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#11357414 Aug 02, 2015 at 08:15 AM · Edited over 2 years ago
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Tending to the creature’s hurts required us to spend two days camped at the largest patch of dry land we could find, which could scarcely hold us and our horses, but which was at least blessedly free of danger. Other than the birds which remained curious about Shadryn and came to watch her almost constantly, the creatures of the muck left us alone, while she passed the hours fashioning curious mixtures of herbs and mud and applying them to the lurker’s broken leg. Her treatments resembled my mother’s healing arts almost not at all, and she explained, when she could spare a few moments from her ministrations, that a creature more of plant than animal needed different salves, but was capable of recovering from more grave injuries, just as a tree might recover from a blow that would fell a man.

The delay did not please me. I was eager to find dry land once more, and to reach our destination. While I would never admit it to Lady Shadryn, I was myself eager for a warm meal and a pint of ale in a public house, and perhaps even a soft bed. Autumn would be coming soon, and I did not relish the idea of being forever damp in these fens as the nights grew colder. But there was no swaying her; Shadryn was determined to nurse this bog lurker to health. At the last, we came to a compromise; she described a sort of sling that might let her carry the beast while she hiked, and later when we rode again, and I set Radolf to crafting such a thing.

“Then will you bring this creature with you all the way to Bree, and keep it as a pet?” I asked her in a tone almost mocking, but clearly not serious.

“Perhaps I should,” she answered, and I wasn’t sure if she was teasing or not. “But it was not my intent. I expect it will be well enough to walk within a fortnight, perhaps sooner if my intuition about tinctures of sweet flag is correct, and then I plan to set it free to return to its home.”

I grunted in assent, relieved, but my eye caught a glimmer of red light, dancing from the gem to the lurker, unsettling and mysterious.

For as much ground as we could cover in these fens, we might as well have stayed at that camp. Day followed day, and we could never be sure if we’d advanced. The mist-shrouded ruins of Tharbad emerged from the morning fog in the distance, but however we walked, they seemed to grow no nearer, and afforded surprisingly little guidance in choosing directions. Shadryn seemed unperturbed, walking with her creature hanging before her as if in swaddling clothes, or clinging to her back; but I was growing frustrated, and also worried that we had lost the path entirely. What an ignominious end, to be lost forever wandering in a maze of rivulets and mud-hillocks, after surviving so many perils.

Though she continued to insist that it was her intent to let the bog-lurker go free when it could walk, Shadryn clearly was becoming attached to it. And to the extent that a moss-covered bole with spindly branch-legs could, the creature seemed to reciprocate, making that odd clicking purr more often when she treated its injuries or hefted it into its sling.

While she was examining the creature for injuries, she was forever making observations about its composition. For a creature made primarily of wood, as if cobbled from the makings of trees, bushes, grasses, and moss, it was surprisingly soft, particularly on the lower part of its main body, where the gangly branch-legs emerged from the compact, rounded body. Its upper surface appeared softer at a first glance, covered as it was with a downy grass from which small cattails emerged, but beneath this was a hard layer of bark, from which rose a spindly spike of heartwood. A bird might perch comfortably on the creature’s back, and in fact, many did.

It was while she was describing the creature’s curious composition that Shadryn brought up the idea of giving it a name, an idea which I resisted; if she named it, she might be less inclined to let it go when the time came. She took my reluctance as a challenge, though I’m not sure if she was being stubborn, or simply teasing. Sometimes these became one thing for her, and even she didn’t know where one ended and the other began. When, in exasperation, I threw my hands up and gave up trying to convince her not to give it a name, rather than accepting this victory gracefully, she continued to tease me. “I think I’ll call it Mushiebottom,” she said, “on account of it having a bottom that’s soft, all downy moss,” and as she said it, she watched me to relish my exasperation at such an undignified choice. I think she was only kidding at first, but that fey mood was still hung about her, stubborn and teasing in equal measure, and the more I wracked my brain for refined names, perhaps with a horticultural basis given the creature’s botanical nature, the more she dug her heels in and kept calling it Mushiebottom, clearly delighed at my reaction. “You always overthink these things,” she insisted, a criticism which drew me up short; I turned away, silently, and stalked off to brood over this characterization.

