Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The Adventures of Elladan's Outriders -- Episode 38

A Startling Twist

Trewsday, 30th of Solmath, Year 1418 Shire-reckoning
Orodost, Ered Luin
The freezing air and snow swirling around our little campsite perfectly captures the feeling of what remains of our Company. Hearts are cold and feelings are numb after suffering such a terrible and shocking loss this day, but I will put my own grief aside in order to dutifully record what transpired for you.

When we had settled down next to our fire by the frozen waterfall, I had expected to get some decent rest, then rise and resume our hunt for Brullug the drake. This is not at all how things eventuated: it seemed that no sooner had I closed my eyes than I was jolted awake by roarings, shoutings, hurryings, and the ring of steel! Gaelira was screaming to bring us all to our senses, for she among us had kept the watch and not slept. This had always worked with excellent effect in the past, but this time our prey decided to hunt us, and it very nearly proved our ruin.

Brullug had never been as far off as we supposed, and in fact we now believe he had been stalking us throughout much of Sarnur. It was his dragon-ish thrumming we had been hearing the day before (or however many days ago it was -- one can never be sure in these sunless catacombs), but despite having the element of surprise he did not attack us straightaway, for he was a cunning old worm. He waited until we were mostly off our guard and resting before he perched himself like an enormous bat on the roof of the caverns, then descended on us from above like a thunderbolt! He caused a small earthquake when he struck the cavern floor and this had woken us all up, but he still retained the advantage, for one cannot go from a deep sleep to fighting for one's life all in an instant.

The first several moments were absolute chaos and I have little recollection of what happened. The ground was shaking, I was stumbling, Gaelira was shouting and everyone was hurrying to and fro as the towering figure of the drake snapped, clawed, and thrashed at each of us. I have no idea how I managed to avoid being stepped on or swallowed up, but when I finally had my wits about me I found myself panting like a hunted animal behind a large boulder. Summoning my courage, I peeked around the edge to find a small pool of dark liquid. Fearing the worst, I looked further and discovered it was indeed blood, and it was flowing out of an awful-looking gash in Lagodir's chest as he lay unconscious on the ground! Forgetful of the danger, I rushed to him and unslung my pack, desperate to find the balm and dressing needed for such an injury. Singularly focused as I was, I allowed myself the briefest of glances at the battle to ensure both the Gondorian and I were not in immediate danger. I had little confidence I would be able to drag the sturdy Man away behind my boulder, but I would attempt it or die trying if the need arose.

Luckily for Lagodir (and for me), Brullug was otherwise occupied. Drodie had hurled himself toward the worm along with a string of obscenities and insults that would have made even the most recalcitrant of Dwarves blanche. Meanwhile, I could see Gaelira and Nephyn cautiously taking up positions along Brullug's flanks and, away in the shadows, I discerned the dim form of Wenhair, the Lossoth adventurer with her twin blades. Hope rose within me seeing our adversary thus surrounded, but only briefly; I had underestimated the cunning of the drake.

No attack from my friends was able to penetrate Brullug's wily watchfulness: Gaelira and Nephyn were beaten back by the claws while Wenhair's attempts were thwarted by the lashing tail. Drodie, of course, was never able to get close enough to the head to accomplish anything, and the beast soon turned its attention from him entirely. I remembered how Drodie had only barely survived our last encounter with a drake in the North Downs: my blood ran cold at the thought of what would happen should someone get caught in its jaws who was not wearing Dwarf-armour! If Drodie remained unable to direct the monster's ire toward himself for very much longer...


A fierce shout rose above the din of the fighting. It was Drodie, and he had lowered his weapons. The echoes of his gallant voice slowly faded as Brullug turned his head toward the Dwarf. The whole world seemed to pause and take notice.

"Worm!" Drodie cried again. "I tire of this fight. Come! Eat me whole! Swallow me now, if you think your foul gut can manage a meal as ornery as myself!" Then he threw his sword and shield away. I felt my heart skip a beat -- what on earth was he doing?? Gaelira, Nephyn, and Wenhair also stopped their attack and watched, dumbfounded.

Brullug lowered his head and peered at the Dwarf. There was an evil, spine-tingling glint in those yellow eyes, and I felt certain the drake understood Drodie's words. I knew the beast could strike in a split second, and that's all it would take for my friend to vanish forever. Drodie spread his arms as if in welcome of his death. I stopped breathing and total silence fell. The lips and fangs of the monster seemed to curl in a hideous smirk, then the jaws slowly parted.

Suddenly, Brullug's head snapped backward and the drake emitted a stone-splitting scream of pain that shook the very walls of Sarnur and brought small rocks raining down on us from above. I threw myself to the ground and covered my ears with my hands in pain, but I was trying desperately to discover what had saved Drodie's life. The head of Brullug was thrashing around as if in agony, and that's when I saw it: a slim, brown-feathered arrow had darkened its left eye! Like a lightning-strike I realized Drodie had been play-acting as a way to get the drake to stop moving its head around just long enough for Nephyn to get one good shot with her bow, and the gamble had worked! Even then I saw our Dwarf scoop up his weapons and rush back into the battle.

Still, the battle was not yet won. My companions suffered plenty of cuts and bruises as they continued to dodge Brullug's vicious claws and avoid his tail. Gaelira was very nearly bitten in half at one point and only just escaped by deftly rolling to safety at the last second. As I watched, I could see that some of our attacks were beginning to find their mark, and then I perceived my friends were gradually taking advantage of the beast's wound. Someone would press the attack from the right, but as soon as Brullug sought to engage them that person would back away and someone else would strike from the left (on the side where he had lost an eye), and so the drake was unable to see half of the attacks coming its way.

After one such effort, I saw Brullug noticeably stumble and let out a roar of torment. Someone had managed to land a crippling blow on the monster's left forepaw and, to my surprise, I realized it was Lagodir! I had been so riveted by the battle I had not noticed the Gondorian quietly rejoin it. His broadsword bit deep into the scales and so he was revenged upon the worm for his own injury.

Then, just as Brullug lost his balance from Lagodir's strike, I saw Wenhair run nimbly up the drake's lowered shoulder and onto its back. She raised her two white blades high over her head and plunged them into the neck, just behind the head at the base of the skull. Brullug shuddered from his snout to the tip of his tail, then collapsed in total and utter ruination. My head became cloudy and all my limbs went weak as I realized the danger was finally passed and that we had survived it.

The first order of business, naturally, was to take stock of ourselves. I was the only one who had remained uninjured, so I had quite a bit of work to do now. Lagodir had suffered the most serious wound, but I had treated it well despite the raging battle and it held together admirably (if I do say so myself). Nephyn received a few light cuts that looked worse than they were. Drodie was very bruised and declared he might not be able to move in the morning for soreness (he had been battered and hurled about several times), but he was none the worse otherwise. Gaelira had a single cut along her right arm where she had dashed it against a stone as she made her last-moment dodge away from the jaws of Brullug, but that was all. Wenhair refused any attempt of ours to aid her or even to assess her injuries, saying she needed no help.

