Rangers of the North

S02E16 - Partings
Wherein our heroes part ways again, each to his own designs.

Eregion – one week later: The canoe flows jerkingly against a current not so obstinate to require struggle, neither compliant enough to make it pass unnoticed. At any rate, it is a small task for two burly woodsmen as the two who ply the paddles. The Huntsman – Feredir – and the Bear – Beoraborn – the two are journeying up the Cilstrem in search of Cillien the legendary Healer’s Hall.

After having stabilized Eldacar and provided what they could for the ancient Elf who still is unable to give his name, and indeed very little of coherent sense, Salabon speaks of a legendary hall of healers rumoured to lie upon this very stream. Travel to Imladris with patients as unfortified as these is an impossibility, but a house of healing thirteen leagues away on water seems a blessing to the unfortunate Companions.

By river the two reach what is undoubtedly Cillien after one day. Here, a grand and unusual building, quite unlike anything of Dunnish make in Feredir’s experience, its great gate locked fast. In the courtyard stands a small cottage. Within, it is clear that whoever here dwelt left in a great hurry, only taking with them the most important of valuables and belongings. Feredir, thinking a key to the bighouse might be secreted away here, commits himself to a thorough search. He does not locate any key, but he finds a leather-bound tome that closer inspection deals with mystical healing. He packs this away for Salabon. He also finds a set of masterwork leatherworking tools.

Beoraborn declares that he will have the cottage clean, cleared and aired by the time it will take Feredir to venture downstream to fetch Salabon and the two invalids. And this is in truth a fine place for the two to recuperate, even if the bighouse is still closed to the Companions. As Feredir merrily disappears down the stream, Beoraborn whistles a tune only the Beijibar can sound, and from the underbrush, the trees and even from under rocks and hills all manner of beasts flock about the big warrior. A few, simple more enticing whistles and the beasts descend into the cottage. “Warrior great I may be, but I am also great at keeping house!” he rumbles.

When Feredir reaches Salabon it turns out that Jack has left camp in the middle of the night. Feredir kicks up a great fuss, but Salabon calms him with wise words; Jack must do what he feels right in his heart, and his heart tells him to seek redemption alone. Not content with this, Feredir still understands that he cannot go charging after his friend – that would belittle his personal quest. Instead, he bids his most trusted companion, the wolf Greycloak, to go after Jack and keep him safe. Slightly appeased, he returns to freighting Salabon and the invalids down the stream.

**

The following day, Salabon wishes to investigate the Healer’s Hall. Feredir and Beoraborn explain how they have been unable to gain entrance, upon which Salabon asks, “Have you sent your mustelids within?” Feeling slightly foolish, the two unleash their fearsome weasels, and tru enough, they are soon back with a key that fits the lock.

Within, they find abandoned a school for healers. Here they have clearly taught some form of magic healing, much to Salabon’s interest and suspicion. They search the entire house, which is quite large, and upstairs they find an infirmary. Beoraborn once again vows to undertake the cleaning, and sends Feredir and Salabon away in the mean time. The two investigate the town below, where they find much of the same: The town has simply been left, and only the most valuable or necessary items and possessions have been taken. Curiouser and curiouser.

**

After having had the invalids lodged in the infirmary, Feredir declares that he is taking his leave. He will carry on his journey to the heart of Rohan by himself. He asks that Beoraborn stays to aid and protect Salabon and the invalid Elves, vowing to return before autumn. They make their farewells, and Feredir sets out across Dunland towards fabled Rohan.

Follow Jack’s adventures in Jack Fleetfoot: Path to Redemption, only on Obsidian Portal.

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S02E15A - Jack Fleetfoot: Path to Redemption
Chapter 1: Jack's awakening

The dark, but soothing voice speaks… Not really words that jack can understand, but still they tell him what to do…His vision seems somehow clouded, but everywhere he looks, there are riches beyond his imagining, and more still. The voice, and the dream-like reality draws him away… away from the environment.. away from the stench of great predators.. away from the screams of his friends… Suddenly his mind and vision are cleared. The feeling Jack now has, can only be compared to waking up after your most terrible nightmare, and allthough Jack is now fully awake, he has a bad feeling, deep inside of him. Something is terribly wrong. Jack has no idea where he is, it seems to be some kind of dungeon or castle basement, but it does not matter. He cannot shake the feeling that something is off. He starts runnning through the rooms and corridors of the structure. But when Jack suddenly finds his companions, his heart stops for a second. He cannot believe his eyes. On the floor lies the bloody corpse of a massive, pale dragon. Jack takes a step back. And as if the dragon wasnt bad enough, on the floor a few feet aay, amidst screaming companions, lies Eldecar with wide open eyes and a shattered body. Jacks world now stands still. after what seems an eternity, jack studders “what’s happened?!” Only Feredir seems to notice, and only replies “There are times and places, Jack,” says Feredir. “On occasion it is perhaps best to say nothing. This is such a time and place.” Jack feels the black cloud of guilt envelop him, and asks no more. With luck, Salabon manages to bring Eldecar back to life, and temporarily stabilize him with his skills as a healer, so for now, the danger seems to have passed. But for Jack, this is far froma ivctory. He does not know how, or why, but he was caught in a spell, and therefor unable to aid his friends in the battle against such a mighty foe. For that, Eldecar nearly paid the ultimate prize, and Jack is sinking into a pit of self.recentance. Why was he to weak to resist the spell? Why is he so obsessed with wealth and anything that shines with purity and magic, when, in the end, it means so little? Why does he abandon his friends, who now hates him, for the sake of himself only? Jack feels like vomiting when he thinks about what he’s become. He stares into the fire, and makes the final decision to leave the party, he’s not safe to be around anymore. Besides, they probobly wont even notice he’s gone, nobody has talked to him since the incedent. He tricks Salabon into talking him through the path from here to Minas Brethil, whe Jack feels he must start his path to redemption. When his waking shift that night is over, he silently leaves in the direction he’s been told. He walks for days. His feet aches, he’s hungry and tired, but most of all lonely. he misses his friends, but thinking about it, he reassures himself that his action now is for the best for everyone.

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S02E15 - The Fallen
Wherein our heroes must set aside their need for glory and adventure, as a friend's life hangs in the balance.

Ost-in-Edhil: Eldacar lies fallen. Trapped beneath the body of the dragon Tulukuron it takes all of Beoraborn’s might to shift the flaccid corpse enough for Feredir and Salabon to pull the Elf out. There, his blade, thrust so far into the Worm’s breast that only the hilt can be seen. Here, the Elf himself, his head cracked from the weight; no helm did he bear.

“But wait!” cries Salabon, “There is still life!” He can hear the distant beating of the Elven heart, like fading drums. “Brothers, we may save him still, but I need light! There!” He points to Eldacar’s belt, where strands of light testament that the enchanted amulet is still active.
Feredir carefully fishes it out, but drops it in shock, as he recognizes that it is one of the amulets from the entrance. “No!” cries he. “It is a trick, some foul sorcery! These are evil trinkets!” He throws it down the corridor.
“Heed me!” cries Salabon. “I need that light, no matter what you believe it to be. I cannot save him without it!”
“I will fetch it,” says Beoraborn, but Feredir waves him off.
“No, my friend, if anyone should risk the terrible magics, I will pay that price. This is my quest, and I owe it to you all.” The others can only shrug as Feredir recovers the amulet. He truly believes he is sacrificing himself, and although the other two know that there is no danger, his sacrifice is meaningful.

Feredir finds a crevice in the rock where he fastens the amulet with a few strips of leather.
“I must act in haste, I know not how long that light will work,” says Salabon, as he carefully cleans Eldacar’s head of blood, and cuts away what hair he dares. “Wait! Eldacar holds a life preserving mixture, he showed it to me himself. In his belt pouch!” They unstop the tiny vial and carefully pass the contents across the Elf’s lips. Almost immediately, the tincture takes effect, and it is clear that immediate danger has passed. But Eldacar’s head is still crushed.
Salabon swallows. “Have you any remedies that can mend these bones, Feredir?”
“Not in my herbary, alas. But did I not espy Bonehae moss on the banks where we disembarked”
“Bonehae?”
“Aye, you may know it by ”/wikis/edram" class=“wiki-page-link”> Edram, a silvery grey, soft moss that grows in large patches."
“I do know Edram! But listen, brother, for it to be effective it must be used immediately after being picked. You must find some way of transporting it down here. No go, quick! I know not how long he has.”
Feredir is about to get up, when they all three turn to see Jack Fleetfoot standing on top of the dragon looking down at them. He stares with dread at what has befallen Eldacar. He looks up at the others, and is about to speak.
“There are times and places, Jack,” says Feredir. “On occasion it is perhaps best to say nothing. This is such a time and place.”
Jack sags and stares at his feet as Hunter passes him.

“Now, Jack,” says Salabon, “I have use of you, and of you, Beoraborn. There are forges and furnaces, and any number of metals. Can you fashion for me some sort of harness that will hold Eldacar’s head in place while his bones heal? It has to be a perfect fit.”
“That we can do,” says Beoraborn, and nudges Jack. “You’re good with numbers, wee one, measure him.”
Jack almost evacuates his bowels as he is forced to lean close to Eldacar’s broken form, and measure his cracked head in detail, all the while Salabon is meticulously ministering care. All Jack can see is his own greed staring back at him: This is his doing. Eldacar would not be all but dead if he weren’t so greedy and corrupt. It should have been him that lies here, not Eldacar. He stifles a sob, and feels tears on his nose, but he bends his back to the task.

“Now,” says Salabon. “There is one piece of his skull that is pulverized; it will not heal, not even with elexirs. I have performed this exercise before, replacing a piece of fractured skull with a coin beat into the proper shape. But I do not know if I dare, I know not if it would work on an Elf!”
“They’re sensitive to iron, is what I’ve always heard,” says Beoraborn.
“That is my fear. I know not if it is but myth and old wives’ tales, but I dare not take the risk,” he laments. “If I only had some more potent material, a piece of legendary mithril, for example!”
Both Salabon and Beoraborn look in amazement at two pieces of mithril clanging to the floor before them. They are no less astonished when they look up at Jack Fleetfoot with an anguished grimace. “Use them well,” says he.
“Beoraborn, can you work these? They are not ordinary metal.”
The Beijibar grins. “With these works? These works were built to work mithril.”

They then return to the prison chamber. Gently Jack picks up the mask the ancient Elf was trapped in. It will be perfect. Hours, they toil, Beoraborn the smith working the metal, Jack jury-rigging, fine-tuning, perfecting, to create a brace that will hold Eldacar’s head.

In the mean time, Hunter has returned with a large, ornate urn filled with sweet-smelling, silvery moss. Salabon uses some fine crafting tools Beoraborn has found to trepan Eldacar’s skull. Removing the splintered and destroyed pieces of skull, he subsequently places the sliver-thin pieces of Mithril over the exposed parts. Feredir, who is made to hold the Elf’s head, is green and struggling, but he holds fast. Then Salabon gently lays the folds of skin back over the wounds, and stitches his finest needlework ever, closing the Elven head. “Now,” says he, “the pieces of skull lie precariously in place, but they must mend ere he will be dead within long. This is why we need the brace, to hold the pieces in place. No mortal would be up to the task, especially if we did not have these wonderful healing mosses! A few fragments of this gently coerced between his lips, and his bones will begin to mend, and only two hours will it take to rescue him from Death’s door. But beware! He will not be well for mayhaps months, and I will not guarantee that he will ever be himself, bruised and bashed about his brains having been. We must take care that his ribs are also in alignment, ere they, too will suffer and knit falsely, for this outstanding moss will remedy all his broken bones.” They follow Salabon’s instructions to the letter, and over the next few hours it is as if they can see the skull and ribs start to reset themselves: indeed, Eldacar’s very pallor shifts into something more recognizable, but still he does not stir. But one thing is clear: Their companion is saved – for now.

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S02E14 - Ost-in-Edhil
Wherein our heroes gain first-hand experience with dragons, and must prepare to make the ultimate sacrifice.

Wondrous is its wall-stone, laid waste by the fates.
The burg-steads are burst, broken the work of the giants.
The roofs are in ruins, rotted away the towers,
The fortress-gate fallen, with frost on the mortar.
Broken are the battlements, low bowed and decaying,
Eaten under by age. The earth holds fast
The master masons: low mouldering they lie
In the hard grip of the grave, till shall grow up and perish
A hundred generations. Hoary and stained with red,
Through conquest of kingdoms, unconquered this wall endured,
Stood up under storm. The high structure has fallen.
Still remains its wall-stone, struck down by weapons.
-“The Ruin” (unknown author) Old-English poem, 8th century.

Ost-in-Edhil. Words cannot do it justice. The Companions glide in silence in among the great ruins of this once the grandest of all Elven citadels. Although not a single structure stands unharmed, and wild growths cover most of the parts that are not all rubble, their shapes and locations give testament to how it once must have looked: geometrical and angled, completely foreign to the aesthetics that the Companions have encountered before, as unlike Annúminas, Deadman’s Dike, Twisted Hill or Tharbad as to Rivendell. Wordlessly, Hunter disembarks and drags the canoe and Jack up onto the bank, and the others follow. Jack’s heart beats fast.

“I don’t like this,” says Hunter. “I… sense something.”
“Yes,” says Eldacar coming up next to him, “I sense it too. A presence. Something foul has taken abode in this place.”
“It was a mistake to come here, I told you all along!” says Salabon. “We should leave this place at once. In fact, I know of a place not far from here, where there is rumoured to be these healers…”
Beoraborn takes up his usual stance when he has the urge to slay something evil. “No. We have come this far. I wish to see this place.” Jack is already far ahead.
“Jack!” calls Hunter, suddenly fearing for his friend once more, but he is relieved to see the Hobbit turn around, smile and wave. “Very well, we stay on the paths, we do not enter buildings without cause, and we stick together.”