(the story continues here)
#11360891 Aug 03, 2015 at 06:14 AM · Edited over 2 years ago
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As much as I might have found Mushiebottom’s name hard to take seriously, and a reminder of Shadryn’s hurtful assessment of me, I would, in time, find myself quite grateful for its presence in our company.

When it could walk, with tentative and clumsy strides, Shadryn released it with great ceremony, but it did not seem much to understand her intent, and simply stood beside or behind her, bending forward in a long stretch and then rising to click and chitter. We spent some time trying to shoo it off. At first, it didn’t seem even to understand our intent, and when we finally got it to stand still while we left, it would keep coming back. This went on for several days, and it was made all the more difficult by the fact that it was a long, agonizing struggle to move any distance in the bog, but it could stride across the surface without effort.

After several days of this, we gave up. “It will probably turn back when we reach dry land,” Shadryn said to me in an attempt at reassurance, though there was something in her tone suggesting she did not believe it. Nor did she wish it; her affection for the creature, and its for her, had only grown with each day, and though she made a token effort to conceal it, she was evidently relieved every time it found its way back to her.

The ruins of Tharbad loomed off to our left, and I estimated that we were likely in the path where the river once flowed, when Mushiebottom started to behave in a curious fashion. Rather than trailing behind Shadryn, it started to move in front of her and then stop, blocking her progress and forcing her to edge around it. At which point it would simply move to in front of her once more. As the sun rose, it grew more insistent, even starting to shift to try to block her as she sidestepped it, causing her to frown in consternation.

It was during one such scuffle that Darrien called out, “Ahead, firmer ground, this way!” Indeed, the way had become less spongy. Perhaps the bog-lurker knew we were reaching dry land, and simply did not wish us to leave the lands it found most comfortable? Shadryn was forced to continue her dance with the beast while we led the horses up onto this spit of solid ground.

I was beginning to think we might even be able to ride again, a welcome thought after more than a fortnight of leading our horses, when Mushiebottom set to frantically chittering, and even bowed its head and bumped it against Shadryn’s chest, not forcefully enough to hurt her, but certainly enough to elicit a started cry. She stopped and stared, then the creature turned and skittered ahead, making its way to a spot not far from us and then stopping. It crouched and bobbed its bulbous body, drawing our attention, all the while making the same warning chittering sound.

I held up a hand to call a halt, then peered carefully into the distance. There was something at the spot where the creature stood, a dark, hazy shape. Was it warning us of some danger? Darrien was also staring curiously, wondering aloud, “What is that?”

In the end we could not determine what was there for certain without getting closer, and I felt that we needed to know, to progress safely on. But mindful that we might be being warned off, I did not dare let us continue on this course. “One of us will approach carefully, after stripping down to be as light as possible, to avoid sinking into the muck.”

“I am the lightest of us,” Radolf insisted, “so it should be me.”

“Surely I am lighter than any of you,” Shadryn objected.

“Indeed you may be, my Lady, but it would be best that the man who goes should be ready to defend himself should there be some peril there, and while you have learned much with your staff, I think it better to be a trained soldier. No, I shall go,” I argued, cutting off Radolf’s movement, “because you and Darrien can help defend me from here, but I have no bow, nor any skill in using one.” Intending to cut off any objection, I started to strip out of my armor. At Darrien’s insistence, I tied a long rope around my waist and played it out as I went, so they could pull me back if I became mired.

The ground remained firm, easier travel than we’d had in days, as I approached, sword drawn and with rope trailing behind me. Mushiebottom watched me approach, still standing sentinel, though seemingly accepting of this method of advance. “It looks like the remains of a horse,” I described as I approached, then gasped and stopped short.

“What is it?” I heard called at me frantically from behind, by several voices.

“It is a steed of Gondor,” I called back, not taking my eyes off the body before me. “I recognize the markings on the caparison, and the saddle. This horse came from the stables of the House of the Steward in Minas Tirith. It bore proudly one of the sons of Denethor, if I make the heraldry correctly, until it met its demise here.”

“What demise did it meet?” asked Darrien.

