farm, then follow the line of fences north a short way. Swatmidge’s farm is down the hill to the east, within view of the Midgewater Marshes.’
‘I thank you watcher,’ said Ingion with a nod. ‘Thankfully my road does not take me near the dwellings of these goblins, but it is news to ponder indeed.’ Then bidding the watcher good day, he turned and went back over the commons.
Son, Ingion has found his first clue to the whereabouts of Malrod:
Malrod is somewhere in the Bree-lands...that is handy since there is a good deal of brigands to be found there. Now, if I can find and defeat another signature brigand, I can question him and recieve my second clue to the sub-region within the Bree-lands to search for him.
But that will be put on hold for a bit, since I have gotten word of at least one signature goblin within the Midgewater Marshes...
Chapter Three: Goblins in the Marshes– 27 to 28 Lótessë, T.A. 3018
The sun was shining, clear but not hot, when Ingion made his way from the village of Staddle in the early morning hours just after dawn. Once or twice, an inquisitive head poked out of a nearby door or over a fence as he passed quietly through the village. To the east Ingion went, along a tree-shaded lane, each leafy and full of colour, his hood pulled tight about his bowed head.
Passing Staddle’s scattered and sleepy farms and smials, Ingion went along the lane for some distance, as it wound eastward round the nearby shores of the Big Staddlemere. But as he drew near to the east end of the lane, it began to run downwards past wooden country to the south and away north rose tall hills dotted with scattered trees. After the road had run down some way, it became little more than a narrow track and soon it halted at a lazy farm and smial.
For a moment, Ingion paused some distance from the farm, gazing out in silence. On the doorstep of the small smial stood a lone hobbit quietly smoking a long pipe and enjoying the fresh morning air. A lazy dog lay near his feet and he raised his shaggy head to sniff the air and glance at the Ranger with curiosity before returning to his nap.
A slight smile spread across Ingion’s face as he watched dog in silence and then stealthily made his way round the nearer field opposite the smial. Once past the last stretch of tilled earth, the land began to fall once more steadily to the east. He was on the borders now of the Midgewater Marshes and out before the Ranger, far to the east, north and south, ran vast fens. Here could be seen trickling streams flowing down from the higher ground that fed the many stagnant pools and mires that dotted the landscape below.
A reek of the marshes suddenly blew up from the east, heavy and foul in the cool morning air. A dark silence and foreboding seemed to hover over the land and Ingion drew his gloved hand to his mouth with disgust. Glancing back over the fields behind him, Ingion faded softly but swiftly down the rocky slope to the marshes below.
With guarded apprehension, Ingion marched onwards across the comfortless land in a line roughly east by south-east. For an hour or more, he plodded on; here of there the marsh became drier allowing passage across flats of higher ground, but often Ingion was forced to scramble hesitantly through shallow pools and streams. And so it was not long until his heavy boots and hem of cloak were cakes with slimy mud.
The marshes he now passed through lay beneath a thin graying mist and vapours; through the mists the sun shone dull and yellow. A few melancholy birds piped here or there as Ingion passed, but little else interrupted his march.
The morning was passing quickly; the marshes were trackless, and Ingion keep hidden as he went along as best he could, scampering across open ground fearing all moments of exposure. He kept a watchful gaze about as the pools grew wider and deeper, and in places became altogether more difficult to find where feet could tread without sinking into the gurgling mires or water-logged earth.
Suddenly the wind blew warm from the east as the tall reeds hissed and swayed. At once, out of the grey mists rose crumbling and half-submerged ruins of walls and pillars from the still and darkened waters of a deep and wide pool. A thin spit of dry land jutted towards the ruins, and there a ramshackle camp stood. A wavering wisp of dark smoke rose from a single flickering fire in the center of the camp.
Ingion crouched low and peered ahead with cautious patience. The camp was not quiet nor empty, for he saw at once that it was busy with the dark shapes of many goblins going to and fro from it, and still more could be glimpsed hurrying along through the marsh all about it.
Ingion drew up to a patch of tall reeds and knelt quietly, keeping a distance out of range of the bows of the wandering goblin archers that prowled the marsh about the camp. There the Ranger sat watching the encampment in silence; one minute soon turned into many and still he dared not move.
From his hidden vantage point, Ingion counted the goblins in sight, and then slowly counted them once more. At least a half a dozen goblins he thought bitterly, more than enough to take him down should the alarm be raised. So, he sat in the tall reeds and watched.
His patience was soon rewarded when Ingion saw several of the goblins prowling outside the camp began to move towards the far side of the deep pools. A lone goblin now stood between himself and the camp where several more could be seen about the campfire.
On stealthy feet, Ingion rose, fitting an arrow to his bow, and began moving stealthily forward, step by careful step. If the keen-eyed goblins noticed the creeping form of the Ranger they took no heed. When Ingion was perhaps a dozen or more paces from the lone goblin, he halted and rose tall from the singing reeds. Drawing tight his bow, he let fly an arrow; the strangled cry of the goblin broke the silenced air as it pitched forward into the water not far from the camp, the arrow quivering in its pale throat.
But just then, there came a shrill shout as a goblin, half-hidden in the mists not far from the first, came hurdling from the haze. Cursing his misfortune, Ingion dropped his bow and swept out his sword and dagger. The two met with a clash of blades and an exchange of blows. The goblin cried out as the Ranger’s dagger bit into its shoulder; but Ingion too staggered back, clutching at his side and looked down at the crimson blood running down the goblin’s wicked short blade.
The goblin hissed with hatred through clenched teeth and came again at the Ranger. Deftly, Ingion turned the goblin’s blade aside with his sword and drove his dagger into its throat. The goblin turned startled eyes upwards to look with shock into Ingion’s eyes, then faltered back and tumbled to the ground.
Ingion staggered back towards the tall reeds, retrieving his bow as he did. There he collapsed to the mossy ground with a groan. Gingerly, he set his bow aside and drew back his cloak to lift his coat of mail. Blood still flowed freely from a dark ugly wound but he had little time to properly dress the wound. Instead, Ingion reached inside his pack and began to bind fresh linen round his side. Pulling down his mail shirt, Ingion climbed unsteadily to his feet.
Without hesitation, Ingion set out straight towards the main encampment; each breath came with clenched teeth and pain as he crept through the tall reeds. At the edge of the reeds, he paused and looked out into the camp. There, around the camp fire, sat three goblins.
Turning his head grimly about one side then another at the other distant goblins in the nearby marsh, Ingion rose from the reeds and drew back his bow. But even as he released the arrow, he flinched as a spasm of pain flew from his side. The arrow flew wide and into the dirt.
With surprise, the goblins gave a shout as they leapt to their feet, their sneering eyes falling at once on the lone Ranger. With cries of laughter, they swept out their swords and hurled themselves against the Dúnadan, fully expecting to overwhelm the lone trespasser with their numbers. But Ingion stood tall and firm and undaunted. An arrow passed through the hem of his cloak even as Ingion drew back his bow and there was a sharp twang. The first goblin faltered then fell to the ground, an arrow piercing its breast. But the others did not halt their advance, leaping with shouted snarls over the fallen body of the first without notice.
The goblins swarmed onto Ingion who rose towering above his shorter foes. Ingion drew his bow again swiftly even as they came on and one goblin cried out as an arrow pierced its hand. There was a flurry of blows as the goblins hewed at the Ranger; most of the blows were turned by his stout mail, but once or twice the thin goblin blades found their way between the finely-crafted rings.
Ignoring the pain, Ingion leapt to one side and turned aside a clumsy stroke of one of the goblins with his stout bow. Swiftly he let the bow fall to his feet as he swept out his sword and dagger. The Ranger slashed forward and buried his dagger into the throat of the nearest goblin.
As the goblin groaned and slipped to the ground the other faltered, broke and fell back, running doggedly towards the encampment. Ingion bent down and brought up his bow. With careful and methodic aim, he let fly an arrow after the goblin. There was a sharp cry and the goblin staggered then collapsed as the arrow drove into its back.
Ingion hurriedly glanced about then limped painfully back to the tall reeds. For some time, he lay there unmoving until the threat of discovery drove him to action. He paused long enough to tend to his wounds and then began to make his way back from the ruins. Ingion struck out first south until the encampment had melted into the wavering mists and then turned eastwards once more when he was certain he had skirted the camp altogether.
It was already late afternoon, and the sun was sinking far above the grey mists of the marsh, when Ingion finally halted. He debated for some time what he ought to do; the Ranger looked towards the west and the direction of Staddle with gloom. He was very weary from the march through the trackless marsh and pained by several wounds, and yet the thought of turning round to make the journey back seemed daunting.
Finally, he set his mind and, in a patch of tall reeds around a tall and moss-covered tree, he settled down. After cleansing his wounds with water from his pack (for he did not trust the brackish water of the pools), Ingion leaned back against the bough of the tree and gazed out over the deep pools of stagnant water.
The land was swiftly growing quiet and damply chilled as the dusk drew on. Far off to the West the sun sank low to the horizon, pale and watery yellow. Pale deep mists began to shimmer across the darkening surface of the water and overhead tiny twinkles of starlight sparkled then faded from view as the mists thickened.
Ingion spent several miserable hours in that lonely and unpleasant place. His makeshift campsite was damp and cold, for there was little good fuel to be had. The Ranger had crawled out from his spot to collect armfuls of dry reeds and grass but they blazed all too soon; after the third time, he gave up and sat in uncomfortable and restless slumber under the mossy boughs of the tree.
Later in the night, sometime after midnight, Ingion rose wearily. There was a change in the air; the light breeze now blew a cold and relentless wind from the North. Overhead, the cloudy sky was torn and tattered and the moon nearly full rose among them.
Silently, he crept from his concealment of reeds and onwards through the darkness; Ingion found that the pain in his side had lessened, though not fully gone, and his breath came more readily to his lips. Nothing living barred his way as he passed along and little could he hear in the darkness of the marsh around him.
It was long past midnight when Ingion came at last onto the start of a line of low hills and further on a graying ridge leading like a sagging bridge through the dismal marsh. Intrigued, he pushed forward hoping the higher ground could provide him with some direction.
As he neared the summit, Ingion at once spied darkened and broken walls and ancient piles of ruin that lay in the deep shadows of the ridge. Crouching low, Ingion crept along the ridge, an arrow fitted to his bow, casting a wary glance each way. When the Ranger came at last to the eastern-most end of the ridge, he was surprised to see what lay before him; the ring of broken walls and half-sunken pillars now gave way to a wide basin surrounded by hills on all sides. From its center rose a low hillock where many fires burned and the dark forms of goblins could be seen in the dim light. Dim and evil banners flew from the posts all about the camp.
As the moon plunged hidden behind dark clouds overhead, the very air grew darker than dark and heaviness fell upon Ingion’s heart. Even his sight seemed to ebb and darken as he looked down onto the vast goblin camp. His sharp ears could hear the hideous cries of goblins in the encampment below. In the dimmed light, Ingion could but guess their true numbers, but it was plain they vastly outnumbered him.
For long moments, Ingion gazed down at the wide encampment in dismay; from the north and west ran narrow approached to the inner camp but each was guarded by many goblins. Many more goblins could be seen about the camp or prowling the open marshy ground outside.
Then he turned his eyes to the north and he laughed softly. There stood a smaller camp just to the north of the hill outside the main encampment. In the shadows of several crumbling pillars of tall stone stood a pair of dingy tents of hide round a flickering campfire. And in the light of the smoky fire Ingion’s eyes fell upon the form of a large goblin-chieftain. Almost man-high it stood, and clad in a hauberk of stout mail. In its hands the goblin clutched a long wicked-looking, broad-headed spear.
Slinking round the small camp was another smaller goblin, clad in ragged brown but to Ingion’s delight there were no others. ‘This must be one of the goblin chieftains Watcher Redweed spoke of, but which one?’ he thought softly.
A dark shadow passed over his face and foreboding fell upon Ingion’s heart. The smaller camp was far too near the larger one and he at once dreaded that an attack on one would raise the whole lot against him. After long moments of watchful indecision, Ingion made his mind and began moving down the slope in the dim light.
With no hurry in his step, Ingion stalked around the smaller camp, ambushing a lone goblin or two with silent blade and knife under the cover of the deep darkness. Carefully, he made his way down from the ridge until at last he came to the bottom of the wide basin. There the Ranger halted in the darkness, and watched in silence for signs of alarm. Goblins were wary foes and could track a foe in the dark by scent and needed no eyes. When he was content, Ingion went on more warily than before, round wide pools in the gloom until he drew near to the smaller camp.
On soft feet, he padded up to the rear of the nearest tent. In the deep shadows of the tent, Ingion crouched and watched the goblin-chieftain and smaller goblin in silence for some time. Finally, he rose and drew tight his bow. For a moment, the Ranger held his breath. Then without a word, he released the bow and out flew an arrow into the eye of the smaller goblin. The goblin shrieked and fell into the fire with a crash as burning embers flashed up into the air.
The goblin-chieftain, Gurzstâz, for that was his name, whirled to face the Ranger with a growl and bared his fangs. In one fluid motion, Ingion fitted another arrow and drew back. The arrow shot out straight and true at the goblin then just as swiftly sprang back as it struck the goblin’s heavy coat of mail.
Gurzstâz let out a hideous shout and, in orc-fashion, came loping towards Ingion like a wild beast. A few paces from the Ranger, the goblin slowed to bellow a shrill cry before flinging himself against the Ranger with reckless fury. Ingion dropped his bow and swept out his sword from its scabbard then sprang to meet Gurzstâz with a clear grim cry.
‘Elendil!’ he cried aloud as he hewed at the goblin with a heavy blow. Gurzstâz staggered back beneath the stroke, though his stout coat of mail turned the blade. Without pause, Ingion pressed forward, stabbing with his dagger that now flashed in his other hand.
Gurzstâz leapt aside, and the Ranger’s dagger passed harmlessly through the air. With a wicked snarl, Gurzstâz stabbed forward with his spear, thrusting at Ingion’s face. But the Ranger nimbly turned the thrust aside and slashed at the goblin’s wrists. Gurzstâz drew back, and screamed in pain as the blade bit into his hand.
Ingion rose up tall, his eyes gleaming bright in the dim light; high too his sword rose and then fell swiftly. The spear shaft splintered as it met the Ranger’s blade. A wild and fearful look at once crept into the goblin’s eyes and its red tongue snaked out swiftly. But before the goblin could turn to flee, Ingion darted forward and hewed the goblin's head from its shoulders. Gurzstâz let out a short horrible gurgling cry then collapsed.
Ingion bent swiftly over the goblin, pressing close despite its fetid breath. ‘I seek one of your kind that flies this banner!’ He held up a fragment of a filthy banner in the dim light close to the goblin’s darkened face. Through bubbling moist breath, the goblin spoke in halting words; Ingion knew little of the foul tongue of orcs and goblins, but one word flashed in his mind as he let the goblin slip to the ground.