**

They walk among the eerie and desolate structures, all angles and alien design, even to Eldacar. Whatever these Noldo built here, it looked like nothing else in all of Middle-Earth.
“Why is it so dreary here, Eldacar?” asks Salabon.
“I know not,” replies the Elf. “It is possible that these stones retain some of the essence of what transpired here. It is known to me that the Enemy appeared among the smiths and bade them craft for him magical talismans that he could force his will on others, and that when found out he destroyed this place. But that is literally thousands of years ago, before Westernesse was swallowed by the oceans. And the Elves that dwelt here are as alien to me as they are to Men or Hobbits. I have no knowledge of their ways, save that they were builders and delvers, wise and ingenious.”
“Were they all slain by the Enemy?” asks Salabon.
Eldacar smiles hollowly. “No, my friend, they were not. But they left this place, after its destruction, and went from this world. From the Grey Havens they set forth on the final journey across the Sea.”
“We must be weary for new Haunts”, observes Hunter. “Like the stones that bewitched Jack, I can sense these stones murmuring.”
“Yes,” says Eldacar. “There are voices in them still, but I do not understand all that they say. I do not believe them to be evil, but caution is certainly good.”

“Look at this,” rumbles Beoraborn. “A sign!” And true enough. They have reached a crossroads, and by the side stands a signpost, almost entirely covered in ivy, but still standing, after so many years. He reaches up and clears the sign. “What does it say?”
“To Khazad-Dûm,” says Eldacar. “To Moria.”
“Moria!” exclaims Salabon.
“Oh yes,” says Eldacar. “The Dwarves of Moria were great friends of the Hollin-Elves.” He is unable to explain more, as Hunter exclaims: “Where is Jack?”

The others look around, and there is no sign of him.
“Confounded!” cries Eldacar. “That Hobbit should be kept in a sack!”
“Fool of a Fleetfoot, where are you know?” cries Hunter.

**

Tracking Jack in the dust is easy: these roads have not been traversed for centuries. They lead through some garden where the immaculate fountain still spouts water, through a hedge under which the Hobbit could easily have snuck but the Men have to cut through, and through some derelicts. The tracks lead into a building that seems to be largely subterranean, and Eldacar exclaims: “The Halls of the Smiths! These are the Halls!”
At the same moment Hunter cries out in excruciating pain. He savagely grips his head, and falls to the floor, twisting in agony. Eldacar, wise in his Elven ways, instantly reacts and pulls the blank amulet from Hunter’s neck, ripping it loose and tossing it along the corridor. The pain leaves Hunter immediately. “Jack!” he pants, but the others can naught but nod grimly: They all understood well enough. Jack is in dire straits once more.

**

They enter the hallway, cautious and weary. Hunter still struggles with echoes from the visions he received from Jack: Flames, beating wings, terror. Dragons? He spies a rack with medallions upon the wall, it is clear that one is astray, and but the scuffmarks in the dust, Jack has taken it. Hunter gazes upon them, but is seized by violent visions, and imagines them to be imprinted with the Burning Eye he has seen in visions before. “Beware!” he cried. “Evil talismans! Do not touch them!” Eldacar examines the amulets, and conceives them to be some sort of key.
“We may have need for these, my friend,” says he, reaching for one.
“No!” cries Hunter, and pushes him away. “I will not have yet another of my friends endanger himself so!”
Eldacar sees the desperation in his friend’s eyes, and considers. “Feredir, listen to me. We will need these. I can see that they are…”
“Should any of you fall to the temptation I will be forced to strike you down,” says Hunter, drawing his sword. “I cannot allow you to endanger us all!”
The others, shocked, take a step back. “Very well! As you say. Lead us on.”
Hunter turns his back and picks up his medallion, carefully stowing it in a strip of leather, Eldacar smoothly pockets four amulets.

**

Down and down, the corridor leads. They enter some sort of cave system, where there is also a road leading to an underground river. Clearly these were subterranean loading docks. Eldacar speaks a formula, and makes light appear from his hand, illuminating their progress. Hunter is awed. He is also starting to shake off the shock from earlier, but he is still slightly distracted.
“What tracks do you read?” asks Salabon.
Hunter looks down, and spies Jack’s immediately. But he is not alone. “By the love of the Valar…”
“What is it, brother?”
“These tracks, they were made by a dragon!”

**

There is no hesitation. No second thoughts. The Companions know Jack Fleetfoot is in danger, and they have to rescue him. An unspoken bond ties them together.

“It is weak,” observes Hunter. “It shuffles its feet and veers. It is dragging its wings. But it is large.” They’ve followed the tracks through a second tunnel, down below the first. There are many dragon tracks. “However, I believe it is somehow trapped. I seems to be circling the same areas.”

They are entering a new tunnel now, and before them two enormous door are revealed. Then, a booming voice: “ELF! I command all lesser beings, tremble before my might, and remove the Elf, or I will kill this one under my thrall!”
The Companions halt, shocked, but as the voice repeats its command, frantic glances and gestures decide it best for Eldacar to move out of sight.
“Lo, the Elf is gone now from this place, pray may we see our friend?” Hunter calls out, and the massive doors slide open. The three Companions are nearly overwhelmed with terror, when before them a terrible dragon appears, Jack Fleetfoot mesmerized behind it, moving towards the back of the great chamber, a small door set in the wall.
“Puny Manling! Puny Manling! That you dare face ME here, in mine own lair, speaks of your courage? I will devour you now, that songs may be sung of your demise – an honour to you! Unless you are Elf-friends, then I shall enjoy torturing you slowly!”
“Please, I beg!” cries Hunter, immediately. He casts one glance at his friends, his eyes alerting them.
“No Elf-friends are we, O Magnificent One, but pilgrims come to marvel at your august presence! The wicked Elf caught us and forced us down here, the better to snare you! It was only your glory that frightened it away, saving us! We thank you, Radiant Master, if you must devour us, it truly will be an honour.” and he bows, nudging the other two to follow suit.
Hunter has recalled Bilbo Baggins’ notes on dragons and their vanity: even obvious false flattery falls favourably with most dragons, and it seems to be working. The dragon appears to soften up somewhat. It is clear, however, that not all is as it should be with it. It is pale: almost translucently white, with only the mere hint of a tinge of green, blue or black. Its eyes milky and its form withered and sinewy. Its wings do not appear to have been large to begin with, but seem as shrunken and shrivelled as the rest of the beast. It is perhaps thirty feet in length, but appears somewhat stunted.
“Your words… It has been long since words so pleasing befell mine countenance. I should keep you… THE HUNGER! It consumes me! I must eat you now!” bellows the dragon.
“Oh, Jewel of the Skies! I beg of you, if you are in need of servants, please allow us to act as such, it would be an unspeakable honour! Is it not better with vassals to serve, who can attain substantially more sustenance than a mere mouthful? We can find food!”
“Do not presume, little thing! You ARE food!”
Feredir grovels. “I mean no offense, your Majesty! I only beg you consider this; who will praise you, serve you, worship you?” The dragon pauses.
Salabon is impressed. For someone usually so outspoken against deceit and trickery, Hunter’s training as an Outrider infiltrator has never been more apparent than now. And he is good at it!
“Your words ring with the echoes of sense and truth, and truly I did not think of that. But it means little, my hunger ails me now!”
Hunter turns to Beoraborn. “Quick! Run into the woods and fetch some large game! I saw deer tracks just outside the citadel. And you!” he looks at Salabon, and very discretely glances down at Salabon’s herbal pouches. Herbs does not fail to interpret the glance. “I shall aid him,” he says.
“NO! You will remain here, none shall leave! Bring the Elf to, that I may devour it! This I command!”
“Oh, but surely you have no desire to eat the Elf,” cries Salabon, “when it is common knowledge that they are very poisonous!”
“What is this foolishness?”
“’Tis true, I am a healer, I am versed in these matters!”
“Then I shall devour you in its stead!” bellows the beast and rears.
“Oh no! You must not! I have inside me the blood of the Kings of Númenòr, there is some Elven blood even in me!”
The dragon visibly recoils at Salabon’s words. “Unclean thing!! REMOVE HIM FROM MY SIGHT! NOW! I shall kill you all!”
Salabon has no choice but to leave, and Beoraborn uses the opportunity to bolt away. This suddenly leaves Feredir standing alone in front of a clearly mad and starved dragon. He swallows. Prospects do not look good.
Before the dragon has a chance to act, he cries, “Glorious creature! By what line are you begot? Of what mighty destroyer are you the son? For surely, your lineage is the noblest of all! I beg you, tell me your name that I might cry it at the top of my lungs in sheer idolatry!”
“My line? Name?!” the dragons pits. The air seems to almost ignite before it. “It is incomprehensible to the likes of you!”
“Oh, indulge me, Radiant Lord, let me bask in the song that it must be to hear!”
The flattery seems to be working rather well, and Feredir finds himself breathing a short sigh of relief. He soon steels himself, however; weakened it might be, but this immense monster could still kill him with but a thought.
“My name… is [incomprehensible to mortals].”
“Astonishing! Marvellous! Beautiful! But what may I call thee, the better to dress my worship?”
“You may address me by my mortal name, which is…” The dragon grows visibly confused. It shrinks in on itself as it mutters and spits. “Elves, filthy stinking lying Elves! They must be destroyed! They have taken it all. Taken it!!” Then it remembers itself, and it pulls itself up to its full height again. “You may call me Turukulon, and TREMBLE BEFORE ME!”

**

Jack Fleetfoot swims. He swims inside his own head, confused, afraid, broken. Only partial glimpses of what transpires around him does he fathom, most importantly that it now is his great pleasure to serve the most magnificent lord of all, the dragon Turukulon. Jack is only partially aware of another soul sharing the small chamber with him, chained to the wall and a mask of iron covering its head and face. No, Jack has more pressing matters, and he looks around him, the room being filled with pieces of precious metals. He picks one at random, and finds in his hands perfect tools. He starts shaping the platinum: when he is finished, the most perfect likeness of Dread Turkulon will be a fitting offering to his new Lord.

**

Beoraborn runs. He is heading straight for the woods and as he is running so does his shape bend and ripple, until it is the shape of a bear running in his path. Beoraborn is an excellent hunter. In his shape of a bear he is nigh-unchallengable. Before long, the shaggy form disappears among the hollies, his thick hide not even phased by their rasping blades.

**

Salabon is in distress. He has left his brother to his own devices, in front of a dread beast, the worst they have ever feared. He must go back! He braces himself, turns, and is about to retreat down the passage, when he is violently dragged backwards, a hand clamped over his mouth.
“Hush!” breaths Eldacar. “I can hear all from this vantage point. I know Feredir’s intent!” He releases Salabon. “Go back outside, and forage; find the most potent killer your skills and lore can identify. Treat the meat Beoraborn brings down, and let us pray the beast is sufficiently dwindled that its senses do not detect the treachery. Now go!”
Salabon is still distressed, but his Elven Companion has given him purpose, and to this he leaps.

**

Meanwhile, Feredir has used every trick learned from Bilbo Baggins to entice, charm and flatter the beast. He has even managed to trick the dragon to roll, revealing to his eagle eyes the birth spot, the imperfection caused by the Wrath of Eru that the chronicles and Bilbo has revealed. It is close to the pit of his front leg, where the skin is soft to begin with. It will be nigh-impossible to pierce it there: weakened Turukulon might be, but not slow, never slow. Its erratic behaviour has more and more begun to manifest in wild, unpredictable movements, and it is clear to Feredir that even though few can rival his quickness, it is extremely doubtful that he will be able to draw his blade and dart across the expanse to slay the beast with one blow. As much as it pains him, this calls for more subterfuge. Had he but been carrying a spear…

He has now learned that the worm Turukulon, though thousands of years old, is not as old as Colargon, nor even of the same generation of worms. According to the books from the Library of Tharbad, Colargon was present at the Fall of Gondolin: Turukulon must have been spawned millennia later, although Feredir has very little knowledge of the times past to which the dragon refers, and knows not one of the names he mentions. It is not a reliable or straightforward narrative to begin with, and Feredir is not much the wiser for hearing Turukulon’s tale. What is clear, however, is that he has been trapped in these ruins for more than a thousand years, and that he feels tricked into coming here, the Elves being who tricked him and captured him. But this makes no sense, as it is clear that the Elves left this place long before even that, and that those so skilled as to dominate these halls would have found a way to slay the dragon, not leave him trapped.

Time passes, and Feredir is growing uneasy. His friends do not reappear, and he feels abandoned and cornered. He is seriously contemplating martial action, when the dragon suddenly forcibly ejects him from the chambers, charging him to find the others and bring the meat. “I can smell it!” he roars. “You must bring it here, lest I go in search for it and come across Elves! This I command!”

Feredir runs up the stairs, and is greeted by Eldacar.
He recounts what he has learned, and Eldacar grows sombre. “I believe I can slay the beast,” he says, “though not in honest combat. Treachery and subterfuge will do this work, and if I fail we may all be doomed.”
Feredir grabs his shoulder. “It may be our only hope. We cannot leave this mad evil alive, and we need to try everything to save Jack. If we give our lives for this task, at least we sacrificed them trying to do the right thing. No one can ask more.”
Eldacar nods. He does not like it, but some times the young Ranger’s moral compass points to the only path.

