Chapter Twenty-five: Unlooked-for Aid – 29 Rethe, 3016 TA
It was a cold wintery night, and the new moon was hidden in the darkened skies above the sleepy town of Bree. The main room of the Prancing Pony was full and loud, and many seated within had come in to escape the cold and chilled winds of the growing winter nights.
At once the door to the inn was thrown open and a dwarf stepped inside. He was cloaked and booted, all caked with mud and soil as if from a journey. The crimson garments he wore were fine and rich but they too were stained from a long journey and bore signs of recent battle.
A smile passed over the young dwarf’s face but it soon turned to a frown for he had not come many miles through the darkened night only to be welcomed by the warm glow of the inn’s roaring fires. He muttered as he made his way to the bar and called for a drink from the fat innkeeper.
‘Butterbur you old fool!’ he called out with a grim voice. Fetch me an ale...I have thirsty business to attend to this night!’
The dwarf took a long draft of the slated ale that soon appeared, and wiped his bearded mouth clear of the creamy ale froth and continued. ‘I am ill-eased tonight Butterbur. Many evil things are afoot my friend…’ He scratched his beard and shivered the cold from his bones.
‘Brigands it is that weighs on my mind this night,’ said the dwarf as he sipped his ale. The innkeeper nodded quietly as the dwarf spoke further. ‘What manner of evil is now seeking the quiet places of Eriador, eh master Butterbur?’
Butterbur nodded again as he filled a tray of mugs atop the bar, thinking of other things. Brimbur looked looks expectantly at the rotund innkeeper, who was now glancing about the busy room. ‘Butterbur…Butterbur!’ called out the dwarf that at once brought the innkeeper back to the words at hand.
‘First brigands in the beloved Shire and now here of all places!’ cried the dwarf, his ale now all but forgotten as a look of worry crept across his face. ‘One of your folk has become ensnared by their fiendish plots and now so have I…’ muttered the dwarf with a deep breath. He then remembered the ale in his clenched hand and drained the mug.
‘Well to the task at hand then, master Butterbur,’ declared the dwarf as he called for another ale. He tossed his head in the direction of the many seated tables. ‘I best be off to find those I seek!’ The dwarf blew the foam from the overflowing mug and turned to gaze about the room, a strange light simmering in his eyes. He took a long sip and then strode to an open table and set down the mug with a loud thud.
He glanced down at his muddy tunic with distaste and then cleared his throat before calling out with a booming voice. ‘Brimbur at your most excellent service, my good people!’ he said to no one in particular.
Brimbur looked about expectantly and then frowned deeply, thinking his words were not heard over the ruckus in the room. He cleared his throat more loudly and called out once again. ‘I say! I am Brimbur, of Ered Luin. I am in great need of words spoken with the folk of Bree…it is of the most dastardly and important of reasons!’
Just then, a deep rumbling voice called out above the babbling about the room. ‘Ai lad!’ Brimbur turned to the voice and laughed aloud at the sight of an old-looking dwarf, his grey beard falling long over his chest and down to his wide belted waist. The dwarf seated at the table was not alone; four others dwarves were there, and even a tall flower-crowned Elf.
‘Come!’ beckoned the dwarf. ‘Join the throng!’ He then turned to the Elf with a smile. ‘Well we do have business here this eve,’ he added with a shrug.
One of the dwarves, his beard long and silver-streaked, on the other side of the table scowled and cried out, drowning out the first dwarf’s voice. ‘Come and join your kinsfolk! The men will not know what hit them with so many in one place!’
Brimbur’s face now beamed a wide smile as he gazed at the dwarves seated about the table. 'Why fellow kinsmen...here of all places! I must say this is a most opportunistic find indeed!' He fell silent to pass his eyes over the throng of faces that turned towards him. He paused for a breath before speaking anew.
‘It is good to hear the voice of my folk after being away from my beloved halls for so long!'
The scowling dwarf shook his beard and then grinned with a wink. ‘Aye lad, we all feel much the same. Hateful place, Bree, and far from home.’
‘Ah so true!’ laughed Brimbur. ‘It has been some time since my eyes saw my beloved halls in Ered Luin.’ The laughter fell from his voice and the young dwarf now grew grim. ‘Yet the tale of my journey here must wait for another time...trouble has come to Bree!'
Brimbur waited for his dire words to sink as yet another dwarf appeared through the crowd of the room and sat down at the table. ‘Who is this then?’ he said curiously as he gazed up at the crimson-clad dwarf standing there.
‘I am in great need of warriors and heroes to aid me in the most fell threat that has come to my attention!’ cried Brimbur with a deep voice and bowed to the newcomer. ‘Do not be shy…I have heard that the Men of Bree are stout and valiant, and not adverse to facing the darkness that now threatens this gentle land!' He smiled broad at the dwarves and added swiftly. 'And of course fellow kinsmen such as you all!'
‘Well, you'll find no shortage o' warriors among us, lad,’ asked one of the dwarves with a snort, but smiled slightly. ‘Sarnur's ashes are hardly cold, after all. What might you need assistance with then?’
'Hmm, you speak of the dark cloud as a beast which can be slain,’ said the new dwarf softly. ‘How do you plan on doing this? Not that I doubt you of course…you seem to be a dwarf of great heart to me.'
‘Why, have you heard of me?’ scoffed Brimbur with disbelief. ‘Have the tales of my prowess not come here even before my arrival?'
Brimbur cleared his throat and stood proud, planting his legs wide. ‘I am Brimbur, loyal and the most steadfast companion of Lord Glóin himself!'
‘Eh, I'm afraid I have not, lad,’ murmured the silver-bearded dwarf with a raised brow.
Brimbur looked back at the dwarf with an incredulous gaze. ‘It has come to my attention of a most foulest of plots. A certain smith, Kenton Thistleway has been inadvertently been drawn into a great danger that even now threatens the safety of his very own family! An ill-savoury band of brigands, lead by one called Blake, has kidnapped poor Kenton’s daughter and even now hold her for ransom of a blade.'
Once again the silver-bearded dwarf frowned and raised his eyebrows slightly. ‘Eh...so what? Bree has a Guard for that sort of thing, and I dare say there's more troubling matters about lad.’
'The Bree guard?’ murmured Brimbur quietly as he tugged at his short beard. ‘I can assure you my fine fellow this peril is far beyond their mettle! These ruffians require not any blade, but a fine crafted blade, in exchange for her safe return. I have sought the aid a kinsman of mine to forge this much-needed random need for this foul exchange. Yet I fear these unscrupulous brigands will not honour their bargain and return Maribell safely to her awaiting father once the blade is delivered.'
Brimbur fell silent turning expectant eyes to the dwarves. ‘I suppose I'll help the lad,’ announced the silver-bearded dwarf softly. He rose from the table and strode to the young dwarf in a slow awkward manner, as if from a long unhealed wound.
‘Give me a moment to change into my war plate,’ said the old dwarf, placing his hand on the sword at his side. ‘I'll meet you by the fountain outside, lad.’ With that the old dwarf bowed and disappeared through the crowd. The other dwarves climbed to their feet and made ready to depart as well.
‘Wait!’ cried Brimbur with a pained fearful look in his young face. ‘You are all leaving?!?’
‘Our general Tharonin will accompany you to aid you in your quest,’ answered one of the dwarves who looked at Brimbur with a smile. 'He will await you by the Boar fountain.'
'Aye, Tharonin is a great warrior,’ said the grey-bearded dwarf. ‘He will be very useful.'
‘I think this to be a fool's errand to reason with brigands, growled a third dwarf. ‘I am sure it'll be of no help.’ He looked at his companions the other dwarves then back to Brimbur. ‘Tharonin is a very skilled Dwarf in battle, his mastery with the blade makes up for his lack of words.’ Then the dwarves bowed low and turned away.
‘I wish you the best of luck on your quest,’ called out one dwarf as he strode from the table.
'I wish you luck, but whether the old goat will charge in to rescue the lass or await your words, I cannot say,’ said another who quickly followed his companion through the crowd.
Brimbur gaze followed the dwarves as they disappeared in the crowd with suspicion and then groaned quietly. ‘Oh very well, if I must...' he muttered softly.
Outside, the air was chill and the courtyard was very dark. Brimbur strode down and looked about expectantly. A whinny of horses came from the stables and the low hush of a few Bree hobbits from nearer the stage set to the far side of the courtyard. Then suddenly there came a voice from the shadows.
Brimbur spun round as a dark shape emerged from the darkness of the wide arch that led between the two wings of the inn. 'There you are!’ cried Brimbur with a start as Tharonin came into view. ‘I was afraid you had run off!'
The old dwarf glanced down at Brimbur. ‘Well then, ready to be off, lad?’
'Not yet!’ answered Brimbur loudly. ‘It is too soon for us to depart. Not alone am I, for companions I have already found in this endeavor. We have sought the truth to this foul plot and long have been our trials to this point. By Lofar Ironband’s direction, the kinsman I spoke of, we found the needed supplies for the forging of this blade for these brigands.’
The old dwarf nodded as Brimbur continued. 'With my trusted friends at my side, I battled fierce boars in a den nor far from the North Gate till my sword was blunted and worn. Ah, but I did not falter in the task! Many of the terrible beasts did I scatter to the winds and returned with the items so desperately needed for the forge. My companions stood in simple awe of my prowess with my blade, as a Son of Durin should!'
The old dwarf looked dubiously at young Brimbur but said nothing. ‘Yet I must await their return from the fields for news while I searched for others to aid me in the coming battle!' said Brimbur.
Brimbur frowned and his voice now came grim and grave. ‘Now awaits the most terrible of tasks…the journey to the brigand camp and the rescue of Miss Maribell from the clutches of the evil brigands. It is most certain that many of us will not return, yet long will be the tales and glory of such a victory.'
‘Little reward can I offer to those who would stand against such villainous people as these brigands,’ added Brimbur slowly. ‘Yet I can assure all that our bravery will be spoken in only the most cherished of voices from here forth should we succeed. Are you with me?'
‘I see, I see…’murmured the old dwarf, hiding a growing smirk on his worn face. ‘Where would you have us wait, then? We cannot tarry to long, however. We do not know how well they might be keeping the girl company.’
‘Many in number are the ruffians we must face,’ said Brimbur wagging his short beard. ‘I await the return of my companions who set out only this day to find their camps.’
‘You have scouted out their numbers, then?’ said Tharonin with a thoughtful glance. ‘How many do we face? Information is key in any battle, my boy. Do not forget that.’
'My companions have yet to return with the news I am afraid...' answered with a shrug. ‘I hope they bear news upon their return…’
Chapter Twenty-six: The Brigands’ Camp – 30 Rethe, 3016 TA
The courtyard of the Prancing Pony was dark with the evening and stars glittered in the sky brightly. From the shaded windows of the inn a voice rose in merry singing; there came bursts of laughter and clapping that mingled with the melody of the song. Beside the bubbling fountain in the center of the courtyard stood Brimbur. He was strangely silent, and looked up into the night sky, his face bearing a great sadness.
A cheery-nosed and bright-faced hobbit stood with him, his eager eyes turned to the dwarf, awaiting Brimbur to speak further. Yet for some time the dwarf did not speak. He was thinking of that very dawn when he and his companions had assembled near the brigand camp in preparation for the coming battle with the brigands.
With the sunrise had come a thin mist of a spring morning in the wooded and hilly Bree-fields. Among the shadowed trees Brimbir remembered there stood Laerlin, her bow at the ready, and Darramir, his sword newly-sharpened, and Tharonin the old dwarf. All were silent, peering into the mist among the trees that could easily hide shapes and distances and dangers from their eyes.
With them was Brimbur of course. Even now, in the safety of the sheltered courtyard, he shuddered as the images sprang into his thoughts. He had worked tirelessly to find others for the coming battle and he was footsore and tired when they reached the camp. Unwanted came the thoughts that dawn of how he could not see how he could be of any help to the battle or to his companions and it had rankled his gentle heart that he should die, spitted on the blade of a brigand. He recalled the shame that worked itself into his heart and the growing weakness and fear that had accompanied it.
At last the dwarf sighed and spoke with hesitant words to the hobbit who stood there silently with eagerness for the dwarf’s tale. ‘What was that?” he said absently. ‘Oh yes, the battle…forgive my gloominess, master Nob.’
Slowly and reluctantly, he told the awaiting hobbit of the journey through the Bree-fields that were still dark with the last hours before dawn. He recalled their arrival at the pallisaded hilltop encampment that rose towering above the surrounding flatlands and woods. ‘Though the foul ruffians were not aware of our arrival or purpose, they were alert and guarded; many stood at the feet of the long winding slope that rose to the summit far above, all armed and ill-savoury in visage.’
‘The mists were thinning under the heat of the brightening sun that shone through the boughs of the trees,’ said Brimbur quietly. ‘We were near enough already to spy their swarthy faces and the harsh cruel words on their lips. After a quiet talk, we sprang to attack.’
‘It was Laerlin who brought the first stroke,’ said the dwarf proudly. ‘As she lifted her bow, she sent a trio of swift-flying arrows towards the nearest brigand; with a strangled cry, the ruffian fell writhing n the ground. I cried out with joy but it soon caught in my throat as the other brigands, now aware of our presence, roared aloud and charged forward to hew us where we stood.’
‘Tharonin, the old dwarf in our company, smiled as the first brigand fell and charged with abandon. He smashed the next to the ground with his shield and hewed the man’s head from his shoulders with one stroke of the sword. And with him went Darramir, his sword rising and falling until all the brigands lay dead and motionless upon the ground.’
‘Without pause, on we went deeper into the encampment. At every turn we were met by more foes; many there were of them and only four of us in number and yet none could stand before us. Higher and higher we climbed along the winding slope until our blades shone red with blood and our mail bent. Each time they charged our ranks full of harsh voices only to be met with stiff steel, and yet they drove forward with axe and sword to hack us down and yelled their cries of battle even as they fell back never to cry again.’
For a moment Brimbur fell silent and he tugged at his short beard. Then he looked up, his eyes sorrowful and soft. ‘Fine were my companions that day,’ he said finally. ‘Wide was the grin upon Tharonin’s face as he charged the last of the brigands that guarded the approached to the main camp upon the summit. Fierce and piercing was the old dwarf’s cry as he crashed into two brigands. Too came Darrarmir, charging beside the dwarf in silence, his shield at the ready.’
‘For a moment there came a lull in the battle as we halted before the final gate. The sun flickered bright in the sky and a keen wind blew up from the West. Further on lay the main encampment and there we could see many rising spires of smoke from scattered fires and to our ears came the harsh voices of many brigands.’
‘Once more we fell with quiet voices to decide out next move; it was chosen for us to separate. Darramir and Tharonin readied themselves and made their way forward. Laerlin and I watched with growing apprehension as they neared a low arch in the wooden palisade. "This is not the time for murderous antics. We are here to grab the girl, nothing more,” had said Darramir with worried eyes to the old dwarf.’
‘To that the old dwarf had only growled. "I'll buy you some time, hurry up!" he muttered and stepped through the archway, bellowing a grave and terrible challenge. Then hefting his sword he charged through the archway. Darramir shook his head and swiftly followed.’
‘Suddenly from beyond the arch yells and screams, and the fierce battle-cries of the old dwarf, broke out. There came the crash of sword upon shield and the dying cries of brigands. Then all fell silent. It was then that a curious sound reached my ears.’
‘It was a muffled sound, a sort of soft and faint sobbing as if behind a closed door. Cautiously I turned to towards the sound and soon found a stout wooden waggon nestled in a sort of enclosure surrounded on three sides by the tall palisade walls. The waggon’s interior was obscured by a sort of cell and closed with a stout door.’
‘With nervous hands and hushed breath I opened the door slowly. What greeted me was a young girl, no more than sixteen years of age shackled by sturdy metal chains. Her long yellow hair framed a youthful face that was wet with tears. Her eyes blinked in the bright sunlight that shone through the open door and drew back in fear.’
‘Laerlin stepped forward and spoke swiftly with a gentle and tender voice. "Oh! Good gracious me, child, are you all right?" That brought the poor girl out of her fright and she gazed up at the tall woman with gleeful tears. “Thank you, thank you!” she sobbed. “I filched the key a while ago, but I was too scared to use it. Now, with you here, I can use it, and we can escape.”
‘I shuddered at the loudness of the girl’s words and swiftly shook my beard at her. “Shhhh! Be quiet” I hissed. “We have come to rescue you, but we can't have you bringing the lot of them down upon our heads!”
‘The girl seemed to understand the danger at once and fell silent as I began to unlock the manacles that held per prisoner. “Hopefully we can get away before Blake notices!” she whispered thankful as I lifted her from inside the waggon.’
‘I had only just set her down on his shaky legs when a clamour arose. ''Stop 'em!'' shouted a hoarse voice. ''Oh no! They've heard us!'' cried Maribell as she shrank to my side. I whirled round and set my eyes upon three brigands that now came into view.’
‘Two were swarthy and ill-savoury but the third was tall with a long following blue cloak and held a long hammer in his hands. “Get them!” cried the blue-cloak clad brigand who could only have been Blake. “They ain't taking our treasure!”
‘For a moment the brigands hesitated and then they came, hurling themselves upon us. We turned and fought, pushing young Maribell behind us for safety. Laerlin’s bow sang and one of the charging brigands pitched forward, an arrow passing through his throat.’
‘One of the brigands, a cruel-looking wooden club in her hands, sprang at me with a murderous gleam in her eyes. The club swept forward in a great arch; I brought up my sword and they met with a resounded clang. My arm grew at once numb and I stumbled back under a flurry of blows.’
‘Everything grew dark and my head began to swim; it as only a clumsy stab of my blade that saved me. The brigand groaned with a look of stark surprise and fell back clutching her stomach. I turned round even as Laerlin, her bow forgotten at her feet, cried aloud as her sword flashed in the bright sunlight. The brigand choked a silent cry and fell headless at her feet.’
‘Suddenly Maribell leapt forward. “Quick! Follow me!” she cried as she ran from the enclosure. “With Blake dead, we can make our escape!”
“Wait!” I called after her and I ran to catch up, calling for Laerlin to follow. Just as I caught up with the foolish girl, I halted and drew back as the sound of trampling and rushing feet came to my ears. “More of them!” I shouted as several more brigands appeared’
Their onset was fierce and sudden and we were hemmed in against the palisade unable to flee. Pushing Maribell behind me I turned and faced a wicked-looking brigand while Laerlin was beset on two sides by two more of their foul ilk.’