That could only mean Evendim, thought Ingion bitterly, called Nenuial in the language of the Eldar, Lake of Twilight. Here the Dúnedain High Kings of old once ruled from the city of Annúminas in the Kingdom of Arnor before the fall; but that place was no more and had long ago fallen under dark and forbidding shadow.
Ingion glanced about and then sped from the camp to swiftly pass up the slope and away from the basin until he disappeared into the darkness. Even as the basin and horrible goblin encampment faded from view, Ingion did not pause. The depth of night passed and a dim light began to gleam in the skies far to the Easyt when at last he came to the western-most borders of the marsh once more.
The dawn was breaking pale in the eastern skies when Ingion made his way back down into the sleepy village. The village was quiet as Ingion came down into the commons and soon found his way to Watcher Redweed, who stood sleepily in the cool air of the dawn.
Ingion threw back his hood, showing a long shaggy head of greying dark hair, some of which hung over his scarred face. But keen bright eyes shone from that grim face as Ingion bowed and spoke in a low voice.
‘The goblin chieftain you spoke of is no more,’ he said slowly and without pride. ‘I have slain him, and many of his kind in the marshes, though many more still remain there.’
For a moment, the watcher glowered at the Ranger in disbelief and muttered something. Ingion said nothing in return, but stood silent in the growing light of the dawn, his dark gaze on the watcher. Something in the heavy silent gaze of the stranger made Redweed take a hesitant step back, and wonder filled his eyes.
'You have done very well, stranger, very well indeed! I reckon the goblins will be unable to mount an organized attack on the town without the leadership of the goblin-chieftain!’
‘Perhaps,’ answered the Ranger slowly. ‘But goblins so near to your homes is not a threat to be taken lightly. Their chieftain may be slain but their numbers still are many.’
The watcher waved Ingion’s concern away with s single hand. 'You have performed a great service for both Men and hobbits, stranger, and I'm sure the town of Staddle is in your debt. Now, Bree must know of our -- well I suppose it really is your -- great victory!'
Ingion shook his head slightly and drew up his hood about his head and face once more. ‘Nay, little praise do I seek, nor great victory can it be called.’
Again wide wonder crept back into the watcher’s face and he looked anew at the Ranger.
'You see the watchers and I have been stationed in Staddle for only a short time to see to the defense of the Little Folk here. What with all the trouble we've heard Archet and Combe having, it seemed a wise thing to defend Staddle, especially since its crops feed much of Bree-land!’
Ingion said nothing, but instantly his thoughts turned to the brigands he had encountered in the Chetwood only that week. For a moment, the watcher looked at Ingion then continued.
'My superior, Second-watcher Heathstraw, should know of our victories and that Staddle appears to be safe, at least for the moment. I dare not leave my post, though, so could I ask you to bring my report on to Second-watcher Heathstraw in Bree-town? He will probably be near the Boar Fountain. Just head north up the road towards Combe and turn left at the signpost.'
At first Ingion did not speak, but cast his gaze downwards. He had little desire to be led from his dark road and yet perhaps his path had now become entwined with the darkness that had begun to creep into the Bree-lands. Finally, he nodded slightly and relented.
‘I shall do you ask of me,’ he answered quietly with a whisper.
Wow, wonderful writing Brucha, I really enjoyed this last chapter, my favorite so far. It is so gritty and realistic. I hope our paths cross on your journey to Evendim. Keep up the good work, as always.
Thank you very much idlehands79! I am glad you liked it!
As always, I try to write the action as it happens in the game; thus in the first example of killing a lone goblin only to alert another did happen. I saw the first one a bit off from the camp and decided to slay it at a distance with Ingion's bow. I simply failed to notice that there was a second goblin just off to the left and off screen
I think it also helps not to miss with your bow when trying to ambush more than one mob, as in the case of the fight with the three goblins. All that you get for your efforts is alerting all three mobs to your presence!
I am also to rp all wounds suffered to the fullest extent. Thus, halting and waiting for the wound effect to time out before continuing - I wish there was a way to rp wounds if I was in combat...
Sharkey’s Men– 29-30 Lótessë to 1 Náríë, T.A. 3018
Ingion set out at dawn down the road from Staddle and it was not long when he passed through the Staddle Gate. Even as the sun rose lazily into the blue cloudless sky, he was again wrapped in shades of grey and up-turned hood over his head despite the warm morning air. But the hood did little to hide the dark keen eyes that stared out from out of it.
So cloaked and hooded, his bow strapped across his back and sword and dagger hidden beneath his grey raiment, Ingion came at last to the town of Bree. A watchman or two positioned at the gate scarcely looked up at the stranger as he passed through the gate. They drew aside their long wooden-shafted spears and let him enter without question and watched him with mild interest as he went down the street and into the town.
The town of Bree was not large, its high houses huddling close over a few narrow streets that wound about the slopes of Bree-hill. Though Ingion knew little of the town of its inhabitants, he now made his way to a large inn known to him that stood for the goings and comings on the Great East Road (though those were now less than they had once been).
Once or twice, a Bree-lander would look sidelong awhile with curious interest as the Ranger passed. Ingion went uphill quietly for some time along the narrow cobbled streets until he came out into a square, rimmed on three sides by a low stone enclosure and on the fourth by a great inn.
Up a short flight of steps stood a closed wooden door, over which there was a lamp swinging and beneath that a sign – a fat white pony standing on hind legs. Ingion climbed the steps and passed into the darkened interior, pausing slightly to glance about warily the big meeting room of the inn.
The gathering in the room was sparse and dimly lit. A pair of stone hearths provided much of the interior light, but smoky maps hung from the low wooden rafters burning with flickering flame. There were a few hobbits here or there, seated among just as many Bree-Men; there was a turning of an occasional head as Ingion crossed the room towards the back, finding a quiet seat at a table.
There, Ingion sat, cocking an eye without turning his head or lifting his deep hood as the landlord, a white apron wrapped about his rotund waist, scuttled over to the table on brisk feet.
‘I am on a journey,’ murmured Ingion to the landlord. ‘I will be here only a night or two.’ His tone was bleak and cold. The landlord, with a glance at the stout rowan bow set against the other chair, said nothing at all, but filled up the Ranger’s mug with brown ale till the foam ran over the top.
As the landlord retreated from the table, Ingion sat back wearily in the chair. He drew from his pack Redweed’s report, his eyes carefully passing over the hastily-scrawled script in the dim light.
Things go well in Staddle. The town has had to deal with minor threats from the Blackwolds, as you expected, but a more surprising threat was discovered in the marshes: goblins. Fortunately, thanks to the efforts of the bearer of this note, the town is safe from these vile beasts. The goblins appear to have been led by two chieftains, Gurzstâz and Gurzrum. These creatures though were defeated, and without their leadership, the remaining goblins are now scattering to the far corners of the marsh.
At you service,
Ingion folded the letter and placed it back inside his pack and fell into deep thought for some time. He knew that he should spend only the one night in Bree after he sought out Second Watcher Heathstraw to deliver the message from Staddle. There was no welcome for him there, or anywhere. He must go along the road he was bound to. But he was weary of the cold wilds and the silence of the road where no voice spoke to him, kindly or otherwise. He told himself that he would visit this Heathstraw in the afternoon, and on the morrow depart.
So, he ate a small meager meal and retired to a room upstairs and slept a troubled sleep. In the afternoon he woke, and idled about the lanes of streets of the town, to watch in silence the people busy at their doings. He watched the Bree children playing here or there; he overheard idle gossips chatting along the streets from open doors, and watched a local blacksmith at work with a little red-faced lad who sweated to pump the long bellow-sleeves of an open-air smithy. Ingion saw all these things from outside and apart, alone and his heart was very heavy in him, though he would not admit it. As the afternoon drew on and night crept close, he still lingered in the streets, reluctant to go back to the inn or seek out Second Watcher Heathstraw.
Finally as the last light of the dying sun grew orange in the skies, he set out towards the Bree Market Square. There he found a lone Man clad in the livery of the town, a ruddy face framed by short yellow hair.
Ingion nodded slightly to the Watcher’s inquisitive glance and spoke in a low voice. ‘I am known as Halvorn,’ he said softly. ‘I come from Staddle to the east bearing a letter from Watcher Redweed for you.’
Heathstraw’s face softened and he smiled. 'You bring word from the watchers in Staddle? Very good, very good. I'll take a look at that report, if you please.’
Ingion took the letter from his pack and handed it to the watcher. Heathstraw unfolded the letter and read it slowly and in silence for a time. Finally, he looked up, and his face brightened.
'Ah, you bring good tidings! Goblins were a most unexpected threat, but it seems you dealt with them most expediently. And a good thing too...my men are spread too thinly to defend against all the dangers that have been rising up lately.’
‘I claim nothing, but what was needed,’ answered the Ranger quietly, his head turned down.
'You have my thanks again. Perhaps you may find work here in Bree as well.'
‘I seek little,’ murmured Ingion. ‘But for perhaps news of these brigands and goblins that even now plague your lands.’
The watcher looked squarely at the hooded face of the Ranger. ‘In this time of need, every ray of hope is necessary,’ he said after a time. ‘Our Mayor, Graeme Tenderlarch, would wish to speak with you. You will find him within the Town Hall.’
With little else to be said, Ingion thanked the watcher and bowed low before turning to stride down the lane from the market square. He soon found himself standing within the town hall, passing armed guards whom stood silent at its doors. Within the long and deeply shadowed hall shone many lights and there was a clamor of goings to and fro.
Ingion passed its doors and stood blinking in the flickering light at the hall filled with many folk. Further within the hall stood another pair of guards, clad in the livery of the Bree coat-of-arms, who lowered their spears as he approached. With distrusting glances, they asked his business, which Ingion gave in a low voice.
For several minutes, Ingion stood to the side of the hall, watching as a surprising youthful and stern-looking man spoke to first one man then another before dismissing each in turn. Finally, Ingion was motioned forward; the Ranger strode past the guards to stand before the young man, bowing low as he did.
In a plain voice, devoid of pride, Ingion spoke with few words. ‘Greetings, I am called Halvorn and I have been sent by Second Watchman Heathstraw to seek you audience.’
The Mayor hesitated and looked upon the Ranger with wonder; a man stepped from the shadows of the side of the hall to whisper in his ear. The mayor listened then turned his gaze to Ingion at last and began to speak.
'Hello! Welcome to Bree-town,’ proclaimed the Master of Bree finally. ‘You are most welcome here, Halvorn. Allow me a moment of your time, and I will do my best to see that you learn of all that Bree has to offer.’
Ingion said nothing, but clasped his hands together and looked out with bright eyes from beneath his hood.
'Bree is a large town the largest in the north, and certainly the most populous as well. I know that we do not seem like much, but in truth all roads lead to Bree, and it is for that very reason that I have asked to meet you.’
At once, the Mayor’s voice turned dark and his eyes blazed. ‘Bree has suddenly become rife with folk of a most unsavoury sort, and each day, it appears that more arrive. My chief Watcher, Grimbriar, took it upon himself to investigate a number of claims coming from the farms around Bree-land, and I would have you speak directly to him about these matters.'
The Mayor paused, as if to allow his silence to give weight to his words.
'With all the claims of ghosts near the South-gate, brigands running folks out of Beggar's Alley, and the flow of refugees from the South, Bree is bustling…and not in all ways good. The Southerners are a bit of trouble that has me most concerned. More so than ghost-stories from the South-gate; those stories have been about for years. I hope that you have arrived here as a boon of hope, Halvorn.’
‘I know not what services I might offer,’ answered Ingion slowly and with respect, for though Bree was but a little more than the chief of a scattering of villages in the Bree-lands, the man who stood before him was the Mayor of Bree and a master in his own right. ‘But tales of brigands intrigue me…what can you tell of them?’
The Mayor looked hard and long upon the Ranger then spoke, peering into Ingion’s shadowed face with interest. 'As I mentioned before, brigands have become a true threat to the safety of Bree-land. My Chief Watcher has moved to the outskirts of town, just outside the West-gate and north along the Greenway, to a small stone cottage in an attempt to thwart the brigands' plans.’
'Would you be willing to visit him and see if he has made any progress against the threat that these Southerners pose to our city?’ asked the Master after a pause. ‘It seems to me that every day more and more of these brigands find their way into Bree, and while some are simple refugees, I fear a growing number mean this town ill.’
For a moment, Ingion did not speak but turned his gaze round the hall, first to the Master of the town, then to the collection of advisors and guards that stood at attention nearby.
‘I will do as you ask,’ he said slowly. And with that he turned and strode from the hall. As he stepped outside, there came the note of a bell ringing somewhere off in the town. Fourteen strokes it sounded, and then ceased; declaring the hour of Gloaming and fourteenth hour from the rising of the sun.
For a moment, Ingion stood in the cool night air, before stepping from the courtyard of the hall and once more into the streets. The sun had now long set and the tall houses of Bree were half-hidden in deep darkness and shadow. He did not tarry nor return to the inn, but made his way down from Bree-hill and passed through the West-Gate in silence.
The lands outside the gate were darkened and a light wind sang in his ears. Overhead wheeling stars shone from a canopy of black round a silvery moon. Just west of the gate he now stood, at a meeting of roads. To the north and south ran an ancient thoroughfare, the highway that long ago connected Arnor with Gondor far to the south.
From its beginnings at Fornost Erain, it met the Great East Road here at Bree before continuing on south through Andrath and into Dunland where it came to the Fords of Isen. It was long the main path of traffic between Gondor and Arnor but with the fall of the North, it became less used and became overgrown and was so-named The Greenway by the inhabitants of the Bree-lands.
Ingion passed north silently down the road for some distance. In the deepening darkness there suddenly rose a tall house and thatched roof among green fields of tall grass and scattered trees. Drawing his cloak and hood tighter, Ingion stepped from the road and approached the cottage.
There on the raised flagstone porch of the house were several men in bright mail who sprang at once to their feet and barred the way up the stairs with spear and bow. Wonderment shone in their eyes to the raiment of the grey-clad stranger but with little friendliness and they looked darkly upon Ingion with distrust.
Ingion paused at the lowest step and threw back his hood, pushing his graying hair from his face. ‘Fear not, I am no foe’ he said raising a hand. ‘I seek a Chief Watcher Grimbriar on command of the Master of Bree.’
The door to the house was flung open and a tall Man came into view. He stepped through the guards, passing a stout bow to one of them and strode to the top of the steps, surveying the stranger keenly.
'Tenderlarch sent you? Good, I could use another hand out here.’
‘I know naught what assistance I can offer,’ answered Ingion grimly. ‘But tell me, what are you to do here?’