Salabon and Beoraborn return, the Bejibar with a freshly killed deer over his shoulder.
“I am sorry,” wails Salabon. “I could not find any substance of enough potency to poison a foe so great. I have failed you.”
“Do not despair,” says Feredir. “We still have a chance, and one that will make Eldacar a name of legend. Hear now our plan, and may the Valar look down upon us.”

Eldacar has searched the chambers along the corridors, and found several workshops, with doors leading into the dragon’s chamber. Here, armed with strong tools, Feredir and Salabon sit poised, waiting for the dragon to leave, so they can sprint into the smaller antechamber and free Jack and the other prisoner. Eldadacar, or Bragol, sits hidden, magically veiled, in a nook in the wall around a bend where the opening is so small that the dragon must squeeze through to get to the meat. This will allow him a very brief window of time to carry out his dark business. Beoraborn takes up his place before where the dragon will appear, refusing to fall to subterfuge and intrigue. He has his mighty bow in hand, ready to face the beast and die trying.

The doors explode outwards, and the dragon, maddened with hunger, crash through the halls, trumpeting and bellowing like a rampaging beast. Feredir and Salabon run without a moments pause, and in quick strides are across the room. The dragon is now pounding up the corridor, trumpeting. Eldacar feels like relieving himself. Beoraborn grins, and says a small prayer to his Bear Totem. It is a good day to die.
Clink, clink, the manacles are broken, the mask removed, and the Companions are surprised to see a withered, frail Elf sitting before them, his eyes almost milky, his skin almost as translucent as the dragon’s. Feredir lifts the fragile form, and Salabon puts Jack into a sack. “Where to?” Feredir asks the Elf. He feebly indicates a set of doors, and they head towards them.
Within they are greeted by a set of elaborately carved Elven warriors, statues of mithril, but as they are to pass through, one of them moves! It is about to bring a menacing sword down on Feredir, as the Elf speaks a few words in a long-forgotten tongue, which stays the statue, and it becomes once more immovable. Salabon breathes a sigh of relief. So Eldacar was right: The amulets were keys, and Feredir refused to carry one. Within the chambers, Feredir carefully sets the Elf down. “Will you be safe? We needs must aid my friends.” The Elf nods, and Feredir runs. Salabon is right behind him, Jack forgotten in the sack.

The dragon explodes down the tunnels, and rounds the bend where the smell of blood leads it, maddens it. Turukulon roars so that the walls themselves shake, and the floor tremors, and launches himself at the narrow opening. For just a split second he is stuck between the walls, but just as fast he is lose. Fast, but not fast enough: In the time it takes the dragon to force its way through, Eldacar has his opportunity! Manifesting from the darkness he comes, his sword leading the way for him: The thrice-forged blade of Imladris plunges directly into the very spot Feredir has described, in such detail that Eldacar, in the timeless moment he experiences, can swear that he has seen it before. In, in plunges the blade, and the dragon breaks the very air with a shriek so piercing that Beoraborn drops his bow and covers his ears. The cry echoes down the corridors, and knocks Hunter and Herbs onto the floor. It pierces the spell that binds Jack Fleetfoot, who suddenly finds himself awake inside a dark sack smelling of raddishes.
The dragon rears around, and spies the Elf who has slain him.
“Elfling. You are my bane! You have in Turukulon reddened your glittering blade! Your sword has pierced my heart. Heed me! I curse you now! This shall be your bane.” But whatever Turukulon’s great death-curse, only Eldacar could hear them. To the others, the words were lost in the violence of Turukulon’s death-throes. So, too, is Eldacar, lost beneath the mighty worm’s form as it finally rolls over, dead.

Feredir and Salabon round the corner in time to see the dragon still its throes. “Eldacar!” cries Feredir in desperation.

But there is only silence.

Notes: Turukulon’s words to Feredir are reminiscent of Fáfnir’s words to Sigurd in Fáfnismál. Turukulon seems to emulate Fáfnir when he can, albeit a clearly demented version. Bragol’s mode of killing Turukulon is also not altogether dissimilar from the way Sigurd slew Fáfnir; Sigurd dug a large pit in the path Fáfnir used to crawl from his hoard to water, and hid inside it. When Fáfnir crawled from the gold he blew forth venom, but it flew over Sigurd’s head. When Fáfnir crept over the pit, Sigurd with his sword pierced him to the heart. Fáfnir shook himself, and beat with his head and tail. Interestingly, all similarities were coincidental at the time of play, although Turukulon did have Fáfnir-like dialogue retroactively inserted to create a stronger flavour of mythopoeia.

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S02E13 - The Quest for Aeglin: Journey's Beginning
Wherein our heroes set out on a new and deadly adventure.

Bree, two weeks later. Barliman Butterbur, the proprietor of The Prancing Pony in Bree, is often host to many strangers and vagabonds, as it is the most famous inn on the final frontier to desolate Arnor. This morning, its inner-most table, the table the mysterious Strider often claims, the Prancing Pony is hosting four of its semi-regular patrons, no strangers to these parts. At the far side of the table sits the Huntsman, known as the best tracker in Bree-land and a friend to the Folk, for all his strange airs and habit of going walkabout. As with most of the Rangers who frequented the Prancing Pony, both Butterbur and the locals distrust the Huntsman, but grudgingly accepts him. There is, after all, no use in denying the deeds he has wrought for Bree and Bree-land, if the tales are to be believed. Curiously, unlike his last stay, he seems to be wearing the same colours as the illustrious Strider himself, though why Butterbur knows not. Must be some Ranger-thing. To his left sits the the regal yet popular Salabon, philanthropist and celebrated healer. He might be reminiscent of the hated Nobles of old, but everyone who knows of him agree that Salabon ain’t no nob, nor no common surgeon neither: physician, he is. To the Huntsman’s right sits Eldacar, the constantly hooded enigma who some claim to be an actual Elf. He speaks little, and keeps to himself, but rumour has it he can appear as a spirit and visit maidens in the night, earning him suspicious glares from the menfolk and intrigued glances from the women. The last person in their party, with his back to Barliman, is the Hobbit rogue Jack Fleetfoot, all mirth, fast hands and illustrious ideas. Butterbur likes him well, but keeps an eye on the silverware nonetheless. “Any more then, lads?” asks Butterbur.
“Nay, thankee, Barliman,” says the Huntsman, but one look at Jack makes him modify himself: “Oh, very well, one more round of spiced ale, if you please.”
“Certainly, sir,” says Barliman, collecting the empty clay mugs. As he leans across, he espies the large map drawn out over the table, eschewing lands more nothernly than quiet Bree-lands, with much scribbling and writing about it. He does not read, but one thing he understands, and that is a small drawing of a dragon.
“So, hunting a dragon are ye, lads?” he says, smiling lightly at his own mirth. To his surprise and consternation, all four grow dead-eyed and serious, turning towards him with suspicious stares. “Oh, er, don’t mind me, I’ll get out of your way, sirs,” mumbles Barliman, and scutters off.
The four turn back to their table.
“I’ll have no wicked word against him, but…” begins Hunter.
“…but he is not known for his close tongue,” finishes Eldacar. Hunter winces but nods.
“So brother,” says Salabon, “you really intend to travel all the way to Edoras for words on this Fram the Dragonslayer?”
“Aye, brother, he is the only man of whom I know to have slain a dragon. Though many generations ago, before the Founding of Rohan, there must be lorekeepers who can tell me of his story.”
“But they have no books in Edoras,” interjects Eldacar. “They do not write down their tales. How can we trust such spoken words from mere…” He checks himself when he sees the others.
“Mere Men?” finishes Hunter.
“No, I did not intend…”
“I will have you know that the oral traditions of my people are held in the highest regard, even among the Elves of Rivendell. The Rohirrim are an honourable folk; why, even my Chieftain served among them for a time.”
“Your Chieftain?” asks Jack. “Helvorn?”
“No, no, his name is…” But he doesn’t stop, because Barliman is back with their cups.
“Now, lads, far be it from me to play the nosy bugger, but see, there be one in these parts who knows about dragons and the slaying of them, and no mistake.”
“Really? Who?” asks the Huntsman.
“Why, the Baggins of Bag End. Everyone knows of the Baggins! Why, he gone on some adventure with Gandalf and a bunch o’ Dwarves, and come back richer than Castamir, having slain a dragon in yonder Esgaroth the Lake Town, east of the Misty Mountains.” The Companions stare at the barkeep in disbelief. “No, no, I do not tell a lie, I swear!” says Barliman, reading their faces. “He lives in Hobbiton, past Frogmorton on the other side of the Old Forest. Just ask around, everyone knows of the Baggins!” He meanders off again, leaving the group flabbergasted.
Eldacar is the first to break the illusion. “A Hobbit dragonslayer?! Of all the…” For the second time he checks himself, this time from looking at Jack.
“All the what, Elf?”
“Well, it just seems highly unlikely, is all,” declared Eldacar, crossing his arms and jutting out his chin.
“Simmer down, lads,” says Hunter, already pouring over the map. “Hobbiton is here, in the heart of the Shire. We need to go see this Baggins. I have to say, the name does sound familiar to me.”
“I must admit it does to me, as well,” adds Eldacar. “I believe it might be the Hobbit-friend of Lord Elrond, who lives in Imladris.”
“That ghost?” asks Hunter. “I’ve chanced upon him. There was nothing to be had from his words. But from what Butterman seems to opine, it can hardly be the same Hobbit. He speaks as if this Baggins is still around. The one I met in Rivendell certainly was no adventurer, let alone dragonslayer.”
“I’m just saying that you can’t rule it out as a possibility that a Hobbit can…” mutters Jack, arms crossed and pouting.
“We cannot all go gallivanting into the Shire,” Salabon points out. “That would be attaining unwanted attention.”
“True, brother,” considers Hunter. “There is the matter of the research in the library of Tharbad; I have no business attending to that. Why do not you two scholars venture to yonder library, while Jack and I visit the Shire?”
“What?” Jack sits up. “Why do I have to go to the Shire? Can’t I go to Tharbad?”
Hunter smiles overbearingly. “My stout friend, you among us is the only Hobbit. Travelling together we will attract less attention than Beoraborn and I. Besides, would you not enjoy seeing the origins of your kin?”
“Yeah,” says Jack with doubt in his voice, “that will be great…”
“What of Beoraborn?” Eldacar asks. The Bejibar is currently out attending to his cottage outside Bree, and his veritable menagerie of animal friends.
“I fear he will cause unwanted attention. Take him with you to Tharbad.”

The Shire. The sun shines, the birds sing, the leaves rustle gently in the breeze as to travellers, one Hobbit and one Tallman, saunter down a well-kept country road. The Tallman seems to be taking in and thoroughly enjoying the immaculate rurality, with its copses, hedges, fields, paddocks, brooks and fences, and sheep. If there is one thing his companion could do without, it’s another sheep. The Wilderness does not carry this ever-present stench of sheep droppings, nor does he have to endure the falsely polite fops seemingly encountered at every corner here. Ever since they crossed the bridge into the Shire, he has found an oppression that he did not expect. These are the false, lying, back-stabbing liars his grandfather told him about: these people will label you a thief and have you banished with never so much as a how-do-ye-do. Bah!

With the sun gently descending, the two find themselves outside a picturesque inn, aptly named The Green Dragon. Hunter perks up at this, nudging his friend and pointing. “Surely a portent of our success!” Jack only frowns and pouts. Full of more blasted Shire-Hobbits, no doubt. Only one thing do these valleys instil in him a longing: food. It seems that from every house they pass – or hole in the ground, as the case might be, there swims the mesmerising odour of cooking, and the most enchanting, wonderful cooking imaginable, at that. Every window seems blessed with a pie to cool, or some pot, stew, casserole, fry-up, roast, or else something boiling, baking, simmering or indeed being smoked. Say one thing for these Shire-Hobbits, say that they know their food.

Within, much merriment and indeed the succulent smell of simmering stew. Jack’s mouth is a-watering, but he does register how the world has seemed to stop in its tracks, every eye upon them, every body still. Of course, the big man. Jack opens his mouth to greet them, but Hunter beats him to it.
“Blessings upon this house, Gentlehobbits, weary travellers are we, my companion and I, seeking shelter, a bite to eat, and some cups of ale. Innkeeper, a round on me, if you please.” And he produces a copper piece, to raucous cheering, and the music starts up again, everyone returning to their business, the promise of a free cup of ale on the way stilling the most fluttering of hearts.

The innkeeper, a burly Hobbit with big sideburns, pours them ale in small, Hobbit-sized cups. Hunter is polite enough in strange company, but Jack, accustomed to the pint-sizes of Men, is visibly disappointed.

