Rangers of the North

S02E21-22 - Into the Maw
Wherein our heroes finally reaches their destination - and their fates

Feredir and Jack leave the less stealthy majority of the party behind, to infiltrate the Wyrm’s abode in secrecy. They have scarcely been away for an hour when the dragon descends on their friends. It confronts them, and Salabon decides to take an active stance, trying to sweet-talk the beast. Unfortunately his tongue is not quite so silver, and the dragon becomes enraged, seemingly swallowing Salabon, and flying off to its lofty lair.

Having seen the Wyrm from afar, Feredir and Jack come rushing back, to be told the sad tale. With grim determination, Feredir now has further cause to slay the dread Wyrm. He soldiers purposefully onwards, with Beoraborn at his side, and the rest follow.

Halfway up the mountain, they are accosted again, and this time the dragon flies off with Eadyth.

Eadyth and Salabon are being kept in chains in the dragon’s lair. Remarkably little treasure abounds. They attempt to find ways to escape, but to no avail.

The rest of the party continue on a laborious trek towards the mountain. When they finally get there, they find the gate locked by a riddle. Many hours do they spend before Feredir finally realizes the obvious answer, and the gates open.

They trek through the darkness for many long hours, before Feredir sees something glinting in the darkness. It is the sword he has come to reclaim – Aeglin.

With this in hand, the fight is as good as won, thinks he, and they continue.

They emerge from the catacombs just as Eadyth has entranced the dragon with a Rohirrim dance, and wait for the right moment for their attack.

Just as the dance reaches its climax, Eadyth notices her companions, and hesitates just a fraction of a second, enough for the dragon to break free of the spell. As it rears its massive head to bellow, Jack comes hurtling through the air onto the dragon’s back…

and kills it with one blow.

Jack the Dragon Slayer is hailed as the greatest of heroes, enjoying all forms of hospitality and praise, lauded and worshipped wherever he goes. Soon, hubris has overcome him, and he understands that he has succumbed to the Flaming Eye, ever at his shoulder.

Jack wakes, realizing that he did not kill the giant beast, it was but a portent of things to come – his fate should he succumb to the temptations of fame and power…

…and is violently knocked against a column by the dragon’s thrashing tail.

Colargon trumpets, and the Companions regroup, taking cover.

Suddenly, the drake rolls his enormous eyes and flares his nostrils. “I smell… I smell Man of the West!” His massive head sweeps the room. “Where are you, Man of Westernesse, show yourself!”

The Huntsman steps from the shadows to stand directly afore the beast. “I am here, dragon. I am Barhador son of Tauron, called Feredir, the Huntsman, by the Free Folk of Eriador.”

The dragon rolls his eyes again, nostrils flaring, head sweeping. “Where?! Where is he?! I can smell you, little man, I can hear you. What hides you from mine eyes? What sorcery is this?”

Feredir’s eyes grow large, and he stares down at the green and white, almost pulsating armour gifted to him by Beoraborn. He understands. It makes him unseen to the dragon. “I am the ghost of Elendil, the spirit of the Dúnedain, come to visit upon you the wrath of the kings of old!” Colargon bares his teeth and hisses, still oblivious to Feredir’s position.

At the same time, Eadyth charges the dragon with a fierce cry, slashing out with her formidable Mithril-wrought spear. The dragon bellows, and its huge head sweeps right over Feredir towards the Rohirrim woman. Beoraborn wastes no time, and charges out of the shadows with his dragon-slaying spear, roaring Beijibar oaths and thrusting at the great wyrm. Colargon cries out in anger, and rises to his hind feet, flapping his great wings. A terrible gust of air hits hard, sending Salabon sprawling and the others scrambling for footing, but Feredir stands firm. He is about to charge the dragon, when he feels a strange sensation, and hears the drake uttering an incantation. The room plunges into absolute darkness! “Now the scales are balanced, little manling,” chuckles the dragon. Eadyth and Beoraborn strike out blindly, but Feredir remains standing, closing his eyes and concentrating. Still with closed eyes, he strikes out, and strikes true. Colargon bellows in pain as the enchanted spear ensorcelled to slay dragons, cuts through its thick, scaly skin and into its flesh. Panic strikes the drake, and he tries to lash out, but is stunned, recoiling from the thrust and trying to turn away. Pain! He can feel Eadyth and Beoraborn’s weapons as well, and tries to back away.
Meanwhile, Salabon speaks his own little enchantment, tapping into the forbidden knowledge in his possession, and soon he can see through the darkness. “These scales can verily be balanced even more,” he murmurs, and starts striking flint over his oilskin. The cloth at its base catches, and he hurls it at the dragon, striking its breast perfectly. The oil fails to catch fire, but for the very spot where the skin hit. The Companions now have a target!

But the Huntsman has grown weary of this dance; he is no master spear-wielder, so he cuts the drake one more time with the hungry spear, and throws it aside, drawing Aeglin. As the blue light burns brightly through the blackness, he cries out, “From Gondolin I come, feel my vengeance!” and buries the blade in the dragon’s thigh, almost extinguishing the light. Colargon screams in pain and fear, emotions wholly unknown to him, and warps away, dragging at the chains still holding Eadyth and Salabon and driving both off their feet. Eadyth thrusts her spear through a chain loop and deep into the stone, the Mithril blade finding easy purchase. Now Jack has returned to the fray, and darts in, delivering a formidable blow with the flat of his hand to the exact spot lit from flame on the dragon’s breast. Confusion and panic grips the mighty Colargon. What are these small creatures, and why are they not cowering before him? He makes one single bound, and glides several hundred feet away with the Companions scrambling to keep up. The magical darkness vanishes, and all can see that the dragon is making for the vast terrace and the open sky. Jack, Feredir and Beoraborn strike out after it. Jack is there first, trying to strike the dragon’s tail, but it proves too wily, and he only strikes stone. Then, here is Feredir and Beoraborn, just as the dragon leaps from the terrace – - and is forthwith arrested by the length of chain, before being slammed violently against the mountainside a hundred feet from the terrace, all tangle of chain, wings and limbs.