The Chief Watcher turned a stern gaze once more to the stranger as he spoke. 'My job is to guard Bree. I don't have the men to waste patrolling the countryside, but of late I've had reports of brigand-raids near and around the town. I need someone to look into these rumours, and I've coin to spare for anyone willing to help.'
‘I know something of these Blackwolds of late,’ answered Ingion quietly. ‘And I am in need of all that can be gathered about them.’
The Watcher gazed at the Ranger in silence for a time. Then he spoke anew. 'There've always been a few outlaws in the hills and dales north of town, but it seems that recently they've grown both more numerous and more bold. If you can find out what is going on, it would be appreciated. Careful though. Once these outlaws would flee any armed man, but now they are more prone to attack without warning.’
‘I come not ill-prepared,’ answered Ingion with little pride. ‘I have hunted these brigands in the wilds for many days and have crossed swords with them more than once.’
The Watcher nodded grimly, as if content with the answer. He looked up and pointed off to the north and west into the darkened night.
'The farm across the road seems to be overrun by the brigands...you could start your investigation there.’
With that Ingion turned and departed swiftly further up the Greenway. When, after a little he turned back, the house and company of watchers were already small and nearly invisible in the gloom. Ingion turned back to the road, and before long he came to a low wooden bridge that spanned the bubbling stream that followed the road to the left.
Over the low bridge went a dark path towards a sprawling farm, surrounded by overgrown fields of untended crops. Ingion paused and bent low, surveying the ground with keen eyes. Here and there could be seen tracks in the moist earth, and the coming and goings of many feet.
Ingion stood up and looked about. The moon had already set far to the south; as his glance swept round to the farm, it stopped. His quick ears caught sounds nearer the farm where could be glimpsed many swarthy men crawling stealthily about.
On padded feet, Ingion melted into the shadows of a tall elm. Far off to the East, the dawn approached on slow feet, and a thin mist began to gather, shrouding the pale light that now sprang up beyond the distant horizon. In watchful silence, he set his keen gaze on the farm.
As the glow in the East grew, Ingion watched as a lone brigand broke from the rest and began a meandering stroll through the fields beyond the farm. Step by step, the brigand drew near until he was no more than a few paces away from the hidden Ranger.
Without a sound, Ingion swiftly rose from the tall grass, his bow pulled to one ear. With a hiss of breath, he released the arrow; through the darkened air, the arrow shot past the brigand. The swarthy man took a startled step back even as Ingion fitted another arrow to his bow. Again the arrow shot out and was lost in the tall grass beyond the brigand.
With a hoarse shout, the swarthy man leapt forward, a hefty club held tightly in one hand. Undaunted, Ingion reached for another arrow and let it fly and the man stumbled as the arrow grazed his shoulder. At once, the brigand was upon him. Ingion raised his bow to turn aside a clumsy stroke of the brigand’s club and then cried out as the heavy wood came down upon his arm with jarring pain.
Ingion’s arm went numb and he fell back a step; ignoring the pain, Ingion drew up his bow and put an arrow into the brigand’s eye with one fluid motion. Alarmed, he turned his gaze towards the farm; a moment passed then another and no sound of alarm came. When he was satisfied, Ingion crept forward to carefully examine the fallen brigand.
To his amazement he found a strange medallion round the brigand’s neck. Even in the dim light, Ingion could see that the medallion was set with an S-rune wrought of some white metal. For a moment, Ingion gazed upon the medallion before slipping it into his pack.
Turning his gaze towards the farm, Ingion made his way stealthily back to the road. The dawn was breaking clear and bright when he made his way back to the Watchers’ outpost along the Greenway. He strode up the steps, throwing back his grey hood to stand before the Watchers.
‘I have returned,’ he said swiftly and called at once for the Chief Watcher. ‘Pray bring him forth for I have news to bring of my search.’
When Grimbriar heard Ingion’s tale, his face grew grim as he looked upon the strange medallion.
'Since when are outlaws able to afford such things as medallion? Even the constables don't have badges! And who is this Sharkey fellow, anyway?' Grimbriar fell silent and into deep thought. He then turned to gaze into Ingion’s eyes.
'This is very disturbing. Your find seems to suggest an organization that we haven't seen before in these brigands. I have a spy among the brigands who may be helpful in divining the true nature of this Sharkey. I will send him a message instructing him to come to a certain hill not far from here. Meet him there and ask him about Sharkey and his plans.’
Ingion’s eyes blazed dangerously at the word of spies. ‘I care little for spies and have no cause to trust them.’
But the Chief Watcher seemed not to hear him, and handed back the strange medallion. 'The meeting place is by a grey rock in a small stand of trees directly north of Bree-town. If my spy has no news to share, we will need to find another means of learning Sharkey's plans.'
Ingion looked sidelong at the Watcher with distrust. ‘I shall go and meet with this spy,’ he said finally with contempt heavy in his voice. ‘I fear that there is more to this riddle than one can guess. But long has been this night and I am weary from the hunt. Might I rest and meet with this informant on the morrow?’
Grimbriar nodded as one of him men stepped forward led Ingion within the house. The guide showed him to a sparse but comfortable room light and heavy with the scent of the fields outside. Without a word, Ingion cast his cloak and bow and belt to the floor and sank to the bed wearily.
And so the hunt continues! I would very much enjoy hearing what people think of this newest story. I am afraid that Ingion has yet to have the opportunity for rping with other players at this stage of the story.
Chapter Five: Shadow of the White Hand – 1 to 3 Náríë, T.A. 3018
The day was overcast; low grey clouds that shrouded the sun hung over the Bree-lands. Ingion stood silently and unmoving under the leafy canopy of a tall stand of spreading trees, each clad in chestnut and still bore many broad brown leaves despite the waning summer. The boughs rattled softly like dry hands in the light breeze.
Nearer to the south the wooden walls and hedge-row of Bree loomed, slowly darkling as the clouds overhead grew ever thicker. A dusty path led from the seldom-used North Gate and wound towards the Greenway to the west.
The stand of dark trees were silence but for the distant din of the town far to the south. But the quiet was heavy with a sense of foreboding and Ingion shuffled nervously before leaning back against a tree. For a moment, his eyes closed, his hands folded across his breast. Then Ingion startled awake, scolding himself and stamped the weariness and long wait from his limbs and glanced about. The trees rustled but there was no other sound.
Ingion let forth a quiet curse and drew his cloak tighter against the growing chill of the waning afternoon. Not for the first time, he placed his hands upon his sword and dagger and examined his bow. Then, with a slight yawn, he gazed out through the trees.
A minute passed then another as the trees bows and bent peacefully in the breeze. Suddenly from the dense trees to the north and east there came a furtive sound; at once Ingion was roused to alertness. Warily he crouched beside the bole of a great ash tree and peered forward.
As the keen gaze of the Ranger swung to the north, there slinked into view a shadowy figure moving slowly and deliberately across the ground covered with a blanket of leaves. Ingion could not see the face of the strange hidden beneath the cowls of a deep hood, who continued to stalk warily and low to the ground in silence.
Ingion took his bow in hand and bent it, fitting a grey-fletched arrow slowly, and watched the stranger in growing anticipation. Hardly ten paces from where the Ranger stood in the deep shadows of the tall tree, the stranger paused suddenly, and glanced about in alarm.
‘Hold stranger,’ said Ingion suddenly aloud in a commanding voice.
The stranger froze and crouched ever lower with a threatening stance, and a blade flashed into his hand from beneath the deep folds of his cloak. The stranger turned up a swarthy and unsavory face towards the Ranger. He licked his lips and glanced about nervously, as if expecting an attack.
‘You have nothing to fear from me,’ said Ingion at once though thoroughly not liking the looks of the man at all.
The man hissed aloud and gazed about the deep shadows beneath the many trees even as Ingion spoke again. ‘I am called Halvorn,’ said Ingion slowly, still not lowering his bow. ‘I have come to meet with an informant of Chief Watcher Grimbriar. Are you he?’
Again the stranger licked his lips and stared darkly at the Ranger with distrust, his eyes kindled with a dim light.
‘Speak swiftly or else you shall leave this place alive!’ said Ingion aloud drawing back his bow.
The stranger shot a glance about once more and shuffled forward, lowering his thin blade. ‘We must be quick,’ he hissed. ‘I think they suspect something.’
‘Who?’ asked Ingion sharply.
But the spy startled and drew up then turned round fearfully. ‘Wait! What’s that sound?’ The informant’s voice trailed off.
Ingion’s keen ears heard the sharp sound of ringing blades being drawn followed by the rush of footsteps. Then suddenly straight through the trees there came a pair of swarthy unkempt Men. ‘Oh, no!’ exclaimed the informant with dismay, his voice rising to a shrill hiss. ‘I’ve been followed by Sharkey’s Men!’
Even as the brigands’ swept forward, Ingion drew his bow and let go. The first man cried out as the arrow passed through his throat and he fell with a crash. The second man leapt forward, a wicked club in one hand; but not at Ingion. With a cry the Southerner laid a heavy blow at Grimbriar’s informer.
With a flash, Ingion sprang too, turning aside the Southerner’s blow with a thrust of his sword and bore the brigand backwards. The brigand howled and whirled to face the Ranger. Ingion’s sword rose and fell, coming down upon the Man’s helm. The brigand shrieked then fell with a cloven head.
Ingion turned round, expecting another attack, but the trees had once more fallen silent. The Ranger turned to look sidelong at the informer even as the Man tossed a small wrapped bundle upon the ground.
‘Thank you,’ he said turning to sprint into the trees. ‘I hope these I've prepared are helpful. I'd better get out of here. Tell Grimbriar I'm done with this business for good.’
Ingion watched in silence as the informant retreated then disappeared through the foliage. He then bent to the ground and lifted the bundle, carefully unfolding the notes inside. With careful eyes, Ingion began reading the handwriting on the pages in haste.
Since Sharkey's Men have come up from the south and taken over, the local brigands have changed from being common thieves and robbers into something more like a small army. Dirty and ill-equipped though they are, by combining their numbers they may be stronger than any of the town guards. The Bree-land brigands of past times might have been crude and dirty outlaws, but they were still men of Bree for the most part, with relatives in the towns and farms of the region, so they weren't all that inclined to heedless violence.
But now, Sharkey's Men have changed everything. No dissent or squeamishness is permitted, and under their brutal fists, the brigands of the country have become far more dangerous. It seems that Sharkey's Men are gathering their forces for some important task, and I am afraid they intend no simple thieving. It may be that they mean to take over all of Bree-land!
Ingion looked once more in the direction to where the informant went and then turned to make his way back to Grimbriar’s outpost, lost deep in thought.
Upon his return to the stone house, Ingion burst up the stairs and pressed through the watchers who stepped forward to bar his way. His eyes flashed bright and threatening, and the watchers fell back before him.
‘Chief Watcher Grimbriar!’ he cried aloud. ‘Come out! There is much to discuss, you and I!’
The door to the house was flung open and Grimbriar emerged, flanked by a pair of watchers. Raising a hand, he motioned for his men to lower their weapons. Ingion approached, a white flame flickering in his dark eyes.
‘I am little a fool,’ he said sternly. ‘And I suffer them even less so! Do you think that a mere trap would ensnare me so? I went to meet with your spy and was faced with an ambush!’
Ingion tossed the scattered notes upon the stone at the Chief Watcher’s feet. His hand flashed to the hilt of his sword at his belt.
‘Speak swiftly or else you will suffer the same fate as those men who wished to slay me back there!’
For a moment, Ingion seemed to grow tall and far above the watchers and they took a step back from the figure of the Ranger.
Grimbriar shook his head and stooped to lift the notes from the stone. His eyes passed over the pages swiftly and then he lowered his gaze to the ground, then spoke in a halting voice.
'This is dire news. I suppose it was too much to expect that it would all turn out to be some minor brigand leader's dream of lordship.’
Grimbriar turned his head to meet the Ranger’s gaze.
'Well, I should not blame you for doing what I sent you to do, though it is a pity you did not return with better tidings. Now I must send a message to my chief, telling him of the ill news and asking him what we should do about Sharkey and his little army of brigands. We can do nothing more for now, for we lack the force.'
Ingion fell silent for a moment, and cast his gaze downwards. Then he spoke, the light from his eyes diminished. ‘You speak the truth, that is plain. Then Men of Westernesse speak no lies and are not easily deceived. But enough, forgive my wrath.’
Ingion drew his hand from his sword and the dangerous glean in his eyes faded completely. ‘There are those who can lend aid in these dark times, men of skill and trust, though your folk speak in derision of them.’
It was Grimbriar’s turn to speak sternly.
'Now listen here. I am not going to invite the aid of those Rangers out of the wild. The Men of Bree are capable of defending their own lands from the threats they face, and we will not rely on strange folk for assistance.’
Ingion’s eyes flashed and he held the Watcher’s gaze in his but said nothing.
'This information speaks of the captain who led the raid on Dogwood's Farm and his current location,’ said Grimbriar after a time. ‘We have a chance to strike a telling blow against these brigands and find out more about them. It appears that the leader established a camp within a thick copse of trees behind the knoll to the west. The knoll in question is to the south of Dogwood's Farm. Let us strike this blow for the Men of Bree-land.'
Ingion shook his head and said nothing for a time. At length, he spoke. ‘You turn aside my council and yet ask for my aid. But the dark road before me has become intertwined with your plight and little can I refuse your request.’
Bidding the Watcher goodnight, and in the simple room of the stone house once more, Ingion built up the fire in the small stone hearth and hung the kettle over it to boil. Then he rose and pulled up his cloak and hood. Passing outside, he paused to speak to the watchers on guard. ‘I must seek some wood that grow nearby.’
When Ingion returned, he carried an armload of long, rough shafts of ash wood. In his room, he sat working by firelight on the shafts with knife and resin. Many times ingion passed his hand over the wood as if seeking any flaws.
After several hours, Ingion set aside the finished ash bow and grew sleepy. Resting his head down upon the small bed, he listened wearily to the muted sounds of the watchers outside and his thoughts turned to a time in his youth long ago, a place nearly forgotten. Ingion remembered a snowy night in the fire-lit dark, the air heavy with the scent of smoke and the low comforting sound of his mother’s soft voice, and his mind fell adrift on wistful dreams.
In the cold dawn, when the watchers woke, Ingion was gone. Even before the first light broke over the horizon to the East, he had risen and set out down the Greenway towards Dogwood’s Farm. As the morning came, Ingion passed over the low stone bridge and past the farm with great stealth until he came to long treeless slopes where the ground was harder and the grass shorter; here the land rose then fell sharply away to a sheltered knoll shaded by tall trees of leafy green.
To the south and west flowed wide swaths of open grassland and field, now sinking then swelling in rolling undulation, towards a line of tall smooth cliffs in the distance. Upon quiet feet, Ingion stole up the long slope; when he came to the top, Ingion looked west and saw below his feet a small encampment hidden in the trees of the sheltered knoll.
