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  1. #1

    Total Immersion: Corruption Upon the Lands

    I am halting my story concerning Brodli for a time for reason that will be explained very soon on his thread. Or course, Frecwain is continuing his grand adventure, and that tale, should he stay alive, will be a long one. And so, with some free time on my hands, it is time for another tale...


    1. Travel: I will only travel on foot or by regular mounts and absolutely no swift travel horses or map recall use. This can be waived when conducting toon upkeep, such as visiting a settlement to level. 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, such as trying to run away from an enemy.

    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:

    Late Watches

    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.

    4. 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.

    There is one rule I play that I always forget to mention - and that is the repair of equipped gear. I may only pay for repairs of weapons from a suitable vendor; ie, weapon repairs from a weaponsmith npc in a crafting area.

    5. Death and Defeat: Since I love a challenge, I will add in a harsh rule for myself. Vulseggi cannot be defeated by any means during the story - should this occur, he will be considered truly dead. Vulseggi begins at level 7 and I will post Survivor titles as he gains them up to 20th level.

    6. Arms and Armour: Vulseggi may only equip or use equipment gained via mob drops or gained by the completion of quests. So, he may not craft gear for himself, or purchase gear from a vendor or the Auction House. He can craft for other players though.

    A Note on Middle Earth Lore: This story involves Vulseggi, a Lore-master. I will be rping him as a student and scholar of magic. Before someone bows their head in shame of what I have just said, let me explain a bit further.

    In his letters, Tolkien was fairly adamant that ordinary humans could not work magic, only the Elves of servants (or former servants) of the Valar, or those of Elvish lineage. However, within the books he made many references to spells and of magic in the sense that we would consider as spell-casting or the like. I think it is best to assume that Tolkien was over-systematizing his own world in his letters, but that there is some kind of difference between the spells ordinary dwarves and men use and those used by Gandalf, Radagast or Galadriel.

    Powerful Elves could work such power that some may denote as magic, though this was never in the form of spoken spells of the like. Think of these powers as Arts more than spells. The Istari (Gandalf, Radagast, Saruman) were servants of the Valar and held these Arts as well, but also the ability of spell-using, something mentioned multiple times in the books:

    'I once knew every spell in all the tongues of Elves or Men or Orcs, that was ever used for such a purpose. I can still remember ten score of them without searching in my mind.'

    The Fellowship of the Ring, Book I, page 400

    In addition, there are references to those that have studied the use of magic. They certainly do not hold the power or skill of the Istari, and often those folk are of ones that fell under the influence of the Dark Power of Mordor. What seems clear is that there is magic use (ie, sorcery) in use within the word, but that bears a potentially terrible price in the form of falling under the corruptive influences of Sauron and before him, Morgoth:

    The Men of Númenor were settled far and wide on the shores and seaward regions of the Great Lands, but for the most part they fell into evils and follies. Many became enamoured of the Darkness and the black arts; some were given over wholly to idleness and ease, and some fought among themselves, until they were conquered in their weakness by the wild men.

    It is not said that evil arts were ever practised in Gondor, or that the Nameless One was ever named in honour there; and the old wisdom and beauty brought out of the West remained long in the realm of the sons of Elendil the Fair, and they linger there still. Yet even so it was Gondor that brought about its own decay, falling by degrees into dotage, and thinking that the Enemy was asleep, who was only banished not destroyed.

    LOTR, Book IV, chapter 5, subpage 20.

    The rider was robed all in black, and black was his lofty helm; yet this was no Ringwraith but a living man. The Lieutenant of the Tower of Barad-dur he was, and his name is remembered in no tale; for he himself had forgotten it, and he said: 'I am the Mouth of Sauron.' But it is told that he was a renegade, who came of the race of those that are named the Black Nümenörians; for they established their dwellings in Middle-earth during the years of Sauron's domination, and they worshipped him, being enamoured of evil knowledge. And he entered the service of the Dark Tower when it first rose again, and because of his cunning he grew ever higher in the Lord's favour; and he learned great sorcery, and knew much of the mind of Sauron; and he was more cruel than any orc.

    LOTR, Book V, page 202

    I could on, but I hope you get the idea. In short, there seems to be enough evidence to say that there is magic - the use of spoken spells and words - within Middle Earth. With this in mind, Vulseggi is no Istari, or course, nor a servant of the Valar. He is mortal, living the lifespan of a Man of Eriador; perhaps he may have a bit Dúnedain blood mixed in his veins. He is, simply, a sorcerer or perhaps a more gentle version of such; a magician, enchanter or conjuror.


    Pets: A major rule with Total Immersion for this story concerns Vulseggi's ability for pets. He begins with the ability to summon a BEAR; should his bear be defeated, it considered slain. and so I must be careful to keep it alive. If a Pet is ever defeated, I can call upon the aid of another pet, but only of a different type not used before, say a Black Bear or even another type, like a Raven or Lynx.

    Secondly, I will not bring most Pets into towns and villages; the sight of a roving bear would startle and frighten the inhabitants, so my pets will be left outside. Of course, a Raven Pet or the like would certainly be fine though.

    The Story: This adventure will be played out a bit differently then my others. The adventure will play out at first as independent chapters, but slowly the plot of the story will grow. Vulseggi dwells within the Breelands, at the very edge of the Chetwood. He is not the level required to purchase a House; nonetheless, at the end of an independent portion of the story, he will return to his home. This will be played out of course, having to hike back to the entrance of the Bree-land Homesteads. Once he reaches 15th level, I will buy him his very own little forest dwelling.

    Much of the story will take place within the Bree-lands, but can include excursions outside as well; this I wish to do because it often becomes difficult to find rpers in the higher level regions of the game. I do have a specficic plot for his story, but I am also calling on any role-players who wish to join in to do so. In fact, I will encourage any and all to call upon me for aid or assistance in quests, travel, finding something etc. Another thing I hope for is for other playesr to help me direct where the story goes. I have some good ideas in mind, but should anyone have some excellent idea, please let me know!

    The main thread of this story will be to run quests involving corruption on the land, whether in nature (like the Old Forest) or to fauna (like the spiders of the Chetwwod and Midgewater Marsh). So keep that in mind

    Story Chapter List

    Chapter One: A Threat from Spiders – 24 Rethe, 3018 TA
    Chapter Two: Into the Spiders’ Lair – 25 Rethe, 3018 TA
    Chapter Three: Iornaith – 26 Rethe, 3018 TA
    Chapter Four: An Ailing Hound – 29 Rethe, 3018 TA
    Chapter Five: The Wise Woman of the Silverwell – 29 to 30 Rethe, 3018 TA
    Last edited by Brucha; May 10 2014 at 04:24 PM.

  2. #2

    Chapter One: A Threat from Spiders – 24 Rethe, 3018 TA

    Wisps of white clouds, carried by light winds, wavered in the sky of the gentle night. They glided gently across the sky and over the moon, as sure and graceful as forest does, mindful of nothing more than the breeze that held them aloft. A man stood there looking up at them, a sort of mirthful way, seeming to cheer the clouds on with a soft smile at his lips.

    He was neither a thin man nor fat, not a young man but not ancient. He was cloaked and garbed in simple robes of grey and cream hues, and he carried a staff of oak that was as tall as himself. He had not come up the course of the lane from Combe, but out of the forests to the east and south. The stranger lowered his eyes from the clouds and towards a gate allowing passage through a sturdy wall of timbered logs to a tiny hamlet beyond. At the gate stood a pair of watchmen who only glanced and watched him with a bit curiosity.

    ‘Good day,’ said the stranger as he approached in his quiet voice. The watchers exchanged glances at the stranger; probably a healer or scholar, they thought silently, no one of importance. In turn the stranger turned his head to one side and looked through the open gate.

    ‘Is there no joy here? He said with a peculiar smile. He looked up to watch the many thin spires of dense dark smoke rising from behind the wooden palisades. ‘Strife and conflict, I see…happiness and joylessness never dwell in the same house…’

    The watchers again exchanged glances, but now with looks of bewilderment. Was this man mad or crazed, they thought as one. But the stranger kept his eyes to the sky and, adjusting his robe, he set off through the gate and into the lanes of Archet. The lanes were busy for such a small village, abrawl with workmen and stragglers, mournful wailers and despondent simple folk, watchmen and farmers. Smoke gentle rose from sputtering fires of burnt-out and fallen homes and buildings; death and ruin lay in view everywhere. If the stranger had a way, he soon showed it was of no concern as he strolled slowly down the lane absently.

    From the gate the lane led on, past the crumbling smoking remains of once had been a fine inn. A lounging guard stood near its steps, glaring stupidly at the ruins, uncertain if there was need any longer for such a watch. The stranger passed quietly, pausing only a moment to gaze down at a young child, her ash-smeared doll clutched tightly to her chest. In turn the child watched him inquisitively as he passed.

    With a few more steady steps, the stranger got at once into the market square. Shabby stalls and makeshift tables stood to one side and a fountain sat in the center of the square. A number of folk stood idle there as well, some standing beside carts filled with belonging as if they had fled with great fear and haste from their homes.

    A dwarf was there too, his grey hair tied back from a timeworn face. An old scar, a white seam, ran from his forehead, through one eye, and down to his cheekbone. He was seated on the edge of the fountain; his dented helm sat in his lap, a nasty welt across his brow, and he was busy tending to a wound on one arm. The stranger watched the dwarf’s handiwork for a moment and then stepped lightly forward. ‘Hello,’ he said and after a pause spoke it again a bit louder. ‘Hello, I have some skill in healing…’

    The dwarf slowly became aware of the stranger who was looking down at him; he only shook his bearded head. 'Don't worry about me, stranger’ murmured the dwarf. ‘It's just a minor wound I got in the fighting.’ He lifted up a big clay jug wrapped with wicker to the stranger. The man took it and drank his fill of the water inside then passed it back with his thanks.

    ‘I am called Vulseggi by some…,’ said the stranger but he added nothing further for a time. Then he said, ‘I have heard a little of what has happened here, scattered bits; everything moves in endless circles. Brigands from out of the wilds, scattering your folk from their farms and burning to ash all they could.’