Jack has one of the spears in his hands and is about to leap after it and sacrifice himself, but Eadyth is there to stop him, pulling the spear from his grip. She moves to take his place.

“No,” warns Feredir. “I have brought you all here, the task to finish this is mine.” He moves to the ledge to climb the chain, when a loud, metallic ping is heard, and the chain, all several hundred feet of it, comes thrashing down the length of the hall, smashing anything in its path. It is all the Companions can do to hurl themselves out of its riotous way. Colargon drops into darkness…

*

“Is he dead?” ventures Salabon. “Did the fall break him?”
“It is impossible to tell!” cries Eadyth. “It is simply too dark to see below!”

The Companions stare into the darkness of night-cloaked Angmar, where the Wyrm Colargon has escaped, wounded and raging, unleashed on the world.

Stoic Feredir is silent for a while, before his lips pass a single sentence:

“What have we done?”

[CREDITS]

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S02E20 - Northward Bound
Wherein our heroes move towards Angmar and is set upon by marauding Orcs

Eregion, spring T.A. 3012. The Huorn has the advantage. Swords and arrows cannot harm it, nor Jack’s futile martial attacks. Beoraborn appears from foraging, quickly determines what is transpiring, and with a roar hurls a giant bee hive into the canopy. Hunter and Eadyth share a glance, and Eadyth hurls her oilskin after the hive. Hunter expertly pierces it with an arrow, and then kicks up the logs from the fire, sending them flying into the canopy. The beeswax and oil is enough to blaze mightily up, setting the monster afire. Jack and Salabon are freed, and the Companions retreat from the dying Huorn.
Gandalf sheaths his sword, and smiles cunningly. He approaches the exhausted adventurers, who are busy helping each other up and checking the damages. “I see I was not wrong in believing in you,” he tells Hunter. “I have faith in your quest, and may others,” he gestures ambiguously, “too, have the same.” Gandalf stoops to pick up a burning branch, considers it, and throws it into the blaze. “Friends, I believe we’d be well advised to make our respite elsewhere. This place is tainted by darkness.”


The Companions ride on. Outside Rivendell Gandalf bids them goodbye and good luck. “May your Quest be a successful one,” he says. “There is much hanging in the balance.” He suddenly looks stern; “Should you fail, there is no telling the consequences.” Then his scowl turns into a knowing grin. “Though I am inclined to suggest that fail you will not.” Feredir has no way of knowing, but he believes that Gandalf’s words carry more than mere hope. Some part of him accepts Gandalf’s prediction as true.

Ever on, they fare, through the vales and through the forests, across the rivers and around craggy mountain peaks. Salabon cries out, pointing to the east above the Misty Mountains, having espied great eagles, he says. Whatever he has seen is lost in clouds, but Jack, calm and expressionless, only nods discretely. Hunter feels his heart lift: They are not alone.

They skirt the Eastwood and enter the Cold Fells. They have held a decent pace, but never forced their mounts, nor themselves, but now they grow increasingly uneasy. The Cold Fells is a dark place, there could be marauding Orcs from Gundabad afoot.

And indeed, it is in one of the secluded, flat valleys between the Fells and the Misty Mountains, that they see afar a great band of Orcs bearing down upon a herd of great deer. They immediately determine the danger, and begin a long evasive maneuver, hoping to remain unseen altogether. But that hope is in vain: They are spotted, and a grisly Orc screeches out alarm. They ride on, in a wide arch away from the Orcs, towards the pass out of the valley, but they see that it will be a close call. They press their horses all they can, and the Warg Riders close on them, but they slip through the pass! WIth the Orcs hot on their heels they begin a long escape through unfamiliar terrain – rocky, grim vales where the sun barely shines, the blessed sky-vessel at any rate obscured from them beyond a thick layer of clouds, negating the Orcs’ disadvantage in day time. The gain ground! But just as they begin to have their confidence raised, another group of Orcs emerge from a second pass, mere yards from having cut them off! On they ride, on and on, until they can feel their mounts beginning to tire. Feredir grits his teeth. “Herbs! My closest and most trusted friend!” he cries. “You must finish this Quest. It is down to you now!” Salabon, shocked, is about to protest, but must scrabble to not lose his reins and at the same time catch Hunter’s dragon-spear, tossed towards him. He only has enough time to realise that Hunter has abruptly stopped, turned about and raised his sword, Grey Cloak snarling at his horse’s flank. He wants to stop. Every fiber of his being wants to stop. But instead he yells out, urging on the rest of the Companions, still ahead of them and oblivious to Hunter’s actions.

Hunter waits until the Orcs are close enough to focus only on him, and his friends disappeared around the bend. He cries out in taunt towards the Orcs, making the foremost halt in their surprise, almost causing them to be knocked over by their numbers pressing on from behind. They recover in time to see the damned bastard slip away down a crevasse, and drive their grotesque riding-beasts after him, howling and gnashing their teeth.