‘On he came as I cried aloud with a hoarse voice. Ever I hewed him and he me; the ruffian laid blows of his iron club at my head until my eyes sparkled and welts formed about my temple. Just when I thought my arm could not raise my blade one last time, I stumbled forward. The brigand foundered as I hewed the head from his shoulders.’
‘Before I could catch my belaboured breath, Maribell called out. “Thank you!” she cried as she went scampering down a slope towards the forests fields far below. “I think I can make it back to Bree from here!” Scarcely had the notion to take up a sword I saw lying in the dust at my feet bent me to the ground that the young girl disappeared from view.”
The dwarf fell strangely silent now, even as the hobbit pressed closer with eager anticipation for more of the tale. But for a long while he did not speak. He turned aside and gazed out into the darkness. What he recalled now was the desperate flight from the brigands’ camp.
Even as Darramir and Tharonin returned, their mail bloodied and rent, Brimbur began stumbling wildly down the path where the young girl had gone. He ran onwards until suddenly he had reached the gates at the feet of the hill. There were other brigands there but the dwarf had not tarried. Instead he ran screaming mad through them, his voice trembling and hoarse as he went.
Darramir and Tharonin fell upon the surprised brigands and smote them down before giving chase to the sight of the rapidly disappearing young dwarf. Brimbur did not halt his flight until he was far into the trees; only then did he halt beside a tall tree, his hands falling to his knees and his breath coming in great gasps.
“We…we…made it…” Brimbur recalled to mind his words as the others caught up to him. Too did he recall the strange unforgiving gaze of the old dwarf who looked at him with unabashed distaste. Yet none of this did Brimbur now speak of to the hobbit there in the courtyard.
‘The end of the tale?’ said Brimbur slowly as he was shaken from his deep thoughts. ‘Oh yes, the end…well we returned to Kenton Thistleway to bring him news of our victory. Thankful he was and great was the praise he gave when we told him of the battle with the foul brigands.’
“Oh, bless you! You've returned my daughter safe to me! I can't thank you enough! You've done so much for me, in more ways than you know!” had Kenton offered with thankful praise.’ “While you were away, I busied myself with Lofar's work. I had to do something to being myself overcome with worry. No sooner had I finished the work, than Lofar came over to collect it. He seemed pleased with it -- even admitted that it came close to dwarf-work! He promised to send me more work in the future!”
“Brimbur, you’ve saved my family and given me a hope for a brighter future. I can't thank you enough!”
‘Much to my shock the smith then held up a blade and offered it to me. And a fine blade it was,’ said the dwarf proudly as his hand fell to a blade at his side. ‘Little could I refuse such a gift and with great honour did I accept it.’
Once more Brimbur fell silent and his face grew sad and quiet. The hobbit sighed softly, afraid to upset the dour dwarf and yet anxious for the rest of the tale to be told. What Brimbur now drew his mind back to was the growing fire in Tharonin’s deep-set eyes as Brimbur finally turned from the smith and to his loyal friends.
"Master Brimbur, a word in private, please," had said the old dwarf, his face turned to a deep scowl. It was only when the two kinsmen found a quiet place in the grass outside the work site did the old dwarf halt. He drew from his head his iron helm and glowered down upon Brimbur with unwashed contempt.
“You, Brimbur of the Longbeards, are very nearly a disgrace if your actions today are anything to speak of,” said the dwarf in the secret language of the dwarven folk.
“A disgrace?” Brimbur had replied with shock and sudden fear. “Why not at all...you much misunderstand my tactics in battle...”
Tharonin had waved aside the dwarf’s words and stepped closer, his battle-scarred ugly face mere inches from Brimbur’s. "And what might that be, boy? Cowardice? You'd rather sneak around like an elf then fight, you avoid battle with the weakest of excuses. Even when ye do fight it is like that of a child. And then, when all is said and done, you crow and claim the glory!”
The shame that flooded Brimbur’s chest now came again as he remembered the old dwarf standing there in the short grass, a look of despisement on his worn face. Too came unwanted into Brimbur’s mind were the words he spoke next, mindfully under the heavy gaze of the old dwarf.
“Yes you are quite right...' he had stammered as his head had dropped low. “My father...he would be ashamed as well. Long has it been since we last spoke before he went away. Harsh were the words spoken and I have naught seen him since...”
“He wished for me to be more like him, you see, a smith at the forges, but I had fallen with song and gem, much unlike him...” Even now Brimbur felt remorse grow in his heart and he turned away from the frowning hobbit to hide his weeping face.
“But that was over then years since I last saw him and I know not where he is now,’ had he spoken to Tharonin when he at least collected his voice once more. “I am afraid I have made a terrible mess of things...”
Tharonin had fallen deeply quiet to the sudden words of the young dwarf. When he spoke again his words had come softer and his ire had dimmed at Brimbur’s sorrow. "Well then lad, it's never too late to make up for your mistakes,” he had said gently. “The telling of our peoples’ histories, and the shaping of gems are noble and proud paths lad. Follow them, and do not let fear shroud you in battle. You are a Dwarf! A son of Durin! You come from the blood of kings and heroes. Not beast can stand before your fury, not man can stand before your wrath."
The tears now fell down Brimbur’s face as the last of the old dwarf’s words came to mind. “Do not seek out needless battle, tis true,” had the old dwarf spoke as he stepped forward and laid a hand upon Brimbur’s shoulder. “But when you come across it, remember your ancestors. With them at your side and the pride of our people in your heart, you will never falter. Remember this, Master Brimbur.”
Brimbur wiped the tears from his eyes and turned towards the darkened inn. He took an unsteady step towards one of the windows and peered in. Within, he spied a great gathering of folk, mostly Bree men and some local hobbits, but still others from distant places that one often saw in Bree in those dark days.
His eyes turned and fell upon a table near the window. There sat Laerlin, her face soft and laughing aloud with cheerful eyes. Beside her sat Darramir, his face weary and silent as he exchanged warm glances at his wife. There too sat the old dwarf, Tharonin, his face scowling slightly; yet there was a slight glimmer in the dwarf’s eyes and his face slowly warmed and looked less darkly in the shared camaraderie.
At once a great longing crept into Brimbur’s heart; he wished for nothing more than to stride into the inn and to sit down beside his friends as they laughed and recalled their battle at the heights against the brigands. And yet, his heart felt heavy and sorrow welled up in his deep chest.
Finally, with one final glance at his dear companions, he turned away with slow steps to return to the silent hobbit. He passed his gloved hand across his face and gathered the words in his throat. ‘Be a good fellow…’ he began with a soft shaky voice. ‘Deliver my words to my friends within the inn. Tell them…’ Brimbur’s voice fell away and his shoulders sagged before he continued. ‘Tell them…I am sorry.’
Chapter Twenty-seven: Burying the Dead – 1 to 2 Astron, 3016 TA
Brimbur had awoken early the next morning, bone sore and grumbling, in the stables of the inn. The morning was still long but it was not until near noon that he had finally set out for the long tiresome road ahead. He went first through the Combe Gate, intending to journey through the village of Combe and then to Archet and then find his way to the Greenway that led north in hopes of throwing off his trail anyone who would seek to follow him.
His path led him east and then north from Bree into a pleasant wooded hilly country. The walk was not unpleasing to the young dwarf; the wooded country was quiet and peaceful and the sun shone bright and clear in the sky. And yet as Combe disappeared behind him, Brimbur began to sense a feeling of heaviness and gloom that seemed to hang menacingly in the warm air.
As the morning stretched on past noon and climbed slowly into the late afternoon, Brimbur came upon a deep hollow to the north and there wisps of smoke showed where the village of Archet lay. Soon he spied a long wooden palisade and stout gate; he hurried down the lane with a smile until he was standing before two guards at the gate, who had watched the approach of the dwarf with wary eyes for some time.
‘Ah, this must be Archet...’ said Brimbur meekly, growing uncomfortable under the watchful eyes of the guarded Men. 'Very good...’ he stammered. ‘My feet are sore from the march and I had hoped to reach Archet before dusk...'
The grim Men did not speak; Brimbur muttered a soft apology under his breath and hastened through the gate, not wishing to stand there any further. But now the dwarf came to a sudden halt as he stepped through the gate; what he had expected to greet him, a idyllic peaceful rich village, full of grain and cattle, was altogether another matter. The sight he now looked onto was that of devastation and destruction; the village had been laid waste and ruined for simply cruelty sake and laid to ashes. The farm stock was driven off or taken, the grass and ripe grains and fields consumed with fire, and even the building themselves razed to the ground. The sight bore the melancholy face of a smoking and naked desert.
Ye the village was not forsaken and deserted; there were Archet folk about, walking along the lane or standing at the many ruined buildings. But all shone with looks of desperation and hopelessness and their sad faces were wet with tears and of great loss and pain. Along one side of the lane leading through the blackened village were freshly dug graves of earth and some folk, having found their homes destroyed, had pitched tents among the ruins of the once peaceful village.
‘It's going to smell of smoke and ash for weeks!’ said one man, his face filled with sorrow and disbelief.
‘The others, they were sleeping when the brigands came...’ murmured another as the dwarf passed quietly, his eyes not daring to look into their faces. ‘They never had a chance.’
‘I don't know where I can go now. People here say they'll rebuild, but...’ cried still a third.
Brimbur halted along the lane and was nearly undone by a great sense of sadness. He shaded his weeping eyes that matched the ones that gazed down at the silent dwarf, and then hurried along with sudden earnest. A little further along he soon came to the village center; the dwarf looked up in disbelief at the remains of the burnt-out inn, only its stone foundations that now still stood.
Near the base of the steps of the inn there stood a strange solemn man; fresh linen were wrapped round recent wounds but his eyes were clear and keen with a sense of quiet resolve. With him stood several weary and battered guards, who spoke to one another with low hushed words.
‘Where did all those brigands come from,’ asked one man with uncertainty. ‘And where did they get all their equipment?’
‘I don't know what happened...’ said another. ‘All of a sudden they were everywhere.’
‘Foul brigands stole, killed, or burned everything they could get their hands on,’ said the first man with mournful tears.
Yet the tall solemn man lifted a hand for silence and gazed at the dwarf. Brimbur shifted nervously in place and then bowed low to the men. 'What foulness has wrought this terrible damage to this fair little village?' asked Brimbur quietly and wiped the damp from his quivering eyes.
The man’s face drew soft and he sighed as if recalling a terrible dream. At last he spoke, his words woeful and heavy. 'As we prepared for the Blackwold assault and stood at the defense of Archet, many of the good folks of this town perished, both within the gates and beyond.’
‘Blackwold?’ whispered the dwarf as the man continued.
‘The battle was great, but in the end we defeated the brigands' onslaught. Some of the good men who were lost still remain unburied, but the people of this town have their hands full with their own great losses. It would be to our shame if those unburied bodies were dishonoured by wild beasts.’
‘Terrible, simply terrible…’ murmured Brimbur softly. ‘Not proper one bit…and with such a great loss…’
Then the Man looked kindly upon the dwarf and spoke. 'I would ask this one favour of you: seek out those poor men and grant them honour in death. Dirk Mudbrick fell at the sheep-farm south-west of Archet, Nate Whisperwood died defending the Hunter's Lodge, and Cal Sprigley's farmhand -- Wil Wheatley -- perished in battle just to the west of Bronwe's Folly.'
For a moment the dwarf smiled, and the old Brimbur sparkled in the young dwarf's eyes. 'Why then, you have the pleasure of meeting Brimbur, loyal and stead...' His voice trailed off and he muttered, shaking his beard. 'Just Brimbur is all, at your service...' he added slowly then fell silent.
The men looked at the strange dwarf and murmured softly. Brimbur looked about the devastation of the village with great sorrow in his gentle heart. ‘You are brave folk,’ be said finally with some shame. ‘I would gladly find them and bring to them a proper final rest...'
Brimbur then turned, his eyes gazing at the ground and walked away. He found a quiet place under a tall but withered and burnt tree and sat down slowly. He looked about at the ruined village and then laid out his blanket from his pack. Soon he drifted off into a restless sleep, filled with wavering images of hoarse shouts, the sounds of a fierce and terrible battle, and the cries of the dying.
The morning came clear when Brimbur awoke but the early wind blew chilled at first; he kicked the blanket off and sat up with a sober yawn and shivering from the cold. He blinked in the bright sunlight and slowly the view of the sad village brought him to the present. Away in the east the sun was rising out of the gentle morning mists and already the folk of Archet had risen to begin the troubling task of rebuilding the shattered village.
When his meager breakfast was over, and his pack was trussed up upon his shoulders, it was nearly noon, and the day was promising to be a fine one; the wind had dropped and the air grew warm and the sky very blue. He went out the gate and down the road that wound through the wooded hills.
After only a short distance, with the wooden palisades of the village still in view, Brimbur came upon a quiet farmstead just off the road to one side; a small spiral of smoke rose from the chimney atop the thatched roof. A low wooden fence ran round the farm and fields and near the far side of the cottage stood a well-tended garden.
But the yard and fields about the farm was greatly marred; the garden was trampled and cut down, and the grass trodden with the tramp of many booted feet. Here or there lay the huddled bodies of many sheep; each was riddled with many barbed arrows or felled with terrible blade strokes and the ground was stained with their dark blood.
The dwarf turned to wave at a farmer he now spied at the open door to the cottage; the man’s eyes grew very wary and fearful, and he stepped quickly inside, slamming the door behind him as the sound of a lock was heard. Brimbur stepped lightly into the yard, careful to keep a watchful eye upon the closed door. He made his way careful round the fallen sheep and towards a body lying in the grass near the fence.
Silently Brimbur gazed down at the unseeing young man there in the grass, his face scored with cruel wounds and his body hacked for the crows to feast upon. His breath caught slightly in his throat and then glanced over the many sheep in the yard. He sighed softly and took out the shovel given to him by Archet men; with a heavy heart Brimbur began digging a shallow hole in the earth. Soon there was a low mound of earth where the poor man had been found. Brimbur stood up, murmured a soft farewell, as a slight tear welled up in his eyes, and then turned away from the farm with slow steps.
Down the lane in the direction to Combe he now went. The land looked rather sad and forlorn and here or there Brimbur saw smoke rising from points round about, as if the last flickering of great fires were slowly dying out. The next poor soul Brimbur found lying forgotten in the wild grass in the shadows of ancient ruins atop a hill that rose dominating from the surrounds trees. There he tended to the fallen man; the shadows of the trees were long and thin on the grass but the evening was still a bit off when he had finished the sad business.
From the ruined knoll the dwarf turned back down the lane; he had nearly come nearly back to the gates of Archet before turning down a lane that bent right and went along to the east along level ground. Soon there came into view a small lake ahead as the lane swept past its nearer lapping banks. On the far shore to the east stood a wooden lodge house; a narrow wooden bridge spanned the stretch of water to the isle it sat upon. The bridge was scorched and the earth and grass stained with much blood that shone a testament to a terrible battle that had been fought there recently.
Brimbur slowed his pace as he spied a lone figure standing tense and alert at the foot of the bridge. She watched with grave and wary eyes as the dwarf approached cautiously, and in her hand was grasped a heavy iron mace and shield.
‘I am brigand I can assure you...' he said gently and resigning as he came to a halt, well outside the smiting range of the guard. 'I am Brimbur; I have been sent by Jon Brackenbrook to lay to rest some of the fallen who perished in the assault upon your fair village. I seek Nate Whisperwood, do you know of his fate?'
The guard who did not speak but turned his gaze over the bridge to the tiny isle; Brimbur followed her silent gaze to the far side of the lodge then bowed solemnly and strode slowly across the bridge. He found the last of the fallen men in the muddy grass near the banks of the lake. He gazed down upon the still form and sighed softly as he set to his grim work.
At last Brimbur rose and wiped the dampness from his brow as the last shovel of dirt and sod was tossed onto a shallow mound. He set aside the shovel and fell very silent for some time, then he bowed very low to the poor man, and his heart broke as he did so.
Making his way back across the bridge, the dwarf halted and turned his eyes down with pity and horror. ‘Such loss…’ he said quietly. ‘How could this have come to be?’
At first the guard did not speak but turned her eyes to the sun drifting lazily across the sky. ‘I would never have thought I would have seen such a battle in my life,’ she said finally, her voice heavy and mournful. I'm glad those Blackwolds are driven back, but at such a cost....’ she sighed.
Brimbur moved to speak but found he had no words. He only nodded solemnly and strode away. Twilight was just beginning to stir as Brimbur crept back down the quiet lane. The wind was signing gently in the branches of the trees and their leaves whispered in the breeze. A star came out above the trees in the darkening sky to the east. Slowly the stars grew thicker with the dying light as he drew near to the village.
The young dwarf made his way over to Brackenbrook with a heavy heart. 'It is done good master,' he says slowly as the tall Man waved the others away and turned to the dwarf silently. 'Those fallen among you have been given a well-deserved rest at last for their great sacrifice.'
'Good, it is done,’ said Brackenbrook quietly. ‘Those men died bravely and deserved a proper burial. Once more, Archet is in your debt.’
Brimbur’s face brightened and he looked up at the Man with a smile. 'Ah, but no debt to great! Let me tell you of the wolf of Waymeet...’ he said cheerfully. But again the old whimsical light died in Brimbur’s eyes. His eyes fell from the grim Man and grew silent. ‘Never mind, that is a tale I shall not bother you with...’ he said finally, a sense of anguish in his voice. ‘I am heartened for what I can do to aid you in your grief, master Brackenbrook.'
Chapter Twenty-eight: The Mad Boar – 3 Astron, 3016 TA
The sad memory of the previous day had melted from the gentle dwarf’s heart the next morning and Brimbur had risen at dawn cheerful and more like his old merry self, despite the sight of the ruined village of Archet that awoke to. He called for a wash basin and water and loudly splashed and sputtered as he washed and dressed softly whistling a tune.
The dwarf enjoyed a bit of breakfast before he began to stroll round the shattered village; by then the sun was shining bright and clear and an early spring breeze came up inviting and warm. He was still munching on the last piece of bacon, forgetting about the terrible task the day before, as he strolled about the village in an unhurried leisurely fashion.
It was not long during his morning walk, his small smoky clay pipe in his hand, when he found two Men of Archet standing beside the lane who were speaking in low hushed voices. ‘This job’ll pay enough to replace that cart we lost to the boar…I hope’ murmured one of the Men softly and with some hope in his voice. ‘Too bad I’ve got no skill with a blade,’ announced the Men loudly to his companion. ‘Make short work of the mad boar, I would!’
