Monday, April 10, 2017

The Adventures of Elladan's Outriders -- Episode 2

Our Initial Foray

Sunday, 2nd of Afteryule, Year 1418 Shire-reckoning
The Comb and Wattle Inn, Village of Combe, Bree-land

The Chetwood

I am exhausted, but sleep is not in me tonight. No doubt it has something to do with the violent snoring coming from Drodie's bed... that Dwarf makes more of a ruckus asleep than he does in a fight. Anyway, since I'm having no luck dropping off I thought I might try my hand recording the first true day of our Company's fellowship together.

It started off with a surprise: there was suddenly another Elf in our midst! We had met in Jasmine's Garden (I was still filling up the corners from second breakfast with some tasty muffins from the Pony) when, seemingly from nowhere, a tall, brown-clad Elf appeared. It looked to me as if the other Elves were almost expecting him to be there... perhaps they had word of his coming or he was delayed on the Road. In any case, we began our day's work before we had even the time to be properly introduced. How rude!

But on to our first foray: the Woman, Nephyn, had heard rumors of trouble with brigands near Combe and she led us there -- out the Bree-Staddle gate, over the hill, and down to Combe. We then made our way to the Combe Lumber Yard where we encountered all manner of folk in various plights. Some had lost their land while others had lost loved ones to the evil ruffians roosting out there in the Chetwood. We even encountered one brave hobbit who decided to stand up to the bandits and lost his handkerchief when they chased him off! Is nothing safe any longer?? No hobbit should have to lose their handkerchief because of some low-life ruffians! Our Company decided to infiltrate the Chetwood and see what sort of mischief the thieves were up to in there.

The Sun was already westering when we had set out, and by now it was riding low in the sky. In the failing light I could see half-guessed shapes in the distance as they darted through the undergrowth. There was a well-trodden footpath, since the woodworkers of Combe make a good living selling their timber to the rest of Bree-land, but in the dimness of an evening even this fairly worn wood-track afforded us no comfort and no protection. Suddenly there was a loud snarl behind us! It frightened the hair on my toes straight, I have to admit. I turned to find a large, growling wolf attacking us from behind! It had set upon the Dwarf, who managed to keep it at bay with his shield. The next thing I knew, Nephyn had set an arrow in its ribs while Drodie finished it off with a sword-swipe to the throat. The whole thing was over in seconds, but I couldn't keep myself from shaking for several minutes afterward. Several of my companions asked if I was hurt -- I suppose I must have cried out in my fright -- but I had not been touched. I felt rather ashamed over my reaction and resolved to be more deserving of the Company I had joined. They had handled that wolf quite skillfully, I thought.

We made our way deeper into the Chetwood. By now, the Sun had indeed set and the darkness of night was closing in on us. The forest was not dense, and I could still see a few distant lights from Combe's Lumber Yard twinkling between the trunks of the rowan trees far behind us. Still, the thought of spending the night in a dark wood is not my idea of good sense, particularly if there might be other wolves about with a mind to try fresh hobbit.

After walking some distance, we decided to rest at the base of a great oak tree. It seemed we had all only just gathered with our backs to the trunk when several dark shapes appeared at a stone's throw distance. Howling broke out all around us which set my knees knocking, but the rest of the Company kept their composure: one after another of the foul beasts were either slain or driven off by my valiant companions. After the scuffle, we set ourselves down to recover. Drodie had sustained a bite wound to the leg where a wolf's jaws had managed to avoid his iron armor pieces and tear at his leather leggings, but it was not serious and was easily bandaged. More howling broke out around us, but it was more distant this time, though no less unnerving.

"What about a bit of fire?" I asked. Gaelira agreed, noting a campfire would be just the thing to help dishearten our feral foes and keep them from mounting another coordinated attack. Here, I proved of some use to the Company, for it seems no one had thought to bring any flint or tinder with them into the woods. Perhaps they did not normally use fire when traversing the Wild, but I am only a simple hobbit of the Shire and I certainly always keep such things near at hand. I was able to collect a few dry branches right there at the base of the tree and in short order we had a merry blaze before us banishing the cold night.

At this point we figured we would take some rest under the large tree, allow Drodie's minor wound to recover a bit, and allow the rest of us to get over our surprise at our unusual reception on the normally tranquil paths of the Chetwood. Some of us fell to talking in quiet voices about the latest reports of the brigands' whereabouts while others proceeded to clean their weapons and check their equipment. I quickly counted the phials of medicine in my bags to ensure I hadn't dropped any.