"I do not trust your Southron medicines. It is said among my tribe that they weaken the mind and body," she said a bit haughtily. "And what of your battle-tactics? How is it you surrender yourself to your enemies? This would bring the greatest dishonour among my people!"

"We call it a ruse, or a feint, if you like," I explained. "And it worked in any case: Drodie fooled the drake into stopping his movement just long enough for Nephyn to find her aim. We would never have won if not for his quick thinking." The others agreed with me and heaped praise on the Dwarf, but Wenhair only snorted and looked displeased. Drodie, meanwhile, was having difficulty accepting his accolades and kept insisting he only did what needed to be done.

"The battle -- and the kill -- goes to you before any of us," Gaelira said with a broad smile. "And to think! Was this not just the thing Mallacai had foretold all those weeks ago on the shores of Lake Nenuial? Learn to rely on others or you shall surely perish?"

"Oh, that?" Drodie asked, nonchalantly. "I had completely forgotten about that." Something about his tone of voice made me doubt this was entirely true.

"But now to our business," said Lagodir, a little weakly. "I am faint from exertion and would fain see the Sun again, and soon. What part of this wretch's hide are we to take, do you suppose?"

"Reckon this'll do," Drodie called back. He was already at work with axe and sword hacking off a portion of scales near the creature's thigh. In a short time he had dislodged a goodly amount, and we stashed it away with the rest of our trophies.

"That's five for five!" I cheered and danced a little jig in my happiness. "Now we have only to find Mallacai and we can finally put all this behind us! I don't suppose anyone knows where he is? Calenglad didn't seem to know what had become of him since he departed Tinnudir many days ago."

"I am hopeful we will know soon," came Gaelira's reply. "I sent Malkan the eagle to search for news of him after we left Rivendell but before we had crossed into the Lone-lands, though I cannot say how long it might take for him to find what he seeks."

"Well, that's something anyway," I said. "And what about Wenhair? I suppose she still needs..."

"The heart of Brullug!" she called triumphantly as she emerged from behind the carcass. Her arms were bloodied up to the elbows and she held aloft a largish bag which was dripping with gore. I put one hand over my mouth and stifled my base reflexes. "Soon my friend shall be healed!"

"I'm... very happy for you," was all I could manage to say. "Now can we please get out of here? Or I'm afraid my toes really might turn blue and fall off."

"Oh, we cannot leave just yet," Wenhair said quickly. "I still require one last ingredient."

"Really?" I said. "And what might that be?"

"A sacrifice!"

And suddenly many things happened. Wenhair produced a strange little tube which appeared to be made out of a reed and blew through one end of it. Lagodir clapped a hand to his neck and groaned as he sank to the ground. Then, the Lossoth reached into her belt, extended her palm toward us, and blew on her hand. A billow of grey smoke erupted from it, and the next thing I knew we were all choking, coughing, and wiping our stinging eyes. It was several moments before any of us could properly breathe or see again, and when we could both Wenhair and Lagodir were gone!

"Treachery!" Nephyn cried, and we all began running about searching for any sign of the two. Unfortunately, the ground there was nothing but bare rock and ice, so there were no footprints of any kind. After a short time we regrouped and tried to calmly think through the situation.

"We must regain a clear mind," said Gaelira as the four of us congregated. "We will not help our friend by becoming desperate or distracted."

"Poor Lagodir!" I lamented, heedless of Gaelira's warning. "The poor Man! First that awful wraith, now this! And after getting gashed by that brute of a drake too! Of all the -- Hullo! What's this?" I stooped and snatched up a scrap of paper that I was certain hadn't been there a few minutes earlier.

"Wenhair must have dropped it as she fled with Lagodir!" exclaimed Nephyn. "What does it say?" I could not make out the language, and so I handed it at once to Gaelira. She scrutinized it, but then she frowned and cocked her head to one side.

"I am not familiar with many of these signs," she said slowly. "The only thing I can make out for certain is that the name of Guloth is mentioned. This does not bode well, but I need more time to translate these words or find someone who can, as I do not recognize the tongue. I cannot fathom what a Lossoth would want with our companion."

"Well, I know this," Drodie said. "Whatever her purpose may be it is not likely to be fulfilled here under the earth. Let us leave this place! Every moment we delay puts the more distance between our quarry and my blade, and I'm eager to introduce the two."

And so we began our ascent out of Sarnur. We did our best to make haste through the darkness and luckily we met no resistance from animal nor Dourhand on the way out. We also kept our eyes open for any signs of where Wenhair might have gone, but we saw nothing definitive. As we climbed, we discussed our situation a bit more in hushed whispers.

"Gaelira," I said quietly, "Why do you think that wraith, Guloth, would have anything to do with this? That's impossible... isn't it?"

"I have my suspicions, but I would rather not speak of such blasphemies," the Elf replied. Her teeth were on edge; I hadn't seen this much emotion out of her since I had forced her confession at Esteldin many weeks ago.

"Why do you say blasphemies, Gaelira?" asked Nephyn from behind me. "What do you mean?"

"Sauron styles himself more than just overlord of Middle-earth," she answered. "He worshipped the Dark Enemy, his former Master, in the Elder Days and considers himself the divine ruler of mortal lands by right as his heir. The Elves spotted the perversions of the Dark Lords long ago, when they began teaching the foul arts of sorcery to their most pious adherents. These Sauron wishes to use as his priests and prophets to subdue and terrorize his subjects with their power once he has conquered all. I wonder if perhaps Wenhair's priestess is one of these as well."

"How can any Man or Woman wish to be a part of anything so vile?" Drodie asked. "You would never find a Dwarf entertaining such delusions of grandeur: the very idea makes me feel sick."

"The ways of Men have ever been a mystery to me at some level," Gaelira said. "I suppose it may have something to do with their short lives and the desire to see their own wills accomplished on earth while they still inhabit it." Nephyn was silent. "But the Lossoth have never been fully trusted by the rest of the Free Peoples," Gaelira went on. "They remember still the tyranny of Angmar and fear to cross whatever thrall of Mordor may be leading that dark kingdom. Some have been known to openly support the Iron Crown; apparently we have stumbled across one such here. What an evil fate that our paths crossed thus!"

"And Wenhair had better hope they do not cross again," said Nephyn darkly.

When we finally emerged from Sarnur, we found the Sun riding high in the heavens. Apparently it was tomorrow (er, today), and we realized we required rest and some food before we could hope to continue our search. Gaelira left us to examine the ground around the entranceway while I tended to Drodie and Nephyn's wounds. There was so much to do I very nearly forgot to make this entry in my journal. I have no idea how we intend to find Lagodir and his kidnapper, but somehow we must!