Brimbur hid a snicker on his face and strode over to the Men, their faces grave and dark. 'Brodli at your service...’ he said confidently as he clenched his pipe in his teeth. ‘Forgive my intrusion gentlemen, but I could not help but overhear something about a lost cart...and tools? And something of a boar?'
It was out of not concern for some lost tools or cart that prompted the dwarf’s question, but rather a desire to discover any sort of danger that might lay on the road ahead for Brimbur.
The Men turned their gaze down at the smiling cheerful dwarf; the first murmured something and turned away but the second smiled warmly and nodded. 'Working with wood has always been my trade, so I thought to put my hands to the rebuilding of Archet,’ he said softly, looking at his companion who had fallen silent. ‘I had loaded up my tools and set out, when suddenly this mad boar came out of nowhere and overturned my cart!’
‘Hmm, a mad boar you say?’ quipped Brimbur as he tugged at his beard and blew a beautiful ring of grey smoke into the air. He watched it sail up into the boughs of the trees overhead as the man spoke further.
'It was all my son Borin and I could do to make it here to Archet, and we had to leave the tools in the wreckage of the cart!’ said the man grimly.
‘Ah yes, terrible business master Earur is it?,’ said Brimbur softly, only half-listening to the man’s woe. ‘Yet new tools can be afforded, if one is willing enough I suppose to replace those lost…’
The tall Man fell silent and gazed down at the smiling puffing dwarf. Then his voice grew hopeful and pleading. ‘If you head south to the gate that leads to Combe, you might be able to recover my toolbox. I'd really appreciate it, and the folk of Archet are sure to be better for it as well -- the sooner I can get started, the sooner this town will be back to the way it was!’
At that Brimbur choked a bit on his pipe as his ears perked up at the man’s desperate words. 'What was that?' he said quite startled. 'Me? Why do you not have guards or such about here to deal with such menaces?' He began to mutter a protest, then a look of remorse fell across his face. The dwarf glanced up at the craftsman and sighed aloud. 'Boars are filthy beasts but perhaps, in its madness, it has gone to greener pastures as they say, he said with little hope. ‘If I am lucky I can retrieve your tool box and never have to face the beast...'
'Watch out for that boar, though,’ said the craftsman grimly. ‘You might be able to get my toolbox without attracting his attention, but you'd need more luck than I have to manage it!'
Brimbur did not answer but turned to stalk down the lane, muttering as he went. 'Filthy untamed boars, the last one I crossed soiled my fine tunic...' he said quietly, his earlier cheerful mood now thoroughly soured.
He went from the gate of the village very quietly along the lane bending south, through the shaded trees and past the outlying sad sheep farm just within sight of the village’s wooden palisade. He looked out over the yard where the slain bodies of the sheep still lay in the short grass. He let out a sniffling sigh and the continued and the lane.
Soon the sight of Archet was far behind him and the last spire of smoke disappeared in the growing canopy of trees to the north. After a while Brimbur stopped and rested for a time under some thinly clad rowan trees as noon slowly crept closer in the sky. He sat down in the grass and took some bread from his pack and enjoyed the warm sun for a time until the clambered and went along again, slowly making his way ever southwards.
He had been trotting along for some time when Brimbur stopped a moment as if listening. He was now on level ground and the lane wound further on towards the Combe Gate in the distance through scattered trees of the outlying woods to the left. Just then a strange squeal tore through the quiet air; Brimbur’s heart leapt up into his throat. His head turned round swiftly and with a start the dwarf sped from the lane quickly to one side and under the eaves of a tall tree. There he crouched hesitantly for a moment beside a wooden fence that ran along the side of the lane.
The squeals drew nearer. A sudden unreasoning fear gripped the young dwarf and the wish to turn and flee back down the lane nearly overcame him. He hardly dared to breathe. He suddenly threw himself flat upon the ground behind the fence. Then Brimbur lifted up his head and peered cautiously above the short grass.
On a flat, among tall trees across the lane, there sat an overturned cart, its contents now lying strewn and discarded in the grass around it. From round the ruined cart came a large, scarred boar; the beast’s mane bristled as it lifted its tusked snout and sniffed the air menacingly at nothing in particular. As Brimbur watched in growing horror and disbelief, the boar turned to the cart and began tearing at it with its long tusks with mindless abandon, its reddened eyes shining with a sense of complete madness.
Brimbur lifted a gloved finger into his chattering teeth and buried his head into the grass as best he could while still watching the boar with one closed eye. He was now certain that the boar was quite made, for it wavered first from attacking the overturned cart to rutting its tusks into the soft earth or the trunks of the trees, and back again to the cart.
The young dwarf laid there motionless and silent as best he could, as minutes pass, then still more as the maddened boar continued its assault upon everything within tusk-reach. Then, the beast let out aloud a painful groan; its mane shuddered and it halted it frenzied attacks, its breath coming in wheezes. At once, the dwarf grew hopeful, believing the crazed beast had grown tired of its antics and was about to wander off. Yet to the dwarf’s amazement, the boar seemed unwilling to leave the cart, as if was gathering its strength once more to continue its onslaught.
Brimbur loosened the sword at his belt and, after more than an hour of silent watching, he slowly climbed to his unsteady feet. His head jerked about as he scanned the ground at his feet and his eyes fell on a small stone in the grass. He bent down and took it in his hands. Brimbur was just beginning to shudder as he placed one hand on the fence, prepared to climb over it, when a spark crept into mind.
Dropping the stone to the ground, Brimbur scampered over the fence and, with one last muttering breath, he cried out and leapt forward with a mad dash. Straight towards the mad boar he ran, and the boar turned to the dwarf with a scream of excited cacophony; but Brimbur did not slow but instead leapt over the boar even as the beast squealed and gnashed its teeth at him, catching the hem of his fine cloak as the dwarf flew over its head.
Brimbur landed with a thud and sped off through the grass and the boar gave chase at once. And so a crazed, comical dogging erupted; the dwarf darting back and forth through the trees in a wide circle round the overturned cart. The boar swelled with rage, and squealed and frothed as it pursued the dwarf, growing ever incensed as it tried desperately to catch up with the fleet-footed dwarf.
Brimbur did not slow his flight round the trees, but instead would turn only for the briefest of moments to stab at the boar’s head, or slashed at its long body, if it came too near. It was a terrible thing and the minutes that ticked away seemed as if hours to the poor dwarf. Soon his breath came in loud labourious gasps and his flight gradually slowed with weariness.
But at last, just when Brimbur felt he could run no further, the boar suddenly slowed its frenzied pace behind. At once both halted a few paces from one another, looking at one another like weary combatants; the boar wheezed aloud, matching the panting of the dwarf. Then, both dwarf and boar turned their gaze as one over to the tool box lying in the grass beside the cart. Choking back a stifled cry, Brimbur leapt towards the tool box; the boar let out a sudden grunt and with a shake of its bristling mane, sprang in pursuit.
The dwarf stumbled to the toolbox and scooped it up as the boar’s tusks lancing his legs. He cried out in desperate pain but sped off as fast as his short legs could carry him. Through the trees ran the dwarf, but not in a wide circle, but straight past them, even as the boar chased after him. For long moments they both ran until Brimbur again cried aloud, but this time with triumphant tears as the boar suddenly slowed and gave its chase. With one final mournfully disappointed squeal it stopped and turned back.
But Brimbur did not slow his flight until the cart and boar fell far from view over his shoulder as he sped through the trees. Only when he was certain the boar had not once more taken up the pursuit did he halt to rest and catch his breath. He threw the box into the grass and collapsed to the ground. He lay there for some time, puffing and panting, then sat up and laughed heartily aloud.
‘Mad boar indeed!’ he chuckled with a wide grin despite his heart beating quite loudly in his ears and fevered shake that overtook his legs. ‘I did it! Coward indeed, old, old Tharonin!’
The sun had long gone over the distant horizon and the shadows of the evening were deepening as he slowly reached Archet finally. Brimbur was feeling quite his old self now, and was very pleased with himself. He nodded to the watchful guards at the gate and strode past, a tune at his lips as he went.
Brimbur strode confidently up to the craftsman and set down the boxes at Earur’s feet. ‘I have returned master Earnur!’ he said, his face flushed with pride. ‘And not empty-handed. That boar is quite mad I am afraid, but I was able to distract it long enough to grasp the crate and return...however someone must turn to dealing with that mad beast before it hurts someone!'
'You have my thanks, Brimbur,’ said Earur, his voice thick with thanks. ‘Now Eorin and I can get to work rebuilding this town. Take these coins for your trouble.'
Brimbur smiled as he took the coins in hand, lifting one to bite on it with reassurance. 'Ah, I thank you master Earur! I have a very long road still waiting me and this will help greatly to the end of my journey!'
With a deep bow, Brimbur took up a whistle and strode back along the lane until he found a nice quiet spot to sit. He sat down in the grass and lifted his head to feel the warm night air upon his face. He chuckled softly as he thought back to the frenzied race against the maddened boar. Then he glanced about the sad village and sighed as thoughts of the arduous task ahead.
He sat back in the grass, munching absently on a wrinkled apple. Brimbur had many hardships and adventures since leaving him home of Ered Luin, and he greatly feared many more awaited him on the long road to Esteldín. Little did he know of the lands to the north but dark were the whispered tales told to him among the Bree folk.
He thought of the Men of the North, called the Dúnedain; great were the cities of the North in the days of the North Kingdom and in those years they ruled all the lands between the Misty Mountains and Ered Luin as their own. But those older days had long passed and the Men dwindled and their kingdom fell into waste.
Brimbur’s cheerful mood fell away and he muttered softly to himself. The village had grown silent with the deepening dusk and the wind blew gently round the darkened ruins. The dwarf sighed then laid down and fell slowly into a deep sleep.
Chapter Twenty-nine: Thornley’s Farm – 4 Astron, 3016 TA
Even as the moon hung lazily in the night sky, Brimbur had set out after only the briefest of rests. He went out to the north from Archet, through scattered coppices as the night drew onwards in the darkness. For a long while, he heard nothing and saw nothing and even the wild things in the fields and woods did not notice the dwarf’s passing. In the gentle night air, the merry dwarf began to whistle a soft tune as he walked. He set his small clay pipe to his teeth; soon there came a flicker for a moment, and a brief flash of his long nose through a puff of wisping smoke.
'Ah, we dwarves do love the dark!’ he sighed aloud. ‘And what better than a bit of pipe-weed to make the march ever so enjoyable!'
For a moment, Brimbur paused beneath the swaying boughs of a tall ash tree. Then he smiled and blew out a single ring of smoke that rose into the night air. He watched as it mingled in the sky with the twinkling light of the many stars overhead and then floated away into the darkness.
He marched on as strange ruins rolled past dim and mysterious into the darkness, or through scattered trees that rustled their dark dry leaves gently in the night air. As the moon crossed the sky, the land began to fall gently but steadily, making north. After a while, the young dwarf halted at the top of a rocky slope where the ground plunged suddenly into a deeply cloven hollow between tall darkened trees.
Through the darkened tress ahead a field-stone and thatched cottage now came into view; shaded yellow-red lights shone dimly through the closed, curtained windows. With some curiosity and wariness, Brimbur slowly made his way round to the front of the cottage. As he stepped round to the front, he started and pulled back; there under the eaves of the trees stood a tall dark standing shadow.
The shadow stirred and Brimbur grew at once very afraid. The air seemed to grow ever dark and Brimbur’s hearth beat loudly in his ears. Then the shadow turned and soft pale moonlight fell upon a gentle but worn face that now turned to the dwarf.
Brimbur took in a deep uncertain breath and stepped forward as the man watched him with gleaming wary eyes. 'Hail and well met, my good fellow,' he stammers with a bow, growing at once nervous under the gaze of the silent Man. 'Brimbur at your service. Forgive my rudeness of trespassing over your fine lawn without permission at such a late hour.'
The dwarf looked up into the Man’s keen grey eyes, and they hinted at knowing or guessing more than the Man’s silence allowed. When the man did not speak, Brimbur cleared his throat.
'I have made my way here from Archet only this evening, and am seeking the Greenway...' he muttered and pointed back towards the south. Yet the man still did not speak, only watched him quietly.
Brimbur looked about anxiously. 'Has an Orc lifted your tongue?' he murmured softly and uneasily.
The Man smiled at the young dwarf. Then he spoke. 'I am called Saeradan. The Thornley's, farmers and workers of these lands for many generations, have been spared much danger from the brigands,’ he said in a low voice. ‘Word has reached me, however, that the patriarch of the family has gone missing as he went to deal with foes out of the north.’
‘Missing you say?’ said Brimbur stiffly and grew very uncomfortable under the Man’s keen gaze. ‘That is dreadful news to be sure. A great many of folk are along the roads of late, and not all are best to be met alone in the dark of night.’
‘Yes,’ said the Man, with a wry smile at the dwarf’s deep uneasiness. 'If you are willing, I would ask you to visit Rose Thornley, to the west at her home, and ask after the well-being of her husband.'
Brimbur looked up at the Man, certain him to being little more than a scoundrel or rascal. ‘As I said I am seeking the Greenway to find my way to the town of Trestlebridge,’ he answered reluctantly. ‘I could certainly pay this Ms. Rose a visit to belay your fears of her husband's safety!'
With that, the dwarf bowed, a bit too hastily perhaps, and scampered off down the slope towards the Road that he could now see in the dim moonlight to the north. Brimbur hurried away, plunging through the thickets and scrambled down a steep stony bank until he reached the flat grassland beyond. He swiftly crossed the flats and hurried over to the Greenway; as his boots landed upon the overgrown road, he turned back in the direction of the strange man who was now lost from sight.
The dwarf shook his beard and laughed softly, then turned down the lane at last. For a long while, he met nothing in the lane. The night was drawing long and the waxing moon went down into low clouds behind him. It was growing chilly and thin strands of mist were crawling over the fields. The twilight was clammy.
Soon he could see lights in the distance ahead and to his left, beyond a darkened stand of the shadowy ash-trees along the borders of the road. Before long he came upon a dusty rutted lane that turned left from the road and ran past outlying fields and towards a distant farmhouse. In the dim light of the shaded windows, Brimbur could see a woman standing under the eaves of a raised stone porch, her gentle face lined with worry and dread and wringing her hands.
The young dwarf sighed and shook his head slowly, and glanced to the north along the overgrown road for a moment. He struggled with the notion to simply continue on until, at last, he straightened his fine tunic and strode reluctantly down the rutted lane. Hearing the approaching footsteps of the dwarf, the good woman strained to see into the gloom then drew back with alarm and fear as the dwarf halted at the foot of the steps and bowed very low.
'Hail and well met young miss, I am Brimbur, a dwarf of Ered Luin. Forgive this intrusion but I am on my way north when I heard tale of a certain Robb Thornley having gone missing…’
The woman glanced about, as if certain that the dwarf was not alone. 'Robb has gone missing, but how do you know this?’ she said with much distrust. ‘Are you one of those Southerners looking to steal this place? You'll find that we're harder than the land we live on!’
'Southerner?’ scowled the dwarf. ‘I can assure you I am not Southern, Northern, Eastern or Western! I am a dwarf, of Durin's Folk to be precise!’ He then turned back and pointed in the direction of the cottage to the south and east. ‘I was sent by a man named Saeradan to speak with Rose Thornley on this matter…’
'No...you are not...are you?’ said Rose slowly, a bit of the apprehension slipping from her face. ‘Sent then by the Rangers? Never did trust them much, skulking about in cover of night never talking proper-like, but I must admit a feeling of gratitude lately. Least-wise since Robb's gone missing.’
‘Rangers?’ muttered the dwarf thoughtfully. He then nodded his head in a knowing fashion, saying, 'Oh I am certain that he is simply late coming back from the fields no doubt...yes that's it of course...'
The woman stared down at the dwarf who stood wraith-like in the darkness. She then spoke swiftly, shaking her head. 'Robb went out with his father's sword trying to scare off those brutish men from the North’ she said. ‘He left a few days back and has yet to come home. I am running out of excuses to tell the workers. Please, will you find him?’
'Well facing off against brigands is a foolish thing to do!’ glowered the dwarf and he began to rub one arm as if from a painful memory. ‘I know! I have crossed blades with their foul ilk! Why only this week did I have to bring my blade to...' He caught the woman’s worn face, deep with worry and he fell silent for a moment.
'Oh never mind, that does not make for a very interesting tale I suppose considering...’ he said apologetically. ‘As I said, I am on my way northwards and cannot tarry too long. Yet I suppose I could keep an eye out for Robb...’
Brimbur sighed softly and then bowed once more and bid the lass goodbye and goodnight. 'If I uncover word of this Robb I will surely let you know!' he said as he turned away to return to the road.
Once there, he turned to the left along the road, which ran a fairly straight line until it disappeared into the gloom to the north. There was no sign of other travelers upon the way as he went for some time, but Brimbur began to glance warily about as the sounds of the howls of distant and unseen wolves filled the dim night air.
To quell his rising discomfort, Brimbur began to whistle softly to himself; but soon his whistling sagged and he fell altogether quiet. He as growing very tired, and went along with his chin down and his eyes gazing down at his boots. Just then, the dwarf stumbled into a puddle and splashed up a fountain of muddy water. ‘Confound it!’ he muttered as he looked down on his fine tunic. As he began to dab a piece of cloth to the mud on his garb, he looked up.
A few yards ahead the road wound into a narrow trough bordered by tall cliffs dotted with fir trees. The sky was turning grey and pale, and the last stars twinkled overhead. To the right of the road there rose a slope towards to summit of the cliffs where there stood a hillock crowned by a few pines. And next to that went a narrow vale back into the rising hills where he could plainly see a rising plume of smoke from a chimney or campfire.
'Perhaps a farm or another Bree village I think,’ he said quietly, looking quickly and queerly ahead. ‘Well the road will not take me further this day...it is time for rest and perhaps a supper no doubt. I think if there is a farm over there I am sure the folk would graciously take me in!’
Brimbur yawned loudly as he stepped forward, but soon slowed his pace and came to a halt as he spotted a set of sharpened poles at the bottom of the rising slope and mouth of the narrow valley. Horrible they seem and harsh, and the dwarf suddenly got an uncomfortable feeling in his stomach.