The Ranger’s sharp eyes wandered about the camp and then across the sun-drenched fields round it. Many swarthy Men could be clearly seen in and about the camp; more of the foul Southerners no doubt, thought Ingion grimly.
Finally, when he came down from the height, Ingion vanished into thick brush and waited. The hour wore on to two and sun passed noon overhead. Still he did not move, but watched from his hidden perch.
The fair day was waning; above the distant hills to the west clouds were gathering, reddened by the misty sun as it drew down towards them; the deeps of the fields were already in grey shadow. Finally Ingion stood to climb the heights once more in the gathering darkness to look round.
He could see little to the west. As Ingion’s glance swept round there could now be glimpsed the darkened shapes of brigand stalking among the fields. At once Ingion made his way down from the heights and began to carefully stalk through the growing gloom of the fields about the sheltered woods, his bow bent and arrow fitted to string.
From the rise, he sped across the open ground upon hurried feet; every now or then Ingion paused and bent to the ground to listen with keen ears. More than once he was nearly discovered by the many wandering brigands in the fields, and each time Ingion tensed as they came uncomfortably close.
Ingion hesitated, his desire to return to the relative shelter of the brush above the fields growing, but time was pressing. Rising from the tall grass, Ingion crept towards the sheltered knoll. As he passed beneath the outermost trees, Ingion’s quick ears caught sounds further onwards. At once, Ingion stiffened and crouched low as his keen eyes spied a tall mannish figure in the midst of the small encampment.
With a hasty glance back to the fields, Ingion fitted an arrow to his bow and stepped to the boughs of a tall tree. Drawing the bow back, he held his breath then let fly the arrow. There was a sharp twang as the arrow shot through the trees. But the arrow whined past the man harmlessly even as the brigand chieftain whirled round with a rush of hoarse laughter.
Instantly, Ingion loosened his bow once more but the arrow sprang back from the brigand’s sturdy mail and fell to the ground. On came the brigand leader, a long cruel-looking blade held in both hands. Ingion swiftly dropped his bow and dashed forward; as he leapt he swept out sword and dagger with a sharp cry.
As the two met, Ingion lashed out with his sword in a wide arc; but the brigand put aside his stroke and with uncommon strength bore him back. Without hesitation, the brigand leapt after him even as Ingion thrust a clumsy blow forward. The blow glanced aside and rang with a loud twang.
With the surprising speed of a viperous serpent, the brigand smote with his great sword at the Ranger. Ingion cried aloud in pain and he faltered back; drops of dark blood fell to the ground at his feet. With a cry, Ingion hewed at the brigand’s long blade and the two swords rang loud as they met in the darkened air.
The brigand stepped back, drawing up tall and gnashed his teeth loudly. But Ingion pressed forward, and the Ranger’s sword rose then fell from high to drive down upon the man’s helm. There was a startled cry and the helm burst. The brigand fell with a cloven head.
Ingion swiftly grasped at the dying man with harsh hands, pressing close and hissed a sharp voice. ‘Tell me, where is the traitor, Malrod!’
The brigand leader gasped his last breath even he spoke, and Ingion leaned in closer. The few words could little be heard but the Ranger could make out one: Andrath. Then the brigand fell silent and said no more.
Ingion stood upon uncertain feet above the fallen form of the brigand, his left arm hung lame to his side. Wincing in great pain, he bent to the brigand, searching the body with shaken hands. After a moment, he drew up a hastily-scrawled letter and held it up in the dim light.
Sharkey has ordered that we all immediately step up our activities around Bree. No traders must move without paying off our people, and all the farmers must give us all the food we need. Forget about guards and garrisons. They are nothing to us anymore. Let the constables huddle in Bree and Archet, so long as we own the roads and fields! Andrath is already ours. We will soon have all the land between here and our encampment at Brigand’s Watch. Soon we will have all of Bree-land in flames.
And there's one more thing. The boss is interested in some hobbit named Baggins. Certain riders have been sniffing around asking for that name, and you should look out for it too. If you find any hobbit named Baggins, let me know at once!
Ingion slid the letter into his cloak and gazed down once more upon the silent brigand upon the ground. He then turned to retrieve his fallen bow and carefully made his way from the sheltered knoll and up the long slope of the heights.
The night had grown long when Ingion made his way back to Grimbriar’s post along the Greenway. The watchers at the building sprang alert as Ingion approached, clutching their weapons in fearful watchfulness. The Ranger spoke quietly and the watchers relaxed their guard as one turned to summon Grimbriar.
'Have you found anything of importance yet?’ said Grimbriar to the silent Ranger as he stepped from the house. ‘We need to know why the brigands are amassing at the Vale of Andrath and the brigand-leader has that information.'
‘I have done as you asked,’ answered Ingion softly and without pride. ‘I sought the brigand leader in the encampment even as you described and slew him. Here is a strange letter I recovered from him.’
Ingion drew out the letter and thrust it forward. Intrigued, Grimbriar took it in hand and began to read the letter in silence. Finally, he lowered the note and looked into the Ranger’s deep eyes.
'We have them now,’ he said with conviction. ‘This information proves that this Sharkey fellow is intent on establishing a strong foothold here in Bree-land 'It also tells us of their target encampment of outside of the Vale of Andrath, at a place west of here that they call the Brigand's Watch. The Brigand-captain there passes orders out to his lieutenants that come directly from Sharkey. If we can get these notes....'
‘Then my task here is not complete…,’ sighed Ingion wearily. ‘What do you ask of me now?’
Grimbriar looked sternly at the Ranger for a moment then spoke. 'With your help we draw ever closer to shutting out this upstart, Sharkey. We are closing in more and more on his location and the size of his force. We now know that the Brigands' Watch, to the west of here in the foothills of Bree-land, is a staging ground for future assaults. The brigands' captain hands out orders from Sharkey himself to his lieutenants. Likely they are kept somewhere safe: a lockbox or even on his person. We need those orders. Head to the Brigands' Watch and get those orders.'
I unfortunately fell quite behind in writing new posts of the story over the past two weeks, and even did not play for an entire week. Thankfully, I am quickly catching up with the posting of this newst chapter and now have only two chapters to go to be up-to-date.
Ingion has discovered a second clue to the whereabouts of the traitor, Malrod:
I was also able to complete some role-playing with a few players, including my own brigand informant and a company of rping Rangers. So next is an exploration of the encampment, Brigand's Watch then its off to Andrath!
I really liked this last chapter I never realized how deeply Bree was in trouble but the way it is expressed here, you can really feel the menace of those brigands. I am looking forward to your next chapters and to meeting up with you in game again. It is always a highlight of my day to log in and see a new posting by you Brucha. You are truly a valuable and treasured member of the Crickhollow family. Thank you for what you do.
Chapter Six: The Hunter Hunted – 4 to 6 Náríë, T.A. 3018
Ingion stood gazing northwards into the darkness, thoughtful and silent in the windless night upon the shores of the quiet Everclear Lake. The long night had deepened and mists lay among the trees of the wide fields beyond the lake. Above though the chilled sky was clear and a waxing moon was riding in the West.
It was the third day since Ingion had passed over the Greenway and into the wide fields west of Bree. On the first day, Ingion had come within sight of a thin forest crowning the highlands far to the west but the sky had become overcast and a dark wind came up from the south laden with rain. Yet Ingion had not paused there but hunted through the trees and fields for signs of brigands.
And brigands Ingion found aplenty in the forests, and he hunted them endlessly. In the cool hours before dawn he rested each night as the stars glittered above before continuing onwards ere the sun rose. Late on the first day, he passed into the trees that loomed ahead at the height of gentle slopes which led up from the wide fields. Further on the west came into view distant ridges beyond the forest, reddened by the misty sun as it drew down upon them.
In those trees Ingion came upon scattered numbers of foul brigands, in singles and pairs, though often in sight of many more of their numbers. If the land would have been more open and treeless, Ingion would have retreated in fear of being discovered and overwhelmed. And indeed, there still remained that threat but there was little he could do. A shadow of foreboding had fallen upon his darkened heart that drove him on.
Instead, Ingion stalked through the trees to hunt the scattered brigands endlessly and without remorse. With great stealth, he waited for the approach of the foes only to fall upon them unawares and defeated them each in turn.
Whether it was the Ranger’s skill or the Blackwolds’ seemingly lack of caution, they took never a heed of his presence within the forest until it was too late. Ingion halted briefly as he went, watching the forest ahead with careful eyes. Many of his foes fell when he let fly a hail of arrows or with a great shout fell upon them with such suddenness that the brigands could not avail.
And each time, the brigands faltered, broke and fell to the Ranger’s assaults, leaving him little harmed, unshaken past numerous of his fallen foes. Yet it seemed to Ingion that the enemy was not withdrawing from the forest in measure. On the lateness of the second day, he halted for some time. The red rim of the sun gleamed out from clouds as it slowly fell behind the tall ridges to the west; night would soon be falling as well, he thought bitterly.
Into his mind crept the fell thoughts that the brigands seemed far too innumerable; each morning their numbers were refreshed despite their losses the night before. So, by the waning of the third day, he relented to his mind and gave up his hunt altogether. He turned and began to bend his course northwards towards the lower and flatter ground where he soon drew to the very edge of the forest once more to the banks of a wide and peaceful lake.
So there on the shores of the gentle lake, Ingion had stood for some time. The air grew more chilled and the moon had long gone down but the stars still glittered above and the first light of dawn was still a distance over the east.
Without warning, there suddenly came a furtive sound from the trees behind the Ranger. For a terse moment, the Ranger stood gazing over the silent waters of the dark lake, but his keen ears were listening for the sounds behind. And within moments they did so.
In an instant, Ingion whirled round with a start, his hand falling to the hilt of his sword. He called out in a clear and loud voice:
'Who goes there? Alone I might be but I am not unarmed!'
At first there was silence, and nothing could be seen nor heard. Then there was the snap of a branch and the sound of careful footfalls as a darkened and hooded figure stepped from behind a distant tree. With slow steps the figure approached, an arrow already fitted to a slender bow in his hands. Ingion stood silent without moving, his keen eyes never straying from the stranger.
When the stranger had advanced to within a few steps from the Ranger, he stopped. Ingion still did not stir but held the hilt of his sword tightly in its scabbard upon his belt. Suddenly, the stranger mumbled, seemingly a bit confused at the sight of the Ranger.
'Umm...aahh, eh...well,' muttered the stranger from beneath the deep fold of his dark hood. ’My mistake sir, I thought you were someone else.’
‘And whom did you think I was, stranger?’ answered Ingion, eyeing the bent bow still held in the stranger’s hands.
The stranger said nothing in return at first but relaxed his bow in hand and stepped back as if to turn and walk back towards the trees. Ingion started forward, lifting up a single open hand in peace.
‘Hold a moment,’ he said swiftly. ‘They say among my people that strangers little meet in the wild by accident. What be your name, if I may ask.’
‘Hah,’ laughed the stranger softly with a half-turned head. ‘To that I must ask, what are you doing here exactly?’ said the stranger menacingly.
Ingion frowned from under his hood, keeping his gaze fixed upon the stranger. ‘I mean you no harm lest you mean to harm to me, if that is what you ask.’ The Ranger relaxed his grip of the hilt of his sword and spoke again. ‘But come, I would feel more at ease with your name, stranger.'
A sinister smile spread across the stranger’s face as he answered in a jesting tone. ‘No, no, I mean no harm to you at least.’
Ingion’s eyes grew very dark at the stranger’s uncomfortable smile and answered cautiously. ‘Then to whom would you wish to do harm to? Whom do you serve?’
‘Very well then,’ replied the stranger with another half-grin. ‘The name is Calrod of Bree-land. And I serve none other than myself, good sir. I make my own luck and follow my own rules.’
‘Then Calrod,’ answered Ingion carefully. ‘Your name will receive mine. I am called Halvorn. But I sense a hunted look about you…’ Ingion’s voice trailed off to nothing for a moment.
‘Then it is fortunate that your name is Halvorn then!’ laughed the stranger out loud.
‘What else would it be?’ replied the Ranger with a frown, not knowing if the man was mocking him.
‘Ahh, indeed, I gave that away, didn’t I?’ smiled the stranger in return. ‘But your name could be anything and you would sleep at night just as long as you are not the one I was supposed to find standing here exactly where you stand now…’
Ingion took a hasty step back from the man, and his hand once more fell to the hilt of his blade. The stranger did not stir but smiled broad across his half-hidden face with amusement. ‘I will let you in on a little secret because you seem like a man who's see many things and has his own secrets...'
‘I keep no secrets other than things best left untold,’ answered Ingion sternly. ‘A man with secrets soon finds the weight of such a burden more than the heaviest pack upon his shoulders. But I came here to meet no man, Calrod. I am indeed a hunter, though not by choice or design, but by necessity.’
The stranger gazed at the Ranger for a moment before speaking again. ‘I came here to find a man that I’ve have been told to…silence…’
Ingion’s eyes suddenly burned dangerous and bright even in the dim light of the late hour. ‘To silence…’ he answered in a low tone.
Again the man laughed aloud. ‘Thinking it was you that I sought, I was ready to carry out my task before you turned around and surprised me.’
‘Are you naught but a hired blade, then?’ answered the Ranger darkly. ‘To do the bidding of another for little more than coin?’
‘Don’t worry now,’ answered Calrod raising one hand in response. ‘You are not the one I seek. I will have a talk with my…contact… about the wrong information I was given.’ The man’s eyes seemed to darken at the words of “hired blade” as he gazed at the Ranger with a word for several long moments. Then he spoke again.
‘I am indeed a “hired blade” as you said, and my deeds proceed me from the dense forests of the Chetwood, I might add…’
Ingion’s eyes blazed ever brighter at the mention of the Chetwood. 'So, your foolishness has betrayed you, my young friend,’ he said finally. ‘A Blackwold then?'
Calrod laughed aloud. 'A Blackwold?! I haven't been called in a long time indeed....I once numbered in their ranks, they were…my adoptive family.'
‘Once…’ answered Ingion slowly. ‘But no longer?’
‘Indeed, once…’ replied the stranger quietly as if thinking of a time long ago. ‘But as I said before I no longer serve anyone than myself.’
‘But to whom do you serve now? Who seeks and pays for such services that would send you out into the night upon such a mission?'
Calrod turned his gaze downwards and spoke in a whispered voice, almost to himself than to Ingion. 'It all started out with the burning of my village, Archet. The Blackwolds burned it to the ground and I lost everything... I vowed to kill each one of them but had not the required skills. Finding them, they took me under their wing and taught me all they knew in combat and survival. I learned quickly and soon I was strong enough to be on my own. Thus, I became a blade for hire…’
‘To each comes a destiny thrust upon them that must be followed,’ answered Ingion, his own head bowed as if half-remembering a dark and painful memory. ‘But to what end would you ally with such villainous folk?’
