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…