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?

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