    The dwarf nodded starkly. 'Now that the Brackenbrooks, father and son, have driven the Blackwolds away from Archet, perhaps these folk can get to living their lives as they once did. Word has reached me, though, that there's a new threat to be dealt with.’

    Vulseggi showed no emotion. ‘A new threat?’ he said very gently as he watched a lone butterfly flutter past and up into the air. The dwarf nodded and continued.

    'A nearby farm has been overrun with spiders, and the folk there have retreated to Archet, with what little he could carry from his farm. The spiders must have come upon them suddenly. My injury prevents me from dealing with the pests, but you have the look of a capable warrior and should have no trouble. Look for the farmer here in Archet. You may know him already...his name is Cal Sprigley.'

    Vulseggi looked down at the dwarf who turned back to cleansing and binding his wound on his arm. Now refreshed by the water, Vulseggi spoke anew. ‘His name is Cal Sprigley,’ he said. If it was a question, it seemed to need no answer. He turned and walked from the fountain and through the square to one side.

    Lining the square there was a scattering of small buildings nestled between two lanes. All were blackened by fire and stood shaky on their tumbling foundations. In their shade stood a man and woman; both watched the stranger with sullen eyes as he meandered without purpose or direction towards them. A look of great exhaustion weighed heavily on the man’s face and the woman, her face filled with sadness and horror, buried her head against his chest.

    Vulseggi walked up then stopped. ‘Would you have the kindness to tell me if you might be Cal Spigley?’ he said simply, his expression hard to read. He grew silent as the man looked at him then nodded dolefully. Overhead the sun began to glare bright and Vulseggi’s eyes dazzled in the light. ‘A dwarf has sent me to find you,’ Vulseggi said. ‘What grief is it that you bring here with you?’

    Cal brushed the wet hair from his wife’s face and looked up at Vulseggi, his eyes red with recent tears. 'There we were, ready to stand our ground against them Blackwold villains,’ he said harshly and with a shudder. ‘When these monstrous spiders come pouring up from the cellar in the middle of the night. It seems hardly fair! Still, if the Spider-bane sent you, it could be you'll be able to help us out.’

    Vulseggi looked deep into the farmer’s eyes and was silent for a moment. ‘All I can give is yours,’ he said softly. ‘I have some skill with the animals, though not of such abominations such that has tormented you. But what is it that I can do?’

    The farmer had spoken with a harsh edge in voice but now it was gone when he picked up his words again. 'My farm is to the south of Bronwe's Folly, down the second eastward trail from the south road. The place is much changed now -- a wretched nest of spiders. If you can recover my seed bag from the pens and my strongbox from the storage shed, we could make a new start of it. Oh, and my father's bow as well! Poor Henry was trying to kill some of the spiders with it. He was a good hand but the spiders made quick work of the lad.’

    Vulseggi looked once more at the famer but at the same time not so. ‘Seed bag…strongbox and bow,’ he whispered, almost to himself. ‘Then fetch them I shall,’ he added with certainty.

    'Hurry back, if you can…’ said the farmer, thinking the fool was quite mad. ‘Though with all the spiders around my farm, I don't see how you will.'

    Vulseggi turned as if to walk away. He paused, not looking back, saying, ‘Then it has been foretold, if that be the case…’ he then stepped away without another word. He strode down the lane, past the ruined inn and passed through the gate.

    From there he strolled along the dusty lane; the leaves in the trees shook slightly with a sudden breeze. Vulseggi slowed and looked out over the distant forest belt overhung with the gently flowing clouds. The moon shone only a sliver of itself among the clouds and it cast silvery light ever down. He kept walking.

    When the last flicker of light of the hamlet fell away behind him in the gloom of the evening, he halted. He looked about, as if to spot prying eyes among the scattered trees and brush. Softly, he put two fingers to his lips and whistled, once then twice.

    The whistles were soon greeted by a low resonant grunt and odd tongue clicking from the trees. The brush around its trunk began to shake and quiver, as if disturbed by some great animal. Then something large rose up from them, taller than the tallest man. The grunting became louder, more insistent. A slash of silvery-white came down from the moon, which was peering through the clouds, and across the shaggy form there.

    The shape had short, glossy fur of brown and cinnamon; it had a large heavy body and long legs, with flat feet, stout claws and a very short tail. Standing on its hind legs, the bear grunted once again, and pawed at the earth beneath it, looking at the man. Strangely, Vulseggi smiled and stepped forward. ‘There you are, Honeythorn,’ he said. ‘My old friend…’

    He stretched out a hand and began to rub the bear’s neck as it sauntered over to his side with the clicking of its teeth. ‘We have some business to attend to this night, you and I…’ he said as the bear nuzzled its snout on his shoulder. Vulseggi pulled from his pocket an apple; the bear sniffed it curiously and grunted softly; he took a bite and handed the rest of the apple to Honeythorn, who took it in one noisy crunching gulp.

    He stood there eating his bit of apple, and said to the bear, ‘Which way?’, holding his hand under the bear’s chin to lift its eyes to his. Honeythorn only grunted, tilting its head at him, and began to lick its lips as it looked about for any other apples.

    Vulseggi stood tall and, grasping his staff, he set off, not down the lane, but across the breezy meadows and past the trees. The bear lifted its head to sniff the air and then trotted after him. On the two companions walked as the night drew on until soon they came to a low wall of fieldstone on the edge of a patch of dry winter-grey grass that spread out in the dimness of the dark. He knew he had been there before, thought Vulseggi, but he could recall when.

    He leaned over the top of the wall and looked out. What lay on the other side was a farmstead; within the stonewall enclosure sat a scattering of pens and a shed, a small barn, a yard and garden, a well and even a quaint little cottage. Vulseggi looked back and smiled at the bear, then he stiffened and turned back over the wall.

    To his ears came a strange sound, sort of like dried branches scrapping against a window pane or hard ground. He leaned further and squinted, then drew back. In the dim light could be seen skittering forms among delicate gossamer that glistened in the moonlight. They covered the earth and stretched from building and shed to the trees. He stood still and watched a large spider, its throbbing mass of red and bright yellow, spinning a fresh web around a small wooden cart now left abandoned in the in the center of the garden.

    Vulseggi turned and sat down on the grass, his back to the wall, laying his staff across his lap. He sighed softly and stroked the bear’s neck. Then he stood up. ‘Shoo,’ he said quietly with a wave of his hand. The bear looked at him curiously and he said again, ‘Shoo!’, this time much louder. ‘This is no place for you. There is no honey to be found here.’

    Honeythorn made a quiet bawling sound and then turned and trotted off into the trees. He watched to be certain the bear would not be recalcitrant and return. Then Vulseggi bent down and lifted a handful of dry twigs and grass. Cupping them in his hands, he spoke softly, ‘Thuia anna n naur…’

    Suddenly the twigs and grass sparked with a bit of smoke and flame. He stood tall once more and hurled the smoking heap through the air. It struck the spider, erupting into a yellowish flame at once; the spider started violently and began to dance about atop its spindly legs, casting off flickering sparks and smoke. Then it crumbled into a smoking heap on the ground, its legs curled up into a ball.

    With a careful eye on all the other skittering forms about the farm, he leapt the wall and went skipping across the ground. Near the cottage, he found the first item he sought, a strongbox lying in the dirt, half-covered with strands of webbing. He bent and took it up, slinging the heavy box over his shoulder.

    ‘Old Sprigley should have fetched a pack mule, not me,’ he said dryly. Near the pens he found the bow and finally a seed bag. It was when he was leaning over to lift up the seed bag, when Vulseggi stopped and looked about. His eyes turned round and then up into the sky at the stars. A cold came into his heart then, but it was not the stars that did so.

    He knew almost all their names in the night sky once; Remminraith, the Netted Stars, Red Borgil, rising like a fiery jewel, and of course Menelvagor, the Swordsman, with his shining belt. He made a gesture as if to turn a sudden misfortune that had suddenly overtaken him. He gaze turned down to the closed cellar door beside him. For a moment, he thought he envisioned a darkness taking shape there, clotting together and rising from its edges. The stars above seemed to fade and dim.

    But his gesture held or summoned no power, only one of assurance. At once the stars paled again in the sky and the darkness shrank and disappeared. He set down the bow and bag and box, and turned to the shed. With one hand, he grasped the handle and lifted it up and to one side. Then he put a boot on the top step and began to climb down the steps.

    At the bottom of the steps he found himself standing in the cellar; a sturdy wooden rack stood along one wall, holding stout barrels. An assortment of things was also there; stacks of wooden buckets, a discarded iron anvil, a candle sconce or stand here or there. This did not draw his attention; what did was towards the back of the cellar wall. There stood a collapse in the stone wall, like a gaping wound. All was dark within the hole but he shivered slightly and drew back.

    Vulseggi stared at the hole for a moment and then turned to sprint back up the steps. Slamming the cellar door shut, he collected the items on the ground and sprinted across the yard, over the garden. With one last look behind, he leapt over the fence and disappeared into the dim trees.

    The stars were slowly beginning to fade in the sky as dawn approached when he found his way back to Archet. He rambled past the sleepy watchmen and through the gate with hurried steps. He found the farmer right where he had left him, and there too was his wife. They had the look of a long sleepless night and the start of another long weary day ahead for them.

    He set down the seed bag, bow and finally the heavy strongbox at the man’s feet without a word. Sprigley turned from a little fire he was readying for the dawn’s breakfeast, and looked up with astonishment.

    'This is everything we asked for, all right: my seed bag, strongbox, and my father's trusty bow! I can't thank you enough, and I must beg your pardon for treating you so poorly earlier,’ said the farmer with glee. ‘Had I known what was to become of my farm, I would have heeded Atli’s advice and retreated to Archet at once, saving ourselves a great deal of trouble…and poor Henry his life.’