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Adventures of Elladan's Outriders -- Episode 37

The Hunt for Brullug

Monday, 29th of Solmath, Year 1418 Shire-reckoning
The Caverns of Sarnur, Ered Luin
A Dourhand Dwarf
Suddenly there was a chorus of frenzied shouts from ahead of us! My eyes had next to no time to adjust to the dim light, but several rough-looking Dwarves were charging with axes and swords drawn! Instinctively, I dropped back behind my companions while fumbling for my hammer.

Drodie rushed forward with a battle-cry that boomed off the walls of Sarnur. He bowled one of the Dourhands over with his shield before engaging another sword-to-sword. Lagodir, meanwhile, had disarmed one Dwarf and lopped off the arm of another even as I watched. That's when someone seized me by the shoulder and forced me to the ground! A cruel-looking Dwarf's throwing-axe sailed through the air where my head had been a moment before and clattered harmlessly to the stone floor. I found myself at Nephyn's feet and watched as she let fly from her bow. There was a hoarse grunt from somewhere further within the cavern, and I knew she had found her mark.

Once I had regained my feet, my only thought was to somehow help in the battle, but I never really got the chance. Gaelira's quarterstaff was always a whirling fury in any fight, but now she also wielded her family blade, and none of the Dourhands were a match for her. Drodie had run another of our would-be assailants through while Lagodir was already chasing off the remaining three. Nephyn's bow sang twice more and I could see two bodies stumble and fail to rise again. The third was out of range and managed to escape.

Or so we thought at first. We were just regrouping and checking ourselves for injuries when we heard a terrible scream from somewhere in the direction of that last, fleeing Dwarf. It was suddenly cut off, and the echoes hung eerily in the air as we listened.

"And what do you suppose that was all about?" I asked, trying to conceal the obvious quaver in my voice. "I only saw Nephyn fire two shots, so unless she has learned how to make her arrows change direction and slay multiple enemies then there's something curious going on in here."

"I wish I could say I had learned such an art," said the huntress with a grin, "But, alas, I cannot claim credit for that last kill. Perhaps he fell down some hole and plunged to his death?"

"It is dim in here, but it is not as dark as all that," came Lagodir's voice. "And to my ear, that was the sound of a dying scream cut off by force -- I would wager it upon my life." I wondered how the Gondorian would be so sure of such a morbid thing, but I simply bit the inside of my cheek and kept quiet.

"Beasts?" asked Drodie as he squinted ahead into the gloom. "It is true Sarnur was a settlement once, but that was many long years ago; who knows what manner of animals may have infested this place since those days?"

None of us had an answer, although I suspected we would not be long in finding out the truth. For the moment, however, we had other business: Drodie and Lagodir had both suffered minor cuts and bruises in the fighting, so we quickly attended to them. While we were doing this, we praised ourselves for our quick recovery and ability to neutralize the enemy in such short order.

"And I am lucky to still have my head attached, too," I said with a shy chuckle. "A Dourhand had very nearly taken it off with his throwing-axe! Thank goodness you pulled me out of the way, Nephyn." But Nephyn only stared at me.

"I didn't pull you anywhere," she said with a puzzled expression. "I noticed you tumble over near my feet, but I just assumed you had tripped or fallen." Now it was my turn to wear a puzzled expression.

"But I didn't fall," I insisted, "And I'm quite certain someone pulled me out of the way of that axe." No one else could have done it, for I had seen the other three as they were fighting. I scratched my head in bewilderment.

"Well then," I said, totally at a loss, "Maybe it was the ghost of my old Dad looking out for me. Whether or no, I wish I could thank them proper: there's no way I would be alive right now if I hadn't been moved at that exact moment."

"Then why not?" asked Gaelira. I raised my eyebrows at her.


"Why not go ahead and thank them?" she said. "After all, they are watching us even now."

"Your sight is keen, Elf," came a husky voice from directly behind me. I admit I must have squealed and jumped two feet in the air out of fright. I quickly shrank to Nephyn's side and tried to penetrate the darkness with my eyes.

Out from some shadowy corner there suddenly appeared a most unusual sight. It was a Man, but it was shorter than most with a lithe body and arrayed in the most peculiar outfit I had ever seen. It appeared to be some form of armour (hide most likely), but it was covered in red war-paint and dangling with all manner of trinkets and charms. Two wicked-looking short swords rested at the belt. All the members of our Company immediately drew their weapons, except Gaelira. The stranger made no hostile move, but simply observed us with a calm stare.

"I am dishonored," he said as he bowed his head. "You knew of me when I was trying to remain concealed." His voice carried an exotic accent I had never heard before, but he used the Common Tongue well enough for us to understand him. "How did you know this, Elf?"

"I did not know," came Gaelira's reply. "But I was expecting you to be there. The seemingly uncoerced demise of that Dourhand Dwarf coupled with Padryc's tale of being moved by some 'ghost' just in time to save his life led me to believe we were not the only ones who were eager to explore the depths of Sarnur."

"And what brings such strange travellers to this place?" the stranger asked as he looked us over once more.

"We are strange?" I exclaimed with an open laugh. "This coming from the fellow who is in here by himself."

"Herself, if you please," the stranger cut in. My mouth fell open.

"Good luck recovering from that one," Nephyn muttered as she dug her elbow into my side. I felt my ears flush in embarrassment.

"I am called Wenhair," she said as she made an odd little motion with her right hand that I suppose passed for a bow in her country. "What manner of folk are you?"

"Well met, Wenhair," I said with a bow of my own (Her name was pronounced VEN-hire, if you wish to know). "Padryc Pemberton of the Southfarthing at your service, and these are Nephyn of Bree-land, Gaelira of the House of Elrond, Drodie the Dwarf, and Lagodir from the land of Gondor."

"May your hunts be always bountiful," she replied (I assume this was meant as a compliment). "It seems the Fates have ordained that our paths should cross here. I would be glad of your company; for the sake of my friend I must not fail in my task."

"Some friend to send you into a place like this by yourself," I said with another laugh, "Though I suppose I owe you my thanks for saving my life and all that."

"It was nothing," Wenhair replied. "But I ask again: what brings you to Sarnur?"

"Your pardon," Lagodir said politely, "We seek one Brullug in these caverns, yet we know not where to begin our search."

"Ah! I also seek that one," Wenhair answered. "And what is your reason to hunt the drake?"

"DRAKE?!" I cried. "Do you mean to say this Brullug is a dragon?"

"Not a dragon -- a drake," she said.

"Oh! Well, let's just break out the Brandy Wine and celebrate now then!" I exclaimed sarcastically. "You'd think Mallacai would have thought to mention that little tidbit before sending us to our deaths!"

"Calm down, Padryc," Gaelira said to me. "You forget we have already dealt with one drake before now: remember Bleakwind on the Nan Amlug Plains."

"The one that tossed Drodie half a country mile after nearly biting him in half?" I asked, incredulous. "How could I forget?"