Soon we all grew quiet again and strained to hear any sound of footsteps or stealthy movements of animals through the forest. My little fire was casting only a small circle of light, but Nephyn did not wish for us to throw more fuel upon it. Our mood turned pensive as the night seemed to press in on us from all sides. The Elf scholar Luean decided to lighten our hearts with a few riddles. My ears perked up at that: we hobbits love a good game of Riddles!

"Here is a question for all of you," he announced cheerfully. One would hardly think we had just driven off an ambush of snarling wolf-hounds! How far can you walk into a wood?

Unfortunately for Luean, this hobbit was well familiar with that particular riddle, having told it many times myself over the years. "Halfway," I immediately answered. "After that, you are walking out!"

"Ah, perhaps I shall not find this holiday stroll quite as dull as I had first supposed," Luean said. "Very well, then: If you feed me, I live. Give me a drink and I die. What am I? He asked. His eyes shone with amusement in the firelight, and he seemed to be enjoying himself.


Both Nephyn and I answered at once. The Elf laughed aloud. It sounded to me as though it was in defiance of the still-present (but increasingly distant) howls of the night.

"I see we have some with us that are quick of wit!" he exclaimed. "This may prove to be a merry journey."

"Very well, Master Elf," I said, with a wink, "I have one for you now." Luean nodded.

What belongs to you that others use more than you do? I asked.

Luean appeared to think hard for a moment, but it was only a feint. "Your name," he said with a smile.

We may have been about to launch into a full-blown Riddle-game, but at that time Gaelira deemed that we should move on from that place, though she didn't say why. My little fire had already nearly burned itself out. Nephyn had gathered from the Combe-folk back at the Lumber Yard that we should be near a farmstead which had been taken over by the brigands and was now being used to breed their wolf-hounds. We though it would be fitting to try and drive the beasts out, if we could. We smothered the fire in soil and scattered the ashes.

Although it was still the late watches, we easily found the abandoned farm but a small distance from our resting spot. We walked down the center lane carefully, looking side to side at the various animal stalls and small plots of once-tilled earth, straining our eyes for any signs of trouble. It was foul work: several deer carcasses and one or two foxes lay dead in the yards, all of them torn or half-eaten by the wolves. I had no doubt we were walking straight into a den of the vicious things with every step. My heart went straight into my toes. I could hear Nephyn's breathing in front of me as her head swiveled right, left, and right again, scanning the farmhouses in the dark. Her breath was shallow and quick, and with a sharp twinge in my stomach I realized that even this tall, strong Woman could feel fear. I quickened my pace a bit to try and stay close to her. Our feet crunched the gravel in the road and seemed to announce our presence for miles in the eerily still darkness.

Suddenly, a terrific baying of wolf-voices erupted before us and on either side! I tripped over my own feet in my fright and sprawled helplessly onto the path. I could hear a rushing noise around me as wolves must have been charging us. I tried to raise myself up from the ground, but I felt a firm weight resisting me! At first I thought a wolf had pounced on me, but them I discerned the feel of fingers and a hand. I realized that Drodie, who had been behind me in our line, was holding me down to keep me out of danger. I relented and tried to watch and listen to what happened next.

In front of me, Nephyn and the strange new Elf had bent their bows and let fly their arrows. I could hear cries from more than one wolf as they found their marks. Gaelira was somewhere out of my sight in the gloom, but to my right I could make out Luean's tall frame. He was standing nearly motionless in the dark, his hands clasped. I could see his lips moving, but I caught no words; I have no idea what he was doing, but he made no movement to any weapon... he didn't even seem concerned with defending himself at all. In the split second I was pondering this strange sight, I felt Drodie's body above me heave with strength, followed by a dull thud and the whimper of a wolf. One of the hounds must have launched itself at the Dwarf and received a stiff shield swipe to the face for its efforts. At that, the rest of the wolves fled and I was able to regain my footing. We heard no more howling after that.

All of us were a bit shaken, but we were unhurt. The farm seemed devoid of any foes at that point, so after the briefest of rests we continued our search for any bandits. As we left the now empty farmstead by its northern track, I could hear low voices up ahead. Nephyn signaled us to be silent and we crept forward with the utmost caution (by which I mean we left the Dwarf behind: we hobbits can go very lightly on foot, but the Elven-folk are altogether noiseless in their movements. The Woman Nephyn was clearly skilled in the hunt and was as silent as the rest of us, but Dwarves are not known for their stealth!).

The path we were following bent sharply to the right around the trunk of a large tree and a bush obscured our view, but we were not near enough to hear what was being said. The soft yellow glow of a small fire was visible to us, but we could go no closer without revealing ourselves to those speaking. All I could catch was the word "Angmar."