    Vulseggi looked down at the man, as if coming back from far away, his having turned up his eyes into the glowing sky. ‘Spiders, no matter their size, have no use of such things,’ he said thoughtfully, picking a strand of bothersome spider-webs from his grey beard. ‘It did not require much convincing to make them understand that.’

    He now looked into the farmer’s eyes with his. His voice grew grim. ‘But it was a terrible sight to behold. Imagine a shimmering spider’s web, in the early morning, covered in dew drops. And every dew drop shone with the reflection of all the other dew drops.’ He fell silent for a moment, then said, ‘A pretty little parlour they have made for themselves…’

    The farmer looked at him curiously, not understanding the strange man’s words, but Vulseggi said nothing more. Sprigley sighed and took his wife in his arms. 'Still, I am glad we can make a new start,’ he said thankfully. ‘Tell the Spider-bane he has my thanks as well for sending you to us. Them spiders have got my workhands and driven me and Holly out of our home. There's got to be some way to get 'em off our land! I would think that Atli Spider-bane might know more about spiders than I do. Perhaps you should go speak with him again. We can't return home until those awful things are gone!'

    Vulseggi looked at the man with a strange stare, then, without a word, turned and walked away. He strode down the lane and towards the gate and into the grass fields beyond the walls of the tiny village. In the shade of a tall rowan tree, he sat down. Laying his staff onto the soft grass, he took from his pack a boiled egg, a peach and some bread and began to eat silently.

    Taking the last bite of bread and brushing the crumbs from his beard, Vulseggi looked about slowly. It was turning out to be a pleasant morning; the wind was mild from the south, and the sun was rising bright and beautiful, lighting the sky in all directions. He laid back on his back into the cool grass under the tree and fell asleep.

  3. #3
    First of all, my obligatory initial Survivor Title:

    I have never played a Lore-master in the game, so I have a great deal to learn about this class. I decided to make Vulseggi a Scholar so he will have to find a way to gather the scrolls needed (since I do not allow myself the use of the Auction House) to be able to call other Pet types. I also must learn the various strategies in playing a Lore-master. I am going to be extremely careful with his Pets, so there will be a good number of times, I think, when things will get dicey for Vulseggi.

    lastly, if I was not clear enough in the beginning chapter, not only is Vulseggi a bit of an odd-ball, he might very well be a touch mad too...

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Apr 2007
    Very cool to see you're doing another one of these

    RIP ELENDILMIR • Jingle Jangle
    : LAERLIN (Bio + Drawings) • LAERWEN • OLORIEL • AETHELIND (Bio + Drawing) • NETHAEL

  5. #5

    Chapter Two: Into the Spiders’ Lair – 25 Rethe, 3018 TA

    Vulseggi was roused from his slumber as the first light of dawn began to sparkle in the sky. He sat up with a shiver, as the cool shadows of the tall rowan tree fell over him. ‘Do I wake you every dawn so?’ he said mumbling and glared up at the bright sun as rose into the sky. With still more grousing, he stood, picking grass and wind-blown seeds from his hair and beard. But his grumbling ceased as he took in a deep breath; the smell of wet grass and soil seemed rather pleasant in the morning air.

    After a bit of breakfast from his knapsack, Vulseggi took up his wooden staff and walked across the meadows. It was a delightful walk, and Archet lay no more than a couple of furlongs away. So it was not long when he passed through the gate and strode down the lane and into the small market square. He looked about watching the despondent traders and merchants unloading their wares and readying for another day in that dismal, ash and smoke-filled place.

    He made his way to the fountain at the center, one thin stream of water falling from its center. He leaned to drink from his cupped hands and then, tugging his cap off, put his head under the surface, rubbing the cool water through his grey hair and letting it run down his neck.

    He stopped and looked up, as the old dwarf, still seated on the edge of the fountain, turned to him. Atli’s wounds were now properly bandaged with fresh linen and the welt on his brow looked sore but much better. The dwarf beamed wide and jumped to his feet.

    'Good, you have returned!’

    Vulseggi gazed down at the dwarf, as if seeing him for the first time. ‘I have master dwarf…’ he said with a keen glance from twinkling eyes under tangled and half-grey eyebrows. ‘Queer things I found at the Sprigley farm. Many spiders, running about, I found there. And in the shed I came upon a cellar that now makes quite a comfortable little home for them.’

    Atli set a clay pipe to his lips and began to blow small rings of grey smoke into the gentle air. Vulseggi watched the rings float slowly into the air and over the rooftops of the smoky burnt-out ruins of the village. For a spell the two stood there in the warming sun, saying nothing. It was the dwarf that spoke at length.

    ‘It seems there is much more going on here than I first thought,’ said Atli as he knocked the ash from his pipe on the heel of his boot. ‘While you were away, my cousin Bali arrived, and I sent him to search some caves in the ruins outside the east wall of Archet. A few of the hunters had dropped a huge stone in front of the cave, and I wanted him to ensure the stone remained. He has not yet returned, and I am worried.’

    Vulseggi nodded absently, knowing nothing of this Bali the dwarf spoke of and so he waited for Atli to speak further.

    ‘Now, from what you told me of Sprigley's troubles, the spiders came up through the cellar in his shed.’

    Vulseggi hummed softly as he watched the sun grow brighter in the morning sky. ‘A cellar is a cellar, that is plain enough,’ he said to himself rather whimsically. ‘Except when it is not. And in this it not, any more, but rather a home…’

    The dwarf cocked his head at the odd man. ‘Perhaps seeing the cave blocked off, they tunneled up through there,’ said the dwarf frowning but not impolitely. ‘We won't know for certain, though, until you find Bali. Hopefully he'll have some answers.'

    Vulseggi drew his hand through the water of the fountain in almost a preoccupied manner. ‘Spiders and a dwarf then,’ he said. ‘And where would one search for this Bali?’

    ‘I sent him to the caves in the ruins due east of here.'

    Vulseggi looked as the dwarf lifted one arm and pointed to a small opening the wooden palisade. A pair of watchmen stood there open-eyed and vigilant, arrows set to their bows. ‘That way,’ said Vulseggi in a melancholy tone.

    Without another word, he turned and walked to the opening in the wall. He paused, looking at the two watchmen, and then through the opening before bending low, mindful not to hit his head, and passed through. Beyond he found a narrow ravine shouldered by steep cliffs. Thick webs were strung from the few trees and along its path and many scurrying forms could be seen in the bright light.

    He made his way careful along the ravine, mindful to avoid the sticky webs until, at last, he came to a widening of the ravine that led back to the right for a short distance. In the wall of the cliff stood a wide opening, a repellant stench escaping from it and that rose into the air. The aperture seemed altogether lightless within, absolutely black. Lying in the grass in front of it was the body of a dwarf, his skin a pale sickly greenish-yellow.

    Vulseggi gazed down at the dwarf and then at the dark opening in the wall. He came forward and bent down over the fallen dwarf to pluck a crumbled sheet of parchment from the poor soul’s clenched hand. He lifted the parchment into the light and pored over it for some time. It was marked in spidery letters, using the Elvish script; at the top of the page it read, Day Two, and below it read:

    I've gone further into the cave today. There seems to be no end to the twists and turns or the spiders in this area. I have done my best not to get lost, but I fear I may already be there. I still have no idea why these spiders are here. There are several larger queen-like spiders here, but I do not think they are steering this brood. I will look more tomorrow. For now, I have found a rock to sleep behind. I hope these spiders don't like the taste of dwarf.’

    He lowered the parchment and stood there lost in thought for some time. He looked down at the dwarf. ‘It seems they do take to liking the taste of dwarf, old master…’ he said but with no humour in his voice. He folded the parchment and slipped it into his knapsack; then with a quiet word of sorrow to the silent dwarf, Vulseggi stepped through the opening in the wall.

    At once, it was dark but for the sunlight streaming in from behind him. He stood there, waiting for his eyes to adjust. He could just make out the rocky walls and ceiling of a rough-hewn corridor leading away ahead of him. Vulseggi lowered his staff and began to whisper to it; from the tip there came a faint brightness that slowly began to push back the dark all about him.

    He raised the staff high and looked forward. There seemed a greyness ahead which the light of his staff did not seem to penetrate. Dull and heavy it absorbed the light. He crept forward and now he understood; along the roof and walls of the tunnel were webs, and across the floor too. To his surprise, he could see a crumpled piece of parchment woven into the spider’s cocoon. Taking out his small knife, he began cutting through the thick webbing. Picking the clinging last strands of webs from the torn sheet, Vulseggi held it up in the light of his staff.

    ‘My third day in this spider-infested hole has come and gone, and I got no further today. I think I may have gone around in several circles since I found the rock I slept behind three times today. I'm not sure if this place has an end but I found an interesting-looking cellar of some small supply shed. I peeked outside and found an overrun farm. That did not seem to be my answer either. Hopefully tomorrow will be a better day. I think I will spend my night in the cellar. It may be a little safer.’

    There was nothing else. Vulseggi lowered his staff. ‘From here to the cellar…’ he whispered thoughtfully. ‘Then there is more to this foul place.’ He turned and, with one hand as a guide on the wall, he followed it back to the entrance. Suddenly his hand felt no stone or earth, as if the wall had given way. Holding his staff high, he saw an opening in the wall. With no other path to follow, he stepped into the opening.

    The passage now began to climb steadily upwards for some time, with a twist or turn along its way. Vulseggi could hear nothing except the distant drip of water from some far off place deeper within the caves. He had climbed for some time when the uneven floor leveled out and turned to the left around a wide bend. He stepped forward, only to step back swiftly as a strange skittering sound came from around the turn.

    Just then a loathsome form, spider-like but as large as a farm dog or more, came into view. Many clustered eyes glittered and sparkled atop its horrible head and its round spindly body was blotched with dark patches and marks. Moving with horrible speed, the spider rushed at him with a queer creaking and hissing.

    Vulseggi beat the creature off with blows of his staff, having no thought for spell or word of power. But that seemed to only enrage the spider, which sensed nothing more than its next meal before it. With viscous venom dripping from its fangs, the spider rushed again, intent on poisoning its prey and to silent the painful staff in its hands.