I crouched to examine the horse from a distance of a few yards. “It seems that, while the land seems firm to this point, it suddenly becomes greedy. There is likely some flow of water beneath the surface here that suddenly sweeps one into it. The horse thrashed in panic but this only made it grow more mired until it could not be saved, and it perished thus,” I called out, my voice bitter at the thought of the noble beast’s agonizing demise.

“And what of the rider?” asked Radolf.

I took some time to study the surroundings, while above and ahead of me, Mushiebottom chittered softly. “I see no trace of him. I cannot be certain, for it’s possible he was dragged so far under that nothing remains visible, but if I had to wager, I would bet that he was able to escape, and continued on.” I straightened up and took a few steps back. “It must have been an arduous journey for him, to be without steed and provisions in a land as bleak as this, but if he was a son of the House of Húrin, I would expect he might prevail over such adversity.”

As I made my careful way back, Shadryn said in a soft, awestruck voice, “This too would have been our fate, or worse, had we not been warned.” Her eyes were on Mushiebottom, who was now following me back to the others. I wanted to object to her assessment, but as I opened my mouth to speak, I realized I had no basis. What other explanation could there be for the creature’s behavior, but to warn us off from this deceptively inviting spit of solid ground? Reluctantly I had to concede the point; the creature had repaid her kindness by saving us all.

(the story continues here)
#11361103 Aug 03, 2015 at 08:00 AM
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For lore considerations, here's a quote from "Fellowship of the Ring", spoken by Boromir in Lothlórien:
`I have myself been at whiles in Rohan, but I have never crossed it northwards. When I was sent out as a messenger, I passed through the Gap by the skirts of the White Mountains, and crossed the Isen and the Greyflood into Northerland. A long and wearisome journey. Four hundred leagues I reckoned it, and it took me many months; for I lost my horse at Tharbad, at the fording of the Greyflood. After that journey, and the road I have trodden with this Company, I do not much doubt that I shall find a way through Rohan, and Fangorn too, if need be.'
#11365354 Aug 04, 2015 at 08:03 AM · Edited over 2 years ago
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It seemed that, in realizing we needed to be warned off this dangerous ground, Mushiebottom had come to understand our limitations in traveling through the mire. Once we were prepared and on our way again, the bog-lurker kept darting ahead, and when we thought to follow, even when the land seemed yielding or uneven of footing, it proved true. Within but a few days, the looming ruins were now behind us more often than not, and a few days after that, the ground started to become firm. At last, we were reaching the far side of these plains of bog and mire. Even as we crossed from mud to grass and bushes and even trees, Mushiebottom showed no signs of any intent to return to the fens, instead staying near to Shadryn like a faithful hound.

The comfort of being dry, something so easy to take for granted, was the most welcome luxury. For the first time in almost a month we could find fallen branches to make a camp-fire, find a site for our tents that afforded us room to stretch out, and even find hunting and foraging more palatable than scrawny birds and soggy cattail-root. It was now the fading edge of summer, when farmers would just begin to take in their early crops, and we found bountiful handfuls of berries and basketfuls of wild apples. Roaming the thin woodlands were rabbits, wild sheep, deer, goats, and plentiful boar to hunt.

The increase of wildlife also meant there were more predators about, including wolves, bears, lynxes, and bobcats. Whatever oddity hung about Shadryn, or more likely, her curious red stone, now seemed inclined to attract not just curious birds and strange weather, but also, more and more, threatening creatures. Though the land was dry, bountiful, and uninhabited, we were forced to resume our diamond formation (now reduced to a triangle) and other precautions, as time and again a pack of wolves would find us far more interesting than it ought. Mushiebottom proved surprisingly resilient and helpful in these encounters, springing always to Shadryn’s defense. It had grown and was now almost as tall as she was; for a spindly and gangly creature it was surprisingly swift, and its limbs struck wolves hard enough to cast them back some distance.

“I think it is time you told me the truth about that gem,” I said to Shadryn one evening as we camped under the shelter of a copse of aspens. “You cannot deny that it has some power, and that this power draws danger to you.”

She was sitting on a stone across the fire from me, eating roasted boar-meat with a vigor and lack of delicacy that would surely make Prince Imrahil feel a need to chide me for allowing her to lapse into savagery. She looked up at me, frowning and seeming almost haunted, and sat in silence for a moment. At last, she spoke. “I found it amongst the ruins in Minhiriath, as you no doubt guessed, Captain.”