“So, what brings a big fella ’round these parts?” asks the bartender.
“Why, we’re seeking directions to a place called Bag End,” replies Hunter.
“Bag End? Why in the world do you want to go to Bag End? That’s the house of that mad old fool Baggins.” says the Innkeeper.
“Aye, the very man, er, Hobbit we seek,” says Hunter.
“Dunno why you would,” scoff the Innkeeper. “’E’s mad as a bag o’ cats, and gots a mean streak in’im, too. Right rude, one might say pugnacious, if’n I gots me definitions right (which I does).”
“The way we hear it, this Baggins has had some sort of confrontation with a dragon, leaving said Hobbit victorious and richer than Castamir?”
“Oh, aye, there be that. What kind of Hobbit has it in ‘im to go a-gallivantin’ and a-traipsin’ about the wilderness like some sort o’ Ranger, gettin’ up to who knows what with who knows who, who knows where?” He pauses, and considers his audience, a tall, grey-cloaked traveller in a broad-brimmed hat, his Hobbit friend clearly no clerk or farmer.
“Say, you don’t know Gandalf, do you?” says the Innkeeper, scowling at Hunter’s hat.
“I can’t say as I do, though his name is known to me,” admits Hunter.
“Well, good an’ all, he’s trouble, that one. Tangled up with Baggins, and no mistake.”
“Here, now,” interjects a patron, “Mad Ol’ Baggins doesn’t live up Bag End no more, ’e’s gone off to live with the fairies, so I heard tell. Bin gone the better part of ten years. There be a different Baggins up Bag End nowadays.”
“Oh, yes, indeed there be!” cries the Innkeeper. “Frodo Baggins! A distant nephew, I believe. Took over years ago. Now, Master Frodo, there’s a respectable Hobbit for youse. Keeps to himself, frugal with his finances, but not as one should call miserly, oh no no no. Keeps a lovely garden, polite and well-mannered. Yes, Master Frodo is all right.”
“Splendid!” cries Hunter. “And might one trouble you Gentlehobbits with directions to this Bag End? You see, we have business with Mister Frodo, and we’ve come rather a long way.” As he says this, he absent-mindedly places another copper on the bartop. “Oh, and please, another round for these respectable Hobbits. And one for yourself, of course, Innkeeper.”
This buys them not only the eternal gratitude of a parcel of Hobbits, but also the directions to that famous Hobbit abode, Bag End.

**

In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit. Not just a dirty old rabbit hole or anything, oh no: a smial, a fancy and grand excavation built in the side of a hill, in this case The Hill in Hobbiton, with beautifully wood-panelled walls, ornate doorways, and round, glazed windows. Bag End, as it was called, lay off a path leading from The Hill Road on the north side of Hobbiton. It sits above its three closest poorer neighbours on Bagshot Row. Hunter and Jack came upon it from this side, quite late in the evening, having hopped a fence, run from a bull, crawled under a hedge (or, in Hunter’s case, simply stepped over it), and finally jumped across a brook to stand where they now stood, on Bagshot Row. Both Dúnadan and Hobbit were impressed by its grandeur, it’s immaculate garden, and beautifully painted wooden arches and doors. They approach the main entrance, and Hunter pauses to notice faint markings on the door, at his own eye-height. A rune in Tengwar, painted over? “G”? How curious! He reaches to knock, but Jack stays his hand, having discovered an ornate door bell, of obvious Elvish design.
He pulls it. A tune very familiar to Hunter plays, and he has to ask Jack to pull again to catch it. He is about to ask once more, when the door abruptly opens, and a young Hobbit wearing an apron, holding a frying pan with a pair of kippers in it, looks them up and down.
“Yes?”
Before Hunter can open his mouth, Jack steps in front of him and extends his hand. “Ah, we seek mister Frodo Baggins of Bag End. Allow me to introduce myself: I am Jack Fleetfoot formerly of Reedhaven in the Angle, and this is my companion the Huntsman, a ranger.” Hunter, unused to playing second-fiddle, remains perplexed.
“I am he,” replies Frodo, equally perplexed. “May I enquire what this is about? It is very late, I was just about to have supper…”
“Oh, we don’t mind at all, how kind of you!” says Jack, and pushes his way in. Hunter, stooping, follows.
“I say, what is your business?” cries an indignant Frodo.
“I beg your pardon, we should have stated so” says Hunter. “We come about dragons.”

Frodo Baggins turns out to be quite an amiable fellow, if somewhat inexperienced and, as Jack would later describe him, “wet behind the ears”. He is only too happy to talk about his old uncle Bilbo’s travels, and allows Hunter to peruse Bilbo’s old journal, “My Diary. My Unexpected Journey. There and Back Again. And What Happened After.”. Jack initially is lost in marvel at a clockwork cuckoo clock in the hallway, and stays mesmerised for minutes while Hunter explains their plight in no uncertain terms. Frodo invites them both into the parlour, and offers tea, cake, biscuits, kippers, wine, more wine, port, ale, cheese, smoked meat, bread, butter and cookies, all the while talking about his own adventures, which amounts to nothing more than a few boyish pranks about the safe countryside.
As Hunter immerses himself in Bilbo’s tale, Jack is left to entertain the younger Hobbit, who will not stop prating about his “adventures,” chattering happily away as Jack finds himself growing increasingly annoyed and impatient with the youngster. Finally, Frodo finishes with, “Do you not think that was quite an adventure, Mister Fleetfoot?” and Jack can no longer contain himself.
“As it happens…”

Ten minutes later, Hunter and Jack find themselves evicted in the most uncouth manner, Master Frodo Baggins of Bag End crying, “And stay out!” before slamming the door. Hunter, bewildered, cries, “I believe I had a hat?” The door reopens long enough for Hunter’s hat to be flung in his face. He replaces it, and looks in astonishment down on Jack. “By the love of the Valar, what in the world did you say to him?”
Jack shrugs and grins impishly. “I just told him of our adventures. Somehow I don’t think he believed me…”

The following morning, Frodo Baggins’ gardener, Samwise Gamgee, finds his master fuming on the bench outside Bag End.
“Mornin’ Mister Frodo, may I enquire as to what is the matter?”
“Rangers, Sam, vagabonds and wanderers, charlatans and renegades. I tell you, Sam, I shall never trust one of the Rangers again!”
Sam is about to sit cautiously down next to his master when he remembers himself. He clears his throat. “Oh dearie me, Mister Frodo, why I don’t know about that at all. What I do know is that them tomatoes ain’t setting themselves, so pardon me…” He leaves the seething Hobbit alone. “Oh dearie, dearie me. Rangers and Elves and ghosts and goblins, what will be next?” he says to himself.

**

Tharbad. Eldacar, Beoraborn and Salabon arrive in Tharbad finding it like they last left it, but this time derelict once more. Still cautious, they first of all locate and establish a secret shelter where they can operate unseen in case of new, enemy incursions.

Once that is taken care of, they start the arduous task of fine-combing the library for information about dragons. It is a long and painstaking task, and one that requires hours and hours on concentration from Bragol and Salabon especially. Salabon takes great care and time in perusing the library for books, while Bragol scans page after page of the books found after any useful information. The Great Library is in disrepair, having been derelict for more than sixty years, but it has not seen proper usage for hundreds of years, its last caretakers operating symbolically more than anything, and as such its cataloguing system is in disarray. Many long hours do they spend cross-referencing only to find the reference missing or gone, some times entire shelving systems being amiss. There is, perhaps, little to be found in the first place: Dragon Lore is not a common subject, even among the great scholars. They unearth certain information about the region of Angmar that surely can prove useful later in their quest, but they finally come across a book that discusses dragons in certain detail. Deciphering the author’s script, let alone his syntax and general phrasing, is difficult, even to a skilled linguist such as Salabon. What they are able to gather is that the book claims all dragons to have a weak spot, a chink in their thick dragon scale armour, exploitable by the would-be dragonslayer. Supposedly a careful blow to such an area could slay the beast.

Some days later, Jack and Hunter reappear. Eldacar explains what they have found, and Hunter confirms that this fits with what he could extrapolate from the Hobbit’s tale. “With one arrow, carefully aimed, Bard fell the beast.”
“If it is so, it can be done. But what of our next move?” asks Eldacar.
Hunter is silent for some moments while the others chatter. He raises a hand. “I will go to Edoras, the Hall of the Rohirrim, for there may be knowledge there that will aid us. How one man can slay a mighty dragon is beyond my understanding, yet it has been done. Not only by Bard of Dale, but by Fram, one of the kings of the people who would become the Rohirrim. I remember his name in legend as if smoke from a fire: he is veiled to me, so little do I know of him. But I know that the Rohirrim are renown for their strong oral tradition, each generation meticulously passing down their lore to the next. Their loremasters will know how Fram slew the dread worm Scatha by his own hand.”-
Bragol nods his head. “There is wisdom in what you say.” he says.
“Very well, then tomorrow we set forth” proclaims Hunter.

As is their custom, the Companions share the duties in camp. This night Beoraborn forages for food, Hunter builds shelter and a fire, Salabon cooks, Eldacar gathers firewood, and to Jack falls the cleaning after the meal, leaving him idle to peruse the library at his leisure, something he greatly enjoys. Later, the friends have enjoyed a few nice, fat salmon Beoraborn gathered in very short order, and are passing around a bottle of brandy Salabon bought from Butterbur. Beoraborn throws another log on the fire.
“You look lost in thought Eldacar, What is amiss?” asks Hunter.
“No, my friend, nothing is wrong. I was simply reminiscing of ancient history. Not far from here, along where the Glanduin meets the Sirannon river that springs form high up in the Misty Mountains, showing the path to fabled Moria, lie the ruins Ost-in-Edhil.”
Beoraborn sits back down and looks at him and asks: “Ost-in-Edhil? Sounds Elvish. Where there Elves in these part, pray”
“Yes, it was a grand citadel, many claim the grandest built by the Eldar, and it was the capital of their realm here, Eregion, the land of holly. It was home to the Gwaith-i-Mírdain.” “People of the Jewel-smiths?” translates Salabon.
Jack’s eyes lights up and he leans forward to Eldacar: “People of the Jewel-smiths? You mean smiths who worked with jewels?”
“Yes, and other things as well, Master Fleetfoot. They were the legendary smiths of the Noldor, indeed they were said to be the most skilled artisans to have worked since the time of Fëanor himself. Celebrimbor was their chief, and only master-craftsmen did he surround himself with.”
“And this is near?” asks Beoraborn.
“Relatively so, I would wager a hundred miles.”
Jack scuttles nearer. “On the way to Edoras?”
“No, I should not think so, unless we were to stray a hundred miles off our course, and it is already more than three hundred miles through Dunland.”
“Only one hundred miles off course! But oh, may we not go there on our way? Verily there must be so much to be learned from such a place!”
Eldacar smiles. “I believe there is naught but ruins left there: the Enemy infiltrated their ranks and destroyed the citadel.”
Jack jumps to his feet, visibly begging. “I’m sure there are many things to see and learn nonetheless, would you not like to see it, the history of your people?”
Eldacar looks at Hunter, who shrugs.
“If its all the same,” rumbles Beoraborn, “I should like to see it myself. Imagine the treasures a smith could find!” A dreamy glaze has come over his eyes.
“Sure and all,” says Hunter. “It is not so far off our chosen path, and I admit to being curious about this ruined Elven city.”
“Are you being serious?” asks Salabon. “This is a bad course, we will lose at least a week! And on foot! How will we bring our mounts across?”
“As to that,” smiles Feredir, “I believe I have a solution. What say you, Eldacar, will we see this ruined city of yours?”
Eldacar shrugs. “I don’t see why not. What possible harm could it do?”

**

A day and a half later the companions cross Tharbad once more, this time below its broken bridges, in small watercrafts. Resembling canoes, these durable and nimble boats have been purchased in a small hamlet half a day down the Gwathló, where the mounts have also been taken care of, for a reasonable price. Thingol and Beoraborn’s nameless cat run along the banks, while the Companions have divided themselves in three boats. Beoraborn rows alone, while Salabon shares with Eldacar, and Jack with Hunter. Up, up they go, up the Glanduin, and towards fabled Ost-in-Edhil, neither wise to the fate awaiting there. Now, Salabon is not the only one with doubts about the venture: Jack finds himself once more on the water, an element he does not like, nor masters. When last he found himself afloat it was on the deck of a ship: This time only a finger of leather separates him from the cold, murky water and whatever can be found below it.
“What of the dracodiles?” he stammers.
“Nonesense!” cries Feredir jovially. “I do not believe those beasts are natural to these waters: they were an anomaly. I would wager my Ranger’s cloak that we will not see such beasts upon these waters again.” He turns to Salabon across, “Which is a shame, of course, for they were simply incredible to behold.”
“Oh, indeed!” agrees the other. “What I would not give to be able to study them again…”

They navigate by landmarks, having had the road all the way to Edoras explained to them by an ancient guide. Thus they establish their first camp after having exited the Nîn-in-Eilph marshes that abound Tharbad, near a small tower. They set to their customary tasks, and Eldacar calls to them, “Do not stray too far! Little do we know of these lands, and our guide was quite reluctant to share too much. There might be dangers.”
“Eldacar!” calls Hunter. “See these markings? Do you recognize them?” Hunter stands over several fallen rocks, carved runes set into each of them. “There are more over there.”
Eldacar looks them over, but they do not seem familiar to him. “It is some sort of ancient Elven tongue, more than that I do not know. Nor their design. Best to stay away from them, I wager.”
“Very well, we will set up camp further away.” And so they do.