    Vulseggi was ready for it this time; hefting his staff with both hands, he brought it straight down onto the spider’s head. The spider twitched and shook from the blow but he continued to pummel the head with heavy blows until it fell with horrible jerks of its legs.

    Stepping over the dead spider, Vulseggi crept to the bend. With a hesitant peek, to be sure there were not more spiders lurking in ambush and wait there, he went on. A few steps from the turn the rock wall to either side opened out and sprang away, and the roof of the passage lifted. Suddenly he could stand up straight, and stretching out his hands he felt no walls. The air was cool here, with faint movements that gave the sense of a great expanse. The cavern must be large, he thought silently, long but a bit narrow, and in the dim flickering light of his staff he could just make out several openings in the walls that led away down more passages.

    More terribly was the dim shadowy skittering forms of other spiders there. These were, of course, not like the great spiders that dwelt in Mirkwood, but they were just as cruel and full as malice as their brothers and sisters. And poisonous too was their bite.

    For a long while, he did not move, but waited and watched. When he was certain enough, Vulseggi, leapt forward and along the cavern floor, mindful to give the spiders a wide berth until he had reached the tunnel opening on the far side. He passed into the tunnel swiftly. He was thinking very cleverly of himself for avoiding the spiders back there when suddenly there came a hissing ahead that seemed to waft through the air like a whistle. He looked down the tunnel and saw many glistening eyes in the dim light of his glowing staff.

    Balancing his staff under the crook of one arm, Vulseggi quickly cupped his hands and fingers together. Whispering soft words, a faint flame began to well through his fingers. Raising one hand that began to flare with a sudden spout of flame, he cried aloud and thrust the ball of fire at the spider. As it struck the spider, the fire erupted into a bloom of blinding flame and sparks. The spider jerked and danced about in the flames until it collapsed as the last of the fire diminished and blew out.

    Looking cautiously back into the cavern, Vulseggi followed the tunnel forward. As his hand traced the touch of the passage wall, he felt something caress his fingers, sort of like a sticky mass of string. It was another spider cocoon and yet another torn piece of parchment. Using his knife, he freed the page and stood silently to read it:

    ‘I went back into the caves, but had little more luck than before. I know I am missing a turn someplace that will lead me closer to the queen's nest and hopefully an answer to the spiders' presence here. I suspect these are no ordinary spiders, for as I even now prepare to sleep, I dream I can hear whispered voices.’

    Stuffing the third page into his knapsack, Vulseggi went on with his search through the maze-like caverns. He would occasionally come to adjoining passages that lead off to one side or the other, by feel of his hand or in the dim glimmer of his staff. Of where these led he could only imagine. And always there came the now familiar skittering of spiders in the darkness ahead and behind him. It was only the flickering light of his staff that held the darkness at bay.

    He kept on like this for what seems like hours, not daring to stop or slow his pace very much. He could not tell what time it was but to him it felt as if he had been in those terrible caves for a day and more.

    In this manner, Vulseggi crept along until he had uncovered two more cocoons and the last two passages of the fallen dwarf, Bali. The next page read simply:

    ‘It is my fifth day within these dismal tunnels, and I am no closer to finding the queen. I have no doubts, however, as to the intelligence of these creatures. They hunt me now, day and night, though I elude them still. It is strange, but I believe I heard one of the beasts mention Spider-bane.’

    If that was not cryptic and horrible enough, the next one read:

    ‘There is no doubt now. These spiders and their queen are here for Atli Spider-bane. They seek to use me as a bait for Atli, but I will not give them that leverage. My axe will drink of their blood ere this night is through. I will not...’

    When he was certain that was the last of the missing pages were found, Vulseggi turned at last and made his way slowly down the passages once more until he had reached the entrance. He stepped through the opening and into the bright sunlight. He shielded his eyes from the blazing sun that threatened to blind him until his eyes, having been accustomed to the dark dank caves, grew more amiable.

    He looked back into the darkened aperture and then down at the dead dwarf. He took in deep breath, for the stench of the caves seemed to stick still in his throat. ‘Their queen…’ he murmured softly and then began to trot down the ravine and back in the direction of Archet.

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by Laire View Post
    Very cool to see you're doing another one of these
    Thank you Laire!

    Well, I DO have a great deal to learn about how to run a Lore-master. I decided not to bring Honeythorn into the caves because I thought that, since he has less than 200 Morale, he might easily be defeated. In the caves you run a high risk of battling more than one spider at once, so I wanted to be cautious. However, that meant I had to be very, very careful that I did not fight more than one spider at a time - not an easy thing to do in the tight and cramped tunnels there.

    For my Trait Tree, I opted to take THE ANCIENT MASTER since it gave me a good deal of de-buffs and healing. I thought about taking THE KEEPER OF ANIMALS, but that seemed a bit to constrictive on the skills it granted. Though it toughens up your pets, it grants little else. I may be quite mistaken so if there are other Lore-masters out there better suited to pointing out my incorrect belief, please do so!

  7. #7

    Chapter Three: Iornaith – 26 Rethe, 3018 TA

    Darkness hung there, where nothing could be seen, where all was hidden and lost in blackness. And yet in that place there was a faint grey bloom, a hint and glimmer of light. At first it came as a dull edge of paleness, not bright, but seemingly dazzling in the ceaseless darkness. It was a soft gleam, a light marshlight, that slowly moved across a wide cavern, striking a thousand scintillations across the walls and ceiling and shifted countless shadows along the uneven rocky floor.

    The light burned from the end of a wooden staff, smokeless and unconsuming. The staff was held by an ungloved hand and its light shone on the face of a man. He was standing there, one hand holding his grey cap, the other holding the wooden staff, as tall as he was or more, and on tip was clung the soft glimmer of light. His clothes were those of a scholar or healer, long grey robes, an equally grey cloak, leggings of wool underneath, laced boots, a knapsack slung on one shoulder, a small knife sheathed at his hip.

    He stood there still as a statue, quiet and thoughtful. Slowly he raised his staff from the ground, and held the bright tip of it into the still air. Then he moved; for a long while he crossed and recrossed the wide cavern, studying the passages that led out from it, yet not stepping into them.

    Then he stopped and chuckled, a short chuckle, slapping his hand onto his knee with frivolity that seemed out of place in the dark cave. ‘You old fool,’ he said quietly. ‘Go back to your garden and home, I said, but no, you had to go and put your foot into it, didn’t you?’ No one answered but that did not seem to surprise the man. He looked about the walls once more, a smile lingering on his face. Then he sat down, unslung his sack, got out a piece of dry bread and an apple, and munched on them.

    ‘What was it that dwarf said?’ he murmured to the darkness about. Slowly the words of the old dwarf Atli came into his thoughts as he sat there, surrounded by the dark but for the glimmer of his staff.

    'I cannot believe it. Bali...gone,’ Atli had said when Vulseggi returned with news of the dwarf’s kinsman’s demise. The dwarf poured over the crumpled pages of the journal and his beard shook with rage and fury. ‘He must be avenged! And this journal tells me what is behind this: a spider-queen from the Blue Mountains. She and her brood must have followed me from Thorin's Halls.’

    Vulseggi stood quiet and speechless as the old dwarf rambled on for some time about all manner of revenge and repay. 'Know this! Even if I am slain, she will never leave this place...’ he shouted aloud there in the square of Archet as he tugged furiously at his beard. ‘She has found easy prey here. We must destroy her, or Archet shall become a new abode for the queen and her spawn.'

    At that Vulseggi had looked up, a look of vagueness and misunderstanding on his face. ‘She?’ he asked quietly.

    'This spider-queen -- Iornaith by name,’ shouted the dwarf with vexation. ‘Her ways are known to me. She will have hidden herself in Sprigley's house and blocked all the entrances, save one.’

    ‘And what shall be done about that?’ asked Vulseggi absently.

    Atli battered the stone fountain with one gloved hand with a feverous uproar. Then he fell still and when he spoke next, his voice was quiet and grim. 'Would that I were hale and could heft an axe! But that time has passed. Now, the mantle of Spider-bane must pass to you, if you'll have it. I do not suggest you try to face her alone.'

    ‘Mantle?’ said Vulseggi with all seriousness. ‘But I have a perfectly fine cloak right here…’ The dwarf spun round, a fiery brightness in his eyes. He stepped forward and grasped the man with both hands.

    'If you search the tunnels below the house, I would wager you will find a hidden passage leading to Iornaith's lair. The vile thing must be slain, or Archet will be overrun by her brood.’

    Vulseggi looked doubtfully down at the dwarf and then straightened his ruffled robe as Atli released his grip. ‘So it shall, it would seem,’ he said with softening words. ‘Then I will go back there and look for this queen. I only hope that She is not angered by my trespass into her glorious halls…’

    The dwarf nodded his head vigorously. 'This spider is clever,’ he had warned. ‘Seek the entrance to her lair beneath Sprigley's farm. And beware her fangs! Though I ruined her eyes, she is ancient and full of malice.'

    Slowly, Vulseggi returned to the present. He unstopped his water bottle and took a slow drink. Then he replaced the stopper and pushed it into his sack before standing up. As he did, the light of his staff changed, growing smaller and dimmer. He spoke softly to it, deep and resonant, and it grew brighter once more. He looked about him, and said, ‘Well, now what?’

    He turned and walked over to one wall and passed through a narrow opening. The tunnel in which he now stepped into was about seven feet wide and the roof overhead rose to where he could almost touch the top with the end of his staff. The floor and walls were uneven, undressed and mortarless, carved right from the living rock. In the gloom he went down the passage.

    The passage seemed endless, down and down it went. Here and there was a web across the way or clinging to the walls and ceiling. He went a long way along the tunnel, passing a crossing or two until at last it stopped its downward sloping and came to a level patch. All the tunnels seemed the same, but he kept careful count of turns and side passages, for he knew it would not do to become lost in the spiraling tangle of tunnels. Perhaps, if he did not return, Atli would come looking for him – the old dwarf seemed an honourable sort – but he knew the spiders would find him long before Atli did.