‘This is not farm…’ he muttered quietly as he took a hesitant step forward. Suddenly, from out of the darkness there came a harsh and foul cry. A great and hideous face loomed up before the startled dwarf.
It was a big fighting-orc that the dwarf’s trembling eyes saw, swart, slant-eyed with thick legs and clutching a cruel-looking mace in its large hands. Before the dwarf could turn to flee, the Orc reached for him with a hideous arm to grasp and thrash him.
Terrified, he stumbled back, even as the Orc came at him. Brimbur shivered as the Orc’s terrible face hung high over his head and he felt its foul breath on his face. Brimbur fell back before the Orc’s onslaught, his tunic slashed open and blood began to trickle down his front.
Desperately he tried to turn aside the heavy blows of the Orc’s mace until his arm rang with pain. Too did he stab out with his sword, but many of his strokes went wide and hit naught but air. Through flowing tears, Brimbur leapt to one side and drew back his sword. The Orc rose towering over the dwarf, and its mace rose and fell; Brimbur cried out as it struck his shoulder. His next blow went wide and he clutched at the Orc to steady his wobbly feet.
As the light began to fade from his eyes, Brimbur stumbled forward and ran the Orc through with his sword. Black blood washed over the blade as the Orc gave a hideous shriek and fell to the ground. For a moment, Brimbur stood there, blinking like a new-born calf in the growing light, as if he had been struck dumb and mute.
Then Brimbur collapsed to the ground and did not stir for a long while. Then, as the sun began to creep over the distant horizon, he stirred; his shouldered quivered and his hand still clutched the blackened blade with nervousness, but Brimbur slowly climbed unsteadily to his feet. With one last look at the Orc upon the ground, he began making his way up the slope towards the pines above.
After only a few paces, Brimbur halted to look over the edge and into the hollow below. There came sudden and harsh cries, loud and angry in a foul tongue that slowly died away into muttering and cursing. Terrified he crouched low to the ground and looked out.
Here or there could be seen hideous Orc-faces in the flickering of fires and torches of a camp. Crude and filthy tents clustered thick about the hollow and the smokes of little fires curled up into the air. Brimbur watched in growing fear and disgust at the many Orcs that went about the camp. He then heard a sound and his eyed turned to the far end of the hollow; there in the flickering torch-light he glimpsed a lone Man. His head hung low on his chest, as if from great weariness and pain, and his face and limbs covered with ugly welts from cruel whips.
‘A prisoner…’ he grumbled softly with much distaste. ‘Did it have to be another prisoner…’
Chapter Thirty: Thornley’s Rescue – 4 to 5 Astron, 3016 TA
Brimbur groaned at the sight of the Orc camp and he had hardly began to breath more freely again when he heard other Orc voices, harsh and loud and the sound of approaching iron-shod feet. Quickly he slinked out of sight and scurried across the road to crouch in the shadows of the cliffs on the far side. The young dwarf was shaking terribly and his teeth rattled like loose shutters in a stiff wind and tried to quell his fear.
He wrung the hem of his cloak in his hands and began to mutter softly, glancing back with shudder at the Orc camp beyond. Brimbur was beginning to reconsider fleeing back down the road to the Thornley farmhouse to bring word of Robb’s unfortunate demise, when he heard the sounds of heavy and fast approaching footsteps.
He looked round but could not see very far in the darkness. Brimbur swiftly scrambled into the thorny bushes at the feet of towering cliffs, laid down flat on the ground and peered out of the brush. He groaned as he plucked a nasty thorn from his thumb and looked out with growing apprehension and fear.
Then, faintly, Brimbur caught the sound of a wheezing belaboured voice; suddenly into view a short figure running swiftly along the road, its face hidden under an iron helm. Even in the dim light he could say for certain the approaching figure was no Orc or goblin. He leapt to his feet and ran down the road, waving his arms frantically in the air.
Indeed it was a dwarf that suddenly halted in front of the distraught Brimbur. A short brown beard framed his face and his blue tunic and vest matched the short blue tassels that hung from his iron helm atop his head.
'Oh thank goodness!’ blurted out Brimbur with a twitch on his lips and bowed low but hastily. ‘A kinsman in my most needed hour! I am afraid that a poor Bree farmer, Robb, has been taken captive by foul Orcs…’ Brimbur then turned to point across the Greenway to the east. ‘I spotted him in the Orcs’ camp just over there!’
For a moment the dwarf looked at Brimbur silently and with a queer gaze. Then he sighed softly and adjusted the belt round his wide waist. ‘Rob Thornley?’ he muttered quietly. ‘Poor guy got kidnapped you say?’
Brimbur wagged his beard vigorously with a constant nod of his head. The dwarf snorted loudly and then slid an axe from his belt round his waist, and turned to Brimbur, saying only. ‘Shall we?’ Without another word, the dwarf stalked from the Greenway and Brimbur swiftly followed, staying just a few steps behind his newfound companion.
Beyond the entryway to the lower vale, a rough-hewn path led straight away under the shadows of the rings cliffs to either side. The silent dwarf crept forward a few steps beyond the sharpened poles and then paused to listen intensely. The dwarf turned his head this way and that, his bright eyes glinting in the dim light as he scanned the shadows ahead. He then turned to wink at Brimbur and hastened forward. Brimbur glanced about and then scrambled to follow after him.
The silent dwarf had gone only a short distance when there came harsh cries from the shadows further ahead and two figures leaped down the passage towards the dwarves. Even in the dim light, Brimbur could see that they were Orcs, tall, crook-legged creatures with long arms that hung almost to the ground. Yellow-fanged faced sneered at them and each clutched short broad-bladed swords in their taloned hands.
Without a warning the dwarf sprang forward, and with two swift strokes of his axe swept the head from the first Orc. The other gave way cursing aloud as the dwarf pursued him. He smote the Orc with a blow of his raised axe, and then parried a stab of the Orc’s cruel sword. Then the dwarf gave a hoarse shout and swung his axe wide and the second Orc fell to the dirt headless.
The quiet dwarf stood over the fallen Orcs and peered into the gloom ahead. Brimbur too looked about fretfully, half-expecting another attack from the gloom at any moment. The dwarf then motioned to Brimbur and crept forward. After a few short steps, they neared the end of the vale where several filthy tents stood round a flickering and smoky campfire. Three Orcs sat about the fire, crumbling and cursing in their foul tongue. To one side stood the man Brimbur had saw before; his hands and arms went tied round a tall wooden pole and his head hung low and weak atop his chest.
Again the dwarf swept forward, towards the nearest Orc. He felled the Orc with a series of swift and deadly blows even as the Orc leapt up with a harsh shout and then fell silent. Without hesitation, the dwarf fell upon the others with a cry as they too sprang up to meet the attackers.
The first Orc, a cruel-looking brute almost man-height, came at the dwarf as arrows whistled past Brimbur who fell back with a startled look on his face. One arrow passed through his cloak and another struck then sprang back from his tunic and the armour beneath.
The silent dwarf’s axe rose and fell, and the tall Orc tumbled to the ground headless. The last Orc standing on the other side of the campfire was dismayed by the fierceness of the dwarf and fell back, fitting another arrow to its bow. But the dwarf soon leapt forward to attack. He kicked at the fire with one boot and sparks flew up into the air and into the face of the Orc.
As the sound of the dying Orc shattered the still air, Brimbur turned to the helpless man. ‘Hush!’ he muttered softly and with some fear. ‘Don’t make a sound or else we’ll bring down all the Orcs on our heads!’ He then drew out a small knife and cut the bonds round the pole; now freed, Brimbur propped the man up to his flagging feet. The farmer stood up, looking pale but grim and resolute, his eyes blazing darkly.
‘Please get me through these cursed Orcs for a ways, friend,’ Robb muttered as he rubbed his sore wrists. Brimbur turned to follow the farmer’s gaze even as the harsh cries of approaching Orcs reached his ears. Form the gloom near the entryway of the vale now came three Orcs, their foul cries piercing the air at the sight of their freed victim.
Without hesitation, the silent dwarf sprang from the fire with his axe in hand and charged the Orcs. At first, the Orcs seemed unwilling to fight and tried to run round the dwarf to get at the now-freed captive. The stern dwarf cleaved the head from the nearest Orc with a swipe of his axe. That forced the Orcs to turn to the dwarf and attack him fiercely and as one.
At first, Brimbur pushed the farmer behind him and drew his blade; but the foolish man cried out and leapt at the Orcs raining blow after blow upon the dwarf in their midst. Brimbur stifled a shout and stumbled forward after him. He grabbed Robb by the shoulder and pulled him back even as one of the Orcs snarled and whirled round. He now was looking into the slavering and fanged face of the Orc, a cruel-looking club in its hands.
The Orc chuckled and stepped at him; Brimbur raised his sword just in time to turn aside a clumsy stroke of the Orc’s club. Tears began to well up in Brimbur’s eyes as the Orc beat aside his weak stabs and drove him back with a series of blows. The Orc roared aloud and stood tall over the faltering dwarf, bent on laying him to the ground.
Brimbur parried one blow then another, and slashed at the Orc’s thick legs. The Orc rose up with a hollow and then back at the dwarf, leaning in with dripping fangs. Brimbur fought back welling tears and brought his sword down onto the Orc’s head and it fell to the ground silent and unmoving.
Brimbur staggered back and looked about. The silent dwarf stood over the corpses of the other Orcs and wiped their foul blood from his axe with a wide grin. Brimbur looked sidelong at the farmer with a face of disgust. ‘Now...’ he began slowly. ‘No more of that! Don’t be so hasty for revenge or else none of us will get out of this alive!’
But their brief rest was suddenly shattered as the sound of fresh approaching Orcs filled the air. One or two Orc-archers shot wildly at them as the others sprang forward. At once the dwarf cried out. ‘Baruk Khazâd! Khazâd ai-mênu!’ he shouted and hurled himself upon the throng of charging Orcs. Like a relentless tide, the Orcs surged forward, surrounding the dwarf on all sides. Their onset was fierce and sudden and blows began to fall upon the dwarf from every direction, crying out as they swarmed around him.
Brimbur scurried forward, trying desperately to force the farmer behind him. He swung out with his sword at the nearest Orc but, in his haste and nervous hand, the blow went wide and off the mark. The Orc flung itself at him with a horrible shriek.
Brimbur fell back before the Orc’s onslaught; his tunic slashed open and blood began to trickle down his front. Soon he bled openly from several wounds and the Orc’s wicked blade lanced one arm. Brimbur stabbed forward desperately, a feverish glint burning in his eyes. He heard the Orc curse aloud and foul blood washed onto Brimbur’s hands. He stabbed and stabbed again through a haze until there came a gurgling sound.
He blinked and looked up; his sword had passed through the throat of the tall Orc. For a moment the Orc struggled to curse and bared its yellow fangs at him before toppling over into the dirt at the dwarf’s surprised feet. He blinked again and looked around; there stood the strange dwarf surrounded by the countless bodies of Orcs. The dwarf’s chest heaved and he leaned weakly on his axe; the dwarf’s mail was rent and he bled from a dozen wounds yet he still stood, a wide grin upon his face.
Just then Robb came rushing in between them. ‘Thanks, friend,’ he said gratefully. ‘I should be able to make it back to the farm on my own from here!’And the famer suddenly sprang forward to race towards the Greenway beyond.
‘Wait!’ cried Brimbur after him. But the farmer paused only slightly to call out over one shoulder. ‘Oh yes... please tell my wife I'm all right if you see her before I do. Our farm is south a ways in the Bree-fields.’
‘I know where your farm is…you fool…’ cursed Brimbur as he watched Robb disappear down the Greenway and out of sight. He shook his head slowly and turned to the silent dwarf. ‘Ah, thank you for the assistance!’ he said gladly and bowed low to the dwarf.
The dwarf gazed at Brimbur with a smile and returned the bow, saying. ‘You're welcome and good luck!’ He returned to the Greenway, turned to wave at the young dwarf and began striding along. And as swiftly as he had appeared, the strange dwarf was gone.
The morning was bright and warm and shifting and billowing clouds danced in the sky when Brimbur made his way back to the Thornley farmstead. Rose Thornley paused her sweeping of the porch as he approached, staggering over the yard, clutching his wounded arm and collapsed at the feet of the steps.
‘I...I...' he began to mumble. 'I found Robb...he was taken prisoner. He was in the clutches of foul Orcs!' He winced at the pain to his arm and smiled weakly at the good woman. 'Dozens of their foul ilk were in their camp!’ he spat aloud. ‘I slew many and gained entrance and found poor Robb tied to a post. Then they came at me upon all sides and I was surrounded!'
Brimbur shifted a bit on the ground and smoothed out his torn and stained tunic with distaste. 'I hewed at them until my sword ran dark with their blood. It was a terrible battle but I threw them to the winds and fled from the camp, taking Robb alongside me...'
Rose smiled warmly and climbed down the steps to help the dwarf to his feet. 'I'm so thankful your rescued Robb!’ she said with much joy. ‘He's resting now, but he asked me to give you a reward.’ She went inside the house and returned shortly, holding a parcel in her hands. She unwound the cloth and held up a fine tunic of leather to the young dwarf.
'My thanks Miss Rose,' he mumbled with loving eyes as he turned the tunic over in his hands. 'This is a most cherished gift. None but my father could have crafted such a precious item!'
And so Brimbur rested there at the farm for a time, and Rose mended his tunic and cloak. The sun was already nearing the western sky and the light was swiftly fading when he was brought to the dining room of the house. The Thornley’s children had already laid out the dinner table and Brimbur was given a seat at one end, opposite Robb who raised his mug to toast his safe return home and to Brimbur’s aid.
A fine meal was then whisked out by Rose; there was fine beer and roast boar; fresh loafs of bread and slabs of churned butter as well as other solid and tasty farmhouse food. It was only when Brimbur drained his final mug of beer and munched on the last morsel on his plate, when he pushed his chair back from the table with a delightful groan.
When supper was finished, Rose and the children rose to clean up and Brimbur went out onto the porch to light his pipe and gazed up at the twinkling stars. The wind did not stir in the still and quiet darkness and there he sat down blowing grey rings of smoke into the night air for some time. At last sleep came to him and he was shown to a guest room. Brimbur had only the notion to slip off his boots before collapsing onto the bed and he fell fast asleep.
The next morning, Brimbur with the ringing calls of the roosters. He spread his arms about and yawned loudly and then looked about. A fine sun shone through the window of the room and he sat up; he swung his legs over the side of the bed and stood up.
He found a wash basin with fresh water and began to sputter as he splashed the cool water onto his face. The dwarf then put on the new tunic of leather, and then he slipped on his crimson tunic over the top. He then fastened his belt and sword round his waist and turned to watch his reflection in the mirror. He smiled and smoothed out his beard and growled a bit, then let out a chuckle.
When all was ready, Brimbur made his way outside and the morning was passing quickly by as noon-time approached. He trussed up his pack atop his shoulders, now brimming with some fresh bread, cold bacon, new-picked apples from the field and even some cheese, given gratefully by Mrs. Thornley.
Brimbur sniffed the warm air and strode down the steps and across the yard. The Thornley family stood under the eaves of the porch and waved goodbye as the dwarf reached the Greenway. There he stopped, turned to wave back to the Thornley family and then took a glance either way down the road. Finally he laughed aloud and with one more wave trotted down the road.
Chapter Thirty-one: A Forgetful Dwarf – 5 to 6 Astron, 3016 TA
‘Blast it!’ cursed Brimbur as he sneezed loudly. ‘Foul stinking beasts…’ The young dwarf turned a glowering stare towards a horse within a nearby open-air stall; the horse whinnied and turned its head to gaze back at the muttering dwarf with little concern. With almost a playful look, the horse neighed very loudly, so much so that Brimbur felt his teeth shake and covered his ears. It then tossed its head and stamped in one last act of dislike so that Brimbur grew a bit tense and hastened past.
Brimbur made his way past the many stalls and towards a few detached buildings further on. One such building seemed to be a farmhouse and it looked very large. He stared up at the tall stone tower that rose above the shingled roof and then at the many windows and smoky chimney to one end.
The dwarf turned and spotted a stable-hand pitching hay from a cart onto a haystack beside a long row of horse stalls. ‘You there, with the pitchfork...’ he called out and stepped forward. ‘I am in need of an inn for the night, preferably away from these foul horses!'
The man paused and rested on the pitchfork in his hands, then looked curiously at the dwarf a while, saying, ‘Hullo, there. If you're here about our horses, I'm afraid we don't loan them out to just anyone. These horses are built for speed, not heavy labour.’
'Here about the horses?' snorted Brimbur as another sneeze began to gather in his throat. 'No thank you! I would neither loan nor purchase one of their foul hides!’ The man only shrugged in reply and went back to his work. Brimbur looked at the stable-hand and shook his beard. ‘An inn is what I need for the night...' he said muttering.
The stable-hand lowered his pitchfork once more and then scratched his head for a moment. ‘That reminds me of something…’ he said thoughtfully and slowly.
'Reminds you of what?' asked the dwarf suspiciously.
The stable-hand stuck the pitchfork into the hay and took out a rag to wipe his brow. 'A dwarf came to the farm and requested some horses. Not sure what he intended to do with them, but by the looks of him he needed some pack animals. I told him that our horses weren't for hire, and he left in a huff.’
Brimbur’s eyes suddenly brightened as he listened eagerly to the man. ‘What was the dwarf’s name?’ he blurted out quickly. He was thinking of course of dear old Harkil, and a glimmer of hope began to rise in the young dwarf’s heart that his friend had chosen finally to come in search for him.
‘That can only be my old friend and valiant companion, Harkil!’ he said quickly. ‘A lover of horses he was, more an Elf than a son of Durin! I would very much like to see my old friend. We parted our paths some time ago, you see...'
The man only shrugged, wiping the sweat from his damp brow. 'Seemed a bit peculiar, he did not seem quite right in the head,’ continued the stable-hand as he absently swatted at flies that buzzed about his head. ‘If you have time, perhaps you can check up on the old fellow. I saw him wander off to the ruins south-east of here.'
'Not quite right in the head?' growled Brimbur with a frown on his brow. 'Now see here, hay-bailer,’ he said planting his legs wide. ‘Harkil is a most upstanding kinsman and a valiant warrior! Why he stood beside me as we battled the dreaded Wolf of Waymeet not so long ago and triumphed!'
The stable-hand said nothing but looked down at the dwarf for a moment before turning back to his work. At first, Brimbur was at a loss for words. Then he spoke with some hesitation. ‘So you say he went off to the south and east?’ he asked, trying to sound confident.