Her use of my title was a warning; she was anxious and defensive. I sensed that I had best proceed with care. “I have no doubt it is an artifact of historical importance, my Lady, but my concern is for your safety. Bringing you, hale and well, to Bree, is my charge, the extent of my orders. I’ve no objection to unearthing a rare treasure while we pass, but I am concerned about what threat it might pose.”

“What threat could a gem pose?” Shadryn retorted, but it was clear that she was grasping for a defense, and knew the answer to her own question.

Still, if she was going to make me spell it out, I would oblige her. “We are both well-read and familiar with history, my Lady. There are tales going back to times barely even remembered by the oldest of the Elves, concerning artifacts of power, gems plucked from the heart of the world, crystals imbued with the light of the stars, weapons crafted in the forges of long-lost cities, and many other things besides. Many of these have been lost to the ages, swept out to sea, buried in forgotten crypts, forgotten in the treasure-hoards of fell beasts, consumed in the depths of trackless caves.”

She nodded. “And to recover such a lost piece of history… surely you can see how important it might be, to preserve the legacy of our distant forebears? How might you feel to carry back to Minas Tirith a standard from fallen Arnor, or a token of the lost isle of Númenor?”

“Indeed, such a discovery would be a source of great pride, my Lady. I do not oppose your efforts one whit, so long as they can be done in safety. But surely you recall how, in many of those tales, a thing shrouded in power also proved to be shrouded in misfortune.”

She made a dismissive snort. “Misfortune brought not by the artifact, but by jealous and greedy men, warring to possess them, making terrible vows that haunted their children and their children’s children. The same might be said of many things of value, or that a man might wish to possess. Just as much misfortune has followed from struggles to own bountiful lands, or vaults full of gold, or beautiful women.”

“You speak truth, my Lady, but there is more to it than that. Ever and again, fate contrives to bring peril to those caught up in the tale of these items of power. Dangers follow them, and evil creatures are drawn to them; and those who possess them are known to lose their way and fall under the sway of corruption and greed.”

She visibly bristled. “Do you worry that I am become enthralled, then?”

“No, my Lady,” I answered, and was almost surprised to find I spoke the truth. I had been so convinced by the similarity to the tales, but in truth, she seemed as much herself as ever she had been. To be sure, in our ordeals, the road had changed her as it had all of us -- more, in her case, as the rest of us had started with more leagues of road passed beneath our feet -- but while she might now have a strength and focus she had lacked when we set out, she remained as mercurial, whimsical, and playful as ever. As she had once told me when she first wore Dunlending garb, the road hadn’t so much changed who she was, as allowed her to be who she’d always been, but had pretended not to be. And in that, I could see no hint of corruption or greed.

“Then what is the concern?” she asked defiantly.

I let out a soft sigh. “There is none, my Lady, save to ask you to be cautious. Something about you draws danger to you, and it may well be that stone. Strange occurrences attend its passing, and this merits some consideration. The dangers of our journey remain, and it seems the stone draws them closer, and more besides. If you insist on keeping it, then you must perforce allow me to ward you against what it brings, by being all the more careful to follow my orders concerning our precautions, even as we near Bree; indeed, even when we are within it. Forget not that we have one fewer sword to fight for you, one fewer shield to ward you from peril.”

Her eyes darkened, and I do not doubt that mine did as well, at this reminder of Elemir’s falling. After a few moments that hung in the air like the promise of a thunderstorm, she nodded. “As you say, Captain,” she answered, stiffly. She returned the meat to the spit and then retreated to her tent. Though she bore no lantern, there were red-tinted shadows that showed her outline through the canvas, shadows that flickered and flashed like distant, angry lightning.

(the story continues here)
#11369541 Aug 05, 2015 at 06:26 AM · Edited over 2 years ago
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Though we had found dry land, it was some days before we found the first of the flagstones that marked the Greenway. Without the sight of those stones, we had simply pressed on in a northerly direction, trusting that the narrowing of the hills would guide us, as wine through a funnel, closer to the old road. Soon the land rose before us, the rolling hills of the South Downs, and we veered to the left, eventually finding a paving stone sitting in the low grass. In our meanderings crossing the fens of the Gwathló near Tharbad, we had drifted a fair distance east, it seemed, and thus missed our chance to use the ruins of the bridges that still forded the river at the old city; but now, we’d made our way back to the path.