    Vulseggi stopped and lifted the light of his staff and looked about. He then took a few more steps forward, his hand fumbling uneasily along the rough uneven wall. He kept his fingertips along the wall until suddenly he felt the smooth grain of wood beneath them.

    He had entered a narrow low room, another cellar it seemed, walled with wooden beams and plaster. A simple low arch led up from the room on the other side along a short flight of steps. A line of old crates sat to one side of the opening and all were fouled by thick webs that clung to everything. A cocoon was nicely wrapped in a thick blanket of webs in the other corner and something glittered faintly there as he stepped cautiously into the room.

    It was the bones and husk of a Man, dry as dust, clad in a hauberk of faded coppery-gold. A broken sword and splintered shield lay next to him, and one arm stretched out from the webs in one last vain try to free himself before the spiders’ venom had taken hold. But as Vulseggi moved to take a step closer, he saw that something grey and large sat among the webs, mingling with the thick strands there.

    At once he drew back, now perceiving the spider that lurked in wait there for its next hapless prey. It was larger than any he had seen in the caves; many spiteful and hateful eyes looked up at him as the spider began to chitter and hiss. Then it rose and hurried forward atop its spindly legs at him.

    Vulseggi swung his staff over his head and brought it down on its legs before springing back as the spider chattered and stabbed with its fangs. But he jerked suddenly and nearly fell over, his leg now held fast to the stone by a strand of sticky webbing. For a moment, he felt very comical and even laughed, as he bobbed round in a circle on his one free leg, swinging his staff to drive the spider back at it danced about, and waiting for the kill.

    With all his strength, he dug his boots into the floor; a sharp hiss came from the spider, almost a chuckling sound as it drove itself onto him from one side. He wheeled and, grasping his staff with both hands, swung it up and then down with a whistling crack onto the spider’s head. With a skittering hiss the spider convulsed as he dealt another savage blow. The spider fell to the stone and lay there in a ball and did not move.

    With hurried hands, Vulseggi tore and cut at the webbing at his foot until at last he was free. With one last glance to the poor man in the cocoon, he passed through the low arch. He climbed the short steps and began to follow the wood-lined and beam-roofed corridor that turned to the left. The corridor went only a short distance before opening into another, larger, room.

    He was above ground now, he was sure of that. It was the front room of a cottage, that was plain enough to see. The walls and beams were festooned with thick cobwebs; the remains of furniture lay about everywhere and grimy windows shone with the dim light of the sun from outside. The air was still and stale, with a terrible odour to it.

    About the floor there seemed to dance and skitter many dots upon the carpet of white webs on the floor. They were spiderlings, no bigger than a dinner plate. But deeper in the room he could see a strange luminescence a bluish-white pallor, that seemed to absorb all light about it.

    This was Iornaith at last, an offspring of Ungoliant, the great evil in the form of a spider from the distant years before the floundering of Beleriand. She was far older, fatter and far viler than her brood within the caves and She bore the likeness of her mother in all forms. Always She was tormented with a great hunger and malicious intent, and fear of the light and life.

    Vulseggi looked up wearily, squinting in the flickering light of his staff. He drew a breath and what may have been a smile crossed his face. ‘Hello Mother Queen,’ he said mockingly. ‘This is no place for you, squirrels and rabbits cannot possibly sate your hunger here…’

    The spider hissed and came rushing at him atop creaking legs and then made a sudden bound, landing directly in front of him. Her many glittering eyes looked up at him hungrily and She struck at him with her leg like a steel spike. Raising his staff high over his head, Vulseggi brought its down with a blow onto her head. The spider swelled with rage and shook her bulbous head, and venom dripped from her fangs to smoke the stone under her weighty body.

    Iornaith did not like this at all; none had dared enter her lair with such discourteousness and insolence. And none dared to smite her so and live to tell the tale. She shook and shuddered, driving her heavy body towards him and Vulseggi fell back, his feet first slipping on the venom-wet stones. She snickered and twisted to one side with great speed and sprang, her fangs grazing his leg.

    Vulseggi swung his staff in a great arch, driving her back; even as a terrible sickness began to seep into his bones, he cried out a word of command. At once his raised hand flared with a sudden white radiance like lightning and a crackle rolled across the room like thunder. The room was suddenly lit with dazzling light as he thrust his hand down to touch her large head. Iornaith twisted and writhed as streaks of lightning coursed through her blubbery body.

    With the last streaks leaping from her body, She skittered back in agony. Iornaith crawled slowly away, jerking and quivering as the light in her many eyes dimmed and went out. The She laid down in a great heap and did not stir. Vulseggi collapsed beside her to his knees.

    After a time, he rose from the spider’s heap, very shaky. His legs felt wobbly; he tore at the hem of his robe to look at the wound on his leg. It was only a scratch, thankfully, but some of the spider’s venom had gotten in. He felt listless and dizzy, even the light atop his staff was wan and dim as his strength. He drank a little water from his bottle, but it only lightened the feverish heat within him.

    He had no herb or elixir to treat such venom, and yet weak he was now. He looked at the draggled windows and then limped further into the room. There he found the front door to the cottage, but it was choked and held fast by more thick webs. Vulseggi sighed then turned about. ‘Back through the caves?’ he asked quietly. He looked back at the form of the great spider and then, favouring his good leg, he made his way from the room and back down the corridor.

    The sun was sinking down when he at last returned to the old dwarf. The light of the sunset fell on the tiny hamlet and shadows crept from the corners of the square. The first stars began to twinkle overhead and Vulseggi seemed unwell and gloomy and even a bit disheveled.

    Suffice to say that Vulseggi was feeling altogether still quite sick from the spider’s poison and from the long trek through the caves. He stood there for some time in silence, picking at the sticky webs from his beard and eyebrows and hair. Through the long silence, the dwarf waited for the man to speak. Finally, with one last tug at a stubborn string of webbing under his chin, he spoke.

    ‘Well, I found her…’ he said slowly and sat on the edge of the fountain beside the dwarf. ‘Quite a fight too, I must say. Old Iornaith did not take kindly to my arrival. She mistook me for her next meal, though I was going to have none of that.’

    The old dwarf listened politely and nodded his head with grim awareness. ‘Many seeds did the Dread-weaver sow throughout our mountains...’ he said when Vulseggi spoke no more. 'Because of you, another of those seeds has passed from the world. I owe you a great debt...for Iornaith's death and for my life.’

    Vulseggi looked about the square. Then his eyes came to rest on the dwarf. ‘No debt needs paying, master Atli. But Her brood still is there in those caves, spiderlings too, for though Iornaith is no more, Her children remain. It will take more than a simple wooden staff to cleanse that place of their filth…’

    The dwarf again nodded solemnly as Vulseggi took up his staff and stood up. ‘But that will have to be for another tale,’ he said. ‘For now, I must be off to find some honey…I promised honey for dinner to a certain bear…and he does not like to be kept waiting!’

  8. #8
    I began Vulseggi at 6th level with the beginning of this quest chain. By the time he had taken the short walk home, he had reached 10th level!

    First, a couple of things. I had really never paid attention to the area in which Iornaith can be found. It is a cottage after all! Does anyone know it the cottage can be viewed from outside within Archet Dale?

    Second, I have devised a clever way to introduce new quests for Vulseggi's story, and that will be introduced with the next chapter.

    Thirdly, I think Vulseggi will take a trip to the Shire - I would very much like to rp with some Shire folk when he gets there. I am aware of a kinship called "The Common Folk" and of course the "Shire Bounders". If there are any kinfolk from these kinships (or a solitary player who is interested) please get in touch with me!

  9. #9

    Chapter Four: An Ailing Hound – 29 Rethe, 3018 TA

    Vulseggi stepped out of the house. It was getting late and dim. The clock on his mantle had read six by his last glance. It was a quaint little fieldstone cottage, set among tall whispering trees, with a one story thatched roof. A very nicely-tended garden sat in the grassy yard, surrounded by small patches of wild growing flowers, blue bells, violets, and even some spiderworts. For a moment he stood there, drinking in the pleasant scent of the forest. A ruckus sounded that drew his attention over to the garden. There a couple of rosy-finches were arguing over the not-so-ripe blueberry bushes he had planted only a month before.

    ‘We won’t be having any of that!’ he shouted sternly at the finches, who paused in their squabbling to look at him with blinking eyes. He spread out his hand, and there was a sharp bright flash in the air. The finches took to flight with beating wings and disappeared into the trees, a nasally wheeting sound following after them.

    With one last determined glance in the direction of the finches, he locked the door, sliding the key into the folds of his robe, and looked at the sky. Stars were coming out. ‘It’s going to be a fine night!’ he said smiling. ‘Well, I must not keep Gar waiting.’ With that, he trotted down the path that led away from the cottage. He opened the low but sturdy gate and closed it behind him, and took off to the fields and meadows across the lane that swept past his home.

    Through the meadows he went for some time. He passed through some gently waving rowan trees and jumped over a low wooden fence along yet another lane. He followed the lane for some distance as it led over a low bridge spanning a shallow bubbling brook and then northwards along its path. He was walking with no hurry in his steps but before too long he had reached an ancient-looking road running in both directions into the darkness.

    The night was clear and stars sparkled in the sky overhead. A bit of smoke-like wisps of mist rose from the distant marshes but the soft winds keep them at bay in the lower lands of the Midgewater. He turned left onto the road and for three furlongs or more, bending away east and a bit north, he went, through the trees that hugged the sides of the road.

    From there, Vulseggi left the road to plunge into the trees, their branches and leaves rustling quietly in the darkness. The ground began to slope ever upwards to the north and soon, as he reached the top, he could see the lamps and dim window lights of Staddle far off twinkling in the night.

    For a traveler on the far side of Bree-hill, one would find the small village of Staddle, tucked away against the rolling hills that stretched east towards the Midgewater Marshes. It was said among many circles that Staddle was the oldest of the hobbit-folks’ settlements. Whether or not that was true was in debate, usually over a hefty meal, mug and pipe.