"I was thrown, not tossed," grumbled Drodie threateningly.

"Oh, have it your own way," I said before sitting down to sulk with my arms crossed.

"We require the hide of Brullug to complete a task that was set to us by a master craftsman," Gaelira explained. "He told us it would be invaluable in the creation of various armaments."

"I can see how that would prove so," Wenhair said. "For myself, I require its heart. The priestess of our tribe tells me it is needed to cure my friend." I made a face at the thought of digging a drake's heart out of its chest cavity, but I held my tongue.

"We'll get neither hide nor heart so long as the thing remains alive," Nephyn pointed out. "And the thing will remain alive so long as we have no idea where it is. Does anyone have the slightest inkling on where to start looking? I've never been in Sarnur before, but the echoes alone tell me this place reaches deep into the roots of the mountain."

"I, too, have never been here before," Wenhair replied. "Alas that my mother could not be with me, for she is the greatest tracker of all our tribe."

"From where do you hail, if I may ask?" Nephyn queried with a raised eyebrow.

"Far to the north," Wenhair answered. "You Southrons are known to call our land Forochel."

"Forochel!" I jumped up in excitement, quickly forgetting my foul mood. "So you are one of the Lossoth of Forochel! How excellent! I've heard many strange tales about your country since I was a lad."

"Indeed?" she asked. "You know of my people, beardless Dwarf?" There were snickers from everyone as my mouth gaped.

"Beardless --?? Madam!" I huffed, "I am no Dwarf!"

"Then what sort of creature are you?" Wenhair sounded genuinely curious, but I could not help but be offended at such language.

"Creature?!" I echoed. "Well, I never! Imagine calling someone else 'creature' when one goes about dressed up like that!" Wenhair looked herself over then looked at me, evidently perplexed by my comment.

"But at least my feet will not freeze, unlike yours." Laughter erupted from the Company. "How is it your toes do not turn blue and fall off?" The laughter became howls of mirth. The Woman looked at us as if we had all gone mad.

"I like this one," I heard Nephyn say to Lagodir with a nudge to his arm.

"How rude!" I exclaimed, hands on my hips. "My kind has always gone about with bare feet. I am a hobbit, if you please."

"Hob-bit?" Wenhair repeated, clearly unfamiliar with the word. "A strange name! What does it mean?"

"It means -- why, it means hobbit, of course," I said in exasperation. "It doesn't mean anything -- that is what we call ourselves."

"Where I am from our names have meaning," Wenhair replied in confusion. "It would be a great dishonour among my people to be named after nothing."

"Oh, confusticate and bebother this nonsense!" I said, finding nothing else to say. "Hadn't we better be getting on? If we are going to poke and prod into every corner of this miserable cavern then the sooner we are about it the better I'll be pleased." The laughter eventually died down and we prepared to move out. I had made something of a show about the foreigner's manners, but in truth I was both fascinated by her and deeply relieved to have another (seemingly quite capable) adventurer among us as we hunted for Brullug. For her part, Wenhair seemed to regard us as a most peculiar band of bedraggled travellers, but she also said we had proven our valour against the Dourhands and that it would be foolish of her to refuse such help once offered.

It was not much longer before we began our joint exploration of the caverns. We were at a disadvantage for, as previously mentioned, none of us had been here before and no one knew where might be the best place to hunt for a drake. Still, we did not let that dissuade us as we began to explore the tall chambers of Sarnur. Shortly after we set out together we came upon that last, unfortunate Dourhand. Blood flowed freely from a dreadful gash in his neck. He was quite dead.

"Your handiwork?" Drodie asked our new companion.

"Yes. I saw no point in allowing him to go and raise the alarm," she replied. "Hunting a drake is dangerous enough business without also having an entire garrison of Dwarves to bother about." We passed the corpse quickly and trudged onward.

There isn't much to tell about the remainder of the day (such as it was, being inside the mountain and all). We found multiple passages which probed deeper into Sarnur, but none of us had the foggiest idea where Brullug might be. In the end, we decided to follow a tunnel which headed down several flights of stairs and into a wide chasm. We explored this for some time until we found another narrow passage which led down further still, and so on and on for hours until we finally called a halt. There had been queer noises all around us while we walked, mostly of the groaning or rumbling sort, but it was always hard to tell what it was or where it was coming from due to the echoes playing off the stone pillars of Sarnur. I voiced my hope that the walls here were still safe, but Drodie assured me they were. We had seen nothing threatening nor had we encountered any more of the Dourhands -- it seemed we had been moving away from whatever areas of the keep they had occupied, for the lighting got progressively worse and we were eventually obliged to light torches. We began to see snow-beasts, worms, and even the occasional bear, but none of them were concerned with us in the slightest (for which I, at least, was very grateful).

We drew up a campfire near the frozen remains of some ancient waterfall and tried to make a hot meal. Then we passed a bit of time by telling Wenhair more about ourselves and our adventures throughout the lands of Eriador. She reciprocated by spinning us fine yarns about her homeland with its strange and mysterious legends. It was much later when we finally all dropped off with Gaelira taking the watch, as usual.

As I re-read this entry from today, I cannot help but laugh at the extraordinary way in which we met up with this extraordinary Woman. I do feel better about having such an ally alongside us as we search for Brullug, but I'm not feeling quite so confident now that I know we are actually hunting a drake. Also, I went back several entries to read what it was Mallacai had said to Drodie about what might happen to him in our coming encounter. I wonder very much what it could mean.

There is another of those rumblings just now. Odd, but this time it sounded to me more like a growl...

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Adventures of Elladan's Outriders -- Episode 36

Into Sarnur

Highday, 26th of Solmath, Year 1418 Shire-reckoning
On the Road to Ered Luin
The Caverns of Sarnur
The Sun rose, shining its golden rays through the haze and murk of the Rushock Bog to see four sleepy companions huddled around a campfire on the outskirts of Needlehole in the Shire. The companions themselves rose too, but much later than the Sun did.

"Whose bright idea was it to sample every ale, mead, cider, wine, lager, porter, and stout offered by all the taverns in the Shire?" I asked as I cracked open one bleary eyeball. "Drodie, would you be so kind as to stop ramming your shield into my forehead?" There was a groan from somewhere nearby, but no one answered me.

"It seems the only thing more stout than our Dwarf is stout itself," came Lagodir's voice. Normally I would have been inclined to laugh at this jest, but I restrained myself due to fear of what laughing was likely to do for my headache. It was a wise decision: I heard Lagodir give a soft chuckle at his own joke, but then he quickly moaned and fell silent.

"We should not tarry here any longer than needed," said Gaelira as she strode up to the rest of us. "It is still another two days' march before we cross the River Lune, and the leagues remain long from there to the gates of Sarnur where Brullug awaits us."

"Not so loud, if you please," mumbled Nephyn. I wondered how it was that Gaelira was the only one of us who appeared unaffected by our Shire-wide imbibing from the past two days.