When the stable-hand did not answer after a time, Brimbur sighed softly and turned to look about the farm. Then, adjusting his belt and sword round his waist, he made his way through the stables to the fields to the east and south. There he found a dusty lane that swept along the side of wide horse-fields, all surrounded by sturdy wooden fences. The lane wound to his right, along the fields and then began to run downwards into gently rolling meadows beyond.
Presently, Brimbur came to a closed gate; he stopped to lean on the gate and peered out over the fields uneasily towards a line of crumbling remains of ancient stone walls. His eyes passed over the horses grazing sleepily in the wide yard with much dislike and suspicion, and then he reached over the gate to unlatch it and swung it open.
Placing an unsteady hand at his sword, Brimbur swiftly began to trek across the yard, very mindful of the stares and swishing tails of the horses. Has had reached the center of the field when a voice suddenly rang out in the warm sunlight from the ruins ahead.
‘Who’s that there?’ called a deep voice and Brimbur froze mid-step, his eyes looking about nervously. Just then he spotted a very old looking and grey-bearded dwarf standing in the shadows of the ruined walls, his eyes squinting forward. In the old dwarf’s gnarled hand was tightly clenched a long-bladed knife.
'Why I am Brimbur, at your most excellent service!’ said Brimbur hastily, very glad that it was not an Orc or other such foe. ‘I am sorry to disturb you venerable master...'
‘Oh, hello,’ said the dwarf apologetically and he lowered his blade as Brimbur approached to stand in front of him. ‘Sorry about that. These old eyes aren't what they used to be. Do you have time to talk? I could use some help.’
'Help? And what sort of help would you be needing?'
'My name's Oddvarr of the Blue Mountains,’ said the dwarf with a low bow. ‘And I'm here in Bree-land on very important business. The only problem is I misplaced my pack. Now, I'm to investigate the old dwarf-ruins that are rumoured to exist here. I'm sure there are important discoveries to be made, and I'm the one to do it! I'm a famous explorer, you see.’
Brimbur tried to hide the rising laughter growing on his lips. 'Oddvarr you say?' he chuckled politely, thinking back to the mention of a strange dwarf by the stable-hand. ‘Ah but of course!’ he added swiftly with a wide knowing grin. ‘A master explorer to be sure...'
'But I digress!’ nodded the dwarf with an air of importance. ‘If you could help me find that pack, I would be indebted to you. You start looking over yonder north, and I'll search this area and to the south. If you find anything, meet me back here!’
‘Well luck has brought me here then!’ said Brimbur proudly and smoothed out the front of his tunic. ‘I thought the mention of a lone dwarf in these parts was a kinsman of mine that I was separated from. You are not he! Yet I would gladly fetch and retrieve your precious pack...it is the least I can do for such a venerable Son of Durin!’
Brimbur then gazed up at the fading sun and yawned loudly. 'Alas my recent battle with foul Orcs to rescue poor old Robb Thornley has taxed me greatly! Let me rest a bit of rest my good fellow and I shall set out to recover your missing pack!'
Brimbur bowed very low and sat down in the short grass as the dwarf went back to examining the ancient carvings on the ruined walls. Brimbur reached inside his pack for some cold bacon and cheese when he cried out, withdrawing his hand as he grimaced in pain.
'Whatever is in there?' he muttered sucking his stabbed finger. With his other hand he drew out something carefully wrapped in cloth. With curious eyes he unrolled the cloth to reveal a blade. Setting the sword across his lap, Brimbur gazed at it lovingly and traces his fingers over the metal that seemed to glimmer or flicker with an un-burning pale flame. Slowly the memory of the battle in the brigand camp crept into mind and he now recalled finding this sword at the feet of one of the ruffians.
He then took out his blanket and spread it out on the grass. Brimbur lay down as Oddvarr started a small smoky fire and he held the strange blade tightly to his chest. As the sounds of the crackling fire gently filled his ears, Brimbur muttered something softly and slowly he drifted off into a deep sleep.
The sun had not yet risen when Brimbur slowly awoke to the sounds of grumbling from the old dwarf. For long moments, he fought the notion of opening his eyes and, when he did his breath came in misted wisps in the chilled pre-dawn air. He blinked and looked about as Oddvarr turned a silent eye towards him.
'Sleeping under the stars is for hobbits and Elves...' grumbled Brimbur unhappily and he pulled the blanket up around his neck. He muttered a bit more as the old dwarf watched him curiously until at last he sat up.
'Yes, yes, your missing pack, Master Oddvarr...I have not forgotten our agreement...'
Finally, Brimbur kicked the blanket off and climbed to his feet. His put his chilled hands at his mouth and shivered in the cold predawn air. 'A bit of breakfast perhaps before I set out?' The old dwarf did not answer but simply nodded.
Brimbur spread out his damp blanket and cloak beside to fire to dry and sat down. He enjoyed a small breakfast of bread and cheese, and some freshly toasted bacon from the embers in the fire. 'So you said you were exploring the ruins over yonder when you misplaced your pack?' asked Brimbur after a time. Again the old dwarf only nodded slowly and took out his pipe to blow smoke rings to amuse himself.
Brimbur took the last bit of warm bacon and licked his greasy fingers. 'Well the ruins are not far...’ he said as he clambered to his feet. ‘It should take me only a few minutes to hike there. Rest your weary old bones here, Master Oddvarr and look for my return!’
Brimbur waved goodbye and turned to cross the field; the last stars twinkled overhead and mists had already begun to rise from the dew on the grassy earth. As he reached the fence, he stumbled onto a faded path, plain to see, along the eastern edge of the field. It wound northwards for some distance, and then began to run upwards towards a small hillock.
Brimbur paused and looked about, first towards the looming hill ahead, and then away to the west where there could be seen the Hengstacer Farm; wisps of rising smoke could be seen rising from the buildings there in the dim air. Soon, the low but wide hill came full into view ahead. It was shaded by several leafy and tall elm trees and the remains of crumbling ruins, much weathered, crowned its height.
Dug into the steep slope that led up from the fields he spotted stairs of stone, very cracked and worn, to a floor of broken and pitted stonework. Tall pillars of stone rose from the floor that once held a magnificent stone roof overhead, but many were broken and the roof long ago fallen.
The dwarf stood uncertain for a moment to gaze upon the hill before hurrying along to scramble up the rocky slope until at last he had reached the top. He had only just set one foot upon the stone floor when he shrank back as voices cried out ahead, harsh and cruel.
He glanced over one shoulder back towards the horse-fields and then willed his unmoving legs forward step by slow step. He scrambled up the rocky slope to the ruins and crouched beside a crumbled pillar of stone twice his height. He blinked with astonishment and fear for standing amidst the ruins were two Orcs, each nearly as tall as a Man, swart and slant-eyed.
The Orcs did not at first notice the dwarf, and they seemed to be having some heated debate or argument; he could not understand their quarrel in their foul orc-tongue but they gave off a frightful racket and brandished their weapons threateningly at one another.
Just then Brimbur’s eyes fell upon something lying atop the broken stones a few steps ahead. It was a well-worn leather pack. He watched the Orcs for some time, licking his twitching lips nervously; poor Brimbur was paralyzed with fear. He dared not turn to flee back down the hill, or the Orcs would surely spot him at once. And he was more than certain that he had no desire to move closer.
Brimbur knew that he ought to do something at once. Part of himself, a very large part, told him to turn and creep back as carefully as he might back down the hill. Oddvarr had said nothing of Orcs, he thought bitterly, and what is Orc-hunting to do with him at all? Better to flee now before the foul creatures spotted him, pack or no pack.
But even as his heart froze up with mindless fear, a deeper part of the dwarf now began to whisper softly. His thoughts turned to images of Tharonin, and of Darramir and of Harkil. Before he even had the chance to think about it, Brimbur held his breath and slinked forward from the pillar until he was crouching beside the rock and pack.
For several long and agonizing moments, the dwarf hesitated beside the rock, the desire to turn and run growing ever stronger in his belly. Then, he swallowed hard and plucked up his courage. Glancing towards the Orcs, he crept forward and reached for the pack with shaking hands.
But at once Brimbur was instantly betrayed and the Orcs whirled round, and their cruel dark eyes fell upon him. With a horrible cry, they leapt at him with their wicked-looking blades. Brimbur shut his eyes tightly and he said faintly, ‘Elbereth…help me!’ not knowing exactly what he just spoke that rushed to mind. Then his voice grew clear and strong, as if spoken by another, and he cried again.
‘Gilthoniel A Elbereth!’
One of the Orcs, its bloodshot eyes glaring at Brimbur with unbridled hate, took a gasping breath and stopped short aghast. It crouched low and then with a hideous yelp of fear it turned and fled back across the ruins in an unexpected flight.
For a single long agonizing moment, he looked with surprise as the Orc disappeared from the ruins. But he was brought to the present as the other Orc loomed towering over him. All that sprang to mind for poor Brimbur as, ‘Run!’ His heart leapt in his chest and he sprang back, the pack held tightly against his breast. The Orc bared its filthy yellow fangs and drew back it blade.
Without a second thought, Brimbur turned and fled down the slope, so swiftly that he slid partially downwards nearly falling over several times. The Orc immediately gave chase, cursing loudly and shouting as he pursued him. On he ran and ever he could feel the hot stinking breath of the Orc on his back.
He ran and ran, until his breath came in great gasps and his chest burned like a hot furnace. All the way across the field and down the lane towards the farm he ran without pause. Only as the line of ruined walls came into view did Brimbur dare to glance over one shoulder. Much to his surprise, he found that the Orc had given up the chase and turned to stalk back up the slope, grumbling and cursing in its foul tongue.
Chapter Thirty-two: Trestlebridge – 7 Astron, 3016 TA
The morning had grown lighter and warmer as Brimbur made his way quietly down the Greenway. From the Northern Bree-fields, the road swung into a narrow ravine with steep shoulders that rose up upon either side. Further on to the south were dreary hills rising higher and higher, the frowning tops dark with trees. Brimbur was glum now as he passed under the shadows of the tall cliffs and he began muttering softly. His eyes darted back and forth at ominous rustling in the trees off the road that came unwanted to his ears.
‘Orcs…’ he said with a slight shiver. ‘I am sure of it…’
He was rightfully considering turning round to return to the horse farm when he stopped and peered carefully ahead. Through the fir trees he could see a light flickering, as if from a campfire or torch twinkling. He hastened his pace down the road until suddenly the trees sprang back and he stepped from the forest into hazy sunlight, as if masked by thick grayish clouds.
Brimbur looked up and saw that the Greenway wound down a slight slope towards a wall of stone and timbers that delved into the sides of the ravine. Piercing the wall was a gate looking westwards that passed through an arched tunnel. ‘Ah, thank goodness,’ sighed the dwarf. ‘A town at last.’
But Brimbur’s mood quickly soured as he strode towards the gates for there stood guards in mail that watched him with dark unfriendly eyes and gripped their weapons tightly. The dwarf tugged at his short beard nervously as he bowed hesitantly under the distrustful gaze of the grim-looking guards and then hurried through the gate without a word.
He came out of the shadow of the gate and the image of the suspicious guards melted away as he looked out over the town within. A smile began to creep upon Brimbur’s face as took a gleeful step forward down the lane, the thoughts of a mug of ale now growing in his mind. But the grin soon slipped from his face and his eyes turned to columns of smoke that rose wisping into the air from many ruined buildings about.
'Oh no...' Brimbur suddenly muttered. ‘Not again…’
Most of the fires that had only recently leapt from the thatched roofs and wooden beams of the buildings had been extinguished but some sparks remained among the ruins. Water dripped and puddled about where buckers had been flung by many hands in desperation of the inferno that had engulfed the town.
Makeshift sheltered, most nothing more than shacks or wretched-looking tents, had been hastily constructed and open-air fires were burning to keep away the wet and cold and sorrow at night for the many whose homes were lost. The townsfolk were gathered here and there in small mournful groups or wandered aimlessly about with no direction or hope.
Brimbur’s eyes turned to the grey hurrying mist overhead and he saw grayish speck of snow falling gently in the air. One touched his face and he dabbed it with a finger. To his surprise it was not snow but ash and it smeared across his check and onto his gloved finger.
Just then a sorrowful sob reached Brimbur’s ears and he turned towards a forlorn-looking man standing beside the burnt-out ruins of a cottage beside the road. ‘Hello,’ he said softly and held back the rising tears in his eyes. ‘Whatever happened here?’
The man looked up at the dwarf with astonishment, and gazed with surprise at Brimbur’s fine cloak and tunic unblemished unlike so much else about. ‘They came on us in the night…’ he said tearfully. ‘They were everywhere. We lost so many…so many…’
'Who...who came in the night?' whispered Brimbur with a shudder and he began to glance about with ill-ease.
The man slowly seemed to not notice the dwarf standing there and he gazed about with absolute dejection. ‘Nellie is leading these people on a fool’s errand. Trestlebridge is as good as lost!’ he said softly.
‘Nellie?’ asked Brimbur. ‘Who is Nellie?’
Brimbur presses for more but the man only began to mumble softly and said nothing more. Brimbur looked up at the ruins of the cottage and then turned away to slowly make his way further into the town. Along the lane he passed the townsfolk, who stood shivering in the cold wind. Little hope sparkled in their dim eyes and many seemed sick from hunger or illness and some bore terrible wounds and unhealed scars.
Presently Brimbur halted and looked about as a woman’s voice cried out suddenly. 'You there, I need your help!’ He turned and spied a spotted a good-woman standing on the raised stone porch of one of the few building still intact. He glanced about and then pointed one hand hesitantly to his chest. ‘Me?’ he said startled.
The woman nodded and Brimbur trotted up the steps. ‘Our poor town is constantly under attack from those foul Orcs,’ she said sadly. ‘All of us are doing our part to help Trestlebridge survive, and I'm charged with getting supplies to maintain the barricades.’
‘Ah, foul Orcs…’ Brimbur said with a knowing nod and then fell silent for the woman to continue.
'The problem is that the outlying farmers were supposed to be bringing some of the supplies we need, only their farms were overrun by Orcs. They barely escaped and the Orcs scattered their goods. I would send for supplies from the south, but Orcs block that route as well.’
Brimbur frowned slightly and tugged at his short beard for a moment. ‘Orcs to the south? Oh yes, I crossed their path on my journey here! Ambushed by them I was...one moment I was striding down the Greenway and before I knew it a dozen Orcs had surrounded me!’ He patted the blade at his side and smiled broadly. ‘If it were not for my blade I would have surely fallen to them! They fled after I slew half of their numbers but only just!’
The woman fell silent as a glimmer of hope slowly crept into her face. ‘We need those stolen supplies!’ she said desperately. ‘The three things we need are the barrel of nails they were carrying, a crate of hammers, and a crate of saws. The Orcs should have them at their camps to the north-east.’
'But of course!’ answered Brimbur with a wink and slight grin. ‘You should do your utmost to retrieve those supplies...’ then he blanched and looked up at the woman. ‘I am sorry say that again?'
‘I need those supplies if I am to have what is needed to maintain the barricades. You should find the barrel of nails, the crates of saws, and hammers at the Orc camps north of Trestlebridge near the Greenway.’
‘But how can I recover those supplies alone...?' bemoaned the dwarf suddenly. He began to protest very loudly, saying, ‘Now see here, there must be plenty of guards still standing strong. Why not ask them for some help?’
But the woman only stared silently at him until he began to grow uncomfortable. ‘I suppose I could go in search of these supplies...' he said at last. 'But an entire camp of Orcs?' he added hesitantly. He then sighed long and loud then turned aside and strolled back up the lane, muttering softly to himself as he went.
‘Now you’ve done it!’ he said. ‘Everyone with a sad story and you have to go ahead and agree to help these poor souls out…why I still have a very long road ahead of me!’
He had not gone far along the lane when suddenly he noticed a tall Man watching him with curious eyes. The Man strode straight up at him, calling out as he did so. ‘Hail dwarf! You don’t see many of your folk out here. May I ask why you are here?’
'Well hello there!' stammered the dwarf and put a hand guardedly onto his pouch. He then grumbled and bowed very low. ‘Forgive my manners! Well met I should say…I am Brimbur at your most excellent service!’ he said further with another bow. ‘But is this? Many of us? Oh, dwarves you mean…I am on my way to the town of Esteldar...no, no...Estalsan I think...’
'So it is...’ answered then Man with a smirk. Then his mood hardened and grew grim. ‘Have you heard of what is happening within Rohan?'
'Rohan?’ said Brimbur as he scratched his head. ‘Is that near Bree? Oh yes it is, of course, one of the small villages in the Chetwood, correct?'
'It be near Gondor, and rumor is uruks are pillaging it as we speak. When my business is done within the west I will begin to move there to assist with my sword and shield.'
'Gondor...Gondor...’ stammered the dwarf. ‘Oh yes, Gondor, of course. That is what I meant! Why that is a good fellow to lend them some help!’
The Man looked at him gravely. 'I myself hail from Gondor. I lived in a small village leagues from Minas Tirith.’ He then gazed down at the sword on Brimbur’s belt. ‘Your blade must have taken some work to obtain. Well a stout dwarf like you seems to be able to handle himself in a battle.'
'Ah but of course,’ answered Brimbur as he stifled back a growing yawn on his lips. ‘As I said I am Brimbur, loyal and the most steadfast companion to Lord Glóin! Why it was this very blade that held back terrible trolls on our journey across the dreadful Misty Mountain passes that brought me here!'
'A dangerous path indeed,’ said the Man.
'Indeed it was!’ laughed Brimbur heartily. ‘And yet the look upon Lord Glóin’s face when I felled the last of the trolls was all the reward I could ever ask for!'
The Man nodded once more and called for his horse with a shrill whistle. 'Anyway it was a pleasure Brimbur, perhaps we shall meet on future travels,’ he said solemnly. He then reached into a pocket and dew out a small handful of coins and out forth his outstretched hand. ‘You may need these on future journeys friend.'
Brimbur took one of the coins and bite into it with doubtful eyes. ‘And what boon would this be?’ he asked suspiciously.
‘You my small lad may have use of it in some way,’ said the Man as he leapt into the saddle of his horse. He spurred the horse round, and began galloping down the lane. Brimbur ran after him, waving one hand into the air and cried out. ‘Fare well then my good friend! And thank you ever so much for the gift!’