Calrod did not answer straight away, but kept his gaze turned away for some time. Finally he continued.
'Eventually I offered my services to people who seemed like they needed it. In that way I managed to hit many Blackwolds and therefore got my revenge on them. They never suspected me thanks to my outfit and therefore I remain welcome in their midsts.'
‘Outfit?’ answered Ingion with a somewhat confused glance at the man.
‘Indeed,’ answered Calrod swiftly. ‘Do you not find strange what I wear? No one sees me dressed so. And if they do, it is because they won’t live long to spread the word.’
Suddenly Calrod’s hand flashed down to the hilt of his sword. ‘Now that you’ve seen me thus, give me reason why I shouldn’t kill you right here and dump your body in the lake?’
Ingion’s eyes shone like a sudden flame at the man’s words and his very appearance seemed to grow in stature. ‘Though my people have dwindled, I cannot be deceived lightly and by very few! And I indeed am not unarmed!’
Ingion cast back his grey cloak, and his blade came glittering into his hand with a swiftness that startled the stranger. ‘There are few in these lands that have learnt more of these brigands than I…and not by choice. When need presses, no more friends may a man take with him then he dares trust. So speak not threats to me!’
Calrod smiled smugly at the Ranger, but drew his hand from his sword to cross his arms upon his chest and gazed quietly at Ingion.
The flame in Ingion’s eyes drew down and he suddenly spoke less harshly. ‘I wish not to cross blades with you. I too seek the righting of a wrong that must be fulfilled. I seek a man who has taken refuge among the Blackwolds. Malrod I knew him as, though I fear that was not his true name…’
Ingion released the hilt of his sword and gazed directly into Calrod’s eyes. ‘Dark has been my road, such the one you have chosen, but perhaps it is time for both of us to seek aid from another?’
Calrod raised a single eyebrow, and then laughed. ‘Ah, then this is quite the chance meeting! So, are you offering to hire me?’
‘Hire? Nay,’ answered Ingion slowly. ‘Let us say join forces. Your knowledge could be invaluable to me in my hunt for this traitor who cowardly hides among such villains and allows them to do his dirty work.'
'Join forces, hmmmm...,’ replied Calrod thoughtfully. ‘So you need me to supply you with information on the Blackwolds and their hideouts and you will then move in and capture this man you seek? This is the type of work I excel at! Track a man, kill the man!’
Ingion frowned. ‘Nay. I could use your information of the Blackwolds that is true. But I must confront this man myself and with your help, I could do so.'
‘Ahh,’ answered Calrod with a broad smile. ‘That is different. So you want to walk amidst them without them killing you on the spot like they would normally do to any stranger?' I assure you that as long as you are with me, they would not even think of reaching for their weapons.’
‘Indeed,’ replied the Ranger grimly. ‘For some time, I have hunted these brigands, pressing all I met for information on this traitor. I have found much concerning his whereabouts and have discovered that he hides in a Blackwold encampment at the end of the Vale of Andrath to the south of Bree.’
‘Then I shall scout the area before hand to see if I can find a secret way into there!’ laughed Calrod.
‘Don’t be is a great hurry,’ warned Ingion slowly. ‘I still seek the name that Malrod has taken as well as where in Andrath he has hidden himself. I must find the whereabouts of a Blackwold captain near this place in hopes of uncovering this.’
Calrod looked sidelong at the Ranger and once more smiled but said nothing.
Ingion returned his silent gaze then spoke a new. ‘I hope that we both one day come to the ends of the dark roads we travel upon and find the peace that both desperately seek. Until then, look for me along the Greenway just outside the west gate of Bree after nightfall. I am…unfamiliar with towns and have little like of them. But I warn you, Calrod. Should you betray me, there are few places that could hide you from me!’
Calrod smiled before speaking in a humorous voice. ‘I do not long for peace, not yet. But I will remember well your words.’
‘Come to me then when you have news,’ answered Ingion in a soft voice. ‘I shall await your return.’
At Watcher Grimbriar’s post along the Greenway, it was just after dawn, but the sun would not clear the distant eastern horizon for an hour or more. The road beside the cottage was sunless and quiet in the cool air. A lone watcher stood at the highest step before the door, shivering slightly from the cold morning as he drew tighter his brown cloak.
Suddenly, the watcher startled and grew wary, clutching his long spear with nervous hands. He gazed out over the road and spied a lone figure approaching. The figure was clad in grey cloak and hood, but both were torn as if from the stroke of many blades. As the figure reached the cottage, he paused, standing gaunt and stooped as if from great weariness, and his dark hair fell lank about his scarred and hooded face.
The watcher brought up his spear as if to ward against an unseen blow but the man only shook his head slowly and raised a single hand.
‘Fear not,’ said the stranger in a low slow voice. ‘I am neither enemy nor brigand. My name is Halvorn and I am in need of Watcher Grimbriar.’
The watcher looked on the Ranger with wonderment, then fell back almost immediately and did not hinder his rise up the stairs. Ingion was grim and silent as he passed within the cottage, but thanked the watcher in a low voice. The other watchers within did not speak to him, but gave him fresh meat and water as he sat hunched by the fire. When he finished, Ingion rose and went to a small room then slept.
It was late in the day when Ingion rose once more and went out to seek Grimbriar, whom he found in the main room nearer the fireplace. The watcher smiled slightly at the Ranger and motioned for him to sit beside him at the fire. This Ingion did but remained quiet as if brooding. Once or twice, Grimbriar gazed silently at the Ranger but said nothing.
Finally, after much silence, Ingion spoke.
‘I have returned with news,’ he said, his voice grim and thick. Grimbriar still said nothing in return but keep his gaze fixed upon the crackling fire before them.
‘Many a day I have spent in the fields and forest to the west of here, seeking news of these brigands,’ continued the Ranger after a pause. ‘Many I found and many I have slain. And yet I had not made my way to Brigand’s Watch to confront the brigand captain. That is until last evening.’
Again Ingion paused a while and fell silent before continuing. ‘Despite my misgiving, I made the decision to seek the brigand camp. Only last evening I passed along the shores of Everclear Lake. On the further side the forest was hidden in darkness and some distance beyond still lay the rise of the ridges that towered upwards above the fields and forest.’
‘I needed no guide more keen of sight than my own,’ he said gravely. ‘For I had come to know that land in the days since I departed your company. Stealthily and silently, I went on, turning from the lake to climb the gentle slope leading from the lake to the trees beyond.’
Once more, Grimbriar said nothing, but poked at the fire with a branch and kept silent, pondering the Ranger’s words.
‘In the forest, I came upon few brigands, except here or there, but I did not dare engage them,’ said the Ranger quietly. ‘Rather I sought silent and stealthy ways round them each in turn. It was very late by then and stars had begun to blink in the sky overhead when I finally came to the western-edge of the forest.’
Ingion paused and sighed, turning his eyes to the glowing fire for a time. ‘There I came upon a curious sight,’ he said solemnly after a moment. ‘There the trees shrank suddenly back at the foot of the cliffs and there opened a narrow path which wound up towards the summit high above. A wooden wall flanked the path that faced the trees but all was silent and dark.’
‘And so, despite my fears, I began to make my way upwards, though at first nothing assailed me nor blocked my path. A slow time had passed when suddenly from further up the narrow path a clamour broke out. Horns sounded, the sounded again. In the once still darkness I could hear the clash of weapons. I could see little but there soon came louder cries and wilder yells.’
‘Now with haste, I sprang further up the path until it suddenly turned back to the south and climbed ever higher. There wooden walls frowned upon both sides now as it rose up the grey slope, dim and shadowy in the darkness.’
‘There suddenly came into sight ahead of me a strange visage. Several bodies I found huddled upon the ground before me. Men they were, brigands all, each hewn by blade stroke or riddled with arrows. The ground was wet with their dark blood.’
Here Ingion ceased and fell to brooding silence as if lost in thought. After a long pause he spoke at last.
‘Here was a riddle indeed, I thought at once,’ said Ingion grimly. ‘Was it that the brigands had fallen into disarray and begun to fight one another? But I had not the time to ponder such things, as I was in great haste and fear drove me onwards.’
‘I soon found myself at the very top of the ridge, and there lay the wide encampment of the foul brigands. And yet, it was eerily silent and unmoving. As I strode forward with great caution, I found more fallen brigands in my path. A great battle had just befallen that place, and yet I still had no idea what was happening.’
‘The noise of battle drew further off to the west in the camp, but still I could see nothing,’ said Ingion slowly, as if remembering a grim memory. ‘And it was then that my folly came unwanted into my mind, for I now discovered that the brigands numbered far more than I had ever thought. Alone and unaided, my attempts to breach that place would have been sheer folly to have done so if not for whatever assault that was even then taking place there.’
‘Further to the west I could now glimpse a host of dark shapes in the distance and the sounds of battle. Warily, I made my way forward, even as the sounds of battle drew further off. Suddenly I froze and saw the furtive sight of a lone brigand ahead of me. Step by step he was coming, bent low as if wary of an attack, a short blade held in one hand.’
‘I too shrank low, bent an arrow to my bow and waited silently. After a few paces, the brigand suddenly froze and began glancing about quickly before his eyes fell upon me. With a snarl he sprang at me. But I loosened my bow as an arrow shot forward and he fell sprawling upon the ground and lay still.’
Ingion rubbed his hands for a time in the warmth of the fire. Grimbriar looked up once or twice at him in silence but remained silent.
‘I soon came upon a small walled camp to the edge of the cliffs overlooking the fields and forest far below,’ said the Ranger at last. ‘Within I could glimpse the sight of a pair of small tents nearer a larger one. Around them stood several flickering campfires and tables with rough-looking chairs, and beside one fire sat the lone figure of a brigand.’
‘But the brigand was not alone, as I soon spotted another figure from with the larger tent of the compound. There I shrunk low in the deep shadows of the high wooden wall. The distant sounds of battle had all but disappeared and I feared that the surviving brigands would soon return.’
Here the Rangers sighed softly. ‘And so I was resolved to action. I rose from my place of hiding and bent my bow and let fly an arrow. I cursed as I watched the single arrow shot past the nearer brigand which disappeared into the darkness on the far side of the camp.’
Ingion gave a grim laugh at that and drew tight his grey cloak. Grimbriar turned his gaze back to the fire as he tossed a fresh log into the hearth. Finally Ingion continued, his voice quiet and grim.
‘With a start, the two brigands suddenly turned their eyes upon me and sprang forward with a snarl even as I drew my bow once more. Twice my bow sang as arrows flew to the nearest, smaller brigand. He gave back at once, wavered and then cried out in a pained and terrified voice as the first arrow struck his leg. But before he could turn round my second arrow struck his breast and the brigand fell with a crash.’
Ingion shivered and his breath came cold in the dim air of the cottage. ‘But on came the larger brigand captain,’ he said. ‘And in his hands was held a long twin-headed hammer. Laughing eyes shone bright from under his helm and he let forth harsh, brutal and cold laughter as he came at me.’
‘With one motion, I let go of the bow and swept out blade and knife even as the captain fell on me with a snarl. I hewed at him with my sword but he slipped aside, twisted round then drove at me with his hammer. I gave a great cry and fell back as the hammer struck my shoulder.’
At that, Ingion rubbed his shoulder as if the wound was still fresh before continuing.
‘Again he sprang forward again with a shout, his hammer plunging forward again and again at me, using the long haft of the hammer to turn aside my blade stroke. But then, he hissed through suddenly clenched teeth, a gasp of pain and hatred as my blade hewed him.’
For a moment, Ingion smiled grimly but without pride. ‘The brigand staggered back a step, one hand falling from the hammer and made to turn and flee. But before he could, I leapt forward and stabbed with my knife. The brigand cried aloud as it sank into his arm even as I raised my sword high. With a flash, I brought it down upon his helm and the captain faltered then slipped to the ground.’
Ingion’s voice trailed off into uncomfortable silence. Outside rain was falling. The cottage windows were shuttered fast but the Ranger could hear the wet rain as it fell on the roof. A long time they sat there by the fire in silence. Finally, Ingion reached inside his pack and drew out a stained crumbled note, then handed it to the watcher in silence.
Grimbriar took the note and began to read the scrawled writing upon it, remaining silent for a long time, pondering the words. In short the note read simply:
As you know, we've had some problems getting enough men to accomplish Sharkey's plans for Bree-land and the Shire. All of Sharkey's best you and me excepted - are occupied in the South. What we got here ain't quite strong enough to take on the townsfolk straight-forward. Fortunately, we've been given an opportunity. Orcs have come as far south as the Greenway, even! My friends say Sharkey ain't on the best terms with them up in the North, but some of the Orcs who've come south into Bree-land have been cut off.
These Orcs down here might be convinced to join us! Of course Sharkey knows how to deal with Orcs, and these scouts from the North are no doubt in a bad way, since they can't get any new supplies or warriors. This could be just the turn of luck we've been looking for! Treat the Orcs scouts well and tell your men not to interfere with them, or you'll be responsible for them being dead and all.
Grimbriar read then re-read the note, and finally shook his head and at length spoke. 'More ill news. Orc-men? Could this be? This letter says it plainly enough. Sharkey has a legion of half-orcs loyal to him that he is sending to Andrath. I have doomed my men.’
Grimbriar turned to gaze into the Ranger’s eyes and then continued. 'The Vale of Andrath is Bree-land's gateway to the South. The South Downs, Dunland, Isengard, the Gap of Rohan -- all would be closed to Bree-land if the brigands are not hindered. It is clear that Sharkey is no mere brigand-leader. He has employed half-breeds to fill his ranks, a wholly depraved act.’
'I sent my men to watch the ruins at Andrath and fear they may now be prisoners or worse. Please, head south beyond the Greenway Crossing, further beyond the shadow of the barrows, and seek my scouts, Oakdale and Brittleleaf. Hopefully they will have found a safe place close to the ruins, likely on the eastern side. Be swift, for I fear the worst, and bring caution with you! That's likely to be a bad place.'
Ingions’ eyes fell back to the fire and he said nothing. Lost in thought he was, remembering how, though wounded terribly, he had strode forward to grasp at the dying brigand captain. He remembered how he swiftly pressed the captain even as the light swiftly began to fade from his dimming eyes.
“Tell me, what is the name of the leader of the brigands in Andrath” he said sternly. The captain spat a few words out, but one he repeated more than once: Sharkey’s Lieutenant. Then the Ranger spoke in a grave voice.
‘Fruitless this seems,’ he said slowly, not turning his gaze from the fire. ‘yet my destiny seems intertwined in this matter that I can hardly refuse.’
Ingion ceased and stood up tall and proud. ‘Give me leave, Master Grimbriar,’ he said finally. ‘I shall go as you ask for there lies someone that I must find.’