It was some time before our Company had collected itself, eaten, washed, and finally set out once more upon the westward road. We passed slowly over a couple of impressive stone bridges I had never seen before (having had no reason to come this far beyond Needlehole even as a Bounder) which were obviously of Dwarf-make. I wondered when the Dwarves had built them and why, but either Drodie didn't know or he was still feeling too poorly from yesterday to bother answering me. Eventually, we passed through the Rushock Gate at the very western edge of the Shire and left my homeland behind us. I had an odd sensation as I did so: almost as if I was no longer really from there, but was merely passing through; like the rest of my friends.

The scenery today was rather unremarkable: it was smooth grass in every direction with only the occasional copse of trees to break the monotony. What really held our attention was the horizon: there, not terribly distant and always growing closer, were the Blue Mountains. We trudged on well into the evening with the landscape not changing at all. Finally, we settled down in a small grove of ash trees for dinner and a sleep.

There had been rather little conversation among ourselves all day and I could sense everyone was eager for another rest, so there is not much to tell about today as a whole. The air tonight is cool but not too chilly and the stars are out like I have rarely seen them before. There are no clouds, for one thing, but more than that: they almost seem like they're closer to the earth than normal. As I lay on my back I feel I could stretch out my hand and snatch one (if I were quick enough!), then hold it gently and watch it flicker as it danced on my palm.

I don't expect that makes any sense, so I will leave well enough alone for tonight.

Sterday, 27th of Solmath, Year 1418 Shire-reckoning
The Elf-haven of Duillond, Ered Luin

This morning was quite different from yesterday: the Company was up early and talkative -- energized and ready for another day of travel. We had a good deal of laughs at everything we had done while in the Shire; some of us started comparing our pub-crawl to various enemies we had encountered during our time together and wondered which of them had done us the more lasting harm. After a solid breakfast of eggs, ham, and toast we set off again. Gaelira said she expected us to reach a place called Duillond before sundown.

Our surroundings didn't change much all day until after dusk. Just when I was beginning to think we would have to wait another day before reaching Ered Luin, I began to hear the sound of rushing water. Then we came to a remarkable bridge of stone (once again clearly of Dwarf-make) which spanned a swift and noisy river. Gaelira informed us this was the River Lune, and we were indeed crossing into the region of Ered Luin at that time.

As we walked across the bridge, I peeped over the edge and saw white foams cascading over smooth rocks and tumbling away southward to our left. The Lune then widened and calmed and stretched all the way to the edge of my sight, where it must have eventually met the Sea. The light was quickly fading, but I thought I could see -- far off in the distance -- the elegant sails of an Elven ship gliding along the water. Normally I might have felt rather giddy at that sight for we were somewhat elevated by then (we had been gently climbing with the land over the past two days as we drew nearer to the mountains, but I hadn't noticed it for the incline was so gradual), but thanks to the sturdy parapets of the Dwarf-bridge I was able to enjoy the view comfortably.

"Are those the Grey Havens?" I asked Gaelira as I pointed. "I've heard of them in more tales than one! Never thought I'd be seeing them myself one day."

"Yes, yonder lie the Havens," Gaelira answered, but she did not share the view with me; her eyes and her feet remained pointed toward the west. "Our road lies not that way. Not yet." I looked after her.

The she-Elf's voice didn't sound angry to me, or even annoyed. I left my perch and followed after her. As we walked, I thought about everything I had heard regarding the Havens. I began to wager I could guess why she did not wish to discuss them -- and I did not mention them again.Very soon after this I spied lights twinkling in the rocks above us and the faint sound of singing floated down to cover us like a cloud.

"Those are Elvish voices!" said Lagodir. "Were I blind and forgetful of our road together, I might have thought I was once again wandering into the Valley of Rivendell."

I won't deny the thought had occurred to me as well. Duillond proved to be a delightful place, full of food, song, and cheer. It was very much like a small town (only much older, as one could easily see from the tall and beautiful towers and carven walls which rose all around us) and apparently we had arrived in the middle of some sort of festival or gathering. We were invited to stop, rest, and feast with the inhabitants, and what a curious lot they were!

There were Elves of every kind -- some taller and fairer than others (although everyone was taller than me, of course); some with golden hair like the Sun on a wheat field, and others with dark hair, black as a raven's wing. There were also some rather haughty and lordly types which were introduced to us as "High Elves." I have some limited understanding of what was meant by this, but much of what was said in that place went clean over my head. The fact that I was exhausted from a hard day's march and now quite comfortably full from ample and sumptuous foods did not help matters.

What I did gather from all the discussions was that the goblins of Ered Luin had become a nuisance once again, only this time they appeared to be forming an alliance with the Dourhand Dwarves. The Dourhands, you may remember, are not unknown to me as the Bounders have had issues with them on the borders of the Shire recently, but I had never heard of anything like this about them working together with goblins! The very thought nearly took my appetite away (nearly).

A good while later we were given comfortable lodgings and permitted to rest before taking up our road again in the morning. Gaelira remained outside talking with the other Elves while the rest of us chatted among ourselves. We all found Duillond to be a capital place and its citizens to be a very respectable people. Drodie, true to fashion, merely grunted and said nothing.

As I lay myself down for sleep, I wonder whether we will see Sarnur tomorrow and what sort of plans Gaelira and the others have devised for conquering that place. I admit I'm starting to get a little nervous about it.

Sunday, 28th of Solmath, Year 1418 Shire-reckoning
The Fortress of Gondamon, Ered Luin

I awoke feeling most refreshed and ready for another day of travel. The Elves of Duillond seemed rather different toward us this morning than they had last night. Not in any disrespectful way or anything like that, but they seemed more somber and brooding. I suspect Gaelira had filled some of them in on (at least parts of) our mission, and so there was a good deal of advice-giving going on, as is typical with Elves.

They advised us to not go directly to Sarnur but instead to stop in at some place called Gondamon first. There, we would be able to consult with the Dwarves and gather news about the doings of the Dourhands and the goblins; this way it was hoped that we would learn about them before running into them and so avoid a few unneeded complications. This seemed like sound advice, so after many fare-thee-wells and at-your-services, we were off.

We returned to the main road and struck northward. The way was well paved and obviously cared for by someone, so we made very good time. I was able to take in some of the countryside as we walked. There were tall firs and prickly pines aplenty, but the mountains themselves always held my awe above the rest. We were practically among them now, though still about the knees. With their heads hidden high in the clouds, I wondered just how tall they were. As I was staring upward contemplating this, I felt something cold but soft strike my face.

"Well, look at that!" I exclaimed. "Snow! I had no idea we were so high up already."

"We have been slowly climbing upward for some time now," said Lagodir as he squinted at the distant mountain-peaks. "Since not long after our departure from your Shire, unless I am mistaken."

"Quite right," came a voice, which I was surprised to realize was Drodie's. The Dwarf was usually quiet, but he had been downright mute since our epic pub-crawl.