**

The meal is cooking, and the Companions have gathered to sup.
“Ho, Jack!” calls Hunter, but the Hobbit, standing some fifty feet away with his back turned, does not stir. Hunter shrugs to the others, and thinks nothing more of it. They are all used to Jack Fleetfoot’s odd ways. When they have finished their meal, they start getting worried, and Eldacar goes over to him.
“Master Fleetfoot, are you not hungry?” He touches Jack’s shoulder, and the Hobbit turns around. His face is masked in an unfamiliar expression, his eyes not the eyes of Jack Fleetfoot. The Hobbit cries out unfamiliar words, indignantly so. To the others, the words are unfamiliar, but to Eldacar they are unmistakably old Quenya. Small wonder Salabon and Hunter, versed in the Noldor tongue, do not recognize it: only Elven ears could understand the tongue as it was spoken thousands of years ago. Eldacar quickly understands.
“He is bewitched!” he calls.
Hunter grabs the medallion around his neck. True enough, some weird sensations emanates from it. Jack is under a spell. “But how?”
It dawns on Eldacar. “The stones! The runes! They’re ancient curses – traps set by the Noldor of old, called Haunts! Do not touch them!”
And true enough, behind Jack they can see that a moss-covered rock in reality is a standing stone with one of the ominous symbols on it. Jack must have brushed away the moss and thus touched it, and become possessed!
Salabon rushes to his friend. “Jack! Let me aid you!”
Jack visibly spits out a string of syllables at him, and draws his blade.
“What did he say?” asks Salabon.
Eldacar winces. “I do not wish to say. Just keep him talking!”
Salabon desperately tries to hold Jack’s attention, while Eldacar creeps up behind him, clutching the frying pan. He strikes the Hobbit sharply across the back of the head. “Quickly! Move him away from the stones!”
His friends comply, and soon they have Jack Fleetfoot back among them, albeit somewhat disoriented. “What happened?” says he. “I was just about to enter the Halls of the Elven Smiths! Oh, it was wonderful!” His friends smile benevolently, but the rest of the journey they remain a lot more vigilant.

**

As the sun sets on the third day, they reach Ost-in-Edhil.

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S02E12 The Rangers of the North
Wherein our heroes celebrate their victory with the Rangers, and are given their due.

Eldacar sits down. He is used to the feeling of adrenalin leaving the body after a fight and tireness setting in, but this is different. He is exhausted. His hand is numb from where the blade cut him and he is cold, so cold. Colder than ever before. He knows he is lucky, for he came close to death this night. He looks at their prisoner, the only one there feeling worse than himself.

The foe is vanquished. The enemy soldiers are crushed, many by Jack’s trap that worked perfectly. On their own side there were only light casualties and none dead, thankfully.

Finally, time has come for Hunter to confront Salabon. It has been inevitable, and all the Companions have feared this moment. Eldacar raises an amused eyebrow, interested to see how these savage Northmen sort their differences, and Jack cringes, grinding his teeth and fearing the outcome.

Hunter: “Now you must speak, and pray your words please me, for else I will slay you believing you the Enemy. You deal in trickery and deceit, hiding your true nature and your origins, betraying those close to you. I counted you brother, but find you poised with knife in hand behind my back. Speak!”
Salabon looks hurt, and glances first away. Then he gathers himself, and crosses his gaze with that of Hunter. He lays one hand on his old friend’s shoulder. The other first jerks clear, but Salabon repeats the gesture, and Hunter, though infuriated, allows it.
Salabon: “Brother, do not judge too hastily, for truly, I am your brother. Hark now, as I recount the tale of Salabon, the tale of Nestaron Mistion, the woe and misfortunes placed upon him on account of his birth, and the wickedness of his people. If my tale moves you not, you may freely strike me down as foe, I will not belay your hand. For this is who I am, and this is why I guard my past and my history.”

Salabon explains to Hunter in great detail the troubled family history and the elaborate social structures of Salabons Black Númenórean heritage. Hunter is baffled by the complexity of Salabons life. Being used to relative ease of living in a black and white world where everything is either good or evil, right or wrong. Hearing his friend talk about being forced into gray areas, spying, lying, stealing for the greater good. Evil people pretending to work for the dark lord but really only working for their own personal gain. Arrogant Númenóreans pretending to be kings when they are as poor as the beggars outside their castles. Hunter quicly sees that Salabon hase curese to live his whole life suffering the worst the Númenóreans have to offer while Hunter was blessed with the best.

Hunter’s hard face softens, and soon there is the glimmer of tear in the corner of his eye. Once the account is over, he grips his brother hard about the shoulders and embrace him as family. “Brother”, says he, “You should have told me. You are now, and forever, my brother. I shall stand by you as you stand by me, this I swear: Feredir, brother of Salabon. Forgive me, Brother.”

“Think nothing of it, Brother. All is well.” They embrace again, and then brace themselves for the tribulations to come. They have won. They have slain the wicked Caremnir, and they hold the traitor Treadstone in chains.

Treadstone looks old, very old. He could easily pass for Hunters father or grandfather in age, not one of his peers. He does not speak, not a word. It was Hunter who realised that Treadstone’s hand movements were something else than a nervous tick, recognizing them as Ranger hand code. He could only figure out two words, though: Library and North.

Their foes, fallen and captured, carry little of wealth, but what they do have the Companions remove and scatter, declaring that each man passing must take one item from the Wight’s possessions. According to Lore, this is the only way to break its evil power. From this loot, Salabon recovers a fine longsword, and Hunter a dagger. But apart from these and some gems and trinkets, there is nothing to indicate their purpose. Surely they must have been bearing something to make sense of their quest? Hunter leads his companions to the boat that carried Treadstone and the twisted Caremnir to these shores, and within is stowed a large trunk. It is cleary of elven design, covered in elaborate carvings of leaves. It is Eldacar that recognizes the design and its function. To open it safely they must first move the leaves in the order that they bloom. Explaining this it is easy for one so learned in such matters as Hunter to pick the right order.

The content of the trunk surprises them, for it is filled with books. Most look to be from the library of Tharbad, but some must come from other places. This brings Eldacar back to life and he begins to go over the books. Suddenly Jack’s eyes light up and snatches a book from Eldacars hands and is soon lost to deep concentration. Eldacar joins him, as he peruses the different books.

«The books deal with Annúminas and the kin strife, but nothing that gives any clear indication why they came here, other than that they wanted to find the library here.» «Then let us search the library. Even though it will be like looking for a needle in a stack of needles, we might get lucky» suggests Hunter. Eldacar agrees.

Slowly, they descend the rickety staircase that leads into the hidden library. Once at the bottom, they see that the stairs are themselves a trap, designed to break and collapse, killing anyone on them, should too much weight be put on them. Below, they locate the door leading to the library proper, but no amount of tickle nor enticement persuades the lock to give way to their ministrations. «They knew what they were doing, your people, when they protected this place» says Eldacar. «Indeed they did» concurs Hunter. The two must give up. They will find no answers here.

It is clear that the cannot transport all the books with them, so they lock them in the trunk again and hide it by the entrance to the library, where it will be safe. Then they cover the hole so no one else should stumble over it.

Having done so the rest of their friends arrive: Baran and Beoraborn.

«I see you have ruined your sword again Eldacar. Give me the hilt and I shall find a blade that will fit it» booms Beoraborns voice.

They return to Nirmolian with the rest of the Rangers. The whole village return from their sanctuary, and the entire community embark on their sojourn back to Nirmolian.

Under way, Hunter rides up to Salabon and beckons him to follow, and then does the same until he has gathered all his Companions in relative privacy upon the road. Relative, as they ride in a column of more than two hundred, but at least their business is their own, and the Dúnedain are trustworthy.

“Friends,” begins Hunter, “now this task laid upon us has come to an end. Briar, I release you from your duties to me; you will find the next step on your journey here among the Captains of the Rangers. I have spoken to Ufrith Owl-eye, he will take you under his wing, as Helvorn requested. You have done your old master proud, as I know well, and you have served this Fellowship with dignity, honour and bravery. Go now! And godspeed.” He watches Briar ride off, cheeks red and grin threatening to remove the top of his head. The Companions consider him, and smile.
“Now,” Hunter continues. “In distant Tharbad did I make a vow, and I intend to see it through. I shall travel to the source of the Rist Angsiril and the lair of the dragon Colargon. Here I will wrest from the drake the fabled Aeglin, and carry it back to wield in the war on the Enemy, to the glory of all Free Peoples.” He pauses. “And I say this unto you, friends: I do not expect you to follow me on this path. It will be perilous, and I might not return. I cannot vouch for your safety, as I cannot vouch for mine own. But I tell you this: Our names will be spoken of in legend, and the dread beast guards a formidable hoard, bound to be made up of gold, gems and wondrous artifacts. To you, the spoils: I claim Aeglin, and an equal portion. That is all.”

Hunter stops speaking and for a moment all is deathly quiet as his companions looks at him with shock and disbelief, some calculating in their heads the imaginary part of an imaginary sum of monie.
Then Salabon stands up, sheaths his new sword, gathers his travel pack and walks over to stand beside Hunter. Sending the message that wherever his friend may go he will follow.

Eldacar is the first to speak: “Noble is this quest, but wise also. For should this drake be awoken and ally with the Enemy, we are all doomed. It is our duty to ensure its wrath does not befall the Free Peoples, and thus I will follow you to the Source of Rist Angsiril and the lair of the dragon.”

Hunter leans over and grips his friend’s shoulder. “Thank you, my friend”.

“Where you go, I go, brother,” volunteers Salabon, and the two shake hands.

“You had me at treasure”, grins Jack.

“I will follow you. Can’t abide dragons.” rumbles Beoraborn.

The only one who does not speak is Baran, who finds pretence to remove himself slightly from the Fellowship, and fall into conversation with an elderly Ranger. His companions do not notice, as they grin and cheer, elated to have purpose and the prospects of glory and riches at the end of the road.

Nirmolian. Good food and good drink is had by all: the Rangers hold a feast of which not the like has been witnessed for many a year! Tales are told and songs sung, and both together to much amusement. Salabon and Hunter willingly produce their instruments upon request, and favour the audience with some of the variations they play on the road. Eldacar bites his tongue, and fill his ears with cheese for the duration, grinning woodenly to all who adress him. And Jack dances. How he dances! The drink propels him, first hither and thither, over table and into bosom, but he does not relent, and soon the entire village is cheering and clapping, praising and encouraging the efforts of his footwork.

Suddenly Jack jumps up on a table and starts to re enact the time he faced down a barbarian chieftain during the battle of Thuin Boid. At first it seems like drunken ramblings but soon the entire village is spellbound by his stories. He recounts much of his travels with his friends from the time he was saved from cursed wolves, to the time he faced down two undead ghouls in Minas Brethil, to the time he was tossed from rooftop to rooftop in Tharbad. He also remembers the times Hunter told stories that gave Jack much of his reputation as the Hero and an unstoppable warrior and he repays Hunter this evening by telling tails of all the noble deeds Hunter has done so all of Nirmolian can hear it and he can see that it goes deep into the hearts of Hunters own people.

Salabon suddenly finds himself in pain, clearing a tear from his eye having laught so hard that his stomach hurts and smiled so much that his cheek muscles ache. He takes a moment to take in the scenery. A sense of community that he has only experienced on the road with his friends but in a much larger sense. After some minutes pass he suddenly realizes that he is looking for prospects and imagining himself as part of the community with a family, a place to call home and children.

Salabon makes discreet inquiries about Feredirs family history. Perhaps his friend could be well suited for his sister’s hand?

**

Later, Hunter, Eldacar and Salabon withdraw to a comfortable lodge, where the hearth is warm and the lamps bright enough to read by. Before them is spread a wide map drawn on the hide of a deer, with many comments and markings. The map shows Angmar, that dread realm, once home to the terrible Witch-King, whom the Rangers still fear. Throughout the day and most of the evening, Hunter has approached and spoken with the old lorekeepers and veterans of the Rangers, gathering tales, rumours and personal accounts concerning Angmar and the mountains they must venture into. The old Rangers were only too happy to comply, many with a curious glint in his eye. The Companions now hold many secrets belonging to the Rangers of the North concerning this dangerous land; never before has such a detailed map existed, leastways in the last thousand years.

Eldacar proposes to travel through Rivendell, and up along the Misty Mountains but Hunter holds up a hand. “No, we will not venture through Fair Imladris on this quest. I do not wish to put you at odds with your masters, wise Eldacar, but it is my belief that Lord Elrond would oppose such a quest as folly. And folly it might be, but I do not believe the elder Elven Folk will understand the importance these actions will speak for the Rangers, mine own people. Thus, I wish to avoid your masters.” Eldacar frowns, but inclines his head.

“Can we not travel through Bree? Surely we must need a great store of supplies, wagons and mules and…” begins Salabon, before Jack cuts him off, entering the door with an old Ranger.

“Wagons and mules? Foolishness! We must travel directly there and face our foe! Surprise is the only way. And light! We must travel light.”

“What about this Nothva Raglaw? Can we not repair there? Surely they must possess the necessaries we require,” suggests Salabon.

Jack grows wide-eyed and pale. “On second thought, maybe Bree is not such a bad plan after all,” he ventures.

The old Ranger Captain raises his hands. “Friends, I beg forgiveness for interrupting you, but I must needs see you without. We Rangers have need of words, and there are some things we wish to bestow upon you.” The Companions trade bewildered glances, but rise, and follows the Captain.

Without, all the Captains and Rangers have gathered in the village square. All around, torches are ablaze, and all are garbed in their traditional Ranger’s garments, all sombre and expressionless. The Companions fear the worst, when the Captaon speaks.

«Feredir, son of Tauron. You are one of us, of our kin, of our blood. You have shown great wisdom and great courage. Your wit, swordsmanship and knowledge of our ways has served the Rangers and the people of Eriador well. Because of your actions a terrible foe has been vanquished. Your own people may sleep safely in their beds because you were the watcher in the darkness, guarding over them. You have done a man’s job sir! A man’s job. And if what young Jack here tells of your trials all over Eriador are to be believed – of trolls and goblins, Wargs, sea-dragons and werewolves, well then you have proven yourself time and again. It is therefore my privilege to present to you this your father’s cloak to mark you as a true Ranger of the North!»