We were making our way through the Vale of Andrath, passing between ancient Cardolan fortifications that were still in good repair, as the first moon of autumn rose over the South Downs to our right. I was musing to myself how it seemed a shame to have fortresses and barracks in such good condition be left unused, when Darrien gestured towards where a small group of men and women was approaching from one of them. It seemed that the keep was serving as shelter for someone, but we couldn’t know if these were the first civilized men of Bree-land we would meet, or a threat. “Be friendly but wary,” I advised, spurring my horse to ride out in front. “Lady Shadryn, you may wish to encourage Mushiebottom to a less visible location, as people may not know how to react to such a thing.” By now, I had forgotten to be self-conscious about its name, or even to gnaw over her criticism that it reminded me of; it was just a thing to say, now. At least most of the time.

At first the meeting was somewhat cordial. They were guarded, but showed no sign of reaching for weapons, and they welcomed us to Bree-land. “Don’t think as there’s many folk what come up this way most times, but this year we seen, what, three companies just this month?” one of the women said in a tone so rustic it made the Rohirrim seem like scholars.

“So many?” I asked in a light, conversational tone. “Making way for Bree, were they?”

“Well, one weren’t so much a company as one fellow, looked like you but bigger, but had that tree like you got,” she said, pointing to the White Tree on my tabard. “Didn’t say much, that one, but he did make way towards Bree,” she pointed up the Greenway with her bow. “Dunno so much ‘bout the other fellers where they was going. Might be as they were…” At this, one of the others was nudging her, and she swatted him away irritatedly. “Might be as they were headin’ west towards the…” The man was whispering in her ear now, and she turned and looked straight at Shadryn with entirely too much interest for my comfort. I heard a familiar rustle of feathers as Darrien loosened the arrows in his quiver with a casual gesture; clearly he had noticed the same thing I had. Radolf, for his part, seemed to be too caught up in ogling one of the Bree-land lasses to notice anything; there may even have been some winking going on between them, and flirtatious smiles.

“So, anyhow, where was you lot heading?” the woman asked in a tone that was deliberately trying to seem innocuous, quite ineffectively.

Shadryn started to say something, but I cut her off quickly. “We were hoping to avoid Bree, Miss. Too much hustle and bustle. We make to follow the line of the South Downs,” I gestured with one hand in such a way as to position it to reach for my sword while looking like I was only pointing, “on our way east. With luck we can make the High Pass before the snows close it in. Do you think we might reach the mountains before winter?”

They were shuffling about, but it seemed clear to me that they hadn’t decided whether to take action against us. While the woman nattered on about the roads east, clearly trying to buy time while that was decided, I turned my ear to pick up snatches of conversation from the others. I could pick up only fragments of their murmuring, but it soon was clear that someone who’d passed by earlier had given a description of Lady Shadryn, and mentioned a reward. I could only assume it was the Corsair that had gotten away from the ambush at the edge of Dunland, though these people spoke of him traveling with others, and only one had escaped us. The reward must have been enough to tempt these ne’er-do-wells, but they held back from action, not so much out of fear of our prowess -- they outnumbered us nearly three to one, and only soldiers generally realize how many untrained brigands it took to match one skilled man in armor -- but, I surmised, out of concern that their employer might disapprove of a ‘side job’. I could not discover what name this employer had, though, strangely, someone seemed to be referring to him as a shark. How could people this far inland even have heard of such a creature native to the depths of the sea? I didn’t dare imagine any of these blackguards had read ancient tales of the shipwrights of Númenor.

“...though if you make for the Red Horn Pass, might be more likely you’d beat the snowfall,” the woman was going on, and still the group hadn’t reached any consensus about whether to act. I decided it was best to not give them the chance. As Darrien was watching me, I gave a subtle gesture with my reins, then a twitch of the legs, then pointedly looked north. He peered at me a moment, then nodded, as understanding of my meaning came to him. I turned towards the woman while pointing my elbow first at Radolf, then Shadryn, before lowering my arm, and started to speak in as voluminous a way as I could, asking the woman for details about the road east, what manner of inns we might find, dangers along the road, and even what sort of music they had here in the northlands, all calculated to keep them too busy to reach a consensus. Meanwhile, Darrien was finding cause to meander towards Radolf and then Shadryn to whisper directions to them.