He watched as the rider disappeared from view down the lane and then slowly glanced about glumly. ‘Smoke and ruins…’ he muttered softly. ‘And no sign of a surviving inn of course…’
Chapter Thirty-three: One Thing after Another – 8 Astron, 3016 TA
‘This is good and fine workmanship, even for wood and field-stone…’ said Brimbur with a bright smile as he stomped his boots onto the bridge with a heavy sound. ‘It must be of dwarven workmanship!’ he added with pride as he looked ahead.
What he looked onto was a bridge of wood spanning across a great chasm; even to his eyes the bridge seemed very recently built and was not quite finished. Far below the bridge lay a broad rushing river as it wound through a deep gorge that flowed down and to the East. The dwarf looked back up the lane that led through the still-sleepy and smoking ruins of Trestlebridge with a sigh, then turned to begin marching across the bridge. As he did, Brimbur began to whistle a soft tune that seemed to keep pace in tune with his footfalls.
The young dwarf’s mood had greatly improved since arriving in Trestlebridge. He did not sing or tell any more stories that evening as he sat beside one of the many crackling fires even though the growing dusk turned out warm and clear. He just lay there under the slowly twinkling stars, and his thoughts were of a much more somber visage. He had begun to feel that he was very foolish in undertaking this long arduous journey and Brimbur felt that danger was not far away on the road still ahead.
When morning came, dark and dreary, his mood was none the better as patches of pale sunlight hinted through grey clouds in the sky. ‘Rain I suppose…’ he muttered in a solemn voice and looked up with gloominess. Suddenly he thought of the smoky comfortable halls of Ered Luin, seated beside a nice fire sipping one of his favorite ales and listened to the deep sonorous voices of kinsmen echoing through the halls.
Yet, after a rather skimpy and cold breakfast, the morning mists began to melt away and the smell of pine-trees lofted about in the air. His spirits rose a bit as they threatening rain seemed to hesitate though the sky remained dark and ominous overhead.
Brimbur was nearly half-way across when he absently kicked a small stone over the edge of the bridge. The dwarf froze in place and, for several beats of his heart, there came no sound. Then, far below, there came a plunk, very distant, as the stone fell into the cold water with a splash that echoed slowly up the vast chasm. Then he crept cautiously up to the edge and gazed down into the chilled mists that rose from the water far below and the great cacophony from the sweeping water seemed almost deafening to the poor dwarf. He shuddered slightly and his head began to swim from the dizzying height and he took a careful step back from the ledge.
Brimbur looked down miserably at the river, trying to shake his light-headedness; finally, Brimbur willed himself back from the edge and scampered towards the far side of the bridge. He did not go far when he came to another abrupt halt as he reached the end; the dwarf’s eyes eyes darted round into the faces of the many guards and watchers that stood there, wary and alert, as if expecting an attack at any moment.
Brimbur bowed low towards the nearest guard, and then smiled meekly at the lot of them as their eyes seized him instantly and suspiciously. ‘Whatever is going on here?’ he said with an uneasy squeaking voice.
‘We have managed to repel attacks on Trestlebridge,’ answered one of the guards grimly, mindful to keep his eyes trained out ahead. ‘But for how long can we continue?’
‘Repelled an attack?’ murmured Brimbur softly and frightfully. ‘An attack by whom or what?’ But his teeth began to chatter and all he could make out was a single word spoken by the wary guard. ‘Orcs!’ answered Brimbur as he took a step back onto the bridge. He glanced up at the guard for more news, but the Man grew silent.
Brimbur looked at the two more guards some steps away from the first; they stood tall and watchful, gazing out unwinking over the grassy fields beyond the bridge. He stepped forward very cautiously and perked his ears as one began to whisper softly to the other.
‘Do you see anything?’ asked the guard hesitantly. For a long moment the other did not speak, but shielded the sun from her eyes and looked out warily. ‘I don’t see anything,’ she said finally with a whisper of her own. ‘The Orcs must be regrouping for their next attack.’
Just then Brimbur’s boot snapped a twig on the ground and the guards whirled round to face him, their eyes gleaming with worried dislike at the sound. ‘So sorry…must be Elven wood left discarded about. Someone ought to clean it up…’ he muttered quieted with a slight shrug. ‘What are you watching for?’ he asked quickly, trying to quickly change the subject.
The first guard only muttered something soft and quiet under his breath, the second, a tall fair-haired woman, turned her gaze back over the grass. ‘Take care if your journey brings you north,’ she said grimly. ‘There are Orcs among the Downs.’
‘Yes so I was told,’ answered Brimbur. ‘And yet I have undertaken a most perilous mission for Elsie Woodruff, if you must know,’ he answered shivering. ‘So I must brave those fields ahead no matter the danger.’ But the dwarf did not sound so convincing, especially with every glance back over the bridge as if he might take off scampering across it at any moment.
The tall woman turned a silent eye to the dwarf and simply nodded. Brimbur took a slow step forward to stand beside here and followed her gaze ahead. Then he spoke. ‘But I have little time to spare helping your folk and time is a’wasting even as I stand here chatting with you,’ he said with a ruffling of his tunic.
‘Somber and grim your watch here must be no doubt!’ With that his voice cracked and he set his gloved hand to his mouth, regretting the short cry that now rose up. Again he began to apologize as the guards stared at him and called for silence.
Now quiet and somewhat discomforted by the watchers’ words, Brimbur hurried on from the bridge. For a moment he stumbled and looked hesitantly back at the guards as his legs seemed to lose all motion. He lifted a hand as if to call back to them; but just as swiftly his hand lowered and he went away down a dry dusty path winding from the bridge away to the east.
Soon the bridge was some distance behind as the dwarf went further along the dusty path. Despite the early hours before Noon-time, a great weariness began to creep over Brimbur; he stifled back a soft yawn or two (more to cut off a rising shriek then of tiredness) and he glanced about anxiously, wondering what he just may find ahead.
‘Oh to be bothered with hunting lost nails and barrels…’ he began to mutter softly as he picked his way carefully down the path. He had gone only a short distance further along when suddenly in the stillness he heard a sound that flooded his heart with dread: the noise of approaching marching feet. It was still some ways off ahead but it was moving a quick pace and rapidly drawing near. Frantically Brimbur looked about in desperation. ‘I am trapped!’ he thought suddenly. He looked wildly towards thick brush to one side of the path; to it he ran and dove into the thickets with a leap and sank to the ground.
With his head in the earth, he waited unmoving until the sound of marching feet passed away and could no longer be heard. Only then did he, very slowly, begin to crawl through the thick brush on all fours for a good way until he reached the mossy trunk of a fallen tree beside the path. For long moments he lay there with his head on the ground; at last he raised his head and looked from underneath the tree-trunk with a sudden sense of complete miserableness.
At first all Brimbur could glimpse was a pale light that came into the sky across the path, a blaze of yellow fire that was lit behind a stand of dark trees. For a moment, he was terribly afraid, wondering what dreadful thing lay for him ahead. He rubbed his eyes and dared to crawl a bit closer to the fallen tree, clutching and the thick bough, and looked out. A cold wind blew across his face as he sat up; evening was still far off but more dark clouds had rushed up from the south and the sun was blotted and dim in the sky.
It was a filthy camp that he looked upon and all about the camp lay a small company of Orcs; there were several large Orcs, almost man-high, among shorter, more crooked-legged Orcs with very long arms, bearing stout bows of wood.
One of the Orcs seated beside the smoking fire laughed at another in its foul tongue and bared its yellow fangs in the air; at once Brimbur’s spirits sank and he grew very frightened. To the other side of the fire a scuffle broke out among the Orcs and blades were drawn, but the strife soon passed into a long stream of loud angry cursing that only slowly died away.
Brimbur lay there unable to move, his heart seeming to beat loudly in his head and into the air above, so much that he at once grew afraid that the Orcs might have heard. At once he imaged being in the midst of the camp, a wall of orc-faces grinning down on him as hideous orc-arms reached and grasped at him from all sides. For a moment, Brimbur was beside himself with fear. He could not think of what to do, nor could he think what might happen, except to imagine all the horrible outcomes if he was taken prisoner by the Orcs.
And so minutes passed and soon he had been lying there, quiet and out of sight, for more than an hour. He was feeling quite alone and crushed, unable to go forward and too witless to go back. Then he felt the sword at his belt with a shaky hand. He looked down at the blade as if noticing it for the very first time. Now he drew the blade from its simple scabbard and cupped the long blade in his hands; it was dim and shone no shine as he lifted it to his eyes, but surprisingly he suddenly felt somewhat comforted. ‘Still keen after so many years since your crafting…’ he said quietly. ‘They say you were crafted long ago for the great wars against the Witch-King of Angmar…I can only hope that be so very true!’
He sheathed the sword and dared another look over the camp. ‘Let me sss...see...’ he began with chattering teeth. ‘One, two, three...four Orcs...' he added with a worrisome mutter. He began to wring his hands over and over and suddenly froze and looked out with blinking eyes. He watched as one of the larger Orcs stood and strode towards a large wooden barrel on the far side of the camp. The Orc paused before kicking it with its iron-nailed boot; the barrel rang aloud with the hefty resounding clatter of rattling nails inside.
Well...there are some of the nails Elsie spoke of,’ he said grimly. ‘And in the middle of an Orc camp of course...' Brimbur pulled back deeper into the brush and fell silent and moody for some time. Finally he spoke.
‘I cannot stride into that camp alone,’ he said frightfully. ‘And that barrel won’t come simply if I call it like some lapping hound. Only one thing to do…’ Suddenly Brimbur began to scurry on hands and knees through the brush once more until he came out on the far side away from the camp and safely out of sight. ‘I need a steadfast companion for this task…who could possible refuse the very companion of Lord Glóin himself. After all, am I not the Defender of Waymeet no less?’
With that he stood up and began trotting across the grass along with his sword held out in front of him as fast as his dwarf-legs could carry him, his poor heart beating like a kettle drum until at last the bridge finally came into view ahead.
Chapter Thirty-four: One of the Fair Folk – 9 to 10 Astron, 3016 TA
Brimbur spent a cold and lonely day back safely at the town and his spirits fell. There was no laughter or song or tale from the young dwarf, and he scarcely noticed the forlorn folk that came and went about during the long day. Brimbur thought endlessly back to the Orc-camp and more than once he tore at his short beard, unable to uncover the means to retrieve the barrel of nails there and his spirits fell. Certainly he could not hope to return alone, and yet little else came to mind.
With such gloomy thoughts, Brimbur sat beside a crackling fire, and gazed out upon the dismal smoking village of Trestlebridge. It was mid-spring and winter had long passed; it had seemed a lifetime since he had departed from his beloved halls high up in Ered Luin and Brimbur struggled to recall the faintest of images in his mind. He felt so alone in this perilous land, without hope of help. He was drawing near the end of his long journey, but as far as he had already come, the remainder seemed impossibly far away. Frankly the poor dwarf had little spirit left to continue on.
And so the day drew on as noon passed and the shadows of afternoon grew long. Brimbur had all but given all hope when, very unexpectedly, he found what he was seeking - or rather it found him. There suddenly came the sound of ringing laughter and a clear voice spoke in the fair Elven-tongue.
Brimbur looked up as there came the light sound of clippety-clop of an approaching horse, mingling with the soft gentle ringing of small bells. Just then there appeared a magnificent white horse and rider, but no ordinary rider it was, for her fair shimmering hair gleamed in the failing sunlight and faint stars seemed to crown her brow.
Brimbur leapt to his feet with a bright astonished smile and cried out, ‘Why one of the fairest of folk here of all people! Gracious me! Now don't tell me...certainly you must be a daughter of Fëanor!’
The Elf slid down from the saddle to stand over the beaming dwarf. ‘Heavens no, I am simply Laureliel,’ said the Elf with a laugh of amusement.
Brimbur returned the laugh as he put out a hand to shake hers. ‘Ah, fair Laureliel...a fine name indeed then!’ He then bowed low and proper, adding. ‘Well met then, I am Brimbur at your most excellent service! 'What good tidings it is to find one of the fair folk at my side in such an hour of need!’
The Elf smiled warmly at the dwarf. ‘And how do you find yourself in such distressing surroundings...there have been battles fought here, you can smell the stench of despair in the air here.’
Brimbur tugged at his beard and glanced about sadly. ‘Yes...despair, as such I have not ever seen,’ he said softly. ‘Yet I may have the chance to change that for the better for these battered folk here.’
‘I will do what I can to assist them as well,’ she answered with a smile.
‘Your generous words warm my heart!’ he cried out. Then the dwarf beckoned the Elf closer, and he leaned in close conspiratorially with a whisper. ‘Well it seems that foul Orcs have raided certain much needed supplies from the outlying farms that are required for the rebuilding efforts...a certain Miss Elsie has asked me to recover these supplies for the good of the people here...naturally I have agreed to do so!’
Again the Elf smiled. ‘My trusted bow shall aid you in your efforts then, master Brimbur.’
‘Very good then, Laureliel!’ he laughed aloud with a wide grin. His hand fell to the hilt of the blade at his belt. ‘This blade was crafted long ago to fight the wrath of Angmar and yet even in my trusted hands, it is not enough to complete this task! Together we will triumph where so many here have not! And with me at your side you shan't fear the Orcs...why I am none other than the most trustful and faithful companion of Lord Glóin, my most treasured of kinsmen!'
‘Then I am most fortunate to have met you, Master Brimbur,’ laughed the Elf aloud.
The dwarf grinned and with a wink said, ‘Then let us rest until dawn and we shall set out!’
Dawn came pale from the East the next morning. As the light grew it filtered through the grey smoke about the town and chill did the wind blow in the growing morning. The pale blue sky peered over the horizon. There beside the fire lay Brimbur, his red hood pulled tight over his bearded head so that only the tip of his nose shone out.
‘Dawn indeed,’ he snorted as he poked one eye out into the dim light. At first a look of aghast washed over his face when his waking eyes saw no signs of the Elf. He quickly stood up and looked frantically about. It was just then when Laureliel appeared to one side without a sound or footfall.
Brimbur wiped a single bead of damp from his shaking brow and then smiled at the Elf. ‘Ah, Miss Laureliel, you made it at last...I thought perhaps you had given up in aiding me and I would have to face the Orcs alone!’ He mumbled something and then added hastily, ‘Not that I was concerned at that prospect, mind you...’
Laureliel smiled warmly down at the dwarf. ‘No, I wouldn't abandon such a worthy cause.’
Brimbur took in a deep breath and then began to cough and sputter from the drifting smoke and ash in the air. ‘Well, if our bargain still holds let us be off then. Follow me!’
With the dwarf in the lead, the companions made their way swiftly through the town and across the long wooden expanse of the Trestlespan. Neither spoke until they neared the northern end of the bridge. It was Brimbur that finally spoke first. ‘There are mannish guards at the far end so be wary...’ he whispered ominously. ‘Orcs have been known to assault the very bridge in hopes of gaining passage across!’
With one step off the bridge, Brimbur nodded politely to the watchers and gazed out thoughtfully. ‘Now let me see here....oh yes, down that path to the right. I found a foul Orc camp. And there I believe are some of the precious but stolen supplies that Elsie so desperately needs!’
Laureliel followed the dwarf’s outstretched arm into the distance to the east. Brimbur shivered slightly and then looked sidelong up at the Elf, and then down to her bow hung on her shoulder. ‘Perhaps you should take the lead and I shall watch our rear in case we fall to a devious Orc ambush?’
‘If you wish, Master Brimbur,’ answered the Elf quietly.
And so they headed off down the rutted path that struck east and north. Soon it left the towering cliffs beside the rushing waters far below and a tall hillock drew ever nearer. Atop the distant hill stood ugly but stout-looking palisades of wood and timber; the smoke from many fires rose from within and dim figures could be seen pacing about several entrances through the walls.
Laureliel peered into the distance. There came no sound, even the leaves in the trees were silent. ‘What do you see?’ hissed Brimbur softly. But the Elf did not answer. She fitted an arrow to her bow and went ahead; Laureliel was light of feet and was soon some paces ahead before the dwarf tore his eyes from the grim walls atop the hill. He looked about nervously and then shuffled after her.
They have not gone far when Laureliel halted and called the dwarf to her side. She pointed off into the distance in a stand of tall trees where a collection of drab and filthy tents stood around a great smoking fire. ‘Is that where we seek?’ she asked and then took a step forward.
Brimbur lurched forward and pulled her back by one arm. . ‘Now let's not be too hasty!’ he said quickly, the very idea that they were indeed going to enter the Orc camp disturbed the dwarf mightily. ‘We certainly cannot go tramping down the path and waltz in the camp ...I spotted patrolling Orcs all along its path before. Perhaps we can skirt the tree over there to our right first?’
Without waiting for an answer, Brimbur looked about before scrambling off the road and into the tall grass. He passed several long strides and then halted for a moment. He sank to the ground and began crawling on his belly through the grass until he reached the far side.
Brimbur scrambles off the road and into the short grass. He halted and bends down for a moment and then scampered towards the distant trees, his head turning round fearfully. Then he parted the grass with a shaky hand and peered out.
They had made their way round the southern side of the camp, which was now hidden behind a low rise of ground. He started a little and bit his lip when the Elf came crawling to his side. Brimbur glowered at the Elf and then looked out, pointing up into the bough of the trees. ‘See there...those foul birds? We must silence them so that they do not alert the Orcs in the camp beyond!’
Laureliel nodded and rose to one knee. She fitted an arrow to her bow and then released; the arrow gleamed fiery red in the growing light as it shot into the trees. Brimbur stifled back a happy cry as he watched the nasty bird fall silently from the boughs and into the tall grass. ‘Excellent!’ he hissed. ‘Now see there ahead? That is the camp I spoke of. On this side lies the barrel we seek. And there are many tall Orcs guarding it.’
Laureliel said nothing but stood up tall, fair and terrible in the sunlight. Much to Brimbur’s frightened surprise, she cried aloud in the fair Elven tongue and her voice echoed through the tall trees. From over the rise came harsh cries and the ringing of drawn weapons. ‘Are you quite mad?’ hissed the dwarf fearfully. But his concern was quickly shadowed when, at that moment, there came wild cries as several Orcs came rushing over the rise. One great Orc, a large swart and slant-eyed brute, came forward as the others stalked behind him. The Orcs jeered and laughed that threatened to shake poor Brimbur to his very foundations.