"Do you think we will reach Sarnur today then?" I asked. I tried to sound casual, but I really was starting to hope we might somehow find a way to avoid this whole stage of the adventure.

"The Elves of Duillond recommended we gather our strength in a place called Gondamon before attempting to enter Sarnur," said Nephyn from behind me. "Although I could not tell you where that place might be, for I have never been in this land."

"It is a funny name!" I said with a laugh. "Who came up with it, I wonder? It sounds to me like a gonging bell: GOND-a-monnnnnnnnnnn..." I amused my friends by imitating the sound.

"The Elves named it, of course," said Gaelira with a laugh, "As they did most places in these lands, for my kindred lived here long before the Dwarves settled it. But, Padryc, I thought by now you had learned at least enough Elvish to know Gond-amon. That is: Stone-hill, or Hill-of-stone, if you prefer, and a most appropriate name too: for it is a stone-height which commands an excellent view of the surrounding country."

"Pah!" spat Drodie unexpectedly. "Gondamon may have been nothing more than a pile of rock when last you skipped your little fairy-feet over these lands, Gaelira, but today it is a fortress, and one to be proud of! Many centuries ago we Longbeards raised a bastion of stone atop that hill, and now it is one of the strongest fortifications you are likely to find west of the Misty Mountains. The Dwarves took your little knoll and transformed it into an impassable citadel."

"You will hear no argument from me on that count, my friend," the Elf replied, "Your folk have indeed created an impressive work there, as we should see ere this day be past us. And you are right also on the first count: the Gondamon I knew was indeed little more than a hill of stone, for the centuries in which the current fortress has stood are but small count in the years of my life."

"You will get one argument from me though, Master Dwarf," said Lagodir grimly. "But only this: that there be no such thing as an impassable citadel."

"Truly spoken," came Gaelira's reply. "Time was when Ered Luin was nothing more than the easternmost reaches of the great realm of Beleriand, which boasted the mighty citadels of Gondolin and Nargothrond. Menegroth there was also, where my people lived upon a time in bliss -- yet none of those places survived the wrath of the Great Enemy. Impregnable we deemed them all, and now they lie beneath the waves." No one spoke again for a long while after that.

We saw nothing too interesting for the rest of that day except a lonely wolf and a few foxes. Around the time when the sky turned orange we saw the tips of the spires of the fortress at Gondamon. Even from a distance I could see that Drodie's description of the place was not off the mark: it was a strong fortification -- built of solid stone -- the like of which would be the pride of many lesser kings or vassals in Middle-earth to occupy and command from. I felt very safe knowing we would be spending the night there.

A while later, just after sunset, we arrived at Gondamon. The Dwarves welcomed us eagerly, especially Drodie, (although I think some of them had an eye on Gaelira), for they understood from our talk that we had come to explore the depths of Sarnur. The reports were that Dourhands had been using that place as a sort of barracks and fall-back position, and that meant any effort by us to enter it would mean fighting through the Dourhands, and that meant we'd be aiding the Longbeards in their mission to eliminate them and the goblins from the surrounding areas. Dwarves, whatever else they may be, are a very practical people.

There was a good deal more talking and reporting and planning and strategizing that night, but I paid it all no mind. I was much more concerned about the prospect of walking headlong into the main encampment of a bunch of surly Dwarves who were, for all intents and purposes, at open war with a bunch of other surly Dwarves. Here I am, trying to calm down for some decent sleep, and I have to be thinking about this?

You know, it occurs to me that nearly all of Mallacai's tasks seem to have taken us straight into spots which were on the brink of armed conflict...

Monday, 29th of Solmath, Year 1418 Shire-reckoning
The Caverns of Sarnur, Somewhere in Ered Luin

It was mostly cloudy this morning as we breakfasted with the Dwarves of Gondamon keep. I was surprised to find several Elves milling about as well (I suppose I had missed them during the previous evening due to the failing light), but we did not linger there long. The Dwarves saw us off as we trotted out the west-gate, then followed the road as it turned north, then west again. The snow starting falling lightly once more and the woods around us became strangely quiet.

By noon we had passed under a water-course and saw another Dwarf-bridge spanning a small river to our left. Finally, we came upon another small outpost of Longbeards at a place called Noglond. From the sentries we learned that the entrance to Sarnur was not far at all: it was across the Vale of Thrain and on the far side of an old Dwarf-ruin called Orodost. The only problem was the fact that Orodost was now infested with goblins while the Dourhands were holed up in Sarnur itself. It looked like either some sneaking or some fighting was going to be in order.

We initially elected to try sneaking, but that proved impossible. For one thing there were far too many goblins to sneak around. Couple this with the single entryway which ran up a narrow staircase, and stealth was clearly not an option. However, fighting proved to be a perfectly acceptable alternative as the goblins were a weak breed and mostly just fled from us when we came upon them in wrath. We all marvelled at the ease with which we cut them down and made our way further and further into Orodost.

"These must be a decidedly less tough strain of the little beasts than the ones we faced in the Misty Mountains," said Nephyn with a laugh. "May all our battles go so easily! I have always known goblins to be craven cowards, but this lot is the worst I ever heard of."

"It is not the goblins that are different," said Gaelira as she wiped her sword clean of goblin-blood in the snow. "It is you, and all of us, that are different. We are stronger for what we have faced over the past three months -- both individually and as a Company." I hadn't thought about it that way.

A short while later we had penetrated deep into Orodost. That ruin was comprised chiefly of stairways and landings which climbed higher and higher up the mountain-side. At long last, we found ourselves looking at a cavernous opening in the rock. We had fought many goblins, but none of us were tired. Rather, we hesitated a moment at what felt to me like a cloud of uncertainty or fear that was emanating from that yawning crevice.

"Sarnur," said Drodie, simply. "Just another of my people's works which the traitorous Dourhands have defiled with their presence."

Together, we walked under the shadow of the mountain-wall and into Sarnur. The light was quickly swallowed up and our eyes took some time to adjust to the dimness. A ways further in, we came to a large door of iron. It looked incredibly heavy and I was wondering whether we'd even be able to open it, but Drodie and Lagodir were able to haul each panel back with relative ease. As we passed within, I was surprised to find the place was not at all what I had been picturing in my mind.

"Dear me!" I said as I looked overhead. "I was expecting something more along the lines of Goblin-town -- all close and stuffy with no light at all. This is quite different; just look at how high those ceilings rise!"

"This is no goblin-hole, Padryc," said Drodie from just ahead of me. "It is a proper Dwarf-keep which has known light, feasting, laughter, and music. Besides, while goblins may love the darkness and the Dourhands ally themselves with it, no Dwarf would deign to live crawling around dank tunnels in blackness like vermin: if they are using this place as a bivouac, we can expect there to be light within these caverns -- along with drink and victuals."