The pride in Hunters eyes cannot be missed, and each of his companions there knows that it is a pride he has earned and earned again. They give him joy, but the Captain interrupt them. “As for you, Salabon of Gondor and Eldacar of Rivendell. If not for your actions in the past year, many of our people would have been gravely injured or dead. You have proved yourself worthy of many times over, and it is with pleasure I present to you both this, the six-pointed Star marking you as one of the Rangers. Jack Fleetfoot, Hobbit, and Beoraborn of the Beijibar, your services to our cause has been manyfold, and I pronounce you Friends of the Rangers. You may carry this pendant to prove your allegiance, and you will always find succor among the Rangers. Lord Baran Sîdoneth of Minas Brethil…” He looks around, as do the rest. Baran is not to be found. “Oh,” says a young carl, “I forgot, His Lordship left for Minas Brethil earlier in the evening. I was to bring message to his Companions, but then…”
“Well? Speak up, boy! What is the reason of your dallying?!”
“Only, sir, I found myself with face buried in the bosom of Clarea what with the drinking commencing, sir…” The boy blushes a fierce red as all those gathered release a hearty and honest roar of laughter; all save Clarea herself, who positively seethes with anger, and anger that makes it perfectly clear to the carl that he will never find himself with his face down her bosom ever again, not even if he was the last Dúnadan in the Northern Marches.
“Well, that sorts that,” mumbles the old Ranger, but no one is wise to his meaning, for at that moment Hunter steps forward.

“Friends, kinsmen, allies. Hear me now, for I have important words to share. I have taken a vow. A vow to travel into the depths of the Nan Angmarrim to retrieve from the terrible drake Colargon the fabled blade Aeglin, once born by our forefathers. This blade I mean to carry forth in battle against our Enemy, and thus restore the glory of my House and prove myself worthy to carry the mantle of Ranger. My trusted and brave Companions will go with me on this quest, and I shall not return without the fabled blade. This I, Feredir son of Tauron of the Dúnedain vow.”

The Rangers are left dumb-struck. Is the young adventurer a fool, or a brave champion? Either way, only a moments pause gives way to a tremendous cheering. Hunter, it seems, has the blessing of his kin. The old Captain, wipes a tear from his eye. “You damned fool,” he says, gripping Hunter’s shoulder, but his face shows only pride, not judgement.

And thus begins the Quest of Aeglin.

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S02E11 - Confrontation in Annúminas
Wherein our heroes finally come face-to-face with their quarry - which is not how they had planned it...

South Downs: The Lair of the Beast. Beoraborn takes care of the wounded Salabon, whilst Eldacar and Hunter brave the repugnant cave, more a stack of immense, leaning rocks standing in stark contrast to the otherwise gentle, rolling downs. Within, a gruesome sight greets them, but they only make mental notes of what they see, for their minds are for Jack. They finally find him, bedded down in what is doubtlessly the Werewolf’s den, and carry the unconscious halfling back to camp. With their fearsome foe vanquished, they do not fear danger again this day, but still, everyone takes precautions. While Jack sleeps on, Salabon rests, and the others nurse their egos, Eldacar and Hunter rides out to search the odious lair more thoroughly. They have to leave their horses awhile away, for they cannot bring their mounts to approach the lingering horror, so they make their way on foot.

Within, they find many and varied treasures, doubtlessly accumulated over the centuries by the horrible creature. “I know these downs well,” confides Hunter in Eldacar. “I have traversed them time and again, and never did I see signs of or have reason to believe in the existence of such a monster living in these headlands. I have even passed close to these rocks, and never deigned reason to investigate them. No aura of evil emanated from them at that time. I believe this beast has slept within, perchance for a thousand years or more, and that some recent event has stirred it from its sleep. Some dark, ungodly power, with which over creatures and events we have many times witnessed the shadowy fingertips playing. It may even have been the power behind the Wargs of the Angle; verily, its location is near enough, and it is incidental enough to be a plausible presence behind them. We have vanquished a great and formidable evil here, my friend. This has been a major victory.”

It is therefore with hearts somewhat higher that the two allies brave the lair of the beast. And herein they find the legendary blade Dagnirdraug, forged for the very purpose of slaying this very dread beast. But the champion send forth to do battle against it perished at its hands, and verily it is his bones here scattered with blade and targe, a shield of some properties, for despite being made of wood it seems to be in immaculate condition. The two lay the lost champions bones to rest with whatever dignity they can spare, and also bury most of the treasure, as it is useless to them, and their more avaricious fellows are better off not knowing of it. They do carry with them an assortment of gems, and blade and targe: their uses will be paramount in coming battles.

Once returned to their friends, they see to their invalids. Jack is stirring, and Hunter and Salabon judge him out of harms way. They do deliberate on Jack’s gruesome phantasms, and Hunter questions how the amulet he found in his pack has seemingly linked him with the Hobbit for no apparent reason. Jack keeps his knowledge of the amulet to himself, and Eldacar begins to suspect the true nature of the medallion – a form of lesser and limited Palantír used by the ancient Númenòreans, and as such truly a formidable object, but he holds his tongue as he knows too little of it: he can only speculate.

The Companions carry on, across the South Downs. Hunter gambles that the desperate brigands will skirt the Barrow-Downs in a gambit to remain undetected by Ranger-friendlies about Bree-land, and they follow his own plan in crossing the Downs directly to Weathertop, and from there use the old Smuggler’s Highway to cross directly to the Greenway around Occum. And with fast horses and good weather, mere days later they find themselves on the headlands belonging to the Hills of Evendim, near Hunter’s birthplace, Nirmolian.

Hills of Evendim. Nirmolian is a friendly, warm and safe community, tucked away almost invisibly against a forested backdrop. The Companions ride in at a leisurely pace, and are greeted warmly by old and young alike.

Hunter succeeds in rallying the Rangers, and soon the Beacons of Evendim has been lit, calling all Rangers to arms. With experienced Rangers, they devise a plan to harry, take or destroy the enemy, but at no cost allow them entry to Annúminas for their own nefarious ends. Meanwhile, the entire village must evacuate, for Treadstone knows it well, and unattended by guardians it may fall again as it once did under Wolf’s Bane’s watch, when Orcs razed it and killed almost everyone, including Hunter’s parents.

So thus it comes to pass that a mighty column treads its way across the Twilight Hills, bound for Annúminas and beyond.

In the evening they set up camp on a hill overlooking the mighty Lake Evendim.
After a full days walk the people are hungry and the air is soon filled with the scents of spices and roasting game.

With a full belly, a majestic view of the lake and the clear night sky with all the stars of old, The mist on the lake moves in mysterious ways and Salabon and Feredir star to play their instruments. Children are running around dancing.
Mabs get a little tipsy and soon drags Eldakar into her tent. Salabon passes around the last of the good brandy from their travels. The night is magical and full of life.

Beoraborn and Baran escort the civilians to their secret refuge, while Hunter, Eldacar and Jack go with the Rangers to set their plots and schemes into motion. Jack will use his engineering talents to good effect, and Salabon is essentially coordinating and leading the healers and surgeons. Jack is struck by momentary genius, and devises a plan to raze an entire courtyard onto unsuspecting foes, and with those among the Rangers so disposed he sets his plan into effect.

Salabon and Eldakar takes a few moments from the busy preparations to walk about the ruins and admire the architecture. As they enter a small clearing in the ruins they both remark upon how this would be the perfect spot to hide the library when Salabon falls down a pit. The baffle Eldakar looks down only to find Salabon sitting at the bottom of the stairs leading into the ancient library.

Feredir and Eldakar selects to conduct their ambush from this location, it undoubtedly being where Treadstone and Caremnir will appear. They are joined by their friends for the night, and all four enter a restless and fitful sleep, anticipation almost getting the better of them.

Annúminas, on the shores of Lake Nenuial. While they sleep, Eldacar is watching over them. Suddenly a strange feeling takes hold of Eldacar, it is like the lake itself beckons him to come to it. And he does. As he reaches the shore a figure emerges from the lake. Infront of him he now sees a naked woman, long dark hair and dripping wet. She has an unearthly aura about her and she is the most beautiful woman Eldacar has ever seen. Unable to take his eyes of her he is rooted to the spot. Her voice is like her appearance, that of a goddess: “Soon you must choose, soon you must make the hard choice. It is not long left, before you must decide. To live for ever and go cross the seam or tie your fate to these lands and one day die.” She smiles and in a whisp of mist she disappears.

Eldacar remains by the water, still entranced by strange encounter. Lost in thought he gazes out over the lake. Suddenly his eyes catch some movement. Out on the water a small boat is headed towards the exact spot he occupies. Just then he hears warnings of enemy approaches. It hits him. They have been made. The attack is a ruse, and their enemy hope to sneak in by water and find what they are lookinng for in the library. Eldacar turns and runs, he must warn the others.

Hunter is awakened by birds: They come! They come!

He rallies his friends, there is no time for Salabon to get to the evacuation area, and from their vantage points the Companions can see the enemy swarming into the old citadel.

But then, from the lake behind them, they become aware of a presence, and from the mists, a small craft appears, bearing two figures. So the attack was a ruse! Here comes Caremnir and Treadstone the back way, the thieves that they are! However, something is amiss: They can all feel it, and soon they can see it: Caremnir is no longer himself, he has been transformed by some horrid spirit, his eyes a-glow, and his aura that of power, death and decay… Behind him, Treadstone seems visibly aged: instead of a youth of twenty-five, he seems to be almost sixty, gray-haired and flaxen-eyed. The Companions cannot afford to delay, and launch their attack, Eldacar and Hunter with bows, while Jack enters the courtyard, his new brand held high in defiance.

The arrows do nothing but irritate the fiend, and it strikes, almost killing with its first blow. Jack notices that its touch is Death itself, and cries a warning to his friends not to let the fiend touch them: it is likely to kill them by touch alone!

Suddenly the Companions fight for their lives in a much deadlier melee than they have ever before entered, and it is with despondency and pure fear that they desperately try to destroy the horror before them. They must – if they defer but a moment, they are destroyed! Their well-timed blows hammer the fiend, and their defences are supple and true, but still the thing persists! No words escape its pallid lips, no reason do they detect in the glowing eyes, save whatever is driving it to kill them and fulfil its mission. While Hunter is most heavily engaged, the shade of Treadstone decides to make the most of his hatred, and with a shrill scream he launches himself at Hunter’s back!

Salabon hides behind a rock. He knows that as the healer, his job is to stay behind and that this is what his friends expect him to do. He knows that the sensible thing to do is for him not to fight. Not to take the chance of getting hurt so he won’t be able to help his friends with their wounds later. However he can not sit still and watch his friends in peril and after hearing Jack shots of warning, Salabon gathers up his shield and sword and charges into the battle. Quickly warning Feredir of the approaching Treadstone and narrowly escaping a fatal blow from the ancient evil wight.

Hunter turns, a look of pure pity in his eyes, and strikes Treadstone down in the middle of his attack, knocking him out cold on the damp flagstones. He returns to the fray, and the four of them seems to be gaining the advantage, when both Salabon and Eldacar’s blades crack into a myriad of pieces while attempting to strike down the fiend! Dumbstruck, they must withdraw, and Hunter has his work cut out for him, when suddenly a small figure leaps from a fallen parapet, and with magical blade cuts the fiend down where it stands. It crunches to the ground, and the evil aspect that emanated from the risen corpse dissipates and vanishes. The Hero of Caravan Hill has risen again. Now, his moniker is Jack the Slayer.

The sounds of battle continue about them, and the Companions, weary and frightened, take a moment to consider their position. Caremnir is dead, Treadstone is captured, their nefarious schemes have been thwarted. But what were they, and to what end?

View
S02E10 - The Beast of Tyrn Hyarmen
In which our heroes face their most fearsome foe yet.

Tharbad. After having from cover seen the column of men marching from the ruined city of Tharbad, Beoraborn, Baran and the Ranger apprentice Briar decided to make their way into the city to search for the others. They had seen nothing to indicate their friends being held captive by the strange band, were they alive or dead?

Arriving at the first crossing, Baran hesitates at the precipice of the treacherous waters, and suggests that Briar go first. “You are smaller of stature and nimbler of feet”, he says, but it is a poorly veiled suggestion the young apprentice go first to see if it is safe. Beoraborn lifts an eyebrow, but surprisingly does not even comment on Baran’s quite immoral suggestions. And so it is that Briar crosses first, without peril or difficulty, for he has been raised among the Elves in Rivendell, something Baran failed to think about. Ever self-serving, Baran suggests that Beoraborn go next. After all, he reasons to himself, if the sprightly lad could make it, and the oversized Beorning can make it, so can I. “I’ll have to strip off my armour,” says Beoraborn, “I do not think it is safe climbing in it.” Baran hesitantly acquiesces, and they leave their armour with their remaining gear. True enough, Beoraborn manages the crossing without incident. But as he looks back to see how Baran is doing, he sees the Dúnadan misstep on his first foothold, and quietly plunge towards the cold waters of the Gwathló far, far below.

Beoraborn grows wide-eyed, but after a moment’s thought and a few, choice coarse words, he lets go, and slips after Baran into the river.

Baran slams into the icy river, the breath knocked from his body, all sense of direction gone. He is unable to keep his head above – for he knows not where above is! – and he knows that he is drowning. He grows limp, in his accept of his destiny, when suddenly powerful hands wrench him from the depths and his lungs explode with the sudden influx of sweet, sweet air! When he opens his eyes, he starts as he sees the hairy, brutish visage of Beoraborn right above his face, having given him the kiss of life. Baran’s first thought is sweet relief, then consternation at having touched lips with the coarse Beorning!

Beoraborn had managed to pull Baran ashore near some rubble on the far side of the river, and as they both gasp for air, Baran staring incredulously at his saviour, they hear a cry from above. Looking up, they can see Briar and Hunter calling for them among the ruined buildings above, and soon a rope is dropped to them.