It was so dark that Ingion could see nothing as he lay rolled in his blanket under the trees beside the Great East Road just west of the West gate of Bree. He could hear the soft whisper of endless swaying trees ad closed his eyes for a time. But though Ingion was tired, he could not sleep; he had departed from Grimbriar’s post that day and made his way south to make camp along the Great East Road to await the return of the brigand informant Calrod.
But the day passed and night fell and there was no sign of the man and his heart and spirits fell. Dark thoughts had come to mind. Perhaps Calrod had warned the Blackwolds of his plans? Would he be walking into a trap should he still seek the traitor’s aid?
Suddenly, Ingion sat up with alarm; the distant sounds of footsteps and low voices could clearly be heard. He looked about but could not see far along the winding and rolling of the road or field in the darkness. Quickly he sprang up and drew behind the boughs of the trees. The sounds of footsteps drew ever nearer.
The sinking moon had been obscured by tattered clouds but suddenly it rode clear and bright overhead. Then Ingion saw dark forms coming slowly and without haste from across the distant fields to the north. But now his gaze fell clearer upon the darkened figures. Each was clad in cloaks of dark grey and was armed with sword, spear and bow.
Relief passed across Ingion’s face as he cried out and came from around the bough of the tree swiftly. 'Ai na vendui Dunedain! Mae go-vannen!' he cried out with gladness.
At no more than a few paces from where Ingion stood, the figures came to a sudden halt. One walked slowly forward the rest, raising a single hand up in token of peace. The figure eyed the Ranger, gazing curiously into his hooded face, then spoke. ‘Suilad mellon.’
At once Ingion was struck by the tone of the figure’s voice for it was not a man but a woman. Another grey clad figure stepped forward, looking keenly at Ingion. ‘Greetings traveler,’ said the second figure in a deep voice of a man. ‘We are Men of the North.’
‘And I as well!’ cried Ingion with a laugh.
‘Is that so?’ answered the man carefully. ‘What brings you here then?’
‘From far to the east I have come, from beyond the Lone lands in our people’s haven in the Angle,’ replied Ingion.
The strange Ranger turned back to the others as if to give the sign that all was well, and then spoke fresh. ‘The Angle you say?’ he said sternly, crossing his arms over his chest. ‘That is where I am from too,’ he added.
‘As am I,’ said the woman slowly. ‘But it has been a long time.’
Ingion’s face darkened as he spoke. ‘I have travelled many days to come here.’
‘There must lie a purpose then in such a journey,’ asked the strange Ranger. ‘Surely no Dúnadan would travel for days without one.’
Ingion frowned slightly and then drew his hood closer about his face. ‘Purpose?’ he said finally. ‘Perhaps. But there are things that best left unsaid, even among my own people.'
‘We are also travelling,’ said the male Ranger with a curious glace towards Ingion. ‘Northwest to Evendim.’
‘Travelling…or hiding?’ said Ingion grimly. ‘There is dire news on the winds, Orcs have crossed the river, evil things are stirring, the Dark Lord has brought open war to the borders of Gondor....'
‘You speak of dark tiding,’ answered the male Ranger with a grave smile.
‘Our people are scattered and leaderless, lost and without hope,’ replied Ingion sadly.
The Ranger stepped forward and placed his hand upon Ingion’s shoulder. ‘We are not without hope,’ he said softly.
Ingion shook his head slightly and his gaze fell towards the ground as he spoke. ‘There is little hope in these dark times,’ he said mournfully. ‘The forces of the Enemy cannot be availed.’
The woman shook her head. ‘We must try though, we cannot give in.’ Ingion said nothing but his shoulders bowed low. Finally he spoke.
‘Give in?’ he said with a great sadness. ‘Nay. But what can we do, so scattered to the winds? Where is the King returned? Where is the blade that was lost? Speak not to me of hope.’
‘Enough,’ interrupted the male Ranger with a raised hand. ‘Such words should not come from a Dúnadan.’ The woman gazed up at her companion but fell silent.
‘You must have a name,’ asked the male Ranger finally. ‘Your name and I will give you mine.’
‘Ingion I am called,’ answered Ingion softly. 'Though little do I speak of that with pride.'
‘Then Ingion I am Torvorn and this is Ivrel. Come and tell me, why are you here?’
Ingions’ eyes shone brightly from under the deep folds of his grey hood as he gazed at Torvorn. ‘Nearly two fortnights ago, Orcs won passage across the river west of the Angle,’ he said slowly. ‘And worse still, they were not alone. Goblins from out of the Misty Mountains counted among their ranks.’
Ingion’s gaze looked out over the darkened fields for a moment before he continued. ‘I had in my company an unsavory fellow, called Malrod to us. He was a scout and informant who knew the lay of the lands. But this Malrod betrayed my men and I, and led the foul Orcs and goblins to my village and razed it to the very earth.’
The woman looked up sharp. ‘No…’ she said mournfully.
Ingion did not look up as he continued, his voice barely a whisper. ‘And so I left, following the trail of the traitor and that of the Orcs and goblins with one intent: to make them pay for such deeds. Long have I searched for signs of their whereabouts, and long have I spent in the wilds hunting them.’
Ivrel’s voice broke and her gaze towards the ground. She then looked up at Ingion. ‘I share your need for vengeance. I will join you with the rest of us and we shall lend you our swords if you shall have them.’
‘No,’ said Torvorn in a harsh voice. ‘We must make for Evendim.’
‘Torvorn, those people that were murdered…those were our people,’ said Ivrel looking sharply at her companion.
Torvorn looks sadly at Ivrel but shook his head slowly. ‘More will die if we do not get to Evendim.’
Ingion gazed at the Rangers, a strange light creeping into his eyes. ‘Evendim has been lost, long ago in the mists of time, no longer do we rule the north as we once did. Only sadness and memories remain there. Little do I wish to gaze upon the ruins of Annúminas and of the glory of old in these dark times.’
‘We still have men there,’ answered Torvorn softly.
‘Truly?’ said Ingion with surprise.
Torvorn nodded. ‘Indeed, and we will help you should you come with us to Evendim. But you seem too much without hope.’
‘Hope?’ answered Ingion gravely. ‘Hope is a hard currency to come by in these dark times…’
Ivrel looks sad at Ingion. ‘But if life remains, then does as well.
‘Perhaps,’ said Ingion quietly. ‘But how long can simple hope hold out?’
Torvorn looked upon Ingion with a grim gaze then spoke. ‘Where do you plan on going, Ingion?’
‘I must remain here to meet with a contact within the ranks of the Blackwolds. But once I reach Andrath and find what I seek there…? Little does my heart yearn to see lost Evedim, but I must go there, for that is the path that lies before me.’
‘Then look for us there, Ingion,’ answered Torvorn as he turned to make his way back towards the fields. ‘We shall await your arrival there…’
So, the final clue to the whereabouts of the traitor, Malrod, has been discovered! And I have managed to finally complete some rping with fellow players - Calrod and a group of Rangers! Here is the final clue to Malrod:
Ingion has also reached a new Survival Title:
Thankfully, as of yet, no defeats, and thus the story may continue for the final hunt for the villainous Malrod!
Originally Posted by idlehands79
I really liked this last chapter I never realized how deeply Bree was in trouble but the way it is expressed here, you can really feel the menace of those brigands. I am looking forward to your next chapters and to meeting up with you in game again. It is always a highlight of my day to log in and see a new posting by you Brucha. You are truly a valuable and treasured member of the Crickhollow family. Thank you for what you do.
These are very, very kind words to say, idlehands79 I am only glad that people are enjoying the latest Total Immersion story!
Chapter Eight: The Traitor Malrod – 11 to 13 Náríë, T.A. 3018
The crowd at the Prancing Pony was surprising for the time of year – it being the midst of farming season – at even now as the sun wholly disappeared to the distant west, much of the common room was filled to capacity. Old Butterbur was standing behind the bar talking in low tones to a pair of dwarves. Elsewhere in the wide room, seated about the many benches and tables, was a large crowd, chiefly men of Bree and a few local hobbits. But seated here or there were strange uncouth fellows of vague unsavoury character.
The men and hobbits were mostly discussing local gossip and news of sorts. There were rumours of war in the distance, of brigands or worse on the roads nowadays. Much was the talk of the growing number of strangers seen in Bree of late, and of dwarves who now travelling the roads in greater numbers. But to this came much dislike from the folk of Bree who wished above all else to left to live in peace and with fewer strangers in their midst the better.
Seated at a small round table nearer the hearth was a collection of men speaking to one another. Most seemed content to sit quietly and listen, occasionally bursting forth with laughter or a wagging of heads but few questions. Much of the talk came from only one of their number – a strange-looking fellow, keen-eyed and stern-face, seated facing the rest of the common room. Before him on the table sat an enormous wooden mug while he smoked a long-stemmed pipe right under his nose. More surprising was that, despite the warmth of the inn, the man had pulled his dark hood up about his head, with only the tip of his nose sticking out and bright eyes shining out.
There now came loud and long laughter from the group about the table as the strange fellow ended a tale. ‘Call for old Butterbur!’ cried one with much mirth as he called for more ale and wine. The others shouted soon after. ‘Ha, ha, good old Calrod, always enjoyable to hear your stories!’
But this Calrod did not seem to join in with his companions’ merriment and he fell strangely quiet and solemn as the others called once more for the proprietor with loud cries. ‘Come, Calrod,’ said one of the men with laughter in his voice as one of the servant hobbits brought a tray laden with drinks to the table. ‘Tell us another tale!’
Calrod glanced up from gazing into the frothy mug of ale before him but at first said nothing, a strange gleam shining in his unusually grim-looking eyes. ‘I care not for more tales,’ he said finally in a low voice.
The others let out a hearty round of laughter and banged upon the table with their mugs. ‘Oh come now, Calrod,’ said one of the men as he took a long draught of the mug in his hand. ‘One more tale at least!’ The other wagged their heads and raised their glasses and pressed the man for more.
Calrod glanced at his companions and sighed softly, as if from a great weariness. Finally, after a long silence, he began to speak. The others fell silent at once and leaned in close, eager to listen to this new tale.
‘I know little of a man I met not long ago,’ said Calrod slowly and thoughtfully, his eyes turned down to the mug in one hand. ‘And from whence he came I may never know. His name was Halvorn, though I suspect that was not his true name.’ Calrod fell silent as if recalling an ancient memory long past.
The others held their breath in hushed silence awaiting their friend to continue. Calrod drained his mug slowly and set it carefully down upon the table without looking up. After a pause he began again.
‘No matter,’ he said more to himself than to his companions at the table. ‘He was a strange grim fellow, of simple word and who spoke little. One of those Rangers he was, from out of the wilds we hear about now or then in Bree.’
‘One of them wandering folk?’ exclaimed one of the listeners with much scorn and surprise and the others wagged their heads in agreement. ‘Whatever would desire you to have any doings with one of those scoundrels? More like thieves than fair men they are.’
‘Scoundrels?’ said Calrod softly. For a time, he said nothing more, but rested his hands gently upon his lap and closed his eyes. The others became uncomfortable in the silence, unsure if something had suddenly befallen their friend. At last Calrod stirred.
‘Indeed, scoundrels they are known as,’ he said finally. ‘But I cannot say it would apply to this man. Dark was the road I found him on and darker still will be the path ahead for him. Grim and dour he was, but scoundrel? Never.’
‘Well, never-do wells are the lot of them, I say’ retorted one of the men, getting a laugh from the rest.
Calrod looked up then fell very silent. ‘Perhaps,’ he said finally as if in deep thought. ‘He sought something in his travels, vengeance you might say, for wrongs grievously committed to his person, and all other thoughts seemed utterly gone from his thoughts. There is much that I may have done that I only now have begun to regret, but aiding this man has certainly brought me down a path to ensure that may one day happen.’
‘He had bade me for information when we first met,’ said Calrod again. ‘In the Southern Bree-fields not that long ago. At first I thought him someone else entirely and our chance meeting would most certainly have gone awry if I had not corrected that mistake.’
The others glanced at one another, unsure as to what Calrod was saying, but they certainly did not seem to like it at all. ‘Then maybe my friend, you should not be cavorting with the like of them,’ said one of the men with a sneer.
Calrod’s eyes fell down to his mug once again and said nothing for a time. When he did speak, his voice dropped to a low whisper and the others drew their chairs closer to the table to hear his soft words he now gave.
‘An agreement I has given to Halvorn after our first meeting,’ said Calrod slowly. ‘And I set about to fulfill that promise. A week ago I set out down the Greenway to seek the South-guard Ruins that lay there. Once the way was safe, I think, if one wished to travel further south, but now in these dark and troubling times it is a haven to brigands and worse who have barricade the road.’
‘Andrath!’ said one of the men with much surprise and fear. ‘Why would you venture there, Calrod? Word is that those foul brigands have taken to raiding and mischief along the roads nowadays!’
‘Indeed,’ answered Calrod quietly. ‘And I am very much aware of their dealing, though I now perhaps wish I never have learned such things they way I did. But to Andrath I went, on roads seldom travelled by good folk. I sought to find a way into the ruins there that would allow access into its very heart without notice.’
‘Oh come now,’ laughed one of the men with disbelief. ‘No one would dare venture into of one of those brigand camps. We always enjoy your tales, Calrod, but this is too much!’
Calrod turned his gaze to that of the man, who suddenly fell uncomfortably silent. Calrod held the other’s gaze until the man’s eyes fell down to inspect his drink. Finally, Calrod continued.
‘For days I scouted the region and the camp itself. And indeed I finally found what I sought only yesterday. I decided at once to seek out this Halvorn at our arraigned meeting place but once more chance came to me unlooked for.’
‘The day had long passed when I made my way back even as the sky turned grey and the sun fell from sight. As night drew on, a waxing moon rose low into the sky but it was half-veiled in thin clouds that flew tattered above me.’
‘I was weary from my search and made the mind to rest along the shores of Halecatch Lake just north of Andrath. I hoped that by the dawn I could make my way to meet with Halvorn and tell him of my discovery. It was quiet as I neared the lake shore, and nothing unforetold could be heard beyond the sigh of the bending leaves of the trees or the gentle rhythm of the lake.’
The others had fallen silent once more, and now looked at each other with incredulous glances. One of the men cleared his throat loudly, and Calrod glanced up from his mug.
‘So it was much to my surprise that on the very shores of the lake I came upon Halvorn, resting quietly among the brush and tall grass beside the lake. I laughed quietly at this and decided at once to have a bit of fun with him. Stealthily I began to creep up to him, imagining the fun I would have at my little joke.’
‘But suddenly there came the soft snap of a branch beneath my feet. At once Halvorn sprang to his feet, fitting an arrow to his bow and peered out into the darkness where I had now crouched. For a moment, he stood and all fell silent and still. Then the Ranger called out.’