Hunter flies! His trusted mount races along the narrow corridors of stone and gravel, and Hunter prays that his horse not slip or drop a shoe. Then he will surely be done for. The slavering hordes fall a little behind again, and he slows to let them catch. He does not want them to lose him and backtrack to the previous pass, following the others! Again he stops and taunts them, again they almost falter, and he notices that they snap and snarl at each other: These are two different clans, not one and the same! He snaps his reins, and is off again. This time he notices that there are two parallell vales randomly intersecting, and risks all in a gambit: He shouts for Grey Cloak to press on, but drives his mount into the parallell pass, and drives it up onto the banks above the pass. Here, he sees that it is a labyrinth of interconnecting paths, and that choosing the right path will let him control the egress. He holds back, lets the Orcs pass, and rides up behind them. He rides up next to the last Orc, who rides on oblivious for a little while before finding first surprise in the fact that their quarry is next to him, and then to the fact of being dead. Feredir loses no time in snatching up the Orc’s vicious bow, and takes off down a side path again. At the next intersection, he shoots one of the foremost Orcs’s Dire Wolf, causing a great commotion among the monsters. The Orc whose mount fell snatches the arrow from the dead Warg, and screams in pure hatred towards others of the Orcs. A great argument erupts, which soon leads to all-out mêlée as the Orcs fall on each other. Feredir uses the tumults to slip away, and though some of the Orcs cry out in alarm, he and Grey Cloak are soon beyond reach, as the vicious brutes slaughter each other.


The second party of Orcs have almost overtaken Salabon, Beoraborn, Eadyth and Jack, as they arrive at an old stone bridge, only wide enough for two horses. They decide to take their stand.
“Where is the Huntsman?” bellows Beoraborn.
Salabon looks at him sadly. “He didn’t make it.”
WHAT?!” roars the Bejibar. He leaps from his horse, grabs his enormous blade, and strides towards the oncoming horde. Salabon nocks an arrow onto his bow string, and Eadyth readies her spear. Jack closes his eyes, and seems to breathe out, growing calmer still.

And then they fight.


Hunter follows the river north-east, finding a crossing a day’s ride from his altercation with the Orcs. He carefully wades across the treacherous stream, leading his horse with tenderness. On the far side he builds a fire and dries his hose and boots, letting the horse warm under his blanket. It is growing colder. He looks up at the now-visible stars. Is he imagining a dark, winged shape up there against the stars? Is it an Eagle friend, or is it in fact their intended quarry, the Wyrm Colargon? He dwells on this in the late, lonely night-hours, stirring every so often, fearing that the Orcs are back on his trail. But they never come.


Salabon is finding leadership tedious. The battle is won, but his Companions will not budge. Beoraborn has taken a stand, saying he will wait here for Hunter, even though Salabon promised to carry on. Jack, also, will not go, saying that he is coming. How the Hobbit knows is beyond Salabon, but only Eadyth is willing to go on with him. He finally relents, and they strike camp, Beoraborn remaining standing in the middle of the bridge, like some ancient, stone-hewn bridge keeper. It sends shiver down Salabon’s spine. They never see him return, and he surely did not come across the bridge, but suddenly he is there, beside them, eating from their stew. Salabon nearly jumps up, Jack only smiles. Eadyth rolls her eyes, and Beoraborn laughs like an avalanche and lifts the Ranger off the ground in a great embrace.


They ride on.

Soon they reach outskirts of the Ettenmoors, and before them runs the Angrenost river.

And along the horizon they see them: The mountains of Angmar, the most unholy and dreadful realm in all of Eriador.

Their destination.

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S02E19 - An Unexpected Visit
Where in our heroes come face to face with one of the legends of Middle-Earth

Halls of Healing, Eregion, spring T.A. 3012. Days and weeks go by as the Companions prepare for their long trek towards the bleak and unforgiving lands of Angmar. It is late one evening, after supper, and the House of Healing that serves as home for the Companions in Cillien, is still. Their departure for Angmar and their Quest draws near. Hunter sits outside in the clear light of the full moon smoking his pipe and feeling for tears in his gear by touch alone. Eldacar Half-Elven emerges from the hut he shares with his consort Mabs and approaches. “Feredir, I must needs have words with you. May we walk, perhaps, and share a pipe of Halfing weed?”
The two friends walk a few yards from the house. In silence Eldacar also lights his pipe, and casts his gaze on the star-filled sky. Hunter’s eye is on their long and pale shadows, ominous portents of shadowy work to be done. Maybe someone is manipulating the shadows, moving the Companions about like pieces on a game board? Surely, too many strange occurences have befallen them in the last score of months. Minutes pass before Eldacar finally speaks.
“I know I gave you my word that I would go with you on your Quest Feredir, and I will keep my oath if you hold me to it. It is not that I wish to abonden the Quest or all of you, but I must admit that things have changed. I am still not the Elf I was, my full strength has yet to return, if ever it will.” He pauses and closes his eyes for a moment or two. Feredir remains still. In truth he had come to be expecting this conversation, in a sense hoping it would finally come. For he has not been certain of his companion’s capabilities to face the dangerous tasks ahead of them. And now there was a child to be considered. Hunter had no wish in playing a part in orphaning an infant. “There is the situation with Mabs and the others… and of course the child…” He is struggling to find the words, Hunter realises. The Ranger lays a heavy hand on his friend’s shoulder.
“Speak no more, Eldacar of the Sinda. Your counsel is wise, and your words make sense to me. I have no doubt in my mind that you would keep your word and go with me on this Quest, even with all that has happened. But how can I ask of you such a thing now? Had I been able to forsee these events before this Quest was announced, I would never have accepted your offer. No, fear not that I will think less of you for this, nor will anyone else. I hereby release you from your oath.”
The two shake hands, and the elf gives him a small smile as a way of thanks. The two remain outside, quietly finishing their pipes while watching the stars.
The following day Beoraborn finally returns from his exploits at Ost-in-Edhil. Súlkano, he explains, has left for the Grey Havens, for ever leaving behind Middle-Earth, but before he made his leave, they finished their task. He unrolls a great skin, and reveals two mighty spears, intrically carved with Elvish designs, and other, more animalistic symbols. The spears seem to shimmer translucently, and writhe and swirl with patterns of branches, leaves and moss. They are in all fairness otherworldly, and the Companions marvel at the extraordinary craftsmanship.
Beoraborn is not finished, and unslings a great sack, and from this he pulls a leather armour, fashioned from the scales of the drake Turkulon. This he presents to Hunter as a gift, to help in his Quest. The armour has the same shimmering otherworldliness as the spears, and Hunter intuitively sense that they are not only of nature, but attuned to nature itself. He humbly thanks Beoraborn for the gift.