Beoraborn ties the weak and cold Baran fast, and is then pulled up last. Hunter expresses some concern, but Baran, embarrassed and bewildered, waves him off. They continue on, Hunter leading them to the library. Hunter has acquired a small boat, capable of rowing two, that Eldacar pointed out to him as he left to fetch their fellows. The craft is the same one used to row the Orc to Caremnir and Treadstone, and still smells faintly of goblin.

The Great Library. (Dette kan noen andre skrive)

Hunter and Eldacar grow immensely tired of the bickering and childish wailing of their Companions, and with combined authority order their fellows to cease, which finally does it. Five pouting faces, a Hobbit, a Sage, a Lord, a Spy and a huge Beorning, go to their bedrolls without supper this evening. Eldacar and Hunter enjoy a peaceful evening, reminiscing of Rivendell and sharing a pipe of Old Toby.

*

The following morning the companions set out. Hunter has described the various routes likely to be undertaken by their quarry, citing the one following the Greenway to Andrath, and then carefully skirting the Barrow-Downs as the most likely, to avoid detection for so large a group. The other two routes, across Sarn Ford and into the Shire is unlikely if this is a mission of some subterfuge, as Sarn Ford is guarded by Rangers, and the Shire is full of talkative Hobbits, and the last, along the Gwathló around the Downs is simply too far.

By riding directly across the Downs to Weathertop, and thence along the Weather Hills, the companions can outpace their quarry, as they are both few and by horse, and with a guide familiar with the land, which Treadstone is not.

It is agreed, and they soon make good speed.

The South Downs – Tyrn Hyarmen. It is just before the first watch. A lovely meal of Wild Mutton has been consumed, lovingly prepared and spiced by Hunter. Briar is tending to the cleaning the dishes, and the Companions are elsewise cleaning, mending, and going through their various motions, routines and rituals before retiring.

Salabon returns from having relieved himself, passing Eldacar sitting alone a comfortable distance from the fire. “Salabon, a word, if you please”.

“Of course, I will just fetch my pipe”. He returns, and settles into a comfortable pose next to the Elf, lighting his pipe. “What did you want to talk to me about, old friend?”

*

Hunter, Baran, Beoraborn Mabs and Briar all attempt to drown out the animated droning of Salabon and Eldacar, chatting away like two milkmaids despite their companions having retired. Hunter is irritatingly considering getting up to talk to them, Eldacar suddenly stiffens, an expression of horror on his face. Some elven instinct has sparked a long forgotten memory about an ancient evil of wolf and darkness, suddenly gasps. “Hunter! In the dark! Wargs! WARGS!”

The Companions need no more warning, and soon all seven are on their feet, hastily donnig their armour and stringing their bows. And sure enough, out there in the clear, moon-lit night they see the red eyes of Wargs!

Hunter, Eldacar and Baran shout commands for positioning, hiding the lesser fighters in their midst by the fire, while taking up guarding positions with Beoraborn. Jack, a little embarrassed to have bungled up his first watch, is determined to redeed himself, and he scans the darkness for a suitable foe to prove his mettle against, when he sees it. A tall, foreboding figure, half man, half wolf, with a presence of pure evil. Him. “He’s mine!” the scrappy little Hobbit cries, but Hunter, at his side, has little time to respond, as the first Warg charges at the Hobbit. Hunter launches himself into the air, and meets the incoming Warg mid-air, giving it a nasty gash along its side, and sending it reeling, stunned, several yards. Simultaneously, the rest of the Companions with similar flourish finish off the other Wargs, panic striking the eyes of the last of them, as they see their doom coming.

The Man-Warg takes off with a howl, but Hunter knows, deep in his soul, that this beast must not be suffered to live. This is primal evil, the stuff of pure Darkness: “This Servant of the Enemy shall perish before my blade tonight!” he declares, and orders the others: “Torches! Beoraborn, you and I go point, Eldacar, I shall need your eyes with me, my friend. Baran, you take our rear”.
“The rear?! But my blade is a match to any of yours! I demand to have the privilege to…”
Hunter cuts him off. “You must guard the rear because I must track him, I need Eldacar’s eyes to do so, and I needs must have one whom I trust to be able to defend us should we be attacked from the rear. Only you have that might, Baran Sîdoneth.” Baran closes his mouth, and guards the rear with determination.

As they move out, Hunter feels his amulet – the amulet that unexplicably links him and Jack Fleetfoot in unknown ways – grow warm. He absent-mindedly grabs hold of it, and – -

…sees a dark, horrible corridor, and in the far end, a Burning Eye! The horror he feels is unimaginable, until he realises that it isn’t real, he isn’t seeing these things, he isn’t feeling these horrors, this is a projection of someone else’s experiences. Someone else. Someone… Jack!

- – sees Jack, pasty-faced and weary, trudging along next to Salabon.

“Herbs!”, Hunter whispers, and the Healer trots across, the group still moving. “I believe something has befallen Jack. I do not know what. Not exactly sorcery, but look at him, will you?” Herbs moves over, and notices that Jack does, indeed, appear to be somewhere else in his mind.
“He is a liability to himself and his others in this state,” whispers Salabon. “Should I perchance…?” he indicates the sleep-draught made from Kingsfoot Hunter has previously used with moderate success. Hunter nods, and finds his pouch in his kit, equipping Herbs with a dose. Salabon absent-mindedly stirs it into a cup of water, which he hands to Jack with nary a word. Jack automatically takes it, and imbibes the draught, but it seems to have no effect (Comment: For Kingsfoot to have effect, it must be mixed with wine. Not that it would have affected Jack at any rate).

If anything, this makes Hunter even more convinced of the evil of the creature, and of how it is his duty as a warrior for Good to slay it.

Soon, Hunter has led his companions to a large hill. He is convinced; this is the lair of the beast.

He sets up a line of defense, with Baran and Beoraborn on the sides, with Eldacar and himself in the middle, and the non-fighters behind. Afore them, they place their shields and swords for easy grabs, and string their bows (Comment: The Hunter Maneuver). At Baran’s suggestion, they coat the arrow-tips in oil, to light on fire when they see their prey.

And then they see it.

Illuminated by the strong moon right behind it, it straddles the top of the hill with dark majesty and confidence. It is much larger than a man, larger than Beoraborn as a bear, and it looks for all the world like a Warg, but for its man-like features, and that it stands erect on its hind legs. And it howls.

The terrifying, otherworldly echo of pure darkness ripples through the Companions, and sends Mabs, Briar and Baran reeling in utter terror. Eldacar looks imploringly at Hunter, who notices, and reluctantly gives a nod, and the Elf is away after the three defenceless ones.

Hunter feels a trickle of cold sweat run down his neck. There is no way he and Beoraborn can take this mighty beast alone, and he knows it. Yet, he must. He cannot shy away, he cannot run. This is his duty.

In the corner of his eye, he sees Salabon hesitantly coming into view next to him, with his sword shaking in his hands. And he feels a little safer. The healer is no fighter, and he is probably not going to make a difference, but the courage of that sage to stand with his Companions like this, that means something. Suddenly Hunter gains confidence. Suddenly he believes that he can do this.

He MUST do this.

He smiles at Salabon, and nods at Beoraborn. Their arrows are about to fly, when the beast leaps from the hillock in one mighty bound, and stands among them! It lashes out at Salabon, sending him reeling, and turns to Hunter, as two burning arrows hit it, and it charges!

Hunter leaps aside, tumbling along the ground, coming up with his sword and shield in hand, and as the beast launches itself at him, Beoraborn firing arrows into its back without it even seeming to notice, Barhador of the Line of Kings, The Huntsman, Feredir the Hunter, swings his mighty sword arm, slaying the beast stone dead.

It is dead. It is also on top of Hunter. As Beoraborn helps him heave the dread beast from him, Baran comes back at a run, fuming with anger at having succumbed to his fear once again. His companions bait him for it, as they make sure the beast is truly dead, and see to Salabon’s minor injuries. The others return with Eldacar, and the Companions start talking of what to do with the dead beast, when Hunter realises: “Where is Jack?”

Deep in the Werewolf’s cave, was Jack…

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S02E09A - The Easterling
In the shadows, someone always dances...

“..and thus I believe my services are rendered as required.” The wiry, dark man dusted off his hands, after having thrust the copious volume forth into the Black Númenorean’s eager hands. Caremnir could not but be impressed. As promised, the wretched little thief had managed to not only enter the damned library, but recovered the precious tome without setting off a single trap. He hadn’t even bothered disarming them. Masterfully done, he had to admit it.
“Yes, yes, you may go…” Caremnir lovingly touched the cover, and started working the ornate lock holding it closed.
“There is just the small matter of my not inconsiderable fee…?”
The Black Ranger halted his caress, and looked up. "Oh, yes, of course. Take him away.!

Two burly men-at-arms gripped Adamar in each arm.

“What?! Wait, what in Cúrunir’s name do you think you’re playing at?” He struggled in vain. The bruisers held him firmly.

“Take him away and dispose of him. His services are no longer a requirement.”

Adamar uttered a string of profanities as the two henchmen dragged him into the ruined boathouse and out of Caremnir’s sight. He smiled, as Treadstone approached, escorted by two other soldiers and an Orc.

“We found him, sir,” One of the henchmen, stating the bleeding obvious.
“So I see. You’re a hard one to catch”.
The wretched creature’s face split, undoubtedly in the mockery of a grin. “Yes. Thank you, Master. The book, Master.” The held it forth. Caremnir all but failed to conceal his relief.

“Excellent. You may go.”
“Thank you, Master!” Grohl scuttled away, a heavy burden lifted from his shoulders. But where would he go now? To what, his purpose? And then he knew…

Caremnir addressed Treadstone. “We have what we need. Gather the men, we move for Annúminas.”
His companion smirked, and did as he was bid. As soon as he left, Caremnir turned towards the sounds of scuffle in the boathouse. He strode purposefully towards it, and entered on a scene he later felt he should have anticipated. Bruised and humiliated, the two guards lay in various positions on the floor.

“He got the drop on us, Master,” complained one, through a puffed, bruised cheek.
“Devilish fast, and cunning too. He got through there.” He pointed at a break in the wall. Ripples on the surface of the water could be detected.

Caremnir sighed. That was the price he paid. He drew his sword and slew his incompetent minions before they could do any more damage. Wretched Easterling scum! Well, he was likely long gone, and no danger to anyone at any rate. He was merely an annoyance.

On the other side of the Gwathló, below a well-hidden Elf and his companion, the wet and angry Easterling clung to some debris, considering Caremnir across the water.

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S02E09 - Perils at Tharbad
Wherein our heroes get in a fix on the rooftops!

Tharbad. The courage and hardihood required to dare its ruins and ford the river Gwathló is considerable. The North-South Road that once spanned majestically across the Greyflood no longer exists, except for the crumbling remains of the causeways, by which a hazardous approach to Tharbad might be achieved, only to find ruins on dwindling mounds, and a dangerous ford formed by the ruins of the bridge, impassable if the river had not been there slow and shallow – but wide.

On the Gwathló. Jack Fleetfoot can only watch in horror as a great maw of uneven, daggerlike teeth seems to engulf his world, and in a cry of anguish and pain that world fades into —

Intro titles:

Rangers of the North

Hunter and Herbs seem to have forgotten the animosity between them, as they amiably continue a discussion on natural philosophy into a very clinical debate on how best to lance Beoraborn’s wounds, while the wide-eyed Beorning lies prone under their care, with more fear in him than any monster or vile Orc could ever induce.

But all of a sudden Hunter is violently pulled back by a phantom pain in his shoulder, and as sense of being shook like a rag doll. He feels the little, blank medallion growing hot, and his mouth is before his mind reaching the conclusion: “Jack!” Barking orders to Briar the apprentice Ranger sent with him from Rivendell, and to Salabon to prepare his tools, he grabs his bow and blade at a run, and dashes incredulously fast down the soft riverbank.

Off at a mad sprint, he soon passes a walking Bragol, who immediately starts running after him. Soon, they pass Baran, looking frightened and going the opposite direction. As they pass, Hunter calls out where Jack is, but Baran cannot give a proper answer, and Hunter and Eldacar are soon long gone.

They arrive to see a fallen Jack Fleetfoot, savagely maimed about the shoulder and arm, and soon spot the dragon approaching from the nesting site. Good old Jack, had pluck in him to the last, having tried to outrun the beast that maimed him. Methodically, Hunter prepares his arrows, and as he sees the Sea Crocodile come into his view, he reaches for his first arrow. Having run so far in such a short time, he underestimates his breath, and fumbles the arrow into the air! He only takes a second to control himself, and some breaths later he has sent a severely wounded beast back into the water, where it disappears in the murky depths.

Having no time to spare, they bundle up Jack, and run back to Salabon’s care. The herbalist and healer outdoes himself with his makeshift surgery. Eldacar cannot but marvel at the incredible skill of this man. He is no mere surgeon – physician, he is! His potentially questionable loyalties be damned, the man is a paragon. And true to form, he not only manages to save the Halfling’s entire arm, but with Hunter’s mystical herb Arpsusar restoring the use of muscle, tendon and cartilage in but an hour, Jack sleeps blissfully and herb-induced to awake the following morn with no greater wound than a severely stiff ache and a rapidly healing scar. This scar and stiffness will doubtlessly follow him the remainder of his life – a life which just received a new ending.

There is no time to spare. They rest for the two days it takes the barge with the horses to appear – rest vital to the two invalids – and make their way towards the ruined city of Tharbad in great haste.