"What a pity!" I replied. "It's a bit grandiose for my tastes, but I wouldn't have minded exploring the place back when it was as you say, Drodie. But from the look of things, it must have been a very long time ago indeed since anyone has walked here."

"A very long time ago?" asked Nephyn. "Then how would you explain them?"

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

The Adventures of Elladan's Outriders -- Episode 35

Leagues and Lagers

Mersday, 25th of Solmath, Year 1418 Shire-reckoning
High-King's Crossing, Parth Aduial, Evendim
Mmm... Beer...
The Sun rose this morning, but the only reason one would know it was because it became slightly less dark. Storm clouds had arisen during the night and began pelting us with cold droplets which made for a rather uncomfortable awakening. We, for the most part, didn't really care about this since we were much more interested in Lagodir's condition. Ever since he had dared to strike down that terrible wraith in the ruins of Annuminas he had been in an awful state, but after some more adventures we had procured enough medicine to revive him.

The Gondorian was faring exceptionally better today and probably would have been feeling even more himself had it not been for the cold and wet weather -- what luck Fortune had bestowed yesterday in dealing with the unsavory merchant Enro Smuin and his demands seemed to have been spent as the climate itself turned against us. Still, the Company was not much bothered by this as Lagodir was clearly improving, and that was something for which to be grateful: saving his life had been a rather close shave, as the saying goes.

So began the last and, in a way, the most intimidating part of our quest to supply the artisans of the Seekers of the Seven Stars with the material needed to secure us the equipment we would require in Angmar. For one thing, none of us really knew what our final task involved -- aside from the fact that Sarnur was an old Dwarf-keep located somewhere in the Blue Mountains -- but the nature and threat of Brullug, the foe we were required to defeat, remained a mystery. The immediate issue, however, was not Brullug or Sarnur, but rather the immense distance which now lay between us and the Ered Luin; a distance that would take nigh onto a week for us to cover. And we were in no hurry to get started either, which one can understand after everything we had been through. For one thing, none of us had eaten or slept since the day before yesterday.

This would explain why it took us quite a long time to get moving. Even though Ost Forod was a seedy place populated by the most shifty-looking characters, we loitered about longer than we really needed to. We had to replenish our stores in preparation for the coming journey, for one thing, and we also did not wish to hurry Lagodir in his (still weakened but obviously improved) state. While I kept the Man company and warm, the others went about business with the locals. I don't think most of them liked us being in their little stronghold, but I also think they were somewhat intimidated by us. And well they should have been -- I doubt that any of these layabouts would dare to so much as look at us disapprovingly if they had the slightest notion what this Company has faced and overcome.

Anyway, the long and the short of all this is to say we were some time in getting off. This would explain why we only made it as far as the High King's Crossing (where we are now and where I am writing this entry) before calling a halt. The colossus served useful in keeping us out of the rain during the night but we all needed a good drying out by a fire, for the weather had been miserable all day. There wasn't much talk among the Company except to ensure Lagodir was alright, but the Man has been assuring us he is feeling better with each passing hour.

Highday, 26th of Solmath, Year 1418 Shire-reckoning
The Village of Oatbarton, on the borders of the Shire

The rain did not let up all night or even into this morning, but that did not stop us from getting back onto the Road. It was not a driving rain -- merely a light sprinkle at most times -- but we also wished to make up for some of the time we had lost yesterday. We had dried out our wet things overnight, but they ended up getting wet again in short order.

The road today was long and boring. Once we left the bridge at the Crossing we climbed upwards for some ways then were obliged to follow a non-existent path southward. The Road itself vanishes in those parts, giving way to a fine gravelly soil, but we steered ourselves using the western bank of the Brandywine River for a very long distance. We saw a variety of odd creatures today such as sand-crawlers and a few rather large lizardish-looking things, but they minded their own business and we minded ours. After many miles of trudging through this unchanging scenery we finally struck the Road again and continued along it southwards.

Our intent was to try and find an inn or perhaps a hospitable hobbit in the town of Dwaling, but things didn't work out quite according to plan. Dwaling is a small hamlet nestled in a dell just east of the Road. Though it lies well north of the Shire-bounds it is still populated by hobbits, but when we finally arrived there we found the whole place in an uproar. Apparently there had been trouble with some foreign Men muscling their way in on the place (though just where they had come from and for what purpose no one seemed to know). Such things had never been heard of before in those parts, so we were not offended when the residents asked us to please move along and leave them in peace.

Though we were very tired (and very wet, for the rain had still not abated), we pressed on all the way to Oatbarton, where we are now. News of the happenings at Dwaling had, of course, found their way here in no time at all, and in fact nearly all of the Bounders assigned to the north-bounds had been sent up that way to deal with the problem. Needless to say, we found the folk of Oatbarton no more welcoming of strangers than we did the folk of Dwaling, but we did not make a fuss. We planted ourselves well outside of town under a huge oak tree, lit a bit of fire and made the best of it. We still get dripped on now and then, which is annoying (especially when one is trying to get some sleep after marching all day), but I can bear it. For one thing, it is far less bad than many other places I have seen by now, but also (and more importantly) we are now on the very borders of my homeland. I haven't felt this safe in many weeks.

Going to sleep now. Still raining.

Sterday, 27th of Solmath, Year 1418 Shire-reckoning
The Golden Perch, the Shire

I hadn't noticed it previously, but when I got up this morning I made it a point to find out which direction the clouds were travelling because (you guessed it) it was still raining! As you might have surmised, the clouds were of course moving south, so we had been walking along with them and keeping ourselves sopping wet for the past two days. There was some grumbling over this, but of course there was nothing to be done about it except to get a move on.

This we did with some enthusiasm despite the disagreeable weather, for we were finally crossing into the bounds of the Shire, my home. We made our way through the Bullroarer's Sward and into the Greenfields shortly after sunrise, and I had been regaling my friends with tales of the Four Farthings all morning. Naturally, these revolved chiefly around food and drink, and I was insistent that we visit each and every one of the Shire's famous taverns since we had to cross through anyway.

"Once we're at the south end of these fields we'll reach the Brockenbores," I said as I pointed ahead of us. "The Plough and Stars Inn sits on a low hill overlooking the town. They have this excellent cider called Stars of Old that we simply must sample. After that the quickest way through the Shire would be to head west through Overhill and down to Hobbiton, but I would have us bear slightly eastward instead: that way we will come to The Golden Perch, which is held by most to serve the finest beer in the Eastfarthing."

"I, for one, wouldn't mind seeing more of this land," said Nephyn as she looked about her. "How green this place is! It is aptly named."

"Would your detour cost us too much delay?" Gaelira asked me.

"I would say not more than half a day," I replied. "It is out of the direct way, but the distance is mostly southerly and only a short ways east. Besides, we will have to cover the southward distance in any case if we are to strike to Road and continue on toward the west-bounds."

