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...

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