Just as the large Orc sprang forward, the Elf’s bow sang; an arrow whined through the air and the Orc fell sprawling as the arrow passed through its throat and lay still. Before the Orcs could scarcely cry or curse, Laureliel leapt forward, and her blade flashed out like white fire. For an instant, Brimbur stood dumb and then drew his sword from his blade and followed with a stifled cry lumping in his throat as a hail of arrows whistled over his head.
Now, standing beside the tall Elf, Brimbur looked out as the Orcs swarmed around them, and their cries came loud and harsh in his ears so much that he began to tremble. The Elf’s voice rang out clear and beautiful and everywhere she turned death came to the Orcs. For his part, Brimbur choked back a wash of tears, stabbing out with his sword when an Orc drew too close.
Suddenly, one Orc, a short crook-legged fellow with long arms, came rushing at him with slavering yellow fangs. With a hoarse shout it drew up tall over him and struck out with long cruel knife. Brimbur ducked under its stroke and stabbed upwards with his sword. The blade passed into its belly and black blood washed over his gloved hand. The Orc gurgled with unblinking eyes and then toppled over, nearly wrenching the blade from Brimbur’s hands.
Then all went silent. Brimbur stood rubbing his eyes thinking he had dreamed it all; all about the ground lay a half a dozen Orcs and beside him stood Laureliel, her fair Elven hair shimmering in the soft sunlight. Brimbur was shaking, chilled as a stone in deep snow. It was then that he drew a sharp breath and placed a hand upon his shoulder. He was bleeding at the shoulder; a glancing blow had struck him and it was only then that he was aware of the wound.
‘We won?’ he said aloud with a quaking voice, almost fearful to speak should it not be true.
‘Yes we won,’ answered the Elf.
Brimbur grinned wide and laughed suddenly aloud despite his shaking lips. ‘Indeed we did master Laureliel!’ Then the poor dwarf burst into tears unashamed; he wiped his face and looked up at the Elf. ‘I have lost part of my beard, I think…’ he said with a shuddering voice.
Chapter Thirty-five: A Dwarven Thief – 11 to 12 Astron, 3016 TA
With the aid of the Elf, Laureliel, Brimbur had not only came out of the battle with the Orcs in that dreadful camp, but he had also returned with a bagful of precious nails to present to Elsie Woodruff. After speaking with Elsie, the two companions sat beside one of the many crackling fires about Trestlebridge; while the Elf produced some lembas and fruit, Brimbur poured a pair of wooden mugs full of sweet ale from a bottle he had saved all the way from Bree for such an illustrious occasion. Brimbur relished the thin Elven cakes and ate his share quickly, much to the delight of Laureliel, who laughed at him with mild amusement. The two raised their mugs and toasted their good fortune and victory over the Orcs. Brimbur drained his mug and wiped the foam from his beard, and then laid down beside the fire.
As he lay there, he could hear the soft murmuring voice of the Elf. For a moment, Brimbur envisioned harsh and spiteful faces of Orcs leering at him from out of a great darkness. But the horrible faces melted swiftly away as his thoughts returned to the gentle singing of the Elf. He began to hum the song in tune quietly, and he soon drifted off to sleep with her voice floating softly in his ears.
It was long into the night, when Brimbur woke up. The dwarf sat up sleepily and glared at the dying fire. He then turned to admonish his companion who obviously had allowed the fire to grow low and nearly expire. He blinked, and then rubbed his eyes, and groaned aloud. The source of his sudden grief was that there was no sign of the Elf, Laureliel.
So the night passed, and the day passed even slowly and wearily for the young dwarf. He sat diligently beside the fire, calling out to all passersby of word of the Elf and bade each to look eagerly for Laureliel about the town. Truthfully, Brimbur had grown afraid once again, wondering what would happen should the Elf not return. And as fate would have it, Laureliel did not return and no word of her passing came to the poor dwarf. But, as the day drew to a close, the beginnings of a plan began to grow into his thick worrisome head.
That evening Brimbur made up his mind. He waited long into the night and when the sky was black and moonless, he tightened his belt round his waist, and stole quietly from the town. At the far end of the Trestlespan, he found a watchful guard there, keeping a wary eye for Orcs out of the fields and hills beyond. 'It's mighty cold tonight!' he said to the guard, and warmed his chilled hands with his misting breath.
The guard nodded in silent agreement and drew his cloak about himself. Brimbur turned his eyes out into the darkness and then back to the guard. 'Well...I must be off then!' he said, trying to sound confident.
With one last desperate glance back over the bridge, he set out. At first Brimbur skirted the worn rutted path that led to the first camp from the day before. But as he nearer it, he turned aside and cut a path through the darkened grass to the north of the path. It was dark, so dark that he could only see a few paces ahead, and the air seemed so silent that he imagined he could hear his very beard rustling in the gentle evening breeze.
He wandered on as a distant reddish glow began to faintly appear in the sky to the east. After some distance he could see before him ridges and slopes rising towards the dreaded wooden palisades of the formidable camp atop the tall hill. Somewhere in the gloom ahead he could hear faintly the voices of Orcs clamouring in the darkness. Brimbur's head began to ache and his eyes imagined the dim shadowy of Orcs everywhere in the darkness. He waved his hand in the air, scarcely able to even see the movement, and then shivered. The he looked up and saw something.
All seemed ominously quiet suddenly. Ahead through a thicket of brambles and brush he saw sullen glow of red; not from the sky but along the ground. His fear of Orcs now grew nearly overwhelming to the poor dwarf and yet he saw there was one one possible course of action. He took a step forward into the brush; suddenly his knees felt weak and he found that he was trembling. Brimbur bend down on all fours and, forcing his unwilling limbs to move, he slowly began crawling forward.
After a short distance, the reddish glow drew uncomfortably nearer, and again there came the unmistakable harsh voices of Orcs, only this time much closer. He leaned forward to part the brush, and peered out only to just as hastily draw back frightfully. It was the flickering light of orc-fires that now danced on the dwarf's face as he gazed out over a small orc-camp on the far side of the thickets. The camp was filled with Orcs, most sleeping on the bare ground, but a few still stirred and there came a snarl followed by a blow as two of them began arguing, that nearly sent Brimbur scampering back through the thicket.
Brimbur pulled back and sat down in the brush. For the moment, he could not drive himself forward. He knew he stood little chance against so many Orcs and he felt that once he stepped out of the thicket they would spot him and that would be the end. He thought of what to do; going back seemed no choice, but the very notion of going forward seemed even less likely. At last, and with great desperation, he turned his eyes back to the camp, listening with all his ears for some sign or idea.
Much to his surprise, Brimbur soon discovered that a crate sat atop the ground only a few steps into the camp on the nearer side. More so, he saw that only a single Orc stood watch on the approach to the camp from where he was hiding. Now he thought back to the plan he had begun to hatch back in Trestlebridge.
'Some plan indeed!' he snorted quietly. 'Was the plan to crawl my way through thickets from here to Esteldin?' His voice fell to quiet grumbling. For a good while he sat there in the grass; but before he could consider what he was about to do now, Brimbur rose to one knee and scanned about the ground feverishly. He picked up a large stone and hefted it into the air to test its weight. He swallowed, and then tossed the stone through the air and it came down with a rolling thud into the orc-camp.
Brimbur held his breath and blinked as he watched the Orc turn yellowed wide eyes to the sound of the stone. Ready for anything and now quit alert, the Orc left the side of the crate and went over to check on the strange sound. For a moment, the dwarf was washed with a pang of fear and terror, and he forgot all about his held breath.
Brimbur was terribly frightened, but he had the sense to understand this would be his only chance. 'I must get that crate, I must!' he suddenly murmured over and over as he watched the Orc bend down to pick up the stone in the dirt he had tossed moments earlier. Then the dwarf scrambled out of the brush on all fours. He watched the Orc, leapt to his feet, forgetting of even to draw his sword, and ran for the crate. The moment he tried to lift the crate from the ground, he let out a groan; again he struggled to lift it but found it weighed a considerable amount. He tugged and strained but it was no use.
Suddenly there came a hoarse cry; it was the Orc who had now turned and saw the dim shape of the dwarf in the light of the nearby fires. With a dreadful yell the Orc rushed upon him,a a cruel knife clutched in its hand. Brimbur's heart leapt into his throat. He gave a tremendous tug on the crate and now the strength that eluded him came at last. With a squeal, he lifted the crate and turned round to flee back into the brush, and the Orc gave chase.
Once in the thickets, Brimbur tossed the crate to one side and ran for his very life. Yet it was not the speed of the dwarf that helped him avoid the pursuit of the angered Orc but the darkness. Rushing from the thickets, Brimbur ran to a tall tree and hid behind its wide trunk. He peered cautiously out as he watched as the Orc stumbled from the brambles. It's eyes darted about through dim light and then let out a curse and turned back for the camp.
Brimbur slid to the ground with a shaky laugh and he took a long breath. He waited for a good while until he was sure the Orc was not returning to search further for him; then he crept back into the brush and dragged the crate back to the tree. He draped some tall grass over the crate to conceal it and then looked up at the growing glow in the sky.
'Dawn is coming...' he muttered worriedly. 'And with dawn will come the sun and bright orc-eyes.'
Indeed, the dawn was still some distance off and the dimness still thick. Yet the tops of the trees were glowing red from the growing predawn and Brimbur knew he had very little time. He threw some more grass onto the crate and set out, giving the camp ahead a wide berth, dodging from tree to tree as he went. Leaving the camp behind, he scampered up the rocky slopes and came to a worn path that lead along the edges of the palisades. The palisades were tall and topped with tree trunks of sharpened ends. Smoke curled up from over the walls and many orc-voices could plainly be heard as well.
Holding a hand to his mouth, he scampered along along the wall. Brimbur did not go far when yet another camp drew near ahead.
This camp was as the first; many snoring sleeping Orcs were cast upon the ground but a few stood watchful and wary within. However, the camp was a bit smaller and the Orcs more closer to each other. Brimbur knew a tossed stone would undoubtedly awaken the entire camp and he would have none of that. Swiftly he formulated a plan.
As quiet as he could, Brimbur scrambled up the rocky slope to one side of the camp near the palisade wall above. There he found himself at the top of the steep slope overlooking the camp below. Just below his boots there sat a wooden crate, and nearby (far to nearby grumbled Brimbur softly) stood a pair of filthy Orcs.
He drew his sword and went down very quickly, small rocks rolling away ahead of him, each disturbed by his boots. Down he slid until he came to rest behind the tent at the bottom of the slope. He paused to steady his nerves and then peered round the tent.
There, close enough to almost reach out and tap on its shoulder, should an Orc; a large Orc indeed, almost man-high and resting a wicked-looking axe on one shoulder. Brimbur shuddered, looked down at his blade in his hand, and then at the axe held in the Orc's hand. Suddenly he slid his blade into his belt and crept from round the tent.
He took one step, glaring frightfully at the tall Orc, and then took another several more until he was crouching behind the crate. There stood the Orc too, close enough that Brimbur could have given him a handshake. But the Orc did not hear the furtive footsteps of the dwarf; no, it was the groan that escaped Brimbur;'s lips as he strained to lift the crate from the ground that brough the Orc spinning round with a startled curse.
The Orc shouted aloud and sprang forward intend on sweeping the head from the hated dwarf with a single stroke. Just in time, Brimbur bent forward and ducked and the axe went whistling over his head. The Orc snarled as he tried to rein in the clumsy blow. There was Brimbur's chance. He stepped backwards, dug his heels into the earth, and pulled with all his strength. Up came the crate in his arms and he spun round to fall prostrate onto the ground. Again the Orc cursed madly and came at him to cut him in twain where he lay. Brimbur shrieked aloud in terror and heaved himself up with all his might.
With the crate held with both arms, Brimbur staggered a step or two away. Just then he cried out as he felt a swiping pain across his back. At once he began to swoon and darkness began to threat at the edges of his vision. 'this is it then,' he thought suddenly. 'A fitting way to go I suppose, clutching some useless crate in my hands...'
The morning was shining bright and warm when there came down the road from the bridge in Trestlebridge loud but hoarse grumbling and the sound of something heavy being dragged across the hard ground. Heads turned to watch a dwarf clad in crimson, his face and brow damp with sweat, drag a pair of grates down the road, cursing with every weary step.
The dwarf stopped at the feet of stone steps that lead up to a building along the lane. He wiped his brow, took in a deep breath and then staggered up the steps under the weight of one of the crates in his arms. He wheezed as he dropped the crate at Elsie Woodruff's feet with a loud crash.
'I...I...did it' he said when his breath returned after some moments. 'I found what you lost Elsie! Oh but what a battle to be told! The Orcs were many and I alone...from all sides they came and I was beset. Long I battled until none stood to oppose me.'
The dwarf then winced and put a hand to the small of his back where his cloak hung in tatters. 'A nasty orc-axe was almost the end of me...' he said slowly and in some pain. But despite the pain, Brimbur stood up proud and grinned at the woman. 'In the end I recovered your stolen supplies. It was only the sake of my unyielding strength and arms that allowed me to bring them back. And not a task that was very easy to do!'
'Oh wonderful, you've found the supplies! Thank you!' cried Elsie as she bent down to open the crate and look at the hammers piled carelessly inside. She smiled warmly and then drew up tall over the dwarf. 'There is something else though that I would have you do, if you would....' she added grimly.
At that the dwarf wailed with great displeasure. He snapped his fingers under her nose and spat, 'Whatever do you mean something else...?' He vigorously began to shake his head even before Elsie could speak.
'I have done all that you asked of me, Elsie...I can do little more. Perhaps upon my return I may lend you aid further but I must return to the road as quickly as I may!'
Brimbur ignored her pleading eyes and smoothed out the ruffles in his fine tunic with his gloves. 'Let us not speak of it further!' he said loudly 'When I return I shall do all that you ask...and more...' He looked about as a hand lifted up the tattered hem of his once-fine cloak. 'Now, if you would be so kind as to direct me to a tailor?'
Chapter Thirty-six: The Greenway– 13 to 14 Astron, 3016 TA
Brimbur was sitting atop his pack among the wary watchmen at the northern end of the Treslespan in the dim light before the dawn, and had been talking endlessly of the recent events in the town since his arrival. 'And there the Orc chieftain stood!' he exclaimed excitedly, now retelling of the first battle among the orc-camps with the elf, Laureliel. 'An Elf stood beside me, her bow at the ready. Laureliel was her name, a cheerful lass, brave beyond question, but not one taken to the sight of grim battle I am afraid.'
'Yet falter I did not. I leapt forward with my blade in hand, heedless of the Orc's harsh cries or stench of breath. Out came his wicked sword and he stabbed forward viciously, but my own blade turned his.' Brimbur winked and patted the hilt at his side. 'With a cry and hew, I struck the Orc's head from his shoulders! That was enough for his companions; they threw down their weapons and fled in fear!'
One of the watchman nodded with half-listening indifference, but Brimbur did not seem to mind. He sighed softly and looked up into the dwindling stars. He sniffed the cool air and said at last, 'There will be time enough for more tales perhaps on my return, so do not fret!. For now I must put some distance behind me before I seek a place to camp for the coming dusk.'
Again the watchman simply nodded as the dwarf climbed to his feet, and shouldered his pack with a groan. With a wave of his arm he said goodbye and set out down the road at last. He went very quickly along as the dawn slowly drew closer in the eastern sky. Wide swaths of grasslands swept along the road on both sides, past coppices of weathered trees and low round hills. At one point, he eyed with grave suspicion grey and darkened pools of silent water just off the road.
After he had walked for a furlong or more, he stopped and rested. The late evening was clear and chilled, but smoky wisps of mist were creeping up the nearby hills and from the cold pools along the road. Under the swaying boughs of a tree he sat and ate some wrinkled apples from his pack, for the telling of his tale had sorely weakened the young dwarf and his belly rumbled with displeasure.
Following his rather frugal meal, Brimbur was reluctant to return to the march. After some muttered, he went on again, the cold wind blowing through his short beard and long hair. The overgrown road went rolling up and down further on; it was the North-south Road he now marched along. Long ago, it served as the main path between the realms of Gondor and Arnor in the north where it began at the gates of Fornost Erain.
But this bit of history was lost the young Brimbur; onwards went the road until he had traversed three furlongs since leaving the bridge. The light was growing slowly on the horizon when he came to a fork in the road. There he stood under the shadows of a sign-post; a land of pitted hills and vales lay before him, and the road went winding down like a pale ribbon into chilled grey mists that seemed to choke the land. Here or there could be glimpsed atop the high dim hilltops broken stoneworks of old towers.
Brimbur gazed down the road to the north; it seemed forsaken and lost and there was an evil feeling in the air, as if some great menace lurked just from sight that eyes could not see. He shuddered as he looked at the crumbling pinnacles of stone and then he turned to the fork that swept eastwards.
'Now let me see..' he said dragging his eyes from the north and then to the signpost above. 'Fornost it says...must be a hobbit village, they do love hills, they do,' he said. 'Yes, yes,' he added swiftly, looking at the sign and then back to the south. 'Bree is that way of course..as is Trestlebridge. Ah, here we are, Kingsfell,' he said finally. 'Wait...Kingsfell?'
The dwarf's eyes turned frantically this way and that, and a worried look entered his face. 'Kingsfell? Whoever was this king, and why did he fall? Perhaps pushed no doubt?'
Brimbur sat down and drew out his old crumpled map. He looked over it with distrust for many portions of the map were blank or had little beyond the borders of lands he knew of. This land he now looked for on the parchment was blank, though in the area north of the town of Bree was scrawled three words:
Town of Esteldín
It was Brimbur's hand of course that had written it; before he had set out along the long road to find Esteldín, he had looked over many maps in Thorin's Hall. Yet in his eagerness (and foolishness) to depart he had not done anything than to scrawl the words on the map. Now he regretted his haste terribly.
Brimbur stuffed the map back into his pack and climbed to his feet. 'No need for some hobbit village named Fornost..' he said gazing out over the bleak hills to the north. 'No good going back to Trestlebridge of course...' The dwarf sighed and then looked down the road fading eastwards. 'Let's see what befell this “king”!' he said with a chuckle.
The sun was beginning to rise over the horizon and the light of morning was on the land at last as Brimbur trotted down the road. So far he not met a single traveler along the road, which greatly surprised him. He had been walking for some time now as the road began to wind upwards along rising hills on both sides, when his quick ears caught the thunderous sound of an approaching horse. Having more than once nearly been trampled by a horse, Brimbur ran quickly off the road, peered up the slope, and waited.