At last, when I was sure they were all prepared, I interrupted myself in the middle of a lengthy tale of our journey, actually a fragment from a story I’d once read of Isildur’s travel to the Stone of Erech, and suddenly spurred my horse into swift movement, charging right towards the startled woman. While she and her companions darted out of the way of my rearing horse, I heard Darrien, Radolf, and Shadryn spurring their horses into a gallop north. I turned to watch, and for a moment I stared at the sight of Mushiebottom loping at a pace to match even Shadryn’s steed as she outpaced the soldiers; then with a tug on the reins I pulled my stallion to circle around the scattering brigands and charged to meet up with the others.

Behind us, they tried to gather up and chase us, but if any had horses, they weren’t nearby. Surprised by our gambit, they only managed one volley of arrows, one of which solidly struck me in the back, but did not pierce my armor, instead leaving only a blistering bruise that Darrien would later compare to the one he’d endured during the training exercise that had led to my promotion.

By the time I called a halt to our hurried ride and led our horses to a small pond to recover from their exertion, I thought I could see the smoke from cook-fires rising from a hazy shape on the darkening horizon. Bree was not more than a day away.

(the story continues here)
#11370165 Aug 05, 2015 at 09:35 AM
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#11373945 Aug 06, 2015 at 06:21 AM · Edited over 2 years ago
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The South Downs gave way to the hills of Bree-land, and for the first time since we left Rohan, as we rode through the day, we saw homes and farms, all the signs of cheerful domesticity. Mindful of the possibility that others might have been told of a reward, we kept to ourselves as best we could, but time and again some farmer would call out a merry greeting as we rode past. The Greenway here was traveled occasionally and we stepped aside for a waggon twice during the day, one heading north to Bree laden with an early harvest to be sold, and another returning nearly empty.

It was nearing midday when we saw our first hobbit, or actually five of them. Radolf and Darrien hadn’t even heard of such beings, but Shadryn and I had read fanciful tales of their short and rounded stature that, to our surprise, turned out to understate the matter. Here in Bree-land, the hobbits mingled freely with the “tall-folk,” as they called us; many kept farms, and it was such a family tending their fields that we first spied, mistaking them for children, until we saw their children playing amongst the chickens, and realized the others had been the parents. The father waved to us and called out a cheery greeting, but the mother scowled, and called her children into the house.

It took a few moments for me to determine what had been alarming about us. At first I imagined it was that we were armed and armored, but we had seen other travelers similarly equipped. When it finally dawned on me, I shook my head at how obvious it was. Over the last month I had gotten so accustomed to being in the company of a bog-lurker, I had forgotten what an odd, and frightening, sight it was.

By now it was taller than any of us, at least when it strode fully upright; it was just as likely to be stretched out longer than a waggon and its oxen along the road. It was sure to elicit stares from the calmest folks, and perhaps worse. “My Lady,” I started hesitantly, expecting her to be displeased by anything I might say about it. She turned and cocked her head towards me, her hair gliding over her shoulder, but she said nothing. “It occurs to me that Mushiebottom is likely to be unwelcome in the city, and indeed, if people see us traveling with it, we may share that unwelcome.”

She nodded pensively. “I’ve been thinking on the same matter,” she said quietly. “I think I will be able to persuade Mushie to stay on his own somewhere nearby, assuming we can find a boggy area not too far from Bree, and I’m able to visit with him regularly.” She gave me a challenging look. “After we’re settled in town, it won’t be a problem for me to go riding each day, and pay him a visit, will it?”

The idea of calling it “him” rankled me for reasons I couldn’t put my finger on, but Shadryn didn’t even notice herself doing it, and it hardly seemed worth making a fuss over. She’d been doing so almost since it had been given a name. I shrugged off the thought and turned to her question. “Certainly not, my Lady, so long as you bring one of us with you.”

“Even here?” she said, her eyes flashing with ire. “I thought the intent of coming to Bree was that I would be safe.”