    The sun was rising red out of the east when Vulseggi made his way to Staddle, past the scattered farms and smials and eventually to the small village green set between the banks of the Big and Little Staddlemeres. Soon he came to the shore of the smaller lakes and there he stopped under the eaves of a tall elm tree.

    There was silence, but after a bit, he fancied he could hear soft words now or then in the village green. He could also see the dim flickering light of torches now or then, probably the watchmen that were now a more likely sight within Staddle these days. He waited for some time without hearing any more; then there came a low rumbling of little carts and the sound of a good many voices all talking at once. It was of course the merchants and traders of the tiny village, preparing for another day’s round of business, hawking their wares to the folk of Staddle.

    Straightening his cap on his head, Vulseggi strode from the lake and into the village green. He slowed and looked around until his eyes came to rest on a worrisome-looking hobbit bent beside a white-haired hound lying fitfully on the ground. The hobbit brushed the hound gently as it looked up sadly at him and gave a feeble whine.

    Vulseggi drew down his grayish cap and walked over to kneel down to look into the hound’s pale yellowish eyes. ‘How are you this fine morning?’ he asked softly. The hobbit looked down at the stranger curiously and moved to speak. Vulseggi returned the gaze. ‘I was speaking to the hound here,’ he said matter-of-factly, as if it was entirely plain and there was no need to ask or state otherwise. He looked back to the hound and raised its head with one hand. ‘Are you sick, old boy?’

    'Hoy there, do you know anything about dogs?’ asked the hobbit.

    Vulseggi did not answer straight away. He instead sat down next to the hound, stretching his legs out, and stroked the ill hound. For a long time, he took not the slightest notice of the hobbit or of anything else but the hound. Finally he looked up with a bothered exasperation at the hobbit, as if having been interrupted in the middle of a conversation with the hound.

    ‘I do, and that is why I have come,’ he said, more to the hound than the hobbit. As he spoke, he looked down at his hands as the hound dragged itself a bit and began to lick his fingers. Stroking the hound’s head that lowered back to the ground, he stood up, leaning on his staff.

    ‘If you must know, a barn swallow told me of course,’ he said looking at the man dubiously. ‘A nice fellow he is, was flying about searching for good twigs for their nest…they are expecting a litter of nestlings soon, you know, him and the little misses I mean. That is when he spotted a poor hound. They chatted for a time before the swallow flew off in search of me…said that the hound had taken ill…’

    The hobbit looked long at the strange man and then sighed softly. ‘Gar here has been feeling poorly since yesterday, and he won't eat a bite. I fetched him some fresh water from the well, and he just turns away!’

    ‘I am sure that will not help matters…’ answered Vulseggi rather shyly. The hound began to whimper a little as the hobbit spoke swiftly and pleadingly.

    'Maybe you could help me? Eldo Swatmidge knows a fair bit about animals and he might have an idea about what's wrong with Gar.’

    Vulseggi drew himself up and looked down at the hobbit as if he was quite daft nad had not heard a single word he had said. ‘That is precisely why I am here. And where would I find this Eldo Swatmidge?’

    ‘He lives quite a bit east of town, almost on the edge of the Midgewater Marshes, and I don't think Gar would be up for the walk. Just take the eastern path from the town square until you reach the widow Foghorn's farm, and follow the line of fences north, then down the hill to the east to Eldo's place.’

    That sounded promising, thought Vulseggi. He turned without another word to the hobbit and began to stroll away. Then he turned and came back, kneeling down to the hound.

    ‘There was an Old Man with a beard, who said, it is just as I feared!’ he said as he rubbed the hound behind one ear. ‘Two owls and a hen, four larks and a wren, have all built their nests in my beard!' He laughed with a chuckle, quite amused, and then straightened up. ‘We shall get you back to yourself, as right as rain!’

    With the laughter trailing from his lips, Vulseggi trotted from the village green and along a lane lined with beautiful trees. He went east for some time until he came to a fork in the lane, right before a nice little smial and farm. He glanced down at the mailbox atop the wooden post beside the road. ‘Now let me see…yes, the Froghorn place…then what was it…ah, yes…east then north and then east again.’

    He went up a slight sloping path to the north, and before long the lane turned east again down a short slope. The lane ran along the edge of a wide farm field, and came to a sudden end in front of a lovely smial. Wide grass fields stretched on to the east and south; away to the south could be glimpsed the outlying trees of the South Chetwood Forest and to the east the mists of the Midgewater rose into the bright sunlight air.

    A hobbit stood on the porch of his smial, smoking a short clay pipe and enjoying the nice morning air. Vulseggi hailed the hobbit, saying, ‘Greetings, my fine fellow! Are you Eldo Swatmidge?’

    The hobbit lowered his pipe and looked at the stranger and then nodded slowly but guardedly. Vulseggi walked briskly across the grassy yard and tipped his grayish cap down. ‘I am called Vulseggi, perhaps you have heard of me?’ he said smiling. ‘Vulseggi?’ he said again and looked down at the hobbit. ‘Oh never mind. I have come to speak with you on some urgent business. Poor Gar, a rather normally happy and spirited hound, has taken ill. Do you know him?’

    'What? Gar is sick? Why, he came from one of my Wanetta's litters!’

    ‘Quite so, I am afraid,’ answered Vulseggi sadly.

    'My own dogs occasionally eat something that doesn't set quite right with 'em. When they do I've got a herbal remedy my grandfather taught me that helps clear it right up. I have most everything on hand, but I'll be needing fennel seeds to finish it up proper.’

    Vulseggi looked thoughtfully down at the hobbit and then over to the hobbit’s fine patch of mushrooms growing in the garden. He walked over and plucked one from the soil and nibbled a bit on it. Edlo in turn watched him with displeasure but said nothing, knowing nothing of this strange man. Instead, the hobbit sighed.

    'Fennel grows in the Midgewater Marshes, but it's hard to find because the Neekerbreekers have a fancy for it. It might be easier to find a Neekerbreeker that still has a fennel caught in its pincers, than to find a fresh plant. Bring the seeds back to me, and I will mix up a remedy for Gar.'

    Vulseggi took another mushroom from the patch, ignoring the ugly glances from the hobbit, and nodded. ‘Then fennel it is,’ he said and turned to walk off towards the trees to the south. Once under the canopy of the trees, he slowed and stopped as he heard a low rumbling growl ahead.

    He strode forward and found Honeythorn there, who had spread his immense body onto the dirt beneath a tall tree and was rubbing his back on the hard ground. ‘Are you finished with your playtime?’ he asked sternly. The bear only let out a playful growl at him in reply and sat up.

    He sighed and nuzzled the bear behind one ear. ‘We have another task,’ he said. ‘There is a sick hound that requires our help. It is fennel seeds that will cure his ailments.’

    Honeythorn grunted a bit. ‘I know “what” we are looking for,’ said Vulseggi dryly, looking down at the bear. ‘The question is how we convince the neekerbreekers to give up the fennel!’

    But the bear merely laid its head down on the ground and grunted a bit more. It was obviously that Honeythorn did not much like being told what to do. ‘I shall shiver your hide if you don’t get up this instance…’ threatened Vulseggi.

    Honeythorn expelled a queer huffing sound through his long muzzle and slowly rolled over to stand on all fours. Vulseggi nodded thankfully and set off from the trees to the hazy mists that lay on the border of the marshes to the east.

    The marshes were a terrible place. The air felt so damp it was like breathing through a wet cloth at times. Wide stretches of pools and waterways divided the higher, drier ground, but that gave little comfort. The ground was mushy and wet, sort of like walking on a huge sponge. With every step Vulseggi’s boots sank a bit into the muddy wet ground, and each step brought a sucking sound as he picked up his boot again. Behind him, his muddy footprints quickly filled with brackish water and the trace of his passing would soon be gone, covered over in a fresh layer of mud and slime.

    Strangling vines hung down from the few trees growing on the higher ground and there came the occasional noise of a splash as if something had left the muddy banks and entered the pools. Never mind the bugs and insects; midge flies seemed everywhere, clinging to the misted air in huge thick clouds. They gave off a constant and irritating droning sound, sometimes distant, sometimes very close.

    The pair had been trekking along for some time; they were fairly deep into the marshes now and the land about was hazy and hard to read. Vulseggi slowed as he reached the muddy banks of a wide still pool. ‘No dawdling,’ he said turning back to the bear who had fallen behind a few steps. ‘We don’t have all day, you know.’ As he said that, his foot slipped in the slippery mud and in another moment, splash! He was knee-deep in the marsh-water. He stood there unmoving, slowly sinking deeper into the silted bottom.

    He looked up dryly at Honeybeard, who returned a little drolling squeal, almost of delight. ‘A hand?’ said Vulseggi, but then he fell quiet and looked forward across the pool. He thought he had heard a sort of splashing or fidgeting deeper in the water, a little ways off and to the right.

    Vulseggi squinted forward, thinking at first it must be a marsh fish leaping through the surface of the pool to catch the many midge flies in the air. He lifted one boot and it made a loud splooshing sound as he pulled it up from the mud. Honeythorn trotted over to the muddy bank and began to make a woofing or huffing sound as he clacked his teeth together rapidly.

    Vulseggi quickly scrambled out of the mud and water, and turned to look out over the pool. At first all he saw was mist and the hazy surface of the water. But then he spied something paddling over the surface; it looked like a menacing, many-legged insect-like creature, though at the moment it looked rather comical as it struggled to paddle through the water.

    ‘Would it be of any use…’ he began to say, looking down at the bear and then to the neekerbreeker. ‘To speak with this fellow about collecting any fennel he has caught in his pincers?’

    The neekerbreeker seemed to hear his words; it raised its head and began paddling with its many legs towards the bank. But to Vulseggi’s growing misery the first was not alone. Off to the left side of the pool he saw a long narrow proboscis of another neekerbreeker poking up from the water.