‘ “Who goes there” he said with a hiss. I knew I was noticed and there was little to gain from my play now, so I decided to make myself known. But even as I carefully made my way from the gloom, Halvorn spotted me and bent his bow tight.’
‘Much to my own surprise, I laughed aloud, playful, mind you, but laughter nonetheless. Then I spoke in soft chuckling voice: “Miss me?” ’ I said laughingly.’
‘Halvorn at once lowered his bow and a frown filled his hooded face. “Calrod? Is that you?” he said in a slow, uncertain voice.’
‘ “Do not fear, I am no enemy,” I said with a smile as I stepped from the dark shadows of the trees.'
‘ “Fear you?” replied the Ranger with a shake of his head even as chuckle slowly receded. “Nay. Surprised that you found me when I was seeking you out.” '
‘I smirked playfully at him but it was only in jest. “So tell me, why have you sought me out then?” ‘ I thought at once that I had wished to seek him out as well but I made no mention of it.’
‘For a moment, Halvorn did not answer but instead turned his gaze to the placid surface of the darkened lake. He stared out over the water and fell silent for some time. Then, the Ranger turned back and spoke.’
‘ “My search is coming to an end, or part of it is,” he said in a slow, grim voice. “I have uncovered more about these foul brigands since our first meeting. My suspicions have been made true – Andrath is indeed the place I seek and therein lies the one that I have sought long for.” ’
‘ “Ah,” I said now that I understood Halvorn’s strange mood, and yet I pressed him for more. “What have you heard or seen that has brought this gloom to you then?” ‘
‘At that the Ranger looked to the ground with downcast eyes. With but a whisper he spoke. “The traitor I seek was known to me as Malrod, but I have found that he has taken the name of Sharkey’s Lieutenant among the brigands of the South-guard Ruins at the south end of Andrath. I have been sent by the Chief Watcher Grimbriar to seek out members of his company that keep watch upon the place even now.” ’
‘ “Grimbriar’s men, you say?” I said with surprise. “Indeed, I have spotted these scouts of his near the ruins. Little escapes my search…I could lead you to them if you wish…” ’
‘Once more Halvorn frowned but did not look up from the ground and spoke more grim than before. “I have no wish to continue these tasks for the watchers,” he said slowly. “I know little of that which awaits me in the ruins, but I fear that hesitation or distraction can be ill-afforded any longer. The one thing I desire most is to find this Malrod within the ruins and slay him. Nothing else is of consequence to me now.” ’
‘I must say that his candor greatly surprised me and I too fell quiet for a time. When I did speak my words came soft and grave. “I have heard of this lieutenant. He came once to the camp I was staying in back in my Blackwold days. But I do not fear that he would recognize me.” ’
‘It was then that the Rangers eyes looked up into mine, his eyes flashing bright and dangerous. “You know of this man that I speak of?” he said sharply.’
‘ “No,” I answered with a shake of my head. “I have not spoken to him, only seen him once in the camp.” ’
‘I was grateful as I watched Halvorn relax and his hand fell away from the hilt of his sword upon his belt. He passes his hand through his shaggy graying hair as he spoke. “Then I must ask, how should we proceed, Calrod?” ’
“I have found a secret entrance to the ruins of Andrath…” I said with a smile.’
‘ “A secret entrance?” exclaimed Halvorn with surprise.’
‘ “Indeed,” I answered, my smile broadening across my face and some pride at my skill. “This way we would be able to bypass less of the Enemy and thus avoid being spotted and therefore alerting this Malrod. But beware, we will have to fight at some point and blood will be shed.” ’
‘ “How secret is this entrance, Calrod?” asked Halvorn gravely.’
‘ “It is not really secret,” I admitted with a chuckle. “It involves jumping up high and having quick and sure feet.” ’
‘ “Blood is blood, Calrod,” answered Halvorn slowly. Vengeance will be mine whatever the cost. Let us not waste any more time while the night lasts.” ’
‘ “Let us go then,” I said clasping one hand upon his shoulder. “We shall keep to the shadows on the journey there. Who knows where they may have lookouts.” ’
‘Halvorn turned and bent the brush and tall grass to hide any trace of his presence there. He then turned to me and nodded silently. I nodded in return and took the lead, climbing up the slope that lead away from the quiet lake and back to the Greenway.’
‘Are you saying that you truly went to that foul place then?’ asked one of the men with disbelief.
’To Andrath?’ answered Calrod quietly, as if lost in deep thought. ‘Yes and I have little good memory of that place.’
‘Say he did,’ put in another. ‘More likely he’d drunk too much and imagined too much!’ This brought around round of chuckles from the others. Calrod drank from his nearly empty mug and did not reply at first. As the chuckling of the others subsided, he spoke again.
‘It was not long when we came to the road and the night had become very dark. Many clear shimmering stars blinked in the sky but the waxing moon has long passed. Great shadows blanketed the land ahead of them and all was grim and silent. I said nothing but took to the road heading south in silence and Halvorn followed behind, pausing every so often to listen for any sounds ahead.’
‘Perhaps a mile or more down the road I halted and crouched low to the ground. I pulled back my hood and gazed quietly further to the south. Halvorn crept up behind and leaned to whisper in a hushed voice. “What is it, Calrod?” ‘
‘I did not turn to look at the Ranger, but instead keep my eyes fixed into the darkness ahead. “We are coming to where we must leave the road,” I answered softly then pointed to darkened trees that could be glimpsed off the road to one side. “There we will continue on towards Andrath on the other side, shielded from view in the trees.” ’
‘ “I have heard no sound but the wind,” answered Halvorn as he too gazed out into the darkness.’
‘I turned and smiled but remained silent. I stood tall then left the road upon padded feet towards the trees. There the ground beneath the darkened boughs was dry and covered with scattered leaves. The trees stood mournfully above them as we passed under them and they rattled in a breeze that suddenly sprang up from the north. As if by instinct alone, we grew very quiet.’
‘After a short distance, I halted once more halted and crouched beside the tall bough of an ash tree. I raised one hand to beckon the Ranger to me. “Carefully now,” I said ominously, my voice lowered to a whisper. “We are coming to the ruins. We should begin to see the first of the brigand lookouts ahead beyond the trees.” ’
‘ “Must we battle them to pass through?” asked Halvorn gravely.’
‘ “No,” I answered with a shake of my hooded head. “We will flank them on the right ahead to bypass them or else they would surely alert the whole camp. But once we are inside the encampment, it will be too late for them.” ’
‘I climbed to my feet and began to make careful steps forward once more. It was not long when we came at length to the steep rise of a slope. The slope rose to the south to an unattainable cliff of rock but ran west and east. Halvorn crept forward a step and looked about. Further to the east where the trees began to thin a bit we could now make out the darkened shapes of stone walls.’
‘The dark of night was still grey and dawn still an hour or more off when we crept from the trees along the steep banks of the slope and came to a high wall of stone buttressed into the cliff-side and ran east to a tall darkened tower.’
‘ “Here we are,” I whispered as I looked up to the broken ledge of the wall above. “Now we must climb to the ledge. I will go first then you will follow.” ’
‘I slung my bow over one shoulder and stepped back from the wall a few steps. I glanced up at the ledge then started forward at a rush. As I neared the wall, I leapt lithely up and landed safely upon the shattered ledge. For a moment, I crouched low and listened sharply before turning round to motion for Halvorn to follow.’
‘At this, Halvorn gazed suspiciously at the far ledge then up to me. He took a few steps back and then sprang forward towards the wall. At the very last moment, he leapt into the air, reaching out to grasp the ledge with both hands. For the briefest of seconds, the Ranger’s hands held onto the crumbling ledge but they soon began to slip and came free altogether.’
‘I darted forward even as the Ranger plummeted to the ground below, falling upon his back with a hoarse cry. He lay there for some time before slowly climbing to his feet again, his breath coming in painful gasps. Above him, I gazed down smiling at him and spoke in a hushed voice.’
‘ “Try again, Ranger,” I said with a smile.’
‘Halvorn sighed as he staggered back from the wall once again. There he paused and looked towards the ledge. Then Halvorn took a deep breath and ran for the wall. This time his leapt was high and true and Halvorn landed upon the ledge with both feet. He lurched forward as he landed, grasping at the crumbling wall in hopes of not falling over the edge.’
‘ “There!” he said hoarsely as he looked to me. I could only only smile wide and motioned for the Ranger to the other side of the ruined ledge.’
‘Though much of the walls and all the buildings on the other side of the ledge stood in ruin, there were flickering campfires around which stood tents of many sizes. And they were not spoiled but fresh and tended to. More grim was the sight of many large ill-favoured Men that even now were seated round the fires of walked this way or that through the ruins. But horribly there were others, squint-eyed and sallow-face, among the brigands that seemed more like orcs than Men.’
‘ “Fear not,” I whispered, noticing the worried eyes of the Ranger. “We do not have to fight our way through most of these foes.” I lifted a hand and pointed to a small pond just beyond the tents. “We shall make our way round there to the steps that lead up to the higher portions of the ruins. There we will find this Malrod fellow.” ’
‘With upmost silence, we made our way round the tents and fires and past the pond where we came to another high wall. Further on we could glimpse a gate leading deeper into the ruined fortress. But it was not there that I turned my attention to. “Up there,” I said softly, pointing to the stairs. “That is where we must go.” ‘
‘Stealthily we climbed the steps to the high flat top of the wall then made our way the other direction than the gate below.’
‘Oh come now, good Calrod!’ cried one of the men with great mirth. ‘A very good tale indeed, but I hazard to guess it’s the work of a fanciful imagination.’
Calrod glanced into the man’s eyes with a strange gleam. The man fell silent at once and shifted uncomfortably in his chair. ‘Er..well,’ he stammered. ‘’Or so it seems…’
‘I did not go there willing once we arrived,’ said Calrod finally. ‘That place holds dark memories that are difficult to recall even here in the safety of Bree. Had I known the foes that awaited us there, I perhaps would not have gone. Yet it was the Ranger that pressed me forward even in that foul place.’
For a moment, a darkened cloud seemed to pass over Calrod’s face and he fell silent. ‘It was a terrible battle we faced,’ he said at last, as if remembering with great reluctance. ‘Long we battled the brigands and foul orc-like Men in the ruins. They hounded us at every turn and fell upon us with every step.’
‘And yet we prevailed and fought our way higher and higher into the ruins, slaying all in our path, until at last none stood in our way.’
The others seated at the table had now fallen silent, daring not to utter a sound. They had forgotten about their drinks which sat undisturbed in front of them and waited breathlessly for their friend to continue.
‘We were weary when we reached the very height of the ruins, even as the sun began to shimmer far to the East. Our task was near at hand for there we found this Malrod, a tall squint-eyed brute like an orc.’
‘This foul cretin was seated near a flickering fire and even as we held our breath from a distance, the man stood up and turned round as if to take a step in our direction. After only a step or two he suddenly paused. His eyes flashed and he licked his lips as his gaze fell on the both of us. A look of recognition came to his eyes at the sight of the Ranger. For the briefest of moments, the man looked worriedly about. He was trapped.’
‘Much to my surprise, is what Halvorn did next. He stepped from the shadows where we had paused and spoke aloud in a clear commanding voice. “Malrod!,” he cried out. “You sought to flee but at long last I have found you!”
‘The man licked his lips once more, as if mustering what courage he could, then leapt at us, letting out a cry as a long blade flashed into his hand. I took a step back and fitted an arrow to my bow, but before I could raise it, Halvorn rushed past me.’
‘The Ranger leapt forward, giving a great shout, “Elendil!”, his word and dagger now held naked in his hands. He did not pause even as my first arrow flew past him towards the traitor. There they clashed, and Malrod aimed a savage blow at the Ranger. The blade pierced his shoulder and Halvorn let out a bitter cry.’
‘But neither wound nor blade seemed to halt his fevered attack, and for long moments the two exchanged both after blow as the ring of their blades echoed in the air. Dark was the blood that rna freely from both as I watched, unable to move nor raise my bow. Then, for a moment, Malrod hesitated and took a step back, as if to turn and flee.’
At once, Halvorn leapt after him and Malrod hewed at him. There was a flash as Halvorn stabbed forward as his dagger, shearing through the traitor’s cloak and passing up into his stomach. Malrod stumbled back another step, clutching the wound even as Halvorn rose suddenly, tall and terrible.’
‘High too rose his sword as it glittered in the flickering light of the fire. Then Halvorn cried out and the sword fell. There came a strangled cry that suddenly ended as Malrod’s neck clove asunder and his head fell to the ground.’
‘For a long moment, Halvorn did not move nor speak, but gazed strangely down upon the fallen form of Malrod. I glanced about warily, half-expecting more of the enemy to appear. Finally, he turned to me and spoke in a low weary voice.’
‘ “Malrod is dead,” he said slowly. “He has paid dearly for his foul deeds.”
‘I strode up to stand beside the Ranger, looking down upon the unmoving form. “I am gladdened you have found what you sought and that your heart is now at peace.” ‘
‘Halvorn sighed and raised his eyes to look far to the East. “Peace?” he said quietly. “Nay, I have hunted long and yet my hunt continues for me for there is much still to do before my task is complete.” ‘
‘For a long while, I dared not speak, and when I did, my words came halting to my lips. “And yet you have done much for the likes of me,” I said slowly. “I have come an.enlightenment, if you wish to call it that. Slaying these foul Men that I once called brethren has made me realize I have no more heart for the life I led. I wish to leave my terrible past behind.” ‘
There Calrod fell wholly silent, his eyes turned down and he did not speak. The others seated at the table shook their heads and glanced at one another. ‘Whatever happened to this Ranger?” cried one of them finally. ‘Yes, Calrod, tell us the rest!’ exclaimed another.
Calrod finally looked up and ended his strange silence. ‘What happened to him I cannot say,’ he answered slowly. ‘But my thoughts go to him on whatever dark path he has taken now.’
At once the others let out a laugh and banged their mugs upon the table. ‘Good tale, good tale!’ one cried. ‘Aye!’ said another as he drained his mug and stood up from the table. ‘It was a wonderful tale indeed, but I must be off!’
The others cheered this and also stood from the table, wishing their friend a good evening and drained their mugs as well before departing. For a long while, Calrod sat silent and did not stir. After a long pause he sat up and made his way to the front door of the inn, clutching his mug with one hand.
It was far past dusk now and the sky has darkened with deep clouds. The evening was cool and the sky pale as the last light of day disappeared far to the West. For a moment, Calrod stood in silence, humming to himself and lost in deep thought.
Finally, he raised his mug and spoke with but a whisper. ’Farewell, my friend,’ he said looking out over the darkened street in front of the inn. ‘Perhaps one day we shall meet again.’
So very sorry for such a long delay in finishing this new chapter of the story. A combination of writer's block and a dislike for what I was writing that prevented me from finishing the latest chapter!