“And yet just yesternight we learned of someone offering a reward for your capture,” I answered, which made her grow quiet. I did not go to mentioning how my orders, all those months ago, had been clear about the need for her to be guarded even in Bree; that would only make her cross, and the reward would serve just as well to convince her of the need for care. “We will not deprive you of your chance to ride, if you will allow us the pleasure of sharing that ride, my Lady.”

She made a low “hmph” and shrugged, then turned to Mushiebottom and whistled. The beast lumbered toward her and crouched so she could pat what I couldn’t help thinking of as its head, though it scarcely resembled a head any more than a body. She whispered to it at some length, while the soldiers and I milled about, waiting. At last, the bog-lurker turned and galloped into the east, soon passing out of sight in a copse of trees. “There’s a pond nearby, with turtles,” she said, leaving me to wonder how she might know such a thing. “He’ll be able to keep to himself there for now until I have time to find a better place, more sheltered, more boggy.” And with that she spurred her horse into motion once more.

(the story concludes here)
#11378844 Aug 07, 2015 at 07:07 AM · Edited over 2 years ago
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Darkness was coming down quickly. The walls of Bree had come into view as we’d crested a hill a few hours earlier, and I expected us to arrive just before nightfall, but there was an odd chill in the air, and the sky turned purple earlier than I expected, as if autumn had advanced more here than in other places.

Rather than staying on the Greenway as it approached Bree from the south, we had elected to cross the plains, weaving between farmhouses, to approach the west gate, in case anyone who’d been told of a reward might be expecting us to arrive from the south. By the time the gate was in view, the sky was full dark and hung about with countless stars. The town huddled at the base of a large hill to the northeast, surrounded by walls made mostly of hedges and lined by ditches. Humble fortifications compared to the vast walls of Rammas Echor, and the parapets of Minas Tirith’s mighty rings, but it did not seem Bree needed to be ready for war; these defenses would be adequate to ward off bandits and scoundrels like those we’d met in the Vale of Andrath.

Under the stars we could see the roads outside of Bree now nearly empty, though within, lights twinkled and fires cast plumes of smoke towards the peak of Bree-hill. Far ahead and to our left, we saw a small group of ponies hurrying towards the west gate; their hobbit riders were asked at the gate what their business was, and we paused to watch from a considerable distance, so we might know what sort of welcome to expect when it was our turn to arrive. The great gate had been closed, and a man warding it seemed inclined to question them more than they wished to be questioned before allowing them through a smaller door.

I did not hear how their discussion concluded, however, for there was a deep chill that suddenly came upon us, and with it a sense of dread. It was a feeling I had never felt before and could not give a name, save for poetic and florid phrases that hint at and do not capture the sense of it; one might speak of the feeling one has just before someone gives terrible news, a clenching in the heart, the weariness of a fight that one cannot win, or the darkness in the thoughts when one wakens in the middle of the night alone. For me, it felt like the sound of Elemir’s shield clattering on stone in a forgotten piece of nowhere, and in the echo of that noise, a whispered voice almost but not heard, reminding me that he had fallen because of my failure as his Captain. I never learned what the others felt; it seemed too personal a thing to ask, even days later, comfortably around a fire in the Pony with a pint of Barliman’s Best in hand.

It was an effort to turn and look towards the sound of clattering hooves on stone, off to our left. There, against the darkness I made out a shapeless form; it was less a figure, and more the impression of slow, deliberate movement. Whatever it was, it was somehow darker than the night around it, and it was heading in the direction of the hobbits at the west gate, but then it stopped. I could see nothing like a face, but I was nevertheless sure, utterly sure, that it had turned to look directly at us.

As if in answer, the stone in Shadryn’s staff flickered with a jagged lightning flash that, in that moment, I felt sure was visible to the figure, the man at the gate, and all of Bree; but thinking back on it, probably seemed only like an oddly red firefly, even should anyone be looking in that direction. But the shape nevertheless began to approach, coming into focus as a dark-cloaked rider on a black horse. Its movement was deliberate, but more curious than purposeful, as if it were seeking something, and thought the stone might be it.