A few days later. The normal day to day activities of the house are being carried out, while the party is busy perparing themselves for departure. It will not be long now, and there is still much to be done.
Jack is busy looking after the little one, luring smiles from the child with his skylarking. Hunter smiles and shakes his head, returning his focus on his task; fletching arrows with goose-feathers. As he finish one arrow and puts it down, he notices Bragol staring off into the distance. “What is it you see Eldacar?” “Someones coming.” “Who?”, Feridir rises and walks towards the elf, his eyes fixing upon the same area as the elf. “I cannot tell. A cart drawn by a pony, its driver an old man in grey robes.”
Feredir frowns. “Grey robes?”
“It is so. And wearing a very tall, pointy hat.”

Feredir cleans his hands on a piece of cloth, and walks into the courtyard as the cart rolls in. The others are gathering too, and Hunter holds up his hand in salute.
“Greetings, traveler, and welcome to Cillien. I fear there is not much to be found here anymore, the place is mainly deserted.”
“Oh, I believe I have found exactly what I see, , Barhador, son of Tauron,” smiles the old man through his long beard.
All eyes are on Hunter, who stops short and knits his brows. “Forgive me, but you seem to have me at a disadvantage… You know me?”
“Indeed I do, and your Companions too, I wager. There is nimble Jack, fleet of foot and crafty with his fingers. Hither stalwarth Beoraborn, of Beorn’s kin, and therefore my friend by extension. Yonder with the fishy scowl is doubtfully Bragol Thriawath, the cunning vassal of Elrond himself. I believe we may have met? And this, of course is… Salabon, who I have had the pleasure of conversing with before.” He nods and smiles at Salabon, who grins broadly back, and considers Edmund, before moving on to the women. “I know not the ladies, but am charmed, I’m sure.” He bows deeply to Mabs, Jayele, Lominzli and Eadyth. Jayelle bows back, ever so slightly and gracefully. Lominzli giggles and blushes, and Mabs grunts and nudges her. Eadyth, who knows the Stormcrow from Edoras, makes no show of any kind.
“You are Gandalf!” Hunter exclaims, but collects himself. “I beg your pardon, Master Gandalf, I have sought after you.”
Gandalf chuckles. “Indeed you have, young Ranger. And now you have found me. Or rather, I have found you.”


With the master huntsman Feredir among their number, Beoraborn’s newly brewed ale, and with Salabon’s herbalism skills, it is indeed a true feast that they can prepare in Gandalf’s honour with but a moment’s notice. They cheer and carouse, and tell tall tales, none moreso than Gandalf himself, and it is not until the food has been cleared away, the remnants of Minas Brethil brandy has come out, and the men have lit their pipes, driving out the women and children. Lominzli has to drag Eadyth with her, but even she reluctantly leavs the menfolk to their pipes and devices. Salabon delivers an animated account of his visit with Saruman, and Gandalf seems to chew his pipe and beard, muttering under his breath, but smiling and nodding theathrically at Salabon in all the right places. He is more sober and acknowledging of Hunter’s account of sensing something wrong around Calenardhon. He confirms that it was Hunter’s discovery of Elendil’s grave that led to him receiving words of their Quest. It comes as no surprise to the Companions that Gandalf is a friend to the Great Eagles.
“Truth be told, I am no stranger to the tale of your commendable Quest,” admits Gandalf. “I have many friends about the lands of Eriador, not only in Bree or Rivendell.”
“Then pray tell why you waited so long to make contact with us?” asks Hunter.
Gandalf sucks his teeth. “I had to be certain.”
“Certain of what?”
“Certain of your dedication.” He holds up a hand to fend off protests. “Now, now, you must understand that a band of arrant vagabonds with questionable repute, performing deeds that seem unbelievable at best advocates caution. However,” he waves off more protests, “however, I have myself had the opportunity to investigate some of the claims that the folk of Eriador tell of your exploits, and though some of them still seem unbelievable, especially what they say in Bree” he regards an uncomfortable Eldacar from underneath great big bushy eyebrows, “it is without a doubt that your contributions to the Free Peoples are commendable.” The Companions stay silent. “I support your Quest to Angmar.”


Gandalf agrees with the Companions’ decision to bypass Rivendell, fearing Elrond will attempt to stop their Quest. “I have faith you can succeed,” says Gandalf. “Elrond will not be so magnanimous. He will consider letting loose the Wyrm too great a risk, and will not have faith in your ability to succeed. But heed this,” and here Gandalf seems to grow impossibly tall, and the room dim to but a gloom, “you must not fail.”
“Will you come with us, Gandalf, and aid us in our Quest?”
“Alas, I cannot. My presence is required elsewhere. I am only to follow you a ways, and encourage you. Such is the extent I can allow myself to interfere.”