Gaelira seemed to have heard enough. She stood upright and walked around the base of the tree into full view of the brigands. For that's what they were: two of them were lying at ease near a small fire over which the meat of some animal was roasting. Between them was a small stool on which lay a few oddments. Upon seeing Gaelira striding toward them, both brigands leapt to their feet and drew blades. They rushed at the she-Elf with a yell and I was afraid for our friend, but only a moment: Gaelira's quarterstaff struck the first brigand in the leg and sent him flying head over heels into the dirt. The second stopped, gaping, until the staff whirled over Gaelira's head and came down with a crack across his face, knocking him out cold. I turned my head to see Drodie thrust his short, broad-bladed Dwarf sword through the first brigand, ending him. I am not wholly unused to seeing such gruesome things -- I've tussled with a few goblins in my time at the bounds -- but I still found this display rather unsettling.

Fortunately, we were victorious and no one was injured, so we decided to continue our quest. While the others spoke amongst themselves over what the mentioning of "Angmar" might portend, I busied myself about the little camp. For one thing, the smell of the roast was mighty attractive (it turned out to be pork, so there must be at least a few wild pigs in the Chetwood, though we had seen none thus far), but I also thought the little table might hold something of use. I found a decent-sized coinpurse which felt like it might hold a couple of dozen silver pieces as well as a piece of parchment. The parchment I slipped into my pocket without a second thought and I proceeded to count the money. It would certainly be of great use among six hungry and homeless adventurers!

We quickly fell to devouring the roast and, once finished, we set out again in a north easterly direction. The land was becoming less even and the constant rising and falling started to wear on my legs. The sky also started to become a bit less dark as the first hints of day began to appear overhead. We then happened upon a small ruin where more than one campfire blazed in the night. There was a small troop of brigands ensconced there, probably a dozen or so. My companions carefully chose their point of attack, but once the battle began it was clear the ruffians were no match for our Company.

The Dwarf went in first, as he often did, and nothing the robbers could do seemed to hurt him at all (perhaps it was his Dwarf-mail, of which I've heard more than a few tales, but he wielded his shield with great skill). Gaelira seemed content to observe the fight and did not close distance with our opponents. Luean once again withdrew himself and seemed to see things we others could not. It's very difficult for me to explain this phenomenon... I shall have to ask him just what it is he is doing. I did my best to stay out of the way while the arrows of Nephyn and the Elf archer pierced many a foeman. The others quickly gave up the fight, but as they ran off to the west a horn-call went up and was answered from somewhere off in the forest. We quickly prepared to move out lest we be caught in a counterattack from wherever the brigands' main encampment lay, since this small ruin was clearly not it. I happened to notice one of the ruffians let fall what could only have been a hobbit's pocket handkerchief as he ran, so I retrieved it. No sense in not returning it to it's rightful owner since we'd have the chance.

As the first lights of morning began to penetrate the forest canopy we commenced with our walk back to the Lumber Yard. We were able to set many folks' minds at ease that the brigands had been dealt a good blow that night and, while they were certainly not yet broken, they would be disheartened and unlikely to mount any attacks against them for at least a few days while they tried to determine what had happened to their outposts during the night.

My eyelids were drooping as we returned to Combe proper and decided to lodge at the Comb and Wattle Inn for the night. The money in the coinpurse we had lifted from the first brigands was more than enough to pay for our beds as well as food and drink. We congregated in the Common Room there (a rather less appealing place than the Prancing Pony, with straw covering the floor, plaster crumbling from the walls, and the occasional chicken wandering across the tables) and we proceeded to discuss the success of our first foray and tomorrow's business. We also finally had an opportunity to learn the name and business of our newest member. The Elf archer called himself Raviron, another of the folk from Lindon. It seems his father is someone of importance there, but he himself felt it was time to do something about the growing threats in the North and somehow got wind of Elladan's summons. By this time I was so tired I could scarcely keep up with the winding conversations.

There was some talk about this Angmar (which I eventually figured to be a place rather than a person) and I got the idea there was some devilry brewing there -- wherever there may be, exactly. The rest of the Company seemed set on going to Angmar to do something about the problems in Eriador, but I'm not so sure this is a good idea: we are only six, after all, and no matter how skilled my companions might be they are no army. I made no commitment to going that direction, but I can see I've taken up with some strong and lordly folk (meaning nothing but good, of course), and that's better than most like me could ever hope to say. I still don't see what purpose I can serve in this Company, but the rest all seem determined that I continue on with them.

And I will do so, for the time being. Angmar is clearly a long ways off from here and there are troubles enough near at home where decent folk needn't be forced indoors for their own safety. If you ask me, doing something about the troubles we have right here, which are in plenty enough for my taste, would be a much more sensible way to make all of our lives better.

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