    Honeythorn bared his teeth and then opened his jaws to scream as the neekerbreekers closed the short gap from the center of the pool to the banks. Vulseggi rose up, speaking soft words. A sparkle of flame grew round his staff, swirling like mist along its length. Bright as fireworks, a shower of flame engulfed the neekerbreeker. That the insect did not like, and it quivered and danced as it smoked and burned and then collapsed into a heap in the shallow water along the bank.

    The other neekerbreeker was not so accommodating. It stabbed forward with pincer and proboscis at Honeythorn who chomped his teeth and gave off a huffing sound. The bear let out a bawling cry as the pincers tore at his fur and swiped his talons at the insect. Vulseggi, now free of the first, turned and swung blindly with his staff. It was a lucky stroke. It came down with a crushing sound onto the neekerbreeker’s head. It warbled a little and then sank back beneath the scummy surface of the pool.

    ‘There you see!’ said Vulseggi to the bear who was squinting up at him and licking at an open wound on one paw. ‘This marsh is a dangerous place, no place for a bear!’ But his tone was gentle and he bent to open his bottle and splash cool water on Honeythorn’s injured paw.

    ‘That was a narrow escape!’ he said smiling. ‘I do not like the thought of either of us becoming a meal for those oversized crickets!’ He then looked down at the still-smoking neekerbreeker in the mud. ‘Now look here!’ he said, bending down. ‘Fennel seeds…good old Eldo was right after all!’

    He quickly collected the seeds, placed them carefully into his knapsack then sighed and looked about. ‘We will need more,’ he said softly. ‘But first we must get dry.’ Mud and brackish marsh water had seeped into his boots and the hem of his robe was water-soaked and filthy with marsh-scum. The bear seemed disinterested and only shook the mud from his paws.

    Vulseggi sighed again. ‘At least I can dump out the mud from my boots,’ he said ‘Care to lend a hand, or paw?’ When the bear did not answer, he simply sat down at once on the bank and took off his boots. Honeythorn turned his large head round sleepily and yawned loudly.

    Vulseggi dumped a stream of mud and brownish water from his boots and then slid them onto his feet and stood up. ‘Are you ready?’ he said at last with impatience and discomfort. Honeythorn did not seem to notice his bothersome manner, but dropped down to all four and hurried off away from the pool.

    So they went on in hunt of the precious fennel seeds. Often, Honeythorn would trot ahead, and then slowly back again, looking anxiously about as he did so. If the bear sensed or sniffed anything, he would raise his shaggy head and call out in an angry tone. They kept to the drier, higher ground as best they could. Vulseggi would crouch low under the limbs of the sagging trees, his neck and cap constantly becoming entangled in the hanging vines. He would then have to stop to untwist himself before continuing onwards.

    The neerkerbreekers did not take kindly at all of being disturbed; the last one Vulseggi spotted only as a hazy image scurrying along a patch of reeds and dry ground. He watched it for a moment as it went along through the short grass in a long zigzag fashion. The neekerbreeker gave off a sharp hiss as he crept slowly closer and then began to beat the air violently with its slender wings.

    Thankfully that neekerbreeker carried the last fennel seeds that were required, but it did not give them up willing or easy. It took the both of them, staff and talon, to bring down the feisty insect. Only then were they able to collect the last few seeds. The sun was beginning to hang low in the sky when they at last turned to leave the hateful marshes. Only when they had climbed up the rocky slopes out of the marsh and were standing in the soft fragrant meadows did they stop.

    'You run off now,’ said Vulseggi smiling at Honeythorn. ‘I must speak with this hobbit. ‘They can be a fickle bunch and he would not stand well to see a bear trotting across his lawn...'

    The bear raised his muzzle and looked curiously at him before softly growling and began to lumber off towards the distant trees. ‘And don’t get into any trouble!’ he cried out after the bear. ‘One sick hound is more than enough to be troubling me today.’

    Vulseggi watched him until he disappeared into the forest. He lifted the muddy hem of his robe and sighed; then with a squishy sound with every step of his boots, he turned and went across the meadows.
    Last edited by Brucha; May 08 2014 at 07:38 PM.

  10. #10
    Neekerbreekers do not sound like terrible foes to battle, but in this instance, the two of them came close to slaying poor old Honeythorn. I am afraid that unless I can figure out a method to increase his Moral and stats, he very well not survive long...

    I came up with a new way to gather quests, as noted in this chapter. I rather like the method and think it will make for quest gathering much easier.

    And yes, if you were about to ask, I have decided to role-play with Honeythorn, my pet, while in the game. He does not say much most of the time, but he is turning out to be a great rp tool. Of course, he CAN talk, he simply decides not to most of the time, that scoundrel...
    Last edited by Brucha; May 09 2014 at 11:03 AM.

  11. #11

    Chapter Five: The Wise Woman of the Silverwell – 29 to 30 Rethe, 3018 TA

    ‘It is a long tail,’ said Vulseggi, looking down at the brown fox’s long bushy tail. The fox merely looked up at him, as he lay there stretched out in the grass. It had begun to rain in the late hours of the evening, and Vulseggi had taken shelter under a great elm tree near the banks of the Little Staddlemere. He had laid down with his back to the tree, wrapping his cloak tight, and fell asleep.

    It was nearing dawn when he woke and lifted his head to the sound of little pattering of feet across the soft wet grass. It was small brown fox that he awoke to, looking up at him with tiny round eyes, its tail swishing back and forth. He smiled and then yawned, blinking in the growing light as the sun broke into the sky. He pulled out a handful of berries and plopped a few into his mouth.

    ‘Are you hungry?’ he asked gently, in a coxing tone, and held out a berry in his fingers. The fox, being timid, only let out a high-pitched, yippy bark, sort of a, ow-wow-wow-wow, and shook its head before scampered away.

    He watched the fox trot away and then yawned once more. Finishing the last berries, Vulseggi stood up and stretched. He scratched his head from under his cap. What was that again?’ he asked to himself. ‘Oh yes, the fouled well…’

    As promised, Eldo Swatmidge had taken the fennel seeds and concocted an herbal remedy for poor Gar. As soon as the mixture was ready, Vulseggi turned and left at once, delivering it to Longo that very night. Longo was much overjoyed and relieved when he had returned, but Vulseggi paid the hobbit little heed. He bent down beside the hound and put down a small bowl filled with a thick broth.

    Gar sniffed at the bowl and, after a nudging from Vulseggi, began to gently lap some of it up. The hound soon drank the rest of the mixture until the bowl was empty, then put his head down and fell fast asleep. 'That remedy should make him feel a lot better!’ said Longo as he looked at Vulseggi expectantly.

    ‘Of course it will!’ answered Vulseggi with an irksome tone in his voice.

    'Good boy, Gar! That'll do it!’ clapped Longo with joy. ‘You must have eaten something that disagreed with you, that's all.’ He lifted up the bowl and filled it with water from the well next to him. He turned back and began to speak. ‘Here, you can wash that remedy down with -- hey now, what's this?’ The hobbit paused as he looked down into the bowl, eyeing the water suspiciously. He sniffed at it and then wrinkled his nose with distaste.

    'I drew this water from the town well this morning, but it sure smells odd! Is this what made Gar sick?' Vulseggi took the bowl in his hand and examined it before dumping the water onto the ground.

    'I think there is something wrong with the water in the town well, old man!’ cried Longo worriedly. ‘It certainly smells peculiar, that's for sure, and would explain why Gar has been feeling poorly. Could it be that something has gotten into the well and poisoned the water? That would be terrible, but it seems likely!’

    ‘Old man indeed!’ said Vulseggi as he turned sulky to the hobbit. ‘I am older than you, and therefore must know better of such things.’ Then he fell silent, positively refusing to say just how old he was, so there was no more to be said on the matter. ‘It is plain as day that this well is fouled,’ he said with an air of importance, changing the subject.

    Vulseggi wiped his hands on the grass and looked down at the sleeping hound, and then at the hobbit, who now spoke in a rapid fashion. 'Go and tell Lily Underhill -- we can't have people drinking from the well until we can clean the water somehow! Lily lives over yonder, east of Boggs' Farm.'

    So, he would not be returning to his home, at least not straight away it appeared. It seemed at first a bothersome task to Vulseggi, but he began to think of all the other dogs in the village, and of the farmers’ livestock that very well may become sick if the well was truly tainted. In the end he agreed to seek Miss Lily Underhill once dawn came.

    However, at the moment, he showed no desire to set off, but merely stood there in the warm sunlight, looking about. He was wondering where old Honeythorn could have wandered off to. ‘Hunting the tree for honey, no doubt,’ he said mildly. He took up his staff and with one final glance around, he strode across the meadows towards a line of neatly-tended fields. That is where he had fallen asleep.

    Only after the fox had gone away, did Vulseggi rise. He made his way from the meadows and, minding the fields, he followed a low wooden fence round the other side until he came to a quaint little smial. He walked up onto the porch and rapped loudly on the round door; once twice and then a third time for good measure.

    He smiled as the door opened a crack and a fair hobbit face peered out from within. ‘Forgive me, but might you be Lily Underhill? I am afraid that I bring terrible news from Longo Daegmund: it seems that Staddle’s well is…well…poisoned.’

    'Longo thinks the well is poisoned?’ asked the hobbit fearfully. She seemed rather curious, if not a bit hesitant, of the odd stranger, but she opened the round door further and stepped onto the porch slowly.

    /e nods his head. ‘Yes, poisoned,’ answered Vulseggi sadly with a nod of his head.

    ‘I don't know…’ muttered the hobbit as she tugged at her long red braids of hair. ‘It seems a bit far-fetched. Perhaps he's just imagining it? No, no...Longo is many things, but a fool he is not. Who could have done such a terrible thing?’

    Vulseggi only shook his head as an answer.

    'I have an idea how to fix things,’ said the hobbit with a snap of her fingers.

    ‘I would hope so!’ answered Vulseggi. ‘It shouldn’t be a good deal too far off to trouble yourself about this matter; but one must manage the best they can.’ He looked keenly at the hobbit, and then said, ‘I've heard self-reliance is a virtue…quite true…’

    ‘I'll need your help to make the water safe to drink.'