We stood there on our horses, transfixed for what seemed like the whole night, not even thinking to move, as it crept towards us. The dread that hung about the creature made my thoughts muddled and whirling; every time I tried to clear my mind and choose a course of action, I was reminded of some other decision I’d made that had gone wrongly, and every such mistake and misdeed weighed ten times heavier on my soul in that moment than it ever had in the depths of a grim, lonely night.

At last I closed my eyes and recited under my breath the oath I had taken to Gondor when I had joined the officer corps, and this seemed, for a moment, to hold at bay the gloom. I looked up towards the gate. The hobbits had apparently secured entry to the town, none the wiser of the dark shape that had been dogging their footsteps at a distance, and the door was now closed once more, still warded by the same scraggly man. “Make for the gate,” I said, then repeated it more firmly, as my companions were still in the thrall of the black rider’s air of dread..

Through clenched teeth, I barked, “Make for the gate!” once more. This time, Shadryn took from my voice enough clarity to put her hand over the stone, hiding its shine. The figure seemed to notice, but was not dissuaded in its approach; I imagined that somehow it sensed the stone itself, not its glow. However, a few moments later, it stopped. After another instant of staring at us, it then turned and rode towards Bree, swift and utterly silent. It veered aside at the gate and made its way north, almost immediately slipping out of our sight as it disappeared into the darkness of night. Perhaps the stone was not what it sought after all.

It was as if our thoughts had been in chains and suddenly were free. We lurched forward, and soon made our way to the gate, where the scruffy man, Harry Goatleaf, commented on it being an odd night to receive not one but two groups of travelers so late, and on a night of such ill portent, but he directed us on to the inn. “Best we keep to ourselves,” I said, “in case anyone is following the reward,” though I was thinking more of the dark figure. It was clear we were not its quarry; the stone had been but a distraction to it, though perhaps enough of a distraction for its intended prey to slip out of its reach, for now. Still, it forebode an ill omen. Dark things were afoot even here in Bree, dark things with an interest in artifacts of power like the one Shadryn was innocently carrying, and I was leading her right into the middle of it.

Here ends the first part of the tale of Ioreld and his companions.
#11378870 Aug 07, 2015 at 07:15 AM
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169 Posts
For those who prefer to read the tale in one continuous block, or print it, you can see it in Google Docs here:
#11381990 Aug 07, 2015 at 11:20 PM
63 Posts
Thank you for sharing this on the kin site, Sage! I've truly enjoyed reading it, and looked forward to the installments as you published them. Lucky for Ioreld, those mysterious hobbits were there to help protect him and his companions in Bree... ;)
#11401874 Aug 13, 2015 at 01:24 AM · Edited over 2 years ago
31 Posts
Yes, thank you for this tale. I especially liked the description of Minhiriath, and Tharbad and the Greyflood... the old ruined realms. It's interesting how you've worked Turbine's game mechanics into the tale, as well.

Well done!
Beware the fish with whiskers. - Rollo Reedling
#11409691 Aug 14, 2015 at 11:05 PM
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169 Posts
This story was meant to be a complete tale, but also one that leaves room for further adventures, and I guess this confuses people into thinking it's "incomplete". So I've given it a subtitle as a means of making it more explicit that this particular story has concluded.

(Will the others be written? I don't know. That'll depend on whether we actually roleplay any of what comes next. If we do, maybe that'll inspire more story. If we don't, maybe that'll make me think of what might have happened if we did, and inspire more story. Though I've also been thinking of an entirely different story I might tackle writing...)
#12367043 May 10, 2016 at 01:02 PM
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169 Posts
While rereading Lord of the Rings for the first time in quite a few years, I stumbled upon a lore error in this story. The citation I posted above about Boromir's account of his travel to Rivendell mentions him losing his horse near Tharbad, but I found another relevant quotation. In The Two Towers, in chapter 2, The Riders of Rohan, when first meeting the Three Hunters, Éomer says to Aragorn, "Long has Boromir son of Denethor been gone seeking an answer, and the horse that we lent him came back riderless." Thus, the horse that Boromir lost at the Greyflood was not in Gondorian livery, nor did it perish there, but was simply separated from him and made its way back through Minhiriath and Dunland once more to the Mark. Brave steed of the Mearas! Ah, well; if no one else caught this problem before now, it must not be that bad an error.