The rest of the Company agreed to this plan and there quickly arose a dispute as to whether Drodie or I would win a rematch of the drinking contest we had played at weeks ago in the Forsaken Inn. Eventually, we all decided to test our drinking derring-do in a series of contests which would be held at each of the six major taverns throughout the Shire! It was as delightful a game as we had ever devised yet on our long and (usually) darksome journey together.

Reaching The Plough and Stars was like greeting an old friend. You may recall, Dear Reader, that I used to frequent every pub and eatery in the Shire back in my time as a Bounder. Old Halson Tubwort greeted me warmly (despite the unusual nature of my companions) and set us up by the fireplace to warm ourselves as well. Once we had dried our skins and thawed our toes, we began to discuss that contest again. I was just about to head over and place an order with Hal when a most peculiar hobbit hopped down from his stool and planted himself in front of us.

"Well met, friends!" he said cheerily. I was a little taken aback at first: it was not at all usual for hobbits to be so welcoming of Outsiders, especially when the Outsiders are comprised of Elves, Dwarves, and Men (all of whom were so obviously from foreign parts) in the company of a Shire-hobbit. Still, I retained my Southfarthing politeness and greeted him in appropriate fashion.

"Good evening!" I said aloud. "To whom do we owe the honour?"

"My name is Lightfoot," said the hobbit with a bow. "Caedman Lightfoot, at your service. You don't know me, nor I you, though it's as clear as the hairs on my toes that you, at least, are from 'round here," he said, meaning me. "Your dress and your speech make that as plain as plain."

"And what can I do for you, my good hobbit?" I asked in return. Perhaps a life of nearly three months on the road and in all manner of unsafe conditions had put me more on my guard than I otherwise might have been, though of course there was nothing to fear in the Shire.

"Well, I couldn't help but overhear your conversation and it sounds to me as though you've all been a-travelling of late. Ah, I thinks to meself, That lot must be chilled to the bone from the looks of them and I reckon they could all use a little pick-me-up. So that's what I'm offering: how would you like a round of Stars of Old Cider on me?"

"That really is a most kind offer," I said, genuinely grateful. "We can pay you, of course."

"No need! No need!" he chirped as he scampered off to the bar to place the order with Tubwort. "I represent the Inn League, you know, so it's my duty to provide samples of the local fare to passers-by. Though I daresay we've not seen the like of your company in some time, maybe ever! Still, be that as it may, you lot wouldn't have come into The Plough if you hadn't been a-lookin' for some beer in the throat, eh?"

"We cannot deny that!" I said.

"Nor would we, even were it untrue," laughed Drodie. "Let us see about that contest, Padryc!"

Whatever misgivings the locals may have had about our queer Company we dispelled by riveting their interest in a rousing drinking game. In the end, everyone but me was lying in a heap on the floor, and this created a fine round of cheering from the hobbits, for they were very happy and proud to see one of their own kind best the others at imbibing. We hung around a bit after that, but it was best that we put a few more miles behind us while the day lasted. We bid farewell to the patrons and to Mr. Lightfoot, after thanking him many times for his generosity.

When we set out again I was relieved to find that the rain had finally stopped. The air remained thick with moisture as we walked eastward past Scary then turned south until we reached Budgeford. We then took to the Road, but turned east again instead of west, since that was the way toward Stock. By sundown we had stepped over the threshold of The Golden Perch. 

The common room there was much more crowded than was The Plough, it being a more famous inn and also it being eventide. Just as before, there were some dark glances thrown our way, but once again we overcame this with another drinking contest. This time Nephyn was the winner, which surprised everyone (including Nephyn, I think!). There was still great appreciation and cheer at our display, to say nothing of the fact that several of the patrons recognized me, and so our welcome in the Shire probably went off about as well as it ever was likely to do given the circumstances. We then set down to a hearty supper of mutton pies and roasted vegetables.

The inn, however, did not have the means to house my oversized companions (save, perhaps, the Dwarf), so we all pitched camp out-of-doors once again. None of us minded, though, including me: it is a fine evening with a clear sky and everything is fresh and clean thanks to the rains. Tomorrow we should be able to cover a good deal of distance, assuming we don't get too bogged down at the four remaining taverns along the way.

Sunday, 28th of Solmath, Year 1418 Shire-reckoning
Needlehole, on the western bounds of the Shire

I could easily go into great detail about the places and things we saw today, but I doubt very much anyone besides a Shire-hobbit would be much interested in it all. I will provide enough for you to understand where we went, where we are now, and where we intend to go next, but I shall endeavor to avoid boring you with too much minutiae.

We had ourselves an excellent breakfast at The Golden Perch before setting out westward on the Road. It was roughly ten o'clock in the morning when we came to Frogmorton and popped into The Floating Log. The Log is not an outstanding inn, but it is a good, down-home and rustic sort of pub and worth at least paying a visit. This we did then moved on to lunch at The Green Dragon in Bywater. The Ivy Bush was next, which lies a little further west in Hobbiton, and finally we supped in The Bird and Baby which adorns the very centre of Michel Delving, the largest village in the Four Farthings. Finally, we walked even further through dusk and into the evening, passing through the Rushock Bog, before settling down in Needlehole for the night.

I, of course, have been to Needlehole before, but it's some time since I was here last. The folk of this village feel a bit different from the rest of the Shire. And small wonder -- the Rushock Bog has a road which runs through it, but it is not a place most hobbits would prefer to travel unless they really must, so they are a bit isolated out here. Also, there are sometimes bands of Dwarves which journey to Needlehole out of the Blue Mountains for trade, and this serves to further enhance the exotic feeling. This had the odd effect of actually making us more readily welcomed by the inhabitants than we had initially experienced at some of the other stops along the way.

In any event, our journey through the Shire is now very nearly over: we have only to pass through the Rushock Gate and we will have crossed into Ered Luin. From there, Drodie tells us it will be another two days' march before we reach the River Lune and finally start to draw nearer to our goal. He seems to have some idea of where and what this Sarnur place is, but if he knows anything at all about Brullug he is keeping it to himself.

There was, of course, a great deal of talk among ourselves as we walked at ease through my country, but I said I would not tire your ears (or your eyes) with such trivialities. Mostly they asked about local customs, various landmarks, and of course my own home and where it lies. The proper answer to that last is nowhere, since my home was unjustly sold to the Sackville-Bagginses some time ago, but what home I used to have is a good ways off in the Southfarthing. I won't deny that I wished very much to see the place, but I did not let on about this to the others. For one thing it would create a much greater delay than my little detour to visit The Golden Perch, but also I do not think I would take it well -- seeing my old Dad's farm being squatted on and run by strangers.

I should probably get some sleep now. Oh, and in case you're wondering, the remaining four drinking contests were split between Nephyn and Lagodir at two apiece. That makes Nephyn our quaffing champion, much to everyone's shock. Nephyn swears she hardly ever touches beer, but personally I don't believe her: how can someone be (quite literally) raised in a pub and not?