    Vulseggi glanced questionably down at the hobbit, as if she had just asked him to walk into the smoking, fiery lair of a dragon. ‘And what help would that be?’
    'There's a wise-woman named Willowsong, who dwells by the Silverwater Spring. She may know a way to clean the befouled water. Draw a bucket of water from the well and bring it to her. Perhaps she'll know what to do.’

    Vulseggi snorted loudly. A wise-woman indeed!’ he said with a flash in his eyes. ‘I say, you hobbit-folk have always your head in the clouds or deep into your supper bowls! She, meaning Willowsong – that is her name, you know – is not simply a wise-woman.’

    He stood tall, as if reciting a particular classroom lecture. ‘She is a River-maiden, known for her wisdom, when it comes to herbs and healing; what she is exactly is unknown even to the Wise, but she is very old and very powerful.’

    Lily looked at him curiously, not entirely understanding just what he meant, and then smiled. 'Take the road east from the town square to the Widow Froghorn's farm, then south to Constable Bolger's house. The Silverwater Spring is south-east of there.'

    ‘Oh, I know the way, foolish Lily!’ he answered briskly. ‘Don’t you be telling me that!’

    With nothing else to say, he turned round and made the trek back to the well, or so was his plan. He did not go straight to the well, but rather spent much of the passing day wandering the fields and meadows of area. He picked wild flowers (not the ones he needed but ones that he liked), or sat lounging along the banks of the Big Staddlemere in the warm sun, watching the fish leap from the surface to snatch the flies buzzing around in the air.

    So dusk was settling by the time he made his way back into the village green. He took the old wooden bucket from the hook and hauled up water from the well’s depth then poured it into the bucket. With one look around, Vulseggi lifted the heavy bucket and ran down the lane shaded by trees, jumping over a fence and into the meadows towards the distant tree-line.

    But soon his trot slowly to a brisk walking pace and the forest was still a distance off. ‘The first thing I’ve got to do,’ says Vulseggi to himself, as he walked towards the woods, the bucket sloshing about with every step, ‘Is to move my cottage! Then perhaps I shall get some rest. Too easy to find you if everyone in this blasted area knows your address! Next thing I know, these foolish hobbits will be calling for me to for me to deal with their crumbling barns or weed-choked gardens!’

    He was still rambling on so in that way when he reached the forest’s edge. The sun had set and stars began to twinkle in the dark sky overhead. He picked up the pace and ran a little way through the trees, turning to the left a bit and down a patch of sloping ground. He soon came to the feet of the slope and stopped under a large tree.

    There sat a small pool of glistening water, sheltered by brush and trees on three sides. Suddenly, a clear voice, young and beautiful as the renewed Spring, rose gently into the air. Spellbound, he crept forward and then looked out. Beside the spring stood a woman, her hair grey, her gown long, green and yellow. Elf-like she looked , serene, ageless and graceful.

    Vulseggi stepped timidly from under the tree; the strange woman turned a radiant smile to him. She waited, smiling but said no words. But then Vulseggi’s timidity got the better of him and he faltered; he looked up at her with a mischievously peek. He set down the sloshing bucket of foul water on the bank beside the woman, and stepped back.

    ‘Oh River-maiden of Silverwater Spring, I am Vulseggi,’ he said. ‘Forgive my intrusion, but I come to beg you aid for assistance that only you may provide!’

    Willowsong looked down at the bucket and drew her hand over it. She stood tall and looked at him until he grew uncomfortable and pulled his eyes away. ‘This water smells most foul,’ she said at last with a whispery voice that seemed to dance and hover in the very air. ‘Tell me, Man, why have you brought it to me?'

    'I fear that the well in Staddle has been fouled, perhaps even poisoned…'

    'I do not know who would do such a thing to the good folk of Staddle, but I know a remedy to cleanse the poison from their well-water.’ She paused and pointed off through the trees with a slender grace of her arm. ‘Bring me some handfuls of the wildflowers that grow near the Yellow Tree, south-west of the Spring. The blossoms possess a cleansing virtue that will purge the poison from the well.’

    Vulseggi, laughed, a joyous enchanted gleam on his face. Then he began to sing:

    'I sing of a maiden
    That is matchless
    Queen of all queens
    For she that is ageless.'

    'She is born from the waters
    Where her mother was
    As dew in April
    And the winter snows thawed.'

    'She came the dutiful daughter
    To her mother's bower
    As dew in April
    That falls on the flower.'

    'She came the River-maiden
    Where her mother lay
    As dew in April
    That falls on the spray.'

    'Mother and maiden
    There was never, not one is she;
    Well may such a lady
    Loving daughter she be.'

    Vulseggi sighed softly as his song ended. He chuckled a bit and then said, ‘Flowers you want, so flowers it will be Willowsong!’

    With that he turned and walked from the pool, passing under the boughs of the trees once more. ‘Seems like an excellent plan, then,’ he said as his boots crunched softly in the fallen leaves. ‘Very neat and simply arranged, fresh flowers and herb for a remedy…why did I not think of that?’

    He had not gone far when he came to a low stone wall in a wide clearing of the trees. The wall was circular in shape, and in its center stood a beautiful yellow-leafed tree. Moonlit drops of dew hung on the trees round the clearing and all seemed tranquil and majestic. Vulseggi smiled and stepped to peer over the wall; just then he heard a little sharp grunt on the other side.

    Placing a hand on the wall, he leaned further and found himself staring a large boar. It was brown-coloured and bristly furred, pointed snot, and a tail that stuck straight up in the air. ‘Now, now,’ he began to say slowly as the boar began digging its hooves into the earth. ‘Let’s not be too hasty, old boar.’

    The big boar stood its ground; his head was down, but its red eyes were staring at Vulseggi and it snorted and grunted loudly. It trotted a little closer, its grunting growing louder; it wanted a better look, and boars do not have the best of eyesight. It sniffed the air with its snout, as if trying to decide to run or charge, or neither. Then the boar belted out a loud grunt and snort, turned tail and scamper back a few paces across the circle. It suddenly stopped, and looked back at Vulseggi, with an expression that seemed to say, ‘You see how fast I am, so don’t bother me and no tricks!’

    Vulseggi agreed swiftly with that, and began to back off slowly, until the grunting grew less and less and then stopped altogether. With a careful diligent eye on the boar, Vulseggi made his way round to the other side. There he found the yellow flowers that Willowsong had requested. Soon, when he had stuffed the last of the wildflowers into his sack, he stood up. With a scornful look at the boar, who still watched him nervously from a distance, Vulseggi leapt the stone wall and walked back into the trees.

    He found the River-maid right where he had left her. He took out the wild flowers and held them out. 'Ah, Willowsong, the most beautiful of beautiful sisters! I have returned with the flowers you need!'

    The River-maid took the flower from his offered hand and looked down at them. 'Yes, these are just what I needed,’ she said in a clear ringing voice. ‘This will take but a moment. The water was indeed poisoned, but the blossoms of these wildflowers will drive the poison away.'

    ‘But what has tainted the waters of the well?’ asked Vulseggi as Willowsong crushed the flower into the bucket of water, and a sweet fragrance rose from it. She then lifted the bucket and handed to him, saying:

    ‘The evils of Man tainted this water with poison,’ she answered. ‘The power of nature will make it pure once more. 'Now return this bucket to Staddle and pour its contents into the well. The water inside will retain its curative properties and drive out any remaining poison.’

    He took the bucket and without another word, hastened up the slope through the trees. He turned back for a moment to wave goodbye to Willowsong, who stood there beside the pool, her hair shimmering in the light of moon and stars. Then she was gone.

    On he went, slower this time, careful not to spill any of the scented water from the bucket. The moon was high in the sky when he came back to the village green and walked hurriedly up to the well. Longo was waiting there, and he gasped as Vulseggi began pouring the bucket back into the well.

    'After all that trouble, you just pour the dirty water back into the well?’ he said aghast and baffled. ‘I don't understand....'

    Vulseggi scowled down at him and then set down the bucket, leaving a bit on the bottom. Longo bent and sniffed the well bucket, and then dipped a finger in and put it to his lips. 'The water is sweet!’ he laughed aloud. ‘Lily always told me we could trust Willowsong, and it seems that she was right. I'll tell everyone the well is safe to drink from again! Thank you, Vulseggi!'

    Vulseggi scowled again and then began to play with the hound who came to his side, its tail wagging fiercely. He stood up. ‘I must be getting home,’ he said, and strode from the well. He stopped and called back:

    ‘Good-bye Longo, and good-bye Gar! Don’t you be going and drinking any more fouled water! You best make sure of that Longo or I will have your furry feet!’

    Vulseggi made the long trek back to his home on the far side of the Chetwood. It was morning by the time he came to his gate; he sighed, unlatched the gate and stepped down the path towards the house. Honeythorn was there; he had returned earlier that afternoon, and was now curled up in the grass among the wildflowers, half talking to himself with low grunts and growls.

    Vulseggi plucked a handful of berries from the garden and then turned to unlock the door of his house. He nudged Honeythorn with one boot and, nibbling on the berries in his hand, he swung the door open and stepped inside. Another sleepy figure awaited him on the floor of the front room; a small mouse lay fast asleep just within. Vulseggi cleared his throat and looked down as the mouse shook itself and looked back at him. Then with a squeak, the mouse went scurrying away into a little hole in the baseboard of the wall.

    Popping the last berries into his mouth, Vulseggi waited as the bear trotted inside, and then closed the door. He went to the hearth and built a fire, and then put a kettle of fresh water to boil over the fire. Honeythorn sat down on his haunches in the front room and opened his long muzzle with a loud yawn.

    ‘So what mischief have you done since coming back home?’ asked Vulseggi as he sat down at the table to help himself to a loaf of bread and butter. The bear went on yawning and rubbing his head against one of the wooden wall beams. Vulseggi turned to the bear and repeated his question.

    When the bear refused to answer, he sighed and, looking suspiciously at the mouse hole in the wall, he went on munching on his bread in silence.



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