Goodbyes had been said, good fortune wished and promises of reunion as soon as the Quest is fulfilled made. Bragol stands outside and watching as his friends slowly disappear into the horizon. Mabbs walks up to him, taking his hand. “They will return, do not worry. I feel it in my bones. They are as prepared as anyone can be, armed as well as can be and I have never met, nor heard of, anyone more resourceful.”
“I know, but still I worry. And now with Gandalf…”
“The old man? But he seem both friendly and wise? He approves of the quest and their plans, and if he deserves but half the respect and admiration you lot give him, then surely he knows best?”
“Not what I worry about. He is right in fearing what would happen, should the dragon side with the enemy. In the first age they were terrible foes that brought great destruction.”
Mabbs seem confused. “So you agree with your Lord’s sentiments?”
“No, I did not say that…”
“Then all the more reason to kill it, all the more reason for this Gandalf to help…”
“Yes, but that is not what bothers me, it is the timing of it all. As I understand it, at the time that Smaug was killed, Gandalf was part of a group that entered the old fortress of Dol Goldur in Mirkwood and exposed the necromancer there to be no other than the Enemy.”
“That old man? I suppose he must be very old, it has to be what, sixty years ago? But what has that got to do with anything?”
“According to the book the Huntsman read in the Shire, Gandalf was instrumental in arranging the Quest to retake the Lonely Mountain.”
Mabbs is quiet for a little while, before asking: “So what? So you think he ulterior motives for helping the Dwarves? That he used the attack on Smaug as a cover operation, a smoke screen? And that he is doing the same now?” There was anger and uncertainty in her voice.
“I do not know. That is what bothers me.”
“Well if that is the case, I’m glad you are not going. I was glad before, but even more glad I am now! Your place is here with our child, not being killed by some lizard, again. Do not think I have forgiven you for that!” She smiles and gives him an angry look. “No, best you stay here and attend to what is important.” Bragol is about to answer, but bites his tongue just in time. Instead he switches to Quenya and under his breath says: “Personal is not the same as important.”
“Did you say something my dear?” Mabbs ask.
He turns to her, smiles and says: “Just a little good luck wish for them, come let us go inside, there is work to be done.”


Hunter rejoices in feeling the road yet again beneath the hooves of his stout mount. He feels elated and excited, he has purpose and a clear goal. He notices a certain glumness in his Companions, however, only Gandalf seems cheerful, singing songs and smoking his pipe atop his little cart.
Slowly the Companions wind their way along the crumbling roads of Eregion, through the valleys below the Misty Mountains, northward bound.
Barely have they escaped the hollied valleys before disaster strikes. Making camp below a huge, great oak they are set upon by the very tree itself, a fiendish and evil Huorn! The Companions seem powerless against the mighty oak, and soon both Jack and Salabon are caught by its lashing branches, and hurled into the canopy. Gandalf stands back, alarmed and sword in hand, but he bides his time…

TBC

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S02E18D - Jack Fleetfoot: Path to Redemption
Chapter 2: Jack and the Wolf

Eregion. Winter T.A. 3011-3012. Jack leaves the beaten path for the first time, all alone. The last time he did so he followed the tracks left behind by his Companions, travelling from cache to cache where they had left firewood, kindling, and small foods. He soon learns that the harsh wilderness of Eregion is less bountiful, and after only a few days of battling uncleared paths full of weeds, brambles, holly and thistles, he is bloodied, thirsty, hungry and alone. He is afraid of eating from the many growths, remembering Feredir’s stern warnings about deadly fruits and berries, and restricts himself to those plants he knows without doubt. Those are few. He attempts to put up snares, but finds that it is not as easy as his Companions have made it seem – nor is kindling a simple trick, and he is soon down to his last, few matches, keeping them religiously safeguarded in a waterproof pouch about his neck. In addition, he has the nagging feeling that he is being watched, which makes him walk in a constant state of fear. Any small sound is enough to make him jump. And there are many.

One night, when drizzle has ruined his chances of a warm fire, and he is huddled and shivering under a thicket, he feels a presence in the undergrowth. There is something there! Something approaches, and he is elated to realize that it is Feredir’s wolf, Grey Cloak, that is stalking him. Then that elation turns to terror, as the giant wolf bares its fangs, and leaps straight for Jack, who falls to the ground with a wail of terror! There is a terrible sound, and Jack carefully takes his hands from his face, to see the wolf stand victorious over another wolf – a wolf that was about to attack Jack from behind! Grey Cloak has saved him!
As the days pass, Grey Cloak never leaves Jack’s side, keeping him warm at night, and offering his solid frame for support when the Hobbit falters. Grey Cloak is large enough that Jack could ride him, but the wolf doesn’t seem comfortable with it, so Jack doesn’t push it. Some times the wolf will disappear and return with some small game that he shares with Jack, who most of the time simply eats it raw to avoid starvation.

Then one day, Jack is unable to get up. His now very close companion Grey Cloak whines and nudges him with his muzzle, but Jack is too weakened by hunger and fatigue, sickness has taken him over. He has no concept of how long he has lain like this, but at some point he registers faint voices, sees flickering figures about him. Gradually he quickens, under the care of a group of Elves – a Wandering Company. Initially, Jack tries to refuse their help; it goes against his Path of Redemption to accept their help. Unfazed, the Elves withdraw. But the folllowing days, Jack notices that whatever direction he chooses, the Elves seem to have chosen that path before him. They leave small things for him; foods, drink, garments, that he initially refuses, but then grudgingly accepts when he comes across them again the next day. He starts seeing them in the distance, and soon he follows closely enough to watch their motions. He sees that they spend a good portion of every day meditating or doing excersises that seem similar to the katas Jack has learned as a martial artist. Within long he is doing these with them, first at a distance, but as the days grow colder Jack trains and meditates alongside his new friends. They do not speak much – the Elves do not speak Westron and Jack is no wizard at Elvish – but they make themselves understood. They help him reach deep inside himself in meditative techniques and they teach him the fundaments of bushcraft. Jack is starting to feel much better, both in body and in spirit: these Elves have helped him reach a new level of enlightenment. Then one day when he wakes up, the Elves are gone. There are no tracks, no signs of them ever having been there. Were they ever there? Jack considers his new clothes and equipment – proof that the were, but at the same time he can’t shake the feeling that it all happened not in the real world, but in a dream-state. While packing his sack he finds a set of beautiful bracers, clearly of Elvish design and a perfect fit for Jack. Renewed, fortified, and slightly more elfin-looking, Jack Fleetfoot returns to the woods with his friend Grey Cloak, and does not re-emerge from the wilderness until the mountains have thawed and spring is in full force.