Once there, a surprise is in store. Arriving late at night, they see several lights dotting the abandoned city. Bandits? Soldiers? They close in to scout, leaving Briar, Baran and Beoraborn with the horses. Baran has some misgivings about being given this duty, but he is somewhat shamefaced at his part in Jack’s near death experience, and is easily quelled.

Derelict buildings, ruins, rubble, death-traps at every step: Tharbad. This once-glorious city, the trading capital of Eriador, home to merchants, traders, politicians, beggars, thieves, murderers, smugglers and brigands of the worst calibre. Such a wretched hive of scum and villainy has hardly been known in the great North-West. Now it is but a devoured corpse of a city, its bones stripped clean and brittle, prone to cracking and collapsing at the merest touch of an ant. And these are not mere bones, nor are our heroes mere ants. They are balancing with Death, as they well know. Only Mabs seems to saunter forth with little regard; this is her element, and she thrives in it. The haughty Elf comes next, chin raised high and arrogant countenance trying to hide his discomfort, but betraying him. Herbs makes no pretence at being at his ease, but is openly concerned and easily distracted at any sound or flicked, while Jack and Hunter, experienced stalkers both, thread wary and cautiously, expecting trouble at any moment.

Sneaking about the city, they soon discover that the vagabonds are mere men, but not adorned with any uniform markings. Bandits, then? They seemingly have patrols, a feature somewhat extreme for mere brigands.

Creeping street to street to avoid the patrols, Eldacar suddenly notices that the hobbling Jack has crossed the street from their coverlet to attempt prising the wooden boards from the door of a derelict building. Hunter quickly crosses after, but the Hobbit seems ensorcelled; all reason and accountability is out the window. He must in! Hunter drags him back, but before he reaches the safe cover, Jack slips out of his coat, leaving Hunter to stare in amazement as the Hobbit is already back across the street with his lockpick in the door’s lock. As Hunter catches up, the door opens and the Hobbit slips in. Hunter has no choice but to follow, and seeing this, the nervous Herbs, not accustomed to skulking about, runs after them.
Mabs moves to join, but Eldacar reaches out to block her path. “No wait,” says he, “Let us see what they do.” Mabs remains with him, observing from the shelter.

“Fool of a Fleetfoot, are you endeavouring to have us all killed?!” Hunter can barely contain his anger and frustration, and Salabon, creeping up behind him gestures with his hands, hushing him, although the outbreak is barely louder than a whisper. Jack seems oblivious.

The inside of the shop, a jeweler’s shop, is littered with abandoned tools and equipment, all likely to fetch a pretty penny with anyone working with such instruments. The owner is still here it seems, albeit only the white of him. A yellowed skeleton sits immobilised at his rubble-strewn work table. He seems to have died while observing some gaudy object, a sizeable gemstone. But it is not the gem that has caught Jack’s fancy: On the skeleton’s third finger there is a delicate ring, gleaming faintly golden despite the years of dust. He moves towards it, but Hunter reaches him first.

“What are you about? Have you lost your senses?” Seeing that Jack fails to respond yet again, he strikes him across the face, open-handed. This does nothing, but when he moves to do so again, the nimble Hobbit evades him, and has the ring in his hand, on his finger. As if snapping out of a trance, he comes to his senses, and grins, addressing Hunter and Salabon. “See? No cause for worry! I have it now, we can move on!” But he has but whispered those words as gravelly voices carry from the streets without.
“‘Ere! ’E said this is where ’e sawr’em, outside the joo-ler’s”
“Right, you lot, positions. I want you and you and you to intercept the reinforcements and circle the block. The rest, brace for action, we go in.”

The three inside freeze, wide-eyed, but Hunter only hesitates a second before he has let the ajar door shut and laid across the bar with nary a sound.

“Quick!” hisses Salabon, “there were windows above!” Salabon leads the way up the stairs. Peering between the boards on the windows, Hunter sees some activity on street level, they are getting ready to break the door. There must be at least ten men, well armed.

He scans the room. They’re trapped. “Confounded!” He feels the walls close in on him; this is not his element, he feels like a fox cornered by trappers, and for a second seriously considers taking them all on in combat.

“There are ten more coming down this way!” hisses Salabon, standing by the far window.

Oh, hells. Twenty. Or more. That’s those odds out the proverbial window. He looks for Mabs and Eldacar, but sees no sign of either. Desperate, his eyes probe the room, stopping on the beams above. “Jack, can you fly?”
Jack, perplexed, follows his gaze and understands. “Aye, that I can.”

Jack seems to virtually run up the wall from Feredir’s push, and he soon has the rope and grappler firmly attached to the stony crossbeams. With four great heaves the powerful Ranger joins him, and proceeds to pull up Salabon. They are now on the mews. Still no retreat. No way will they remain hidden up here.

“Durin’s balls,” mutters Feredir, feeling even more cooped up and helpless, and he reaches his conclusion as he reaches for his blade. As the hammering on the door beings, he starts smashing at the ceiling with his sword. And as the door breaks below, and feet start thundering in, they slip onto the roof of the fragile building. The Ranger breathes in a lungful of air, feeling the desperation fade. But only for a second.

“They’re on the roof! They broke through to the roof!” comes a voice from within. There is nothing for it.

“I can’t make that jump,” says Jack, eyeing the closest building from them, partially collapsed so they only need leap onto the first floor. But it is still far. Very far. Salabon eyes it suspiciously, obviously unsure himself.
“Of course you can,” retorts Hunter, and before the Hobbit can protest, plucks him from the roof, and proceeds to fling him across the gap. He lands awkwardly, straining his hip, but he made it.

Seeing their chances of escape dwindling, Salabon gets a sinking feeling that he’s friends may be killed this evening, and that he must do everything within his power to help them. He turns to Feredir. Looks him straight in the eye and says. “You two jump. Ill sacrifice my self so you may escape.” Feredir pauses for a moment to process what Salabon just told him. Then he quickly slaps him in the face, communicating with absolute certainty that they would never leave anyone behind.

“They’re jumping! By Ulmo’s blood, toes, bones, they’re actually jumping!”

The bellow and activity from the streets does nothing to convince them otherwise. Herbs and Hunter exchange glances.
“Are you thinking what I am thinking?” asks Salabon.
“Aye. I am, at that. Aim for the rubble”, replies Feredir, and together they brace themselves and undertake the mighty leap across the street!

Hunter lands solidly, dust and rubble exploding around him, the fallen tiles cracking under his weight. But Herbs falls short, hitting the ledge and having the wind knocked out of him! Scrambling to hold on, he starts to slip backwards! Hunter throws himself towards him, and manages to grip the healer’s hands just before he falls to his inevitable doom. He then hauls Jack upright, and drags both with him. “Quick! We go aloft again!”
The two battered and bruised companions, one barely breathing, groan, but follow as Hunter gracefully runs up the remains of a wall, scuttles across a beam, and launches himself onto the roof. Here, he waits to aid his companions, and soon they are racing along rooftops, with their enemies bellowing in the streets below them, keeping pace.

They decide to move towards the main concourse, because it looks to be a dead end beyond the opposite side, and besides it is a greater leap. It will take their opposition some time to traverse the entirety of the block before them, giving them the opportunity to potentially weave their way through the derelict buildings below them and onto the street, and from there to somewhere of safety.

Hunter leaps first this time, while Salabon aids Jack, and Hunter receives him. He then motions to Herbs; “I’ll catch you too, make the jump!”

Herbs measures his pace, and sets off at a run. But as he closes to the edge he sees that there is no way for him to make the jump, and he tries to abort, but fails! He plummets gracelessly to the street more than twenty feet below with a startled cry, as Hunter futilely grasps as the open air, cursing.

Miraculously, Salabon rises awkwardly from the street, and dazed though he is, bleeding, bruised, contused and probably worse, he manages to limp into a shaded awning, spreading his grey cloak about him to hide.

Jack has rarely heard such a string of profanities from his usually couth companion, but brings himself to tug at Hunter’s sleeve. “Look! Here they come!”

Their pursuers pass Salabon entirely without noticing him, being focussed on the rooftops, and they move to round the block from two different streets. A desperate gambit comes to Hunter, and he motions for Jack to lay down. He then rips off several slates, and throws them in a mighty arch towards the building before them and beyond, the tiles scattering on the street. It works! Their pursuers press on, believing them to have made the next jump, and soon they disappear from sight.

Laying low the entire following day and the next night, the companions witness a whole troop of people mustering and deploying, across the river and towards the Downs. It is a veritable army, four score or more. What is their goal? What is their purpose? Mustering an army..! It is unthinkable! Not until the last torch has cleared Tharbad do they brave the streets, finding the dishevelled Salabon huddled in his corner. Feredir bids his companions return to their camp and be safe, while he continues towards the library to see if there are any clues to the motives of these rogues, but both decline, preferring to stay at his side.

They soon find the library, precise by Helvorn’s sound descriptions. The arches and colonnades, still standing, are unmistakable. Vigilantly and nervously they stalk inside, keeping to the shadows, their own casting long and treacherous indications of their whereabouts on the dusty marble floor. They make their way through the musty antechambers, the dust on the floor disturbed by a myriad of recent footprints, when they see a light beyond. Wary, they creep up, and see before them Eldacar disassembling an intricate trap of ropes spreading across a vast chamber with row upon row of shelves of books, Mabs at his side. They gasp and marvel, and see the surprise in Eldacar’s eyes as he turns around.

“They were here, Hunter. Treadstone, and the false Ranger”. Eldacar, morose.
“You saw them?” Hunter, increduolus.
“Aye, I did, at that. I also laid eyes on another little friend of ours, this one black-skinned and fanged.”
“The Orc! He was here?”
“Aye, he delivered unto them a book, doubtlessly what prompted his Escape from Twisted Hill.”
“The rat!”
“The False Ranger spake, and announced their business to be concluded, and that they were to go forth to the West Tower, to Annúminas of old. And when I investigated these shelves, I found the entry for “P” to be astray. I believe we were right in our surmisings in Minas Brethil: there is a hunt for the legendary Palantíri, and both the White Hand and these marauders are on it."
“I will not believe it! They are legends! How far will anyone go for the promise of sorcerous trinkets from old tales?” Hunter pauses. “By and by, we thought you taken, or perished!”
“Yes, so we did of you…” replies the Elf, mayhap a little uncertainly.
“Did you not see our travails? Did you not think to aid us? I tell you, Herbs was literally weighed by Mandos, and could have done with aid”.

But Hunter does not hear Eldacar’s mumbling response, “The mission comes first…”. He has noticed Jack, wide-eyed and staring, and something pulls him towards the Hobbit, doubtlessly the bond they share through the mysterious amulet. He is holding it now, as he approaches his friend. A tapestry hangs above them, of a marvellous blade, and the words below read AEGLIN. Feredir is left standing, mouth agape, as the crafty Hobbit seems to have a thought, and takes off down the aisles, only to return to the still motionless Ranger hauling a voluble book. He pries it open, and reads aloud from a chosen passage:

“Like unto Orcrist and Glamdring, and like them long lost, this blade, forged in the Hidden City of Gondolin to smite the creatures of the Black Enemy. Woe unto the foe-ling who wouldst cross its wielder, for tiny arcs of captive lightning flash and dance eerily in tiny globes of blue light they create along the blade when foes are near. It was forged for the Goblin Wars, long and sharp of Ithilnaur, and shines a bright silver. The pommel and guard are of a polished steel. Around the hilt the wrappings of rich purple linen and silver wire. Penlod of Gondolin was its first wielder, afore he perished in Gondolin in a lane with his back to the wall, and about him many of the men of the Pillar and many of the Tower of the Snow. The blade was recovered at great costs by the defenders of the city and it passed from owner to owner in those dark times until it came to rest in the hands of the Dúnedain of Arnor, where it fell once more doing battle with its ancient foe. Now it rests in the hoard of that dread beast Corlagon of Angmar, against many a valiant paladin has fallen and met his doom.”

“Aeglin!” cries Hunter. “The blade of my forefathers- – Of Strider’s forefathers!”
“Strider?” asks Jack. “Who is he, and what is a Doonadine?”
“Never you fret, my little friend”, says Hunter, somewhat perplexed, and tousles the small one’s hair, “suffice to say that when I march into Rivendell with Aeglin held aloft in my hand, my honour and that of my father shall be restored. I vow to undertake a quest to retrieve this fabled blade, and wield it against the Darkness in the name of Ara… in the name of Good.” He checks himself, and then his shoulders visibly sag. Eldacar’s words from before has penetrated, at last. “But the mission. The mission must come first.”

He gathers the others before him. “Friends, we ride to Annúminas. I aim to be there afore these villains, to thwart whatever designs they may have. I aim to stick it in their eye, and end this, once and for all.” He sees the resignation in all their faces: Salabon, the scholar. Eldacar, the intelligencer. Jack, the explorer. Mabs, the informer. A library of forgotten secrets is a treasure-trove to these people, and who is he to deny them this reward? He sighs, and waves a hand in resignation. “Very well. We rest here for a day. I will fetch our fellows while you explore this musty old mausoleum.”

And thus it was that the Companions of Feredir earned a short respite, and marvelled as they searched the lost library of Tharbad, which did not turn out to be so lost, after all. In the fifty years since Tharbad was abandoned, much was seemingly left behind. It seemed its scholars were unable to bring out the library. Or that they were dead and perished. And when they had satisfied their curiosities – but not too long! – they crossed the perilous Gwathló and returned with great and terrible tidings, all at once.

But what of the ring that Jack Fleetfoot found? That is a different story…

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