The hoof-beats drew nearer and suddenly from the top of the long slope there appeared a great chestnut horse and atop it sat a man, a long flowing cloak billowing in the air. The rider was clad in bright mail and an iron-shod helm sat atop his head of long black hair. Brimbur grew at once afraid, fearing this to be some sort of brigand or ruffian. He began to look about frantically as the horse and rider came rushing down the road with great haste.
'This fool is going to trample me where I stand!' thought Brimbur fearfully. He sidestepped one direction then another with indecision as the horse drew nearer. Much to the dwarf's amazement, the horse and rider swept past him like a roaring wind and thundered down the road until both dwindled in the distance.
'He is certainly in a hurry...' muttered Brimbur as he coughed and choked in the dust kicked up by the horse and rider. He looked one last time in the direction the rider had went and then scampered back to the road and continued on.
As the dwarf neared the top of the long winding slope of the road, he spotted a thin spire of grey smoke rising from a tall hill to the north. He gazed towards the hill and saw the hill was ringed by the ruins of an ancient-looking tower of stone that still stood proudly to gaze about the lands far and wide from its visage. From there the smoke rose and Brimbur could see flickering smoky torches set along the crumbling walls.
Brimbur glanced towards an area near a long flight of broken stairs that led up to the hilltop where there were corralled several horses. Intrigued (and thankful that whomever was camped within the ruins were certainly not Orcs), Brimbur made his way carefully up the steps. He slowed his pace as there suddenly loomed a figure at the top.
It was a tall man with a fair and gentle face, framed by dark hair, that peeked from a deep hood of grey. He was cloaked and booted as if for a journey through the wilds and a sword hung from his belt. His eyes gleamed bright as he looked down on the astonished dwarf and presently the man spoke.
'You are welcome to rest here for a time, friend, but I am afraid that you will not find much peace.'
Brimbur beamed a smile. 'Ah thank, you seem a kind spirit. I could do for a short rest, but whatever do you mean?'
The man's gentle face now turned grim as he spoke. 'Evil things stir in Fornost, while the hills of Annúndir to the east are under siege. Good people now look to me for their defence...but I do not know if I have strength.'
'It is? They do?' answered Brimbur worriedly.
The man nodded solemnly and drew the dwarf up the steps with a helpful hand. There among the crumbling ruins stood a ramshackle camp; seated or standing within the gloomy camp was a collection of sullen and wretched folk. Carts too could be seen, loaded with many goods and belonging, as if they had fled their homes with great perilous haste.'
The proud man followed Brimbur's gaze over the camp. 'As well, food is in short supply, and I fear to leave these people alone while I hunt,' he said quietly. 'Amon Raith was of old a defensible position, but I am only one man and do not have the courage of my fathers.'
'Refugees...' whispered Brimbur and he found that he could not hold the forlorn gaze of the dreadfully disheartened folk. He looked up into the man's face. 'And what about the road to the east?' he asked haltingly. ' I am seeking a town called Esteldín that is said to lay there.'
The man pointed from the hilltop to the east where the road wound further on. 'If you choose not to heed my warning and travel east, might I ask that you hunt the boars that roam Annúndir? Those boars are a hearty stock and will have enough meat to feed these poor people. If you must hunt the boars of the Greenway, you may, but you may find the task much more difficult.'
Brimbur followed the gaze of the man into the east and then about the desolate lands. 'Boars you say...' he muttered and thought suddenly back to the boar-den in the Bree-lands. 'Ah yes, foul beasts they are, but mighty tasty on a spit over a nice fire!' But his voice fell into silent uncertainty. Finally he ruffled his tunic and looked at the man at last.
'I am a great hunter boars if you must know...' he said patting the tall man on the shoulder. 'But alas I have no bow or quiver of arrows and though fine my blade is, it is not well suited for a hunt!'
The dwarf nervously bowed and began to turn away. 'But should I come onto another traveller with such a bow, I shall send him straight to you and your dire need!'
'I will not blame you should you fear to travel into Annúndir, for a plague of Wargs and goblins has taken that land, and it is foolish to wander there,' said the man gently. 'Still, the plight of these people is desperate, and my food stores will not last forever. The meat of the boars of Annúndir may stave off a bitter end.'
'Fear? Me?' growled the dwarf. Yet something in his voice did not seem altogether convincing. He turned to stomp down the broken stairs; then he paused and turned slowly back to the man. His face looked worn and slight tremble crept into his shoulders.
'I alone entered the dreaded brigand camp that plagued the Bree-lands for quite some time!' he said bitterly. 'Many I battled there until I faced the brigand captain himself...tall he was, ever more than you! Why he was seven feet tall if not an inch or more!'
Brimbur's words dribbled off into grumbling and then he said. 'Oh very well, boars or not!' he said cursing. 'Give some time beside your fire to sharpen my blade. It was forged long ago to fight against the dreaded Witch-king of Angmar and never loses its edge. Yet I do like to give it some kindness now or then...'
That night Brimbur was very miserable and hardly slept. He took an offered seat beside one of the smoky fires and sat down among the folk who sought refuge in the ruins. All that day and into the evening he sat gloomily gazing into the fire; if he turned his eyes out from the hill he could see distant ruins and rising hills further to the east. The folk about him cooked meager meals above the flames or tended to their children, but none dared to venture from the hilltop. As the night drew on, only silence came from the blackness save the wind that whistled about the rocks and ruins. They spoke with only low whispers and never cried out nor sang aloud, for a great dread clutched at their hearts.
The dawn was slowly approaching when there came a strange sound from the broken steps. It was a deep voice, muttering and cursing aloud out of sight below the lip of the hill. 'Foul ponies...' cried the voice aloud. Then a short form swathed in a rich cloak of fur stomped up the steps.
'Amarion is it?' said the newcomer to the tall grim man. The stranger turned to point back down the steps into the darkness. 'See to it she is fed, would you?' Then the figure turned and stepped into the flickering light of the campfires. It was a dwarf, his beard long and deep brown. His wore openly a sturdy coat of mail and his eyes shone bright and clear in the dim light.
Brimbur raised his sleepy head and blinked. Slowly recognition crept into his eyes and with a great shout, he leapt to his feet. 'Why, if it isn't a fellow dwarf of all persons! Here!'
The dwarf bowed deeply as Brimbur rushed to his side. '.....A dwarf in red, a dwarf in red....' he said with a chuckle and a rhyme.
'Now, now, no need to stand on ceremony. Don't be shy neither,' said Brimbur excitedly. 'I am Brimbur at your most excellent service! And who might you be?'
'Frorolf, at your service,' said the dwarf and bowed even lower a second time. 'You wouldn't be the Waymeet fellow, would you?'
'Frorolf...Frorolf...ah a wonderful name to be sure!' answered Brimbur. Then he tugged thoughtfully on his short beard. 'Wayward fellow?' he asked
'No, no....I heard a delightful tale about wolves, not a few nights ago, at the Pony.'
'Oh yes, of course...Waymeet!' laughed Brimbur, his pride quite flushed at the notion that his victory over the wild wolf-chieftain had spread. 'Ah yes that must be me...why, what a battle there was there! A ravenous wolf...frightened Shire villagers...and only my self to deal with the beast! 'Alas that seems as an eternity since I laid eyes on that fair village...'
'I must say, I quite enjoyed the tale,' said Frorolf simply.
'Oh indeed? And what a fine tale it must had made! Too bad I was not there to relate the tale personally! I would rather be the author of such a fine tale and not give the credit to another!'
'So, you tell tales?' asked Frorolf as he motioned for Brimbur sit with him beside the fire.
'Why but of course I do! But more importantly, I am the source for many of my tales I tell round a the comforts of a crackling fire late in the evenings! My many adventures have been the basis for some my finest tales told!'
Frorolf looked into the dark sky and then down into the fire. 'It is late in the evenings now...come, let us tell tales, to make the night pass all the quicker.'
Brimbur's smile melted away and he scratched his head. He looked sidelong at the many sorrowful faces round the camp. 'I would like nothing more my good and dear fellow...but I do not think that would be prudent, what with the misery that has befallen these folk here,' he said quietly. 'Yet these worrisome folk have begged aid of me and, as the most steadfast and resolute companion of none other than Lord Glóin, how could I not?'
'Lord Gloin, eh?' asked the older dwarf as he lit his short clay pipe with a glowing ember from the fire. 'He's in Imladris, is he not?'
'I am unsure,' answered Brimbur gloomily. 'I departed his company when we reached the source of the River Bruinen...' He then turned to the others about the camp and his voice fell to a whisper. 'Oh yes, these folk...' he said, trying to change the subject. 'Refugees they are...at the hands of some evil here. That chap over there...Amarion is his name...has asked me to replenish their food stores and hunt wild boars.'
'Wild Boars?' asked Frorolf. 'Not in plenty along the roads. Wolves, mostly.'
Truly?' Brimbur suddenly shuddered at the mention of wolves. 'Round here?'
Frorolf nodded grimly. 'Not that you'd be worried!'
'Of course not!' muttered the young dwarf with a slight twitch on his lips. The two dwarves fell silent for a time; Frorolf leaned back to blow gentle rings of wispy smoke into the night air. Brimbur watched as they drifted up and out of sight into the gloom and his head began to droop onto his wide chest. Suddenly he was shaken awake when Frorolf spoke aloud.
Brimbur's eyes fluttered open and he at once smiled as the first rays of the dawning sun shimmered in the dim sky. 'At last...' He sat up and cleared his throat. 'Perhaps we can set our blades together friend Frorolf. Why, with two fine dwarves such as ourselves we could hunt a few mangy boars!'
The other dwarf squinted at Brimbur. 'Why not make a deal?' he said thoughtfully. 'My father, Frorolf, first of his name, sent me to negotiate trading terms with Esteldín. A few pelts would prove to be a good gift of faith.'
Frorolf climbed to his feet and put out a hand to pull the younger dwarf from beside the fire. 'Any wolves we come across, I will take their pelts, but not a hair of the boar's. Have we a deal, good master Brimbur?'
Brimbur shook the dwarf's hand and nodded vigorously. 'Very good master Frorolf the Second! And any wolves we meet will taste our steel!'
Chapter Thirty-seven: Boar-hunting – 14 to 15 Astron, 3016 TA
Bright motes of light danced in Brimbur's eyes and his head throbbed something terribly. An uneasy, rebellious queasiness was beginning to creep into is belly. Through the shimmering haze of his vision he could make out a fuzzy form a few feet from him. 'Frorolf?' he wondered as a cry rose into the air and was joined by fierce grunting. 'Frorolf?' he suddenly shouted with dismay.
Brimbur desperately wiped his eyes and blinked and slowly the haze began to lift. What he saw was an enormous boar standing only a few steps away from him. It seemed greatly enraged and ploughed the soft earth with its tusks; its bristling back and flank was scored with long lancing wounds yet the boar still stood. The beast uttered a cry of rage and lowered
its head as if to spring straight at the poor dwarf. A shrill shriek began to rise in Brimbur's throat and the poor wretched dwarf thought he would certainly tumble and thump to the ground even before the boar reached him.
With a thunderous roar, the wild beast leapt up, but not at Brimbur. Instead, Brimbur watched with horror as it tore across the grass to bear down on Frorolf, who stood to one side. With flaming gleaming eyes, its whole body bristling, its tusks clashing together with a frightful sound, the beast bore down onto the dwarf with a flurry of rage. Its long white tusks gored Frorolf's legs and its immense weight overbore the dwarf and he was sent reeling backwards.
The boar raised its filthy snout in the air and squealed, then slowly turned its massive head round to face the trembling young dwarf. With flaring maddening eye, the boar gathered itself to leap at helpless Brimbur. Brimbur frantically scrambled back, and his legs nearly gave out underneath him, threatening to throw him to the ground. But then an axe gleaming bright in the air beside the boar. There stood Frorolf; his helm was gone and blood trickled down his worn face, but his eyes shone bright and steady. With a rush and a shout, the dwarf fell upon the beast, and his axe rose and fell until it let out a sickening cry and crumbled to the ground.
Brimbur let out a thankful sigh as a sick feeling washed over him and he nearly collapsed into a heap upon the ground. He reached out a shaking hand to Frorolf's shoulder to steady himself as a growing delirium overtook him. Frorolf spat at the unmoving boar at his feet and bent to take up his battered helm and placed it atop his head. He then turned to his companion with curious eyes.
Brimbur returned the gaze, but only just; he wiped sweat from his face and he muttered aloud. 'By Durin's Beard! My blade caught in this foul scabbard and could not draw it until it was too late!'
The companions had awaited the full dawn before setting out on their hunt of wild boars for the kettle and stores. To pass the time (and most probably to gather his flagging spirits at the very notion of having to face wild boars once again), Brimbur had sat down beside the fire and gave a small barrel of beer next to his seat some much-needed attention. Frorolf stood beside Amarion and with low voices discussed the coming hunt. By the time the morning sun rose shining bright and clear in the sky, Brimbur was feeling quite heady and giddy.
Indeed, the young dwarf was now in a fine jovial mood as they set out, and even laughed and sang as they made their way down from the ruins and into the rising hills about. More than once his companion had hushed him with glaring muttering stares, but that only spurred Brimbur on with more ridiculous songs.
But now, his jolly spirits were gone, and no song came to the young dwarf's lips. Frorolf looked up at his companion. 'More boars, then?' he asked, his hoarse voice soft without a hint of concern for the young dwarf's malady.
Brimbur licked his dry lips and then nodded, 'Yes...?' was about the only thing he was able to mumble. He adjusted his belt and then staggered after Frorolf who had already turned to stride through the grass. The sun climbed lazily over the sky and the air became warm and pleasant as they went. Soon they found their path had led them towards the rise of a line of hills that wound down along rocky slopes into a narrow hollow below.
Brimbur, his breath coming now in heaving gasps, slowed his pace, and bent over, placing his hands to his knees. Frorolf turned to look at him with indifference. Brimbur took a hasty gulp of breath and then pointed near the crest of the slope. 'There...' he groaned and held a hand to his nose. 'One of the filthy beasts down there...'
Frorolf followed his gaze and coughed. 'Ugh, flies,' he said with distaste. 'Are you certain these emaciated beasts will provide enough meat?' he asked, not taking his eyes off the beast in the distance.
At first, Brimbur did not answer. He looked up to glower at his companion and said nothing; his watery eyes said enough about any concerning food. This boar was much more timid at first than the other; it raised its head with a long threatening squeal and dug its hooves into the earth. But to Brimbur's amazement it did not charge straight away. It took a good bit of cajoling, hoarse cries, and even thrown stones to anger the beast enough and not flee down the long slope if they dared to approach it.
This time they were ready for the beast, a big old sow, or so they thought. Once sufficiently enraged, the boar wasted no time charging up the slope. Straight towards Frorolf it came, bent upon tearing the dwarf to pieces. Frorolf cried aloud and light flashed along the blade of his axe like glittering fire. Down the axe swung and smote the boar along its long head. Flames erupted and the boar squealed aloud in pain and terror, but this only drove the beast ever more mad.
There too was Brimbur; he did not hold forth his sword, but instead he had unslung his lute from his back and had begun to hoarsely sing a rather foolish song. Frorolf turned a sudden surprised glaring glance at him, and was about to shout something, when the boar came at him again and all other thoughts were overtaken by forcing the beast and its tusks back. With shuttering words, Brimbur began to sing aloud and the words rose above the trampling and snorting of the wild boar. It went something like this:
Old foolish boar with a belly so round,
you are too fat and lazy,
and bristly your head is crowned!
Oh now gnash your tusks, poor old boar,
but try as you might
you'll only begin to snore!
You'll never get us, fat old sow,
with tusks so white and long,
less a boar you are than a cow,
and so I sing this song!
It indeed was a foolish song, true, but suddenly the words seemed to gather over the wild beast like wisping fog. The sow froze, lowered its tusks and looked at Brimbur with a queer gaze. For a flash of a moment, Brimbur considered bashing the boar over the head with his lute. The boar drew back and the length of its body shook as it turned towards him. But before the sow could lunge forward, Frorolf struck it a terrible blow with his axe. The beast let out a mournful moan and snorting until Frorolf silenced it with another cruel stroke.
Brimbur looked down at his lute with astonishment and then at his companion, who knelt to the ground to wipe his axe on the grass. The young dwarf laughed aloud suddenly and Frorolf grinned at him, then climbed to his feet with a helpful hand from Brimbur.
And the day slowly passed and ever they hunted more boars. Ten in all they found and ten they felled until the sun began to dip low in the sky to the west and they had both grown weary. The last beast, a great maddened boar, caught them by surprise from behind a low rock. On it had come at them without a sound and there began a sharp battle.
Brimbur let out a very loud worried shout as the boar's tusks lanced Frorolf; the older dwarf cried out and fell back even as Brimbur stumbled forward and stabbed at the beast with his blade. His arm rang numb from the force of the blow and he nearly let loose his grip by the shock. The boar shuddered and then swung round to the young dwarf. He hewed again at the enraged beast; but his stroke went wide and it glanced harmlessly off the boar’s thick head, and that only sent the beast into an even deeper and maddening frenzy.
But soon the boar lay silent on the ground at their feet; from front and rear, the dwarves rained blow upon blow at the boar, the beast swinging endlessly round trying desperately to trample them. Frorolf groaned slightly and he clutched his side. Brimbur's eyes grew wide and fearful, but Frorolf only waved his concern waved his concern away. 'A small wound, friend,' he said simply. Brimbur nodded knowingly and held up the hem of his tunic to reveal a small tear in the outer layer.
Dusk was drawing near when the companions made their way back to Amon Raith. The way back was slow and arduous; no foes barred their way but Brimbur found it difficult to keep up with the swift steps of his companion. He was feeling very sick, and his tunic and cloak stank from the filthy boars. It seemed to cling even to his beard and hair and it took several washing to finally get the smell out. Poor young Brimbur was so exhausted that, as soon as they climbed up the long stone steps into the camp, he fell plop onto the ground at one of the fires and went right off to sleep.
All of a sudden, Brimbur open a single eyes, and looked round. 'Where is Frorolf?' he asked to no one in particular. He was lying beside the fire, and the flames were cheerful and bright for it had turned a cloudless day, but cold, and only a watery-pale sun shone in the sky. He shivered, chilled as a stone, and his head ached. 'Now I wonder what has happened to master Frorolf?' he said to himself.