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S02E18C - Recovery
Wherein Eldacar spends his days in recovery.

Cillien, Northen Dunland. Autumn T.A. 3011.
Time would pass and seasons change before he would recover, he knew this as he lay in the bed. How long he had been here, or how long since he had crushed under the weight of the dragon he did not know. He only knew that this was the first day since it all happened that he could remember. He knew not where he was, but whererever it was he felt safe. And he been look after, that much was evident. And from the booming voice coming from somewhere outside Beoraborn was here.

“Eldacar! Awake at last I see! How glad I am to see you concious again!” Beoraborn smiled as he continued: “Let me prepare some food for you, you must be starved!”

Days passed and he spoke little and did less, never once even attempting to leave the bed. That was still a long time away. It hurt. His whole body hurt, but no part worse than his head.

Weeks passed. It still hurt, and as before his head was the worsed. His finger trailed the area where Beoraborn told him his head had been opened. Herbs was a gifted healer, one of legend, there could be no disputing that. Never the one most eager to talk, he had become even less talkative than before. He was concious, he ate and answered when asked. But that was also the extent of his activity.

Months. What hurt when he woke up in the morning, still hurt the next. But slowly he could feel his strength return, the pains and aches diminish. The headaches was the worst part. They would come suddenly and deliever blinding pain.

He was luck that he had not died Beoraborn said, and he was right of course. But what he did not say in reply was that he now, one day, would die. Of course living his life he could have been killed anyway, that is true. Death might have been highly probable, but it had never before been a certainty. It was now, though. He had made his choice, and was now forever bound by it. He did not regret or despair over it. It did not frighten him. But it felt…strange and he would muse on it now and then, as one would a question of a philosophical nature. Had he made the right choice?

Meditation was the first step in recovery. From there he started to train his mind. He would gaze about the room, close his eys and ask Beoraborn to move any and as many items as he pleased without him looking. Then open his eyes and spot that which had been changed. He would look out of a windon for a few seconds, then turn away and describe it in detail for the beorning.

Then he began with the physical training. Hands first, simply squeezing objects as hard as he could. Stretching his legs, lifting one and holding it up for as long as he could. Then the other. Soon he’d take short walks, across the rom at first. Then around the house. Then longer walks.

Time passed and sit ups followed, then push ups. He’d lift buckets. Empty at first, then filled a 1/4 with sand, then half full and finally full. He began running.

The thoughts about dying and death faded, so too did his worries about whether or not he had made the right choice. That did not matter now. It was made. Time to heal.

Sword practice followed: Parry, thrust, feint. Rusty at first, but improving on his form for each day that passed.

He’d talk to the big man about nature, asking for names of plants and beasts and insects. He watched him work his craft skill, and asked him about that too. He would help him. Fetch water, gather wood for the forge, whatever was needed.

He read all there was to read. Then read it again. Trying to memorise it all, sharpening his mind. Let his thoughts wander, analyzing problems and challenges. He would invent strategies for any scenario he could think of. He made plans, ways to gather intelligence, to plant false information amongst their enemies. He had a lead now, Herbs represented an opportunity. He analysed all sides of that opportunity.

He wrote too, letters mostly. Messages to his handler, in code. Letters to his mother, also in code.

He had been right. Time would pass and seasons too before he recovered. Seasons would also pass before he once again was reunited with his friends. But when this came to pass, a feeling of happiness came over him unlike any he had ever known before.

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S02E18B - Guard Duty
Wherein a familiar face inhabits a furtive guise.

Minas Brethil. Winter T.A. 3012. Darkness envelops the sodden streets, only dimly lit by sputtering torches, storm lanterns, and flickering reflections of these in the puddles of the prevailing downpour. Erefarad shudders and adjusts his cloak, feeling the mud already soaking through his boots. He realizes that they are more or less ruined. It feels like an age and a half has passed since the day he bought them in Fennas Drúnin. They have served him well, taking him by foot through most of Eriador. To think their fate would be sealed here, in the mud-caked streets of the rotten citadel of Minas Brethil. The figurative stench is as palpable as the literal. His hand closes on his spear as the sound of feet in the mud heralds an approach.

“What ho, brave Erefarad! Are our brickworks safe from prowling thiefs and goblins this eve?”
The accompanying burlesque laughter seems not at all to affect Erefarad, who cheerfully smiles back.
“Nothing stirs in these streets, Corporal Corchon, save your presence, in course. No thief or goblin dare brave these sodden ways on a night like this. In truth, I’m surprised to be graced by your company, what brings you out this way?”
The mocking sneer turns dark as Erefarad continues, “It surely has nothing to do with unpaid debts at a certain house of ill repute, as some wicked tongues will have it?” He leans closer through the rain, “Which, I should add, have been dealt with. The tongues, that be, not the debts, unfortunately. We cannot have that sort of slander blacken our proud Brotherhood’s name, now, can we, Corporal?”
“Mind your own business, private!” sneers corporal Corchon, and strides away, mud splashing about his legs. Erefarad permits himself a little smile. Corchon is indebted to him now, as well he knows, and will display less of his disdain when next they cross paths. Like so many of the Brotherhood, he has his vices, and the right words and the right coins to the right people has a marvellous tendency to alleviate knowledge of these. Erefarad has no haste, he plans to work through winter. It is the only means he has of finding a way into the right circles, wherein to learn the fate of his friend, Baran Sîdoneth, once lord of these lands, now at uncertain mercies. As long as Baran is still alive, the man known as Erefarad will find him. Hopefully, he will have uncovered enough to also find a way out, and the Valar willing, find a way to bring down the Brotherhood.