Anyways, so ends the hunt for Malrod! It took only eight chapters before he was found and defeated! However, that is only a part of Ingion's travels, for now is the time to seek out the goblin and orc chieftains! The goblin lurks somewhere in Evendim but I have yet to discover the location of the orc. Hopefully, that will be uncovered soon!
And other news, Ingion has reached the next Survival title!
I have been greatly lax in thanking those those players who have aided me in my Total Immersion stories since the beginning. The list is quite long of all those who have helped me along the way - so I will focus on just those for this story:
Dyre: Not for this story but for Theo's story, one that I hope I can finally complete soon! Calrod: This toon was specifically createdto meet Ingion. He began as sort of a very bad fellow in league with the Blackwolds, an assassin of sorts in their pay. Neither him nor I planned on his change of heart in the decision to leave behind his rather unsavoury past, but it simply came out in our rping. But a wonderful change did happen! Torvorn, Ivrel and the Grey Company: It was needed that ingion would encounter other Rangers, and what a better group of people to have that happen with!
I realize that I am not mentioning the great number of people from earlier stories, so I must apologize for that. I have, and will not, ever forget!
Chapter Nine: Wolves of Oatbarton – 14 to 18 Náríë, T.A. 3018
North of the Greenfields in the Shire, beyond a crowd of rising hills and a narrow cleft, lies the Northfarthing. The least populous region of the Shire, it was where much of the hobbit-barley was grown and the only place in that tiny land where heavy snow fell often. Narrow runs Bullroarer’s Throat which offered passage from the gently rolling hills of the Greenfields to the tiny hobbit village of Oatbarton, the only hobbit-settlement in the region.
Oatbarton was typical of many sleepy Shire villages, with small quiet smails and fields where the hobbit children could ran carefree among the gentle trees, hobbit goodwives could take a cup of sweet bilberry tea with their neighbours, and hobbit farmers worked their fields in rhythm of their falling rakes.
In those days before, Oatbarton was a quiet village and no other people settled so far north of the Shire for many a year. It had become a well-ordered village as all were in the Shire, though a bit more rustic than most, and the folk lived in peace and plenty over the years. They cared little for the world outside where dark things were whispered and ceased to even recall much beyond the Shire.
Before the coming of evil to the North, the Hobbits were not alone in Eriador, for they found both Elves and Men there. Indeed, the Dúnedain still dwelt there, the kings of Men from over the Sea out of Westernesse, but they were dwindling fast and their lands falling into waste. And yet the Shire-folk were in name the king’s subjects, but ruled their Shire by their own chieftains.
But word came to cease from the North and the lands of the Dúnedain fell silent. The kings were all but forgotten and the Shire-folk spoke less with the Elves, even becoming afraid and distrustful of dealings with them. The hobbits took the Shire for their own and chose as their chieftain a Thain to hold authority of the king that was no more. The North Kingdom became a forgotten memory and the hobbits turned their faces away from the hills in the west.
And yet there came trouble to the Shire and the Bounders, as they were called, had been greatly increased in number. There were many a tale and complaint of strange persons on the road now and other nameless things prowling about the borders, or over them. All signs that things was not quite as it should be. Few of course heeded the signs and certainly none had any notion of what it portended.
It was early afternoon when Ingion came at last to Oatbarton. Sheets of chill rain fell down from the darkened skies, as it had done for much of the day before. Rain was even now dripping down the Ranger’s grey hood and into his eyes as he strode quietly down the wind-swept lane. The shadows of the trees along the road were long and the thin upon the wet grass as he slowly passed. The Northway leading up from the Greenfields began to fall gently but steadily down into a wide and sheltered valley surrounded by hills and ridges. Nearer there was a twinkle of lights: the village of Oatbarton.
The hobbits of the village were quite understandably taken aback by the arrival of the strange Ranger into their home. But for his part, Ingion spoke hesitantly and softly to the hobbit-folk, not wishing to frighten them further with his mysterious appearance. For their part, the hobbits asked little of him, and held the Ranger in awe after their initial fright had passed.
Yet a dark fear crept into Ingion’s thought as he spoke softly to the hobbits, for they whispered strange tales to him. ‘Hal swears he saw a wolf, a wolf!’ proclaimed a Bounder among the small crowd that had gathered round the Ranger in the center of the village. ‘This business Hal’s telling everyone about the wolves is a sight more likely than his walking tree…’ replied a second with a knowing nod of his head. And a third pressed in closer to offer, ‘Too many of my pigs have disappeared for me to not believe Hal!’
This very hobbit-like conversation went on for some time, but to Ingion’s relief the hobbits seemed to have grown more comfortable with his presence in their midst. He thanked each in turn as they turned to go back to their homes, to tell others of the appearance of a strange grim fellow who spoke little but fairly and without malice.
As dusk drew on, Ingion found a sheltered knoll of trees atop a low knoll overlooking the center of Oatbarton. There he found some level of comfort in the storm that still fell from the darkened skies. But this, he quickly found, was not to be comfort after all for, although the spreading branches above stopped much of the rain from falling upon him, the fierce wind that began to come in shook much of the rain off the leaves right down atop him.
So, the Ranger sat beneath the tress as best he could, glum and wet and very unhappy. Sleep was all but impossible in the storm and he could rest little but for occasional bouts of uncomfortable dozing. Yet as the night worn on, the winds broke up the clouds and a waning moon appeared above the hills between tattered sheets of grey.
Before even the dawn came, Ingion rose. The morning had come rather pale and clammy and cold, but the rain had thankfully passed. He strode from the hillock, passing the outlying smails of the quiet village like a shadow. Much of the village was still and most of its inhabitants having not yet risen from slumber. He struck along a lane on the far side of the center o f the village and strode up a gentle hill from where he saw the grassy roof of a smial peering out from the top.
There he came upon a small farm, surrounded on the far side by unkempt and tall fields of grain and barley. Just under the sheltered porch of the smail appeared a round hobbit-face. Ingion slowed his pace as the hobbit looked up, a worried look spreading across his bright face. Ingion raised a single hand and stopped a few paces, then spoke in a quiet voice.
‘Fear not my friend,’ said the Ranger softly. ‘I am called Halvorn and I am neither villain nor brigand. I come seeking word of wolves or worse that some of your folk have whispered about.’
The hobbit fidgeted and looked uncomfortable under the keen, silent gaze of the Ranger. He fumbled with the wooden broom held tightly in his hands for a moment. Then he began to speak slowly.
‘The North Moors is a dangerous place…’ answered Nibbs Chubb carefully, and looked away from the Ingion’s heavy, silent gaze. ‘Not two days ago, I saw a wolf right on the border of Oatbarton! I haven’t heard naught like it since the Fell Winter, though I Hal over there might tell you one of his stories of stranger creatures.’
‘No,’ replied Ingion quietly. ‘I have not yet to speak with Hal, but wish to know of your troubles.’
‘Well…’ answered the hobbit as if gathering up his courage. ‘My oat farm has been having trouble with locusts, and the Bounders expect me to drive them off! Finding a lost cow or chasing off a fox is my business; but I suspect you might have more of a mind for removing pests…’
‘That is grim news, but I would aid you if you would have me,’ said Ingion with a grim smile as if he guessed Nibb’s thoughts.
Nibbs looked up into the Ranger’s face with a quiet gaze of his own. 'The fields are east and north-east of here,’ he said after a pause. ‘If you can clear those locusts away from my crop, I would offer you a bit of coin. Also, keep on the lookout for anything else amiss in my fields...animals have been turning up dead all over Oatbarton recently.’
‘I shall heed your words,’ answered Ingion quietly. ‘If there is something afoot here I will uncover it.’ Ingion nodded slightly and turned to stride round the hobbit smial. Behind him, Nibbs went back to sweeping his porch. ‘I have never had to worry this much in all days farming oats!’ muttered the hobbit to himself in a low voice. ‘But business has had a turn for the better of late and, "the best crop only comes with the rain" or so my dad always said.'
Round the back of the small farm, Ingion came upon a path edged with small white stones. It led only a short distance from the smial to a swath of once neat and well-kept fields surrounded by low wooden fences. Yet, each was now overgrown with untended barley that had grown to over the head-height of a hobbit.
He climbed a gentle slope to one side of the nearest field which offered a wide view. There Ingion drew low to the ground and peered over the fields below. At first the fields seemed empty, but as he watched, Ingion soon caught glimpses of large swarms of insects among the tall crops. There were hundreds of the abominable things about the farm, no larger than a big bee but hovered in large stinging swarms.
At the foot of the slope Ingion turned his gaze to something below. Forgetting about the swarms, Ingion stood up and made his way down and found that what he had at first taken to be a boulder lying at the bottom of the slope was the crumbled body of an elk.
The Ranger grew at once alert and swung his keen gaze about as he took a silent step forward. He had only managed a few steps when there came the sounds of rustling in the nearby brush. Out of the tall grass and brush trotted a vague shape in the deep shadows of the trees. It was a large wolf, its yellow eyes blazing and a long reddish tongue lapping from its cruel jaws.
For a moment, the wolf paused gazing at the Ranger with bright careful eyes and then let forth a long shuddering howl. Barring its cruel fangs the wolf sprang forward, snapping at his grey cloak as the Ingion stepped back with alarm and drew his blades.
But the wolf did not waver and leapt forward once more. Ingion cried out and his sword fell useless to the ground at his feet as the wolf’s jaws clamped down upon his forearm. He blindly stabbed forward with his dagger and the short blade bit into the shoulder off the beast. The wolf snarled and yelped horribly then sprang back and away from him.
Ingion turned his head in the direction of the hobbit farm some distance off but it was too far off. In an instant, the wolf howled fiercely before rushing at him again. Its jaws came at his throat and taloned limbs tore at his legs. Ingion hewed at the wolf with his dagger then swept up his sword as the wolf lunged again and again.
Seeing the long blade in the Ranger’s hands, the wolf snarled and fell back, never taking its gaze from him. The beast paced a few steps away then shuddered as it crouched low and sprang forward intent upon bearing the Ranger to the ground beneath its weight. Ingion’s sword flashed bright in the sunlight and plunged it into the body of the wolf as it leapt. There was a long, bellowing as the wolf crashed to the ground and shuddered before falling silent.
For a moment Ingion gazed down upon the unmoving form of the wolf. He breathed heavily and winced at the wound on his arm. He bound the wound tightly with fresh linen as best he could. The Ranger then stepped over to the fallen form of the elk and knelt beside it. The poor creature bore large wounds upon its flanks and about its throat and it was evident that this was a fresh kill.
Ingion gazed back over to the wolf lying upon the ground then stood up. He slowly strode past the fields then round the smail where he found Nibs Chubb now tending to the short grass in front of his home.
‘Hail, master hobbit,’ said the Ranger in a low voice as the hobbit whirled round at the sound of his approach. ‘I did as you asked but I came upon a most unwholesome discovery.’
Nibs set down his clippers in the grass and wiped the damp from his brow as the Ranger continued. ‘There are locusts in your fields but what disturbs me are wolves. Only now have I returned after discovering the fallen carcass of an elk and was set upon by a wolf that brought it down. I managed to fell the beast but that is an unsettling thing to behold.’
A look of worry spread across the hobbit’s face as he listened to Ingion’s tale. ‘I am very worried about those wolves you saw prowling my fields,’ said Nibs with a shudder. ‘Insects eating my crops are an easy matter, but wolves on my land are something else!’
‘You spoke of another in Oatbarton and of his tales about strange beasts,’ said the Ranger quietly. ‘What of him?’
‘This whole affair is just like one of the old tales Hal Gamgee tells,’ answered the hobbit as he scratched his head. ‘Most of the hobbits in these parts don’t heed much of what he says. I think he has spent one too many nights under the stars, and that could play queer tricks on any decent hobbit.’
‘Fanciful tales they may be, yet a wolf it was I found in your fields,’ answered Ingion hiding his smile.
For a moment Nibs fell silent. 'All this talk has gotten me to thinking, though...’ he said finally. ‘You should see Hal about these wolves. He might know a thing or two. Not two weeks ago he came to my door with a story of a giant wolf north-east of Oatbarton.’
‘That is unwelcome news,’ replied the Ranger thoughtfully. ‘If there are indeed wolves abroad they must be dealt with swiftly.’
Ingion bowed to the hobbit then turned to make his way down from the farm and into Oatbarton below. It was not long before he found a tall brown-haired hobbit near the market in the center of the village. The hobbit watched the Ranger approach with curious eyes.
‘Might you be Hal Gamgee?’ said Ingion. ‘I am called Halvorn. I have been sent by Nibs Chubb to speak with you about tales of wolves in your land here. Might they be true?’
Hal eyed the Ranger for a long moment before speaking. 'Herds of elk have been coming down from beyond the north Bounds, more and more,’ he answered slowly. ‘They have come to be running from something...many of 'em are spooked to the point I can't even notch my bow before they're deep into the thicket.’
'It's the elk that are bringing the wolves across the Brandywine,’ continued Hal shaking his head after a pause. ‘I saw a big white one stalking the elk in the woods north of here, but he ran off as soon as he spotted me.’
‘That is fell news indeed,’ answered Ingion grimly. ‘I have found a wolf in Chubb’s fields this very day. One wolf is a terrible thing but they do not travel alone. I can hunt for them should you wish for I am skilled in such a task.’
Hal looked up at the Ranger closely. 'I've been hunting the wolves, but they're smarter than most game,’ he said finally. ‘I gather you'll have to take down that big wolf to scatter the pack. If the wolves are hunting elk, I'd reckon a flank of elk-meat could lure the big one out. A herd of young greensward-hind is usually grazing in the old orchard in the north of Oatbarton. You should try hunting there for the elk-meat.'
It seemed plain that the hobbit would speak no more of it, but stood gazing up at the shadowed face of the Ranger. Ingion now fell silent as if in deep thought. Finally he spoke. ‘A wolf chieftain is not good, nor is an entire pack if his kind. I will do as you ask. Look for me before dusk should I discover anything.’
Ingion turned and made his way from the market. When at last he returned to the sheltered knoll he laid down in the soft grass and drew his cloak tight about him. His arm still ached with pain and he did not sleep for some time. Many thoughts came into his mind and the wolves were in the gravest. He gazed silently over the darkening hobbit smials below as the sun sung beyond the hills and night drew on. Finally he laid his head and fell slowly into sleep.
That chapter took me a bit to complete for some reason! After the defeat of Malrod, I was undecided as to where to go next. The only clue Ingion possessed would lead him to Evendim, yet that region was many levels above what he was after Chapter 8. I finally decided to clear up some open quests in the Bree-lands, gain some xp and then depart. However, this meant journeying to Evendim at level 25th - not a difficulty except that the quests there are level 30 to begin with the and mobs quite powerful! The wolf he defeated in Nibs Chugg's fields was a level 31st mob .