Ultimately, his probing give few fruits. He learns that Baran is, indeed, alive, but has been removed from his post. With a heavy heart Erefarad chooses to slip away from a graveyard shift guard duty, shedding his disguise and reemerging as Feredir of the Rangers of the North. He walks south with spring approaching him for every step he approaches Cillien in Dunland. He feels helpless for not being able to aid his old friend, but a nagging part of him also feels Baran has brought much of this on himself. At any rate, a greater Quest looms in the horizon, for a greater purpose. He hopes to be able to find a way to help his friend, but if he is unable, he also knows Baran to be a capable fighter, whose prowess with small arms matches Feredir’s own.

In Minas Brethil, no alarms are raised from Erefarad’s absence. Those who owed him a debt or knew he had intelligence on them are only too glad to see him gone.

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S02E18A - The Ranger and the Eagle
Wherein Feredir scales Methedras and finds more than he bargains for.

Cillien, Eregion. Autumn T.A. 3011. The frost has not set in when Feredir leaves for Minas Brethil in the autumn of 3011. His route takes him southwards from Cillien, towards the southern Misty Mountains. Had the Companions seen him go, they would perhaps have questioned his destination, but in truth Feredir set forth in secret, only Beoraborn knowing his true intent: that of scaling Methedras in search of the Great Eagles. The stalwarth Bejibar smith has fashioned for him gloves with scaling hooks and grafts with large claws for his boots. Feredir has brought his warmest garments, and supplies for surviving in the harsh climes of the mountains.

His wandering brings him close to the northern slopes of Methedras; he is not planning on going the easier way near Isengard; a bad feeling linger within his bones about that place after his last skirmish.

It takes him two days to reach the foot of the mountain, and another day to reach the higher altitudes. He finds he must circumvent the top to find his ascent, and on the fourth day he is surprised by an early but heavy snowfall, and must seek shelter in a secluded valley. He is surprised to come across a sapling of a white tree, and below the shallow grave. The ancient armour leaves no doubt; this is the grave of Elendil. In deep reverence, Feredir spends three days meditating and building a cairn over the grave. On the third day, a Great Eagle does indeed descend to him: Noranthír, charged with watching over Isengard and the Nan Cúrunir. Noranthír expresses he is pleased that Feredir has tended to the gravesite, and is willing to talk to the Ranger.

Feredir explains his plight, and is surprised to find Noranthír taking the news of Turkulon’s death with some satisfaction. The Great Eagle says that he can not promise any aid from the Great Eagles in going after Colargon, but that neither will the Eagles be antagonistic to his plight: Feredir can count himself a friend of the Eagles. Noranthír promises one thing, however; that he will investigate the rumours of the lance of Fram. Should he uncover anything of worth, he will find a means of bringing word to Feredir.

On the fourth day on Methedras, Feredir begins his descent. He carries nothing more than what he brought up, but in his breast bats a slightly encouraged heart.

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S02E18 - Permutations
Wherein our heroes reunite, and are joined by some unlikely new Companions, and plans are made for winter.

In the Autumn of 3011 the Companions all reunite in Cillien. Feredir comes North with two wayward Rohirrim, both of with whom he seems to have some animosity. Jack Fleetfoot comes South by boat, and with him comes Jayelle of the Oak Grove, and Salabon’s sister Lominzli. Eldacar is recovering – though slowly, and Salabon is making good use of the libraries and workshops of the Healer’s Hall. Beoraborn is working with their ward, who names himself Súlkano, and who knows the secrets of Enchanting.

The Companions all agree that the best course is to wait for Spring, and then press north towards Angmar and Colargon’s lair. But Jack brings news of Baran: Minas Brethil are now in the hands of a mysterious Brotherhood – the Order Baran belonged to. Baran has been removed, and is nowhere to be found. Feredir thus vows to infiltrate Minas Brethil and find news of Baran. Jack declares that he will leave the Company again, that he needs to do so alone to find his Redemption. The others protest, but Salabon supports Jack, and as such Feredir does too. When the Ranger accepts it, the others follow suit. Beoraborn says that he has a quest of his own: With the help of Súlkano, he will endeavour to make a set of spears with which to kill Colargon. He will use the remains of the dead Dragon Turkulon to do so. Salabon explains that he believes that Eldacar has withrawn into himself, and that only the sight of his lover, Mabs, with help him out of it. He will therefore go North-West to Bree and collect Mabs before Winter. He will hear no complaining, he explains that this is something he must do. Eadyth, Edmund, Jayelle and Lomiñzli will stay at the House of Healing and care for the invalid, as well as preparing for Winter. Eadyth is not pleased with being left with womanly chores, but agrees out of deference to Feredir.

Thus the Companions part ways yet again, all moving towards their own designs. But those are different tales…

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S02E17 - Tales of the Riddermark
Wherein Feredir travels to the the fabled land of the Rohirrim in search of lost tales

When he had travelled through the rock for three miles or more, he came into a fair country. It was as bright as a summer’s day; the land was flat and green and there were no hills and no valleys. In the middle of the plain was a castle, magnificently adorned and wonderfully high.
- Sir Orpheo (Old English poem ca. 1330)

Dunland. Feredir wanders south, towards fabled Rohan and its capital Edoras. He had planned to make the journey with his friends and Companions, but the recent events has left him with only one free and hale Companion, Beoraborn the Beijibar. But due to the Elf Eldacar’s state, and the fact that Salabon remains to care for him and for the mysterious prisoner rescued from the dragon Tulkaron, it is decided that the burly Beorning remain in Cillien to guard them. After all, Feredir has walked many months alone in the wild, with his wolf, stoat and owl as his only company. He is uneasy, however, for the wolf, Grey Cloak, is not with him this time. Feredir has sent his friend to watch over the Hobbit, Jack Fleetfoot, who has rambled alone into the wilderness on a quest for redemption. Thus it is that he walks alone, and he names himself Erefarad, the Lone Ranger, to those few souls he meets.

Dunland is a desolate place. It is clear that the aftermath of the conflict between the Dunlendings and the Rohirrim has left them crushed, and most have abandoned their villages and abodes and gone elsewhere. Some few, stubborn homesteaders he does encounter, and though they are polite and hospitable as is custom, they are clearly only so glad to see the back of the stranger from the North. Feredir is a formidable hiker, and covers much more ground than any lesser man, but he is also a Ranger, and is willing help those who need it. None will accept more than a few split logs as payment for food or shelter. The hardy Dunlanders want nothing that they cannot get or do for themselves. The only tidings he get are warnings; “Beware the Woodwoses”. Not knowing about any such creature, Feredir dismisses these warnings as superstition.

South, south he goes, and soon he passes a large and mysterious forest the locals call the Caerdh Wood. Running along the stream, Feredir thinks he sees figures or shapes flitting between the branches. He stops up, and is sure he sees a strange face, its features unlike any Man, or even other races, he has seen. Is this a Woodwose? The face disappears into the undergrowth in the trees across the stream that separates them, and Feredir continues. He has not the time to go traipsing about unknown forests looking for strange creatures, nor has he reason to follow these beings deep into the woods.

Many fallen mottes and towers does he see along the way. But when he nears the southern peaks of the Misty Mountains, a sight causes him to stop dead in his tracks and gape in astonishment. There, high above him, about the cloud-enshrouded peaks, he spies a Great Eagle.

His mission forgotten, he turns from his path and moved up into the highlands. He climbs for hours before he realizes that it will take him days to reach altitudes high enough for him to communicate with the Eagles. With a sinking heart, he descends onto what is undoubtedly the Vale of Isen. He sees in the far distance the mighty Orthanc, but something in his bones makes him hesitant about the place. An ominous sensation makes him skirt Calenardhon and descend back in Dunland, before he moves towards the Gap of Isen.

He has not come far before he is besieged by the Host of Rohan. They demand his name and his business, and he tells them true – he has come to seek audience with the King of Rohan, and that his business is regarding Dragons. Incredulous, the Host allows him passage, and takes him into the heart of Rohan, towards Edoras.

He is brought before King Theoden, who challenges him to explain why he has come. Thus Feredir tells the tale of Fram of the Eothed, the forefather of the Rohirrim, and how he slew the mighty Scatha the Worm. “You would come into my hall, and tell me the tales of mine own forebears?!” roars Theoden. “No,” counters Erefarad. “I come to hear the tale told true”.
Theoden King stares long at the stranger, before breaking into laughter, the Hall erupting with the same. “You have a nerve about you! Very well, you shall have your tale. Let us feast!”

Long is the night, and luscious is the feast, of all the modest wealth Rohan can afford. It is still extravagant compared to Erefarad’s usual fare, and he relishes in it. There are many tales told that eve, and Erefarad tells a few himself. He knows not how much the old King embellishes his tale, but the Rohirrim are known for their strict oral traditions, and Erefarad believes that the version told to him that night is, indeed, the closest to the actual truth.

In the small hours, most of the Host has fallen asleep where they sit and drink, and apart from the temperate Erefarad finds himself alone, apart from one of the Host in the far corner of the Hall. He moves over. “A drink with you, sir”, says he, and the other agrees. They fall into conversation, the the Rohir introduces himself as Edmund, of minor noble lineage. He asks if Erefarad if he would prefer to sleep in the Hall, or if he has lodgings. Erefarad says he has not, and Edmund invites him to his home, which he shares with his sister. Erefarad thanks him, and stays at Edmund’s modest house.

The following day Edmund shows Erefarad around Edoras, but the Ranger notices there is a certain repuditation associated with Edmund that has now befallen himself. Finding the young man agreeable company, if not particularly knowledgeable or strong-willed, Erefarad nonetheless decides to take his leave, with King Theoden’s blessing. As he is leaving, Edmund comes riding after him.
“Please, I beg you let me join your quest!” pants the consterned Rohir.
“What quest?” asks Erefarad.
“Please, do not bother hiding it; it is writ plane in your actions. You seek to slay a Dragon, and you are here gathering intelligence.”
“If this was indeed so, why would I take you with me?”
Edmund looks downcast. “I will not lie. The honour of my House is broken. The only way I can restore it is by taking part in great deeds. There are none greater than what you seek to do. In payment, I will give you this excellent horse from mine own stables.”
Erefarad hesitates. As Feredir, he has worked for years to restore the honour of his own lineage. The youth’s reasoning is the one thing he cannot deny.
“Very well, I will grant it.”

And so, the two set out. But as they leave Rohan, Edmund changes course to skirt a small farm. He stops outside the abandoned farm house, and begs Erefarad follow. “These are our family’s old farms,” he explains.
There is a curtain across the door, and as they approach, it is opened by a young woman. It is Edmund’s sister from the night before.
“What is this?” asks Erefarad, moving his hand towards the hilt of his sword.
“I beg you not be angered, though you might have ample reason to.” says she. “No, you will not need your blade, this is not an ambush. We are grateful for this opportunity to restore the honour of our House, but I fear we have mislead you. It is not Edmund who will follow you on your Quest. It is I.”
Erefarad is dumbstruck at first, and refuses, but the girl, Eadyth, pleads with him, explaining that Edmund is useless and weak, but that she is a strong fighter. Erefarad resents her words, because he and the young man came along quite well. It is perhaps his disgust with her treachery and patronization along with that part of him that recognizes her plight, that makes him agree, on the condition that she fend for herself. Knowing within him that he is already responsible for Jack Fleetfoot, Eldacar and Salabon, Erefarad does not wish to be guardian to a woman also. He does know very capable female Rangers, but this is no Dúnadan.

Angered at having been duped and taken advantage of for his charity, Feredir leads them north towards Cillien and the Healer’s Hall.

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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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